by Clark Z. Terry, January 2020
It’s always a pleasure to have Daniel Brunier, vigneron at Vieux Télégraphe and Les Pallières, in town to visit customers. He knows how to put on a show, and anyone who attended our Autumn Tasting in Oakland in November saw his talent to connect with the public.
Daniel’s arrival was well timed with the arrival of the two 2017 bottlings from Les Pallières. When speaking about his work, Daniel likes to build connections between the wines he makes across the Rhône Valley. He’s a man of Gigondas and Ventoux, not simply Châteauneuf, where Vieux Télégraphe is based, and the through line of his production is the Grenache grape. What’s striking in his wines is how each bottling expresses the greatness of an appellation and Grenache, yet is distint and full of character. The 2017 vintage of Racines and Terrasse du Diable epitomizes this. I highly recommend picking up six bottles of each to discover what makes 2017 Les Pallières outstanding now and in the future.
2017 Gigondas « Racines »
The domaine’s oldest vines and 80% Grenache in the blend are the fundamentals of Racines. Of the two Les Pallières bottlings, this is the one that typically is open younger in its life. The tannins are soft, and the fruit is pure and elegant. Underlying that, though, is something dark and profound – a savory character reminiscent of a tapenade. Don’t count it out as a candidate for your cellar.
2017 Gigondas « Terrasse du Diable »
The Grenache is turned up to 90% for this high-altitude cuvée. The vines (averaging only fifty years) are planted on terraces that nestle against the imposing limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail. For those of you who just can’t wait, open the Terrasse du Diable a good two or three hours before serving. Notes of black olive and licorice, mint, eucalyptus, and rosemary will soon fill the room. For those who can, in five to ten years, the brooding youthfulness will start to mature and you’ll be rewarded with … well, we don’t yet know. But if past vintages are any indication, you’ll be very happy with your foresight to put a few bottles away.
« Le Vin En Rose » par Jane Berg, Septembre 2019
2018 Vin de France Rosé
« Au Petit Bonheur » – Les Pallières
If you’re feeling résistant to any policy makers these days, stock up on the sandy blond Au Petit Bonheur from Les Pallières. The INAO, the certifying body for France’s winemaking regions, believe that Gigondas’s eponymous rosé, despite being made naturally from organic grapes, may not identify as such if it does not look pink enough. Vexed by this rule, Kermit and the Bruniers decided to part ways with the Gigondas AOP and make their rosé as Mother Nature intended, in a vin gris style. Equal parts Clairette, Grenache, and Cinsault, this bottling is salty, discreet, and full of brambly fruit and soft citrus notes. Vive le freedom of le Vin de France.
Wines from the 2016 vintage in southern France generated plenty of excitement from growers and critics alike, so I canred correspondingly high expectations upon arriving at domaine Les Pallières in the summer of the 2017 for our annual blending session. Before a mesmerizing backdrop of stubby old grenache vins, dense pine forest, and dramatic limestone outcrops, the Bruniers – brothers Daniel and Frédéric, along with sons Edouard and Nicolas – recounted the vintage over a raucous chorus of cicadas.
In Many ways, they explained, 2016 represented the same challenges – hot, dry summer weather – that have become the norm as of late. The drought especially took its toll at Les Pallières, where the extremely old vines already eke out a bare minimum of juice each year. The vintage‘s strong point, then, is certainly not its yields. Rather, cool nights throughout the growing season ensured superb balance, color, and aromatic complexity in the resulting wines. The high elevation, north-facing terroir at Pallières accentuated this effect, giving wines defined more by a salivating freshness than by exaggerated ripeness or heat. By the time we had perfected the final blends, we all bore purple-toothed smiles and were ready to raise a cool glass of Gigondas rosé to a successful millésime 2016.
In bottle, the two cuvées of rouge confirm my initial impression – one of purity, completeness, and, most of all, great balance. Both feature the succulent perfume we love in Gigondas : black cherries picked ripe off the tree, fragrant herbes de Provence oils liberated by the pulsating summer sun, earthy licorice root …
Each terroir leaves its stamp on the palate. Supple and elegant, Racines conveys the generosity and velvety depth of ancient vines deeply rooted in clay-dominant soils. Terrasse du Diable, in contrast, relays its rocky environment with shameless audacity. Perched above the rest of the domaine on crunchy limestone rubble, it brings a chewy touch of rusticity and a saline finale.
You may find you have a taste for one cuvée over the other, or perhaps, like me, your preference will oscillate between the two with every sip. One thing is certain : each bottle I uncork leaves me more convinced that 2016 ranks among the top vintages ever produced at Pallières.
This estate is jointly owned by the Brunier family of domaine du Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and their longtime US importer Kermit Lynch.The Bruniers and Lynch bought the property in 1998 and have steadily brought it back to life.
Located on thie northwest side of the appellation, the estate is a parchwork of terraces that can be roughly divided into two halves.The first contains that estat’s oldest vines of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, located around the winery itself at elevations of 650 to 600 feet, and the second includes terraces of Grenache and Mourvèdre at higher elevations of 1,000 feet, weaving in and around the Dentelles. After an initial run of vintages, vigneron Daniel Brunier decided to bottle the fruit from the two halves of the estate separately. Both bottlings show the more elegant side of Gigondas, relyning on subtle fruit flavors, fine tanins and lingering minerality.
It is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, known as garnacha in Spain and cannonau in Sardinia, but Americans know it best by its French name, grenache. It is the most important constituent in the blend of grapes in Gigondas, the next focus of Wine School.
The southern Rhône is known for its warm, generous, heady wines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous among them. Its wine can achieve a majesty that other southern Rhône appellations can only envy, but Châteauneufs nowadays can also seem overly powerful and fruity depending on the style of the producer. They are also expensive.
Gigondas, by contrast, tend to be a little fresher and gentler in potency and price than Châteauneuf, while retaining many of the characteristics that come from the Mediterranean climate and the bright Provençal sun. Gigondas won’t be low in alcohol — that’s just the nature of grenache. But it goes very well with sweaters and the onset of chilly weather.
Here are the three wines I suggest you try:
Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2012 (A Daniel Johnnes Selection/Skurnik Wines, New York) $30
Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas Cuvée Tradition 2012 (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York) $30
Domaine Les Pallières Gigondas Terrasse du Diable 2011 (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.) $40
As is so often the case, these may be hard to find, so don’t hesitate to look for other producers, like Grapillon d’Or, Montirius, Montmirail, Château du Trignon, Château de St.-Cosme, Raspail-Ay, La Bouïssière and Notre Dame des Pallières. These are among the best, but buy whatever you can find. You could even try Vacqueyras, a neighboring appellation, or some of the better Côte-du-Rhônes-Villages from places like Cairanne or St.-Gervais.
These wines are best served with hearty foods. They will go great with casseroles and meaty stews, braised dishes and lamb shanks, as well as burgers and sausages. They will flatter roast chicken. (Doesn’t every wine?) You may also want to experiment with some savory-and-sweet combinations, like a tagine made with meat and fruit.
As always, it’s better to serve these wines with a light chill, say 60 to 65 degrees rather than 75 degrees. Decanting is never necessary. But one thing I’ve learned from Wine School is that decanting does seem to improve just about every young red. So, while it’s not essential, as my people like to say, it couldn’t hurt.
By Eric Asimov
Vieux Télégraphe’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its consistency. I am not referring to the consistency resulting from now four generations of Bruniers who know the plateau of La Crau stone for stone, as crucial as this is. Rather, I am alluding to the timeless power of this terroir, which allows for wines of noble character, profound complexity, and unrivaled typicity year in and year out. There is no question that vintage variation exists at Vieux Télégraphe – one need only taste two diametrically opposed vintages side by side, such as 2007 and 2008, to observe this phenomenon. Yet even in 2003, an infamous year in which climatic extremes all but erased the nuances of terroir across France’s wine regions, V.T. remains V.T. – ripe, no doubt, but defined more by stone than by fruit. And such is how La Crau asserts itself : the stones are omnipresent, supplying a firm spine to the wine, a salivating mineral aspect that refreshes regardless of the vintage’s overall balance.
Vigneron Daniel Brunier describes 2015 as “a superb vintage that once again proves that nothing great can be done hurriedly.” His statement applies to the growing season, which necessitated late rains to restore balance to the drought-afflicted grapes, as well as to the harvest, an exercise in patience and restraint, and finally to the vinification, in which extended macerations yielded deep tannic structures that reached a seamless integration during the wine’s élevage.
On other words, 2015 showcases La Crau in all its glory. From its pure and explosive young fruit to the wine’s momentous structure, culminating in its trademark stoniness, this is V.T. as we love it and as we have always known it.