Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” Beaumes de Venise 2009

I have always thought of Beaumes de Venise as an odd duck of the Rhone.   Located just southeast of Vacqueyras, it seemed like an island of white, specifically Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, in a sea of grenache and syrah. Some years back, even in Carpentras, the nearest big town, there was plenty of the Muscat available, but not much red, and that labeled as “village” wine. That was then, this is now. In 2006, Beaumes de Venise got its own appellation, separate from Muscat Beaumes de Venise. And a few producers of reds have shown notable results.

One of them is the Domaine de Fenouillet, a 40-acre property in the village of Beaumes de Venise at the foot of the "Dentelles de Montmirail", aka the foothills of Mont Ventoux. Owned for many years by the Soard family, the vineyard sold off its fruit until Vincent and Patrick Soard took over in 1989 and began to make and bottle wine under the Fenouillet name.

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” Beaumes de Venise 2009: On the nose, an immediate and powerful sensation of sweet aromatic herbs, especially wintergreen and anise. In the mouth, smooth dark red fruits, and some mineralic character at the finish. As we never tire of saying, this is the southern ideal: Richness without weight; fruit without sweetness.

This is the largest production wine at the estate. The Dentelles are steep; terraced vineyards are common. (The grapes are hand-picked because tractors cannot negotiate the terraces.) The soil is clay and limestone. The 2009 is a blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre (more or less).  Grapes are harvested and vinified in batches; maceration is comparatively lengthy for maximum extraction.  The wine is bottled unfiltered after eleven months of aging in cement.  Annual production is just 30,000 bottles, of which 3600 to 4800 are shipped to the US.

At about $20, this is a profound red that also manages to be a crowd-pleaser. At least among our crowd. As the Chef says, “You don't have to know anything about wine to want to drink this stuff.”

We got this at Vinsite. And now a belated endorsement: Asheville, thank God, has for many years now had a wine scene far more sophisticated than you would ever expect from a town of 80,000 in the mountains of western North Carolina. Les Doss, who owns and operates Vinsite, is one of the more visible reasons why this is so. He has not just championed natural wines; he has put his money where his mouth is and made wines available to us here that are hard to find in New York or London or anywhere else, for that matter. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to go in and at least take a look at the little universe of wonders he has created. He's at 64 Broadway, next to Bruisin' Ales. He even has parking.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail two hours ago from Les & Kathy. Vinsite is closing its doors in two weeks; everything in inventory will be sold at closeout prices. I salute them for their courage in opening a store that was uncompromising in its pursuit of natural wines, and I am very, very sad to see it go.

1 comment:

michelecolline said...

I just read the mail about Vinsite. I was surprised and it's certainly too bad they had to give up so soon.

I had a Durban Beaumes de Venise Rouge some time before I left Asheville. A real quaffing red with some boldness and character. I'd love to be able to find these sort of wines out here(eastern Oregon). Even the large co-op there(on the road to Vacqueyras?) makes some tasty wine without charging a lot of money for them.