Xavier Vignon Does It Again – Chateauneuf la Reserve VII IX X – An All Time Favorite!

Xavier Vignon - One of Chateauneufs Finest!

                             Xavier Vignon – One of Chateauneufs Finest!

Regular readers of these pages are no stranger to the stunning wines being produced by Xavier Vignon. As one of the top two leading consultants in the Rhone (Cambie the other), Xavier has established a flawless reputation working with such luminaries as Marcoux, Grand Veneur, Raymond Usseglio and others. Through these relationships, he has gained access to incredibly pristine parcels of very old vine plantings across the valley (especially in Chateauneuf) where he works with centenarian vines of Grenache and Syrah as well as 75-85 year old plots of multiple other varieties.

For his Reserve lines, Xavier hand picks his top barrels of Anonyme from his favorite vintages, blending them in perfect proportions to reach an insanely delicious cuvee that rewrites the books on Chateauneuf du Pape. Every detail is there – these are not Frankenstein wines – from the textbook terroir and Provençal notes to the ethereal depth of fruit we fans of the region’s very finest expect. In addition, you have Xavier’s unmatched depth of talent in blending. You can taste the aspect of each vintage he utilizes in the blends. These are truly magical wines.

My personal shipment of the Reserve VII IX X arrived three weeks ago and after ample down time to allow it to recover from shipment, I finally cracked a bottle. To say that I concur with my favorite critic on all things Rhone Valley – Jeb Dunnuck – is putting it lightly. My final 5 bottles will be hidden in the cellar for some very special events…

NV Xavier Vins • Chateauneuf du Pape la Reserve VII IX X

While I reviewed this NV Châteauneuf du Pape La Reserve VII IX X (a blend from the 2007, 2009 and 2010 vintages) last year, I was able to taste it again this go around, and it still blew me away. Fabulously full-bodied and decadent, with loads of lavender, incense, black raspberry and cured-meat nuances, it’s still youthful and vibrant, with notable freshness and purity. Enjoy this brilliant wine through 2028.

Consulting at a number of top estates (Marcoux, Grand Veneur, Raymond Usseglio, etc.), Xavier Vignon (along with Philippe Cambie) is one of the leading oenologists in the Southern Rhone – and you only need to taste his own negociant wines to understand why. I was blown away by these current and new releases. Across the board they showed beautifully made profiles, with not only loads of fruit and texture, but superb balance and classic Southern Rhone characters. In fact, each of the wines showed what I think of as textbook characteristics of the terroirs from which they come. In addition, the prices remain remarkably low, and these wines are a treasure trove for the savvy buyer.

96 points – Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Advocate

Domaine du Clos des Fees – Hervé Bizeul’s Ethereal Cuvee le Clos des Fees

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

Among my most lasting memories of the Roussillon (France’s deep south-west at the border with Spain) was a visit to the region in the early 1990s. My host – pedal to the metal in his classic Citroen – zigzagged us up a seemingly abandoned, steeply angled road as we headed to the summit of a vineyard-capped mountain off the coast, near Port-Vendres.

Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes, summoning me to exit the car. Not quite to the summit, he said we’d made about 2,000 feet elevation, bringing my attention to the crumbling limestone slopes adjacent.

Dangling from the crumbling rock were the roots of vines from several meters above. The scree-covered slopes, eroded from years of wind-swept conditions were now exposing the roots of numerous vines. Yet these ancient roots had somehow remained burrowed into the mountain, their eventual source of nourishment seemingly dozens of meters below. Over the decades – battling every scourge from Mother Nature – these roots of time survived; life support for the ancient bush vines of multiple varieties covering the mountain above us.

These are the types of ancient vines and soils which comprise one fraction of the many complex parts that come together, resulting in some of the greatest wines now being made in the Roussillon. I’ve made this trip many additional times, searching for greatness.

I’m here to say that I’ve found it; and it resides at Domaine du Clos des Fees. Hervé Bizeul works with the most important terroirs on earth, every one of them available to him in the Roussillon. Tasting the fruits of his labor will utterly impress even the most seasoned tasters.

This is the kind of wine you want – it deserves discovery – and you’re going to be talking about it for years.

2012 Domaine du Clos des Fees Cotes du Roussillon Villages le Clos des Fees

My favorite of the lineup, the 2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Le Clos des Fées is a sensational effort that’s most likely the wine of the vintage. Made from 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Carignan and the rest Mourvèdre that was aged 16 months in roughly 60% new French oak, it’s a classic, structured, age-worthy Roussillon that exhibits lots of blackberry and cassis fruit, smoked herbs, licorice and scorched earth. Full-bodied and concentrated, yet light on its feel, with a firm, focused finish, give it 2-3 years and enjoy bottles through 2027. There are few wines from the Roussillon I’d rather have in my cellar.

97 points – Wine Advocate (JD)

Hunt this one down; tell me what you think…

The Wines of Indian Summer | Libations for a Weary Nation





I recall fondly first meeting the intellectual Randall Grahm on a rather warm summer night in the late 1980s as he hosted a group of wine drinkers’ monthly event in Fort Worth Texas. This group, an average age of the membership at that time being, oh, perhaps, 60 or so, known as Les Amis du Vin, cared no more about Randall’s esoteric-ness – vinously or personally – than they did if the wine was made of anything other than Cabernet.


Unfortunately for the average Texas wine consumer not much has changed since those days; thankfully for Randall, neither has a lot about him. Texans remain saddled to their big wines with big steaks (I admit, though to a terrific fondness for my home-state’s overwhelming Conservative leaning, tho’); and Randall continues on towards the left: funky, hippy wines with terroir just screaming from within.


All of which, perhaps suggests that I’m either a confused soul or a changed man. While I like my politics straight up Ronald Reagan, I prefer my wines a bit more on the Kennedy side.


At any rate, these beauties are sublime:


 Almost sold out – the wines of Indian summer.

“Indisputably The Greatest Red Wine of Provence”

The year was 2002.  I was on one of my annual tours, tasting through the vineyards in France and Italy with some of the most gifted wine-makers of this modern generation.  My notebook was literally busting at the seams with tasting notes.  Enough tasting notes to fill months of newsletters for you who may still remember those stories. 

But one of the most exciting of my visits never made its way into those letters.  That visit, though it left an indelible mark upon my palate that would never be matched, was with an estate which I would not be able to represent back in the States.  For you see, this estate was already long-represented by another importer.  Being the generous hosts they are, however, they agreed to host us.  They had heard of my admiration for their wines.

This is Chateau Pibarnon.  And as far back as the very first edition of Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, in 1989, this estate had been recognized as one the top 3 or 4 in all of Bandol.  Bandol, that’s the region I’d like to talk with you about for just a moment. 

There is a village within the appellation of Bandol called Cadiere d’Azur.  And it is from within this wonderful little village, from the vantage point of my hotel window, at the Hotel Berard, that my breath was very nearly, literally, taken away.  From this window, I could see the vineyards of Bandol.  And from my dinning table, well, I thought I would never leave dinner that night — the views were even more breathtaking.

The vineyards of Bandol, Pibarnon’s to be specific, are beautifully planted in an amphitheater style, rising up the hill behind the Chateau.  From my hotel window, and the vast restaurant window at dinner, this vineyard could be seen from miles away.  I awaited my tasting with Count St-Victor with understandable excitement.

Bandol is indisputably the greatest red wine of Provence.  That quote comes directly from a book called “Terroir” by James E. Wilson and the sentiment has been echoed by Parker, Tanzer and anyone who has professionally or casually tasted the wines of Provence.  Based, by law, on a minimum of 50% Mourvedre, this wine has the potential to rival the most profound wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy for power allied to balance and longevity.  And in the hands of Pibarnon’s wine-maker, I found this profundity.

What makes Pibarnon so stunning, so head and shoulders above the rest, is actually a combination of many things.  This is — as our ability to view them from miles away will confirm — the highest vineyard in all of Bandol.  Literally terraced into the hillsides at nearly a 1,000 feet, these sun-drenched Mourvedre vines — comprising an unusual 95% of the blend —  are the healthiest in the entire region.  Then we have their proximity to the sea.  At only about 1.5 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, the sea breezes act to moderate the heat, allowing for a slow and even ripening of the grapes.

And there are so many other factors at play here, as well.  And while I want to move right into the tasting notes, I feel it is very important to share with you, the serious wine folks out there, that Count St-Victor — Eric, as he humbly requested I call him — has worked at the most prominent Chateaux in Bordeaux to learn his trade.  All of the wine-making at Pibarnon follows the traditions of the great Bordeaux Chateaux; gravity-fed vinification methods, de-stemming, aging in small barriques, slow, deep extractions, natural alcohol levels (Eric is not a fan of high alcohol wines) and no filtration.  Why such attention to detail?  Eric trained at Cheval Blanc and Angelus! 

Precisely why this Chateau in Bandol is prized the world over and exactly why a recent vertical tasting now posted at Parker’s Wine Journal yielded these notes:

“This small vertical of Bandol Rouge from Château de Pibarnon demonstrated exactly why this name is revered not only in Bandol, but the whole of France. The reds are full-bodied, very concentrated, a little gamey and meaty in style with those “melted tannins” that make such masculine wines approachable after a decade or so cellaring. The prudent use of new oak barriques lends the wines a more polished, less rustic texture although they never dominate the tasting profile…

Tasting in reverse chronological order, the Bandol Rouge 2004 is a superb wine…I have added a “+” to indicate my conviction that it will blossom in years to come…The wine exemplified Eric’s judicious use of new oak, adding a little sophistication and cohesion whilst allowing the Mouvèdre and the terroir to express themselves…”
                 — from Parker’s Wine Advocate’s Site — The Wine Journal

2004 Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol Rouge
95% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache Dry Red Table Wine
Bandol, Provence, France

Review by Cepage Noir
E*Newsletter Winter 2009
Rating: 92+?
“An Outstanding wine worth your serious attention that will impress and offer memorable drinking experiences.” CN
Drink: 2008 – 2018+

        “Very nearly opaque purple.  This wine was produced from yields of only 27 hl/ha — that’s only 1.8 tons per acre!  The aromas will immediately entice the most serious oenophiles in the room; smells like a classified growth Bordeaux.  Aromas of black currant, beautifully integrated, toasted oak, plums, an array of concentrated dark fruits and perfectly balanced alcohol.  The initial palate presence is striking; power allied to precision.  Bold and penetrating fruit of plums, currants and black cherries are combined with sweet tannins and nuances of toasted oak — the oak is truly integrated.  This wine is walking that tightrope; there is power, structure, yet there is an unmistakable precision and balance as well.  The fruit is perfectly ripe, the alcohol is never intrusive, the oak is deliciously integrated.  And the finish goes on for more than 60 seconds.  The tannins are very much here, but they are concealed by the wine’s wealth of fruit.  This is not in any way overdone, this is world class juice that would stand up to any classed Bordeaux.  As it was then, this is simply the finest Bandol money can buy.”
                — Cepage Noir