Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

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Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010

Last week was meant to be an attempt to clear out some of the backlog of Australian wines in my queue, and was at least partially successful, with four interesting wines from two large and two very small producers.  This week I will focus on the French wines that I’ve tasted recently but which haven’t made it onto the site.  Today, it’s the Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin Les Terres Jaunes 2010.

This is a wine of Beaume de Venise in the southern Rhône.  It is a warm Mediterranean region, somewhat to the east of the valley through which the river flows, and protected from the mistral.  The area has three main soil types across the different areas being cultivated.  South of the town is a flat with alluvial gravel and silt over sand and cobalt.  Just north of the town on south facing slopes vines are planted on an area of broken rock over sand, and further north on the far side of the peaks is decomposed gravel with concentrations of dolomite over sandstone and marl.

I first became familiar with the region a few years back by way of the style of wine for which the area is historically famous, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and for which it was given AOC status in 1945 (though backdated to 1943).  It’s a white Muscat based vin doux naturel, a sweet style of wine where the fermentation is stopped by the addition of spirit before all the sugar is converted to alcohol.

However, this wine is neither white, sweet, nor fortified.  In addition to the Muscat VND, the regions is also known for production of dry, red table wine, and was granted AOC status in 2005.  The red wines of Beaumes de Venise are blended from at least 50% Grenache and  25% Syrah and up to 20% being other authorized grapes such as Mourvèdre including at most 5% white grapes.   White and rosé wines are also produced though only as Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC.

Domaine La Ferme Saint-Martin is a fairly small producer based in the north of the Beaumes de Venise appellation.  They are certified as organic, and in addition to this wine, they produce red and rosé wines of the Côtes du Ventoux appellation and red and white Côtes du Rhône.  In addition to Syrah and Grenache, they have plantings of Cinsault and Carignan they use in their Côtes du Ventoux and red Côtes du Rhône wines as well as Roussanne and Clairette which go into their white Côtes du Rhône.

This wine, which translates to Yellow Lands, is a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah.  After fermentation, it is matured in vats and bottled with some sulphur but without filtration.

In the glass, it is clear and bright, with a dark purple colour and some legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium plus intensity and notes of blackberry, coffee, cherry, and plums.  It’s richly fruity but with some secondary characters.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus body, medium plus intensity, medium plus grippy tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium acidity and medium length.  There are notes of chocolate, hazelnut, liquorice, blackberry and cherry.

This is a good wine.  It has an interesting complexity of flavours, which work well together.  It’s strong in most respects, only falling slightly out of balance with less acidity and length than I might have wanted.  However, it does have the potential to get more interesting with cellaring.

Pin in the map is approximate.

E. Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph 2005

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E. Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph 2005

E. Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph 2005

While I’ve been to Paris more times than I can remember, I’ve only been a wine tourist in France once.  It was a little over a year ago that my wife and I toured the country spending roughly a week each in Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Loire and the Rhône Valley.  It involved a huge amount of driving, not just between regions but within each, but it was crucial in terms of converting names in a book or on a map to memorize into experiences to recollect.  We had the pleasure of joining a group tour of the E. Guigal facilities, and while it was certainly one of the largest producers we encountered on our trip, this bottle of E. Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph 2005 reminds me of their charming hospitality.

Geographically if Burgundy is a north-south line in the northeast of France, the Rhône Valley is a contiuation of that line, just further south, headed toward the Mediterranean, and it’s broken into two distinct parts, north and south, with the area and appellations of Die often forgotten but marking roughly the middle.  The northern Rhône is characterized by steep hillsides, often cut into narrow terraces, overlooking the eponymous river, with plantings largely on the western side of the river (with the exception of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage).  The hills largely consist of decomposed granite which needs to be replenished as erosion pushes soil down the slopes.  Vines are individually staked, though not so much as protection from erosion as defence against the Mistral, a strong wind that runs through the valley.  The stakes and steepness of the slopes preclude most mechanization, so viticulture is manual labour intensive.

The climate of the northern Rhône is sometimes misunderstood, partly due to having an appellation called Côte Rôtie, which can be translated as roasted slope in English and conjures images of vines in sweltering heat.  In truth, Côte Rôtie is named for the abundance of sunlight hours it gets due to its favourable aspect, but the region as a whole has a continental climate and is heavily influenced by both the chilling Mistral and fog rising from the river, such that ripening can be a challenge.  As a result, natural amphitheatre sun traps are highly prized, and throughout the region vines are planted at aspects to soak up as much sunlight as possible.

The northern Rhône as a whole is responsible for only 5% of total Rhône wine production, but it tends to command higher prices than its southerly neighbour.  It also has more of a focus on varietal wines, with Syrah being the only permitted red grape in AOC wines, though some appellations allow Marsanne, Roussanne and/or Viognier as minor components.  White wines of the northern Rhône, which make up only 10% of production, are either varietal wines of those three grapes, or blends of Marsanne and Rousanne, which can also be made into sparkling wine in the appellation of Saint-Péray.  (If anyone knows where I can get a bottle of sparkling Saint-Péray in Australia, please let me know.)

Saint-Joseph is roughly in the middle of the northern Rhône, stretching from the south of Condrieu to the north of Cornas, with Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage to the east.  The climate is largely continental, though there is some Mediterranean influence in the southern part of the region.  Vineyards are planted on terraces on the slopes down to the river, though has been some expansion into the plateau areas to the west.

Syrah is the main grape, and most red wine produced is varietal.  As this is the third varietal Syrah in this blog, so I won’t go into the grape itself, but I did discuss it somewhat when I wrote about the Pangea Syrah.  Up to 10% Roussanne and Marsanne are permitted in the red blend, though in practice most of those grapes are used in still white wines.  It is the second largest northern Rhône appellation in terms of plantings and production, and is known for relatively easy drinking wines that can be appreciated young.  Much of this is down to the aspect of most of the region, which gets less overall sunlight than other areas of the northern Rhône as the shadow falls earlier on the eastern slopes.

E. Guigal is a producer so famous it has its own entry in the OCW.  Established in 1946, it is a staple of fans of the Rhône, and to a large extent it was Marcel Guigal, son of founder Étienne, who pushed renewed international appreciation for wines of the Rhône in the 1980s.  The family run company produces wines from the vast majority of Rhône appellations, across a range of price points, but it was their single vineyard flagship Côte-Rôtie wines of La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque (known as the “La La’s”) that drew the attention of Robert Parker and his audience.

Tasting room at the end of the tour

Tasting room at the end of the tour

There are volumes written about E. Guigal if you wish to have a read, but I’d rather tell you about my experience in Ampuis.  My wife phoned up to arrange a tour and we were given the time for an English language group.  Our host was a very knowledgeable young man who led a dozen of us throughout their whole operation, from the ultra-modern warehouse full of huge stainless steel tanks and fermenters, down through the barrel cellars which looked as though they hadn’t changed in decades.  Finally at the end of the tour there were a selection of wines to taste, including La Turque, which was amazing.

One thing that was unique in my experience was that at no point were wines available to purchase.  I can totally understand why.  Visitors in our group were all foreign, and it’s a bit of a pain to transport wine internationally while on holiday, and believe me I write that from experience.  Also E. Guigal has among the best international distribution in the industry, so every person on the tour could buy their wines at their local wine merchant.  It was nice – it made the experience all about the wines and not at all about commerce.  Obviously not something I would recommend other wineries emulate, but perfect for E. Guigal.

Finally, this wine.  As I mentioned, it’s a varietal Syrah, grown on sloped vineyards of granitic gneiss, and matured in 50% new oak and 50% second use barrels.

In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with medium plus garnet colour and quick legs.  On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium plus intensity and notes of sweet spice, luscious, ripe, red berries, a little liquorice, and some red meat.  On the palate it’s dry, with medium acidity, medium plus fine delicious tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body, and medium plus length.  The palate matches the nose closely, with notes of chocolate, red berries, liquorice, red meat and blood, with a chocolate finish.

This is an excellent wine.  It has a seriously ripe nose followed by a rich palate.  I know I said that wines of Saint-Joseph are often best consumed young, but while this wine is very fresh at seven years, it has a great deal of room to grow.  The developed flavours are just starting to show themselves, and I’m glad I have another bottle ticking over in the cellar.  I’ll have to set a reminder to give it another look in five years.

Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2008

Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2008

Télégramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2008

So today was another bevy of hours spent in the library writing up notes on grape varieties, this time with much of the time spent on Italy and Spain. Spain is great – most everything is Tempranillo, sometimes with a different name, but it’s all reasonable. Italy, well when is a Trebbiano not a Trebbiano? When it’s a Verdicchio. Apparently that’s the case with Trebbiano di Soave and Trebbiano di Lugana, which is yet another annoying thing to remember. I don’t mind grapes being called different things in different places (Syrah/Shiraz or Mourvèdre/Mataró/Monastrell) but if you are have a grape and you want to call it by a different name, please as least pick one that isn’t already in use by some other grape.

On the plus side, I was looking at the New World and there’s almost no new material. With a few minor exceptions, everything grown in the USA, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is a grape from the Old World, and generally one that’s good enough to bother to drag so far from home and plant. Grapes for which Jancis has but a single line of text are not typically the ones that crossed oceans or continents. I think the only big entry I’ve had to make for the New World so far is Pinotage, that much maligned grape of South Africa, which I personally don’t mind at all.

So after another day with my head down in the books, there was a revisiting of the type of tasting that we went through last night. I poured out samples from the four lighter wines of last night, which were a Bourgogne Pinot Noir, a Grenache dominated Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Barolo, and a Beaujolais-Villages. To that mix I added the inexpensive Taylor’s Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills. So five light wines, two relatively expensive, three value wines, and we tasted them blind.

I want to write up something worthwhile that justifies how the inexpensive wines softened, having been opened the day before, and how since I tasted them after dinner instead of before, and near the end of the day, my palate wasn’t really in the best of condition, but really, there’s no excuse. I was rubbish at picking what was what. They mostly tasted better than yesterday, it’s true, but really, poor performance on my part.

But hey, on the plus side I get to finish off this lovely bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Télégramme, by the people who produce Vieux Télégraphe in the southern Rhône Valley of France. I took a liking to Châteauneuf-du-Pape possibly before I had ever tried it, largely because the Beastie Boys managed to fit it into (and rhyme with it) on their track “Body Moving” off Hello Nasty from 1998. I ordered what I remember to be a fine bottle in Le Jules Verne Restaurant, Tour Eiffel just after the millennium, but alas, I neither remember which bottle it was nor is it important as I’m digressing from the topic at hand.

So Vieux Télégraphe is a fairly famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, very good quality and with wide distribution. The wine in front of me is their second wine, so made from lesser quality grapes, though in this case that means vines that are less than 25 years old. So to say it’s a second wine is a bit weird – there are many wineries that would kill to have their prestige wine be this good.

A few words about Châteauneuf-du-Pape before I get too sloppy – it’s been a long day. It’s in the southern Rhône Valley, where the main grape is Grenache. However, like Bordeaux, most wines are blends, and Châteauneuf in particular has loads of grape varieties from which to make a blend. Most of the wine made is red, but white and rosé are made as well. There are 13 traditional grapes allowed into blends, and the southern Rhône is one of the few places where putting white grapes into wine which will be red is permitted. (In Champagne they do the opposite, using red grapes to make wine which is white.) Also, the lucky 13 is apparently now 19, as they’ve recently named explicitly the noir, gris and blanc versions of some grapes, and added a few others.

Also the other thing you’ll be expected to mention when the topic of Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes up are galets, which have always been described to me as pudding stones. Having just looked up that term on Wikipedia, I still don’t know why. Essentially in the area are found stones, quartzite I’m told, which are generally about the size to fit comfortably in ones palm, and they cover some vineyards with them. There are plenty of pictures online of vineyards filled with stones, with bush vines poking up through them and well worth a look. The stones both reflect some sunlight up during the day to help with ripening, and retain heat to keep the vines warm through the evenings. The thing is, when I was there in June, there were certainly a few fields of these stones, but all the descriptions I had read led me to believe that every vineyard was covered in them which was certainly not the case.

Oh, and a minor point that I love – some regulated wine regions stipulate things like what shape of bottle you need to use for your wines. So the tall bottles of Alsace are essentially in the rules for most varieties there. For Châteauneuf-du-Pape the bottles may be (not sure if it’s required) embossed with the Papal Triple Crown and Saint Peter’s pair of keys. I almost always like embossed bottles, especially when it’s specific to a region. There are some producers who do nicely embossed bottles – Torbreck of Barossa Valley, Australia springs to mind – but regional ones are great.

So this wine, it’s lovely, and I did take notes last night when my tasting was a bit more insightful, so it’s time to put them down here. I promise I’m not cutting and pasting from the producer’s website.

Appearance

Clear and bright, medium ruby, slow legs.

Nose

Clean and developing with medium intensity of sweet spice, fresh red cherries, strawberries and some oak.

Palate

Dry, medium-minus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body with notes of strawberries, liquorice, spice, and some black pepper. Spicy finish, with medium-plus length.

Conclusions

This is a very good wine. There is a great deal of intensity, though more on the palate than the nose. It’s well balanced in that generally it is on the high end of the scale for intensity, alcohol and body, though the acidity is not as sharp as I might like. The complexity is split between fresh fruit and lively spice, though I would expect some chocolate, leather and tobacco in a year or two. The length is good with an interesting finish. I think the relatively low acidity can be forgiven as this is meant to be drunk young, and while that may mean further developed characters are not going to happen, it’s drinking very well right now at only three years old.