The Insider Family Champagne House: AR Lenoble

Ar Lenoble and glassChampagne is big business, and today most Champagne houses – producers who make their own sparkling wine from fruit they grow and purchase from neighbors – are either very large or owned by bigger houses, insurance companies or global luxury goods firms.

AR Lenoble is different. Although they are one of the smallest houses remaining in Champagne, they have remained independent and family owned and run for more than 100 years. The brother and sister team of Antoine and Anne Malssagne (grandchildren of the founder) head a team of just 11 employees that’s building, as wrote, “probably the most admired boutique family house right now.”

A Clear Focus
Anne and Antoine of LenobleSince taking over the house in 2001, Antoine and Anne have focused not on making “consistent” Champagnes in a static “house style,” but instead on making better and better Champagne every year. They started with a clear focus on their most important vineyard holding, 10 hectares of pure, chalky soils planted to Chardonnay in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly. As they’ve written:

“The expression of Chouilly defines who we are and what we do at AR Lenoble. Chouilly is one of only 17 Grand Cru villages in Champagne and one of only 6 known for Chardonnay. AR Lenoble is one of few producers to use 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Chouilly in every single one of our wines.”

To strengthen the quality of their fruit in Chouilly and also in the 1er Cru village of Bisseuil (Pinot Noir) and their Marne holdings in Damery (Pinot Meunier), the Malssagne’s launched an intensive farming improvement program. Using strict pruning, green harvests (cutting off bunches before ripening begins), and allowing cover crops to grow in competition with the vines, AR Lenoble boasts some of the lowest yields in Champagne.

The quality commitment continues in the winery. AR Lenoble uses only juice from the first pressing of the grapes – the “Cuvee” – and never uses any of the permitted second pressing – the Taille. After fermentation, about 30% of each vintage’s wine is held back and added to a “perpetual reserve” that mixes wines from 2001/2002 onward. Some of the reserve ages in tank, but most spends time in either small (225 liter) or large (5,000 liter) neutral French oak for more complexity still.

Retaining Champagne Character in the Face of Global Warming
Over the past 10 years, Antoine and Anne have faced a new challenge – how to retain Champagne’s classic balance, purity and freshness in the face of a warming climate, higher grape ripeness levels, and earlier and earlier harvests.

In the vineyards, AR Lenoble became one of the early adopters of HVE (Haute Valeur Environnementale) farming standards. HVE farming was pioneered by Ambonnay’s Eric Rodez and moves growing as close to organic standards as possible in Champagne’s difficult growing conditions. Using extensive cover crops, reducing sprays, and promoting greater biodiversity in the soil and vineyard forces the vines to work harder and dig deeper to ripen grapes. This lengthens the growing season (more flavor!) and brings grapes to harvest readiness at lower sugar levels and higher acidity (more freshness!).

More Radical Still
And, in the winery, Antoine and Anne did something more radical still. In 2010, they withdrew a portion of their perpetual reserve, bottled it in magnum bottles, added enough sugar and yeast to develop about 1.5 bars of pressure (vs 4 bars for finished Champagne) and then closed the magnums with natural cork.

By holding in magnum under light pressure, AR Lenoble has been able to add even more complexity (from aging on the light lees) while locking in even more vibrancy and freshness in their reserves. As Anne has explained,

“Climate change is a reality. The challenge for the future is to be able to bring as much freshness as possible to our reserve wines. At the end of each harvest, we observe that acidity levels are much lower than they used to be. Reserve wines now need to add complexity and richness but also freshness.”

Following the 2014 harvest, Antoine decided the reserves in magnum were ready to use. He began by blending 40% reserve wines into the 2014 vintage base wines destined for the Brut Intense and Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV bottlings. That blend then went into bottle for secondary fermentation and spent three full years resting on the lees to integrate and develop even more complexity.

When ready to ship, the wines were given their usual cuvee names plus a new, special, designation. “Mag 14” on the bottle tells you that the wines are based on vintage 2014 and include reserve wines aged in magnum. And one taste will tell you that all the extra work and time was worth it!


Wines of a Pope: Clement siblings from Bernard Magrez

Pope's castle CdPAs you probably know, the history of the Southern Rhone’s Chateauneuf du Pape is tightly connected to the history of the Papacy. Or is it the other way around? Which drove some papal decisions: politics, religion, or just love of good wine?

“Chateauneuf du Pape” translates as “the Pope’s new castle” and refers to the summer home build by the second Avignon Pope, John XXII on the top of a hill about 30km south of Avignon. Today, after scavenging for building stones by the local villagers and a partially successful attempt by German soldiers to blow up the building in 1944, only one wall of the Chateau remains. But the name carries on and applies to what are clearly the greatest Grenache vineyards in the world.

Pope and Wine Lover Clement V
Pope ClementEven more important to our story than John XXII, though, was one Bertrand de Goth, a long-time wine lover as he moved up in his career in the Catholic Church. When de Goth was made Bishop of Bordeaux in 1297, he was presented with a vineyard that had been farmed since 1255. He improved this estate and built a winery in 1300, and winemaking as continued there non-stop until today, making what is now called Ch Pape-Clement the oldest Chateau in Bordeaux.

In 1305, de Goth was elevated to Pope and took the name Clement V. But he decided that life in Rome was too dangerous for his taste. Or was it that the wine there wasn’t tasty enough? So Clement and the Papacy moved to Avignon, in Provence. At first they drank Bordeaux, but Clement ordered the planting and improvement of vineyards on the rocky soils to the north of Avignon. And, by his death in 1314, the local wine was already called “Vin de Pape.”

A CdP Sister to Clement Bordeaux
This wine was created to honor the first “Pape” in the southern Rhone by today’s owner of Ch Pape Clement in Bordeaux – wine magnate and millionaire Bernard Magrez.

Although Margrez has owned top estates in Bordeaux, Provence, Argentina, Chile, even the USA for years, Pape Clement Bordeaux has always been the group’s most important wine. And Magrez has long dreamed of creating a sister wine to his Bordeaux, one that honored Bertrand de Goth’s second winemaking career in Avignon.

It’s taken many years, but with the first US release of La Destinee de Clement V, his dream is now a reality.

Clement V CdP and castle

It’s an Egg! The Advantages of Fermentation in Concrete “Eggs”

Concrete EggsThe other day, some friends of ours were surprised to hear that wine is sometimes aged in concrete.

But it turns out that this is nothing new: The Greeks and Romans used concrete fermentation and aging vessels from ancient times, but Northern European winemakers quickly turned to their abundant forests and oak casks as the industry developed there.

In the mid-20th Century, winemakers in the south of France returned to concrete for fermentation and aging, but they usually lined the tanks (first with epoxy and later with fiberglass) to make it easier to keep things clean. Since lined concrete is a neutral vessel, it’s not surprising that even easier to clean and control stainless steel tanks gradually took over from concrete as the 2oth Century drew to a close.

Dom Fleuriet concrete eggGoing Back to Raw Concrete. Modern winemakers – like Bernard Fleuriet in Sancerre – are going back to the future by returning to the use of raw concrete for fermentation and aging. Because of its mass, concrete naturally stabilizes temperatures. And because it’s very slightly porous, it allows a tiny bit of air to very slowing mix in with the maturing wine, allowing it to soften a bit and gain some extra complexity.

And when the raw concrete vessel is shaped like an egg, something else magical happens. The egg shape promotes a slow, gentle, natural circulation of the wine. As the wine moves, it picks up the powdery, fine, lees – the spent yeast cells from fermentation – and keeps them mixed with the wine as it flows. The lees give the wine still more complexity of flavor, bringing out minerality to match the ripe grape fruit flavors, and making the texture of the wine a touch more creamy and deep.

Great Sauvignon fruit, raw concrete, and a funny egg shape all come together with the terrific Cote de Marloup vineyard and the outstanding 2016 Sancerre vintage to produce something pretty darn magical in today’s featured wine: the Fleuriet Sancerre Cote de Marloup! What must have been an almost painfully intense white wine at first has gained some roundness and richness of mouthfeel, but lost nothing of its vibrant cut and juicy, mouthwatering, acidity and minerality.

The 2016 Fleuriet Sancerre Cote de Marloup is certainly a brilliant seafood wine and will shine brightly with Sancerre’s classic Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese. But it’s also a mouthwatering solo sipper and will pair up nicely at table with salad, cold poultry, or pretty much any dish with a touch of citrus freshness. It’s ready to drink now – the extra year in bottle really shows! – and will keep on delivering delight for 3-4 years to come.

Dom La Barroche: Letting Nature Do It (with Lots of Hard Work)

Julien Barrot of Dom Barroche

The Barrot family owns 36 acres of some of Chateauneuf’s finest vineyard land, with 30 acres in production and six acres lying fallow in preparation for new planting.

Lying Fallow
Julien will leave more than five percent of his land out of production for seven full years – shocking given the value of CdP vineyard! – because, “When you think about it, a parcel could have been used for vinegrowing for 100 straight years or longer. There is no way the soil can recover in just a few years after that.”

The producing land is mainly sandy-soiled sites in some of the region’s best areas, including an important slice abutting Rayas. The average vine age is 65 years, with multiple plots comfortably over the century mark and all farmed with organic care.

Staying Fresh in a Warmer Season
In the third year of his new gravity flow winery, Julien Barrot continues to take major steps to increase the purity and finesse of his wines and moderate the extreme ripeness and power the region sometimes struggles to manage in an era of warmer growing seasons.

He now makes no green harvest to increase the workload of the vines and moderate sugar levels. All of the Grenache remained on the stems for fermentation, adding a touch of spice and extra layer of freshness. And all of the fruit fermented in unlined “raw” concrete egg-shaped tanks to gain very gentle extraction and tamp down fruitiness a tiny bit.

“A Lazy Culture?”
Meeting Julien at the Domaine this past March demonstrated that the exuberance and generosity of the Dom la Barroche wines is simply a reflection of this marvelous young winemaker. Describing his hands-off, low-intervention, style of farming and winemaking, Julien repeatedly said, “We are a lazy culture in Provence. We never do anything if nature will do it for us!”

Of course, his energy in hopping from tank to tank and barrel to barrel to show off samples of the 2018s and pride in showing off the iPhone app he uses to track and manage fermentation temperatures while in the vineyards picking grapes didn’t look or sound very “lazy” to me! But the blend of doing nothing but what is necessary, while doing that full-tilt and with no restraint, is exactly why Julien’s 2017s are so very, very exciting.

Barroche bottles.jpg

The Key to Affordable (and Magical!) Champagne

“How in the world can a wine this good, a Champagne that spent a huge six years on the lees, be so very, very, affordable?”

Charels Clement cuvee speciale

Charles Clement Cuvee Speciale tastes like $70 Champagne, yet retails for under $40.

Today we’re offering two champagnes from Charles Clement. The Charles Clement Cuvee Speciale and its toasty sibling, the Cuvee Tradition Brut have been delivering high-end Champagne delight at almost Prosecco-like prices for a couple of years here at Chain Bridge Cellars.

But why are they so affordable?

Chalres Clement HistoryFounded as a Co-op. A big part of the answer to that is how Charles Clement is organized and what it doesn’t do. The winery was born in 1956 when 22 growers in Champagne’s Aube region joined together to buy a wine press, allowing them to move from selling grapes to delivering fermented wine to the big Champagne houses.

As the number of members grew, so did their ambition. Under the leadership of fellow grower Charles Clement, they purchased cellar space, a bottling line, and – in 1972 – released their first bottled Champagne.

And Still a Co-Op Today. Today the cooperative remains owned by its 59 farmers who tend vines covering 110 hectares across the Aube.Charels Clement people today2

Since the coop members own their vineyards and winery, they don’t have to charge themselves the high prices the big name houses pay for most of their grapes/base wine. They are easily able to sell almost all their production in France, where Champagne-lovers drink what they like and appreciate a good value.

So Charles Clement doesn’t have to buy expensive advertising, pay celebrities to drink their wine at fancy clubs, or hide inferior juice in faux leather carrying bags.

All they do is grow good grapes, make fine wine, and allow time in the bottle to do its magic. You can try it yourself anytime this week (today seems like a good idea!) and mix/match with the outstanding value Cuvee Tradition for best in the nation savings.

Pretty magical indeed!


What Makes Chateauneuf Chateauneuf?

Champauvin Vineyard

Champauvins, covered with the famous galet, sits across a three-meter-wide path from Cheateauneuf

Updated to reflect the latest 94 pt 2016 Champauvins from Alain Jaume

As you may know, the name and fame of the Rhone Valley wine region called Chateauneuf du Pape dates from the 1300s when the Papacy temporarily moved from Rome to the French city of Avignon. The Popes built a summer palace north of Avignon on the crest of a big hill overlooking the Rhone Valley. Locals called it “the Pope’s New Castle” – Chateauneuf du Pape. As the Church spurred growth in the Rhone’s vineyards to meet its ceremonial and social needs, the name came to be applied to the better vineyards surrounding the hill.

Once the Pope returned to Rome, the name dropped out of use and the wines came to be known simply as “vin d’Avignon” until the Chateauneuf name was resurrected in the mid-1800s. The wines gradually gained respect within France until phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in the late 1800s.

In the early 20th Century, growers in the area realized that they couldn’t compete with the rapidly developing Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south for pure bulk wine production. Seeking to improve quality, in the early 1930s they banded together to resurrect the brand of Chateauneuf du Pape and establish rules for what wines could or could not use that label. Their approach ultimately became the basis for all France’s designated wine regions – the Appelation Controlee system. The rules specified maximum yields, minimum alcoholic strength (12.5%), and determined which grapes were of acceptable quality (a hard debate settled on a list of 13 varieties).

Mapmaking Gone Wrong
Cdp and Champauvins MapAnd they drew a map specifying which lands were allowable for Chateauneuf du Pape and which would be left out (and ultimately be labeled Cotes du Rhone).
To the south and west of the town of Chateauneuf, setting boundaries was easy. As the land sloped down towards the Rhone River, it eventually became too wet to support vineyards.

The eastern side was also easy, if not really based on vineyard character. The drafters simply followed the main road running from Avignon to Orange (now the A7 Autoroute) from the village of le Coulaire in the south and up to the end of the vineyards belonging to Chateau Beaucastel in the north. This sliced one of Beaucastel’s vineyards – called Coudoulet – in two, leaving half of the vineyard in and half out of Chateauneuf. Not entirely fair, but at least easy to explain.

What happened next is a bit of a mystery. The Jaume family farmed a collection of vineyards pretty much due west of Beaucastel and just under the Orange road. The vineyards have the same sub-soils and top-soils as Beaucastel, were covered by the rounded “galet” stones that are Chateauneuf’s hallmarks, and were planted to the same grapes. The logical thing to do would have been to simply continue to follow the road as it curved around to the west a little further and then allow the line to curve back down to the south to the river as the soils changed from red, iron rich gravel to more sand and limestone after the Jaume’s vineyards ended.

Instead, the drafters elected to abandon the Orange road just above Beaucastel and draw the boundary line down a narrow gravel path that ran right through the middle of the Jaume vineyards. The very fine vineyards planted in 1905 and still used for Grand Veneur Chateauneuf du Pape Les Origines plus another medium-sized vineyard became Chateauneuf. The 35 hectare Champauvins vineyard, identical in every way to the vineyards across the 10 foot wide path would be Cotes du Rhone.

Outstanding Wine the Best Revenge!
champauvin and galetIt’s hard to imagine how frustrated and upset the Jaume family must have been when they saw the new region’s map, and we know they protested and demanded explanations for years (but never got one). And, when you visit the Jaume’s at their modest winery just outside Chateauneuf, you get the sense that they still are not entirely over the injustice of making Champauvins somehow “less” than vineyards a few feet away.

Fortunately, under the leadership first of Alain Jaume and today of his sons, Sebastien and Christophe, the family’s Domaine Grand Veneur has decided that quality is its own revenge. They farm Champauvins like the Chateauneuf vines across the path, working mainly by hand (necessary with bush vines and gravel-covered soils) and using certified organic viticultural techniques. Yields are similar to their Chateauneuf vineyards, meaning the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes achieve fantastic ripeness without any excess of sugar or roasted, pruny flavors.

In the modern winery, the winemaking for Champauvins is “old school” all the way. Fermentations proceed slowly with gentle pump-overs to extract classic Rhone flavor and structure without adding any harsh tannins. Grenache (70% of the blend) ages in concrete tanks to help it retain color and fruit. Syrah and Mourvedre mellow in old oak casks, given them the tiny bit of air they need to round out without imparting any oak flavor.

The result is a wine chock-full of big, deep, aromas of kirsch, black cherry, crushed herb, wild lavender, black olive and dark chocolate flow from the glass. Those same notes flow across your palate in a rich, vibrant, wine that coats your mouth with flavor and leaves ripe, fine-grained, tannins lingering behind. If they wanted to, the Jaume family could give this the same heft and density that makes “true” Chateauneuf so cellar-worthy (if hard to enjoy young), but because it’s “only” Cotes du Rhone and cannot command Chateauneuf prices, they craft it to be open, supple, savory, and delicious right now.


An American in Burgundy

An American in Burgundy

Mark O'Connell Clos de la Chapelle

Kansas native Mark O’Connell

If you haven’t heard of Burgundy’s Domaine Clos de la Chapelle before, it’s because:  a) it’s a new name for a very old estate; and b) there’s very little wine! But it’s a name you should get to know and come to rely on for top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at decidedly affordable prices.

Kansas native Mark O’Connell fell in love with Burgundy years ago and, in 2005, purchased a barrel of wine at the famed Hospices de Beaune auction. As part of the deal, Mark came to Burgundy to work harvest – something he continued doing through 2010.

From Working Harvest to Owning Vineyards
Then, as the 2010 harvest wrapped up, Pierre Meurgey, then president of Beaune négociant Champy, asked Mark if he’d be interested in helping Champy purchase some new vineyards. Working with lawyer Philippe Remoissenet, they bought the historic Louis Boillot estate and its 3.1 acres of vines in Volnay and Pommard. They renamed the domaine for its most famous vineyard, the Volnay monopole of Clos de la Chapelle, and made their first vintage from vine to bottle in 2011.

Mark is now the managing partner and, from vintage 2017, the winemaker as well. He’s added to the Domaine’s vineyards, growing to a total of 10 acres of vines in Pommard, Volnay, Beaune and on the Grand Cru hill of Corton. All of the holdings are 1er or Grand Cru designated, and Mark farms them all like Grand Crus, pruning tightly to limit yields, working organically (certified), and transitioning to biodynamics.

Organic, Biodynamic, Meticulous.
And the farming and winemaking are meticulous. All of his vineyards are organic and biodynamic, with three annual plowings replacing herbicides and simple applications of copper, sulfur, and biodynamic homeopathic sprays replacing all other chemicals. The vines are pruned to only four shoots to limit yields and the fruit is handpicked and carefully sorted before fermentation with native yeasts. The reds see a little whole cluster for added spice and structure, and all the wines age in 20-35% new French oak to round off and gain more depth.

Brand New Winery, Old-Fashioned Work
Clos de la ChapelleFor vintage 2017, Mark moved the Domaine into a brand new, squeaky-clean winery but continued working in his restrained, oldfashioned way. While many of Mark’s vineyards naturally give fairly ripe, rich wines, the estate’s goal is to “obtain the purest wines possible.” The grapes are all picked and sorted by hand to ensure only prime, perfect, fruit goes into fermenters. The reds see 10-20% whole clusters depending on the vintage, and both reds and whites ferment with native yeasts and age in a modest 10-25% new oak (a touch higher in 2017 due to the need to purchase new barrels for the inaugural vintage of the new winery).

Three Clos de la Chapelle BurgudiesSmall Quantities, Restrained Pricing.
While Mark certainly doesn’t want to lose money – something that’s been hard to avoid in recent short-crop vintages! – he’s certainly been much more restrained on pricing than most of his neighbors. And that’s especially impressive given the tiny production levels here – only 1,500 cases total and down to as little as 75-375 cases each of the wines we’re featuring.

In vintage 2017 – a year that gave vivid, pure whites and wide-open and easy to love reds – Mark’s approach delivered a captivating set of white and red Burgundies you are sure to love.

At our special sale, six-bottle, and mix/match case pricing, all of these Dom Clos de la Chapelle wines represent outstanding value. And while all will develop nicely in cellar, each wine is a delight to taste and drink today. As you’ll see when you come by to try them this Friday (3-7pm) and Saturday (noon-4pm)!

Some Possiblities in the Friendly 2017 Bordeaux Vintage

Following the brilliant 2015 and 2016 harvests, Bordeaux’s 2017 was a challenge from start to finish. Severe frosts in the spring, a cool summer and then challenging conditions during the harvest all combined to slash yields and prevent any “great vintage” claims.

But. There are some terrific wines and even better values to be had in 2017, especially on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. As Neal Martin of Vinous writes,

“The wines frequently have a floral element, violets but quite often, more iris-like scents. The 2017s boast plenty of freshness with crisp acidity, noticeable but not strong or grippy tannins, more black fruit compared to recent vintages… I like this vintage. I am not saying it is the best, but they were mostly a pleasure to taste and fascinating to learn about.”

An Example from Chateau Moulinat
Unlike the “big boys” that won’t be in the market for another year or two, we’ve been able to taste the 2017 Ch Moulinat from bottle already. And, we think you’ll agree – this is a charming wine that actually may give more immediate pleasure than the fine 2015!

Ch Moulinat.pngMoulinat is a true family estate in Entre Deux Mers, currently run by the fifth generation of the Sage family who have owned the property since the early 1800s. The vineyard is first rate, with calcareous limestone soils leavened by gravel and sand for excellent drainage. The vines average 25 years old (with some 45 years of age), giving deep roots and naturally moderate yields necessary for excellent ripeness and flavor.

Like most Right Bank wines, it’s mainly Merlot (about 60%) for plump, generous, fruitiness with a dash of Cabernet Franc for pretty notes of tobacco and herb. But almost 40% of the wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, giving this “little wine” raised all in tank an extra gear of structure and refinement to go with the ample blackcurrant and black cherry fruit.

If you want to cellar this, you can do that for a few years (maybe 5?) and it will certainly be even better next year than this. But the wine’s delicious right now, with a plump, velvety, mouthfeel and a finish supported by a just-right dash of tannins and herb/tobacco complexity.

In short, it’s a very tasty 2017 Bordeaux you can drink this weekend and all year long. So come in on Friday, April 12, from 3-7 and Saturday, April 13, from noon-4 and try it for yourself! (Available only in store as a Carryout Case Special from $9.98/ea this weekend)

Ch Moulinat Bordeaux bottles

Girardin White Burgundy: Wines of Finesse and Style

Girardin SignWhile it still carries the founder’s name, by the mid-2000s, Vincent Girardin had largely turned over responsibility the Domaine to GM Marco Caschera and winemaker Eric Germain. Since Girardin retired in 2012, Caschera and Germain continue to push this once very good estate forward towards greatness.

Under Germain’s leadership, the Domaine has moved away from the fleshy, super-ripe, and heavily-oaked style of whites that first brought it fame in the 1990s. The focus now is first and foremost on farming. The Domaine itself owns and tends about 50 acres of vines across Burgundy and has access to additional vineyards owned by trusted growers.

Careful Farming
Girardin vineyardsVineyard work is as natural as possible, following organic and biodynamic principles as much as Burgundy’s fickle climate and weather allows. Yields are now modest due to careful pruning and thinning of the crop during the growing season. Grapes are harvested by hand and sorted twice – once in the vineyard by the pickers and then again in the winery by hand and – since 2016 – a modern optical sorting machine.

In contrast to the winery’s original style, Germain’s focus now is on getting his fruit to bottle with as little manipulation and handling as possible. For Chardonnay, that means no destemming before pressing – because knocking the berries off the stems opens the grape to the risk of oxidization before fermentation. Instead, whole clusters go directly to the press were the juice can be gently extracted and flow by gravity directly into tank for settling.

From tank, the thick, fresh, juice flows by gravity into French oak barrels for both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Oak is important to developing richness and depth to Chardonnay, but Germain does not like the flavor of wood, so most wines see 10-15% new oak (enough to replace aging barrels) and only the very top, most concentrated, wines get as much as 30%.

Waiting Until It’s Ready
Puligny-Montrachet and glassesOnce the wine is in barrel, Germain….waits. Other than keeping each barrel topped up to make up for evaporation, the wine simply sits on the fine lees of fermentation for 14-18 months of resting and maturation. When the wine is ready, the cellar team simply knocks the bottom bung out of the barrel and allows the clear wine to flow out, leaving the milky sediment behind. Bourgogne Blanc – because of the amount made – requires a little pumping, so it sees a light filtration before bottling. Everything else goes naturally from barrel to blending tank to bottle.

All that’s nice, of course, but what really matters is what you’ll find in the bottle when you get it home. And that’s deliciousness! Sure, these are super-sophisticated wines of terrior, complexity and minerality. But they are also flat out fun to drink right now and built to keep on improving more. Come, taste, and stock up while you can!

Lirac vs. Chateauneuf du Pape

Lirac galet

Lirac vineyards are very similar to those of Chateauneuf

It’s hardly surprising that Clos de Sixte Lirac regularly gets compared to the much more expensive wines of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sitting just across the Rhone River on the western bank, Lirac is essentially the other half of Chateauneuf.

The climate and subsoil are essentially identical to Chateauneuf, and – like Chateauneuf – most of the vineyards are covered in large, rounded stones called “galet” left behind by the Rhone when it filled the entire valley in ancient times.

From Fame to Phylloxera
When the Papacy arrived in Avignon in the early 1300s and began searching out sources of wine for communion and celebration, Lirac was quickly identified as the source of the very finest wine in the region. We know that Pope Innocent IV paid a premium for the 20 casks of Lirac he purchased in 1357.

Even after the Pope’s returned to Rome, Lirac’s fame as the Rhone’s best wine continued to grow. Both King Henry IV and Louis XIV regularly served Lirac at their courts. By the end of the 1700s Lirac was, as the Oxford Companion to Wine explains, “a much more important wine center than Chateauneuf du Pape.”

With high demand came the temptation for fraud, and unscrupulous winemakers throughout the Rhone – including in Chateauneuf – often tried to pass their “inferior” wines off as Lirac. To help stamp out this fraud, in 1737 the king of France ordered that casks shipped from Roquemaure should be branded “CDR” – for Cotes du Rhone – as a sign that they were authentic and of the highest quality.

Lirac thrived as the Southern Rhone’s premier wine region right up until phylloxera arrived in 1863. By 1870, essentially no vines remained in Lirac or Chateauneuf du Pape. But the growers of Chateauneuf were quicker to reorganize and replant and reestablish the region’s reputation for great, robust, reds. For most of the 20th Century, Lirac languished as a land of small producers, negotiants, co-ops, and indifferent white, red and pink wine.

A Pivotal Force in Lirac’s Rebirth
Alain Jaume & FilsAlong with Fabrice and Christophe Delorme of Dom de la Mordoree and Henri de Lanzac of Ch de Segries, Alain Jaume has been a pivotal force in starting Lirac on its return to fame.

Talk to any member of the Jaume family, and you’ll quickly notice how their eyes light up and speech gets faster and more intense when they discuss Clos de Sixte. While they are certainly proud of their award-winning Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas and Cotes du Rhone, this Lirac vineyard holds a special place in the family’s heart.

They are (justifiably) proud of this wine that is helping re-establish the reputation of the once famous Lirac vineyard. Certified organic farming, hand harvesting, careful selection of only the best fruit, and the kind of winemaking – long, slow, fermentations and aging the Syrah (35%) and Mourvedre (15%) components in French oak barrels are the kind of care and expense normally only seen in top-flight Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

And, normally, the price of this glorious red Rhone resembles Chateauneuf, too. As critic Robert Parker said of the fine 2009, at the $30 release price, “Clos de Sixte may look expensive, but this is a sensational wine capable of lasting for a decade or more.” It’s impressive that the Jaume family’s 2016 Clos de Sixte Lirac carried the same $30 release price as the 2009. Our best in the USA $18.98/ea case price is more impressive still!