Last week, a few members of our team made the 12 hour journey to France to check in on the vineyards and winemakers and see how this vintage was progressing.
Domaine la Barroche
The trip began with a surprise when we were informed, en route to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that our first domaine visit scheduled for Monday morning had been moved ahead to Sunday afternoon. My well-fatigued body (after a long-haul flight) naturally resisted this, but my curiosity and the picturesque scenery of Chateauneuf beat me to it- and it proved to be more than worth it.
We were welcomed by the charming and energetic Julien Barrot, owner of Domaine de la Barroche. Instead of diving straight into a traditional tasting session in the cellar, he first drove us around every part of Chateauneuf to discuss his vineyards, his treasured old vines, and above all the importance of soil types. “The magic of Chateauneuf wines is the blend”, he said, and it was the variance of terroir that complimented one parcel to another to make his perfect blend. Julien impressed me as a serious winemaker for his enthusiasm and passion for Chateauneuf wines, as well as his extensive knowledge about terroir: not just his, but all parts of Chateauneuf. He is also adventurous in attempting new wine styles and he will soon be adding a new wine to his lineup. We had the chance to sample his full lineup of 2016s, then soon to be bottled, as well as some 2017s from the barrel, which both are equally impressive in quality.
After the visit, Julien invited us for dinner at a nice local restaurant not far from Chateauneuf, for which he prepared some older vintages of Cuvee Pure for us to enjoy. With confidence we all agreed that wines from Domaine la Barroche are truly great, with so much more to show with age.
Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils
Having our Barroche pushed a day forward, we wondered which domaine we would be visiting on Monday. The answer was soon revealed and we arrived at Domaine Pierre Usseglio et Fils.
Thierry Usseglio, the third generation in charge of this family estate, greeted us at the doorstep and gave us a quick tour around the domaine, and afterwards we were settled at the tasting area to sample his 2016 vintage. I was most impressed by the variety of labels that Thierry produced, seven wines from four appellations (Vin de France, Lirac, Cotes du Rhone and of course, Chateauneuf-du-Pape). It was not long before Thierry brought us to the map of his holdings and explained the variety of terroir, in particular soil types, and how each label was differentiated in style and taste, which were well-demonstrated in the lineup of wines that we sampled at the tasting.
More interestingly, he showed us a special collection of a case-of-six: five bottles of single variety wine, and one bottle of the mix of the five (made to a secret recipe), encouraging drinkers to try reproduce the mixed bottle, or to “better” it by making their own blend. Such was the first-hand experience in consumers’ perspective to understand and experience the “magic of Chateauneuf”.
The visit ended with a surprising news that Thierry had agreed to work with us, and that L’Imperatrice would represent his wines as sole distributor in Hong Kong. We really look forward to presenting these great wines to you!
Domaine du Clos Saint Jean
After we bid farewell to Thierry at Pierre Usseglio, we proceeded with our next scheduled visit at Domaine du Clos Saint Jean with Vincent Maurel. Comparing to the two domaines we had visited before, Clos Saint Jean was very big and equipped with advanced facilities; owning two equally big facilities for their winemaking and storage!
It took some time for us to complete the tour around the facilities, but what captured us the most was perhaps the well-organized cellar, wall after wall stacked with their back-vintages. After the tour, we began the tasting, first with the full lineup of 2016s, and then a parallel of a comparison with the 2015s. Through this tasting not only did we experience how the soil type variation gave various labels a different style as were more emphasized by the previous two domaines, with this parallel comparison Vincent demonstrated how significant vintage variation can offer unique characteristics in Chateauneuf wines. Vincent Maurel stated that “2015 was a great vintage which everyone said so and I agreed, but to me, 2016 was a once-in-a-lifetime vintage.” Taking his basic cuvee of Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes for example, the 2015s were riper, fruitier, more punchy and to me, straightforward; while the 2016s were cooler on the nose, more subtle of expression of fruits but of great depth and complexity closer to the finish. They were wines of elegance and requires patience to evolve, even just inside the palate if not in the cellar.
– Chris Cheng