Grenache Gris (grey, white, pink and orange)

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At the recent Grenaches du Monde competition, sponsored this year by IGP Pays d’Oc in Montpellier, in September 2020, we tasted red, pink and white wines made from black, grey and white Grenache. We tasted still, sparkling and fortified and revelled in the range of styles and quality. Sadly, due to COVID, apart from one or two lone bottles, all the wines came from Spain, France and Italy. I have also included some wines tasted on an MW trip to Roussillon in May 2019 and others tasted at home during lockdown in April 2020.

During the past couple of years, I have started to note a pattern emerging in my tasting notes which shows just how much I love Grenache Gris white wines. I love their richness, texture and structure. But I also noted just how few of these wines, in their purist form are available.

Grenache Gris photo Bruno Mailliard

Grenache Gris is an ancient variety, closely related to Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc and the even rarer Hairy Grenache (Lledoner Pelut). There may be other clonal variations. Randall Grahm remembers how “Years ago I came across a grower in Perpignan who purported to grow something called Grenache Rouge, which he alleged was the most aromatic Grenache of them all. He gave me some cuttings, which found their way back to California. I grew them in a nursery for a few years and they looked just like Grenache Gris. I presume it’s a biotype (clone) of Grenache Gris but would appear to be a valuable one.” As Grenache Gris is called Garnacha roja in Spain, this may have been a Spanish clone. Most of the current vines in Spain and Roussillon are old and have low yields. Many of the vineyards were abandoned because of their inaccessible location.

As its name suggests its skin is tinged pink. Some suggest it has a thinner skin, making it prone to rot. However, talking to Grahm, one of the original Californian Rhone Rangers, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and now the Popelouchum project with over a thousand varieties (including 2.5 acres of Grenache Gris) suggests that Grenache Gris in some situations can have a thicker, more astringent skins, possibly due to the intense Californian sunlight. He has considered spraying kaolinite on the vines to protect them, but is concerned this will cause a diminution in colour and strip out some nutrients. “so could be a bit dicey.”

Randall Grahm’s Grenache Gris (foreground) Grenache Blanc (behind)

Marcel Bühler of the small Roussillon estate Domaine des Enfants also noted that Grenache Gris can have slightly more tannins (why? thicker skins?) than many white varieties making it more suitable for more structured white wines suitable for ageing.

Grenache Gris, like other members of the Grenache family, has high sugar content, making it prone to higher alcohol levels and is highly resistant to drought. Bühler adds his Grenache Gris into his white field blend along with Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Macabeu. He explained how only small quantities of these varieties were planted because their role was to be blended into the red wines (no more than 20%) to give freshness and alcohol. The freshness possibly comes more from the Carignan Blanc but Grahm suggests that Grenache Gris also has good acid levels. He describes the character of Grenache Gris as having an “anomalous (high) acidity levels” and many of the characteristics in the Central Coast that are found in France such as the “earthy/mineral aspect, a gravitas, if you will, that you get in Grenache Gris that is lacking in Grenache Blanc. At Popelouchum, (with a climate similar to Roussillon) we get a lot of texture and persistence on the palate, maybe not as much of the oiliness as is found in French example, but maybe that’s the lower pH. For reasons that I don’t quite understand, Grenache Gris (and Blanc) seem to enjoy preternaturally high acids and low pHs grown in the cooler parts of Monterey and San Benito Counties.  At Popelouchum, it is not unknown to see a pH of 3.2 at 14.5% potential alcohol.”

Popelouchum Grenache Griss with the odd bunch of Grenache Blanc

Traditional Oxidative Styles

As well as being blended into the red wines, Grenache Gris was also blended with other white varieties to make wines in an oxidative style.

A traditional example is Dom Brial’s Grande Rancio Sec 2000 IGP Côtes Catalans made with 1/3 Grenache Gris, 1/3 Maccabeu, 1/3 Grenache Blanc fermented in cement tank and then six years ageing in barrel. At twenty years of age this wine was full of honey, butterscotch and floral notes with hints of saline savoury nuances. The wine is bone dry with fresh acidity. Salty, citrus, mineral and complex oxidised back layers. Absolutely delicious. (tasted May 2019)

Cave Arnaud de Villeneuve, Rivesaltes Ambré 1988. Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Maccabeu and Muscat aged in barrel. Orange (amber colour). Creamy fruit with hints of burnt orange and fresh orange acidity. A perfect match with orange ice cream and rich enough to handle the chocolate mousse. (tasted May 2019)

Orange Wine

Grenache Gris can also be used as an orange wine where the white wine is fermented on the skins. The natural pigmentation has resulted in a pinky glow.

Amistat Tatsima Gris Orange Sec, Aspres, Vin de France. 90% Grenache Gris 10% Grenache Blanc. A pale pink colour, so appears to be a rosé. On the palate, intense dried peach, apricot and butter with strong phenolic tannic finish and balanced acidity. (tasted May 2019)

Jean-Mark and Justin’s Taronja de Gris 2019, IGP Côtes Catalanes Grenache Gris with some Muscat and Viognier fermented on the skins in barrels. 5000 bottles. Tasted in my new orange wine glass from Rona 5 Star glass. In a number of tastings, this glass proved to bring out the a greater intensity of flavours. Deep golden orange pink colour – in the glass this looks like a rosé! The Muscat and Viognier give attractive floral aromas mixed with notes of dried apricots. On the palate there is fresh acidity in balance with the weight and structure. A dry tannic finish gives length and structure rather than dominating the fruit of bitter orange, dried apricots, bitter chocolate and savoury notes. The floral, perfumed notes return on the finish. (Tasted November 2020)

Jean-Marc and Justin’s Taronja

Katie Jones of Domaine Jones is keen to try an orange wine from Grenache Gris as her next challenge. Grahm has not been thoroughly comfortable with skin contact whites (and greys) due to the astringency in the skins in California. 

White Wine

In the Roussillon, until 2015, only 3% of the white wine was dry table wine, by 2019 it had risen to 15% of production. Although Grenache Gris made as white or gris dry wine and rosé is a relatively new innovation, most Grenache Gris wines tasted were white; when served next to a blanc de blanc or white wine made from white grapes, the wines have a creamier, shell like pinkness about them.

Modern dry white wines can be made either with 100% Grenache Gris or blended with all or some other white varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Macaebu and Carignan Blanc. Here I have focused on wines with largely, or only, Grenache Gris. All the wines I tasted had been in oak of various sizes and ages. It is a variety which appears to age well and develop complex richness.

Domaine Jones barrique blanc sec 2011 vin de France Initial fermentation in tank, finished in barrique and ageing. The wine ended up being too oaky to go into the blend and was left in the barrel and forgotten. When after two years, in 2013, Katie Jones tasted the wine she was pleasantly surprised. With 8 years of age, 4 in barrel, the wine was pale gold. Aromas of mature fruit and buttery. On the palate fresh peach fruit, long acidity and fresh balancing citrus notes, hints of fine oak tannins and restrained oak flavour. Gorgeous. This is a very traditional style and Katie was so pleased with it that she now does this wine every year. (tasted May 2019)

The Guardian 2017, Domaine de la Pertuisane, IGP Côtes Catalanes, old vine Grenache Gris, 6 months in barrel of which 10% were new. No malolactic fermentation. Beautifully integrated oak. dry, fresh saline acidity, quite rich structure although the fruit has a restrained citrus, herbal and white fruit character. (tasted May 2019)

Le Cirque 2019, Terres Plurielles, IGP Côtes Catalanes, old vine Grenache Gris on limestone and clay. Gentle pressing of grapes and selection of free run juice, cold temperature fermentation, wine left on lies in vat. The limestone soil seems to give a brighter freshness with juicy white peach and lime acidity. (tasted September 2020)

L’Amourette 2018, Thunevin-Calvet, IGP Côtes Catalanes.  Sixty year old Grenache Gris on schist, clay and granite, fermented in oak, 40% new oak. 50% malolactic fermentation. Aged for 8 months in barrel. This wine showed more perfumed quince and ripe pear fruit with fresh citrus acidity and spice from the oak ageing. (tasted May 2019)

Grenache Gris features in many white wines in the Collioure appellation on the Spanish border. The vineyards are located on steep schist slopes overlooking the sea and are cooled by humid maritime breezes.

Folio 2018, Coume del Mas AOP Collioure, 90% Grenache Gris, 10% Grenache Blanc on schist. Fermented in barrique. Lots of silky, creamy lemon fruit, with ripe apricots, yellow peach and spice. Oak beautifully integrated. (tasted May 2019)

Cap Béar  Blanc 2018, Les Clos de Paulilles, Cazes, AOP Collioure. 100% old vine Grenache Gris, on coastal vineyards. Fermentation in large cement eggs – porosity gives oxygenation. Aged in eggs and demi muids. 14% abv. Lovely saline acidity, peach fruit, fresh, crisp mineral citrus notes, chalky texture and long fresh acidity. (tasted May 2019)

MWs walking from the beach to the Cap Béar vineyards of les Clos des Paulillies

Grenache Gris has lost out in the popularity stakes next to more international varieties. Upto date information on plantings seem scarce. There are more plantings of Grenache Blanc (Wikipedia 5,896 ha in France alone in 2018 and 2,256ha in Spain in 2009) than Grenache Gris (according to Wikipedia there were only 2,634ha globally planted).  There is a limited amount of Grenache Gris found in Mediterranean climate regions such as South Africa (Fram’s Grenache Gris Malmesbury, Western Cape and Willie Mostert’s Grenache Gris, Voor-Paardeberg, Western Cape – 7 days on skins, natural yeast, 10 months in old oak and California. Grahm notes that “there was (likely still is) a Grenache Gris Vineyard in the Ukiah area that is likely more than 100 years old. Took the folks at McDowell Valley Vineyards a while to figure out what the hell they had but eventually they did.” He is “not convinced that UC Davis necessarily brought in the most interesting clone(s) of Grenache Gris but cluster size is not totally insane.”

Rosé

Some wines are more distinctly rosé. Technically, wines with this hint of colour are called gris de gris. This can cause some confusion, as it also does with Pinot Gris – another gris variety which can make both white and pink tinted wines: when does a white wine become a rosé? Confusion can sometimes be caused by pale rosés being called ‘gris’ wine, even if not made with a gris variety.

I called Bruno Mailliard the winemaker for Domaine Royal de Jarras in the Camargue and Chateau la Gordonne in Provence to discover the finer details of when does Grenache Gris become a white or a rosé? “Grenache Gris is the ‘jewel in the crown variety for Jarras, in the Camargue, some on its own rootstock and next year (2021) the area will (hopefully) receive its own appellation. The region is quite unique as Grenache Gris is not a permitted variety in the appellations of Provence and is not found in much of Languedoc.”

Domaine Royal de Jarras aerial view

(The Grenache Gris of Jarras are not included here – but will write up a visit planned 2021.)

Maillard explained that there is no legal definition between a white and rosé Grenache Gris. Labelling can be confusing – with some pink Grenache Gris labelled as ‘Gris’ and some as ‘Rosé’ or ‘Rosado’.

A white wine made with gris grapes will have a greater amount of anthocyanins (the naturally occurring red pigmentation in grapes) than that found in a white wine. It is possible to test whether very pale rosés have had greater skin contact by the amount of anthocyanins. These anthocyanins are more stable at low pH (acidic conditions) which gives a red pigment. Meanwhile, the higher the pH, the greater chance the pink colour will have blue tints.

Mailliard suggests that if a producer wants to make a Grenache Gris rosé with more colour there are several actions which can be taken.

  • Harvesting a little later to allow greater pigmentation to develop in the skins – although this will never be very pink, and there is a risk of lowering the acidity.
  • Longer skin contact and more pressed juice. Free run juice will yield more white-cream wines. Grahm suggests it would need quite a bit of skin contact to actually make a pink wine from Grenache Gris, and/or the use of enzymes to extract the color. I would venture at least 12-24 hours, but with enzymes maybe less.
  • Reducing lees contact. Time on the lees will remove the colour.
  • Adding a small percentage of a black variety before fermentation.
Greanche Gris at Domaine Royal de Jarras photo Bruno Mailliard

Can the beauty of Grenache Gris white wines, with its great texture and complex, nuanced flavours, also be found in the rosé wines?

Bodegas Salvueros Garnacha Gris rosado 2019 DO Cigales. Cigales, located on the high plateau north of the city of Valladolid, just to the west of Ribera del Duero, in northern Spain, has a long historic tradition for producing Claretes, wines made with a blend of red and white grapes to make light reds/dark rosés. Grenache Gris is permitted, but is an atypical variety in the appellation, although these vines are around 75 years, from the Pago de los Mimbreros, in Mucientes. The high-altitude vineyards contribute to the lovely fresh crisp acidity and long mineral length. Less white peach fruit than some and with a nice intensity of wild berry fruit. (tasted September 2020)

In contrast, the Grenache Gris Belvi 2019 IGP Bajo Aragón, cooperative Bodega San Pedro, lying in a much hotter region, inland from the coast south west of Barcelona 130km from the sea, fermented with local yeast  has an almost peachy colour with creamy apricot fruit and hints of orange with a fine phenolic texture. The cooperative was founded in 1959 and the Garnacha Gris, from an abandoned plot in Matarraña, was planted in 1965. (tasted September 2020)

Ferrer Ribiere rosé 2018 Aspres, AOP Cotes du Roussillon. 85% Grenache Gris and 15% Syrah. Producer would have liked more Syrah – but that would have made the rosé darker and the market wants a pale style. Direct press. Fresh peachy fruit, creamy, good nutty creaminess. Dry. (tasted May 2019)

Arnaud de Villeneuve Le Gris de Grenache 2019 IGP Cotes Catalanes Grenache Gris. Pale gris colour. Creamy white fruit, honeyed ripeness with white nuts and very delicate hints of salty caramel – ripe white fruit and a saline edge. (tasted April 2020)

Vignerons Catalans Saveurs d’Autrefois 2019 rosé IGP Cotes Catalanes Delicate ephemeral whiffs of ripe peach and red berry fruit aromas. On palate creamy white peach fruit with the same delicate perfume and hints of white nuts on the finish making a very pretty rosé. (tasted April 2020)

I questioned why Grenache Gris rosés did not seem to be made with the same concentration and complexity as the white wines. Jones was unsure. “If making a rosé, I think it would be a shame to lose all the potential of the grape as a serious white wine.  The colour of the skins does lend it to making a rosé though, but it would probably be lacking fruit flavours.” Mailliard however is convinced it is possible to produce complex and concentrated pink Grenache Gris if the terroir and winemaking is right.

To me Grenache Gris is an amazing, if a somewhat unrecognised, variety. It can produce grey, pink, orange and creamy-white wines in different styles from light and delicate to rich and fortified. Definitely a variety to explore further as well as further discussion amongst winemakers around the world on clones, climate and winemaking.

Valenci Negre, a unicorn vin gris

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I first met Alvaro at the Big Fortified Tasting (BFT) in the spring of 2018. I had just published my book on rosé and was looking for pink port (there were only two at the show) so I then had plenty of time to look round the other stands. Alvaro was swamped by enthusiastic tasters on the Alvear stand, but we still managed to taste and chat a little.

Fast forward to WineParis in February 2020. After three days of masterclasses I was finally free to walk around the fair at the end of the show. My son, Ben Bernheim, was on a quest to find sweet wine. He had tasted through the fortified wines of Banyuls and Maury and I met up with him to taste some TbA on the Wines of Germany stand. As the fair was closing up, we came to the Alvear stand and, (scarily) Alvaro remembered me.

He started pouring his amazing glasses of vintage PX – glassfuls of intense raisined sugar. He then said – I have a rosé which might interest you. I will send a bottle when it is ready. To be honest – I did not pay much attention. A lot of people tell me they have an interesting rosé.

A few weeks ago, Alvaro messaged me to tell me about his interesting rosé. His opening lines were:

“So, I started a project last year recovering ancient Phoenician vines and vineyards by the coast of Alicante by a salt lagoon, and we came across this variety named Valenci Negre, from which we have made a rosé like a vin gris. It’s nothing refined and polished (also no sulphites and low intervention in anphora), but you being a rosé specialist I thought you might be interested to try.”

With an introduction like that, I said yes straight away!

The Valenci Negre has been known for years and it used to be accepted within the Valencia and Alicante DOs but in the 1970s it was less valued by the cooperatives and was taken off the list of permitted varieties. Valenci Negre is quite difficult. It is late ripening variety, prone to disease, with a very thin, pale skin. It struggles to balance sugar and acidity, with acidity tending to drop dramatically by the end of the ripening season when the sugars start to concentrate.

Most vineyards were grubbed up, but vineyards which remained in the newly created National Park de la Mata were protected. Alvaro and friends created the Sopla Levante project (@sopla_levante) and were looking for something unique as the whole project aims to bring back not only traditional varieties but also traditional methods and taste profiles. They were working with a local, hugely respected grower, and he agreed to sell his Monastrell to them. These grapes grew high up in the mountains at around 700m with a northerly exposure.

One day while walking around the vineyard, they asked him about the tiny (0.5ha) vineyard terraced just above. The winemaker was dismissive “nah, that’s just Valenci Negre, for food. No acidity”

This patch had 90 year old vines with a healthy, but low yield. They decided to make a varietal wine and because the grape has a delicate pink tinge, it made a vin gris style. They decided to make it in an historical, natural style, fermenting in unglazed traditional “tinaja” (amphora) from the centre of Spain/ The wine is unfiltered. When the owner of the vineyard first tasted the wine, he smiled and said he had not tasted a wine like that since he was 20 years old.

“We went crazy. There are weird patches of Valenci here and there in the region, but they were left for harvesters to eat while working, only another group of guys are actually vinifying it”

I tried La Molineta over the course of an afternoon, at first at a normal rosé temperature, decanted and finally, just before we went live on Instagram, room temperature. At first the wine was very closed, but as it opened out, it became more and more interesting. High altitude and northerly exposure had given the wine a vibrant acidity and maybe sea winds added that final note of salinity. I was surprised at the floral notes which emerged – almost a touch of muscat aromatics, with orange blossom and hints of orange peel.

Only 300 bottles were made and the 2019 is already sold out. Sadly, it is impossible to increase production, so this is a rarity.

To find out more, watch the Instagram live chat we had here.

Alicante seems to be an area where things are happening. Look out for Colin Harkness‘s radio and articles coming up on the region.

Cedars, Mountains and Vines – wines of Lebanon

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Despite never having been to Lebanon, like everyone else this week, Lebanon has been on my mind with scenes of the dreadful explosion in Beirut, and a tasting of some Lebanese wine seemed called for.

Ixsir is one of the newer estates in Lebanon, founded in 2008 by Etienne Debbane, Carlos Ghosn, Gabriel Rivero and Hady Kahale, with their wines launched on the Lebanese market in 2010. I first tasted their red wine at a Lebanese masterclass held by Tim Atkin at Prowein in 2015. The 2011 (35% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Syrah 10% Merlot) had a big plummy fruit with firm tannins and evident new oak.

Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastline runs for 225 kilometres. The fertile coastal plain rises steeply up to mountains running the length of the country, where the famed cedars of Lebanon grow. In 1697, Henry Maundrell climbed up into the mountains, he described where

The noble (cedar] trees grow amongst the snow near the highest part of Lebanon; and are remarkable as well as for their own age and largeness, as for those frequent allusions made to them in the word of God. Here are some of them very old, and of prodigious bulk; and others younger of a smaller size. 

The highest mountains rise up to 3088m in northern Lebanon, sloping down to lower altitudes in the middle before rising again to 2695m in the south The Beqaa valley lies at the northern part of the Great Rift Valley which then runs between the Galilee and Golan mountains (mentioned in the last post on Israeli rosé), through the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) and down into Africa.

While the actual cellars are based in the north of Lebanon, the vineyards are spread around the country. Different altitudes and soils are used with different varieties to gain complexity. The lowest vineyards Batroun at 400m in the north lie on clay, sand, limestone planted with Syrah, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot. Ainata, at 1800m (limestone and clay) are planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Caladoc (Grenache x Malbec). Bechouat is at 1100m (red iron clay, gravel and lime) planted with Arinarnoa (Tannat x Cabernet Sauvignon), Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tempranillo. Niha at 1200m (marl and rich limestone) is planted with Viognier and Syrah. Halwa at 1400m in the Bekaa valley (clay and limestone) is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Muscat and Merlot. Jezzine at 950m (chalk, clay, and limestone) is planted with Syrah. As mentioned in previous posts, high altitudes give greater ripeness and thicker skins as well as benefiting from greater freshness and acidity.

High altitude Ixsir vineyards

There are three wine ranges:

  • El Ixsir (red and white wines)
  • Ixsir Grande Reserve (red, white and rosé)
  • Altitudes Ixsir (red, white and rosé)

I had four wines to taste: two white and two red from the El Ixsir range.

El Ixsir 2018 white 70% Viognier 30% Chardonnay on clay and limestone in vineyards at 1200 and 950m. Aged for 12 months in French oak, ⅓ new, ⅓ one fill, ⅓ older. Floral perfumed aromas, delicate but definitely floral. Very careful use of oak – minimal toasting but giving a white nut tannic flip on the finish and some extra dry weight to the structure. Little obvious fruit, slightly closed? Very delicate, gentle lemon acidity, white flowers, fresh almonds, elegant. Opening out in the glass and a spectacular match with fresh sardines baked in white wine and fennel… we just needed a table overlooking the Mediterranean!

El Ixsir 2019 white en primeur Viognier Chardonnay Very perfumed and floral Viognier notes much more evident. Silky rich texture with more evident oak character on the palate and still not yet fully integrated. Again restrained style fruit with long citrus acidity.

Both whites showed high altitude cool climate restraint with the fresh creamy acidity often found on limestone. In a blind tasting, the delicate aromatics made me think of Chardonnay Musqué – an aromatic mutation of Chardonnay. Interestingly there seems to be a link between the Lebanese variety Obaideh and and another Chardonnay mutation Chardonnay Rosé.

El Ixsir 2014 red 14% abv 55% Syrah 35% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot on iron clay and limestone on three vineyard plots at 1800m, 1375m and 1180m aged in French oak (50% new) for 24 months. On the nose, ripe black fruit aromas followed through with tight black cassis fruit and firm tannins. In fact the cassis and blackberry fruit is so intense it feels almost jam=like, except that it is dry and restrained on the finish with notes of black minerality and garrigue. Tannins are fine grained and slightly powdery texture, mouth coating on the finish. Medium + length for acidity, although the fruit stops a little short of the acidity. Ready to drink now but will continue to mature and age for a while. I tried this with a vegetable tomato gratin which did not fight with the wine’s richness and with a freshness which echoed the elegant acidity.

El Ixsir 2019 red en primeur. Lovely menthol black fruit nose. Ripe, rich supple. Much more new world – opulent black fruit, black currants, cassis, with fine silky tannins. Juicy with long fresh acidity. Another 18 months in barrel will tighten up the tannic structure. Quite a powerful fruity wine with lovely freshness.

Deir el Ahmar

#iloverocknrosé will be hosting an Instagram live tasting of Lebanese rosé on Sunday 16th August – see rocknrose.wine.

Israeli Rosé Evolution

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Eighteen years ago, in May 2002, at a dinner in London, I met Israeli winemaker Eli Ben Zaken from Domaine du Castel, and I was impressed by his wines, grown on the Judaean Hills. Looking back at my tasting notes at that vertical tasting of vintages throughout the 1990s, it was possible to see how his wines had evolved.

I did not know much about Israeli wine until January 2015, when I was able to spend ten days touring round Israeli vineyards. With an image in many foreign markets for only producing sweet religious wines, it came as a shock to taste fresh whites and serious dry red wines and to learn about the enormous advances in the quality of wine being produced. The four main vineyards – Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights and Teperberg – control 70% of the local market and wine exports, and there are about fifty commercial wineries.

Rosés were not so visible on my 2015 visit. I learnt that in the 1970s and 1980s, Grenache rosé was a big brand, a deep-coloured, semi-dry, verging on semi-sweet, wine. By the 1990s, with the start of the boutique winery boom, tastes began to change and wine making improved. Victor Schoenfeld, a UC Davis graduate, arrived at the Golan Heights Winery in 1991 and helped pioneer a wine making revolution in Israel. However, it was not until around 2007 that rosé started, in a small way, to be taken seriously, even if only as a simple light, fresh, summer wine.

By 2017 when I was researching my book Rosé: Understanding the pink wine revolution, a growing number of rosés were appearing. The majority were increasingly lighter in colour and structure compared to the heavier, sometimes off-dry traditional style. A wide range of varieties is used, including Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Malbec, Marselan, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier and Zinfandel. As production increases, some winemakers are looking at more complex styles, with a few ageing in oak. The styles are extremely diverse, as each producer makes rosé in his own style, searching for the best rosé to suit terroir and varieties and an Israeli rosé style is still evolving.

An Israeli rosé even made it to my selection for premium rosés for Decanter On-Line May 2019.

HaNadiv Rosé 2018, Bar Maor, Made with 100% Marselan (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Grenache cross), the wine has attractive ripe raspberry red fruit which develops into rich red fruits with tropical notes as it opens out in the glass. A creamy structure with a chalky mineral backbone and a hint of tannin on the finish. Long fresh acidity and well-balanced structure.

Although there are no regional appellations in Israel, and wine can be blended from around the country, there are three regions which stand out as being successful at producing high quality wines, with their focus on higher elevations (from 500 to 1,200 metres)

  1. Judaean Hills
  2. Golan Heights
  3. The Upper Galilee

For every elevation increase of 100 meters, temperature decreases by 0.6°C with a corresponding increase of one percent Ultraviolet radiation. This leads to thicker skins and greater concentration of flavour. Higher altitude vineyards usually have a larger diurnal temperature variation (a large difference in day/night temperature). During the day the grape accrues carbohydrates via photosynthesis in the leaves, then at night during respiration the vine borrows back from the berry some of these stores. The lower the night-time temperature, the less the vine needs to borrow during respiration – resulting in more intensity in the grapes. [See also post on Rioja Rosados with Altitude]

The following are just a small representative of the Israeli rosés available, tasted in July 2020, showing some of the diversity and the encouraging evolution of more serious rosés.

The Judaean Hills

This region is the home to The Judaean Hills Quartet of four wineries: Tzora Winery with Israel’s first Master of Wine, Eran Pick as winemaker, Domaine du Castel, Sphera (which specialises in white wines) and Flam Winery. The Judean Hills wine region lies between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem. The central coastal plain south east of Tel Aviv, 40-50km away, leads to the rolling hills of the Judean Foothills. After the town of Beit Shemesh, the elevations rise sharply and continue to rise until Jerusalem.

I continued my friendship with Eli, even if only at fleeting moments at various wine fairs and chatting on Facebook. My son, a mere toddler when they first met, has even spent time at the vineyard in the Judaean Hills.

Meeting for lunch on a cold wet December day in Paris

Eli’s estate, Domaine du Castel, is located in the Jerusalem Hills. He already had a rosé made from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, from plots not used for red wine. The grapes were harvested early to retain acidity, minimum skin contact and fermented in tank at a low temperature, but already in 2016 Eli mentioned he was thinking about an oaked rosé.

“The idea of barrelled rosé was intriguing me. In November 2018 I visited Château d’Esclans [in Provence] and I was very lucky to meet again, and unfortunately for the last time, my friend Patrick Léon. It was a very long and comprehensive visit that included lunch at the château with Sasha Lichine. Patrick was very frank and volunteered a lot of information and we tasted all the wines including Garrus. So this is my inspiration…”

Eli made the 2018 from a blend of Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre (although for the 2019 is considering replacing Carignan with Grenache), from good vineyards.

The Razi’el vineyards

There is still some question over the optimum time and maturity for the harvest. The wine is fermented in demi-muids barrels at a low controlled temperature, blended and then aged in barrels for 6 months. Only 1,700 bottles were made for the 2018 vintage, with more planned for 2019.,

This month I was able to taste the first vintage of the oaked rosé, Razi’el, and the latest vintage Rosé du Castel. Eli asked me to be honest in my comments. So, as with many rosés sent to me for tasting, I chilled them in the fridge, and took them out half an hour before tasting. Both wines seemed lacking in fruit and charm. Disappointed, I put them to one side and then tasted a second time a few days later at a warmer room temperature but still cool. Having been opened a few days, the effect was similar to the aeration gained from decanting and they tasted excellent. What an enormous difference!

This is an important lesson. Serious rosé should not be served as a chilled light refreshing swimming pool rosé, but treated with the respect normally given to red wines.

Notes below are from the second tasting.

Rosé du Castel 2019 60% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ripe creamy acidity, red berry fruit, good redcurrant acidity supplemented by a long mineral core. Overall, impression is of lots of ripe strawberry and cherry fruit, almost voluptuous ripeness, with the firm mineral and slight tannin finish restraining and giving backbone. Serious weight.

Razi’el 2019 50% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre, 25% Carignan. Creamy, white peach, intense white fruit, raw hazelnuts. New oak is still very much there, giving very firm structure and a slight tannic finish. The ripe fruit gives weight countered by very fresh acidity stretching back on the palate and exploding with a discrete burst of juicy raspberries. Still very young – this rosé will certainly continue to involve and improve over the next 2 to 3 years. A serious gastronomic rosé worthy of its inspiration.

The Golan Heights

This is the coldest region in Israel. The vineyards on this volcanic plateau rise from 400m to 1200m and there is enough snow for skiing in the winter.

Golan Heights Winery Victor Schoenfeld is the head winemaker here.

Mount Hermon 2019 Syrah, Tempranillo, Tinto Cao, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. 12.5% abv. Salmon pink. Soft creamy ripe raspberry and strawberry fruit with long, red currant acidity and mineral core and dry finish. Pleasant easy drinking

Yarden 2019 Tinto Cão. Salmon pink Creamy fruit with sour red berry acidity with hints of bitter almonds. Long acidity and phenolic finish. As the wine warmed up it opened out to reveal delicious fruit structure and was delicious with food.

To find out more about the Yarden Tinto Cão, it will be presented on #iloverocknrosé instagram live on Sunday 9 August 17.30 CET on my Instagram account elizabeth.gabaymw. For more details see the website rocknrose.wine

Yarden Brut 2013 66% Chardonnay and 34% Pinot Noir grown in the cool northern part of the region. Ageing sur lees for five years. Pale onion skin colour with fine bubbles. Evident rosé character with red fruit and cherry character, long mineral fresh acid structure with hints of richness and autolysis.

Upper Galilee

Galil Mountain Winery in the Upper Galilee, from vineyards between 420 to 800m makes the following two rosés.

Galil Mountain Rosé 2019 57% Sangiovese, 33% Syrah 10% Grenache. 13.5% abv. Dark coral pink. Red fruit and roses. Very pretty, floral, ripe cherries and red fruit balanced by a vibrant sour red currant. A small percentage of saignée has created a rosé which would appeal to red wine drinkers and has enough body and structure to go with food.

Yiron 2019 67% Grenache 30% Syrah 3% Viognier. Shell pink, creamy broad mouthed southern French style. Creamy white peach fruit with Syrah giving a black fruit inner core for structure. Hints of saffron spice, fresh red currant acidity. Very good, classic. Great for summer drinking.

 

With so much going on with development of new styles of Israeli rosés, I think maybe it is time to return and do a rosé tour.

Austrian rosé: The hills are alive with the taste of rosé

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A few years ago, Austrian rosé was little known, just mean acidic Schilchers from Styria (related to the schillers of Germany), or heavier styles, a by-product of bigger red wines. In the past ten years, rosé production has grown, with peak consumption in the summer, often drunk with soda water. The most common variety is Zweigelt (a St Laurent x Blaufränkisch blend), alone or in a blend, as well as Blaufränkisch and Cabernet, also found in Hungarian, Slovakian and Czech rosés.

While Austrian rosé sales may have grown a little slower than surrounding countries, both quality and creativity have leapt ahead. Their good acidity, ripe fruit, ageing potential, and overall quality, results in some very serious wines. Austrian MW, Andreas Wickhoff explains that the rise of biodynamics and the “slow wine” movement in Austria has led to rosés with a touch more colour, extract, tannin structure, low/no SO2 levels, with more diverse styles, and creativity in wine making, contributing to some exciting and innovative rosés.

I tasted 80 rosés, which, unless otherwise stated, were from 2018. As I tasted, I divided them into the following groups.

Pale pink to blanc de noir

This style made up the biggest category, reflecting the current international trend for very pale rosé. Closer to white wine in style with creamy, white peach fruit and fresh berry acidity. Good examples were from Anton Waldschütz’s‘Hof’; Geyerhof (2017); Durnberg’s ‘Cool Climate’ Falkenstein; Jurtschitsch Langenlois (all Zweigelt) and, Stift Göttweig’s Messwein all from Niederösterreich. Artisan WinesMerlot Reserve (2017) Burgenland, is a classic blanc de noir with black fruit and a hint of salinity.

Taking this style a little further, were some more intense, complex and weighty rosés, presented in dark bottles (paleness evidently not their selling feature). Petershof from Weingut Christ, Wien has wild berry acidity, firm mineral, structure finishing with zippy freshness and a long saline finish; Johannes Gebeshuber’s Querfeldein, Thermenregion has elegant sour and sweet cherry fruit with salt and white almonds, fresh minerality and long saline acidity and Theresa Haider’s Pink, a serious, powerful wine with white nuts, wild berries, firm structure and long mouth-watering finish.

Red berry, mineral and saline

Similar in style, but with more red fruit, these rosés formed another group. Bernhard Ott’s Rosalie from Wagram, full of ripe, red berries tempered by a dry, saline finish, steely, almost mouth-puckering acidity and a mineral austerity. Johannes Trapl, Niederösterreich has two rosés in this section. His classic has vibrant sour redcurrants and cherries, firm minerality and mouth-watering, crunchy acidity. His No added nonsense is smooth and silky with intense sweet and sour cherry fruit, with hints of almonds backed by a long fresh mineral core and vibrant acidity.

Johannes Zillinger has three rosés, two here, and one more full-bodied. Velue Cabernet, a serious rosé for red wine lovers with red berry fruit, hints of leather and savoury spice, high acidity, austere, mineral structure and a hint of almond tannin on the finish. His Revolution Pink Solera, with whole berries fermented in amphora, has ripe strawberries, cherries and wild hedgerow fruit with smooth, creamy texture balanced by a mineral core and chewy acidity.

Domäne Wachau Rosé Federspiel (Zweigelt) Wachau, is fragrant with ripe red berries and blue flowers, creamy, silky texture, a hint of savoury spice, long blue mineral structure and crisp red berry acidity. Schödl Loidesthal‘s Rosengarten (Pinot Noir) has sun-kissed silky cherry fruit, a vibrant acidity and saline finish. Rabl’s, Rosé Celestia (Zweigelt) has opulent cherry, raspberry and redcurrant fruit forming a weighty, structured intensity, lifted by piercing acidity and fine-boned minerality.

Full-bodied fruit

The next group has less saline minerality, more obvious fruit fullness and is interesting because they also share some vinification techniques such as spontaneous fermentation.

These first three, from Burgenland, share an intense ripe berry fruit. Umathum’s Rosa has opulent, weighty full-bodied fruit perfectly balanced by fresh acidity and a saline mineral restraint.

Franz Weninger’s Rózsa Petsovits, on the Austro-Hungarian border, has intense full-bodied, ripe sour red cherries, redcurrants, spice, with hints of blue flower minerality. Mouth-watering with refreshingly sour fruit. Heidi Schröck’s Biscaya (9 varieties aged in acacia) was full of ripe juicy cranberries and dried fruit, with dry, savoury notes, vibrating acidity and a long saline finish.

With great balance of ripeness and acidity, Domaine Wachau’s 1805 Reserve (Pinot Noir and Zweigelt) uses spontaneous fermentation in 500l barrels. Pretty vanillin oak aromas emphasise the slightly floral character; the beautifully integrated oak gives extra weight to the ripe berry and cherry fruit, with mouth-watering acidity and a saline mineral finish. Zillinger’s Numen (St Laurent unfiltered), is a pale ruby red with dark rich fruit, black cherries, red berries, leather, Christmas spice and fresh acidity. This may not be everyone’s definition of a rosé, but I love it.

Summer drinking

Fresh and fruity summer rosés included some of the few from the 2019 vintage. From Burgenland, Tinhof’s Blaufränkisch is a fruit bowl of blackberry, mulberry and creamy peach fruit with fresh, zippy acidity and a restrained dry finish; Höpler’s Rosé Celestia is delicate and creamy, with fresh cherry fruit, floral notes, hints of spice and fresh acidity and Prieler’s Rosé vom Stein has soft ripe cherry and red berry fruit, delicate minerality and long fresh acidity.

From Niederösterreich, Ingrid Groiss’s Cuvée Rot is quite joyous with intense red berry fruit, crunchy acidity and a whisper of minerality; Gottfried Mittelbach’s Klassik Zweigelt has cherry and raspberry jam and sour red berries and vibrant acidity and Winzer Krems’s Sandgrube 13 (Zweigelt 2019) is full of cherries, redcurrants and fresh crisp acidity.

Sparkling rosés

Diversity continues in the sparkling rosés, from the gentle, creamy cherry fruit of Felsner’s Frizzanteto more serious traditional method fizz. Feiler-Artinger’s Sekt has crisp red fruit, floral notes, fine mineral acidity and a saline finish. Bründelmayer’s Brut shows age with evident autolysis, wild red berries, tart, crisp acidity and minerality. Kracher’s Brut has pretty creamy ripe black cherries and fresh redcurrants with slightly leafy acidity, while Erich & Walter Polz’s 2012 Brut has elegant creamy cherry fruit, some autolysis and a long austere mineral finish.

This diversity means there is no single Austrian Rosé style, which for me makes them so exciting.

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Based on an article first published by The Buyer 2 February 2020, iIn a tasting organised for me by Austrian Wine.

Authentic Wines of Slovakia

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First published in The Buyer in March 2020

Very little is known of Slovakian wine in the West, although that looks set to change, argues Elizabeth Gabay MW, who describes it as one of the most exciting wine regions she is working with. The once-marginal climate led to a whole slew of crossed grape varieties including Alibernet, Dunaj, Devín and Svojsen being developed by vine breeders who have since achieved cult status for their work. Many of the wines are ‘on-trend’ featuring skin contact, high acidity, purity of fruit and experimentation with fermentation and ageing vessels. In this insightful piece Gabay looks at the producers of ‘authentic’ Slovakian wine, the varieties they are working with and highlights the wines that she thinks are worth seeking out.

“‘Authentic’ wines from Slovakia with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions,” writes Gabay.

A surge in new estates and young winemakers, creating wines which are uniquely Slovakian, with both international varieties and a large range of crossed varieties, is a breath of fresh air in a market looking for something new, and makes Slovakia one of the most exciting regions I work with. Reductive winemaking with purity of fruit and high acidity are a hallmark of modern Slovakian wine, with some experimentation, harking back to pre-Communist traditions, including spontaneous fermentation, skin contact, different fermentation and ageing vessels.

Slovakia lies in the heart of Central Europe, bordered by Hungary to the south, Austria and the Czech Republic to the west, Poland to the north and Ukraine to the east. Until recent climate changes, its southern vineyards around 48N were regarded as the northernmost limit for winemaking in Europe with the northern Tatra mountain ranges being too cold. This northerly climate has resulted in strong German influences, such as the expression of potential alcohol levels in “fermentable sugar” and labels indicating a wine’s sweetness. Vintage variation, especially for reds is important.

This marginal climate led to a number of crossed varieties being developed throughout central and eastern Europe. Red crosses used include Alibernet (Alicante Bouchet x Cabernet Sauvignon), Dunaj ((Muscat Bouschet x Oporto) x St. Laurent); Hron and Nitra (both crossings of Abouriou Noir x Castets) and André (Frankovka Modrá x St Laurent). Amongst the whites, Devín (Red Traminer x red-white Veltliner), Svojsen ((Pinot Gris x FeteascăAlbă) x Riesling), Milia (Müller Thurgau x Traminer), Breslava ((Traminer x Chasselas) x Santa Maria d’Alcantara), and Noria (Ezerjó x Traminer). Vine breeders, in particular Dorota Pospíšilová in Slovakia, has hallowed status.

International varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir (particularly successful), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and Central European varieties such as Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch), Svätovavrinecké (St Laurent), Modrý Portugal (Portugieser), Grüner Veltliner (Veltlínské zelené), Welschriesling, Furmint, Lipovina (Hárslevelü), and Traminer.

The Small Carpathians Wine Region (blue); the South Slovak Wine Region (pink); the Nitra Wine Region (green); the Central Slovak Wine Region (brown); the East Slovak Wine Region (yellow) and Tokaj (red).

The country is divided into six regions, although these are administrative rather than terroir-based and, outside of Tokaj, grapes from all regions can be blended together. Regional character is developing.

The Small Carpathian hills, running south-east to north-west north of Bratislava, are based on granite with outcrops of decomposed schist and phyllite, resulting in greater minerality, zesty acidity and a floral note to the wines. Karpatska Perla, one of the largest estates, has almost forty different labels. Single vineyard wines show diversity with Grüner Veltliner (Ingle: zesty lime and white fruit and Noviny: rich cream, honey and nuts), Rieslings and Pinot Noir.

Neighbouring estate, the family owned Terra Parna works with similar varieties. Its elegant Portugieser, a variety present in the region since the 17thcentury, has structural inky black fruit and saline finish. Vladimir Magula’s new estate makes natural wines, including an apple-crumble rich Olaszrizling with zesty acidity; a spontaneous ferment Portugieser and Frankovka Modrá and Unplugged Frankovka Modrá (cranberry, spice, blue flower minerality and silky tannins). Martin Pomfya new, rapidly growing estate has a mix of varieties, with whites sourced in the Small Carpathians (including a delicious creamy Chardonnay) and reds from the south. Local variety wines include Breslava (fragrant floral fruit and long citrus acidity) and Red Traminer (intriguing Christmas spice, crystallised ginger and Seville marmalade).

Oenologist Edita Ďurčová works with several different wineries to make a classic Pinot Noir red, Pinot Theresian, an aromatic white from Devín and a fruity Nitria-based rosé in her Vinifera range.

Slobodne, on the border between the Small Carpathians and Nitra, currently converting to biodynamic, has a large range of wines: Eggstasy of the Alpinist, a skin-contact Riesling in amphora (long and fresh with an orange tang); Cutis Deviner, an orange wine of Devín and Traminer (aromatic with saline texture) and Pyramid, a Gewürztraminer in qveri, (citrus-fresh, creamy ginger.)

The gentle hills of South Slovakia (level with Burgenland) slope down to the Danube, on largely calcareous clay, loess and alluvial soils, producing riper, rounder fruit. Winemaker Miroslav Petrech at Chateau Béla, (owned by Egon Müller), makes elegant lime and floral dry Riesling, reminiscent of Mosel and rich late-harvest wines.

Nearby Chateau Rúbaň produces similar Rieslings, aromatic wines from Svojsen (fresh citrus and herbal freshness); Noria (off-dry, violets and peaches) and Milia (honeysuckle and lemon). Brothers Lukás and Matús Berta of Vinárstvo Berta have a floral Moravian Muscat (Muscat Ottonel x Prachtraube); a tropical rich Pinot Gris and Rúbaňand Berta both have leafy floral Alibernet’s with cassis fruit and bitter chocolate tannins. Tomáš Sládeček at Velkeer, has an intense Riesling (peach and lime cordial) and an orange wine made with Pálava (Czech crossing: Red Traminer x Müller-Thurgau) and Traminer full of orange flower perfume, Seville marmalade and saline finish. The Kasnyik brothers have skin-contact Riesling and Welschriesling (honeyed rich dried fruit), a concentrated floral, peach and cream Grüner Veltliner, an orange Riesling and a stylish Pinot Noir. Bott Frigyes, an established biodynamic producer, has a wide range of varieties including a lime and mineral Riesling and an intense black cherry Pinot Noir.

The Central region includes the south-facing slopes of the extinct volcano, Sitno, with the old gold-mining city of Banská Štiavnicain its crater. Brano Nichta produces Dunaj from some of the oldest plantings in the country. On volcanic soils, the minerality and structure carry Dunaj’s floral notes and show ability to age. Natural winemaker Marek Uhnák of Čajkov makes a pink skin-contact Pinot Gris (creamy red fruit and complex notes of orange and spice) and a partial skin-contact Devín which retains the variety’s aromatics with extra mineral structure.

Tokaj in south eastern Slovakia is a geological extension of the Hungarian region, using the same varieties Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat, and measures the botrytis berries with puttonyos. Ostrozovic and Tokaj & Co produce dark gold, rich marmalade and Christmas pudding style wines. Macik has moved towards more reductive style Tokaj with fresh fruit.

In the context of the wider, more commercial Slovakian production, these ‘authentic’ wines, with diverse fruit character and vibrant acidity, (only available in relatively small quantities, RRP ranging €8 to €30), serve as ambassadors of quality, regional character and a blend of modernity and historic traditions.

 

Exploring Negroamaro Rosati in Salento

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In the past year, I had two short trips to Salento in the Puglian region of Italy, organised by Terre del Negroamaro, an organisation launched in 2008 to increase awareness of wines made from this classic Italian grape.

During my first visit in August 2018, I spent two days tasting and talking about the rosés, including a vertical tasting going back to 1976 and, I admit, my brief knowledge of Puglian rosé had resulted in only a small reference in my book on rosé wine, for which I was teased by Davide Gangi of Vinoways, who compered the event.

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A Sweet New Year!

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In the spirit of the day, here are my wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, peaceful, prosperous and sweet New Year with some favourite sweet wines from 2019.

It somehow seems very appropriate to be thinking of sweet wines for a new year. While looking forward to the future, these sweet wines are all firmly rooted in our vinous history. These sweet wines also span a wide range of vintages with memories of past years – perfect for the years to come!

tokaj bottles

Tokaj bottles in the cellar

 

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Canary Pink

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Looking at the Canary Islands on the map, their location, just off the coast of north west Africa seems an unlikely place to find fresh rosé wine! In March 2019 I had a short visit to Tenerife and La Palma and was able to taste some of the rosés (as well as some splendid red, white, fortified and vino de tea wines)

Locator Map of Canary Islands

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Stockinger barrels at Domaine de Trevallon

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This article was originally published in Nomacorc website magazine in the summer 2016, following my three day visit to Trevallon in April 2016. A cold Mistral was blowing for most of that week, so hiding in the cellar some days, despite the noise, was a respite.

Sometimes the most unexpected vineyard visits appear from nowhere. While researching my article on new trends in premium rosés for Nomacorc, I discussed the use of Stockinger barrels with Stockinger’s European agent Thomas Teibert of Domaine de l’Horizon. Thomas asked if I were interested in going to Domaine de Trevallon at the end of April to see a rare event – the installation of five 3400l barrels by Franz Stockinger, head of coopers Fassbinderei Stockinger from Waidhofen-an-der-Ybbs in central Austria. Trevallon and its wines has always been one of my favourite estates, and the opportunity to observe this unique occasion, to see the domaine from a different perspective and taste the results, was one not to be missed.

View of Domaine de Trevallon on the western edge of Les Alpilles

Domaine de Trevallon, one of the most famous Provence estates, is located on the north western slopes of the small Alpilles mountain range overlooking the Rhone valley and not far from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The domaine’s artistic origins still dominate most articles: The romantic holiday home of Parisian artists, friends of Picasso, their son Eloi Dürrbach’s creation of the wine domaine, planting Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings from Château Vignelaure, whose owner Georges Brunet had brought cuttings from his Bordeaux estate Château la Lagune in the 1960s. The quality of Dürrbach’s wines made Trevallon an early flagship for Provence, though Trevallon is not included in the Les Baux de Provence appellation due to use of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah.

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