Unique and Powerful Shiraz

Today’s Story: d’Arenberg

d’Arenberg (known as Bundarra at the time) was established in 1912 by Joseph Osborn in McLaren Vale after he sold his stable of prize winning race horses to purchase the property. They planted their first vineyards to 8 acres of Shiraz, though only 4 acres survived, and Joseph and his son Frank harvested their first vintage in 1913 and sold the fruit for £20 per ton. In 1927, Frank’s brother-in-law encouraged him to produce his own wine and, after studying winemaking at Ryecroft, he produced his first red table wine and port labeled Bundarra Vineyards by F. E. Osborn & Sons in 1928.

During WWII, Frank’s health deteriorated and he halted wine production in 1942 until his son d’Arry left school at the age of 16 to work at the family winery. d’Arry oversaw several great technological advances, including the use of McLaren Vale’s first rubber-tired tractor in 1946 and electricity in 1951. Several years later, d’Arry established his own wine label named for his late mother and adorned it with the family crest and signature red stripe. In 1965, the Bailey family who owned a well-established winery in Glenrowen, Victoria named Bundarra challenged d’Arry’s use of Bundarra so d’Arry decided to drop the name from his vineyard and wines.

Over the next couple years, d’Arenberg expanded with a second tasting room to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors and installed their own bottling line. During the 1970s, d’Arenberg rose to new heights by winning several awards for their 1967 Burgundy which proceeded accolades by their Rhine Riesling and Port. In 1984, d’Arry’s son Chester Osborn took over as chief winemaker and set about restoring traditional winemaking methods such as foot treading and basket pressing while eliminating fertilizer and minimizing irrigation in the vineyards to reduce yields. In 1988, d’Arenberg exported their Shiraz and Shiraz Grenache blend wines to Europe for the first time which marked another milestone in the brand’s global acceptance.

A man striving to reach new heights, Chester became one of the first to plant white Rhône varieties in McLaren Vale in 1995/1996 with 10 acres of Marsanne, 9 acres of Roussanne, and 14 acres of Viognier. Since then, Chester racked up an impressive resume of awards and trophies for both himself and the d’Arenberg winery. One of their highly awarded wines, The Dead Arm Shiraz, is what I am reviewing today and it was first released in 1993. Dead Arm is caused by the fungus Eutypa lata and affects old vines by slowly reducing one half (or arm) of the vine to dead wood. At most wineries, these vines are pruned, replanted, or abandoned but d’Arenberg sustains these low yielding vines to produce powerful and concentrated wines. The fruit for this wine is kept separate throughout the winemaking process and given extra care before being passed through a gentle roll crusher in small batches before foot treading and basket pressing. Primary and secondary fermentation is accomplished in used French and old American oak barriques and the wine is aged for 20 months on lees. Chester and his team select the best barrels for final blending and this is bottled with no fining or filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2009 The Dead Arm Shiraz

100% Shiraz/Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2009 Dead Arm is deep garnet in color and completely opaque. This demands an hour-plus to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, baked black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, smoke, chocolate, coffee, forest floor, underbrush, and charred red meat. Once on the palate, the wine offers notes of blackcurrant, juicy plum, cherry, tobacco, loamy soil, black pepper, wet crushed rock, mocha, tar, and oak. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by flavors of dark berries and char. The wine is powerful yet balanced with the structure to go at least another 5 years.

Price: $60 (though slightly cheaper overseas). This is an outstanding value that drinks like some of the “higher end” Shiraz out of Australia. Pair this with herb-roasted leg of lamb, barbecue spareribs, or strong hard cheeses.

La La Land

Today’s Story: Guigal

Guigal was established in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village in the Côte-Rôtie appellation of the northern Rhône region in France. Etienne arrived in Côte-Rôtie at the age of 14 in 1924, and early in his career he helped develop Vidal-Fleury for 15 years before starting his namesake venture. His son, Marcel Guigal, took over management of the Guigal domain in 1961 when Etienne was struck with temporary but total blindness, and Marcel was joined by his wife Bernadette in 1973. As Marcel and Bernadette worked tirelessly to expand the family business (namely by purchasing Vidal-Fleury in the early 1980s and Château d’Ampuis in 1995), their son Philippe (born 1975) grew amongst the vines with expectations of one day joining the domain. Today, Philippe serves as Guigal’s oenologist alongside his wife Eve and the two strive to produce the greatest wines of the Rhône Valley.

Guigal has experienced significant expansion since their first acquisitions in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in 2001 when they purchased the domains Jean-Louis Grippat and de Vallouit to not only strengthen their stature in Côte-Rôtie but expand into the Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage appellations. In 2003, Guigal started producing their own wine barrels to not only learn more about the entire wine production process but control another facet of their business. Guigal expanded yet again in 2006 by purchasing Domaine de Bonserine, and made strides in 2017 by purchasing Château de Nalys in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to establish a foothold in souther Rhône.

Today’s Wine: 2004 Côte-Rôtie ‘La Turque’

93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2004 La Turque is mostly opaque and medium ruby in color. This requires at least an hour decant, but then the nose blossoms to emit aromas of plum, blackcurrant, bing cherry, licorice, cola, smoked game, loamy soil, white truffle, flint, cracked pepper, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of ripe red cherry, redcurrant, candied raspberry, dried blueberry, forest floor, graphite, earthy mushroom, leather, smokey tobacco, dried green herbs, and mineral. This supple and elegant wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 350 cases produced.

Price: $300. Though not one of the “greatest” vintages of La Turque, this is an exceptional wine drinking beautifully right now. I would say this has another five years left in its prime drinking window and could be a great introduction to Guigal’s “La La’s.” Pair this with wagyu filet mignon, grilled lamb, hare, or pheasant.

Textbook Small-Lot Syrah

Today’s Story: Nicora Wines

Nicora Wines was established by Nick Elliott and its name is a combination of his own name and his great-grandfather’s name, Ora. Nick’s great-grandfather utilized his entrepreneurial spirit to turn a passion into his own business, which inspired Nick to follow his own dream of creating a winery. No stranger to hard work and dedication to one’s craft, Nick very deliberately selects the vineyards sourcing his fruit and his winemaking philosophy is rooted in the idea that great care and tireless effort is required to make quality small-lot wines. All of Nick’s wines are produced using Rhone varieties, both in single bottlings and blends, and he is highly involved in the vineyards thanks to close contact and relationships with each vineyard owner. Working in incredible Central Coast vineyards from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, Nick sources fruit from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Denner Vineyard, La Vista Vineyard, Russell Family Vineyard, Shadow Canyon Vineyard, and Slide Hill Vineyard. For more detailed descriptions of each, check out the Nicora website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Shadow Canyon Vineyard Syrah

100% Syrah; 15.2% ABV

The 2012 Shadow Canyon Syrah is opaque deep purple/ruby in color and there is some moderate sediment buildup in the bottle. This takes at least an hour to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, violet, smoke, licorice, black pepper, vanilla bean, and toasted oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black plum, blackberry, cherry cola, graphite, tobacco, loamy earth, lavender, coffee grounds, chocolate, and baking spice. This Syrah is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium dusty tannins, and a long finish with notes of inky black fruit and wet rock. 144 cases produced.

Price: $50. This is a delicious Central Coast Syrah that portrays the variety with charm. Though I was worried this might show some heat with its 15.2% ABV, the wine actually drank quite enjoyably. This will be tough to find unless you’re on the mailing list, but if you happen across a bottle it’s worth checking out. Pair this with braised beef, barbecue spare ribs, or roasted leg of lamb.

Unique Blend from Walla Walla

Today’s Story: K Vintners

K Vintners was established by Charles Smith as his first winery in December 2001. Located at the base of the Blue Mountains in Walla Walla, Washington, K Vintners produces small lot single vineyard Syrah and field blends of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Viognier which are all picked by hand, fermented using only natural yeasts, and basket pressed. Though Charles spent a lot of time during his developmental years traveling throughout the state of California and grew an appreciation for wine, his real passion for the beverage spawned during his time living in Scandinavia for roughly a decade. As a manager for rock bands and concert tours, Charles spent a great deal of time wining and dining before moving back to the United States in 1999. On a journey through Walla Walla in late 1999, Charles met a young winemaker who shared his passion for Syrah and Charles was convinced to move to the small city to make his own wine. In December 2001, Charles released 330 cases of his first wine, the 1999 K Syrah.

Today’s Wine: 2016 The Creator

80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 The Creator is medium to deep ruby in color and moderately transparent. After some decanting, this wine showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, boysenberry, french style green beans, green bell pepper, ground black pepper, underbrush, coffee grounds, black olive, and smoke. The nose is rather herbaceous and earthy with fruit not necessarily leading the show. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of plum, blackberry, black raspberry, pomegranate, tobacco, forest floor, dried underbrush, herbal tea leaf, and flint. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. Very pleasantly surprised with this wine, which offers a drinking experience I will remember for a long time thanks especially to the very unique nose. This is a supremely balanced wine for its youth and the velvety mouthfeel and lower than usual alcohol makes for an easy drinker. Pair this with herby red sauce pasta, a good burger, or veal.

Beautiful Defiance

Today’s Story: Domaine de Trévallon

Domaine de Trévallon as it exists today was established in 1950 when Jacqueline and René Dürrbach fell in love with Alpilles and purchased Mas Chabert and its adjacent property, Trévallon. Jacqueline was a French textile artist whose commissioned tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica by Nelson Rockefeller helped pay for the domaine, and René was a sculptor and painter who was close friends with cubist movement founders Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. Eloi, the son of Jacqueline and René, planted vines on the estate in 1973 where 15 hectares are planted equally to Cabernet Sauvignon (existed there before the arrival of phylloxera) and Syrah as well as 2 hectares planted mainly to Marsanne and Roussanne. Due to great amounts of limestone in the soil and vast scrubland, great effort went into planting the vines by blowing up the soil, ploughing deep, and mixing rock fragments back in amongst the vines. In 1993, the AOC legislation authorized a maximum of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyards and threatened to strip Trévallon’s appellation status if they did not reduce their blend from 50%. A staunch proponent of his wine’s unique personality, Eloi did not betray tradition and refused to alter his blend but rather saw the domaine knocked to the lesser Vin de Pays du Bouche du Rhône status. A family effort throughout its history, Domaine de Trévallon is joined today by Eloi’s children Ostiane and Antoine.

Domaine de Trévallon practices organic farming, methods they have used since the founding of the estate. They plow deeply in the soil to encourage vines to dig deeper in seeking out nutrients, shortly prune their vines to reduce yields but enhance the longevity of their vines, and do not use chemical fertilizers or artificial products. In the cellar, the winemaking team practices minimal intervention and use only indigenous yeasts during fermentation. The red wines are made using 100% whole cluster fermentation and are aged for two years in a combination of foudres (95%) and barrels (5%), while the whites see one year of barrel aging. The wines are racked as little as possible and the result is powerful wines that age effortlessly for decades.

With the backbone of art such an important aspect of Dürrbach family history, it is only fitting the wine labels display it. Though René passed away in 1999 at the age of 89, Eloi previously asked him to create 50 labels beginning with the 1996 vintage using colored pencils. The family selects a new label every vintage based on the characteristics of that unique vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Domaine de Trévallon Rouge

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Syrah; 13% ABV

The 2015 Trévallon Rouge is deep ruby in color with purple hues and mostly opaque. Due to its youth, I let this wine breathe for about 45 minutes before consuming and drank it over the following couple hours. The nose showcases aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry, plum, licorice, smoke, tobacco, leather, violet, wet rock minerality, and a hint of sandalwood. Once in the mouth, this wine displays notes of black cherry, blackcurrant, candied red fruits, dried forest floor, white pepper, black tea leaves, chalk, eucalyptus, and some peppery spice. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Though starting to show its elegance and finesse, I would wait another 3-5 years before popping one of these and drink it over the following decade.

Price: $65. Trévallon is always an incredible value for high-quality Southern France wines and the dedication to the craft is palpable with each vintage. I highly recommend everyone try one of these wines at least once. Pair this with roasted lamb, beef, cheese and charcuterie, or a chocolate tart garnished with strawberries and raspberries.

Value Cotes du Rhône

Today’s Story: Domaine de Coste Chaude

Though the estate stretches further in history, Domaine de Coste Chaude as it exists today was remodeled during the 1960s and André Guichon, a wine merchant from Chambéry, bought it in 1969. The estate again changed hands in 1994 when it was purchased by the Fues family and they further developed the property by planting new varieties, altering storage methods, and processing grapes differently. In my opinion, however, the greatest contribution of the Fues family is their transition to organic farming in 2014 (Ecocert certified). Vincent Tramier took over the estate in 2018, with his major goals being improved wine quality and the introduction of new cuvées to widen the offering portfolio.

Domaine de Coste Chaude consists of 37 hectares of which there is 14 hectares of forest and 23 hectares planted to vine. The domaine is located on a hill at an elevation of 360m behind the Eastside of the village of Visan, creating hillside vineyards with Southern exposure. Thanks to the domaine’s location, the vineyards face a nearly constant breeze that helps fight against fungal diseases and spring frosts, while also experiencing slightly colder temperatures than the lowlands which creates fresh wines. Soil in the vineyards consists of limestone gravels and pebbles mixed into ocher, yellow, and brown clays deposited during the Miocene period. For some pictures of their property, check out the Domaine de Coste Chaude website here.

As part of the domaine’s organic farming practices, Coste Chaude uses green or organic fertilizers depending on soil variety and maintains natural ground cover when possible to protect against erosion while fostering biodiversity in the vineyards. Further, they use less stressful pruning methods on their vines (especially on their old vines 40+ years old) to oversee fruit quantity in an effort to foster concentrated and healthy grapes. When it comes to winemaking at the domaine, Vincent mixes traditional methods with modern technology to produce wines that reflect the terroir. The winery is located in the middle of the vineyards so harvested fruit can arrive as quickly as possible for sorting and minimal intervention is the name of the game from harvest to bottling.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Cotes du Rhône Visan Cuvée L’Argentière

80% Syrah, 20% Grenache; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 L’Argentière is medium ruby/garnet throughout and slightly transparent. The nose showcases aromas of blackcurrant, plum, cherry, smoke, forest floor, barnyard, green herbs, green peppery spice, and black olive. Once in the mouth, I get notes of blackberry, black raspberry, wet rock, smokey cedar, tobacco, leather, stone minerality, and green vegetation. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $18. This is a great value Cotes du Rhône I picked up after an in-store tasting at one of my local shops. If you like terroir-driven wine at a great price, this is for you. Pair this with steak au poivre, roasted lamb, or a charcuterie with some hard goat’s cheese.

Historical Châteauneuf-du-Pape – for a Great Value!

Today’s Story: Château La Nerthe

Château La Nerthe was established in 1560 by the Tulle de Villefranche family, though they had lived in Avignon since the 14th century. Located in the Provence region in southeast France, Château La Nerthe sits about 80km north of Marseille and occupies 92 hectares of vines in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. The estate’s vines are organized into 57 different plots representing all of the appellation’s terroir variation, as well as the 13 grape varieties planted there. Château La Nerthe practices organic farming (ECOCERT certification in 1998); hand-picks, table-sorts, and destems their fruit before fermentation; uses only indigenous yeasts during fermentation; vinifies by individual plots to showcase terroir variation; and blends only after the wines have aged for 12 months.

While the proprietorship of the Tulle de Villefranche family lasted several centuries, the estate grew drastically under Marquis Jean-Dominique Tulle de Villefranche (1711-1760) when he developed the vineyards to become one of the preeminent estates throughout the Rhône Valley. Between 1736 and 1784, the castle at the estate took shape as it exists today and allowed the family to not only live on the property but host guests in elegant style. Coincidentally during this time (and the 18th century as a whole more or less), members of the Tulle de Villefranche family in high military positions embarked on marketing endeavors throughout Europe and the wines of Château La Nerthe were sold in Russia, America, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In 1776, Château La Nerthe became the first estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to ship their wines in bottles while gradually fading out barrels.

Château La Nerthe was destined for arguably its greatest change, however, in 1870 when the Tulle de Villefranche family sold it to Commander Joseph Ducos. At this time, many of Joseph Ducos’ neighbors were tearing up vineyards and replanting the land with fruit trees, however he replanted his new estate with phylloxera resistant rootstocks. These visionary efforts accomplished by Joseph Ducos helped shape his neighbors’ changes in winemaking and certainly find their place in overall history of the appellation. In 1985, the estate changed hands yet again when the Richard family purchased it and promised to ensure revival of the original values of excellence and innovation at Château La Nerthe.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

50% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 La Nerthe CdP is moderately transparent and medium garnet in color with ruby variation near the rim. Once this breathes for about 45 minutes, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, baked strawberry, tomato sauce, cedar, cola, worn saddle leather, clay, mineral, freshly baked bread, and oak-driven spice. In the mouth, I get notes of sour cherry, tart raspberry, strawberry leaf, purple and blue florals, dried tobacco, parched dusty earth, a hint of bitter chocolate, and sandalwood. This CdP is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. This was drinking very nicely after an hour and a half decant.

Price: $50. This is a good value CdP, though there are a number of other options in the same price range that seem to be drinking better now. I’m curious to see how this develops with some bottle age. Pair this with game, steak, or lightly spiced lamb.