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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Pegau Tale...

Visiting Laurence Feraud was one of those magical moments that brought me in contact w/ someone that I truly admire, and the interaction only heightened the esteem I have for her life’s work. She is candid, extremely generous and one of the most modest individuals I’ve had the pleasure to come across in this industry. We discussed everything from her newfound affinity for Californian Petite Sirah to her plans to think ‘inside the box’ and fashion a formidable boxed wine w/ her familiar tools: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and company. She’s a wonderfully talented individual who is finally receiving the recognition she deserves for her uncompromising, powerful and vividly spicy expressions of traditional Chateauneuf du Pape.

We tasted through her self-proclaimed ‘simple’ white, her most recent Reservees, a pure Syrah from a plot we looked at earlier in the day, as well as the two upper echelon cuvees of the Domaine; Laurence and Capo. I felt a touch privileged knowing that I would be the first person to taste the ’04 Laurence that had just been bottled that day…and I felt even more privileged after I tasted it.

2007 Pegau Blanc
The typical white blend for Pegau, consisting mostly Grenache Blanc (60%) and Clairette (20%) underwent no malolactic fermentation and was fermented in their only stainless steel tank. This vintage brought a touch more depth and richness than that of the ’06 (which I found to be more streamlined and mineral driven), with fresh honeydew, green apple and a touch of honey notes leading the way. While the profile is far from challenging, it is pure, bright and tailor made for an aperitif, 89 points.
I was surprised to learn that Laurence only bottles a small proportion of the white, simply due to the fact that she has only one stainless steel tank (the rest of the press wine goes into the Reservee). She has brought the fermentation and elevage for the white to the most simplistic of methods as past experimentation w/ more aggressive methods has yielded erratic results, namely a previous vintage where skin maceration was employed & the wines prematurely oxidized. I think most people have been disappointed w/ her whites largely due to the expectation that it will somewhat resemble her massive, explosive reds, but I find the Pegau blanc to be a perfect counterpoint. Its modesty in whispers offers a bit of treble to the bass provided by le grande rouge and I think they tend to reflect Laurence’s humilty beautifully.
  1. 2006 Reservee (barrel sample)This is already a showy, mouthfilling Reservee, w/ oodles of red currant, braised chestnut, pepper and spice box notes filling out the wines tannic, yet forward personality. It doesn’t appear to be an incredible effort, but its all there and looks like it could be a bit more approachable at a younger age than most vintages of this wine, 92-94 points.
  2. Syrah, 2007 Barrel sample: Tasting component parts of the cuvee separately makes the learning process all the more fascinating, and it also illuminates the genius of the blender. The ’07 Syrah fruit is already demonstrating a tarry personality w/ blackberry sauce and a piercing violet note that glides along the medium bodied, chewy personality of the fruit. Although most producers in Chateauneuf don’t find much to love about their Syrah (because it isn’t Cote Rotie or Hermitage), I imagine this barrel will provide some fascinating complexity in the upcoming ’07 blend.
2005 Reservee
Big and brawny, just as advertised, with no shortage of puncturing tannins amongst the notes of sea salt, braised beef, grilled herb and black currant notes. So raw it seemed like a barrel sample, and Laurence’s decision to release this as late as possible is certainly prudent. While there is a classy Pegau display underneath its sheath of connective tissue, it will take quite a while for it to all come together and I don’t imagine it will ever possess the charm of top vintages, 91-92 points.
2004 Laurence
Along w/ the ’98, I believe this ’04 Laurence is a cuvee that manages to outshine its Reservee sibling. An absolute knockout body, w/ tiers of gorgeous fig, tar, flank steak, spicy tobacco, bramble and garrigue notes that pump out alongside a hauntingly silky, polished texture. The wine is distinctive not only texturally, but for its savory profile that is riddled with pepper and a myriad of Pegau’s telltale Indian spices that always tend to distinguish this estate in blind tastings. This is a dynamite synthesis of power, intensity and suave equilibrium, bravo Laurence, 96 points!

2007 Cuvee de Capo
Yeah, I was giddy…yeah, the sample was full of lees and sediment (it had only been racked once), but it was, to say the least, a treat to taste. The wine is a mammoth, authoritative tour de force through the palate, crammed w/ blue and black fruits in a pull no punches, reverberating fashion. This brooding behemoth of a wine is an example of the best fruit from specific parcels composed of sand, clay and rocky soils and is sure to wow all Chateauneuf-loving palates across the globe that have missed it greatly during the 4 year sabbatical this cuvee has taken from the market place. Another potential classic Capo is in the making.

Laurence graciously invited me and my wife, Ejehan, over to her home for a peek into her Provencal kitchen windows, showcasing a savory leg of lamb w/ an assortment of home-made sauces, potatoes and tender asparagus. To be a guest in her home was a once in a lifetime event that I relished every moment of, including the company of her adorable two children, three loveable dogs and her husband, Mark. Mark handles a hefty portion of the business at Pegau w/ British wit, American ideals and a French palate (he is a self-proclaimed Burgundy nut). Talking wine, culture and industry with him was a lot of fun and I was especially pleased to hear of his love for the Tribeca Grill, New York’s answer to Mondragon’s Beaugraviere (in terms of wine), with a lethal list that parades vintage after vintage of Chateuneuf du Pape. I brought over a bottle of ’98 Chante Cigale, a producer that all Pegau fans should have on their radar screen. Chante Cigale really caught fire w/ the ’03, ’05 and ’07 vintages, due at least in part to their talented, Mr. do everything winemaker that I believe is the youngest of the region.

We had some great food, a few laughs and of course, fermented grapes. I have been sworn to secrecy on the first couple whites that we tasted but I will happily divulge a few details on the stars of the evening. The recently bottled ’07 Blanc paired beautifully w/ the spicy appetizers and the ’04 Laurence was a total bombshell (as recently mentioned). When Laurence started parading bottles from the kitchen incognito, I knew we were in for it…and being duped had never been this much fun!

1988 Reservee (served blind during dinner)
The fabulous shocker of the evening had to be the 2 decade old Cuvee Reservee. An absolutely fabulous showing, extremely youthful and showy in its perfume of cured meats, assorted Asian spices, brandy soaked figs and charred black fruits filled the air with vigor. The palate showed excellent freshness, vibrancy and the focus of a wine at least ten years younger (exactly where I had it pegged) and offered up gorgeous textured, stout frame that finished in a lithe, mineral-driven conclusion, 94 points.
According to Laurence, ‘if you want to know Pegau, you have to try older vintages.’ 1988 was a tough one for the Ferauds, as the winery didn’t have a de-stemmer at the time and the 1988 vintage produced incredibly green, astringent tannins in the grape stems. I remember her saying how difficult it was to shovel out the dense must of the barrels and how hard, closed and pleasure-less the vintage had showed in its youth (now it’s tough to imagine Pegau having any difficulty selling wine, but that was certainly the case during the time). Apparently this night was its best showing yet and proved to be a fascinating caveat to the rule, ‘wines that show poorly in their youth will never blossom into mature beauties.’
1996 SQN Syrah (cuvee?)
Time for dessert….the second we stuck our noses into the glass we knew we had taken a trip across the Atlantic to the New World, and a wildly expressive trip at that. A singular, exotic bouquet of barbeque spices, grilled bacon fat, melted licorice, blackberry liqueur and cassis catapulted from the glass, revealing a bit more age in the mouth, as it was less exuberant than the nose suggested. Medium bodied and impeccably textured, as waves of satin coated fruit glided across the mouth like a surfer at high tide. The flawless texture told me Sine Qua Non and the aromas told me Cayuse. I guessed ’96, which happens to be a favorite vintage of Laurence, 94 points. I guess every dog has its day, does this make up for missing the boat on the Reservee by 10 years?

More to come...

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