Meet the maker
Château Minuty has been a famous name in Provence since it was built in the mid-1800s, but when it was taken over by Gabriel Farnet (grandfather of the current owners) in 1936, it quickly became recognised as one of the region’s benchmark properties. This status was confirmed in 1955 when Minuty became one of just 14 Châteaux in Provence to be designated Cru Classé.
Today Jean-Etienne and François run the estate, continuing the family's focus on quality by reducing yields, building a new winery, replanting their Carignan and Ugni-Blanc with Grenache Noir and Vermentino and pioneering the use of pressurage direct in the production of their rosé wines. This involves taking the first free-run juice that is released by loading the press with the grapes. The weight of the fruit is enough to bring about a light pressing and this premium juice is run off to be fermented separately, giving a rosé wine with sumptuous texture and elegance. The ‘M’ de Minuty Rosé (in its world famous curved bottle) is made using 70% pressurage direct, while the ‘Rose et Or’ cuvée is made solely from this technique and is a rosé wine to rival any in the world.
Although 70% of production is given over to their rosé wines, there are also some excellent whites and a rich, silky red. These are serious, complex wines that are perfectly suited to the cuisine of the region and a permanent fixture on the most prestigious wine lists of the Côte d’Azur.
Meet the maker
Founded way back in 1889 by a pickle magnate called John Henry Fisher, the original property was planted to the vine and a winery was built so that barrels of the estate wine could be produced and sold in San Francisco. Thanks to the earthquake of 1906 Fisher went out of business and was forced to sell the estate, following which it fell into disrepair until the end of prohibition. By 1941 it had been purchased by an Englishman called Jack Taylor, who re-christened it Mayacamas (after the Native American word for the property) and embarked on a replanting program. When Bob Travers took over in 1968, Mayacamas was already well respected locally, but Bob – who had trained at Heitz Cellars and was a protégé of Andre Tchelistcheff – saw there was potential to make world-class wine there. From his very first vintage, Bob fulfilled this promise, and by the time of the 1976 tasting in Paris (which included the ’71 Cabernet), Mayacamas was regarded as one of California’s great wineries.
Located at the top of the awe-inspiring Mount Veeder (which has its own AVA), the quality and longevity of Mayacamas’ wines is a product of the terroir on which the grapes are grown. At 550-750m above sea level in the crater of a long extinct volcano, this combination of altitude, complex volcanic soils and dry farming yields concentrated berries that give wonderfully structured and complex wines. The oldest vineyards still in operation are the Chardonnay terraces (planted in 1950 and ’52), but there are also blocks of Cabernet from the ‘60s and Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc from the ‘80s.
In addition to the terroir, Mayacamas was also distinctive for the old school way in which Bob Travers made the wines. Over time, thanks to the rise of UC Davis and the critic-led environment of the 1990s and 2000s, the traditional approach at Mayacamas became deeply unfashionable. Travers conducted all of his fermentations in concrete tanks, with native yeasts and zero chemical ‘assistance’. The wines were then aged in very large, very old wooden casks (reminiscent of those used by old school Barolo producers) for 18 months, followed by 6-12 months in old barrels and finally two years in bottle. Extraction of tannins was gentle and the wines saw no new wood, with the results being light in alcohol and medium-weight in body, giving away very little in their early years but blossoming into ethereal wines with time. The famous critics were always unimpressed, leading to Mayacamas becoming increasingly marginalised and almost completely forgotten in the modern era of souped-up ‘icon’ wines from further up the valley.
The wines themselves can be truly spectacular. While there is excellent Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc made at Mayacamas, it is Chardonnay and especially the Cabernet Sauvignon for which the property is best known. The Chardonnay combines richness and honeyed weight with vibrant citrus fruit and a vitality that only old vine mountain grown fruit can provide in California. The Cabernet has such precision on the nose and palate, with focused berry fruit, leafy and earthy notes, and a sense of varietal character that is as true as any example you will find. As the wine ages it picks up more leather, rose petals and forest floor, but always with a purity of delectable dark berry fruit. Old vintages seem to meet somewhere at the crossroads between old Claret, Burgundy and Barolo and give the taste an insight into why Mayacamas has always been considered such a magical wine estate.
Meet the maker
Writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Jeb Dunnuck describes the range from Piedrasassi as “serious wines that merit attention,” – no wonder, since Piedrasassi’s wines offer a fascinating blend of turbo-charged fruit and classical (almost European-style) structure.
Owners Sashi Moorman and Melissa Sorongon have extremely eclectic tastes in wine – and it shows in their produce, which ranges from cool climate-style Syrah made with native yeasts and low sulphur, through richly-textured Sauvignon Blanc created by extended skin contact during fermentation, to fresh, juicy and lively Sangiovese vinified in whole berry clusters.
The common thread is authenticity – wines that represent a time and place – honest wines made with great love and care by an extremely passionate group of people.
Meet the maker
The Duvernay family founded their négociant business in 1904 and over the years have become one of the most reliable and well-known in the Rhône, supplying the best part of the base wine for the Côtes-du-Rhônes of many famous producers, including Etienne Guigal.
Based at Châteauneuf-du-Pape with his father Roland, Romain Duvernay decided a few years ago that the quality of fruit he was sourcing was so good that he would rather keep the best parcels and produce wine under his own label. Since they have always sold their fruit on in the past, their name is not currently well-known in the U.K.. That keeps the price down despite the truly exceptional quality. These wines are bargains.
Meet the maker
Coeur Clémentine is the vinous project of two childhood friends, Steve Veytia and Pierre Arosteguy. Pierre is the 5th generation owner of one of the oldest épiceries in France, and joined a mutual passion for the Côtes de Provence with California native Steve, by starting Coeur Clémentine back in 2005. The fruit for Coeur Clémentine's dry rosé is sourced from several family growers in what’s called ‘The Golden Triangle’, an area of the Côtes de Provence that is said to have the best vineyards in the region. It’s taken 10 years to build relationships with families growing the Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Carignan and Syrah grapes, which make up the blend for this rosé wine. Grapes are harvested in the early hours of the morning when the temperature is at its coolest, allowing the grapes to retain their freshness while reaching the winery. Clementine also makes an elegant, bone dry, sparkling rosé, 100% from Provence, named ‘La Pétillante’. Made using a natural secondary fermentation method, the body of the wine is pure and delicate, with light and fine bubbles. Coeur Clémentine is one of just a handful of producers making quality sparkling Provence rosé from Grenache.
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