A wine tasting in the park on a sunny afternoon? Yes, please.
When grabbing a bottle of wine to take on a picnic, most of us might automatically reach for a white or maybe a rosé. But an event I attended yesterday proved that sometimes a light red can quench thirst and do the trick just as well.
The staff of import agency réZin had staked out a picnic table for us to taste with winemaker Guy Jullien of Domaine de le Ferme Saint- Martin. At his small domaine in the southern Rhône, Guy Jullien has about 25 hectares of vineyards in the Beaumes-de-Venise, Côte du Ventoux, and Côtes du Rhône AOCs.
The vineyards have been certified organic since 1998, and he also embraces natural winemaking practices in the cellar, using only the yeasts that are naturally present on the grapes in the vineyard. He told me that for him, adding commercial yeast is really only something you do to fix a problem, and not something to do as a matter of course. He sees the use of sulphites similarly – if you get into the habit of regularly adding sulphites to the wine, you’ll end up having to use a lot when there’s a problem, he explained. While he doesn’t use sulphites during vinification, he does add a small amount during bottling to preserve the wine for shipping.
And the wines? We tried two cuvées that are available by private import through RéZin. It was the “La Gérine” 2010 from Côtes du Ventoux ($20.10) that made me see the appeal of a red on a summery afternoon picnic. A “vin de soif,” it’s the type of wine where you look down at your glass and are surprised to see that it’s already empty. Very approachable, it’s made from a blend of Grenache and Carignan and is surprisingly light and refreshing, with a good amount of acidity to keep it fresh, some lovely fragrant red fruit, and a hint of spice. It’s not very complex, but its beauty lies in its simplicity. I would definitely pack this one in my picnic basket, preferably very lightly chilled.
The “Les Terres Jaunes” 2010 from Beames-de-Venise ($22.85) is a spicy, more structured wine. Made of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah, it’s full of concentrated dark fruit and a pepper that coats the mouth and stays in your throat for a long, peppery finish. Yet, it retains its freshness and balance. I would save this one for a cooler summer evening with some meat from the BBQ.
Given the tendency of Rhône wines to be fairly high in alcohol, I appreciated these wines for their balance and finesse. At 13.5-14.5%, they’re certainly not low alcohol, but Guy Jullien is doing what he can with what he has to work with, and doing it very well in my opinion. He confessed that keeping the alcohol level low is always a challenge in their climate. The riper the grapes, the more sugar they have, which translates into a higher alcohol level. You can try to harvest the grapes earlier to keep the alcohol down, but then the grapes might not have the ripeness necessary to get the fragrance and flavour you want. It’s a delicate balance, and Guy Jullien continues to experiment.