Philippe Plantevin isn’t the flashiest winemaker in the Rhone, and hunkered down against the force of the Mistrial down near the town of Cairanne Nnrth of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, his domaine is easily overlooked. But, while Philippe is a pretty quiet, even modest, guy, there’s plenty of intensity and passion for making great wine here too. Philippe’s family grew grapes and made a little wine in the vineyards around the Southern Rhone village of Cairanne but sold all their fruit and wine to the local coop. In 1993, the young Philippe decided he could do better.
He and his wife bought an 18th century coach house (now lovingly restored) and built a very traditional Rhone winery there – a little stainless steel, but mainly concrete tanks for fermentation and aging. Over time, he acquired vineyards in Cairanne itself, in the surrounding town of Visan, and also to the south in Vaucluse, just outside the Cotes du Rhone AOC.
Philippe is a practical grape farmer, making minimal use of chemical sprays, training his vines low to the ground, and accepting the low yields needed for fine wine making in his rocky vineyards. Old-vine Grenache makes up the backbone for all of Philippe’s reds, with low-yielding, small-berried, Syrah adding color, meaty notes, and black fruits. In the winery, things are very traditional – long fermentations (10-30 days) in steel and concrete with regular pump overs to extract color and structure.
The resulting wines are very fine from top to bottom, but Philippe is too picky to just bottle everything he makes. Instead, every year, he chooses his favorite tanks of wine to bottle with his label and sells the rest to top Rhone negotiants like Guigal. If it has his label on it, it’s because the wine is very, very, good.
An Extraordinary CdR Villages
While we love all of Philippe’s wines, his special Cotes du Rhone Villages La Daurelle cuvee is our favorite. It’s a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Mourvedre grown on 8 hectares of clay/limestone scrubland in and around the village of Cairanne. Like all of Philippe’s reds, the grapes are harvested and co-fermented in tank (steel and concrete), and most of the blend ages in tank as well.
But, with encouragement and support from his US importer, Olivier Daubresse, Philippe also ages one-third of the blend in small French oak cask. The barrels are 1-5 years old, so they don’t add any oaky flavor to the wine. Instead, they allow a slow, steady, exposure to oxygen bleeding into the wine through the wood to soften a bit while gaining rich, meaty, complexity.
Recent vintages of La Daurelle have been deep, chocolaty and intensely earthy – so you’d expect the 2015 (from a warm, rich, year) to be like that, right?
Nope! As many Rhone winemakers discovered too late, down beneath all of 2015’s super ripe fruit they lay a core of pretty intense and not always fun grippy tannins. Philippe clearly spotted them early, so for this wine – so rich in structured Carignan and Mourvedre – he worked with a bit lighter hand than usual.
I’ll be honest – when this wine arrived a few months ago, I was worried that his hand had been too light! But 2015 La Daurelle is taking on more and more richness as it rests in bottle and is now showing like a really good (if $40-$50 cost) Chateauneuf du Pape. The tannins are silky, the fruit explosive, and the future bright for this – once again, the best value in Rhone red you’ll find in the store.