Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Clos du Joncuas Seguret

29 02 2020

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Welcome to Leap Day!  On this spot in the calendar that only exists every four years, what better time to crack a particularly intriguing bottle and enjoy this temporal bonus.  This may be the first ever February 29th post in Pop & Pour history, so let’s make the most of it, with the latest biweekly Saturday release from online curator extraordinaire Cellar Direct.  If you have been keeping up with the PnP Cellar Direct 2020 scorecard so far, you will note a steady array of successes, starting with the legendary dry Spätlese from Karthäuserhof, moving to a Crozes-Hermitage from Stephane Rousset that continues to joyously haunt me to this day, and then bouncing to a stellar expression of Cab Franc from Bourgeuil’s Yannick Amirault.  The hits, and the French classics, keep on coming this week, albeit in slightly more esoteric fashion.  Time to visit the famous Southern Rhone, for a contemplative study of…Clairette?


That’s right.  One of the thirteen permitted grapes allowed to be included in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the white Clairette grape doesn’t get much time in the spotlight, in this region or any other.  Less than 3,000 hectares of plantings exist in its homeland of France, and although it is the second-most planted white grape in CNDP (behind Grenache Blanc), it still only sees 2.5% of plantings and almost never takes the lead varietal role in any bottling.  It first came into existence in the aftermath of the Middle Ages, in the early 1500s, an early-ripening white prone to oxidation and thus generally enjoyed best young, especially if it hangs too long on the vine and loses its precious acidity.  But earlier pickings of Clairette can give rise to leaner adaptations with more of a shelf life and exciting possibilities.  The grape is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance in South Africa, and has always been highly valued by the Chastan family in Seguret.


Pierre Auguste Chastan founded Clos du Joncuas in 1920, and his descendants, sisters Dany and Carole Chastan, run the estate today.  The winery is based in Gigondas, the famed Chateauneuf facsimile in the southern Rhone Valley, but it also owns parcels in nearby Vacqueras and lesser-known Seguret, which is located due north of Gigondas, sandwiched between it and Rasteau.  Seguret is one of around 20 villages in the Rhone Valley with a sufficient legacy of quality that it is permitted to add its own name to the more generic “Cotes du Rhone Villages” label, highlighting that the wine within hails from vineyards adjacent to the town and boasts a heightened pedigree beyond more basic CdR.  Clos du Joncuas was and continues to be ruthlessly old-school in approach, featuring hands-off low-intervention farming practices (certified organic since 1980), wild yeast fermentations and no fining or filtering, maintaining a non-manipulative stance towards all facets of the grape-growing and winemaking process.  They have also continuously maintained a soft spot for Clairette, which shines in their soils.


Cork Rating:  3/10 (None of these words appear on the label in any obvious way, making this cork extremely confusing until a considerable amount of Googling is done. Not shown: “Gigondas”!)

2016 Clos du Joncuas Domaine La Garancière Cotes du Rhone Villages Seguret Blanc ($44)

While this wine is primarily a showcase of Clairette, it is not a 100% varietal bottling:  this vintage is 50% Clairette, 30% Marsanne and 20% Viognier.  The Clairette vines steal the stage, however:  they date back to 1914 (and have therefore survived two World Wars) and always constitute the backbone of this Seguret Blanc.  (Interestingly, the Marsanne blending component sometimes switches entirely to Roussanne depending on the vintage, but the other two elements and their proportions stay relatively constant.)  After fermentation in steel tanks, the blend is aged in enamel-lined vats to avoid any flavour transference, and malolactic fermentation is blocked to maintain freshness and sharpness in the acid structure.  Spoiler: it works.


This ode to Clairette floats out of the bottle a bright, clear, rich lemon colour, deeper than perhaps I expected, although my expectations were admittedly based on very few prior encounters with century-old Clairette grapes.  The aromas emerge slowly, carefully, first salty, then waxy, but always delicate, almost breakable:  white flowers and honeycomb, sharp lemon and rainwater, Bounce sheets and Fisherman’s Friend, with maybe the faintest jaunty whiff of cotton candy to remind us of Rhone whites’ normal exuberance.  Equal parts weighty and cutting on the palate, the Seguret triggers a split second of glorious confusion at the start of every sip, as the slow spread of generous textural breadth is almost immediately clamped down by a guillotine of incisive acid.  The second you start to relax and enjoy the opulence, the wine reminds you that you are not in control of the journey and that it is not going that way.


And then it takes you on…a surprisingly gentle and meandering journey of quiet and contemplative flavours?  Golden apple, hay, salt lick, mint, lanolin and limeade slowly unfold in rolling fashion, unobtrusively, almost politely, capturing the attention in as graceful a way as possible, an apologetic contrast to the piercing minerality and structural Ginsu knives unfolding all around them.  This dichotomy between the vivid and the pastoral becomes strangely endearing as the glass empties, this wine having a whole lot to say but not wanting to be impolite while saying it.  It fills the silence for quite some time after you swallow, but only if you listen.  Many Rhone whites are loud, playful personalities, happy and rambunctious, the Golden Retrievers of the white wine world; this Seguret is calm, serious and penetrating, meditative but not threatening.  Its conviction is clear, and the value of the disregarded grape it champions is firmly established, without it having to raise its voice.

89+ points



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