Eloi Dürrbach believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. He's proved this slice in Les Alpilles; The Little Alps can produce some of France's very most celebrated wines.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1985 Domaine de Trévallon 1.5L and bottles of 2017 Rouge and 2018 Blanc.
Domaine de Trévallon set out from inception in 1973 to tell the story of place despite vigorous opposition. 47 years later, Eloi Dürrbach's vision of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from his family's estate has won the hearts of collectors across the globe. Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, and the Loire have taken the lion’s share of my most significant experiences drinking French reds over the years. Still, the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage are unsurpassed. These are Grand Cru level wines in all but name, with pricing that’s a welcome reminder of its humble origins.
Eloi Dürrbach planted these two varieties in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of Alpilles mountains. Before phylloxera ravaged vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century, Cabernet Sauvignon had been widely planted here. The appellation system set rules in the 1930s to establish which varieties could be labeled under particular zones, and Cabernet Sauvignon was given the boot. Dürbach understood his unique terroir offered the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend potential for greatness, so he chose to label his wines as France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
Driving north into the hills of Provence from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon, I began to wonder how Cabernet Sauvignon could strive here. As I climbed the Alpilles with the Mediterranean shrinking in my rear-view, the road began to narrow, and the incline slowly steepened. Coming down onto the northern side, temperatures quickly dropped, and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south was quickly replaced by the picturesque roadway (below) leading to Trévallon.
The Trévallon estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, of which nearly all are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The whole cluster-fermented reds age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving this wine its tremendous clarity and brightness. While Bordeaux's gravel is home to the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, and the granite northern Rhone to the greatest Syrah, Dürbach knows here on limestone the sum of the parts achieves something far greater than each possesses on their own.
These are magnificent wines that call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. And a seductive quality that reminds me each time of the treasure trove of older Burgundy that lined Eloi's personal cellar.
To give context to the aging curve of these wines, a bottle of 1988 opened was incredibly fresh and continued to develop in the glass. It single-handedly made a case for the elegance and cellar potential that Provence is capable of.
The rare blanc (7 bottles available) is 50% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Grenache Blanc, 8% Clairette. Each grape variety is aged separately in barrel before assemblage and bottling.