Nopa Staff Picks: Southern France

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Each week, Nopa’s Staff gathers for a thematic hour of wine tasting and education. Below are the notes from the prior week’s host, Harrison McArtor. 

This week we focused on a well tenured part of our wine list, Southern France. Historically thought of more for its addition to the giant well of poor quality, European wines, its high end producers are making waves these days. It’s an area where many of our staff and friends knew little or nothing about – myself included.

With such vast territory to cover and with a range or terroir and native grapes, this place is a melting pot for young and old producers to make cool stuff with less rigid regulation and more affordable land.

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Mas Daumas Gassac 2011 VDP L’Herault

If there’s a name that is synonymous with SOF quality it’s Daumas Gassac, a family-run operation by the Guibert family, dating back to the 70s. Emile Peynaud, French oenologist, was quoted once referring to this production as witnessing “the birth of a Grand Cru”.  A wine worth decanting,  it showed dark berries, dried fruit, figs, cranberries with a whiff of Tobacco. This wine underwent a long fermentation/maceration (20 days) in stainless steel then 15 months aging in neutral barrels. A delicious example of someone’s life’s work turning opinions of wines in the Languedoc. Hardly unexpected with an eye for quality, a distaste for corporate winemaking, and an average of 39 year old vines Aimé Guibert & his wife Véronique have created wines that can be laid down for 20 years or drunk young under 3 with enjoyment.

Antoine Arena “Carco” 2011 Patrimonio

One might ask why an unknown Corsican wine from a tiny appellation runs for $65 on our list. Well, the answer is that Antoine Arena is a bit of rockstar back home. Running production with his two sons, Antoine a native of the island left in his youth, but returned during the 70s as a sign of protest, when when the Corsican independence movement broke into violence. Now together his family makes a delicious island wine with earth and cherries on the nose and an amazing texture. Herbs, blood and meat on the palate make this an exceptionally delicious wine. Antoine macerates the wine for 6-9 weeks with regular punch downs and then ages it 2 years before bottling. The grape Niellucciu considered to be a descendant of Sangiovese is the prime grape in his production.

Hecht & Bannier 2011 Faugères

Gregory Hecht and Francois Bannier are a two-man team of négociants that source from all over Southern France.  They focus on making wines that express the terroir from all over the region. They work almost exclusively by making blends of grapes from different producers – this wine being Syrah – Mouvedre – Grenache – Carignan. They age it in large demi-muid for 2 years before bottling. This wine would be the perfect fit for a Napa Cab lover trying to break out of their usual habit. High in alcohol, with deep rich fruit, the wine was smooth and powerful.

Featured Wine: Domaine du Trévallon 2008 IGP Alpilles.

A staff favorite, Eloi Durrbach has been making wine in Provence on his family’s estate since the 70’s. He dropped out of architecture school and moved to the estate to start making wine at his father’s discouragement. In time, hard work and focus changed his father’s mind and thank goodness, because this 50/50 blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon is pure class. As a young man, Eloi’s believed so much in the quality of his first vintage, he priced it three times more than most other wines on the market. He hadn’t sold a single bottle after a few months and he was getting nervous. One day a man arrived to try his wines and view the property in a car with Burgundy license plate. They talked for awhile and finally when the man left, he told Eloi that he was Aubert de Villaine, winemaker for Burgundy’s Romanée Conti and that he would be returning in two weeks with his friend Kermit Lynch (an importer based out of Berkeley, CA). The rest is history. With 90% of the wine aged in foudres, it was vinified and aged separately with no destemming, racking, or added sulfur. Peppery, on the nose, with delicious red fruit and great tannin presence this wine would stand up to our richest dishes without even blinking.

The mediterranean has always been a friend to agriculture and that is no less true for the vine. Not to be taken lightly southern france has more to offer than most realize. This week we came with impressions and palates like a blank canvas. We left with a broader understanding of our winelist and a lot more knowledge on the history and culture of a region that has for centuries produced more wine than the rest of France and expanding to a asphalt paving contractors business.