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Posts Tagged ‘Rhone Valley’

En route to the Tablas Creek tasting room

After our tour of the Tablas Creek vineyards and nursery, it was time to taste some wine! Robert led us back to the Tablas Creek tasting room and past this beautiful olivier, lavender and herb garden directly outside the winery entrance. Our tasting would be comprised of a selection of wines, all of which were grown and vinfied here at the domain. If there could be one tag line to describe the winemaking process at Tablas Creek, it would be “minimal intervention“. This term is sometimes used pretty loosely, but here at Tablas Creek it indicates strict adherence the following practices:

Hand harvesting of all organically grown grapes (picking is afterall when the winemaking practice officially begins)

Native yeast fermentations

Separate vinification for each varietal

Use of stainless steel and/or neutral oak barrels


 

We began the tasting with a selection of white wines from Tablas Creek. First, the 2008 Grenache Blanc, which is 100% estate grown and certified organic.

Most often, the majority of this varietal is used to produce Tablas’ Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc or the Cotes de Tablas. However in exceptional vintages the winery bottles a bit of the wine as a single varietal. With good acidity, medium + bodied and nuances of green apple, and peach, this Grenache is a perfect complement to a wide variety of mediterranean inspired cuisine.

 

Next, Robert poured a taste of the 2008 Tablas Creek Roussanne.  Like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne is a second white wine varietal that is widely planted throughout the Rhone Valley. However stateside it is perhaps less well known than even Grenache Blanc. While Grenache Blanc often provides in terms of exhuerance, body and juiciness, Roussanne often adopts a more structured and deliberate approach. Medium bodied, and generally displaying a richer mouthfeel than most Grenache Blanc, Roussanne does lend itself to a bit of judicious oak interplay and can age very gracefully too. After several years, those primary fruit notes often give way to nuances of roasted nuts, paraffin and honey.

 

Tasting through the first two white cuvées was an interesting exercise in terms of isolating and understanding the respective qualities of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Now we had the opportunity to taste what I think makes Tablas Creek so special. Their masterful blends! The 2008 Côtes de Tablas Blanc is in fact a blend of 4 different varietals: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Weighing in at 13.5% abv, this Rhone inspired white is incredibly food friendly and so fun to imbibe! For inspiration, Tablas Creek recommends the following possibilities: Mussels Marinière Green salads with avocado and citrus dressing Scallops Ceviche, Light fish (halibut, sole) with tropical salsa.

 

Next, we attacked the reds. As with the whites, Robert introduced us to and poured samples of the following three single varietal G (Grenache Noir) S (Syrah) and M (Mourvèdre) bottlings from the domain:

The 2007 Grenache Rouge, which represents only the second varietal bottling for the domain. Grenache noir is the most widely planted varietal in the Rhone Valley. From entry level Côtes du Rhône, to legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape, grenache noir provides much of the body, red fruits and inherent juiciness that differentiate a Rhone red from say, one from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Now on to what is perhaps my favorite Rhone varietal, Syrah! The 2007 Tablas Creek Syrah displays everything that I appreciate so much in syrah, and I imagine that over the next several years it will continue to impress me. Whereas young Grenache Noir generally displays more red fruit and spice box qualities, syrah, (if grown in not too warm a climate) elicits more dark fruit notes, cracked pepper, sometimes a bit of mineral smoke and savory qualities too. I would really like to revisit this youngster in a few years time to see what interesting nuances develop.

Of the  southern Rhones “Big 3″, Mourvèdre is arguably the least known and understood varietal. Whereas Syrah has proven itself to be an international globetrotter (for example the Rhone, Australia, California, Washington), and young Grenache is so inherently is often so gulpable and  easy to drink (how many young Côtes du Rhônes get emptied all too quickly?), Mourvèdre is a bit of a dark horse.

In its youth, the varietal often displays a bit more musculature and brawn than its two rhone cousins. Black olive, a certain mineral salt, and at times a certain “sauvage” funk that one not so familiar with the varietal might conclude as the onset of a wine spoilage yeast known as brettanomyces. However, with time, I believe that these noble reds find their way and can evolve into some of the most long-lived and stately reds of southern France. Case in point, a 1990 Bandol from Châteaux Pradeaux which I had the opportunity to enjoy several years back.

The 2007 Tablas Creek Mourvèdre is definitely a more elegant rendition of the varietal than some of its vinous cousins in Bandol. Perhaps 100% de-stemming and a light filtration has something to do with this. The advantage to these more modern winemaking practices is a mouvedre that in its youth is refined and approachable, while still displaying the textbook (black plum, leather, moist earth) qualities of Mourvèdre.

 

Tablas Creeks flagship wine is the Esprit de Beaucastel. Composed of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise, this classic Rhone style blend is made in the spirit of Château de Beaucastel’s  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In the southern Rhone tradition of blending several (and in the case of Beaucastel 13) different varietals, the Esprit de Beaucastel aims to capture the thumbprint or terroir of Tablas Creek. And like the iconic Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Esprit de Beaucastel contains a higher percentage of the mighty Mourvèdre than most other traditionally styled Rhone blends.

 

After our comprehensive tasting of the Tablas Creek current releases, Robert, Nicolas, Emmanuel and myself headed to the cellars to sample several cuvées which were still works in progress. Among them was the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel, as well as a most special cuvée that is only produced in outstanding vintages..

 

Tablas Creek’s Panoplie is a Mourvèdre based red that is vinified from carefully selected grapes of outstanding quality. The Panoplie is crafted in the esprit of Château de Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin and sees only a limited production. The 500 cases of the 2007 Panoplie will in most cases find homes in the cellars of wine connoisseurs and collectors for enjoyment 5-15 years down the road.

 

What a fantastic tour and tasting! As we headed back out into the bright central California sun, Nicolas presented Robert with several parting tokens of appreciation. As I mentioned in a previous post, Nicolas is involved with the Perrin family in a north/south rhone venture known as Maison Nicolas Perrin. This “boutique negociant” specializes in sourcing the very best wines from reputable growers throughout the northern Rhone. The wines are then (in most cases) blended by the Maison Nicolas Perrin and then further aged before being released.

Nicolas provided a brief explanation on each of the four cuvees which included:

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin St. Joseph

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Cote Rotie

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Ermitage

2008 Maison Nicolas Perrin Hermitage Blanc

A big Thank You to Robert Haas for spending the afternoon with us on this great tour and tasting of Tablas Creek!

 

 

 

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nothing but gray skies..

This is the current scene taken from my office window. Gray, rainy and blustery. It’s been raining off and on for the past several days, which, along with the cold weather, is a firm reminder that here in the Bay Area, we are definitely deep into winter. Luckily we don’t have snow or freezing temperatures to deal with, however all of this rain does tend to keep me inside and thinking about warmer days past and future.

In the meantime, how about if I spin tail recounting sunnier times, when the vines were growing, the bees were buzzing, and the flowers were in full bloom!  This vernal scenario is exactly what transpired when I had the opportunity to visit Tablas Creek earlier this year. Accompanying me on this visit were two very knowledgeable and easy going guys, Nicolas Jaboulet of Maison Nicolas Perrin, and Emmanuel Lemoine of Vineyard Brands.

Our host for the day was none other than Robert Haas, one of the founders of Tablas Creek. After taking us on a tour of the vineyards and nursery, Robert was also going to lead us through a tasting of the domains’ current offerings. We were in for a real treat!

which way to the Rhone Valley?

Tablas Creek is located in Paso Robles, a wine growing region situated approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s Central Coast. On this west (of the Hwy 101) side of Paso, two venerable business partners and friends founded Tablas Creek back in 1989.

More specifically, the Perrin family of famed Chateau Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley, and American importer Robert Haas, the founder of Vineyard Brands, believed that the shallow, rocky limestone soils and the mediterranean-like climate would favor the production of high quality Rhone inspired wines.

the vineyards at Tablas Creek

Haas and the Perrins purchased a hilly 120 acre parcel of approximately 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean in a district known as Las Tablas. From Beaucastel’s famed vineyards in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they imported traditional red and white Rhone vinifera plant material, with the intent of propagating and grafting these vines for this new domaine.  It should be noted that this process was by no means easy or expedient, as the vines had to pass a thorough testing program in order to receive a clean bill of health.

Today, Tablas Creek is planted to a veritable panoply (more on this later) of Rhone varietals, all of which are farmed and certified organic. The Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise (reds), and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc (whites) grown on the domain have all been propagated and cultivated here at Tablas Creek.

In addition to these tried and true Rhone varietals, one will also find lesser known varietals like Picpoul and Vermentino (Rolle). The domain also partners with NovaVine in Sonoma, which provides customers with high quality grafted vines using Tablas Creek vinifera material.

L-R: Emmanuel, Nicolas and Robert Haas at the grafting table

Tablas Creek young vines ready to be planted

After our tour through the Tablas’ vineyards, Robert brought us to the on-site nursery for a first hand look at how these vines are propagated. In fact, many steps need to be taken before, say, a Grenache vine can be planted in the vineyard. First, vine budwood needs to be selected and grafted onto Phylloxera resistant rootstock.

I shot  this a brief video of Robert showing us how it’s done! Using the omega grafting machine, Robert first cuts the vinifera bud. Next he inserts a suitable rootstock cane while the machine holds the cut vinifera in place. With a second press/cut, the rootstock is cut and now fits like a puzzle piece with the vinifera bud. For a great summary of this vine propagation process, check out the Tablas Creek Vineyard Nursery Journal.

After Robert’s grafting demo, we were off to the Tablas Creek tasting room to taste wine!

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The Rhône Valley comes to Paso Robles

Much has been written about the Hospice du Rhône  and its significance towards the promotion and education of the Rhône Valley and Rhône styled wines. The main objective of this fantastic event, as quoted from the HdR website is to:

” ..represent and embody the spirit of Rhône varieties and those who produce the wines made of these unique winegrapes.

Each year, Hospice du Rhône produces an exceptional three-day wine event, in Paso Robles, California USA ,that is globally regarded as the single most essential and enjoyable gathering of international Rhône wine producers and enthusiasts.

During the wine event, attendees expand their knowledge of the twenty-two Rhône varieties, while rubbing elbows with the winemakers whose passion spurs the inspiration and energy that sets the tone for every seminar, meal and tasting at the spirited affair.” -HdR 2010

La salle de dégustation

The event encompasses two full and jam packed days of tastings, winemaking and viticultural seminars as well as panel discussions. There is also a considerable amount of food and (Rhône style) wine to be consumed. Duh.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the Rhone Valley definitely made a significant showing this year, with producers from Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and the Côtes du Rhône.

However, producers from just about any and every wine growing region suitable for the cultivation of Rhône varietals were represented this year. This is largely what makes the HdR so much fun. It’s like getting a round trip Rhône ticket (for a lot less $$).

The original Rhône Ranger: Bonny Doon

Of course, one the the true originals, Bonny Doon Vineyard was representing that day. If you have not tried these wines as of late, you should. I count them as some of the best Rhône styled wines that North America has to offer. Punto. In fact, last year on my annual visit to the Rhône Valley, I brought bottles of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape inspired Le Cigar Volant and the late harvested Roussanne Le Vol des Anges for my french vigneron friends to enjoy. Both wines make me so proud to say that they (and I) come from California!

Mon coup de coeur..Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards

I tasted through quite a few (dozen) of the wines presented during the 2nd day Grand Tasting at the HdR. Overall, the wines that move me the most, or as the french would say my “coup de coeur” were these two South African blended syrah beauties from Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards. Dark, brooding, mineral, savory..but yet with a (violet) light at the end of the tunnel, fine tannins and good, bright acidity. Both wines were fantastic, and a real revelation for me.

Dos Cabezas Wineworks, AZ !!

HdR even hosted a winery from my home state of Arizona. More specifically, Dos Cabezas is located in Sonoita (southern Arizona). This a family owned winery all the way, with Todd and Kelly Bostock  producing a range of Rhone and spanish styled wines from this truly off the beaten path wine growing region. Talk about true frontiers men/women. I would love to drop by and pay them a visit some day soon..

Dos Cabezas represents at HdR

As I write up this post, I am sipping on a glass of the 2009 Dos Cabezas “Meskeoli”. This white blend of viognier, riesling, roussanne, picpoul and muscat is brisk and dry, yet with enough body to handle a roasted chicken for a sunday picnic, or perhaps pork chops with salsa verde. Kelly Bostock is also a teacher,  and her young students often address her (Ms. Kelly) with the phonetic “Meskeoli”!

Having lunch in Paso Robles..post HdR. See you in 2011!

 

Next up: A lot on the Lot!!

 

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Stéphane Ogier stops by K&L en route to Hospices du Rhône

My last visitor before the start of Hospices du Rhône was with Stéphane Ogier of Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier located in northern Rhône appellation of Côte-Rôtie.

The vineyards of this famous A.O.C. are located just south of the ancient town of Vienne and are spread across the 3 communes of Saint-Cyr-sur-le-Rhône, Ampuis, and Tupins-et-Semons. To work (or walk) the vineyards of Côte-Rôtie is one of the most challenging exercises that one can undertake in the world of wine..

Côte-Rôtie cross-section courtesy of Inter-Rhône

The slopes here are extremely vertical, so all work must be done laboriously and by hand. Composed overwhelmingly of grantitic rock, these steep parcels are planted to syrah, (with a bit of viognier) and keep from falling into the might Rhone river by judiciously fortified stone walls.  In english, Côte-Rôtie literally translates to “the roasted slope” , which references to the long hours of sunlight that these vineyards slopes receive. Nearly 60 different parcels or “lieu-dit”, all with varying exposition and slight variance in soil type no doubt contribute to the incredible complexity for which wines from this appellation are so famous.

What does a wine from Côte Rôtie taste like?

Descriptors often include:

blackcurrent, violets, bacon-fat (savory), smoke/flint (mineral), roses, white pepper.

La famille Ogier’s estate is located in the village of Ampuis, and consists of 15 acres (6 acres are within the Côte Rôtie appellation). Prior to 1980, Michel Ogier (a.k.a. pere), sold both his fruit and  wines  to the large negoçiant Marcel Guigal. However the new decade brought a change of esprit for Michel, and he began to bottle his wines under his own label. In 1997, Stéphane Ogier (fils), took charge of the property. Since then, the young, passionate and very determined Stéphane has rocked this small domaine to new heights, both in terms of quality and reputation.

Below is a recap on what I tasted with Stéphane.

2006 Michel and Stéphane Ogier Côte-Rôtie

 2006 Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier Côte Rôtie

Composed of 100% syrah from from vineyards located in both the Côte Blonde (70%) and Côte Brune (30%). The vine age ranges from 18-63 years. Deep, black cherry, with very subtle hints of smoke and savory notes. Silky mouthfeel and refined tannins.

2007 La Rosine Syrah

2007 Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier “La Rosine” Syrah

La Rosine comes from 15 year old vines planted between Côte Rôtie and Condrieu. Deep purple fruits matched with just a hint of tobacco, spice and fresh acidity make this a great wine to starting point for getting to know the wines and style of northern Rhone syrah.

soul mate..

2006 Domaine Michel and Stéphane Ogier “l’Âme Soeur” Syrah

l’Âme Soeur is composed of 100% syrah from vineyards planted on the opposite side of the Rhône River in Seyssuel and near the town of Vienne. These southwest facing slopes display a soil type quite simliar to that of the famous Côte Brune in Côte-Rôtie.

 L’Âme Soeur or soul mate in French is therefore a very fitting name for this cuvee which is  fermented and aged in cask, of which about ½ is new oak. Smoky, spicy and dark cherry characterize this elegant and inviting syrah.

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..Another great visit the other day from the northern Rhone by Nicolas Jaboulet. Nicolas, who hails from the famous family firm of Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné (and left the company in early 2009), has teamed up with the Perrin family of Beaucastel fame in a new joint venture  entitled Maison Nicolas Perrin.  The project seeks to showcase the unique terroir, qualities wines of the northern Rhone.

When I met up with Nicolas, he was in the midst of an ambitious travel itinerary through the United States in order to introduce and promote this select portfolio of wines. One of these stops included the Hospices du Rhône out here in California.

Nicolas Jaboulet et Mumu

Maison Nicolas Perrin will produce cuvées of 3-12,000 bottles, from selected vineyard sites and appellations throughout the northern Rhone. The wines will then be blended and bottled in the Perrin winery in Orange. 

La gamme de NJ_PF

 

On this particular day, we tasted through the following wines. Overall, I found the entire range to be quite elegant, accessible and well priced. Each wine showcased perfectly the different style and characteristics of each appellation. They are a great addition to what the northern Rhone already contributes to the wine world.  I will certainly be featuring one or two of them in future Rhone tastings.

Please click on each wine below for a more information and a detailed tech sheet.

 2008 Maison Nicolas Perrin Hermitage Blanc

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin St. Joseph

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Côte-Rôtie

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Ermitage

 

Next up: Domaine Ogier

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Hospices du Rhone 2010

A couple of weeks ago one of the biggest, interesting and most fun tastings in the Golden State was held in Paso Robles, California. Every year, and over the course of a few days, the Hospices Du Rhone has hosted winemakers the world over who make Rhone and Rhone style wines.

Grenache, syrah, mourvedre, picpoul? All of these varietals and then some were showcased at the HdR. In addition to a grand tasting where Rhone-heads have the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines from Santa Barbara to South Africa, the event co-ordinates a series of panel discussions and seminars on viticulture, winemaking and other relevant topics related to all things Rhone.

Vincent, Susan, Mumu, Philippe et Francois chez K&L Wine Merchants

As you can imagine, the week of HdR brought many winemakers from all over the world to the California coast. The place where it all started, the Rhone Valley in France, brought its big guns over to represent. Lucky me, as most of these folks took the time out of their busy schedule to touch down in San Francisco, stop by K&L and introduce us to their latest releases.

Clos Saint Jean's 2008 releases

The first group to drop by included Vincent Maurel, Phillipe Cambie and Francois Villard.  Vincent’s family domaine is none other than Clos Saint Jean in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While the winery has been producing wine for over a century, in the last decade, this modest property has shot to Rhone superstardom, producing a range of several cuvees that have garnered immense praise  by journalists (yes, 100 points) as well as Rhone connoisseurs.

Philippe Cambies' "babies" -Les Halos de Jupiter

How did this happen? Hard work, meticulous attention to detail, and the help of Philippe Cambie (holding the CNP book) are the answer. Philippe is a veritable Rhone superstar, and one busy guy. As a consulting oenologist, Philippe has worked with or advised close to 50 domaines throughout the Southern Rhone Valley. One of his latest projects, is also his very own.

From some of the very best fruit sources that the southern Rhone has to offer, Phillipe produces a limited range of wines with one common theme. Grenache is King! Grenache is Philippe’s passion, so whether it be a CNP (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) or a Gigondas, this generous varietal always assumes a dominant presence in the wines. Like the Roman god Jupiter as well as the largest planet in our solar system, so Grenache reigns. For Philippe, the “halos” of Jupiter represent the appellations that best showcase Grenache.

The northern Rhone where Syrah reigns supreme

Approximately 90 minutes north of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, one enters a land where “la Syrah” is queen! The northern Rhone is unquestionably the benchmark for syrah. Great syrah in fact. Guigal’s La, La’s? Chave Hermitage? Clape Cornas. Yep, this is their stomping (planting) ground.

When one speaks of top guns of the Northern Rhone, Francois Villard’s name is included on the list. Dynamic, curious, and passionate, Francois produces a range of impeccably made, yet elegant wines that really speak of where they are from. In addition to his work in Condrieu, Cote Rotie and St. Peray, Francois is also involved in producing a limited range of California Rhone style wines with Dave Miner under the name “La Diligence”.  This guy can’t sit still!

Merci beaucoup pour la visite!

Next: Nicolas Jaboulet

 

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K&L Wine Merchants northern Rhone lineup

The other day K&L Wine Merchants featured wines from the northern Rhone Valley for our in store tasting. Syrah grown in cool climates are some of my all time favorite red wines, so I was very psyched to do this tasting. Below is a complete list of what we opened..

K&L Wine Merchants –San Francisco

Wines of the Northern Rhone Valley

$20

1. 2007 A. Clape St. Peray                                                                                   

2. 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aîné  “Les Jalets” Crozes-Hermitage Blanc                           

3. 2007 Pierre Gonon Saint-Joseph                                                                         

4. 2007 Yves Cuilleron “L’Amarybelle” St-Joseph                                                        

5. 2006   Domaine Belle “Les Pierrelles” Crozes-Hermitage                                            

6. 2007 Domaine Hauts Chassis “Les Chassis” Crozes-Hermitage

7. 2006 A. Clape “Renaissance” Cornas                                                

8. 2007 Vincent Paris “La Geynale” Cornas                                                            

9. 2006 Domaine Duclaux “La Germine” Côte Rôtie                                                   

10. 2007 Guigal Condrieu      

The turnout was impressive in all three locations (San Francisco, Redwood City and Hollywood) with customers really frequently commenting on how different and unique each wine tasted. Overall I think that that tasting proved to be really educational for all, including myself. I love hearing folks different descriptors. Today for instance someone got “hot dog” in one of the Crozes-Hermitage. And guess what? We all pretty much agreed, although ultimately we all decided that “smoked meat” sounded more eloquent! Check out another customers tasting note below.. which has to be one of my all time favorites. I have not quite deciphered its true meaning, however by the looks of it..quite a few smiley faces and bared teeth? I believe the notes are mostly positive!

    

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Domaine de Piaugier in Sablet

I am interrupting my regularly scheduled Spring Mountain program to share with you some photos that I took last night at dinner. San Francisco based importer Charles Neal was hosting Jean-Marc and Sophie Autran from Domaine de Piaugier located in the Cotes du Rhone village of Sablet. The two vignerons are on a “north american” tour, visiting several key markets and meeting with their importers (including Charles) and various clients.

While Charles plated up a delicious multi-course dinner, Sophie briefed us on the various vineyard sites and terrior of Sablet..

Sophie Autran of Domaine de Piaugier

After our Sablet seminar, we rolled up our sleeves and got the party started..

Bon Appétit!

Slow braised pork, roasted sweet and creamer potatos, swiss chard..

And the lineup below!!

La gamme de Piaugier

One of the more unusual wines was Piaugier’s 2007 “Ténébi” a Rhone red comprised of 100% counoise. What makes this wine so unique? Counoise, while relatively known and planted in the southern Rhone Valley, is virutally always used as a blending grape, and in very small percentages to boot. However Jean-Marc and Sophie are so enamored with this late ripening (and hearty) varietal that they decided to vinify and bottle it solo.  Says Jean-Marc, “In 1990, I visited Beaucastel and I tasted their counoise in barrels and I thought that was extraordinary and since I had some planted and had time to kill in 1991, I decided to bottle the Ténébi and it turned out even better than I thought it would!”

Domaine de Piaugier "Ténébi" Côtes du Rhone Villages-Sablet

The Autran’s first official bottling of  Ténébi was in 1991, and since then they have never looked back. And I think that they are definitely onto something good here. I have had multiple vintages of this wine and always thoroughly enjoyed its deep plum, spice and anise flavored nuances. In fact, I have a bottle of 1998 Ténébi still waiting to be opened! It is definitely a Rhone worth seeking out.  As it is a late ripening varietal, counoise can better handle heat and higher temperatures than traditional Rhone varietals like syrah or even grenache. Is it possible that as the Rhone Valley experiences increasingly warmer vintages  that we might see more new plantings of the odd little duck known as counoise?

Please check out “les photos” to find out what other fun wines we enjoyed chez Charles!

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