When operating at the tip of any frontier there's power in numbers. Would Kerouac have had the same impact without his accompanying Beats? Rauschenberg without Warhol? Matthiasson without Petroski? Winogrand without Arbus? Parker without Gillespie?
In Vacqueyras resides Cécile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac, a one-woman operation sandwiched between Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, in an AOC that received its status in 1990 with the help of Dusserre's father who was instrumental in gaining its classification. Long before buyers and consumers came to seek family-run producers from unknown and upcoming regions, Domaine de Montvac was operating as just that. Silently farming and fermenting wines of elegance in a region that stands on the cusp on neighboring Old World regions that have operated across time, Dusserre has persisted in making natural wines that speak to the palate.
On a recent trip, we tasted through a selection of Cécile's Ecocert certified wines, beginning with Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras Blanc "Melodine" 2011. A blend of 40% Clairette, 40% Roussanne, 10% Bourboulenc and 10% Viognier – estate varietals that are co-fermented in old oak – "Melodine" is a light and refreshing cuvée from a region that typically yields whites of great weight. And while Cécile admits that it's more traditional in Southern Rhone to base white wines on Grenache Blanc, she prefers Roussanne because she finds that Grenache Blanc is similar to Grenache Noir in that it "needs a high abv to present itself, which would make it difficult to maintain fresh aromas."
"A lot depends on terroir," she added. "Grenache Blanc can be a fabulous wine but with hotter temperatures and less rain it's becoming syrupy and dense. In Chateauneuf-du-Pape there are nice Grenache Blancs," she said, before noting that others in Vacqueyras are now following her steps and starting to use Clairette as a base. By employing Bourboulenc (an ancient, traditional varietal that is very acidic), to lift the flavors of Roussanne and Viognier, Cécile crafts a light and balanced wine with notes of green citrus, stone fruit, salinity and flint, a minerality that's infused with a hint of beeswax, which lends the viscosity a touch of crushed stone creaminess.
As noted in last week's post, 2012 was a very small harvest due in part to coulure, much like 2010, which was an excellent vintage in Southern Rhône. However, unlike big house producers, Cécile did not and will not raise the price of her wines to compensate for the concentrated quality/halved production. A 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah that was fermented in cement tanks, the Domaine de Montvac Côtes du Rhône 2012 is clean, lean and bright with fresh berry, violet flowers and dark stone notes.
A blend from many parcels, the Domaine de Montvac Arabesque 2010 consists of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre, which are co-fermented and aged for eight months in cement. By planting this Syrah to sandy soils in lieu of limestone or clay, Cécile achieves a varietal that is more delicate and lighter, which yields a wine that is of the same spirit. Compared to the 2009 vintage, the 2010 is lighter and less dense. With purple flowers on the nose accompanied by the tart flavors of just-picked berries, the Arabesque 2010 offers bright acidity and soft tannins, with a hint of spice on the finish.
Receiving 92 points from Wine Spectator, the Domaine de Montvac Gigondas "Adage" 2009 is a blend of 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre that's 80% de-stemmed and co-fermented in stainless steel, with 20% aged in one-year-old French oak. Of the 2009 Wine Spectator wrote: "Unctuous but racy, with layers of linzer torte, currant paste and melted fig coursing along, thanks to briary structure and vivid acidity. Features pastis, loganberry and toasted spice notes on the finish. Drink now through 2020. 500 cases made." And while we have the 2009 in stock, while visiting with Cécile we tasted the 2010, which was bottled just three weeks before we arrived; it was earthy and spicy with purple flowers and berry fruit riding a wave of acidity to the finish. Of the 2010 vintage, Stephen Tanzer wrote: "Bright purple. Highly scented aromas of red and dark berries, Moroccan spices and anise, with slow-building florality. Vibrant and precise on the palate, offerings juicy raspberry and boysenberry flavors that show good depth and punch. Closes on a nervy note, with resonating spiciness and very good persistence. 90-92 points."
Made with 100% old-vine Grenache (70 years), Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras "Variation" 2010 is 100% de-stemmed, fermented in stainless steel and aged for eight months in cement. Earthy and floral on the nose, it has a lean and silky entrance to the palate with berries that reveal themselves inside a frame of tannins. Awarding 91 points to "Variation" 2010, Tanzer writes: "Vivid purple. Ripe cherry and black berry on the pungent, floral nose. Lush, expansive dark fruit flavors become more energetic with air, picking up notes of peppery spices and candied flowers. The bright, focused finish features silky tannins and appealing sweetness."
Vacqueyras' best kept secret. Domaine de Montvac. Get 'em before the word gets out.