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Minna Vineyard Red 2008

It will come as no surprise to learn that I drink a lot of wines from the Loire Valley. Indeed, many other regions simply don’t get a look in. But during the past couple of weeks I have suddenly shifted tack, and have been pulling the corks on all sorts of reds from across France and beyond. Many have had some age on them as well, and it has been a good reminder for me just how exciting mature wine can be. Châteauneuf du Pape from Vieux Télegraphe, Hermitage from Marc Sorrel, Domaine de Trévallon, Cornas from Thierry Allemand, Côtes du Roussillon from Domaine Gauby, La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 and so on, mostly from mid-1990s vintages. The silky texture these wines can achieve when they are in their twenties can be delightful. I really should buy and cellar more widely, instead of focusing so solidly on just two or three regions. Some of these wines are a lot cheaper than my favourite wines from Bordeaux as well (although good Chinon usually wins when it comes to price).

Minna Vineyard Red 2008

Not quite so old is this wine, also from a southern clime, the vineyards being located in the Vin de Pays des Bouches du Rhône, which places them a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. The Minna Vineyard Rouge from the 2008 vintage is mostly Syrah at 55%, blended with 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Mourvèdre. Likening it to any of the above wines probably leaves me open to a barrage of criticism, but I guess the unconventional (for France) nature of the blend and of course simple geography puts it closer to Domaine de Trévallon more than any other. The Minna Vineyard wines are ones I have featured before, but to recap the grapes are hand-picked, then cold-macerated before a wild-yeast fermentation in small stainless steel vats. After post-fermentation maceration with pigeage the wine is pressed, both free-run and press wine blended straight away, before going into oak for 24 months, with bâtonnage. Then there is a light filtering before bottling.

The end result is of course richly coloured, slick and approachable. In the glass the 2008 Minna Vineyard Rouge leads with the aromas of blackcurrants first, perhaps reflecting that Cabernet component, before this yields to wilder notes of grilled meats and smoke. There is also a surprisingly fresh and tense edge to the aromatics, with scents of wild perfumed strawberries and blackberries, all with an appealing gravelly undercurrent which adds some real interest. This is matched by a tense and gravelly character on the palate, with a style that seems to major on freshness and coolnesss over heat. Indeed, it shows a crunchy energy and even a little suggestion of minerally bite, such is its restraint, with a lean and sinewy middle filled with hints of smoke and more gravel. A gentle middle in terms of fruit, leading into a long, tannin-infused finish. Good stuff. 15.5/20 (September 2015)

Disclosure: The bottle was a received sample.

Blackberry fruit and svelte tannins; a 2012 Bandol

It is always a joy to cast one’s net in different waters, especially Mediterranean waters. I have long loved the wines of Bandol, so much so that when in Nice four or five years ago I drove over to this, the most famous of all Provence’s appellations, to make some visits. On paper it is a two-hour journey, but it ended up taking three, so I arrived in Bandol just in time to find everywhere closed for lunch, for two hours. And I had to have the hire car back by 6pm that day, meaning I would have to leave at 3pm. It wasn’t the most successful of day trips to wine country.

Happily, this bottle caused no such difficulties.

Château Salettes

The blend is naturally mostly Mourvèdre (about 80% I believe) from the estate’s oldest vines, planted in the 1960s, on a terroir of sandstone and limestone. The wine is aged in large oak foudres for 18-22 months in a 17th-century cellar. In the glass the 2012 Château Salettes Bandol has a dark and glossy hue, the colour of black tulip. It is totally dominated by fruit on the nose, all blackberries with a blueberry edge, and there is some oak here too, sweet and honeyed, with a little chocolate-caramel edge, spiced with black pepper. The palate is textured with creamy fruit, peppery like the nose. Structurally the acidity is low-key, and it benefits from a slightly lower serving temperate, while the tannins are svelte and long. It has great ripeness and dark fruit expression, with a tinge of orange oil. A very primary wine, certainly modern in style, with a ripe coating of tannins in the finish, and with potential. Good. 16/20 (September 2014)

Disclosure: this was a sample received direct from Château Salettes.

Chateau Salettes Bandol 2010

I have a secret penchant for Bandol. Well, to be honest, I have secret penchants for a variety of wine styles, from Burgundy, the Mosel, Limoux, Rioja and beyond. But there is something special about the rich slightly animally complexity and indestructable character of Mourvèdre, and there is nowhere better to get a fix of it than Bandol.

Domaine Tempier remains for me the benchmark, although I don’t pretend to be an expert on the region, and so things may have changed. There are certainly other estates turning out good wines, and no doubt other undscovered gems. Recently I had a chance encounter with an unfamiliar domaine, and a rather modern interpretation of the appellation, with this wine from Château Salettes.

Château Salettes Bandol 2010

Château Salettes Bandol 2010: This is one of those wines that really benefits from some time in a decanter, even if it is a very short period of time. At first glance the wine is all primary fruit, raspberry and blackberry, with a rather obvious seam of caramelised-sugar oak coming through underneath, both aromatically and on the palate. But give it half an hour and it has changed completely. The wine, dark at its core but with a concentrated violet rim, begins to reveal more of the gamey and funky side of the Mourvèdre, and the sweeter oak notes slide away to be replaced by drier, woody, more garrigue-like tones, with a denser, more roasted-cherry fruit. The palate has plenty of texture at the very start, with some good grip behind though, as well as a slightly spirity heat to it. The fruit is grainy and concentrated and rather modern in style, whereas the structure feels more antiquated, the finish savoury, and dry, with some tannin giving a little bit of bite here although this structural element is really well integrated and it is the tingling warmth of the wine that really comes to dominate. Alcohol 15%. 14.5/20 (February 2013)

Disclosure: this wine was a trade sample sent by proprietor Nicolas Boyer.