On the Trail

Rhone Valley – Buyer's Notebook

Keith Mabry

(Our buyers Keith Mabry and Alex Pross are in France's Rhone Valley this week)

I can think of no better place to start a buying trip than with our friends at Chateau de Montfaucon. We met with Rudi and Mari des Pins for a cellar tasting on Sunday, looking at the current and pending releases plus some barrel samples of the hotly anticipated 2015s and 2016s. Based in the heart of Lirac, just across the river from Châteauneuf du Pape, the des Pins pretty much are Lirac. Rudi is actually head of the growers association and has made it his goal to represent the best that his slightly obscure, but historic region has to offer. We started with the new whites including the 2015 Comtesse Madeleine and 2015 Clairette Vieilles Vignes. The richness of the vintage showed through on both. We even tasted the 2016 Clairette from barrel (pictured below) which showed beautiful ripe orchard fruit and a gorgeous creamy texture. 

We proceeded into reds reviewing the 2014 Cotes du Rhone and Lirac bottlings. Both are harmonious and open with the classic savory notes of the winery’s signature style; delicious drinking now. The 2015 Cotes du Rhone is not quite finished, so we tasted the hypothetical final blend. I say, spot on; let’s go with it. Their 2015 is bold and generous, reflecting the ripeness of the vintage. We won’t see this until Fall, but it is very exciting. We moved onto the Baron Louis bottlings, the flagship of the estate and one of Lirac’s most representative wines. The 2013 which will be back in stock soon is muscular and powerful with its concentrated Grenache and Syrah flavors. Due to low yielding Grenache in the vintage, Syrah took a bigger position in the cuvee and gladly makes its presence known. This is easily a wine that will hold for a few years.  The 2014 did what it seems all ‘14s want to do: delight and engage. Cinnamon, nutmeg, peppery spices and black cherry fruit. Mouthwateringly delicious.  

We moved from there onto the new Châteauneuf project. Rudi added a one hectare single parcel plot in 2014 under the new Baron de Montfaucon label. The "Baron" label represents wines that are not part of the estate, but come from fruit that their friends and employees own.  Rudi and his team manage the vineyards, produce the wine, and bottle it as the Baron. The 2014, currently in-stock, is a delicious rendition showing the open friendly quality of the vintage. The 2015 is a beautifully composed wine with ripe red fruit quality and a sweet and savory mid-palate. No shortage of length on the finish as this wine's vineyard source is surrounded by some of the greats like Pegau and Vieux Telegraphe.  Expect the 2015 to arrive later this year.  We also sampled a very young 2016 out of barrel which still has some time to go before bottling, but it should develop into a pretty remarkable wine.  

We turned our attention to one of Montfaucon's signature reds: the Monsieur. This bottling represents a hypothetical Châteauneuf styled wine, but through the lens of Lirac. The 2011 is just being released and carries a multitude of grape varietals too numerous to include here.  It had toasted Indian spice notes, supple blackberry fruit and earthy black truffle aromas. This wine is only produced when Rudi feels the right elements are in play. He skipped ahead to the 2016 barrel sample because no '12, '13, '14 or '15 vintages were produced. The 2016 Monsieur was a persistent mouthfilling wine with intense black fruit notes. A co-ferment of 16 grape varieties takes place, so you can tell, nature has to put everything in place at the right time or this wine doesn't get made. But when it does, it is worth every penny. We wrapped our tasting with some wines from the library.  Montfaucon always puts a good amount of wine from special vintages aside to release at a later date. We have taken advantage of this many times and I am really excited that we will be offering the 2009 Cotes du Rhone and 2007 Baron Louis. Both wines showed the best of their vintages with ripe berry fruit and musky earthy, spicy elements. The '07 Baron Louis has hit its stride with its dynamic and persistent fruit and rounding tannins. Truly engaging, it should drink beautifully for many years. to come. 

Our visit to the estate finished in one of my favorite vineyards anywhere in the world. The 140+ year old Clairette vineyard with its gnarly old vines. Last year, Rudi had a team of botanists come through with the goal of finding heirloom varieties that are no longer cultivated. They found 18, most of which I had never heard of and a few Rudi didn't know as well. Calitor or Aramon Gris anyone? We cannot stress enough how special the des Pins family is to our organization. One of K&L's founders, Clyde Beffa, was an early supporter of their wines of and we have had a nearly twenty year direct relationship with them. It is a constant pleasure to visit them and support their endeavors as they continue to support ours. And, FYI, Rudi will be visiting our San Francisco and Los Angeles stores in late April for some in-store tastings and a possible dinner event in San Francisco.  Make sure you are signed up for our Events Newsletter so you can get more details.

-Keith Mabry