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It's a cool and rainy Monday evening as we write this article, but it seems that spring has arrived and we even see temperatures in the 70s by the end of the week. This means more whites and rosés on the table, but don't forget that warm weather and outdoor cooking means grilling steaks, chops and burgers, which are complemented perfectly by the full-bodied reds of southern France. In this email we feature some old favorites and new arrivals that will drink beautifully with summer meals - all made from organically grown grapes and most produced with minimal or zero SO2.
For many years now we've been working with the great father and son team of Guy and Thomas Jullien at La Ferme Saint-Martin in Beaumes-de-Venise. One of the first estates in the southern Rhône to practice organic farming and low-sulfur vinificatons, the high-altitude vineyards produce complex, powerful reds that retain freshness and balance. Their vineyards, in Suzette (Beaumes-de-Venise) are exposed due south on dry and stony limestone terroir, in terraces from 600 to 1800 feet in altitude; the vines have been cultivated in certified organic agriculture since 1998, and vinifications are done without the addition of any oenological products. These are ripe, complex Grenache-based wines of real character - bring on the steaks!
Long known for their beautiful natural wines, Domaine Gramenon farmed organically from its creation in 1978 and has been Biodynamic certified since 2010. The vines are all massale selection, grown on a unique limestone/clay/sand plateau in the most northern part of the southern Rhône. Picking is by hand, vinifications are with wild yeasts and minimal SO2, if any, is added, only after the malolactic conversion. The two 2017s on offer today are lovely natural wines with complex, sappy fruit that will pair beautifully with grilled foods.
Heading further south to Tavel, we encounter the superb natural wines of Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières. Here the wines are made entirely without additives and in their commitment to living soils, the Charmassons refuse to use any chemical products in their vineyards, even those copper or sulfur treatments that are organic approved. While these wines are not what might be considered "typical" of the southern Rhône, they are complex living wines that will be fascinating and delicious to lovers of pure juice, zero additive wines. Note that unlike some zero-sulfur wines, the red and white from Balazu, which are aged for two to three years in vat before bottling, will drink well for many days after opening.
Across the river in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we find the over-achieving organic estate, Mas de Boislauzon. Made in a very traditional style from old vines in great vineyard sites, these are superb Châteauneufs - the 2016 for aging and the 2012 for current drinking (and aging) - and the fabulous value Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, which is a superb junior Châteauneuf, will drink beautifully over the next ten years.
Domaine des Amphores, a small Biodynamic estate in the northern sector of Saint-Joseph made a simply delicious, light-bodied natural Syrah in 2017 with zero-added sulfur, the "Sphé-érique, aged in a concrete "egg." And their white blend of Clairette, Marsanne and Roussanne, the 2017 "Detour," is one of the best values in the store!
We now head west to the Languedoc and Cahors for more of the best values in the store, from four great estates that are huge favorites of the CSW staff, as well as an extraordinary natural wine that is a delicious collaboration of Cahor and Languedoc, all of which will be superb additions to your spring and summer menus...
The 2014 “Achillée Millefeuille” from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussieres is made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). (This is perhaps the most "natural" of all Southern Rhône reds, as the Charmassons use no SO2 or other additives in the wine and refuse to use copper sulfate in the vines.) The wine shows a deep black/red color with aromas of plum skin, ripe black cherry, spiced strawberry, roast meat, anise and cola. Ripe Morello cherry, earth, citrus peel and black olive on the palate with cool acidity, earth, licorice and spicy berry fruits in the finish, changeable and enticing, a real product of living soils. Anyone who appreciates natural wines should try this! Our thanks to Christian and Nadia for their beautiful work... David Lillie
The 2016 “Solaire” from Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières is predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc. A complex and elegant wine of the south, at 14% alcohol, the wine shows a clear pale gold/bronze color with complex aromas of earthy citrus, almond, pear and peach fruit with spiced apricot, really showing the Marsanne when opened. The palate is quite mineral with saline stone flavors, preserved lemon and pear, finishing with anise, white pepper, dusty stone, almond and white fruits. This is a delicious and soulful natural wine from the stony soils of Tavel and Roquemaure - perfect with bouillabaisse with aioli, monkfish in sauce and white meats, or to just sip and contemplate. (On the label of the Blanc and Rosé is the Berber Flag from North Africa (Nadia’s heritage) with the symbol of the free man and three colors representing Berbers who lived by the sea, in the mountains and in the desert.) David Lillie
Mas de Boislauzon is a lesser-known, over-achieving estate located in the northern sector of Châteauneuf, with parcels in the lieu-dits of Cabrières, Boislauzon, Lagardiole, Palestor and Pignan. The soil types are sandy at Pignan, galets roulés at Boislauzon, with more clay at la Gardiole and Palestor. Organic farming since 2009. Approximately 70% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre. The grapes are de-stemmed and aging is in concrete vats and old barrels. The 2016 is a superb and age-worthy Châteauneuf-du-Pape that will both drink well young and age gracefully until 2040 or longer. "The wine shows firm red colour. The nose is an enjoyable combo of blackberry and raspberry fruit, has a soft floral hover, and a beguiling sweetness. The fruit has a pure, “glistening” quality. The palate is authentic, comes with southern tones including iodine, black olives, laurel that speckle the dark fruit well. There are dark tannins well embedded, and it ends with momentum, good carry, some gunflint clarity and spicing. This will be a handsome glass in time." DrinkRhone
We're not sure about the spelling, but Véronique and Philippe Grenier's "Sphé-érique" is a lovely "natural" Syrah, fermented and aged in a round concrete vat, and bottled with zero added sulfur. The wine shows lovely aromas of cool blackberry and blueberry fruit with violet, mint and citrus aromas, really quite complex and pretty. The palate is balanced and earthy with bright black fruits and firm acidity with stone and berry flavors in the refreshing finish. Serve this light and lovely Syrah with lamb, pork, guinea hen and of course with caillettes ardechoises. (Like most no-sulfur wines, it is best to consume on the day opened.)
"Terres Jaunes" comes from parcels of clay/limestone, rich in iron, on hillsides surrounded by woods and hedges, 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah. Like all the Ferme Saint-Martin wines, it's from organic grapes and bottled with minimal SO2. A touch less ripe than in 2015, the 2016 shows all of the lively freshness of the vintage. Within 30 minutes of opening, the nose offers rustic aromas of smoke, black pepper, earth and game spice. The palate is soft with grippy tannins and shows supple flavors of blueberry, cocoa, red currant, and bitter citrus on the finish. A charming wine to drink now with goat cheeses, grilled lamb kebabs, or Moroccan inspired fare! Amanda Bowman
A notable natural wine from Beaumes-de-Venise made by Guy and Thomas Julien at La Ferme Saint-Martin. The estate has been working with organic methods for over 30 years, with natural fermentations and minimal use of sulfur. The Costancia is from old vines of Grenache and Syrah grown at 1,500 ft in Suzette, on limestone/clay soils. The 2016 shows a deep red in the glass, with vivid aromas of violets, black pepper, earth, and crushed blueberry notes on the nose. Complex flavors of dark chocolate and savory herbs are layered over notes of ripe blackberry, ground pepper, and plum. The palate is dense with powdery tannins, yet lifted by a wonderful orange citrus note on the persistent finish. A marvelous wine at a great value, this recently paired well with duck breast, but it should pair fabulously with a range of foods from burgers to tagines! Amanda Bowman
Guy and Thomas Jullien at la Ferme Saint-Martin are making some of the finest wines in the Southern Rhône on their organic estate in Suzette, near Beaumes-de-Venise. One of their best wines, the Cuvée Saint-Martin is made with 85% Grenache from 60 to 105 year-old vines grown on clay over limestone (Triassic) soils. Vinification is with wild yeasts, with no added SO2 until a tiny amount before bottling - this is a "natural" wine of great quality. Deep red/black color, with ripe plum, red currant and strawberry aromas, very floral and lush with hints of licorice, garrigue and earth. The palate is ripe and dense with deep chocolately blackberry and plum liqueur with earth and spice, finishing with firm acidity and citrusy red fruits. This is an outstanding southern Rhône red and a great value - serve with grilled foods, Moroccan tagines and Provençal stews.
The Gramenon "l'élémentaire" is made from a plot of 45 year-old vines, 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah, at 400 metres, very clay soils plus limestone at Valréas. The grapes are partially de-stemmed and ferment with wild yeasts, with only a small dose of SO2 after the malo. The 2017 is a lovely wine that needs a few minutes of aeration to reveal very pretty aromas of raspberry, red currant and violets. The palate has nice grainy, chalky texture with blackberry liqueur, spice, earth, cocoa and cool citrus notes, finishing with bright black fruits and refreshing acidity. Delicious now but will benefit from a few years of aging - serve cool with grilled pork or chicken. David Lillie
The Gramenon "Poignée de Raisins" is all Grenache from young vines grown on the hillsides and plateau of Gramenon in Montbrison. The terroir is a maritime sandstone/sand and shell soil. The grapes are partially de-stemmed, there is a 15-day maceration and fermentation with wild yeasts with a 6 month aging in vats. Poignée de Raisins (a fistful of grapes) certainly lives up to its nom de boire with its brambly aromas and bright and frank juiciness. The nose is redolent of wild violets, hedge fruits, and wild blackberry. The fresh and racy palate offers fresh flavors of wild berry, hints of black tea, and fine-grained tannins to lend definition to the proceedings. This is on the more joyous rather than contemplative end of the spectrum, but offers great refreshment at a generous tariff. Serve with a chill and a plate of charcuterie, or perhaps a burger or grilled lamb sausages. John McIlwain
From 50-65% Grenache, 15-20% Syrah, 0-10% Carignan, 5-15% Mourvèdre from stony clay-limestone soils on Bois Lauzon & Coudoulet at Courthézon. The vines are on average 45 years old. The wine ages in concrete tank and old barrels, and is bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is an outstanding Côtes-du-Rhône Villages that shows very dark red/black color with lovely aromas of lush blackberry and red currant with dark chocolate, citrus and spice. The palate is ripe and dense with round, lush berry fruits, earth and mineral flavors backed with firm citrusy acids.
Mas de Boislauzon is a lesser-known, over-achieving estate located in the northern sector of Châteauneuf, with parcels in the lieu-dits of Cabrières, Boislauzon, Lagardiole, Palestor and Pignan. The soil types are sandy at Pignan, galets roulés at Boislauzon, with more clay at la Gardiole and Palestor. Organic farming since 2009. Approximately 70% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre. The grapes are de-stemmed and aging is in concrete vats and old barrels. The 2012 is drinking beautifully now, with pretty floral blackberry, black cherry and prune aromas with hints of licorice and garrigue. The palate is quite full and well structured, opening up nicely with complex black fruit liqueur, spice, earth and citrus notes. Drink now with a steak, grilled lamb or a hearty stew, or hold for 15 to 20 years.
The Detour Blanc is a beautiful blend of Roussanne, Clairette from 50 year-old vines, and Marsanne from the Collines Rhodaniennes. The nose is fresh, floral and lively with notes of grapefruit, tangerine, nectarine, white peach, honeysuckle and acacia. The palate is ripe and full but with nice saline minerals, with citrus confit, dried fruits, pear, apple and honeysuckle. The finish is long, dense and balanced, making this a lovely apéritif wine and a great combination with appetizers, full-flavored fish dishes, white meats, salads and mild cheeses. Just a delicious wine and a fabulous value! David Lillie
"Les Travers de Marceau" is a blend of 30% Mourvèdre, 30% Syrah, 25% Carignan, 15% Cinsault planted at the highest elevation in the Saint-Chinian AOC. This appellation is divided by its soil composition - in the north, the soils are rich in schist, in the south there is only heavy limestone and clay soils. Jean-Marie Rimbert's vineyards are in Berlou, in the north western half of the AOC. This soil composition and high elevation give his much-beloved wines a light, early drinking quality. The nose offers complex, exotic aromas of dried apricot, tree bark, savory spices, and undercurrents of crushed blueberry and pomegranate. The palate is silky and dusted with mineral acidity. Flavors of dense blue fruit and umami spices give way to star-anise and hints of fennel on the finish. This pairs perfectly with saucisson, cassoulet, and goat cheeses. Amanda Bowman
Normally made from Oeillades - an old variety of Cinsault - Guilhaume Dardé made the 2017 Clin d'Oeil from Grenache as there was not enough Oeillades in 2017. In the Coteaux du Salagou, west of Montpellier, the soils are a combination of clay, schist, and granite with veins of basaltic slate. The 2017 Clin d'Oeil is a moody ruby and black-tinged color in the glass. The nose offers lovely notes of strawberry, cherry pie crust, coffee grounds, and savory gamey-ness. The palate is supple with fine tannins, ripe red fruits, and earthy flavors mingled with bitter citrus peel and fresh herbs. A charming go-to wine for barbeques or quiet meals at home. Amanda Bowman
"Fontanilles" comes from ancient vines of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache Noir grown in Mediterranean bedrock and limestone scree in the Corbieres AOC. Magali Terrier works this plot using biodynamic methods and uses her intuition and deep knowledge of the local climate to pick at the perfect moment before Carignan becomes too ripe and austere. All de-stemmed, this blend showcases the softer side of Carignan, and with the addition of Syrah and Grenache, the 2017 is a virtual trip to the Mediterranean. Aromas of violets and peppery spice lead to flavors of cocoa, thyme grown on windswept hills, with a bitter orange peel on the finish. A wonderfully balanced wine from the Languedoc that is made to enjoy now with a variety of food. As the weather warms up, this will be our BBQ go-to! Amanda Bowman
A beautiful, pure expression of Malbec, this comes from a limestone parcel that Julien Ilbert is very fond of. 20% of the fruit is whole cluster (not carbonic maceration) and the wine is aged in cement. It has a vibrant nose, with bright red cherry fruit and a little spice on the palate. Very light tannin, and a fresh mineral finish. This may not be as dark as some expect from Malbec, but it's definitely a hearty wine nonetheless. For me it's a perfect all-weather wine, substantial enough to satisfy in the winter months, and fresh and lively enough to serve with a slight chill when the grills come out in the summer.
I first met Charlotte Perot last February, at a wine fair in France, where she was nestled in a corner, quietly pouring her wines. I was curious to taste the L'Ostal wines, as we rarely see dynamic, natural wines coming out of Cahors. The wines were fascinating... dark and full of flavor, yet vibrant at the same time, with fresh acidity balancing luscious black fruit. Though technically not Cahors (Charlotte and her husband Louis bottle their wines as Vin de France), they spent time learning from Simon Busser, one of our favorite Cahors producers, and the wines speak of the region. Icare is actually a collaboration wine, blending Louis and Charlotte's Malbec and Merlot from west of Cahors, with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the illustrious Jeff Coutelou in the Languedoc. For any fan of no-sulfur wines who occasionally prefers a wine with dark fruit and full body, this is a MUST! A great beginning for a young domaine that shows a lot of promise. Eben
Le Clos des Grillons comes from 30-year-old vines of Grenache plus some Syrah and Mourvèdre planted in Nicolas Renaud's biodynamic vineyards in Rochefort-du-Gard. After two weeks of carbonic maceration, the wine is racked into neutral oak for 6 months, then bottled without any sulfur additions. Like his neighbor Eric Pfifferling in Tavel, Nicolas translates the silt and sandy soils of the Southern Rhône into a pure wine with remarkable freshness. The nose offers pleasing grapefruit and floral aromas with deeper notes of cocoa, ground pepper, and sage. The palate offers fine, powdery tannins, and vigorous acidity. The lively notes of citrus and tangy cherry are framed by savory herbs and bitter dark chocolate. A perfect wine for grilled sausages, mushrooms, or burgers this summer. Amanda Bowman