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Whirly wine tour of Macon and Southern Rhone, 16-17th April 2014

On collecting my little Fiat 500 at Lyon airport I whizzed north to Macon and west ten kilometres to “ La Roche Vineuse” a little village just north of Pouilly and Fuisse ( these are separate villages, contrary to most thinking). As I searched for Alain and Sylvain Normand’s property I spotted a man on a little tractor and was about to ask for directions. It turns out to be Alain, with a big smile on his face we say “Bonjour “ and we meet back at the house.

Its bottling time and Alain is hands on with everything in the vineyard so he hands me over to his wife Sylvain. She happens to speak little English and I little French so what ensued was quite a comical yet successful little tour of the vineyards around the village that Alain owns and all in a little Peugeot 106 that covers the rocky terrain like a range rover and at a 20th of the price! What a wonderful vehicle: then again in Nigeria in the Eighties most of the taxis were battered Peugeot 504’s and they went on and on.

Alain has 33 hectares of vineyards altogether, divided between here, Pouilly Fuisse, Macon Village ( Salutre and Chaintre) and St Veran. Since 2009 he has been semi organic: farmed under the practices of “ Le Trei Lutte Raisonnee) and Terras Vitis, sustainable and common sense farming of the land with total control and hands on attention by Alain. Here in Macconias they are unique in being allowed to grow two grapes for their red wines; Gamay and Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes are the first vines I lay my eyes on with Sylvain and there is much grass evident in between the vines here; Alain wants to limit the amount of grapes so he keeps this grass growing during the whole summer. This increases the quality of the grapes too. Its a wonderful sight seeing the first sprouting leaves and some very tiny grapes appearing on the vines: the wonder of the green springing forth amidst a country of rocks, chalk and clay. Its quite the sight.

The Chardonnay grapes are pruned using the “ baguette” method, with a twisted semi circle and down onto the same piece of wire. The majority of grapes here in Macconais are Chardonnay. There is a lot of “Calcaire” dotted amongst the vines, big pieces of rock surround the edges too. It has not rained here at all in 2014, so this is a little worrying. The clay plays a big part in retaining the water when it falls so the vines can survive the hard months of the summer. The younger Pinot Noir vines that we come across later had the grass ploughed so that the energy is not take away from the infant plants. From the top of the hills here there was a fabulous view south to Beaujolais.

The top vineyard is called “ La Croix de Mortceau”. In the tasting room a few minutes later and after seeing Alain busy in the cellar getting the wines ready for bottling the next day ( Alain is totally hands on and in control of all parts of the winemaking clearly) we sat down and tasted some wines. First up was the Pouilly Fuisse 2011 in steel and very serious it was too; lean, clean, subtle fruit and long mineral tones with some real freshness too. My kind of wine. My kind of Chardonnay. The wine is from a new vineyard to Alain, in 2010 he acquired from Sylvain’s parents. Old vines though. So new but old, which is great.

We also tasted his 2010 Pouilly Fuisse in oak Barique. Sensational. It was during this conversation and tasting that Alain explained to me that history of the Premier Cru status. It started during the occupation of France by Germany during the 2nd world war. They occupied burgundy but only as far south as Chalon: they requisitioned wines from the french winemakers, except for their “First Growths”, which they were allowed to keep. Hence the Premier Cru status started but not as fas south as Macon since the occupation of France had not come that far south. Alain explained to me that St Veran and Pouilly Fuisse were soon hoping to get their Premier Cru status.

Lastly we tasted Alain’s Gamay from La Roche Vineuse, to me his signature wine in many ways: Gamay from Macon is unique, and its also, as we were to find out, a little more austere and richer than its counterparts a little further south. Twenty years ago, Alain explained to me this wine was simply called “ Macon”. These vines are his original vines, his pride and joy. Now they are vines from his own appellation, the only winemaker in “La Roche Vineuse”. The wine is a joy to drink. Trust me, its what Gamay should be. From here Mr Whirly booted south to Carpentras to visit Campagne Bacchus, a small “Organic’” winery owned by Richard and Diane Bacchus.

I arrived just as the sun was hiding opposite Mount Ventoux and a special sight it was too. The little green buds dotted the brown vines and landscape of the Cote de Ventoux land. The wind was pretty fierce yet there is a calm about this place that is serene and beautiful. Diane cooked a simple yet lovely pasta and tomato dish and we tasted their wines. Their Matines 2011 made from 75 % Grenache and 25 % Cinsault, lovely strawberry nose like a Pinot Noir, harvested early and a very long maceration of eight weeks called a Souple where they have the malo and alc fermentation together. A wonderful trip indeed followed by a little cafe in the square of Beaume de Venise the next morning.


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Cairanne, 2009

This wine is now sold out. New Vintage arrives March-April 2014.

It’s a right old Cairanne! And this really is anything but. Not old in anyway and very fresh and exciting, this lesser known Cotes de Rhone Village is very much treading its own path into the new age of wine growing in France, where wines that sell at that optimum price point, £10-14, really are shining through. I tasted this wine with Audrey Armand on that sun blessed evening on the 27th July 2011 and thought it was exactly what I wanted in a top quality Rhone, that doesn’t have the price tag of some of the better known appellations a little further south but most definitely has the quality. This wine is made from older vines, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. If you can, decant and leave for an hour.

Mr Whirly says:

“ A pure delight of joy. I bought this wine from the little village north of more recognised names in Southern Rhone because it provides great quality at a great price. This is a special cuvee and like all their wines, the grapes are picked with meticulous attention and care. Smooth and juicy with hints of tabacco and liquorice as well as a hint of black cherries and white pepper. Fantastic value for the quality of the wine.”

Alc vol: 14.5%

Winemakers notes:

This is a Special cuvée – limited production wine. AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne , Cuvée LOUIS red 2009.

Terroir: hill side limestone. Old vine Grenache, 50%, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre. Hand harvested and selective picking. De-stemming, long maceration, aged in oak barrels that are two years old for 6 months. This wine has a deep red purple colour, the nose is intense and complex, black pepper, mineral and after breathing we discover ripe aromas of cherry and coulis sauce with light toasted notes. In the mouth this wine has a well balanced structure, powerful with fruit flavours and elegant tannins with a long finish with some light vanilla showing through. Can be aged for up to 6 years and drinking beautifully now.

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Rasteau, 2009

Something has always excited me about this name: Rasteau! It evokes a slightly mischievous thought, I guess because the name sounds a little like rascal. Anyway, although not a picturesque as Sablet, up on the hill a few miles away, this little town is just as famous for great wines!

Mr Whirly says:

“  Luscious fruit on this wine. Love it: this is Mr Whirly’s Rasteau! I tasted this wine at a wine dinner with James Rix at the Fox and Hounds in November 2011 and it was incredibly perfumed and scented with violets.  A subtle wine, which is unusual for a Rasteau. Really very impressive.”

Winemakers notes:

“ Terroir: large pebbles and clay. 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre. Hand harvested and selective picking. This wine has a nice ruby colour. The nose is complex and intense with some aromas of ripe red fruits, cherry, strawberry. The structure is fleshy, well-balanced with fine tannins and elegant peppery notes. Can be aged for up to 5 years.”

Alc vol:14.5%

Price: sold out until new vintage arrives April 2014

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A.O.C Cote de Rhone, 2009, “ La Combe d’Antide”

Incredibly excited about my first Cote de Rhone! Yeah! We are making giant strides!

I searched one frantic afternoon  in the summer of  2011 for something good and found Audrey and Domaine Armand on a 40 degree centigrade afternoon on the 30th July 2011!

Mr Whirly says:

“ The wine is made from 70 year old vines, grown on sand and limestone, 70% Grenache and 30% Carignan. Small production, 43 hls, lovely fresh fruit structure, all one would want in a Cote De Rhone. I like the fact it has no Shiraz in the wine since the wine is given a fresh without this grape. I hope a winner for restaurants who need a quality Cote de Rhone by the glass.  Hand picked grapes, juicy and ripe fresh fruit that really stands out in the glass. Really exciting wine for the price.”

Winemakers notes:

Terroir: Sandstone and limestone

Hand harvested and selective grape picking. The wine has a deep cherry red colour, brilliant and clear. The nose is very intense with ripped fruit aromas and a note of leather and Kirsch. In the mouth the structure is very round and soft with a very good concentration of spices, liquorice and fruits, with a fresh final finish. Pleasant to drink now or can be aged for 2-3 more years.

Alc vol:14.5%

Sold out: new vintage arrives July 2013

Price: Sold out until new vintage arrives April 2014

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Domaine Armand

I have always found Rhone wines exciting: the complex blending of varietals I imagine has something to do with it. Also, what I like about the Rhone is that generally the quality of the wine is solid. I am very rarely left leaving Rhone feeling disappointed, Cote Rotie, maybe being the one exception. So it was a plan to find some wines that were a little different and as always with a Whirly wine, made with some passion.

I found Domaine Armand on Wednesday 27th July 2011 after a long day hunting in the Rhone for hidden gems. I found some lovely ones, sadly not hidden though, since all were represented in the UK.  I was not about to give up though and I visited Domaine Richaud, where Marie, having told me that their wines were with Liberty, told me that she had a cousin that also made wine. So in the late afternoon of  that day I found Domaine Armand, in the country outside of Cairanne and loved their wines. One can tell they are made by hand and with a little bit of extra attention. I have imported three of their wines, listed below:

Cote de Rhone 2009, “ La Combe De Antibe”

Rasteau 2009

Cairanne 2009

(pictures below were taken when I re-visited the vineyard on the 15th August to get a feel for the soil and land)

History of the vineyard ( winemakers notes)

The estate Armand’s Vineyard exists for more than 80 years.

In 1990, Jean-Paul ARMAND, Rosie ARMAND and their son Patrice set themselves up as the EARL “La Magnaneraie”.

In the course of generations, we have  preserved the vineyard and contributed to its extension. It stretches now over 35 hectares.

We began in 2002 the creation of the chai (cellar). In 2003 we carried out our first vinification, with 200 hectolitres; the rest of the production had to stay in the cooperative, waiting for the shares’ expiry. The production for 2003 was of the order of 12,000 bottles. In 2004 the entire production 1,500 hl is stored in our Chai and we are able to expand our range of wines. The great diversity of the estate’s soil allows us to make wines with different labels and to guarantee our wines typical characteristics. In 2004 the production is of the order of 27,000 bottles, divided in four labels.

The Domain possesses a very diversified soil, that allows us to have a production with various names and to guarantee the typicité ( expression) of our wines. We are the owners of vineyards in Cairanne and Rasteau. In 2005 the winery produced 35,00 bottles