Monday, 4 January 2016

The Versailles of the Ventoux

Domaine de Fondreche, just outside Mazan, has long been regarded as the Ventoux' star producer. Immaculate vineyards with near perfect exposures and winemaking that is unapologetically honest, without recourse to the preferences of some international critics, all adds up to a range wines that consistently over-delivers. A couple of years ago, on my previous visit, I thought cellar door prices seemed a little high but Sebastien Vincenti has obviously thought about these as well as the range generally as there are slightly fewer wines on offer which, in my view, means quality is higher than ever.

Inevitably, the tasting started with the Fondreche Blanc from 2014 (the 50,000 bottles produced in this vintage are almost all sold now) which is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache, Clairette and Vermentino in equal parts although it is the Roussanne which dominates the nose and the Vermentino that brings the freshness to the wine. Aged in a mixture of foudres and barriques, the wine is floral but with some spice and has good weight and length. At around £10 per bottle this is a lovely white. 13%

We skipped the incredibly pale rosé and went straight to the non-sulphured ‘Nature’ from 2014, a Vin de Pays blend (Grenache with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault) of 20,000 bottles, intentionally uncomplicated. As Sebastien says, “it’s all about the fruit”. 13.5%

The 2014 Fondreche Rouge is a more serious wine. Anyone who knows Fondreche from the past will recall two cuvées, Fayard and Nadal which have recently merged into this single bottling to become the most important wine produced at Fondreche. It’s a GSM blend that spends 18 months in foudre, cuve and barrique and offers a bigger, warmer nose than the Nature and a well-rounded, textured mouthfeel. The tannins are velvety and contribute to the good length of this very grown-up wine which should age well. There is a touch of sulphur noticeable here but, assuming this dissipates, then, as with the white, for around a tenner, this offers sensational value. 14%

If the Fondreche Rouge is the main production, the Syrah/Grenache blend that is ‘Persia’ is the estate’s flagship wine. The 2013 was aged 12 months in foudre then a further six in cuve followed by another six in bottle prior to release so it is already approachable on release but is destined for the long haul (the 1998 and 2000 vintages are still drinking well today!). A little more expensive, inevitably, at around £15 but worth it if you like the fuller, oaky style. 14%

When the vintage permits, Sebastien also likes to make a very special blend of 80% old Grenache with 10% each Syrah and Mourvèdre aged in foudres and eggs! The most recent vintage of ‘Il etait une fois’ (Once upon a time) is 2012 which starts with a sweet, fruity, alluring nose and has a smooth but gripping palate. This is a very elegant wine which reminds me of some of the special cuvées made by those Châteauneuf producers who understand the power of restraint. Glorious but, inevitably, more expensive (around £24) and, for me, rather too expensive. 14.5%

We concluded the tasting with a preview of the wines still ageing including the tremendously fruity 2015 Rouge and the 2015 Persia Blanc, fermented in barrels then aged in stainless steel. It has an intense Roussanne nose and palate and has good weight with attractive crunchiness. Superb!

My overall impression was that this is a top drawer estate but I had to ask myself: is it significantly different to or better than Domaine des Anges? The range of wines is comparable: the white here is a different blend but the red and the two Persia wines are almost identical in composition to the wines made in Mormoiron which are all slightly cheaper. Once Upon A Time does have great potential but, at £24, I would probably prefer to have two bottles of Anges' Seraphin. And that sulphur does worry me.