Several years ago Jean Barthélémy Chancel of Domaines Chancel Père & Fils in the Côtes du Lubéron region that straddles a buffer zone between the southern Rhône and Provence, contacted me and sent me some samples which I reported on here on wine-pages. Since then Jean has kept in touch, sending me the odd sample bottle of his wines to try. So it is time for another little round-up of some of these very nice French wines.
Chancel is a négociant and grower, producing estate wines at Château Val Joanis and Domaine Saint Andrieu, and making Champagne under the Champagne Louis Barthélémy marque. Château Val Joanis is situated north of Aix-en-Provence, on the site of an ancient Roman villa, the foundations of which are still visible. Jean-Louis Chancel bought the property in 1977, and began a “Herculean task of rehabilitation,” including the planting of 186 hectares of Syrah and Grenache for red and rosé wines, and Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Ugni-blanc for whites. A system of sustainable agriculture is employed, with chemical fertilisers replaced by organic supplements of vegetable origin. Erosion is controlled by systematically sowing the vineyard with ground cover plants, and spraying is kept to the necessary minimum on these limestone and gravel soils.
Champagne Louis Barthélémy
Louis Barthélémy, Zéro Dosage Champagne Topaze NV, France
This blend of 20% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier has less than 3g/l of residual sugar (a typical Brut Champagne will have 11g/l) and is aged for four years in bottle before release. It has a pale lemony colour and good spread of very small bubbles. On the nose there is something quite salty and mineral – oyster shells perhaps – as well as a touch of sour lemon and nettle. On the palate it is very dry, with lemon and cool, underripe apple fruit with very nice acidity that is not jarring, but which is crisp and really defines the finish. There is a touch of toast, but the freshness of the style and racy mousse makes it an invigorating style. 89/100. £32.99, Premier Vintners. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Louis Barthélémy, Brut Saphir Champagne 2005, France
Predominantly Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir, this wine is produced only in exceptional vintages and is aged for six years in bottle before release. It pours a pale gold with plenty of small bubbles and a fine mousse. There is good bruised apple and pear fruit that is very Chardonnay-like, a touch of nettle and just the beginnings of a little nuttiness. On the palate it is quite full with a certain broadening richness to the fruit, but the lemony core of acidity is so precise that this seems very youthful, very fresh. Long and very nicely made this will cellar too. 90-91/100. £36.00, Philglass & Swiggot. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Château Val Joanis
Château Val Joanis, Roussanne Tradition 2010, France
One of the great white grapes of the Rhône, though overshadowed today by Viognier, Roussanne can produce wonderfully aromatic and powerful wines. There’s an intense, not yet unfurled dried apricot note on the nose here, hinting at juicier peach too, but cool and constrained in style. On the palate it has very nice balance: the 13% alcohol moderates the tendency of this grape to blowsiness, and the core of pithy lemon dominates the finish. Very nicely done, and fish-friendly in its clean finish. 87/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Château Val Joanis, Syrah Tradition 2008, France
This AOC Luberon wine comes from vineyards running between 250 and 500 metres altitude, and strewn with ‘pudding stones’ similar to those found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has a fresh ruby colour and creamy nose, suggesting ripe red fruits sprinkled with white pepper and some aromatic spice. It is immediately vinous and dry, suggesting a savoury style. On the palate this has fine elegance and balance: there is real ripeness here, with a fleshy sweetness to the fruit, but the grippy, roughening tannins and the keen cherry acidity make it very food-friendly too. Classic Rhône Syrah and well done. 87/100. £11.20, see all stockists on wine-searcher.com
Château Val Joanis, Syrah Reserve les Griottes 2007, France
From the same vineyards, the Reserve les Griottes is a special parcel of vines harvested with lower yields and matured in Alliers oak. It has a heady 14.5% alcohol and the aromas are deeper, slightly more gamy and animal, with a deep core of fruit. The little lift of herbs and pepper is delightful. On the palate the mid-palate sweetness and fleshiness of the fruit fills the mouth, and that chewy, muscular gaminess continues in a strapping, concentrated wine. The tannins are just starting to yield, but still give huge support along with firm acidity into an impressively long finish. 90/100. Around £17.00-£20.00, wine-searcher.com