An interesting one ce soir, a 2010 old vine Grenache Blanc by Domaine du Clos des Fées (14.5% ABV). I’ve been a big fan of this estate’s reds for ten years or more, but for some reason I never got round to trying its sole white. It always seemed rather pricey, even when Oddbins (R.I.P.) was interesting enough to stock it, and, at €18 from the cellar door, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d feel the same today. €18? For a Grenache Blanc.
A very pale lemon colour suggested the absence of new oak, although legs that rivalled an aquaduct’s also hinted at what was to come. The nose was gently floral, with a stony and herbaceous garrigue quality, pithy citrus fruit and a peppery warmth from the alcohol. Ripe and rich on the palate with a candied grapefruit character kept fresh by a slightly bitter, pithy/zesty nervosité. As on the nose, the alcohol was a little too prominent for my taste, but it finished very pleasantly and was not at all unbalanced. From the outset, this couldn’t have been anything other than one of those all too easily dismissed, quirky white Southern French oddities, but with grilled chicken on a summer’s evening it all made perfect sense. Later, when I read the producer’s cheat sheet, things became rather clearer. Although 10% of the cuvée was matured in third fill barriques and was kept on its lees for around eight months, malolactic fermentation was blocked. Had a wine such as this been made elsewhere, I’m sure the temptation would have been to add lashings of new oak and to allow at least a partial malolactic fermentation to occur. Fortunately, Hervé Bizuel is not at all that way inclined and has pulled off the difficult feat of making a complex, interesting and balanced white wine from a relatively uninspiring grape, just a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean.