By The Glass: Domaine de Pellehaut’s Harmonie de Gascogne

18 08 2019

By Peter Vetsch

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Back!!  I have returned from overseas, feeling as refreshed as one can after multiple weeks of intercontinental travel with two kids under 9, and ready once more to dive into the glass and find words to go with it.  This return post takes me somewhere I have not often gone in the world of wine, somewhere that does not usually immediately cross my mind as a source of bottle options:  that broader informal wine zone in southwest France aptly yet uninspiringly called “Southwest France”.  (Admittedly, if all regions were so named, learning about wine would be SO much easier.)  Within the Southwest, an area nestled roughly in between Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon, lies IGP Cotes de Gascogne, a quality wine area best known by a wide margin for a spirit.  As it turns out, the borders of the region precisely mirror those of Armagnac, although its production rules are far more open-ended on the non-distilled side of the spectrum.

IMG_0639

If you don’t recognize the term “IGP”, you’re not alone:  it didn’t exist when I first started studying wine with any seriousness back in 2011.  Previously wines within this classification were known as “Vin de Pays”, or “country wine”, a step up from the lowly standards-free French table wine called “Vin de France”, displaying some regional quality and character but without quite the level of history or distinction befitting a full AOC (now AOP) classification.  “IGP” stands for “Indication Géographique Protégée” (Protected Geographical Indication), which, while much harder to remember than “Vin de Pays”, probably communicates its purpose a little bit better.  The AOP-lite rules surrounding the IGP designation allow for a little more freedom when it comes to grape selection and production methods, freedom that tonight’s producer uses to its full advantage, although the Rolodex of permitted IGP grapes for the Cotes de Gascogne (19 in all, 11 red and 8 white) already seems broad enough to permit significant latitude in what comes out of this area.  It is mostly a white hotbed, with well over 80% of vineyard area planted to white grapes, which is no surprise given that these are the focus of Armagnac as well.  Two of Armagnac’s four prominent standard-bearers, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) and Colombard, are protagonists below.

IMG_0646

Domaine de Pellehaut is one of those remarkable under-the-radar family-run European estates that has been passed down from generation to generation since the 1700s, is firmly rooted in carefully tended old-vine sites, produces remarkably honest and vivid wines, yet would have remained in complete obscurity from international audiences without amplification from a more recognized voice.  That voice in this case is Maison Sichel, owners of Bordeaux’s Chateau d’Angludet and part owners of Chateau Palmer, which in addition to its own wares markets the wines of other worthy partner estates, including this one, without ripping their owners’ names from the front label.  Brothers Mathieu and Martin Béraut tend the 300+ year-old Pellehaut sites and make the wine, which has gained critical attention yet suffers primarily from the fact that it doesn’t hail from one of the dozen or so major European wine regions that casual drinkers recognize.  These kinds of outsiders, it turns out, are where the bulk of the bargains can be found.  Domaine de Pellehaut’s “Harmonie de Gascogne” collection is a prime example.

IMG_0642

Stelvin Rating:  4/10 (There’s a classic air to them, and they’re not black, but there’s more to be tapped here without question.)

2017 Domaine de Pellehaut “Harmonie de Gascogne” Blanc (~$16)

Remember the 8 permitted white varieties of the ICP Cotes de Gascogne?  They get a workout here.  Every one of the white, pink and red trio of wines forming part of this producer’s “Harmonie de Gascogne” collection is made up of SIX different grapes, and this bottle exhausts Gascony’s white heavy hitters:  Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc (considered native here as it is many other places), Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and the lone outsider grape Chardonnay.  Because market rules of wine pricing do not apply in this area, the Chardonnay is grown on clay-limestone soils that would draw Burgundians’ attention and the average age of all the vines is 27 years.  Cool-temperature fermentation and maturation (after lees aging) lock in fresh fruit flavours, and only the top vats make it into the Pellehaut bottlings.  At $16 retail.  Pinch me.

IMG_0643

All of these wines are truly arresting to look at, a quality that is routinely undervalued in most wine assessments.  This one is a deep glowing lemon colour that shines from the glass even without any assisting light.  It smells at once familiar and sui generis, lime and kiwi and ginger melding with clean cutlery, musk and celery salt to form a seamless tangy profile.  Then you taste.  The powerful acid and prominently lush body merge into an utter sensory tsunami, a scream of grapefruit, orange Life Saver and creamsicle amped up by its own exuberance, daisy-like floral elegance somehow not subsumed by the mesmerizing level of weight and structure (there’s definitely a trace of scrubby tannin in here too) the wine carries.  A wisp of residual sugar boosts a finish that just goes and goes, making the tongue positively vibrate for a count of 10 after you swallow and allowing the flavours to linger much longer than that.  This is an absolute powerhouse…that is 11% ABV and costs well under $20.  Wine at this price rarely renders me speechless, but this is as good of a $16 wine as I’ve had in a VERY long time.

91 points

IMG_0647

2017 Domaine de Pellehaut “Harmonie de Gascogne” Rosé (~$16)

Both the pink and the red versions of the Harmonie de Gascogne are made up of the exact same wildly unusual blend of grapes, because both of them arise out of the same production process.  Partway through red wine fermentation, after the grapes have been crushed and sat on their skins for a few hours to slightly colour the juice, part of the fermenting liquid is bled off from the remaining tank, to complete the transition into wine in the absence of further skin contact.  This is known as the “saignée” process, and it accomplishes two purposes:  (1) by pulling out some of the fermenting liquid from the tank, you’re left with a higher ratio of skins to juice, resulting in a more intense flavour and structure transfer to the remaining must and thus a more concentrated final red wine, and (2) you get some rosé as a side bonus to boot.  Each one of the six varietals making up this wacky blend was vinifed and bled off separately, making it quite surprising that both the red and rosé ended up with the exact same final blend proportions:  30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon (we are close to Bordeaux after all), 20% Tannat (a true Southwest France homer), 10% Syrah, 10% Malbec (what?) and 5% Pinot Noir (I don’t even know anymore).  Of these, Syrah and Pinot are the outsiders that don’t crack the IGP’s permitted variety list.

IMG_0644

Once again, the colour is spectacular, a pleasantly vibrant rose gold/coppery hue that, like the rest of the wine, is unafraid to express itself.  The aromatic profile is exuberant and confident, although not at all what I expected.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what a pink wine made up of these half dozen grapes is supposed to smell like, but I wasn’t ready for the predominant note of gooseberry, backed up by Sprite, lemongrass, crystallized pineapple and watermelon.  Are rosehips margaritas a thing?  Have I stumbled across the NZSB of French rosé?  I seriously wonder whether I might blind this as a white until the raspberry marshmallows and strawberry daiquiris show up on the palate.  Even so, it is buoyant and electric, nicely poised between sleek and fleshy, and drier than its initial impression might suggest, the acid’s hands firmly on the steering wheel.  It certainly does not lack for intrigue.

88- points

IMG_0648

2017 Domaine de Pellehaut “Harmonie de Gascogne” Rouge (~$16)

After the pink juice is run off and all of the grape skins gang up on the depleted and outnumbered liquid that remains, Domaine de Pellehaut ensures that they are put to full use.  Daily pumpovers during fermentation ensure that as much of the must comes into contact with the skins (which tend to congeal into a cap that sits on top of them, requiring the wine at the bottom of the tank to be pumped over the top of it); after fermentation, the finished wine is left to macerate (soak) on the skins more ten more days to get every last drop of character out of them.  This helps to give the wine a final structural and textural boost, perhaps in lieu of oak barrels, as the Harmonie red does not see any wood treatment before hitting the bottle.

IMG_0645

This is a restaurant glass pour waiting to happen, even beyond the ludicrously advantageous price point.  Straight-ahead but impeccably made, it is fresh, juicy and very excited to see you, a new puppy of a red wine.  Pure red and blue berry fruits are immediately welcoming, the polished tannins are ever-approachable, but that endless wellspring of Pellehaut lubricating acid remains in spades to keep the energy up and the sips compounding.  Time in the glass (well, the second glass) brings out leather, savoury herbs, shoe polish, scrub brush and pen ink, but not at the expense of cohesion or primacy.  I never know how unexpected grape mashups are going to turn out, but this is the kitchen sink blend that really ties the room together.

89 points

Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: