By Christopher Matthews
The Vaucluse, a French district (département) in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, lies in the heart of southern Rhone Valley. And while the Vaucluse is not well-know here, neither geographically nor in terms of wine, it encompasses many of the most revered southern Rhone wine appellations (AOCs) and Crus — Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras — as well as the ubiquitous Cotes-du-Rhone AOC (and its accompanying Villages).
Owning and operating vineyards across these famous Rhone districts, the Brunier family also produces wines in the less-exalted Vin de Pays de Vaucluse designation, which is less strict and more flexible than a typical AOC in terms of grapes allowed, yields, viticultural practices, etc. But in the Brunier’s case, its Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, Le Pigeoulet Rouge 2017, is absolutely equivalent in quality to the better known appellations; the Vin de Pays category is used only so that it can mix grapes from two different AOCs — Cotes-du-Rhone and Ventoux — which is not allowed at the AOC level.
The result is compelling.
Imported by that estimable importer of artisanal wines, Kermit Lynch, Le Pigeoulet Rouge is actually a classic southern Rhone blend, comprised of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Carignan and 5% Cinsault. Grown mainly on clay and sandy, alluvial soils, it is vinified in temperature-controlled cement tanks for 15-20 days, and then aged 18 months, 50% in cement tanks and 50% in foudres (large format wood barrels). The name “Le Pigeoulet” is derived from the foothills of the noble La Crau plateau.
I found the 2017 vintage at Sipperley’s wine shop in Red Hook, NY (where many Kermit Lynch wines are available), and I was captivated at first sip. A vibrant purple ruby, it has deep dark berry and savory herbs (garrigue) on the nose, and a silky, energetic and medium-bodied palate with lush briar fruit, herbs and mineral notes on a long, clean finish. A superb dinner companion, this Vin de Pays drinks way beyond its modest pedigree, more along the lines of a Cotes du Rhone Village or a Cru, and at $17.00, it also delivers great value.