Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Domaine La Manarine: exquisite, balanced Côtes du Rhône wines

After my little homage to Neal Rosenthal, I would like to introduce you to "Domaine La Manarine", an estate from the Rosenthal portfolio producing exquisite, balanced Côtes du Rhône wines.

Côtes du Rhône

But first, I need to say a few words about Côtes du Rhône (or CdR in short). There are many Côtes du Rhône wines in this market and they are not all good, as one may think. People often ask:"Do you have a good Côtes du Rhône?" Well, it is a very vague question and fortunately wine boutiques and specialized cavistes like us usually narrow down their selection to the best and the more expressive ones that they can find.

You see, Côtes du Rhône is a huge and long appellation that emcompasses 2/3 of the Rhone Valley. Starting in the south of Lyon and produced roughly everywhere from Viennes to Avignon, which is quite a long drive, CdR wines can be made out of many different grape varieties (blended or not), predominantely Syrah and Grenache for Red and Rose and Grenache blanc for white, through out about 170 villages and communes.

Along that long hilly road following the Rhône River, Côtes du Rhône wines are made out many different terroirs, type of soils and micro-climates, and sun expositions, that really influence their taste, texture, intensity and complexity. More over there are different levels of quality. Let's say that usually the step up in quality (and price) from a regular CdR is the Côtes du Rhône Villages, with or without the village name on it, although it is better and offer more depth and character when the village name is on it, like Rasteau or Sablet (both extremely different, the former being stronger, bolder and riper, the latter being slightly more rustic and earthy, with higher acidity and juicier fruit) or Cairanne.

Like in Burgundy and Loire valley, knowing your Côtes du Rhône producers is the best way to make the best and safer choices. This way, you will find more regular satisfaction level and less annoying variances in taste and flavors.

As for any other wines, ask your local wine boutique for more details about which style of Côtes du Rhône Red you want to drink: juicy, earthy and not too heavy or riper, medium to full bodied, with more structure.

Just remember that Côtes du Rhône is an AOC that covers both the northern and southern sub-regions of Rhône. Wines from the high quality and major Northern and Southern AOC are rarely declassified into CdR wines, it will not make sense for the producers. Typically Côtes du Rhône is produced when the wine does not qualify for an appellation that can command a higher price (due to young vines or declassified wine, etc...) and when the vines are not in the appellation. Therefore, almost all Côtes du Rhône AOC wines are produced in the much larger southern Rhône, since the northern sub-region is mostly covered by well-known appellations of higher quality and standard and also is much smaller in terms of total vineyard surface.

Northern Rhône

The northern Rhône is characterised by its vineyards planted on steep slope overlooking the Rhône River, but also and more importantly by a continental climate with harsh winters and warm summers. Its climate is influenced by the mistral wind, which brings colder air from the Massif Central. Northern Rhône is therefore cooler than southern Rhône, which means that the mix of planted grape varieties and wine styles are slightly different than the Southern Rhône .

Northern Côtes du Rhône reds are predominantely made with Syrah, often mixed up to 15% with a touch of white grape varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane, to add freshness and balance. Somewhat lighter in color with earthy, dryer tannins, they usually have good acidity, touch of spice and a good structure, most are definitely age worthy, fairly fullbodied and somewhat more rustic than in the Southern part of the Rhone, with characteristic aromas of olive, meat and smoky bacon.

Southern Rhône

The southern Rhône sub-region has a more Mediterranean climate with milder winters and hot summers. Drought can be a problem in the area, and depending on the vintage and the necessity, limited irrigation is permitted. The differing terroirs, the steep slopes giving way to a broad valley floor, together with the rugged hilly landscape which partly protects the valleys from the Mistral, produce microclimates which give rise to a wide diversity of grape varieties and wines. Due to diurnal temperature variation, one major feature of the cultivation of the region is the use of large pebbles, also called "gallets", that cover the ground around the bases of the vines (and most of the vineyards of the plateau like around Châteauneuf du Pape) to absorb the heat of the sun during the day to keep the vines warm and restore the heat at night, because there is often a significant drop in temperature.

The southern Côtes du Rhône reds, made with Grenache predominantly, can appear fleshier, bolder, riper, rounder, somewhat more agreable and approcheable, with more integrated tannins. They are often characterized by their aromas of ripe black fruit, chocolate and "Garrigue" (represented often by the small wild bushes and herbs growing in the harsh soils and hot climate of the Southern Rhône and Provence, it is somewhat a concept or a notion that encompasses the Terroir itself, influenced by the Mediteranean wind and climate, combining earthy scents of undergrowth or wild bushes, herbs and plants like Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, etc... and wild berry).

Once again, every palate is different and wine tasting is very subjective from one individuel to the next. More over, the producers' style may vary a great deal, so as I said earlier , like in Burgundy and Loire Valley, (it may be true for other regions in France, but more especially for these two), once you've found your style(s) and your producer(s), stick to them or you may end up spending a lot of money for nothing and be very disappointed.

Therefore, I bought 3 excellent little wines, good value for money and perfect for the approaching summer. All of this writing about Rhône make me thirsty, let's talk about Domaine La Manarine

Domaine La Manarine

Created in April 2001 by Gilles Gasq, and run with his wife Sylvie, Domaine La Manarine is a small owned family estate. The 9.5 hectares of vineyards are located within the commune of Travaillan, on a splendid plateau northeast of Orange, called Le Plan de Dieu (God's workfield). Gilles is a talented young winemaker who has honed his skills working as an assistant to Paul Jeune, the proprietor of Domaine de Monpertuis and Chateau Valcombe.

Gilles learned his lessons well. Using traditional winemaking, the resulting wines have excellent balance and high acidity, with great earthy notes and juicy fruit. They are less earthy and to some extend brighter than Domaine de Monpertuis and they are not as opulent and rich as Chateau de Valcombe, yet they match both in depth and complexity (in my opinion). Gilles surely applied techniques that he mastered in both estate, add a touch of that traditional viticultural heritage inherited from the older generations and adapted it to the microclimates and Terroir of his vineyards, in order to craft the best possible wines. And it shows.

As I explained it earlier, the round-oval limestone rocks or pebbles (called "gallets") are a distinct feature of the soil here. They impart character, facilitate drainage, and retain and radiate back heat during the cooler nights. Therefore, despite the lack of rain and the heat of the Mediterranean climate, Gilles is in a region blessed by Bacchus and Dyonisos (even if they are the same and unique wine god) where the quality of the Terroir, the characteristic of the soils and the diverse microlimates provide enormous potential to craft high quality, ripe and expressive wines.

Grenache Noir is the main grape variety of the region. It performs particularly well on this type of soil and gives wines with more elegance and aroma than is otherwise common (which also explain the elegance of his wines). Gilles has recently acquired one hectare of Syrah vines that will enter into the 2002 harvest which will then enable the Manarine wines to bear the appellation: Côtes du Rhône Villages ­ Travaillan.

Gilles vinifies two different cuvées from separate plots of vines. Both are 100% Grenache Noir. His first cuvée, the Côtes du Rhône, is made from his younger vines (average 25 years old). The second cuvée, destined for aging and called "Terres Saintes", is made from a selection of lower yielding old vines (average 45 years old).

Gilles destems the entire harvest and uses cement tanks for fermentation. The Côtes du Rhône undergoes fermentation and maceration for 18 days; the "Terres Saintes" (structured as a "vin de garde") benefits from a longer "cuvaison" of 30 days. During the "elevage" both wines go through "delestage" and "remontage" (a technique whereby the tank is completely emptied and the wine pumped back into it on top of the layer of skins) to extract color and flavor. In addition, 20% of the "Terres Saintes" is aged for 8 months in "demi-muids" or large barrels. Gilles also produces a Côtes du Rhône White and a Rosé.

2008 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône White Travaillan France
Suggested retail price $13-$15
Distributed by Rosenthal in NYC

A blend of predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette, La Manarine white CdR is clean, fresh, very mineral with bright acidity, which is somewhat rare yet desired to avoid flabiness. The nose combines white fruit, peach blossom and light touch of golden apple. The palate is fairly light, vivid, balanced with an excellent texture and minerality. Lighter, brighter with less fat than previous vintage, but it works for the better in this case, especially with the summer approaching. Super summery and probably one of the most interesting white rhone that I tasted since Chateau L'Ermitage White (except that L'ermitage is a fuller wine, better for colder season, see my post on it).

2008 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône Rosé Travaillan France
Suggested retail price $10-12
Distributed by Rosenthal in NYC

A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, La Manarine Rose CdR is also light and bright with racy acidity and a very good balance. Floral with light notes of wild red berries, quite harmonious with good depth, elegance and freshness, it is a really enjoyable wine that has a nice way to coat the palate. Here again mineral and brighter rather than being full or super fruity (like some CdR rose can be). Love it. Simple and thrist quenching. To enjoy as an aperitif with charcuterie, cold cut, raw vegetable.

2006 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône Rouge Travaillan France
Suggested retail price $12-14
Distributed by Rosenthal in NYC

A blend of predominantly Grenache and the other usual suspect red Rhone grapes, La Manarine Red CdR is a nice, healthy, clean, earthy, juicy Côtes du Rhône with great acidity and light garrigue character. Here again, fresher rather than being full or over ripe, it is a traditional, earthy, gentle wine with personality. It displays red and dark cherry, touch of spice, earthy note, good juicy fruit and a versatile mouthfeel.

My overall view of these wines and the "Domaine La Manarine" is "balance and harmony", nothing too opulent or over extracted, just plain, simple yet balanced, harmonious and bright Côtes du Rhône wines. Definitely a good value on the shelves. A Domaine to follow, presenting straight forward, versatile attitude and solid consistency.


LeDom du Vin

Info partly taken from www.Madrose.com and www.wikipedia.org

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  1. Great list of wine taste) My girl prefers wine, when we moved, the first thing she brought to our new home were a dog and a wine cooler Vinotemp VT-21TSP-2Z . I was surprised but Regina said that these two things will not let us be bored in the future) and she is absolutely right. Sometimes a bottle of wine can solve even the most difficult problems. So if you love each other, just have a drink together Reserve Malbec for example ... This is important as love itself.

    1. Thank you for your comment Molt.

      Your girlfriend is totally right, when things go sour with the boyfriend (you in that case), a dog and a bottle of wine from the wine cooler are surely the best things to revive her mood and put a smile back on her face again.... and thus eventually solve the problem... :-)

      LeDomduVin a.k.a Dominique Noel