This August we were fortunate enough to visit Chateauneuf-du-Pape in southern France - home of great wines and fabulous food - after visiting family in Amsterdam and before travelling to Paris.
While there we were very pleased to visit some of the region's excellent wineries - including Domaine du Pegau and Chateau Mont Redon.
At Domaine du Pegau it was a great pleasure to meet Laurence Feraud, one of the world's best winemakers and yet truly a down to earth person who welcomes everyone equally to her winery.
Perhaps unlike most wineries, Domaine du Pegau exports 90% of its wines to 30 countries, including Canada. We sampled four great reds:
2005 Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Laurence - a supersmooth, fine and layered wine that has a finish which goes on and on. Not rated by the Wine Spectator but the regular 2005 bottling scored 94 points and this is even better!
2006 Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee - a great wine which we also had later in the trip with dinner. The Wine Spectator rates it at 93 points, with ripe fig, currant, cocoa and chestnut notes - who can argue?
2007 Domaine du Pegau Cuvee Reservee - an awesome wine still in its infancy but much bigger than the 2006 - a true powerhouse that will last for years.
2007 Domaine du Pegau Cuvee da Capo - we had an absolutely fabulous barrel tasting sample! A huge wine that is only made in exceptional years. The last vintage in 2003 was rated at an amazing 99 points by the Wine Spectator and had a release price of $270 US. This vintage feels like it will match that rating easily - Wow!
"It will keep for 50 years," Laurence told us in English. "That was my idea after tasting great wines from the 1940s."
Interestingly, Domaine du Pegau does not use any new oak barrels in making its wines. "New oak would be too powerful for grenache," Laurence said. grenache makes up about 80% of the grapes in the Reservee, with smaller amounts of the other traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape grapes, including mourvedre, syrah, cinsault and counoise.
And she had some good advice for other winemakers.
"The most important thing is to keep on style. I fee sorry for the young winemakers - they change too much and then they lose their clientele," Laurence said.
You can find Domaine du Pegau's fine wines in several wine stores in Vancouver, BC, including Kitsilano Wine Cellar on 4th Avenue and Broadway Wines on Broadway. Or contact Liquid Art Fine Wines, the winery's Canadian distributor, in Vancouver.
[If you wish to visit the winery it is essential to email in advance to set up an appointment.]
The Spectator noted that the vignerons of the region eat there and sure enough, when we visited the first time the Vieux Telegraphe staff were there also, our server told us.
I had the plat du jour - an appetizer and entre for 17 euros. My choice was a fabulous cold avocado soup with crawfish and red pepper to start, followed by a pork roast croute - covered in a pastry crust, with mushrooms and pine nuts in a cream sauce. Absolutely delicious also.
Given that it was about 33 degrees C outside I opted for a glass of Vieux Telegraphe white Chateauneuf-du-Pape at just 8 euros - before I knew the winemakers were in the restaurant. It's a stunning wine - huge and tropical. The 2007 was rated 89 points and this easily far exceeds that score.
On a second visit for lunch at La Mere Germaine I enjoyed a salad avec chevre chaud - goat cheese in crepe pockets quickly deep fried - excellent!
That was followed by a gigotin de canard with white beans, tomatoes, black olives and baby potatoes, accompanied by a glass of 2007 de Nalys white Chateauneuf-du-Pape for 8 euros - a fruity, minerally wine that went well with the duck. Wine tasting must make us hungrier than usual, as we also shared a great creme brulee for dessert.
That day we travelled to Chateau Mont-Redon, another well -known Chateauneuf-du-Pape winery just outside of the old town, and were fortunate to taste several vintages of their red.
1999 Chateau Mont-Redon - a very good wine, quite soft and fully mature. No Spectator rating.
2001 Chateau Mont-Redon - killer wine! It was very powerful yet fruity and accessible - we took a bottle home for dinner, where we cooked duck breast with pepper, green beans and pasta with provencal sauce - great match! The Spectator gave it 89 points but I rate it easily 92.
2003 Chateau Mont-Redon - not quite as impressive as the first two but still a fine wine. Spectator score was 87.
Mont-Redon is represented in Vancouver by wine agent Christopher Stewart and can be found in government and private liquor stores.
Mont-Redon exports 50% of its wines, unlinke Domaine du Pegau's 90%, and sells the other half in France. The "cepage" is 65% grenache, 15% syrah, 10% cinsault, 5% mourvedre and 5% counoise along with other more rare CNP varietals like muscardin and vaccarese. It produces 30,000 cases of red and a total of 800,000 bottles a year.
The vineyards of Mont-Redon are the most rocky and inhospitable-looking I've ever seen! As you can see in the photo at the top, huge "galets roules" - round rocks - cover the ground where the vines stick through.
This gives CNP the terroir that produces great wines but the stones also retain the intense summer heat, hastening grape ripening.
Despite the sweltering weather, our gracious host asked if we'd like to try some of their Vieux Marc - a distilled liquor made with grapes that is somewhat similar to armagnac but more fiery in my view. And in the air conditioned cool cellar, who could say no?
It was delicious - lots of character and intensity - perfect on a wintry Canadian evening.
Through the course of our trip we also tried many other Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines - either through the wineries tasting rooms, the excellent Vinadea - a wine store in the town which features a wide selection of the regional wines, or simply by purchasing them. Here are a few high points of our tastings:
2007 Domaine des Relagnes - "La Clef de St. Thomas" - every 2007 red we tasted was massive - this is no exception. The 2006 was rated 91 by the Spectator - this will score higher.
2007 Domaine de Beaurenard - very concentrated "fruit des bois" - intense and likely long-lived. The Spectator scores it 91 points, noting plum, fig and blackberry fruit. Lovely.
2007 La Bastide Secret Dominique - "Secrets de Pignan" - another killer CNP - 90% grenache and 10% mourvedre, this old vines wine is another fig/plum bomb! The regular, cheaper 2007 bottle from the winery scored 92 points - this will rank even higher.
Overall it was a fantastic trip. We stayed in a lovely small cottage with a pool in Roquemaure - just a few kilometres across the Rhone from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and about 20 kilometres outside Avignon, the historic city that used to be home to Catholic popes in the 14th and 15th centuries before the papacy returned to the Vatican in Rome.
And we did more than just drink and eat - we visited the amazing Pont du Gard ancient Roman aquaduct, the traditional town of Uzes and the "hottest city in France" - Orange, which is home to best preserved Roman theatre in the world - the astonishing Theatre Antique.
We can highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in great wine and food and a wealth of historic and cultural sites, as well as consistently hot weather.