Chêne Bleu, a wine estate in the Southern Rhône
I am straying outside the Languedoc, into Provence, with a tasting in London of wines from Chêne Bleu. In fact it was the first press tasting and lunch that I had attended for months. How wonderful to be back in a normal working situation, well almost normal. Covid restrictions meant that we had individual spittoons and hand gel… The venue however, was original, at the Catherine Prevost Gallery in Sloane Street, with an elegantly spacious gallery. And Nicole Rolet was there to enthuse about the wines.
Her husband, Xavier Rolet, bought a run-down estate, la Verrière, outside the village of Crestet, near the Dentelles de Montmirail back in 1994. It was an old priory, and the property had been abandoned since the 1950s. There was no electricity. But the vineyard potential was fantastic, with land at 550 – 700 metres, with a geological mix of soils, including clay and limestone and basalt, and good diurnal temperatures. It now lies within a UNESCO protected site. As Nicole put it, four factors account for the quality of their wines, Isolation, Altitude, History and Geology. 2006 was their first commercial vintage.
And we were treated to an extensive range of wines, with several vintages of each, and with the current releases enjoyed over lunch, beginning with a plate of little tapas of contrasting flavours to see what might best accompany which wine. I love vertical tastings as they allow you to see how wines evolve and develop.
Most of the wines are IGP Pays de Vaucluse, or alternatively could come from the up and coming appellation of Ventoux, depending on whether the blend in that vintage fits the appellation requirements, or not.
We began with the Le Rosé, with Nicole adamant that rosé can age.
2020 Le Rosé
Le Rosé comes from a blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, with a drop of Vermentino, more often called Rolle in Provence, included in more recent vintages.
Very pale colour. Rounded ripe raspberry fruit on the nose and on the palate some fresh fruit, with a ripe rounded finish. A taste of smoked salmon went well here.
2017 en magnum
Pretty pale colour, with a delicate nose. Very nicely crafted with fresh fruit, and just a hint of maturity. Delicate and fresh and nicely balanced.
The same pretty colour, and on the nose and palate more rounded depth than 2017, with a little more weight. This is very much a food rosé with good texture and elegant weight.
Quite ripe raspberry fruit on both nose and palate. Rounded fruit with fresh acidity and satisfying depth.
Aliot, Pays de Vaucluse, 2014
The white wine is named after Aliot de Montvin, the glassblower who purchased the property in 1427 and changed its name to La Verrière. And the wine is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and a touch of Viognier, which are co-fermented, and given nine months ageing in barrel. Quite a deep colour. Firm dry tight knit nose, and quite a firm structured palate. Intriguing depth. Nicole suggested that Aliot went with everything that does not usually go with wine. Truffled cheese was the suggested accompaniment; I was not sure, partly as truffled cheese is something I would probably avoid. The wine continued to develop beautifully in the glass over lunch.
A little colour. Quite a rounded waxy nose, and on the palate, some rounded satisfying texture, with good balancing acidity and elegant weight. A hint of peachy fruit and good length on the finish. It almost made me think of maturing Semillon from the Hunter Valley.
Quite a golden colour. Quite a heavy waxy nose, after nine months ageing in demi-muids. Lots of nuances on the palate. It is quite rich and leesy, with notes of orange and peach and some balancing acidity. It is one of those wines that keeps you guessing, with so many subtle variations at every taste.
Quite a deep golden colour. Almost old gold. Quite a firm dry nose. And the palate was essentially very dry, with some firm acidity, but also some lovely savoury notes, balanced with lemon and orange acidity. It had aged beautifully, with some very intriguing nuances.
2019 Viognier, Pays de Vaucluse
Pale colour. Quite a delicate peachy nose, with a lightly concentrated palate with good varietal fruit and a dry finish. What the French would call un joli amer, a nice firm note on the finish, and not really bitter.
The current release. Light golden in colour. Quite a delicate peachy note and palate. Delicately understated varietal character with a hint of ginger and a firm finish. Goats cheese was suggested as an accompaniment, which worked nicely, bringing out the flavour of the Viognier.
And now onto the red wines, with the names of Abelard and Héloise, and Astralabe, their illegitimate son.
2015 Astralabe, AOP Ventoux
A blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah. 25% of the blend spends six months in foudres, so that any oak is very subtle and understated. Medium depth of colour; young. Rounded spice on the nose, with sweet ripe fruit on the palate and supple tannins. Drinking beautifully. A lovely glass of wine, redolent of the warm south, but elegantly so. Very fruit friendly.
2012 Héloise, Pays de Vaucluse
A blend of 65% Syrah, 31% Grenache Noir and a hint, just 4% of Roussanne. Medium colour. Quite a solid ripe dense nose. A rounded palate with some intense spice and some underlying oak. A mouthful of smoked duck breast went nicely with it.
The colour is beginning to evolve and on the nose there was some rounded leathery spice, with some ripe fruit on the palate. It was elegantly rich with some leathery undertones.
Medium colour. Firmer, drier spice on the nose than the 2011. Quite a rounded leathery palate. Quite mouth filling, with a warm spicy finish.
Quite a deep colour. Quite firm and leathery on both the nose and palate. Quite rounded, with some dry cassis and pepper. Medium weight with lots of nuances.
Deep colour. Quite firm and leathery, with some firm fruit. Perhaps drying very slightly on the finish, but elegantly so. And the oak is more apparent than in the more recent vintages.
Abelard, AOP Ventoux, 2012
85% Grenache with 15% Syrah. Medium colour. Quite a firm and intense nose, with ripe fruit and on the palate firm spice and pepper., with ripe rounded fruit. Abelard is more intense than Héloise, and more concentrated.
2009 - poured from a jeroboam…. what style!
Good colour. Still quite solidly oaky on the nose and palate. The palate was dense and rich, with much more obvious oak than in the 2012
Deep colour. A dense solid palate with acidity and tannin and dense fruit. The balance seemed less harmonious. I felt that the wine making at Chêne Bleu has been significantly fine-tuned since the earlier vintages to make some wines with much more subtlety and depth. And by now we were on to a main course of Mediterranean flavours, with aubergine, chicken and thyme. Perfect!