Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ringing the Bell at Domaine de Piaugier

Unlike in America, where tasting rooms abound, in France it's best to call a winery to arrange a visit. I did this in other parts of France, but for whatever reason, I didn't do that before visiting the foot of the Dentelles. So I had no idea what to expect when I rolled up to Domaine de Piaugier in Sablet and rang the bell.

If I stumbled upon the winery accidentally, I didn't ring the bell haphazardly. After all, I'd previously had Piaugier's 2005 Gigondas and 2005 Sablet here in the States, and both burst with Rhône character and lifted all that fruit, garrigue, and spice with grace. So I was happy that Sophie Autran invited me in and showed me around.

Sophie first took me to meet the family, including Jean-Marc, but we couldn't talk long, as they were bottling the 2007 Gigondas. I didn't see any hired hands; this was all family. On the way down to the cellar we stopped briefly to look at the large concrete tanks where most of the wines ferment and age. Above them are inox tanks, which Sophie said are used only very briefly, immediately before blending. They do use some barrique and demi-muid for aging, and it's from those vessels that Sophie guided me through a tasting of the white varieties that will eventually be blended into the 2009 blanc.

Although the Autrans stir the lees once a week, the wines I tasted did not have the maquillage of battonage, the obnoxiously creamy texture that many stirred whites have. The grenache blanc showed a touch of heat but was still nice, the roussanne was lovely, and I was happily surprised by the particularly impressive viognier. I normally don't cotton to this variety, but the sample I tasted showed good acidity, freshness, and nascent complexity, and I found myself wishing that it would be bottled separately.

Upstairs, we were joined by a passel of New Yorkers for a tasting of recent bottlings. The 2008 Sablet Blanc was very fresh and showed a slightly tropical nose but was perhaps not as interesting as I think the 2009 will be. I was enthused by the Autran's 2009 Sablet Rosé, so much so that I had to buy a bottle (Connecticut is apparently the only US state that sees this wine). This is 100% cinsault and it's a bit peppery, very dry, and showed great mineral character.

Sophie then tasted us through four reds. While I knew that the Autrans make balanced, expressive wines, I learned that day that texture is a hallmark of these wines. They feel great in the mouth. Needless to say, they are devoid of excessive fruit, alcohol, glycerin, or oak that mars too many a Côtes du Rhône Villages. The Autrans ferment with indigenous yeast and as of the 2006 vintage began destemming.

2007 Sablet Rouge: This is the basic rouge from Piaugier, 80% grenache and 20% syrah. 2007 may be a big fruit vintage in the southern Rhône but this wine is hardly overweight or swamped in fruit. Rather, I found it very fresh, with good acidity and tannins, and the texture here is lovely.

2006 Les Briguières Sablet: This lieu dit is positioned on the southern edge of Sablet, next to Gigondas, and the soils here are more clay-rich than is typical of sandy Sablet. Grenache and mourvèdre are the varieties and they are aged for 18 months in one and two year old barrels. I got cooked cherries on the nose, but again, good acidity keeps the wine fresh, although this is deeper and more concentrated than the basic Sablet. My notes again use the word "texture."

2006 Réserve de Maude Sablet: This is the Autrans' 100% syrah bottling. It's medium weight, but it was pretty shut down when I tried it.

2007 Les Briguières Sablet: Back to the Briguières, this time the 2007. Mourvèdre is 20% of the blend. I find it rounder and more complete than the 2006, and the balance is better, too. The texture is gorgeous. The fruit was a bit prominent at this point, so this is a wine for keeping. I see from Wine Searcher that some shops in California are selling this for $16 to $18, which seems to me like an absolute steal. I can only hope this shows up in Illinois!

No comments: