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I have to pay tribute to David Lillie’s passion and decades-long dedication for real wine made by vigneronnes and vignerons who display respect for land, their team, and the people who will open their bottles. Since I have been lucky to taste, exchange and work with David, I have discovered so many jewels from my home country I had no idea about. Domaine Tinou and Serge Hondet’s work is one of them, a real peasant-vigneron farming in the foothills of the Pyrénées, in the superb appellation of Jurançon. I have a deep interest in the unique expression of white wines made with Petit & Gros Manseng but also Lauzet, Camaralet de Lasseube or Courbu. There is this magical synergy between terroir and these varieties: the emerald foothills of clay, poudingue and limestone blessed by rain and foehn ( a warm dry wind developing in the lee of a mountain range) are perfectly suited for the production of intensely vibrant, structured dry and sweet whites beyond comparison. If you want to know more about the area, here is a link to a previous article about the South West, Jurançon, Irouléguy and Côtes-de-Duras.
What makes Domaine Tinou such a little gem? I was not able to visit the domain - but David and Eben have, and I will refer to the notes from their multiple visits, some you can find HERE - but I could chat at length with Serge Hondet. He is located in Lasseube, a historic area of the appellation where the Camaralet is said to be from. It is way more humid than Monein where the majority of the AOC vineyards are located. Yet his parents were the first organic vegetable and wine growers of the area, deciding to follow that path since 1964. Organic farming was a natural choice for his parents. Yet up until fifteen years ago, organic farming was an object of mockery or curiosity. He really saw a change in the public opinion (and among colleagues) fifteen years ago. When he took over at age 16, without any diploma or viticulture training, he continued his parents’ approach - a holistic vision of the farm, based on observation, trial and error. Today the farm (lost in the middle of forests and springs) is split between market gardens and 3 hectares of vines - 1.7 ha of Gros Manseng, 1 ha of Petit Manseng, 1 acre of Tannat (he used to have .5 acre of Cabernet Franc but he overgrafted to Tannat, more suited according to him to the area) and 600 vines of Lauzet. You have probably never tasted Lauzet as it seems that there is less than 4 ha left in the world… In Béarnais, the local, singing dialect of Béarn, Lauzet means “bird”. It is a variety mentioned for the first time in the extremely beautiful ampelography of Viala & Vermorel in 1901 (according to Wine Grapes), related to Tannat and Baroque. According to Serge, it looks like Chasselas, with loose clusters. It is low in both sugar and acidity and produces a low yield, yet it is delicious to eat and quite fragrant. Why did he replant some? Because he remembered his grand-father fondly reminiscing about a 100% Lauzet from a plot owned by the neighbor next to their farm. So Serge decided to buy that plot left fallow for decades, clean out the bramble bushes, rebuild the terraces and plant 600 vines of Lauzet. He picks it overripe with some pink noble rot. There is not enough for a special cuvée, so he blends it with Gros Manseng in his dry wines.
Farming wise, on top of being organic, Serge is constantly exploring, working with some elements of biodynamic such as the lunar calendar or nettle decoction. He also incorporates techniques using algae and other preparations in order to reduce as much as possible the use of copper. One thing he is very happy with (something I had not heard of before) is Efficient Microorganism. EM is a blend of anaerobics bacteria, yeasts and other fungus sprayed on the plants to make them stronger and healthier. You can check the Wikipedia article about it HERE. Serge works by himself, with the help of friends and local retirees to work the harvests (usually October-November). The vines are planted widely to allow maximum space. He rotates different types of cover crops, including fava bean and other legumes. He is trying potatoes now between the rows. Pruning is high (in “hautain”) to prevent spring frost which can occur at that altitude (220 m) and high humidity level.
In the cellar, things are quite simple. Five years ago, he has dug a new cellar using the slopes of the foothills as a natural cooling system. Grapes are hand-harvested, pressed whole clusters, slowly for the white. Must is settled between 24-36 hours depending on the feeling, then vinified and aged in epoxy tanks. This type of vessel allows the wines to evolve without the accumulation of oak flavors (stainless does not allow for evolution). He does use oak, but on very rare occasions, like the 2014 Petit Manseng made for the 50th anniversary of the estate being organic. Fermentations are spontaneous, malo can occur. The wines are racked 3 to 4 times following the sayings of the old men (at pruning, bud break, flowering, always in waning moon) and bottled before the next harvest. He uses sulfur dioxide at press, racking and bottling, but he is very specific to avoid potassium metabisulfite (a petrochemical industry by product). The finish of the wines may taste austere in their youth, if so, don’t hesitate to decant them! These wines also have the structure to age, so by all means buy a bottle for the cellar!
Today you will be able to enjoy the 2016 Jurançon Tradition and Cuvée Spéciale, on the sweet side based on Mansengs, and the Jurançon Sec made of Gros Manseng and Lauzet (if you don’t see the word “sec” next to Jurançon, it will always have residual sugar). 2016 was a beautiful and easy harvest, 2018 was very good too, but more challenging due to rain in October after a very warm summer. The 2018 sec is quite concentrated, while Jurançon sweet wines from 2018, picked after these rains, are paradoxically a little lighter. All the wines can be enjoyed today or kept 5 years for the sec, more for the sweet. Pascaline Lepeltier.
Le Jonc Blanc
About three hours drive to the north of Domaine Tinou, east of Bordeaux and just above the Dordogne river, we find the hamlet of Vélines and the unique limestone outcroppings of Le Jonc Blanc. Here Isabelle Carles and Franck Pascal arrived in 1999 to pursue their new life as vigneron(ne)s. Enormously respected among the natural wine movement in France, Le Jonc Blanc produces unique wines of great character that are a joy to drink. The wines of Le Jonc Blanc retain the magic and poetry of a natural product, from grapes in certified organic and Biodynamic farming, fermented naturally and vinified and bottled with zero or minimal added sulfur. These are pure, vibrant, living wines - not reductive, not high in VA, not full of Brett, but yes with a bit of variation - as Franck says " there must be a little chaos in the wine to vibrate our emotions!"
CSW customers will be familiar with this unique estate through our numerous articles - we are happy to have received new releases of their “classic” cuvees: 2017 “Racine,” 2018 “Fleur” and “Fruit” and the 2019 Bulles Rose. While the 2017 “Racine” will cellar beautifully, all four wines will offer superb drinking this summer and fall – they are outstanding natural wines at modest prices. Quantities are small so don’t delay… (Wines arrive Tuesday, August 3rd) David Lillie
The 2018 Domaine Tinou Jurançon Sec is made from 90% Gros Manseng and Lauzet grown in Serge Hondet's beautiful vineyard in Lasseube, certified organic since 1964. Serge is one of the few vignerons in the world cultivating the rare Lauzet, an indigenous grape of the area : there are less than 4 ha left in the world! In 2003, he replanted an abandoned vineyard where Lauzet used to produce a great wine, very much enjoyed by his grand-father. A low yielding, fragrant grape, he blends it with old vines Gros Manseng. Both are grown in vineyards quite close one from another on heavy clay soil with veins of lavasse, the local name for sandstone. Harvested usually in mid-October by hand, the grapes are whole-cluster pressed, settled 24-36 hours than vinified in epoxy tank until July. Serge is only using sulfur dioxide and not potassium metabisulfite, usually at press, racking and bottling. The 2018 version of the Domaine Tinou's Jurançon Sec will please for sure wine lovers who enjoy bone dry Riesling from the Rheinhessen or the Wachau. Same tension, same weight, just a little variation on the aromatics : no lemongrass, lime zest or smoked salt but mountain sage, pink grapefruit and white pepper. The wine is a little shy, so don't hesitate to decant to express its nose and give the palate all its length. On the palate, the vibrant tension of the Manseng is here : it is the spine of the structure, and lifts it up as you don't feel at all the 14%. More tropical notes are discreetly popping up here and there. The touch of quinine in the back makes the wine ever more salivating. For the price, it is a bargain! Jurançon Sec in general allows for a lot of pairings, and in this more savoury expression you can go with powerful shellfish, white poultry, aged ewe milk cheeses. A turbot served with white beans, almonds and girolles would be very nice! 90% Gros Manseng, 10% Lauzet. Pascaline Lepeltier
The 2016 Domaine Tinou Jurançon Cuvée tradition is made of equal part Petit and Gros Manseng grown in Serge Hondet's beautiful vineyard in Lasseube, certified organic since 1964. Both are grown quite close one from another on 2 ha of heavy clay soil with veins of lavasse, the local name for sandstone. Harvested usually in mid-October by hand, the grapes are whole-cluster pressed, settled 24-36 hours than vinified in epoxy tank until harvest. Serge is only using sulfur dioxide and not potassium metabisulfite, usually at press, racking and bottling. 2016 was a great vintage for Serge, with perfect season leading to a peaceful harvest with beautiful grapes. In the glass, the light gold with green flex is typical for young Jurançon. As for all his wines, it is recommended to decant them, even the sweet : they need air to reveal their perfumes and their length. Once open, the nose is classical example of the Manseng, a combination of crunchy, exotic tropical fruits with some herbal notes, a hint of spice, and a remarkable intuition of fresh concentration. The palate has more orange variations and some earl grey tea notes. As usual, it is hard to assess the sweetness - here 42g - thanks to the energetic acidity. Enjoy it in a large glass at 8C, and serve it of course with tropical fruit and citrus based deserts, but also with Moroccan spice chicken tajine and other dishes with sweet or sweet and sours seasoning be they veggies, fish or white meat. 50% Petit Manseng, 50% Gros Manseng. Pascaline Lepeltier.
The 2016 Domaine Tinou Jurançon Cuvée Spéciale is 100% Petit Manseng grown in Serge Hondet's beautiful vineyard in Lasseube, certified organic since 1964. He farms barely 1 ha of this magical grape on heavy clay soil with veins of lavasse, the local name for sandstone. Harvested usually in late-October, sometimes November by hand, the grapes are whole-cluster pressed, settled 24-36 hours than vinified in epoxy tank until harvest. Serge is only using sulfur dioxide and not potassium metabisulfite, usually at press, racking and bottling. 2016 was a great vintage for Serge, with a perfect season leading to a peaceful harvest with beautiful grapes. A deep gold with light pink-orange hue, the wine shows the concentration reached by slowly overripe Petit Manseng berries. Decanting Serge Hondet's wines is always recommended, even the sweet version of Jurançon to really express their complex bouquet and their length. When open, it is a complex bouquet of orange marmelade, alphonso mango, elderflower, caraway seed. On the palate, despite its concentration ( 76 RS), there is no weight but just vibrating acidity: think membrillo paste or passion fruit puree. As always there is a nice herbal bitterness in the finish. This is a great dessert wine of course and will pair very well with a quince tarte tatin and salted butter caramel, a pineapple soufflé but also with savoury dishes like sticky honey-glazed duck with stir-fry Chinese cabbage, and of course blue cheese. 100% Petit Manseng. Pascaline Lepeltier
The delicious 2018 Jonc Blanc "Fruit" is a bland of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 65% Merlot from a parcel on limestone of Castillon in biodynamic farming with legumes, cereals and pollinators between the vnes. There is a cool pre-fermentation maceration, then fermentation with wild yeasts for 30 days, followed by 18 months in cuve and old foudre, bottled unfined, unfiltered with zero added SO2. Pure Juice!. The wine shows lovely aromas of black raspberry, cassis and plum with earth and violet, the palate is full and supple with bright acidity and mineral flavors under the vibrant fruit. This is simply delicious and a great value - serve cool and enjoy over the next three years with charcuterie, burgers, grilled chicken and pork. David Lillie
The 2018 Jonc Blanc "Fleur" is a gorgeous and complex wine from 45% old-vine Semillon (70+ years old), Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris from Franck and Isabelle Pascal in Bergerac, Biodynamic farming on limestone with clay and sandy soils, vinification without additives, aging for 18 months on the lees in cuve inox, bottled with a small addition of SO2, 20mg/l total. The 2018 Fleur is a lovely wine showing floral aromas of ripe citrus, melon and pear; the palate is ripe, supple and refreshing with ripe white fruits, quite generous and backed with firm acidity and saline/mineral flavors in the very long finish. Far from the typical varietal Sauvignon, this is a rich complex white of great character that willl acccompany cheeses and white meats and is a delicious aperitif. David Lillie
The Jonc Blanc "Racine" is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on a unique outcropping of limestone of Castillon with thin clay topsoils at Le Jonc Blanc. The vineyard is certified Biodynamic, cereal grains are grown between the vines, fermentations are with wild yeasts with no addition of SO2. The wine macerates for about 30 days with only manual pigeage, there is no pumping, the wine then ages on its fine lees for 18 months in burgundy barrels and is bottled, unfined, unfiltered and without additives. Tasted in February 2020, the wine showed a dark black/purple color with deep cassis and blackberry aromas. The palate is framed in earth and mineral flavors with blackberry, cassis and black cherry fruit, with licorice and bitter chocolate, elegant and very long. This is a beautifully vibrant natural wine - please decant if drinking now, best 2023 - 2033? David Lillie
Isabelle and Franck Pascal make outstanding and expressive natural wines from their biodynamically farmed vineyards in Bergerac, and this lively sparkling rosé is a great example of their precise, low-intervention winemaking. This delicate pét-nat is made with mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (70%) and a smaller portion of Sémillon (30%), and shows a lovely pink-orange color in the glass. The mousse is very delicate, and on the nose, raspberry, peach, tea, and crushed strawberries are evident, while citrus, melon, and strawberry come to the fore on the slightly off-dry palate. The delicate bubbles make this an outstanding candidate for before-dinner drinking, or a fun pairing with appetizers or Asian cuisines. It's intriguingly delicious, with zero additives!