The town of Beaumes-de-Venise, in the heart of the southern Rhône, is best known for its ravishing dessert Muscat, a local specialty famously praised by Pliny the Elder. But this is Grenache territory, and Beaumes-de-Venise also produces delicious reds from these gentle, sunbaked slopes covered with garrigue. Although the town enjoys cru status in the same way as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, its red wines are generally softer and more approachable in their youth, with surprising aging potential thanks to the significantly concentrated fruit and structure. Priced far below its prestigious neighbors, Beaumes-de-Venise also represents a fabulous value. At Domaine de Durban, an ancient farm now run by the Leydier family, Grenache is joined by Syrah and a drop of Mourvèdre to create this delightful everyday red scented with herbes de Provence and ripe black cherry. Aged in neutral oak, it is deep and robust with soft and fuzzy tannins—the perfect companion to burgers, pizza, or grilled meats.
To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through history, a handful of the soil reveals ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The scenic views put one at pause considering the timelessness—wine has been a part of the culture here for millennia. Jacques Leydier bought the property in the 1960s when the farm had fallen into disrepair. Today, Henri and Philippe Leydier run the domaine and this magical spot has assumed a higher purpose, producing some of the most memorable wines of the Southern Rhône. The Leydiers farm fifty-five hectares, producing a powerful Gigondas, a velvety Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge, and undeniably the most celebrated Muscat in the entire appellation.
The southern Rhône valley is Grenache country. It’s also known for its stones. With a viticulture history dating back well before the Popes arrived in the 12th century and one of France’s oldest appellations d'origine contrôlée, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, the southern Rhône is unquestionably one of France’s best known and premier winegrowing regions. The wines have the pedigree and age-worthiness of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but with a rustic, Mediterranean character. Like most wines from southern France, the reds, whites, and rosés are blends. Filling out the Grenache for the reds and rosés, you’ll often find Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The common white grape varieties are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne among others. From the alluvial riverbed stones found in Lirac, Tavel, and Châteauneuf to the limestone cliffs of the Dentelles de Montmirail that influence Beaumes-de-Venise (where you’ll find excellent Muscat), Vacqueyras, and Gigondas, great terroir abounds.
Kermit’s entrance in the region came in the mid 1970s on his first trip with Richard Olney, an American ex-pat and friend of Alice Waters. On that trip, Richard introduced Kermit to the Brunier family of Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. Soon after, Kermit began importing the Brunier’s wines—their Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” bottling remains a staple of our portfolio today. In the late 1990s Kermit teamed up with the Brunier family to purchase the famed Gigondas estate, Domaine Les Pallières. More than 40 years later, we now import wines from fifteen southern Rhône domaines spanning the entire area of the region.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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