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The Charm of Chene Bleu

It is only because I am a fanatic about staying on schedule that I force myself to button up my raincoat and take the elevator downstairs and out onto the windy March streets of Manhattan after spending an hour talking with Nicole Rolet and drinking her Chêne Bleu wines. What I really want to do is to linger for another 60 minutes with Rolet and sales director Laura Iverson.  Or immediately cash in all my unspent dividend miles and fly to the South of France where Rolet and her husband, London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet, have what sounds and looks like a magical old/new wine estate and continue the discussion.

I conclude we have it all wrong when we say great wine goes with great food.  Great wine goes even better with great conversation.

There have been several times when visiting wine estates, particularly those in Bordeaux for the primeurs barrel tastings or during Vinexpo, that I’ve been part of what I consider to be the classic “salon experience” – a lovely venue, great wine and food and the right mix of people from various corners of the world all harmoniously coming together.  While I have also had many pleasurable one-on-one wine interviews in otherwise sterile offices, it is seldom that one transports me as does this one with Chêne Bleu.

Where to start?  Perhaps in 1993 when Xavier, whose family makes wine in Jura and the Côtes de Toul, and Nicole, poly-cultural and a success in banking, bought a 9th Century estate called La Verrière in the uplands near Mount Ventoux in the southern Rhone.  It was a fixer-upper, but not to worry.  Experts such as Zelma Long and Claude and Lydia Bourguignon convinced them that the property – altitude, aspects, soils – was capable of making excellent wines.  About 87 acres were planted to vines.

Twenty years later, with five Chêne Bleu wines – named after the blue oak trees on the estate – spread in front of me, I can taste the truth of the prophecy.  The 2010 Aliot, primarily Rousanne and white Grenache, is all rounded and fruity apples with a minerally-metallic finish.  The 2010 Viognier is one of the most-interesting I’ve tasted, with aromas of garrigue and vermouth and grapefruit without the oxidation.  The 2010 rosé has a pleasant, soft middle but a finish of apple skins and mild citrus.  The Syrah and Grenache of the 2007 Héloïse make a big, tannic, dark-fruited wine like those of the northern Rhone, while the 2007 Abélard (Grenache with a dollop of Syrah and a drop of Viognier) is complex and delicious – sophisticated currants and dark berries with a balsamic-like coda and tannins that appear lighter than they are.  For the category, the reds are reasonably priced at $87, and the Aliot in the ballpark at $68.

But instead of the charming but simplistic “wines-made-in-the-vineyard” patter that normally accompanies these tastings, Nicole riffs on altitude corresponding with degrees of latitude putting the estate weather-wise somewhere in the northern Rhone, about the over-riding of the tectonic plates of the African mantle causing still-visible stark shafts of stone on the estate, of the Knights Templar and the magic of places, about the unusual fauna of conifers mixed in with the garrigue offsetting oily aromatics, about four real seasons (unusual this near to the Mediterranean with its summer and the three dwarfs), about the Celts and the Ligures who settled here, about her “oak agnostic” palate which wasn’t pleased with the reds on bottling but likes them now, about the estate being a “subversive in appellation-conscious France,” about having guests to the estate to have… conversation.  Is there no time to talk about the history of the label?

See why I don’t want to leave?  Is there any Abélard left?

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