Bruce Palling reflects on our first Wine Club dinner and the spectacular range of wine from Chêne Bleu

November 16, 2017

Bruce Palling, Editor, The Week WinesWith the successful launch of The Week Wine Club, it was time to think of complementary endeavours, so what could be better than hold a series of Wine Club dinners? 

The inaugural event was held in October and we are pleased to announce that four more will be held in 2018 sponsored by Sanlam, a leading global wealth management company.  Our first dinner was held in the private rooms of the Design Museum, which has recently relocated to the site of the old Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park, London.

Nicole Rolet presented a spectacular range of her Chêne Bleu wines from Mont Ventoux in the southern Rhône. The dinner was cooked by Rowley Leigh, one of the fathers of Modern British Cuisine, who has just taken over the Parabola Restaurant on the site. Rowley prepared canapés of Gruyere biscuits with anchovy butter and cod skin with taramasalata (Le Rosé 2016) followed by main courses of pike tourte (Viognier 2015 and Aliot 2012) and estouffade of lamb with ceps (Héloïse 2010 and Abélard 2010). Nicole gave a fascinating talk about how because of the austere condition and the height of the vineyards (up to 2000 feet), the vines roots have been found as far down as 300 feet, which results in the multitude of soil and mineral influences on the texture and aromas of the wines. They are all made on biodynamic principles with no use of pesticides.

These are very special wines, made in tiny quantities of a few hundred cases each. To commemorate this special event, The Week have combined with wine merchants Justerini & Brooks, the UK distributors of Chêne Bleu wines, to offer half cases of these rare wines at special prices, which all include free delivery within the UK.

  • The first wine we tried was the Le Rosé 2016, (13%) with its glorious pale salmon pink appearance. It has the necessary depth and length to make you reassess what a Rosé should taste like. While it has more than enough character to drink alone, this will also happily accompany seafood and salads. Perhaps this explains why it has garnered a large number of awards in blind tastings with other more established Rosés from Provence and elsewhere. The Grenache and Syrah vines used here are all between 40 and 60 years old. A revelation. Drink within the next year or two.
  • The next wine we tasted was the Viognier 2015 (14%), the grape variety of Condrieu, the celebrated white Northern Rhône. The nose and taste is unmistakable - immensely attractive floral aromas reminiscent of violets, peaches and apricots. There are only a few hundred acres of vines legally designated Condrieu, which makes Viognier of this quality a relative bargain. Unlike most quality wines, this is made to be drunk within two to four years of bottling to maintain the freshness and vitality that makes it stand apart.
  • Both the Viognier and the Aliot 2012 (13%) were paired with Rowley’s pike tourte, which looked like a perfect miniature pithivier but was instead stuffed with pike mousse. This rich dish was the perfect accompaniment to the Aliot, which for me was on a par with the very best White Hermitage from the Northern Rhône.  This had the opposite characteristics of the Viognier – rather than displaying its charm immediately, it took some coaxing to get it out of its shell. Half an hours wait though was rewarded with a powerful, brooding wine that reeks of herbs and a dried honey feel, which I find in all of the greatest white Hermitage. If you are prepared to humour it now with some vigorous swirling, it will deliver but I would rather keep it for two or three years to experience the full impact of this very serious wine. One of my two favourites of the night.
  • Astralabe 2013 (14%) is the equivalent of a second wine to Héloïse and Abélard, the two greatest reds produced by Chêne Bleu. Rather appropriately, Astralabe was the name of the only child of Abélard and Héloïse, the tragic medieval lovers who were forced to live apart for most of their lives. The composition is three quarters Grenache and one-quarter Syrah, so it has more peppery southern Rhône characteristics than northern and is a delightful introduction to the wines to come.
  • It is only appropriate that opinion was equally divided on the night as to whether Héloïse 2010 (14%) was superior to  (14%). Because of the location of Chêne Bleu (it virtually straddles the border between southern and northern Rhône) and the composition of Héloïse is that of the north – nearly two-thirds Syrah, one third Grenache and just a hint of Viognier.  There is nothing shy about this wine but it has more elegance and complexity than sheer power. If anything, it reminded me of a fine Côte-Rôtie, the flagship of the Northern Rhône. Approachable now but could easily last another decade from this outstanding vintage throughout France.
  • The Abélard (14%), with its 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah, has all of the attributes of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from southern Rhône. A far chunkier powerful wine which requires more time to open and will be better with even richer food than the Héloïse. It has great length and offers more peppery grip – it is hard to imagine that a wine of this quality comes from such a relatively unknown region.

None of these wines are cheap but how could they be when they are made in miniscule amounts and have a growing international reputation? I can assure you that whatever you pay now will look like a bargain in a few years time.

Order a mixed case of all 6 bottles here.

Bruce Palling

Editor, The Week Wines