This month I would like to share with you one of the most exciting discoveries of my trip through the Rhone Valley last year. Domaine de la Ferme Saint-Martin is a small domaine located in the Cotes du Rhone appellation of Beaumes de Venise. Vigneron Guy Jullien farms approximately 22 hectares of vineyards of several parcels spread across the appellations of Beaumes de Venise and Cote de Ventoux. Guy deeply believes in making wine that is respectful of both the soil and nature. For this reason, yields are kept low, and he tends to his vines organically. In order to preserve the purity of his gorgeous syrah and grenache grapes, Guy vinifies in cement vats, and elevage in old wood is utilized only for syrah. I first met Guy after an incredibly long and very hot day of tasting. Guy’s good friend and neighbor Eric Tabardon thought that it might be a good idea for us to meet, and boy was he right. Each wine, from the entry level “vin de soif” up to the cuvee Saint Martin, exhibited a distinct personality. As I tasted, my mind conjured up the perfect occasion: on the deck with grilled veggies, with roast duck, or on a cold rainy night with great friends and a beef daube. Fantastic! The 2004 Beaumes de Venise Rouge Domaine de la Ferme Saint Martin “Terres Jaunes” (ORGANIC) ($12.99) is comprised of grenache (70%) and syrah (30%) from limestone and clay soils formed some 240 million years ago. This “yellow earth” imparts a brightness to the wine, along with fine tannins and a tight mineral core. Bright cherry, violets and black licorice provide a forwardness and charm that will captivate you. Notes of white pepper and star anise add an element of spicy complexity, coupled with good acidity that will make this red Rhone a lovely companion at the table. I hope you will taste this delicious gem of a wine! —Mulan Chan
This month I would like to get on my soapbox and champion one of the most underrated wine regions in France: Provence. Sure, it’s beautiful. Of course, the food is great. But what about the wine? Provence certainly gets lots of attention in the form of tourism, but because of its good looks does not often see the need to develop quality wines. Fortunately, there is a small but growing group of vignerons producing wines that are delicious and characterful. Château Estoublon, located in Les Baux de Provence, consist of 10 hectares of vines and 35 hectares of olive trees, all organically grown. Winemaker Remy Reboul is after rich and elegant wines that are reflective of the sun-drenched colors and flavors of Provence. The 2004 Les Baux de Provence Château d’Estoublon Blanc (ORGANIC) ($19.99) is a blend of ugni blanc and grenache blanc. This most serious Provencal white is rich and grand, with notes of honey and almonds. On the palate, however, it is pure refreshing fruit showing citrus along with more tropical notes toward the end. A dead ringer for a great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape! The 2003 Les Baux de Provence Château d’Estoublon Rouge (ORGANIC) ($18.99) is composed of grenache, syrah and about 10% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe griotte aromatics and notes of black olive and thyme abound in this supple red. The wine maintains the requisite amount of mineral drive and acidity to keep make this a perfect accompaniment to an eggplant tian or leg of lamb. —Mulan Chan
2004 Grand Enclos du Cerons Blanc (dry) ($13.99) Cerons is an area just north of Sauternes and Barsac known for producing value-priced sweet wines, although some excellent dry wine is also produced. This bone-dry blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc comes from soils that consist of flinty stones over gravely subsoil, which show in the wine’s character. Crisp, clean aromas of stone fruit and mineral lead to a firm, steely mid palate that is substantial and beautifully fresh. Great with shellfish, goat cheese or as an aperitif. 2002 Reserve de Comtesse Lalande, Pauillac ($25.99) Pichon Lalande’s 2nd wine is delicious and a bargain to boot! This is bright and deep with lots of blackberry and cherry fruit, hints of herb and mineral, plenty of plump merlot juiciness in the middle and toasty, well-rounded tannin on the finish. Enjoy this now with decanting, or cellar several years. 2003 Bernadotte, Haut-Médoc ($19.99) The team at Pichon-Lalande also crafted this rich, chunky beauty from the much heralded 2003 vintage. Sweet blackberries abound in the chewy middle, and there is surprising elegance on the long finish. This shows the forward ripeness of the 2003 vintage but has plenty of underlying structure for those who want to cellar some. 2003 Lascombes, Margaux ($39.99) This 2nd Growth with vineyards spread throughout the appellation of Margaux has been on a roll since it changed hands in 2000. This is viscous and extracted with boatloads of plush blueberry fruit, toasty oak and licorice flavors in a flashy, velvety, full-bodied style. 92-95 points from Robert Parker. 2003 La Couspaude, St-Emilion ($45.99) This tiny (by Bordeaux standards) “garage” wine has become known for producing jammy, oaky fruit bombs that have enough underlying structure to age well, and never appear heavy or over the top. This fat, low-acid wine has lots of ripe black cherry and sweet oak richness in addition to an opulent liquid-mineral component on the perfumed finish. This is flashy, flamboyant, fruity and already easy to drink. —Steve Bearden
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