I’ve grown into something of a Southern Rhône addict recently. Richaud’s 2000 Cairanne was one of my most memorable tastings of this year.
Here comes another exciting bottle from Domaine La Monardière. It’s not a very mediatic estate but one that has consistently delivered high quality and typicity. The Vache family’s style is fruity and Mediterranean but the wines are also fairly spicy, meaty and peppery, making them better balanced than many modern Rhônes where an excess of richness and softness is often a problem (see e.g. Gourt de Mautens).
Réserve des 2 Monardes is Monardière’s mid-range bottling (the top one is Vieilles Vignes), made from mid-aged vines with 30% used oak; Grenache dominates but there’s 30% Syrah too. Upon opening this is a ‘wow’ wine: a little barnyardy but with brilliant fruit on the palate, succulent fresh raspberry, still very young, dynamic, fairly tannic on the finish too.
As this airs in the glass and the reductive barnyardy stink blows away, the wine becomes a bit more relative. Freshness remains very good but tannins begin to dominate: perhaps there’s a bit of overextraction (a frequent problem in Vacqueyras and Gigondas IME). There’s also a fair bit of that bitter phenolic impression on the finish that Grenache can give. But it’s nonetheless a very serious wine, and I’ve had great fun drinking it over two nights.
It’s another bottle I got from Aux Fins Gourmets, a brilliant wine depot near Mainz in Germany. Owner Matthias Hilse has a tremendous catalogue of Southern French wines as well as one of the better en primeur Bordeaux offers (including by the bottle). Moreover, he is that dying species of wine merchant who buys the wines on release and ages them for you. I bought this bottle last summer for 17.50€ but could have opted for Monardière’s 2001, 2000 or 1999 instead, at almost the same price. With a reasonable budget you could easily buy a year’s worth of fantastic, mature wine here.
I’m not alone in my taste for the Rhône: this region has become a big fashion on many markets including the US, UK and Germany, partly fuelled by Robert Parker’s enthusiasm for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Unlike RP, however, I have a preference for the Rhône’s lighter wines. Often I’ll prefer a Côtes du Rhône to a Châteauneuf. Another good source of wine are the CdR communes such as Rasteau, Cairanne and Vacqueyras. The latter has held its own AOC since 1990, and I think it’s currently one of the best QPR in the region. The wines are similar to Gigondas and Châteauneuf in weight but less prone to overripeness and flabbiness. In fact Vacqueyras is often qualified as ‘rustic,’ i.e. it has more powerful, chunky tannins but I think it’s a good thing: it adds more balance and backbone to very ripe Grenache. There are not so many good growers in Vacqueyras but biodynamic Montirius is an undisputed star, Le Sang des Cailloux sums up all that’s best about the Southern Rhône, and other good estates includes Couroulu, Montvac, Pesquier, Raspail, and des Tours (owned by Rayas). There’s also a confidential production of white as well as very reliable rosé. I’ll be on the lookout for more Vacqueyras.
Source of wine: my own purchase