Whilst in the Rhône Valley this week, I’ve been fortunate to be able to do the blending for both our Châteauneuf-du-Pape from La Fagotière as well as our Côtes du Rhône-Villages from Domaine des Grands Devers in Valréas.
Many of our exclusive wines come from older vines or specific plots with a special terroir. Our wines from the Rhône are a blend of several grape varieties and I am able to help the vignerons do their blends prior to bottling in March.
At La Fagotière in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we are blending three main grape varieties together which are famous in this region; namely Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. In Châteauneuf, one can use up to 13 grape varieties. However, the majority of winemakers utilise just three or four.
As it happens, owner and winemaker, the genial Pascal Chastan, has parcels of very old vines planted by his grandfather which are a complantation of several varieties such as Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Mourvèdre and Counoise. In reality, these varieties do not ripen together at the same time. But because the appellation rules in Chateauneuf requires the grapes to be picked by hand only, the vendangeurs are able to go through the vineyard on several occasions and pick only the bunches which are totally ripe. They are then fermented together – a process called co-fermentation.
Our blending starts off with a tasting of the base wines from the vats. In 2014 due to weather conditions, there were only three principal grape varieties: Grenache and Mourvèdre fermented together (with a little Grenache Blanc and Counoise) and Syrah.
We then tasted different proportions of the varieties until we achieved a blend which reached the key criteria which we were seeking, namely – Balance, length, intensity and complexity. Sounds easy!! We then tasted a couple of previous vintages to ensure we were in the right ballpark.
In vintage 2014, the weather conditions very much favoured the later ripening Grenache. Certainly, the tasting of the base sample of this variety showed it to be very attractive with lots of red fruits and pepper spice. It was also supple and creamy. The Syrah was very meaty and gamey with plenty of colour and tannins. So we went about trying around half a dozen permutations, before settling upon a 75% Grenache/25% Syrah blend for our Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2014. It will be bottled next month. My tasting note is as follows:
‘Medium ruby purple in colour. Attractive floral, spicy nose with pepper and a touch of menthol. In the mouth it is fresh, juicy and supple with raspberry jam, redcurrant and blackberry fruit. It is pure, elegant and juicy. Lovely, spicy, peppery finish of good length.’
It’s certainly a little lighter than in previous years, but no worse for that. In a country such as France, one expects vintage variation – even as far south as the Southern Rhône! 3D Partners can look forward to the release of this wine in May 2016.