Notre Dame de Cousignac Vacqueyras

France has very strict, long held, traditional laws and regulations about most of the wine produced there. Two of the oldest wine growing regions, Bordeaux and the Rhône, have more regulations about grapes, soil, bottles, labeling and standards than any single region in North America. The good news is, this keeps quality high and styles consistent, history in tact and growers who are proud of their work. It also leaves little room for innovation, but when it occurs, something magic can happen.

Organic growing practices haven’t historically been a huge goal in old world wine growing regions. As threats to wine became evident like phylloxera (a nasty little bug that kills the vines), bacterial infections of the crop, frost, hail and other dangers, the best practices to keep the grapes safe and healthy were used. Still, like with any other crop, this can lead eventually to decreased quality, sensitivities to chemicals and, in some wine growers’ opinions, away from the central philosophy of wine: grow something beautiful and delicious from the earth, let the fruit shine and enjoy it with family and friends.

Notre Dame de Cousignac grows and sources its fruit from the Ardèche region of the Rhône Valley, all of which are in the process (or have achieved) becoming certified organic. A small, long standing partnership between growers, producers, farmers and winemakers – all of whom share a passion for organic and sustainable growing – really show in the quality of this range of wine. Minimum use of sulfites and little barrel aging of the wines let the robust, fresh, expressive flavors and aromas of the fruits show, and I personally feel good supporting a small collective of passionate and ethically minded growers.

So, this Vacqueyras. Slightly northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (my favorite wine growing region), Vacqeyras is considerably smaller and tends to produce more robust, masculine wines for the region and grape varietals being so similar. There are many rules about what you can grow, put into the bottle, which kind of bottle to put it in, and how to label it – but the short version is that both wines are a blend primarily of Grenache and Syrah, with touches of Mourvèdre. This particular wine is first fermented in stainless steel and rested in cement vats before aging a year in French oak foudres. It boasts plenty of deep, dense red fruit aromas – roasted plums, stewed raspberries, strawberries and a hefty note of baking spice and earthy herbs like sage. The palate is surprisingly fresh and juice given the mature aromas, with big pops of blackberry, crushed violet, kirsch, and anise, with long and persistent tannins. To avoid extra sulfites, the alcohol content is a degree or so higher than most other producers, clocking in at 14.5% ABV which goes a long way in integrating the sultry aromas with the fresh flavors and lends a pleasant warming sensation to the sip. While plenty Rhône wines are made to age, this bottle’s organic nature means it should be enjoyed now or over the next 5 years. That’s a relief since I can almost never hold onto my good bottles for too long.