On the Trail

Reserve d'O Explodes on the Scene

Keith Mabry

When we first saw Marie Chauffray's Domaine de la Reserve d’O wines, we were intrigued. We were in Montpellier, wandering through the Vinifilles fair of small producers, when we noticed the distinctive labels—a striking resemblance to a certain Burgundy producer famous for its incredibly rare and expensive wines. “We should taste those first,” I said to my colleague, curious about the potential comparison in quality. Quite simply, we were awestruck—the flavors were rich, with red and black berry fruit, streamlined and elegant. Over the subsequent days of the fair, I went back to Marie’s table to taste the range of wines multiple times and eventually befriended her, leading to an exchange of business cards and contact information. Little did I know that Marie and her husband Frederic were looking for an entry into the American market. Little did I know these wines were about to become K&L direct import sensations.

I wasn’t at all prepared for the enormous fanfare the Reserve d’O wines would ultimately receive from our customers and staff. We do get a lot of clients looking for Northern Rhone wines or value-oriented substitutes, and deals in Cote-Rotie and St. Joseph aren’t easy to come by. That being said, it’s not always easy to convince people that a sub-twenty dollar bottle of unfamiliar French red is the perfect stand in for their favorite high-end label, especially from a relatively new producer like Reserve d’O. Marie and Frederic had been in the wine business for many years even before they began the Domaine. When Fred's parents had passed away, they took over his family's wine store in a suburb of Paris.  Fred was a musician, guitar and some piano, and hadn't really planned on getting involved in the trade before that. Marie, however, had always had a desire to make wine. While running the store, Marie would sneak from time to time in search of the perfect site until one day she called Fred and told him, “I have found it.” Today, having sold the store, their sole business is the estate and—let me tell you—the feedback so far for these wines has been off the charts. The first order we placed with Reserve d'O last year sold out very quickly, based solely upon our staff’s enthusiasm. We couldn't even get the "Bilbo" expression because the winery had sold out while we were scrambling to put our order together. The demand was most definitely there.

It was their recent visit, however, that really hammered home the impact these wines were having on our customers. About two weeks ago, Marie and Frederic came for their first ever trip to California and decided to schedule a K&L tasting event to pour some wine for the public. The response was fanatical! Marie about fell over when a customer brought a magnum from last year's offering for an autograph! Even Keith Wollenberg, our now-retired former Burgundy buyer, stopped by to taste the wines as well as meet Marie and Fred. He emerged with a smile on his face and was ecstatic.  For those of you who know Keith, he doesn't mince words when he does not like something. He was exceptionally pleased with the wines, especially the Bilbo for its freshness and brightness and the Hissez O for its powerful complexity. He went so far as to equate the Hissez O to a top-tier Cote Rotie—the highest possible compliment. When experienced people like Keith begin throwing around words like “Cote Rotie substitute,” you know you’re on the verge of something big.

But Reserve d’O is not in Cote-Rotie, rather in France’s Languedoc region—an expansive region in the south that grows a diverse collection of varietals. While in the past the region was known for its inexpensive table wine, today regions like Minervois and Corbieres are being praised for their vast improvement in quality. Fred and Marie’s property is located in the Tessasses du Larzac and their Hissez O expression represents the pinnacle of the Domaine's production. It is from the rockiest soils at the top of their vineyards and yields only the most concentrated fruit. It has a perfumed opulence with lavender, blueberry and smoked meat aromas. It is indeed reminiscent of a great Cote Rotie, but at such a bargain comparatively. The Reserve “Reserve” wines are fresh and delicious, all farmed organically with great purity of flavor. These wines represent everything the K&L direct import program strives to be: quality, value, and excitement-oriented.

-Keith Mabry