Sometimes I do wonder whose tastings these are!
Harry is heading down to the Southern Rhone to stay at the family villa with fellow tasters Jen and Luke. As such he wanted them to have a flavour of the area before their trip just to get them in the mood.
The southern Rhone and more particularly the wine areas of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes-de-Venise, Sablet, not to mention others are very well known to Harry and I. They are also a particular favourite.
For this tasting we decided to look at two of our favourite villages which are separated by all of a kilometre or two. In point of fact the centre of each village are 4.8km apart, but the vines in places are separated by a few feet, normally a road or track.
We have many favourite wines from this area and restricting ourselves to just six bottles (three from each village) was a task. A task at which we may have failed, more on that later.
Vacqueyras - Wine has been produced in the area since the 15th century, however not much is known from them other than a few large estates being mentioned and a decree on how to keep hungry goats away from the grapes (according to Wikipedia).
Vacqueyras received its AOC Cotes du Rhone appellation in 1937, promoted to Cotes du Rhone Villages in 1955 and became a named village in 1967. Finally in 1990 it was granted its own AOC. The second in the region after... Gigondas.
Vacqueyras produces mainly red wine and a little white wine.
Gigondas has its name origins in the Latin Jocunditas, meaning great pleasure and enjoyment. How suitable. The town was founded in Roman times and there are indications that wine was grown there since this time.
Gigondas received its AOC Gigondas appellation in 1971. Gigondas has a specific regulation concerning the grape varieties. Gigondas Rouge must be made from a maximum 80% Grenache, a minimum of 15% Syrah and/or Mourvedre, and a maximum 10% from other rhone varieties (of which there are many) except for Carignan.
Gigondas produces mainly red wine and a little Rose wine.
Both villages share much of the same terroir with their vineyards located 100-400m of altitude.
Both wines are known more for their power rather than elegance.
Both wines have Grenache as the main variety, however Vacqueyras often has more Syrah and as such can feel cooler in the mouth. It also often appears softer. As such it has been likened to a poor man’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape as that wine is also often softer than Gigondas.
To the Domaines….
Chateau des Roques (Vacqueyras)
is located in a 16th century hamlet (Hameau des Roques) and surrounded by its 38 hectares of vineyards where large cailloux (gravel/pebbles) sits over limestone. Owned and run by the Seroul Family. The 18th century Chapelle des Roques is sighted on their land. The cellar houses a natural spring and is ideal for ageing of the wines.
Roucas Toumba (Vacqueyras)
Means the fallen rock in old Provencal and the estate is named for that locality in Vacqueyras. In 2006 Eric Bouletin decided to stop selling his grapes to the local co-operative and create his own cellar to produce his own wines. Syrah is grown from pebbles over clay/limestone. Grenache and Mourvedre in calcerous sands somewhat stony.
Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux (Vacqueyras)
Meaning ‘Blood from the stones’. Serge Ferigoule purchased Le Sang des Cailloux in 1990 after working for 10 years with the previous owner. The Domaine has 17 hectares all in Vacqueyras located on the plateau facing the Dentelles de Montmirail (a range of hills.) His son Frederi, joined him in 2003. Clay-limestone soil with the ubiquitous pebbles.
Domaine Raspail-Ay (Gigondas)
A celebrated traditional (they make just one red and one rose Gigondas and no other wines) Gigondas Estate now run by Christophe and his sister Anne-Sophie. They have 18 hectares of vines all located around their house in the foothills of the village.
Domaine Saint-Damien (Gigondas)
Joel Saurel grew up in the vineyards working and learning as he went. In 1979, he baptized the estate ‘Saint-Damien; in homage to a ruined chapel located near the cellars, sadly the chapel no longer exists but the Domaine is going from strength to strength. In 2013 Romain joined his father after his training in oenology. Today they have 45 hectares in Gigondas, Plan de Dieu, Cotes-du- Rhone Villages and PGI France.
Domaine Santa Duc (Gigondas)
First built in 1874, four previous generations of the Gras family have run the Domaine, the 5th being the vinous rock star Yves, who took over in 1985 and really helped put Gigondas on the map with a few other top producers. The 6th generation, his son Benjamin joined in 2017.
To the wines…
This evenings tasting will be conducted by myself and Harry, with able (or not) assistance lent by Kim, Jen and Luke.
1st up is…
Chateau des Roques Hameau des Roques 2010
This is a premium cuvee for Chateau des Roques consisting of 55% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah. Raised mostly in tank, with 3% in demi-muid (600 litre Oak Barrels)
Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Sour cherries and garrigues are the first notes that slap you in the face. Followed nicely by stewed fruits, herbs and plums. A fantastic start to a tasting that really should deliver across the board, considering the growers and vintages that we will be experiencing.
Palate: Similar notes on the palate, stewed fruits much more on the front foot now. Garrigues and sour cherries again coming through. Not overly hot which is surprising given how hot 2010 was. Medium to full body with a lot of power, light to medium acidity with good moderate tannin left. Ideally one could leave this a bit longer to fully mature, say 3-5 years maximum I think. Moderate to full finish… what a start!
Roucas Toumba Les Restanques de Cabassole 2010
The top cuvee for Roucas Toumba, 60% Old Grenache, 27% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 3% white varieties. 100% destemming, late vinification in concrete vats. Grenache and Mourvedre aged for 18 months in 600-litre barrels, Syrah in smaller barrels.
Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Black pepper instantly on the nose, a very different start. Dark fruits and subtle hints of garrigues coming through later on, however it is clear that this is still young. Rosemary was one such particular herb that we all picked up on.
Palate: Very peppery, really coming through strong on the palate. Dark fruits, plums, blackberries, cherries etc all very prominent. Very strong body with a lot of chew to it (tannin). This particular wine was rather hot… very reminiscent of the year it was produced in. Full – medium body with moderate acidity. Full tannin as mentioned earlier, so with the acidity this can still lay down for a good 5 years if not more. Medium finish leaving you wanting more. Exactly what we want!
Domaines Le Sang des Cailloux Oumage 2010
The top and rare cuvee from Sang de Cailloux, only made in exceptional years. 66% Grenache, 33% Syrah. Aged in new 450-litre Oak barrels.
Nose: Deep red to purple on first viewing… interesting. Damson, thyme, blackberries and cherries. Well… that was unexpected. Extremely pleasant and easy to smell. Hints of garrigues and leather on the nose as well. Very different.
Palate: Damson, cherries and incredibly smooth. We thought it was a tad closed at first. However on later tasting with food, she was ready to go! Lovely aromas of garrigues, with herbs, black cherries and blackberries singing. Extremely soft tannins and no hint of heat, just a pure, silky red wine. A medium body with low acidity, low to moderate tannin and a nice medium finish. This was easily the best one of the tasting so far, we were all very impressed. Jen even wrote that this was her favourite of the night once we had finished the tasting… good to know 😉
Domaine Raspail-Ay Gigondas 2010
As mentioned before, no special cuvee’s here just one great Gigondas Rouge. The first vintage with Christophe in full control. Grapes destemmed, fermented in vats with indigenous yeasts before ageing in old foudres for 2+ years.
Nose: We really could not agree on the colour for this… what a thing to disagree on considering!! Medium to deep red was the final consensus. So we’ll stick with that! Heavy garrigues and stewed fruits immediately on the nose. Followed up by damson (again) with almost a farmyard aroma. Hints of black pepper as well.
Palate: On the palate we have leather and stewed fruits at first, a very powerful body that pumps those tertiary characteristics of cooked fruits and garrigues all the way to the finish. The wine has combined extremely well with the tannins and is very smooth. Not much longer I would wait to open this.. maybe 1-2 years max. Full to medium body with low acidity. Full to moderate tannin, however these are very supple and extremely well integrated as mentioned earlier. A medium length finish to round of a powerhouse of a wine!
Domaine Saint Damien Les Souteyrades / La Louisiane 2009
How to choose between two wonderful top wines from Saint-Damien, maybe we will have both.
La Louisiane – 80% grenache, 15% mourvedre, 5% Cinsault & Syrah.
Les Souteyrades – 80% grenache, 20% Mourvedre.
Both wines have old vines, 6-7 week long maceration in concrete vats followed by 12 months in oak barrels, no filtration.
La Louisiane Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Extremely aromatic, by that I mean in terms of perfume. Parma violets was mentioned, garrigues and so many herbs. Red and black fruits coming through later on, the perfume was very difficult to get past in all honesty. However, not unpleasant at all.
La Louisiane Palate: The palate was extremely different. Stewed fruits immediately on the front foot, extremely powerful. Hints of garrigues coming through with the ending bringing back the perfumed aromas that were found on the nose. A medium to full body with low to moderate acidity, the body really structured and elegant. Well integrated tannins however still room for more ageing ability. I would suggest 2-4 more years until complete maturity, it should then hold as is for 5 years until decline starts to become obvious. A lovely finish that rounded off a perfect wine. I myself wrote ‘Epic’ at the end of my notes… I wonder if the next one was a good ? 😉
Les Souteyrades Nose: Deep red on first viewing. Perhaps a tad closed on first inspection. Normal, fantastic aromas that you would expect. Stewed fruits, farmyard and garrigues were prominent. Even some dark cherries (kirsch?) were detected with an all-round lovely aroma.
Les Souteyrades Palate: On the palate the wine was immediately very smooth. The heat from the alcohol was coming through, as was pepper from the Mourvedre. Stewed fruits of course with garrigues and herbs rounding this off. I must admit both Dad and I believed this to be a bit young still (it’s 2009?!). We both either commented that the wine was ‘brooding’ or just downright ‘young’. Definitely this wine can be left for a lot longer, perhaps 5-8 years? Until it starts to hit its peak. Full bodied with moderate acidity and tannin, again paving the way for ageing. A full length finish just made it gorgeous at the end.
Domaine Santa Duc Les Prestige de Haut-Garrigues 2009
An Iconic wine, A big, rich, hedonistic wine. 80% grenache, 20% Mourvedre. Aged 20% in new oak and the rest in old oak and foudres.
Nose: Deep red on first viewing. I have written ‘Darkest fruit ever.’ Make of that what you will… Straight from the off it was clear to us that this was a different level to the wines previously tasted in this line-up. That is not to say that any of them were not outstanding (they all really were!), but this just hit different. The notes of dark fruit were so deep and interesting that you could spend 20 minutes just smelling it. Normal aromas of garrigues and farmyard were very apparent however it was the mixture of fresh and cooked fruits that really stood out.
Palate: What a wine… fresh and cooked fruits beautifully layering together on the palate. Garrigues and farmyard mixing together with damson and herbs to create a perfect harmony of power and elegance. The structure was fantastic and the body powerful, but not over-powering. Silky and smooth, this wine was made to last decades. Big meat, big powerful dinners. That’s what this wine was made for. A fantastic wine.
As previously mentioned by Dad above, he and I know these wines extremely well. We have been drinking them for many years and have had the luck and ability to taste them across every vintage from 2007 – 2020 (I just got back from 2 ½ weeks down there. Dad is there now!).
These are powerful and robust wines, not for the faint-hearted. If I may suggest, I would start with Cotes-du-Rhone wines from the Southern Rhone before hitting any of these big boys… I believe you need to work up to these. If you just go straight for them then they’ll knock you back, you may not be able to appreciate them for what they are. If you do not like them then that is not a problem, wine is always personal preference. These are big and powerful so do take care when tasting. They are also elegant and have beautiful balance, so do read the notes we have sent out to assist you when choosing wines to go for.
Just before the scores, do also remember that these are all 12-13 years old so right at the point of their peak. When drinking the younger these wines are all fruit forward, with fresh and lively characteristics.
And finally the scores…
Hameau des Roques 2010 – 87 Points
Les Restanques de Cabassole 2010 – 92 Points
Oumage 2010 – 93 Points
Raspail-Ay 2010 – 93 Points
La Louisiane 2009 – 95 Points
Les Souteyrades 2009 – 94 Points
Les Prestige de Haut-Garrigues 2009 – 96 Points
No surprise there really… all wines were indeed fantastic, hence the close scoring. This blog was a bit longer so apologies! Hope you enjoyed the read 😊!
Harry & David