Paris, France —It was that time of year in early October to board a moored boat overlooking the Seine in Paris to taste wines from the 17 family-owned estates of the Vignobles & Signatures Club, the Vineyards & Signatures Club, made up of family-owned houses throughout France. There are the Bordeaux, sure, and the Muscadets, but the wines of Savoie, Collioure and the Pic Saint Loup, just to name a few, were all awaiting as well. Today in Part 1 of the Vineyards & Signatures Club story we will present three houses that we were lucky enough to also discover at a food and wine pairing lunch that proved to be a state-of-the-art performance. The tasting and lunch were fittingly held at the Bistrot du Sommelier which has one of the best if arguably not the best wine cellar in the French capital.
Three estates were on the agenda from different wine-producing regions of France. It all began with the Gard family of the Coume Del Mas estate in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains which produces the rich wines of the region, the Collioures, difficult to find in Paris and the lively Côtes de Roussillons. The estate also produces the delicious aperitifs from this region nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains in the southwestern reaches of France near the city of Perpignan. Banyuls, a fortified wine which can also be served with dessert, the Muscat of Rivesaltes and the amber-colored Rivesaltes itself excellent with dessert as well, all precious reminders of a unique region. Coume Del Mas was born with its first vintage in 2001 and has been producing fine wines and fortified wines ever since.
In 2006, Philippe Gard partnered with Andy Cooke and Julien Gril to perpetuate the history of Mas Cristine, a few kilometers north of the Coume Del Mas, an estate that has been in existence for over a century, producing fine red and white Roussillons, and popular wines on the wine lists of the gourmet restaurants of the region. These are wines anchored in the region of French Catalonia where mas designates a farmhouse surrounded by a farm. On the moored boat we enjoyed a Folio 2021 Collioure white with its Grenache gris grape variety dominating blended with 10% Grenache Blanc, a pure delight as the majority of Collioures are. At the Bistrot du Sommelier tasting and food and wine pairing the Mas Cristine a Côtes de Roussillon white 2021 and the Mas Cristine Côtes de Roussillon red 2020 were on the agenda along with the Quadrature 2020, a red Collioure. These are wines made from vineyards touched by the local northern Tramotane wind, and winds tend to confer a unique quality to wines. Philippe Faure-Brac the owner of the Bistrot du Sommelier and a Finest Sommelier of France chose the Coume del Mas estate’s Folio 2021 Collioure white to pair with chef Guillaume Saluel’s Sicilian-style octopus, with the wine’s flavor delicate yet strong enough to blissfully blend with the rich savors of the appetizer. And on a separate occasion we enjoyed a white Côtes de Roussillon from the Mas Cristine whose vineyards overlook the Mediterranean which we paired with sea urchin tarama and smoked trout filets.
The nearly mythical wines of the Pic Saint Loup obtained their AOP, the French acronym for Protected Designation of Origin label in 2017, and this fine wine of the Languedoc wine-producing region near Montpellier is truly worthy of a journey to the region. It was here that the pioneering Orliac family decided to revive an abandoned vineyard and to maintain another one that was in activity. It has been a fascinating adventure culminating in delicious wines worthy of our fine wine find designation. The Domaine de l’Hortus or the Hortus Estate came into being or returned into being back in the 1970s when Jean Orliac, an agronomist steeped in agriculture, discovered this good earth of wild beauty, un-cultivated yet once cultivated in the past. Potential immediately came to mind and with his wife Marie-Thérèse, the hard work began and superb wines are the result. The Orliacs even built the house and outlying buildings themselves.
Today the second generation of the family is at the helm of this vineyard nestled between two cliffs, the Pic Saint Loup and the Mont Hortus from which the estate derives its name. Here they produce the Pic Saint Loup appellation and the Val de Montferrand and Languedoc IGP the French acronym for Protected Geographical Indication wines. The house embraces organic farming practices. Meanwhile on the family’s smaller domain the Clos Prieur a red wine is made with grapes from old Grenache and Syrah vine plants. On the boat we enjoyed a delicious white wine with an astounding combination of grape varieties. The Domaine de l’Hortus blanc 2021, an IGP Val de Montferrand, was a delicious blend of mainly Chardonnay with smaller amounts in descending order of Vigonier, Sauvignon Gris and Petit Manseng, this last one having originated in the Pyrenees of France but which has a made its way into New World wines as well. But one of the superb finds of the day was the red Domaine de Hortus rouge 2020, a Pic Saint Loup. Earthy yet slightly fruity we appreciated the blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and a touch of Grenache, with the Mourvèdre providing its usually silk self to the taste and body of the wine.
Meanwhile during the tasting and the wine and food pairing at the Bistrot du Sommelier, another white IGP Val de Montferrand, the Bergerie de l’Hortus Blanc 2021 proved to be thoroughly delicious as was its red cousin. For the main course Mr. Faure-Brac chose a Le Dit l ‘Hortus l’Ombrée 2019 Pic Saint-Loup-Domaine de l’Hortus to accompany Mr. Saluel’s delicious roast veal filet, in French the cut is called a quasi, set off with an emulsion of black Taggiasche olives and an assortment of hot cooked beets. This was a highly flavorful dish with aromas running back and forth over the taste buds, but the wine totally carried it off, a beautiful 100 percent Syrah, rich and pungent.
But then it was time to head East young man and that is exactly what we did reaching into the wines of the Savoy region in the Alps in eastern France. Wines that are wines of their very own, the Abymes, the Apremonts, and the celebrated Rousette de Savoie, amongst others. It is here that father and son Philippe and Sylvain Ravier work their magic in vineyards that stretch out between two of the most emblematic mountains of the region the Mont Granier and the Savoyarde with a view onto Mont Blanc. The vineyards are certified highly environmental in value. Philippe Ravier descends from a family of wine makers and he set about making dynamic wines and today the Ravier estate is one of those that count in Savoy wines. The house produces in the Apremont, Abymes, Chignin Bergeron, Mondeuse Saint Jean de la Porte and Roussette de Savoie appellations. And the estate’s Gamay 2019 was designated one of 119 best Gamays in the world in 2020.
On the boat tasting we literally feasted on — if you can do that with wine—the white wines from the Ravier estate, the Electrik 2020, Les Abysses made of 100% of the Jacquère grape variety. This proved to be a fresh aperatif wine. We then moved onto the Batenbeurre 2019 Roussette de Savoie made exclusively with the Altesse grape variety, which probably originated in the region. Delicious and dry it had us thinking about enjoying it with an assortment of smoked fish. But the real find of the day was Les Amandiers 2020 Chignin Blanc made with the Roussanne grape variety. The grapes come from vineyards that have myriad exposures to the sun, possibly a key element in its rich taste. This is a wine for dishes smothered in thick cream sauces, fish or chicken or veal.
Over at the tasting and the wine and food pairing at the Bistrot du Sommelier we enjoyed from the Ravier estate A Face au Fort 2019 Mondeuse, a flavorful red bursting with spices. The Mondeuse is a rich black grape variety made in Savoy. Mr. Faure-Brac chose the estate’s La Peyse 2017 Chignin Bergeron, a Roussanne that sublimated Mr. Saluel’s splendid vanilla-flavored apricot compote accompanied by a mousse of Chavignol cheese. Stay tuned for the next installment of Vineyards & Signatures.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette