Let the Wine Decide: Séguret, slopes and ‘schisteux’
Moving from Cairanne through Rasteau and Roaix along the curling arc of villages en route towards Gigondas, our next stop is Séguret on the other side of the valley. Nestling at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the lacey-edged rocky outcrop which dominates the skyline on this side of the valley, Séguret rightly earns its official classification as one of “the most beautiful villages in France” (along with cheese, a Normandy butter and ‘le poulet de Bresse’, even the pretty villages of France are classified too!).
In wine terms, Séguret is important because it is one of the named villages within the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOP, but for us it has special significance as the site of the ‘Les Turcs’ vineyard. High in the rugged mountainous terroir behind the village itself, the vines in this vineyard are genuinely old, a minimum of 50 years of age, some even older. The fruit from these vines impart a purity of flavour and a surprising tenderness to our Boutinot Rhône ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux’.
‘LES TURCS’ (Old Vine Grenache): Wine has been made in Séguret since Roman times. When we first visited ‘Les Turcs’ before the landmark 2003 vintage, we knew instantly that this to be one of the outstanding plots of Grenache Noir in the whole of the southern Rhône valley. We sensed that we could from this particular vineyard make an outstanding wine, unlike any other, with fruit exceptional enough to fulfil our philosophy of intervening as little as possible.
Lying even higher than the schistose slopes of Séguret, ‘Les Turcs’ was described by Kim Tidy in a recent Boutinot Rhône Masterclass as “the most unforgettable vineyard, partly because of the bumpiness of the ride to get there and partly because of the age of the vines, at least 50 years, some considerably older; mostly Grenache with a few vines of Syrah dotted about.” So named after the repulse of Turkish invaders of France in 800 A.D., it is a single high altitude vineyard of exceptional terroir. East facing, the vines benefit from the morning sun and even ripening temperatures.
Woodlands are a notable feature of Séguret’s vineyards and in and around ‘Les Turcs’ ancient pine and old oak trees grow; the latter hide black truffles from early December.
Among the garrigue wild herbs thrive and an inciting scent of thyme fills the breeze. Vines are not as regimented as in younger vineyards – their thick, gnarled branches sprawl and twist this way and that, their roots forming a labyrinth way down deep into the stony soil. Yet the vines which form this orderly chaos seem to impart a sense of dignity, of wisdom even, looking down as they do across the Côtes du Rhône valley below.
‘Les Turcs’ isn’t an easy vineyard to tend, the narrow argillaceous limestone terraces are completely carpeted with stones making tending the vines by hand the only option.
GRENACHE NOIR and BOUTINOT SÉGURET: Grenache Noir is ridiculously under-rated. Without it, many of the great wines of this region simply could not be made. When produced in low yields from very old vines and matured sensitively it can impart a purity of flavour, delicacy and softness which is something quite extraordinary.
Grenache Noir from Séguret’s ‘Les Turcs’ has, to date, ‘ formed the principal grape variety of Boutinot Rhône’s ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux’ and according to our winemaker Eric Monnin, the 2009 shows ‘all the purity of Grenache from the Rhône” and a “richness as if it were akin to a ‘Pinot Noir from the Rhône’; it’s Grenache Noir of course but I believe you can feel the finesse and delicacy that you would discover in a Pinot Noir from Burgundy“, told Eric at the recent Boutinot Rhône Masterclass.
With its extreme proportion of Grenache Boutinot Rhône ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux’ 2009 not only offers a comparison with Grenache from other villages in the Southern Rhône but, when sourced from Les Turcs, shows just how incredibly tender Grenache can be.
WHAT TO SEE IN SÉGURET: Séguret and the surrounding vineyards are carved out of the sheer rocky hillside, atop of which stand the ruins of its feudal château. The setting sun on its narrow cobblestone streets and rough hewn stone walls are picturesque and well worth the visit.
Visit in mid-August and Séguret’s winding streets will be given over to a Ceramics Festival, where colourful hand-thrown pots from an association of 100 Provence ceramists will be on display.