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Jean Marc Autran in 2011
DOMAINE de PIAUGIER
Southern Rhône estate is situated in the village of Sablet, near
It's owned by the Autran family and winemaker Jean-Marc Autran has been at
the helm since the mid-1980s.
His great grandfather built the cellar in the 1940s and Jean-Marc expanded
it in the mid-1990s.
The property comprises approximately 30 hectares of vineyards, a small
patch in Gigondas and most of the rest split between the Côtes-du-Rhône
appellation and that of Sablet. The vineyards are mature, most being
somewhere between 20 years of age on the young side.
Wines from this estate routinely are nicely balanced and well-made.
They have a nice standard of quality.
We've often have the Sablet rouge from Piaugier. It comes from soils
featuring clay, limestone and sand which gives the Grenache a particular
spice note. The wine is a blend of Grenache and Syrah and it's
medium-bodied, not a big, heavy monster. The wine has
routinely "made the cut" here and customers who buy a bottle
often return a day or two later to pick up some more (this is the 'test'
of a good bottle of wine...not some numerical score from a critic).
A recent addition is their lovely Gigondas. This comes from a 3 and
a half acre patch of 40 year old vines. It's Grenache, Mourvèdre
and Syrah. Autran matures 20% of the lot in once-used wood and 10%
in new oak. This is, then, bottled without filtration. The 2017 is quite a nice wine and we suggest it as being a good value,
too. Pair this with a savory lamb stew or braised lamb shanks...it's
a great combination!
Jean-Marc and Sophie had visited the famous Beaucastel estate in
Chateauneuf some years ago and tasted a number of samples of various
varietals, one being Counoise. This is an obscure grape, said to
have been brought to the Rhone centuries ago as a gift to the Pope from
some emissary who obtained cuttings in Spain. It's not widely
cultivated in the Southern Rhone, but you'll see it listed as a percentage
or two in many Chateauneufs.
The Autrans found the wine to be of
interest and Jean-Marc started making Counoise on its own back in the
early 1990s. Today they produce a few barrels' worth and label it
"Tenebi." It's a medium-bodied red wine showing a whiff of
oak and nice red fruits with an underlying spicy element. It's quite
good and a nice match for braised or stewed meats.
Jean Marc in the cellar
Currently in stock: 2017 GIGONDAS $24.99
2019 SABLET ROUGE $16.99
2007 SABLET "Tenebi" Sold Out
Sophie Autran explaining where they have
various parcels of vineyards in Sablet.
A bottle of Tenebi served with some Sablet
Domaine Jasmin -- Côte Rôtie
- The Jasmin family has been farming it's narrow, terraced vines on the
steep hills above the Rhône for 4 generations.
Their vineyards are planted with 95% Syrah, said to be the
"Serine." There is not much agreement on what precisely the
Serine grape is.
Is it a "clone" of Syrah? Is it a different variety
UC Davis lists Serine as an alternate name for Syrah, while some growers in
the Northern Rhône will tell you it's different. But that's what
makes wine so interesting!
Jasmin has about 5% of the domaine's vineyards planted with Viognier and
they say the co-ferment Syrah with this in about that
Their wines have typically been nicely drinkable when young (some Côté Rôties
need years to blossom and they are hard as a rock and closed in their
youth), but usually develop quite handsomely.
Patrick Jasmin, by the way, was a French Kart Cross champion a couple of
decades ago in his youth...he remains competitive, at least with respect to
his winemaking. He's been a rather traditionalist in the cellar
and bottles his wine without fining or filtration.
We currently have his 2016 Côte-Rôtie in the shop. It's a
medium-bodied, elegant rendition, fairly typical of the Jasmin style.
We like the dark fruit aromas and the flavors confirm the aromatics.
The tannin level is modest, but with ample acidity, this should age
nicely. It is certainly approachable now and can likely go into the
2030s if you have that much patience.
Currently in stock: 2016 JASMIN CÔTE-RÔTIE
JEAN MICHEL GERIN
Gerin family has been cultivating vines for 5 generations, but the history
of this domaine began in 1983 when Jean-Michel purchased a small parcel of
Syrah in the Côte-Rôtie appellation. In those days, Rhône wines
were looked at as less-costly alternatives to Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Today some Rhône wines cost more than similar quality Bordeaux and
Gerin started bottling wine only in 1987 and the domaine continues to grow
and excel. We've followed Gerin's wine for a few decades and
are pleased to note the quality was good to begin with and it's even better
now. Amazing what happens when the vines get older and the winemaker
Jean-Michel makes a range of wines, but it's his Côte-Rôtie wines which
excite us the most. His entry-level wine is usually quite nice and he
has a small parcel in Les Grandes Places, too with old, older and ancient
I bought a bottle of Gerin's 2004 La Landonne to taste. Guigal makes a
"grand cru" caliber wine from his parcel in La Landonne and has
been making it since the 1978 vintage. Gerin started making wine from
his tiny 4/10ths-of-a-hectare patch of vines in the 1996 vintage.
Gerin's wine costs a small fortune, while Guigal's goes for
"ransom" money. But it was exceptional and so was the
2005. We have not seen this wine in distribution locally for a few
Gerin's basic Cote-Rotie is very fine and while it's not quite at the lofty
level of the single vineyard wine, it's a really great bottle on its own.
"Champin Le Seigneur" is the designation. It's got about 10%
Viognier in the blend and about half the wine was matured in new oak, so you'll
certainly find the wood here.
Speaking of Viognier, Gerin has less than two hectares of vines in the Condrieu
A percentage of the juice is barrel fermented and they do some battonage on the
wine after the fermentation. It's remarkably peachy and complex and you'll
find a note of wood spice from the oak. Dry, of course. Their new
importer doesn't seem to offer this presently.
We have a 2014 Syrah from the appellation "Collines
Rhodaniennes" appellation. Yes, it's a less noble bottling of Syrah,
but it delivers a lot of Northern Rhône character in a youthfully exuberant
We liked the bright blueberry and blackberry fruit with a touch of spice and some
of the olive notes which reminds us a bit of tapenade.
The 2016 bottle we purchased was a dud...funky on the nose to the point where
Ellen said she would not even taste it.
It was a disappointment.
Currently in stock: 2009 GERIN CÔTE-RÔTIE
"Champin Le Seigneur" Sold Out
2014 SYRAH "LA CHAMPINE" Sold Out
- CLEFS DES MURAILLES
It's great to find fantastic wines from
wonderful independent wine growers, but we also appreciate when large
wineries make good wine.
This exceptional Southern Rhône comes from a growers' cooperative winery
called Vignerons de Caractère along the Route de Vaison la Romaine in
Vacqueyras. The winery was founded 50 years ago and today it has
about 80 families growing grapes for the 3+ million bottles they
make. With such economies of scale, they can offer their wine at a
rather attractive price.
They're environmentally conscious, too. They say their growers
farm sustainably with an eye towards organic viticulture.
The cellars are quite modern and the winery makes not only Vacqueyras in
numerous versions, but also Gigondas and some Beaumes de Venise.
They make a bunch of single vineyard or single grower wines, vinifying
these to be bottled individually.
We've had their simple "Clefs des Murailles" Vacqueyras in the
shop for a number of vintages. It's been reliably well-made and
The local importer tells us the wine is mostly Grenache with some Mourvèdre
that have been traditionally vinified. With maybe 25% Syrah in the
blend, this fraction has undergone a whole berry fermentation so as not to
extract a lot of tannin. They want the wine to be showing well in
We tasted their 2016 vintage Vacqueyras and it's medium-dark colored,
showing lots of berries and spice notes. Oak is not a part of this
wine...the fruit takes center stage. It doesn't strike us as a wine
for cellaring, so drinking it over the next year, or so, is probably
best. You can pair this with a lamb or beef stew or some grilled
meats or sausages.
Currently in stock: 2016 CLEFS DES
MURAILLES Vacqueyras $19.99
DOMAINE LES TERRASSES D'EOLE
the vines are old, the winery is brand new. Owned by the Saurel
family, the fruit from these vines in the Côtes du Ventoux village of
Mazan used to be delivered to the local grower's cooperative winery until
1998. Then Stephane Saurel took over the family domaine, named after
the god of wind, Eole.
He's been doing a good job. Almost too good.
We would wince when our late colleague Bob Gorman would show people the
Ventoux red wine from the Saurel family, even though customers were asking
for more expensive bottles.
Bob, ever the bargain hunter, was confident people would be thrilled by
the wine, even if it cost less than what they were willing to pay.
The property comprises some 24 hectares of vines. They cultivate
Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Clairette, Ugni Blanc and
Viognier. The Carignan vines are from Grandpa Saurel, those vines
being rather elderly. The cellars are new, but not reeking of
modernity. In fact, they strive to move the wines by gravity, rather
than pumping, for example.
With dad in the vineyards and the son in the cellar, these guys have an
unusually good, rather "serious" quality Côtes du Ventoux wine.
With all that wind crisscrossing their estate, they installed a small
turbine to harness some energy and it worked nicely.
But they thought they could have a bigger one, hoping to produce
electricity. They did not have the money for such a machine, so they put out
an offer to their local customers: help us finance this thing and we
will pay you back in wine over the next five years. More than 300
people responded and so they were able to buy a machine, but it turned out
to be a lemon. It did not even last for a year!
The Saurels were lucky, though...the year after the turbine busted, a new
company, seeing this site was potentially ideal for harnessing the winds,
offered to install a prototype of their windmill and now, more than a decade
later, it's still working!
The 2018 is the current vintage.
It's 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.
The wine is called "Mountagniero" in France, but it carries a
simpler label for our market, as the local importer did not think putting
the name of a French wind would help sell the wine.
The flavors confirm the aromas, being
beautifully balanced. Fans of 16% alcohol California wines will
probably find this wine to be too "delicate," but it's
marvelously flavorful and dangerously drinkable for those who don't have
We suggest serving this wine at cool cellar temp. It's not a bottle
for "cellaring." You'll want to drink this now.
Currently in stock: 2018 Côtes du Ventoux Rouge
MY LUNCH WITH THE SAUREL
FAMILY SOME YEARS AGO
- CHATEAU DE MONTMIRAIL
- The Archimbaud family has
holdings in both Vacqueyras and Gigondas. We've had numerous vintages over the years
and find these to be rather deeply fruity reds with a hint of a jammy note. They are
good examples of their appellations and, thanks to a local importer with a great deal of
integrity, the wines of Montmirail arrive at prices which should catch the attention of
those searching for value.
The vineyard has been in the family for years and they've been making their
own wines for more than 50 years now. If I understood them correctly,
the winery began bottling its own products in 1980.
- They make several bottlings of Vacqueyras, some basic
Côtes du Rhônes and the Cuvée Beauchamp Gigondas. As they tend to be wines of
modest acidity, we feel these are best consumed in their youth. Since the wines,
further, tend to be so approachable, they may be served with white meats as well as
Tasting out of tank.
Oak is not a major part of the wines of this house. Only a few lots
see any wood and, as you can see to the right, the wood that's there is
quite old and neutral.
We currently have the 2018 Gigondas.
It's primarily Grenache with maybe 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre.
- Currently in stock: CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL 2018 Gigondas
- CHÂTEAU LA CANORGUE
- A top producer in the Côtes du Luberon, Jean-Pierre Margan is a believer in
organically-farmed vineyards. Located in the town of Bonnieux. he is much-envied by
the neighboring viticulteurs. The red wines of the Côtes du Luberon are made of the
same varieties you'll find in the southern Rhone. Knowing the neighbors are jealous,
he told some blabbermouth that he had "Cabernet" in the vineyards. The
neighbors then called the authorities who came out to Bonnieux to investigate and make an
arrest. Much to their dismay, the "Cabernet" Margan had "out in the
vineyards" was of a four-legged variety. That is, "Cabernet" was the
name of Margan's dog! When we visited him we saw a couple of dogs. I asked
which one was Cabernet.
"Oh, Cabernet died," replied Monsieur Margan.
"Now I have
- We heard a report that a wealthy American family sent an emissary to the
estate with a blank check and asked Jean Pierre to "fill in the amount
and then leave." He told the Rockefellers (allegedly) "Non, merci."
While we appreciate his sense of humor, we appreciate his wines even more.
We were amongst the first fans of La Canorgue in the Bay Area wine
market. In fact, the importer, ages ago, wanted to take a snapshot of
Jean-Pierre and myself as we did a good job in promoting the wines.
We found some vintages of their red wine to be less than stellar and skipped
But Jean-Pierre's daughter Nathalie is now quite invested in the vineyards
and cellar and recent vintages have been seriously good, so we're back
on-board as a major Canorgue "ambassador."
The property is gorgeous as you may have seen if you're a movie fan...
- Canorgue was the location of the Russell Crowe film "A Good
Year." Given the critic's reviews of this movie, we can say at
wine always garners greater accolades. (We saw the film and thought it
was delightful. No, it's not a classic, but it was entertaining and a
- The 2019 Canorgue Luberon Blanc was delicious.
It features some typical white grapes from the Rhône along with Roussanne
We find the wine to be dry and apparently non-oaked. There's a ripe
pear tone here and a hint of a spicy note...very fine and easily drinkable
on its own or with food.
The 2017 Rouge may be the best red from this estate in a number of
years...maybe a decade?
Syrah, Grenache and old-vine Carignane make this a nicely robust
red. It's intense in color and teeming with dark fruit notes and a
bit of spice.
We find notes reminiscent of black olives, herbs and a touch of
pepper. It's a very soulful wine and well-priced.
You can put this on the dinner table tonight with a savory,
rosemary-scented roasted chicken, grilled pork, all sorts of lamb dishes,
sausages, Cassoulet, duck and more.
The classic pairing might be a rosemary-seasoned, garlic-studded leg of
The wine will show well for a number of years, so stashing one in the rack
to drink five years from now might be a good idea.
A couple of Americans run a small tour company in the area. Check
their website if you're interested. Click on the photo below...
- PHOTOS (and more)
OF CHÂTEAU LA CANORGUE
Currently in stock: 2017 CHÂTEAU LA CANORGUE ROUGE Sold Out
2019 CHÂTEAU LA CANORGUE BLANC Sold Out
family-run vineyard and winery is located about halfway between the city
of Orange and the lovely town of Nimes.
You need about half an hour in the car from either venue to find Romarins
in the village of Domazan.
We've had a few vintages of their Côtes du Rhône Rouge in the shop and
these have been quite good and well-priced.
The 2017 is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignane..
The vines are mature, ranging from 20 years of age to 30.
It's a simple, yet soulful red wine. Medium-full bodied, with mild
tannins, you can easily drink this now in its youth. The fragrances
and flavors are reminiscent of red fruits such as strawberry and
raspberry. Add to that is a hint of spice and maybe even a touch of
an herbal quality which suggests rosemary. This is quite
enjoyable now and it should last nicely for three or four years.
It's a wonderful bottle and well-priced.
Currently in stock: 2017 DOMAINE DES ROMARINS CÔTES du RHÔNE