We all know Jean-Marie Guffens for his ground-breaking family domaine in the Mâconnais and his subsequent spinning of the Verget négociant business based in Sologny in the Mâconnais from it, first in a wide range of very pure wines made in a wide range of Mâconnais appellations and subsequently in Chablis and the Côte d'Or.
Wallowing in his enfant terrible status, he has always led rather than followed and specialises in a particularly focussed, tightly-furled wine style. In 1997 he and his family bought a property in the Vaucluse in the hills of the Lubéron above Apt (where, incidentally, I spent the year immediately before becoming a wine writer). From his rather out of date website, the Ch des Tourettes looks lovely but I had not seen any evidence of any particularly lovely wines from the property until I tasted a varietal Marsanne 2004 and Roussanne 2004 the other day.
The wines, bless them, come in easy, screwcapped bottles, which Guffens has bravely embraced in a big way, even for his smartest white burgundies. (In fact he offers all his customers a choice between natural cork, synthetic cork and screwcap, with very different results in each market.) These debut Provencal whites very much belong in the Verget style of concentrated, finely-etched wine with no shortage of acidity, but have obviously benefited from a fair amount of sunshine. The Roussanne has that lime/green fruit/floral scent that characterises the variety but I found it more muted and less exuberant than the Marsanne. I am told by the UK importers Lea & Sandeman that when they showed the pair at a trade tasting recently, it was the Roussanne that impressed their customers more and, as a certified Roussanne fan I am certainly not discounting it, currently sold at the same price as the Marsanne.
This first vintage of the Marsanne comes from hand-picked vines that were grafted over to the variety in 1999. The fruit was fermented in large 45 hl wooden vats and he has chosen not to sell these first two wines, bottled in Sologny, under the Ch des Tourettes label as he reckons the yields, about 55 hl/ha, are a bit too high for an estate wine. The 2005s will be sold as Ch des Tourettes and are likely to cost quite a bit more. Profit from this!
What is sure is that this pair offer an excellent demonstration of each varietal's (yes grammarians, these are varietal wines) characteristics. Lovely summer wines too. The Marsanne is not desperately long or complex but much livelier than any Australian varietal Marsanne to have come my way. There is definite Marsanne almond paste on the nose and great richness on the palate even though still with some vivid 'green streaks' of liveliness and verve. A sort of little country cousin of Chapoutier's Chante Alouette. Bravo!
I'd choose to drink this wine as an aperitif or with brightly flavoured summer foods this summer and over the next eight months or so. It costs £7.50 a bottle from Lea & Sandeman and I am assured it is also available in the US, Holland and Japan. See their official list of Verget importers, though I am a bit concerned that the company website does not appear to have been touched for some time…
By coincidence, I was impressed by another all-Marsanne wine frm south east France this week, Paul Jaboulet, Le Grand Pompée 2003 St Joseph when I tasted a wide range of this merchant's 2003s (of which the whites seemed much more impressive than the reds). This particular wine was headily floral, and herby too - a bit like the smell of gorse in spring. My notes continue: 'Mouthfilling fruit and quite enough acidity. A pretty, quite zesty wine for the vintage. Big impact. Round and supple. Clean as a whistle though it fades slightly on the finish. More restrained yet more complex than the Verget Vin de Pays.'
Unfortunately, I cannot locate a single retail stockist of this wine anywhere although surely someone somewhere has it – perhaps mainly restaurants in France. I'm told that it would probably cost about £12-13 retail. These Jab 2003 whites have real character and cleanliness to them. See my tasting notes on the full range.