A Saint-Véran AOC or a Côtes du Brian IGP may not be wines that have graced your holiday table in the past, but that could all change! It’s time to fasten your organoleptic seat belts and loosen your belt buckle. I choose the wines for our November shipment recognizing they should be the types of wine that will be perfect on the holiday table, regardless of the menu. The information about the region, the producers, the terroir, and how the wines were made can give you plenty of material for engaging tableside conversation. And what has now become a tradition, I like to pick wines that can provide detours from conversations you would like to avoid at the table. For example, if someone asks about
the election results, direct them to their glass. Once the wines are tasted, I’m sure all attention will shift. The production of both these wines is small, so our supply is limited. Plan ahead, and stock up. The holidays are just starting!
The Mâconnais wine-growing region in Burgundy covers the vineyards on the slopes on the western edge of the Saône Valley from Uchizy and Chardonnay (the village) to the north, to the edges of Beaujolais territory at Saint-Vérand and Saint-Amour-Bellevue to the south. Chardonnay (the grape) is at home here in the somewhat warmer climate than the Côte d’Or to the north, and the limestone subsoil overlaid with either clay or alluvial topsoil is well suited to this white Burgundy grape. The region’s most famous white wine is Pouilly-Fuissé, which has several premier crus, and can be the most expensive wines in the area. However, other appellations such as Mâcon-Charnay, Saint-Véran and Mâcon Villages, have producers making some wonderful wines that are reasonably priced. Saint-Véran is an Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for white wine from the Mâconnais subregion of Burgundy, located in the department of Saône-et-Loire. The Saint-Véran AOC takes its name from a small village south of Pouilly (the spelling of the village is Saint-Vérand and the "d" is dropped for the appellation). The geographical area of this appellation extends over 8 communes and is divided into two small islands separated from each other by the well-known Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. It is made up of the villages of Davayé, Prissé, and Solutré-Pouilly in the north, and Chânes, Chasselas, Leynes, Saint-Armour and Saint-Vérand in the south. Both “islands” occupy slopes forming part of the chain of hills to which the Rock of Solutré belongs. This rocky backbone is made of fossiliferous limestone of the Middle Jurassic. On the western side are older (lias) rocks covered with grey marls on which the vineyards of Chasselas and Leynes occupy south and west-facing sites. The gentle eastern slopes are composed of marly limestones on which are found the east-facing vineyards of Prissé and Davayé. At Chânes and Prissé, on the left bank of the little river Grosne, the vines grow on fossiliferous limestones, often overlain by a layer of clay with flint. The Saint-Véran AOC, which came into being on January 6, 1971, covers 1,590 acres of land and produces 1,031,063 gallons of wine. The soil is mostly Jurassic limestone, a continuation of the chalky strata found in the Côte d'Or. Saint-Véran is very close stylistically to Pouilly-Fuissé, with its golden green hue, its intense fruity, flowery nose and its refreshing flavors. It can be enjoyed very young, two to three months after bottling, but give it one or two more years and its complexity really starts to shine.
Famille Paquet is a 30-hectare property located in the village of Davayé, in the Mâconnais. First created in 1980 by Jocelyne and Michel Paquet under the name Domaine des Valanges with just 6 hectares, it has grown and is now run by their three sons Jean-Baptiste, Mathieu and Camille. Today, Camille manages the vineyards and winemaking, while Mathieu & Jean-Baptiste are responsible for the marketing and sale of the wines. The Paquets take great care of their vineyards, using organic and biodynamic compost, and manage each of their 50 plots individually. The property is currently in conversion to organic viticulture and will be fully certified in 2021. For all their wines the Paquets limit their intervention in winemaking to the bare minimum in an attempt to exhibit the finest expression of each terroir.
The 2018 Famille Paquet Saint-Véran is made of 100% Chardonnay from vineyards located in the village of Davayé, on steep hillsides near the slopes of Solutré and Vergisson. With a South/South-East and North-East exposure, the soils are clay-limestone, but predominantly chalky. Once the grapes are harvested, fermentation takes place in thermo-regulated stainless-steel tanks for 4 to 6 weeks using natural yeasts only, and the wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation to enhance its complexity. Ageing takes place in stainless-steel on fine lees for 8 months, adding texture as well as richness while maintaining fresh aromas and finesse.
The 2018 Saint-Véran is aromatic with a rich and complex palette. It offers notes of pears, apples, melon, and flowers finishing with a mineral spiciness on the palate. It pairs beautifully with hors-d'oeuvres, crab cakes, shrimp or vegetable rolls, fish tacos, oysters, mussels and any other shellfish. Salads and almost any chicken dish prepared in a cream sauce will also highlight this wine. If you crave cheese, try this with fresh goat cheeses, Bleu de Bresse, Comté, Beaufort, and Gruyère.
The wine-growing area of Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France is one of the largest areas planted to vines in the world, and actually comprises two distinct regions. The Languedoc area goes from the Rhône down to the Pyrenees Mountains along the Mediterranean coastline, and Roussillon goes from Perpignan to the Spanish border. The Languedoc-Roussillon area is the oldest wine-producing region in France, as the Greeks were making wine there 3,000 years ago, followed by the Romans, and then by monks. Blessed with a climate quite amenable to viticulture, it is most associated today with value-priced wines from international varietals like Chardonnay, Syrah, and Cabernet. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Languedoc-Roussillon is also home to a variety of local grapes that result in some of France’s most unique and traditional AOC wines.
Domaine Ann Gros-Jean-Paul Tollot is a partnership between two eminent Burgundian producers – Anne Gros and her husband, Jean-Paul Tollot. Both are sixth generation Burgundy winemakers who produce infinitesimally small amounts of Cote d’Or Burgundy from some of the most sought-after plots of soil. The pair chose to expand their horizons and, after an extended search, decided to go south into the Languedoc. They took their Burgundian skills to a fabulous site of old vines in Minervois planted to 35-year old Carignan, 60-year old Cinsault, 22-year old Grenache, and some younger Syrah. The region’s varied terroir, cooler heights (the same altitude as Vosne-Romanée) and very old vines offered just the combination they wanted. Their vineyards are located in Cazelles, just north of Carcassonne and in the shadow of the Montagne Noir, in the hills. The location allows for grapes to ripen slowly, preserving their natural acidity and keeping alcohol in the finished wines moderate. Vines are cared for according to lutte raisonée principles, following organic practices and avoiding chemical treatments as much as possible. Grapes are harvested by hand and fermented on indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled, stainless-steel tanks. Wines are aged either in stainless-steel or, depending on the cru, in a combination of tank and older French oak barrique.
You would expect from the name that Domaine Gros-Tollot’s “La 50/50” Côtes du Brian IGP is made from equal parts of 2 grape varietals, but in fact, the name reflects the couple’s equal effort in collaborating on the project. From the fields to the cellar, all work is divided equally. The combination of grapes and their percentages in “La 50/50” can vary vintage to vintage. Although the grapes all come from old vines in Minervois, the wine is only entitled to a “Vin de Table” designation because the Minervois AOC requires at least 40% Carignan. Ann prefers a balance of more or less equal amounts of Carignan, Cinsault, and Grenache with some Syrah rounding out the blend. She opted to declassify the wine’s classification to IGP, rather than make an inferior blend tied to the Minervois AOC. This kind of bold decision-making is why the wines of Anne Gros are so unique and excellent, and what makes this wine such a great value.
The grapes for the 2018 “La 50/50” are a selection of fruit from a north-facing Estate vineyard. Soils are a combination of marl, limestone and sandstone planted to 30 to 40 years-old Grenache and Carignan vines and Syrah vines that are 10+ years-old. The grapes are hand harvested and the bunches are then destemmed. Fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks. Ageing also takes place only in stainless-steel. The 2018 “La 50/50” is a medium-bodied, elegant wine that is superbly layered with a rich mid palate. It bursts with aromas of Eastern spices, violets, ripe blackberries and plums. Flavors of crushed stone and garrigue (the wild herbs of the region) compliment the fruit flavors that travel across the palate. While enjoyable now, it will benefit from another 1-3 years of ageing. Try it with casseroles of potato gratin layered with wild mushrooms; roasted root vegetables in olive oil with basil, herbs de Provence, and wine; braised chicken with black olives; rabbit or pork sausages; roasted salmon, ahi tuna, and other fish dishes served with caramelized onions and other vegetables.