There's nothing more exciting than discovering new producers that defy conventional thinking on what their region's are capable of. Looking closer at the landscape where France and Spain converge at the Pyrenees I've found a domaine both raw and genuine. But, it's the refinement that comes from this absolutely gnarly and mind-bending terroir that defines this moment of impact. This is Domaine de l'Horizon.
l'Horizon was created when German-born Thomas Teibert met Gerard Gauby (Arguably SW France's most respected vigneron) while consulting for small wineries. He was introduced to a small village with just 200 residents. Before we move onto the wines, we need to talk about place.
Calce is a village in France about 20 miles away from the Spanish border. Yes, this is part of the Languedoc-Roussillon, but please just forget that because it is Catalan. Calce sits on a specific spot where, during the Ice Age, the slate soils of the Pyrenees collided into the limestone of Corbières. The result is what importer Neal Rosenthal appropriately dubbed, a geologist's dream. Under only 8 inches of top soil we reach an amalgamation of black and brown slate, gravel, and red-tinged iron-influenced marl, and a surface littered with river stones à la Chateauneuf du Pape (see below). And, we cannot leave out the wind: the violent Tramontane from the Pyrenees mountains meets the Marin coming north from the Mediterranean.
It's this setting at the foot of the Pyrenees that mirrors something out of a fantasy novel. 100+ yr-old vines here give minuscule yields from digging deep into these wildly unique, porous soils. The domaine produces two whites and two reds. Fermentation and aging is split between concrete tanks and neutral wood from Austria's Stockinger large barrels and foudres.
To touch on the sense of place again, these rocky soils bring spine-tingling minerality, with warm days full of intense sunlight, but absolutely frigid nights (acid's loyal friend). Wines clock in with very modest levels of alcohol, topping out at 13% even.
L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc is a blend of 80% Macabeau and 20% Muscat, all from old vines. On one hand it shows some of the faint honeyed notes you'd expect from the varieties, but it's really an acid-driven mineral showstopper with lime in the forefront supported by an array of other citrus fruits.
l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc is an equal blend of Macabeau and Grenache Gris. Co-fermented in neutral Stockinger large barrels. This, the top white of the domaine, takes on the mineral-driven personality from L'Esprit and doubles down on the intensity. The very oldest vines of the estate bring a different level of saturating minerality that's surely appeals to devoted followers of Grand Cru Chablis. The first time I saw a bottle of l'Horizon was on a shelf in Burgundy sitting next to Raveneau and Dauvissat.
L’Esprit de l’Horizon Rouge is comprised of 60% Carignan and 40% Syrah and fermented with about 1/3 whole clusters, bringing spice, structure, and complexity. Fermentation sees only gentle pigeage (punching down) by foot, with remontage (pumping over) providing the even gentler extraction. At 12.5% alcohol, this proves that SW France can indeed be built on concentration of fruit, but with freshness ultimately being the major take away.
l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge is comprised of 70% Carignan and 30% Grenache, sourced from vines over 120-yrs of age. As you can imagine, the intensity of fruit here is through the roof with yields well below 15 hectoliters per hectare. Yet, there's no heft. It's the ultimate reflection of what separates very good wines from great ones: immense concentration without palate weight. This is in that red cherry-dominant camp, with crazy focus and precision, like a finely tuned Porsche.
I see no prize in beating the drum for unknown appellations just for the sake of obscurity. I judge all wines in the context of the benchmarks. I highly recommend tasting what the other-worldly terroir of Calce is all about. Burgundy may have a head start, but this perfect storm of a setting has just as compelling a story to tell.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon "L'Esprit de l'Horizon" Blanc IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine De L'Horizon "L'Esprit De L'Horizon" Rouge IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc IGP
$59 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge IGP
$65 per bottle.
I've done my best to fan the flame of the jaw-dropping successes of Comando-G. Their Garnacha wines sourced from ancient hillsides above Madrid have brought a level of excitement for me personally with Spanish reds that I've not encountered before.
Today, we turn to their new release, the 2016 Rozas 1er Cru.
Our offer is limited to only 24 bottles, but we've supplemented this with a special vertical pack of their flagship wine La Bruja de Rozas, along with a small lot of their three Grand Crus.
To put it bluntly, Comando G has an understanding of Garnacha (Grenache) like very few properties throughout the world do. Garnacha is always generous in the strawberry jam fruit department, but endowing it with finesse and a cool-fruited quality is rare. Old Rayas did this, as did Henri Bonneau. But, finding other examples that carry this same elegance is so difficult that I always find names like Foillard and Lapierre are evoked before Chateauneuf du Pape estates.
This is all to say that the composure, silken texture, and focus on freshness that I've come to expect from Beaujolais' best domaines is captured perfectly in Comando G's style. But, we're not dealing with Gamay here, instead these wines are true to their Garnacha roots with their robust red fruit traits and wild incense spice. They just happened to have found stability on that high wire act with that lightness of being virtue seldom achieved with Garnacha.
Daniel Landi and Fermando Garcia became friends in college and shortly after started working for wineries around Madrid. Rumors spread about wild, old vines planted on almost inaccessible plots high in the hills of Sierra de Gredos. The duo slowly leased these vineyards, implementing organic and biodynamic farming, and production of these micro-cuvées began.
Fermentation takes place in open-top oak vats and aging is in 500-liter neutral French oak barrels, foudre, and clay amphorae.
Today's brand new release of the Rozas 1er Cru comes a group of five parcels containing 50-60 yr-old Garnacha vines on sandy granite.
The name derives from its relationship with their flagship wine, the "villages level", La Bruja de Rozas. The 1er Cru carries the same lifted and graceful qualities that have made that aforementioned $27 red so celebrated. But, the mineral expression and more regal structure of this 1er Cru drew comparisons for Daniel and Fernando to the elevated status hierarchy within Burgundy.
The Grand Crus:
Las Umbrias - A single vineyard of 60-yr-old-vines in granite with small portions of clay. The most delicate and ethereal of all the Comando G wines. Incredible density of fruit without weight.
Tumba del Rey Moro - A single vineyard of 70-yr-old-vines in sandy, pink granite with large amounts of quartz. Intensely concentrated, powerful, with seamless texture and soft tannins.
Rumbo Al Norte - The darkest and most full bodied of the trio. From a 0.3 hectare "vineyard" of 60-year-old Garnacha vines planted on sandy soil surrounded by the large boulders pictured below.
24x 2016 Comando G Rozas 1er Cru
$45 per bottle.
2015 Comando G La Bruja de Rozas
$27 per bottle.
2016 Comando G La Bruja de Rozas
$27 per bottle.
2x 2015 Comando G Las Umbrias
$103 per bottle.
7x 2015 Comando G Tumba del Rey Moro
$103 per bottle.
5x 2015 Comando G Rumbo Al Norte
$172 per bottle.
Back-vintage Chateauneuf du Pape is always a category I'm on the hunt for, but the pool of domaines that deliver what I'm looking for is limited. As the predominant variety of CdP, Grenache has a propensity for oxidation, and although varieties like Syrah and Mourvèdre bring needed backbone I still find you have to be surgical in selecting wines. Domaine's that take a traditional approach and aim to preserve acidity and structure have the greatest success.
That's why I was so happy to finally land two favorites from the excellent 1985 and 1989 southern Rhone vintages. As avid CdP collectors know, Mont-Redon and Mont-Olivet are prime examples of CdP at their most old-school and soulful. When bottles have been stored at cellar temperature the wines unravel into beautiful expressions of the region where 13 grape varieties comprise blends.
Mont-Redon was recognized as a vineyard in 1344 as part of the Pope's holdings. (Chateauneuf du Pape translates to "New Home of the Pope"). The estate has continued with tradition, utilizing all grape varieties: Grenache (red and white), Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarèese, Terret Noir, Clairette, Viognier, Picpoul, Roussanne, Bourboulenc. All red grapes are destemmed.
"The 1989 Mont-Redon is a stunning example of this outstanding Châteauneuf du Pape vintage...Just a lovely bottle of Châteauneuf and one of my favorites in the last couple of decades at Mont-Redon."- John Gilman, View from the Cellar (4/11)
Mont-Olivet's Sabon family are larger-than-life figures in the southern Rhone. The Mont-Olivet domaine was officially founded in 1932, and today focuses on a high percentage of 60% Grenache in their top CdP. Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault make up the bulk of the remaing blend and bring backbone to meld with the fleshy, baked strawberry and white pepper notes of Grenache. Whole clusters are used here for fermentation, adding spice, but perhaps more importantly, another layer of tannin and structure.
“One of the benchmark producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape…the consistent results have always been classic Châteauneuf-du-Papes that stand the test of time.”
- Robert Parker, RobertParker.com
“Clos du Mont Olivet, which is now run by Thierry Sabon, is a brilliant estate that fashions traditional, age-worthy Châteauneuf du Papes that have incredibly broad drink windows.”
- Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com
1989 Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape
$83 per bottle.
1985 Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape
$113 per bottle.
4x 1999 Vieux Télegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau
$99 per bottle.
2x 2001 Vieux Télegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau 1.5L
$228 per bottle.
9x 1999 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape
$149 per bottle.
2x 2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Reine des Bois
$179 per bottle.
4x 2009 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Célestins
$489 per bottle.
4x 1988 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Réserve des Célestins
$1,199 per bottle.
Of all the domaines we work with in France there's none that encompass equal amounts of mystique and intrigue like Château Simone. Located just south of Aix-en-Provence, this historic estate inhabits nearly all of the Palette appellation. Its white, red, and rosé are as distinct as the singular terroir of this centuries-old estate hidden among pines. The echelon of great French domaines like to have boundaries written by classifications, Château Simone is a prime example of where those rules are firmly broken. This is Grand Cru Provence.
The iconic castle of Simone was inhabited by the monks of Grands Carmes d'Aix, having originally dug these cellars in the 16th century. In 1830 its vines were turned over to the Rougier family. Jean Rougier was the fourth generation here and in 1948 he literally put Palette on the map by petitioning for and winning AOC status.
The north-facing Montaiguet massif and its limestone soils play a vital role in the understated and regal nature of the wines here. Warm Provence temperatures are mitigated by its exposition and the microclimate created by high altitude, deep pine forests and abundant rivers. Though we're in Provence we're many ways in a wild mountain region unto itself.
Simone's process in one that spares no expense, harvesting in small bins and sorting grapes a second time after crushing. The purity of fruit in each of the wines from 100-year-old-vines is vivid, and textures are suave and polished without the least bit of influence by vanillin new oak. This address has been guided by tradition for hundreds of years, with modern advancements only implemented sparingly.
The Red is a blend of 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault, and 20% divided between Syrah, Castet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Manosquin, Carignan, and Muscat Noir & Blanc. Dark fruits and delicate pine-resin notes set this elegant, yet wild red apart from all other Grenache-dominant blends of the south. Only 2,400 bottles are imported each year.
The White is a blend dominated by Clairette with Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and Muscat Blanc. It's a magical blend that puzzles the senses as the rich, textural fruit is met with salinity and a fresh mineral tinge on the finish. Only 2,400 bottles are imported each year.
The Rosé many consider to be the world's most age-worthy. The blend is the same of the red. The grapes are partially de-stemmed, giving a brightness and lift to the otherwise rich and deep rosé. Faded rose pedal notes, wild herbs, and gossamer texture make this one of the world's greatest. Only 1,500 bottles are imported each year.
2015 Chateau Simone Palette Rosé
$64 per bottle.
From vines over 50-years-old.
2014 Chateau Simone "Les Grands Carmes de Simone" Rosé
$37 per bottle.
From vines over 30-years-old.
2014 Chateau Simone Palette Rosé
$64 per bottle.
From vines over 50-years-old.
2013 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc
$52 per bottle.
2011 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc
$69 per bottle.
2010 Chateau Simone Palette Blanc
$64 per bottle.
2010 Chateau Simone Palette Rouge
$69 per bottle.
Walking a fine line in Châteauneuf du Pape between elegance and rusticity is a tall task, but Domaine Pégau embodies the precision of this balance like none other. Their progression over the last 10 years to highlight a more lifted style while still maintaining a sense of opulence is a hot topic for lovers of the Southern Rhone Valley. While the estate produces several cuvées, hitting over $400 per bottle, it's their benchmark Cuvée Réservée that fulfills the best value and also provides the very sharpest focus on this fabled terroir.
Laurence Féraud works with her father Paul in carrying on a steep tradition that was started by their ancestors in 1607. Laurence focuses on the cellar, and Paul is dialed into the vineyards. The backbone of the estate is their old Grenache plantings dating back to 1907 in the famed La Crau vineyard,where limestone mother rock sits below the iconic, round galet river stones.
Pégau is unapologetic about their traditional approach in the cellar, and never succumbed to pressures in the era of 100-point scores to alter methods. Whole clusters are used for vinification and wines are aged in large foudres crafted 90 years ago. Both elements are crucial in preserving a sense of vibrancy in their Grenache-dominant blends, ones that otherwise could easily show stewed fruit and oaky notes that regrettably mark so many of the appellation's wines today. The Reservée has always been the prime CdP for value, but Laurence's recent move to raise the Grenache and lower the Syrah percentage in the blend has done wonders for it's clarity and persistence.
Licorice, dark fruits, woodsmoke, game, and wild garrigue are hallmarks of every bottle of CdP. Pégau captures these notes with an impressive mineral streak and fine-grained tannins that stand out from the pack. A rack of lamb alongside Pégau has developed into one of my ultimate pleasures.
Truth be told, it was the Southern Rhone that originally pulled me into France way back when I was finishing college, as fascination with wine seemingly expanded daily. Today it's rare that I pull bottles from the region with much regularity. So much of that has to do with producer's chase of power with eyes on points. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to be able to rely on a select group that still produce wines they love to drink, and wines their families before them would be proud of today. Pégau is everything that's sacred about tradition, and should be celebrated as often as possible.
2013 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$59 per bottle.
2014 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$59 per bottle.
Special Mixed 6-Pack (3 of each vintage)
Regularly $354, Down to $336!
2001 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$134 per bottle.