Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Visiting Rouge Bleu

A Trip to Southern France by Wine Guy, Mike Lynam
Visiting Rouge-Bleu

Last May, Fisher's Wine Guy Mike Lynam went on an exciting trip to the wine country of the Southern Rhône Valley. Led by Michel Pascal, co-owner of Carroll Wine & Spirits, one of Indiana's best fine wine distributors, they spent 7 day of intense immersion into Southern France's wine culture. Along the way Michel bought enough wine to fill a container that arrived last week. These are wines that are rarely imported to the United States, like the wines of Rouge-Bleu that Mike profiles here.

“Le Mistral” is the ferocious wind that blows southward from the Alps through the Rhône Valley to the Mediterranean Sea at speeds often in excess of 60 mph. It can be deadly to the vines, but is also partly responsible for the 220 cloudless days of sunshine each year that ripen the grapes in the South of France. It is also the name of Domaine Rouge-Bleu’s mouthwatering Côtes du Rhône Grenache blend…but more about that later.

This past May, my wife and I were on a “once-in-a-lifetime” gastronomic adventure to the Rhône Valley with two dozen other wine-loving kindred spirits from Indiana. One of the highlights was visiting Domaine Rouge-Bleu, an extremely small producer of exceptional quality, and meeting owner/winemaker Jean-Marc Espinase and his American wife Kristin.

Rouge-Bleu is located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains near the Provençal town of Sainte Cecile Les Vignes—approximately 20 miles north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where Jean-Marc also makes wine with his uncle.

About six years ago Jean-Marc and Kristin decided to follow their dream of owning their own vineyards, so they acquired a 400 year old Provençal farmhouse (a “fixer-upper”, as I believe Kristin called it) and 20 acres of vineyards…including gnarly 77 year-old Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne vines, along with younger Syrah. Their first vintage was in 2007; and it marked the beginning of Rouge-Bleu’s progression of award-winning wines. In addition to many French awards, the 2009 vintage received a 90 point score from Wine Spectator.

As a winemaker, Jean-Marc is hands-on and totally committed to producing wine that reflects its terroir. His old vines provide the potential for exceptional quality; and Jean-Marc’s biodynamic farming principles and winemaking skills optimize that potential. Yields are very low (1.5 tons/acre), and all his grapes are picked by hand. He doesn’t destem grapes from the old vines because he feels the mature stems add interesting components, especially acidity; and they help balance the wine. He also uses porous concrete tanks to permit micro-oxidation during winemaking to smooth the tannins.

When so many wines seem to be getting more alike as marketing departments try to match consumer taste trends, Jean-Marc’s commitment to making wines that precisely express their terroir is what makes them really stand out.

And the 2009 Mistral is a perfect example of the terroir of Domaine Rouge-Bleu. The nose expresses the vineyard-you can smell the dust and rocks, the wild herbs and weeds with black currant from the fruit. It's a big, savory wine with notes of truffle, sweet dark berry, earth and spice that lead to a bittersweet cocoa finish driven by smooth, finely-balanced tannins.