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2003 Chateau de Montpezat "Palombieres" Coteaux du Languedoc, France

montpezat.palombieres_sm.jpgIt seems like my friends who are serious wine drinkers and even winemakers are strictly divided on Grenache. Some think it's the next big thing, while others could really take it or leave it. Sure, they'll drink a nice Gigondas every once in a while, or a good crisp rose, but they don't understand what all the fuss is about.

If I had to fall into one of those camps, I'm probably in the former, rather than the latter. I happen to like the tart acidity and berry flavors of Grenache, and I especially like it when it's not turned into StrawberryJamInABottle, which is what some winemakers seem to be doing with it these days.

Grenache is a versatile grape, that can be "expressed" in many ways by a winemaker. No one, in my opinion, does it better, though than the winemakers of southern France. In the bottom of the Rhone Valley and down into the Languedoc, families have been growing it for generations, and produce some of best tasting and best value Grenache around.

Chateau de Montpezat is just one of those family run estates. It is currently run by young Christophe Blanc, a the representative of the third generation of his family to farm the estate, which goes back much farther as a winegrowing property. Located in the small town of Pezenas, in the warmest area of the Languedoc, the estate can trace its history as far back as 1646, when it belonged to the ruler of the region, François le Carrion, lord of Nizas. It changed hands several times over the following two centuries, but by the late 1800's records show that it was a well established wine producer. The present chateau dates to 1884, and is still the primary residence and working winery for the Blanc family. Christophe Blanc has lived his whole life on the estate, and wine has always been a part of that life (look carefully on the web site and you can see pictures of young Chris riding barrels).

The estate comprises about 65 acres of gravelly hillside vineyards behind the village of Pezenas. The vines sweep back away from the town up to the foot of the forest, where many palombieres -- small thatch hunting blinds used by local bird hunters -- sit, camouflaged against the hillside. The Blanc family tends Cabernet, Merlot, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, most of whose vines were planted in the 1970s, making for mature, complex fruit.

This particular wine is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre. Both grapes are crushed and undergo a very long fermentation (up to 4 weeks). The Grenache and sees no oak, while the Mourvedre is aged for 1 year in new oak before blending. The wine is fined with egg whites and then bottled unfiltered.

Tasting Notes:
A medium garnet color in the glass, this wine explodes with one of the most aromatic bouquets I have had in some time. I got lots of violets and other floral aromas, tart, unripe blackberries, alpine strawberries, and cassis, among other smells. In the mouth it is medium bodied, and tastes of sour cherries, black pepper, and blackberries. At first it seems to have no perceptible tannins, but they slowly, sneakily creep up on the edges of your tongue as the wine lasts to a substantial finish given how light it is in body.

Food Pairing:
This is an excellent food wine, and would even accompany dishes as light as some fish well. However, I think it would be a lovely match to roasted chicken with risotto and caramelized onions.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $15

This wine is available for sale online. it is imported by Robert Kacher Selections.

Comments (2)

Iris wrote:
10.18.05 at 1:32 AM

This time, I won't ask you, whether you've been around (although I've seen on their webside, that they received big groups of american buyers in the Chateau). But your descriptions are once again very lively!

And this time, no problem to taste the wine one of those days, as I live only 50 km further north from Pezenas - a beautiful medieval town and the mediteraneen landscape around.

Is Grenache really so unknown in the States? I could understand it for Mourvedre, which is even known by few European people. I always have to tell them, that it is the "monocepage" of the best Bandol wines. I've read on the webside of Chateau Montpezat, that they work with very low production rates in the wines (about 25 hl/ha) which is, after my experiences, the best condition, to obtain fully concentrated wines. Both grape varieties are no immediate tannin-blockbusters, as can be Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, but much finer in their structure. 2003 was - even in the South of France, where the sun is always generous - an exceptional year, extremely hot and dry - so grapes stayed very healthy and maturity tended often to over-ripeness. It will surely be a millesime, which you can keep - and although Grenache wines may be a great pleasure to drink in their youth, especially blended with Mourvedre, it could be interesting, to waite some 10 years, to apreciate them at their best.

Alder wrote:
10.21.05 at 11:08 AM


I wouldn't say Grenache is "unknown" but I would guess that 90 to 95% of average wine consumers have never tasted a wine made mostly from Grenache. To back up my claim I would point out my personal experience -- I've never seen a Grenache based wine in any of the major supermarket chains (Albertsons, Safeway, Lucky's, Etc.)

Also, despite being lovely matches for food, they are rarely on restaurant wine lists. Sure at some better restaurants you have a few Chateauneuf's, but most at best gloss over the southern Rhone.

I just tasted some very nice Grenaches last night at the Robert Parker event, and will post about that soon.

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