Domaine Chiniard, Beaumes-de-Venise
|Country & Region||France, Languedoc|
|Producer||Françoise Le Calvez & Pascal Frissant|
|Founded||1987; family property since 1614|
François Chiniard started his small mountain domain in 2005 with the aim to make wine of purity and typicité, which is another way of saying wine that really showcases his isolated Provençal ridge. Shortly thereafter, his younger brother Pierre joined him. In 2008, the brothers began the conversion to organic farming. In the winter of 2011-2012, they oversaw the construction of a new cellar near the top of the Dentelles, close by their Beaumes-de-Venise vineyards.
The cellar is just below Suzette, an ancient village that straddles a ridge on top of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The Dentelles are the Rhône Valley’s only mountain range, rising up between the Rhône River and the Luberon-Ventoux Mountains. In the western lee of this range is the well-known village of Gigondas; tucked into its southeastern lee is the relatively unknown village of Beaumes-de-Venise. Beaumes comes from balmes, old Provençal for caves, of which there were any number in these hills during the Iron Age. Venise is a reference to the Comtat Venaissin, the name of the enclave owned by the Papacy for centuries and of which the Dentelles were a part.
Gigondas has its share of high-elevation vineyards, but neighboring Beaumes-de-Venise has a higher share. A good portion of these vineyards are planted to Muscat for the production of fortified wine, which first put Beaumes-de-Venise on the wine map in the modern era (the AOC for fortified Muscat was granted in 1946). Of late, however, the red wines have come on strong—the village received its own AOC for Côtes-du-Rhône Villages in 2005—and the distinguishing factor for both colors has always been altitude, which parlays into elegance. The Chiniard’s Le Coulet vineyard grows at 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet, which puts it far above the heat of the valley floor, especially once the sun goes down. Mornings typically find a layer of mist shrouding the valley vineyards while the mountain vineyards are bathed in brilliant sunshine, which does a great deal to keep mildew issues at bay. (If the higher elevated vines avoid many of the maladies of mildew, they are more exposed to coulure, or poor fruit set, a problem commonly triggered by cold weather at flowering. Not unreasonably, the mountain folk would argue that inconsistent fruit set is preferable to sick vines.)
In the lieu-dit of Le Coulet, the Chiniard brothers farm three small parcels of vines. These total 4.5 hectares (11 acres), and constitute their most important holdings. The main parcel is head-pruned Grenache ranging from twenty to sixty years old, followed by a parcel of Syrah, and ending with a 0.5 hectare parcel of Counoise. The appellation requires a base of 50% Grenache in the blend and 25% of cépages améliorateurs, which, in the case of Cuvée Le Coulet, is Syrah.
|Champ du Roy blanc||70% Grenache Blanc, |
30% Muscat Petits Grains
|A hugely aromatic, dry blend of Grenache Blanc and Muscat from low-yielding mountain vineyards. This wine is not acidified, nor is it cold stabilized; malo is blocked. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases.|
|Frémillant Rosé||40% Mourvèdre,|
|A rosé de saignée based on Mourvèdre from parcels chosen for this rosé and harvested by hand. Frémillant is old Occitane dialect meaning a light red wine. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases. Tech sheet here.|
|Even split Carignan and Grenache,|
|The first of four Minervois cuvées, this one brought up in tank. A terrific buy for a true vin de terroir. In this wine is all the garrigue underbrush of the high Minervois, laced with high-toned blueberry notes and underpinned by Carignan's tarry black notes. Yearly production averages 3,300 cases. Tech sheet here.|
|60% Syrah, Grenache,|
|We’re in the south, so pronounce that final "s." Vignals is the tier above Bastide and like Bastide, this is raised entirely in tank. Deliciously medium-weight, fresh, spicy, long, and infused with garrigue. Yearly production averages 5,400 cases. You should buy some.|
|Grenache cuvée with 10% Syrah||Granaxa is Occitane dialect for Grenache, and this is Coupe Rose’s Grenache cuvée, raised in second and third-year oak barrels. Now we get into more weight and body, with distinctly earthy overtones in the red fruit. Their Grenache grows in their stoniest soils. Yearly production averages 1,000 cases.|
|Syrah with 10% Grenache||This is the domain’s top cuvée based on Syrah, made in barrels, about one-third of which are new. The Syrah comes from their limestone parcels with the most clay high up on the plateau above the village. Orience has black/blue fruit with spice, earth and elegance in spades. It's with this cuvée that the mountain microclimate really shines through. Production averages 600 cases.|