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Masterclass: Wines of the Rhône with Domaine Clavel

Wednesday 5th June, 2019

Presented by Claire Clavel

The Oxford Wine Company Shop, 6 Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DQ

Once again, as time crept towards seven o'clock, our audience for the evening began to trickle through the large wooden door of The Oxford Wine Company's Turl Street Shop.

Claire Clavel was our host for the evening with the assistance of Iain Osborne from Le Grands Chais de France - an elegant double act if ever there was one.

Domaine Clavel is located in the southern Rhone Valley in the village of St Gervais. The Estate encompasses 70 hectares of vineyards, acquired during the time when the family were connected to the local cooperative. But in the early nineties Claire's father, Denis, decided he needed to know where his grapes where going: with all the care, love and labour he and his team applied to the farming it was now time to apply the same passions to their own wines.

Claire now holds the reins to Domaine Clavel but her mother and father are still very much a part of this established family Estate. The family kept the 70 hectares of vines; they no longer sell their fruit and do not buy from any other growers. Claire is gifted at multitasking and efficiently splits her times between the vineyards, winery, travelling the world to visit customers, promoting her wines and has also taken to some of the merchandising. Her most recent success is the new design of the wine labels which hit the shelves about two years ago.

"Aim for the moon and you will fall amongst the stars"

Claire Clavel 2019

Our tasting took place on a summer evening and so despite the rain we began with rosé. A blend of mostly grenache with a little syrah and cinsault, the wine gave an attractive pinky orange tint and as this light colour suggested, the palate was very Provence in style. Aromatic, refreshing and delicately fruity this was a real winner with everyone.

Claire posed, one glass holding the wine to her nose and the other resting softly on the table. She paused. She allowed quiet. Her audience followed suit and everyone took a moment to consider the contents of their glasses.

She plunged into the next wine explaining, whilst Iain poured, that we were going to taste in the 'French way', starting with Red and ending with white. So wine number two: Chusclan, Cotes du Rhone Villages 2015, served slightly chilled. As we lifted the wine to our lips Claire began to explain one of the many beauties of Domaine Clavel and its 70 ha. "Everything is about 'terroir'" she explained, "We are lucky because we have many different soils and micro-climates and this translates through our wines". The village of Chusclan is a 5 minute drive from Saint Gervais and yet the wines are of completely different personalities as we saw in our third wine. The Syrius Cotes du Rhone Villages 2015 delivered a more powerful, full bodied and complex palate. Both wines are a blend of grenache, syrah and carignan.

Another pause, a moment of reflection and then the Claire du Lune Rouge, Cotes du Rhone Villages; a silky and fruit forward blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah and carignan. Within Domaine Clavel, Claire has more than 100 plots of vines to choose from and for her Claire du Lune range she picks only the best grapes. This results in a blend of fruit from varying ages, ranging from 30 year to 100 year old vines. The grapes are kept in their separate categories of variety and plot, destemed and fermented before being blended at a later date.

The final red was from a good friend of Claire's and something she was excited to share with her audience, Domaine de Panisse's Chateauneuf du Pape. Claire is a proud member of Femmes Vignes Rhone, an organisation set up in 2004 which currently includes thirty winemakers. The desire is to highlight female winemakers in an industry that is still predominantly male dominated. It is through Femmes Vignes Rhone that Claire met Christine, Jean-Marie and Fanny Olivier, owners of Domaine de Panisse. Their estate is full of history (which we won't get into now) and much smaller than Clavel with a total of 17 hectares, 7 of which reside in Chateauneuf du Pape. It had been a few years since I last indulged my palate with such a wine because in days gone by I have often been underwhelmed by these famous wines with a hefty price tag. My tasting note for Domaine de Panisse Chateauneuf du Pape 2016 - Delicious! 80% Grenache with 10% syrah and mouvedre the wine is utterly luxurious with deep, complex black fruit flavours and a freshness that calls you back to the bottle; a real journey of flavour and expression, typical of this unique region.

Finally, it was time for the white! Claire du Lune Blanc 2017, made with a blend of roussanne and viognier. Immediately the viognier jumps from the glass and fills your head with ripe stone fruit, subtle melon and banana - the roussanne acting as a calming embrace. The action of fermenting in barrel and using batonnage plumps up the body of the wine, adding a smooth and buttery mouthfeel that is balanced by the green apple acidity. This was definitely the winner of the evening with silence along the table and later many bottles joining their new owners upon departure of our jolly evening.

The first four wines tasted are readily available from The Oxford Wine Company and if you catch a shop at the right time there may even be a bottle open for sampling. Although the Domaine de Panisse is not a wine we feature on our portfolio currently there will be a one off guest appearance of six bottles at our Turl Street shop in the near future... When was the last time you melted over a Chateauneuf du Pape?