Monday, June 28, 2010

Getting Concrete at Domaine Jean David

Mme David, Domaine Jean DavidMuch is made of the highway in Burgundy, the N74, that separates the flat terrain from the superior hillside terroirs. Although the same dynamic occurs in the Côtes du Rhône, the dividing line here is not a highway or even a single road but an interlocking set of north-south roads that run just east of the N977. Still, as I pedaled my hired bike from north to south and back again, the divide seem to me distinct, as I was riding it.

I put the afternoon sun's fierce glow at my back as I pedaled uphill to Domaine Jean David near Séguret, who caught my attention with their "vin biologique" sign, and I wondered what I'd find. After all, good terroir and organically grown grapes only take you so far, and I'd never heard of the domaine, knew no rep.

As it happens, I'd stumbled into a domaine committed to using indigenous yeasts only, rejecting all stabilizers and enzymes, fermenting without mechanical temperature control, and bottling with a minimum of sulfur — and in the case of one bottling, none at all. In other words, the Davids (yes, they are a family-run domaine) pursue a natural winemaking regime, although they don't advertise it as such.

Mme Marine David greeted me and took me through a tasting. She explained that the Davids ferment and age their wines solely in cement. If a barrel helps tame a red wine's tannins, a cement tank is apt to emphasize them, and the tannins in the traditionally made reds are certainly untamed. They resolve at their own pace and are expressed differently in each wine. (The Davids could inoculate with a lab yeast that's designed to smooth the tannins, but obviously they do not.) Soils here are primarily argilo-calcaire, clay with limestone.

2009 Roussanne Vin de France: Yep, it's labeled a VdF, not a VdT. This is given 6 hours of skin contact, but I wouldn't label it a "skin contact" wine; it's fresh and round but hardly orange or tannic. Young, needs some time.

2009 Le Rosé de Janot Vin de Table: I have to tell you right now that this is 24% tempranillo. Tempranillo! In the Rhône! This shows a fresh strawberry nose, spices and herbs, and a bit of tannic structure in the mouth. Really a nice rosé. If I could, I'd stock my house with vast quantities of this wine (it's been a hot summer so far!)

2009 Côtes du Rhône: This young wine is strongly tannic and to my taste needs time, although it already shows fresh raspberries, good structure, and decent acidity. Vine age averages 30 years and it's a blend of 50% grenache and 25% each carignan and syrah.

2008 Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages: The medium-bodied Séguret is a step up from the above CdR, as it shows better acidity, more complexity, and a greater sense of soil, with garrigue and licorice aspects. The average age of the vines is 50 years and while more grenache is used (68%) the Davids blend in a wider array of grapes: syrah, cinsault, counoise, and mourvèdre.

2008 Cuvée Le Beau Nez: This is the odd duck, as not only is it the sans soufre wine but I believe it undergoes carbonic maceration. The result is a much softer wine, round and approachable, fruit-driven and quaffable.

2006 Séguret Les Levants: The structure here is obviously nice but the wine was quite closed, so I'm glad I got to taste the...

2007 Séguret Les Levants: Top of the pops here. I am apt to respond enthusiastically to Rhônes that have a healthy proportion of cinsault in the blend, thanks to that grape's lively acidity and peppery quality, and here it's 18% of the blend along with 25% carignan and 57% grenache. This is not only the liveliest but also the spiciest, deepest, and most velvety red I'll taste here today. The structure and balance is very nice. The 2007 fruit energy is abundant and for my taste the wine needs a few more years so the fruit is less prominent; I expect this will be quite harmonious.

It turns out that some Jean David wines are imported to the west and east coasts of the US; we in the midwest are not so lucky.

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