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Cave la Vigneronne, Villedieu-Buisson

The Cave in Villedieu is a cooperative enterprise that produces wines sold in many of the local restaurants in the southern Drôme and northern Vaucluse, but has never exported to the U.S. Villedieu is home to one of the few remaining old town squares in Provence, anchored at one end by an 11th century church built by the Knights Templar. We import their Cuvée des Templiers red and white and rose wines, named for the village's Templar associations. The red is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% each Carignan and Cinsault. It is on the lighter side but well balanced, with enough tannins to give it some depth to accompany food and have a good finish. The white is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, 20% Marsanne-Rousanne, and 10% Clairette. Those who like dessert wines know that 100% Clairettes are sweet, but blending with Clairette doesn't make a sweet wine — it adds additional body and depth to the whites. The rose is made from 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah, light but not too light, crisp yet not completely dry. Try it with mussels and shrimp and serve it with your Thanksgiving meal too.

Cave la Vinsobraise, Vinsobres

The Cave in Vinsobres is also a cooperative. Vinsobres is located near the peak of a very high, pointed hill, and provides south-facing slopes at higher altitudes that allow production of high-quality grapes. Because of this terrain and its reputation for quality, Vinsobres is the first village in the Drôme to receive a Cru designation for its wines. This is the highest designation available for villages and requires the producers to restrict the numbers of acres of production to maintain quality. While wines from Vinsobres are available throughout Europe, the Cave's wines have never been exported to the U.S. Pascal Monier, Director of the Cave, is the second generation of his family to run it -- he took over from his father and has been the driving force behind the AOC's awarding of cru status to Vinsobres.

We import one white and five reds from the Cave. Two of the reds are blends of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah: Cuvée Emeraude 2005, and the Cuvée Diamant Noir 2005. The Emeraude is made from grapes from vines at least 40 years old and restricted to years of better growing conditions. It is also aged for 12 months in wood and so has slight vanilla undertones. The Diamant Noir is made from grapes from vines at least 30 years old. Both have good fruit up front and a nice tannin/mineral finish. Cuvée Grenat 2007, made from 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah, while Cuvée Ambre 2008 is 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah. Both are a little lighter in body than the Diamant Noir and Emeraude, but with nearly the same richness and brighter fruit flavors. The 2007 Côtes du Rhône white is 50% Viognier, 20% White Grenache, and 30% Marsanne. 2007 was a great year for Côtes du Rhône wines, and Pascal Monier told us that the 2007 is the best white the Cave has ever produced.

The final First Vine selection from Cave la Vinsobraise is the Thérapius, a special-production wine that's 100% Syrah, rich, spicy, with a hint of tobacco. Truly something special!

Domaine de Montvac, Vacqueyras

Vacqueyras is a village in the Northern Vaucluse and has had Cru designation for more than 20 years. Domaine de Montvac is owned by Cécile Dussere, who represents the third generation of female ownership of the property (and since she has three daughters and no sons, there looks to be a fourth). The winery is named for the nearby Dentelles de Montmirail and the village of Vacqueyras. Mme. Dusserre is also the winemaker, producing Vacqueyras and Gigondas wines. Her husband, Phillipe Cartoux, manages the vineyard and owns and makes wine for an excellent winery of his own nearby, Domaine des Espiers. Montvac wines, like Mme. Dusserre herself, are fabulous. If you speak French, by all means stop by for a visit. She looks like the professional ballet dancer she trained to become, and she's knowledgeable, passionate about the wines, and fun above all. Plus, you'll get to drink spectacularly well.

First Vine is the first to bring Montvac wines to Washington, DC. We import four of her Vacqueyras wines. Montvac's 2005 Vacqueyras red is made from 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvèdre, and limited to vines at least 40 years old. The wine itself is aged in concrete. The two other Vacqueyras reds we carry are the 2003 and 2005 vintages of the Cuvée Vincila, a specially-blended red made from 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. They’re both aged in oak, and the higher percentage of Syrah gives them an intriguing depth of flavor. Finally, the Vacqueyras white is 40% Clairette, 40% Marsanne/Roussane, and 20% Bourboulenc. It is aged in oak and has a light citrus base with a subtle floral aroma. Mme. Dussere only produce the white in years of exceptional quality, and it goes equally well with entrees and desserts.

We’re also excited to carry Montvac’s 2003 and 2005 Gigondas reds, made from the same blend of grapes as the Vacqueyras reds, but grown on plots in Gigondas, the most prestigious appellation in the Southern Rhône valley after Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Gigondas reds are aged in oak, which helps to tame some of the leathery notes of the wine – but not so much as to make them disappear. As we said, fabulous; no other word will do!

Château de Clapier, Mirabeau

Located in the village of Mirabeau in the Luberon, this family vineyard was owned by the Marquis de Mirabeau until the French Revolution. The property was purchased in the 1880s by an ancestor of the current owner and winemaker, Thomas Montagne. The Côtes du Luberon is in the extreme southeastern part of the winemaking Rhône Valley, and Luberon wines are not as well known in the U.S. as Côtes du Rhônes (even with the publicity from a not-very-good movie with Russell Crowe about the region). Although Clapier was well-reviewed in the latest Guide Hachette, the winery has never before exported to the U.S. M. Montagne makes traditional Luberon wines along with new vintages outside of the traditional – and traditionally approved – formulations. We’re importing four wines: three are typical Côtes du Luberons – a white made from 60% Roussane, 30% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Clairette; a rose made from 60% Cinsault, 30% Grenache, and 10% Syrah; and a red called “Calligrappe” made from 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah. The white and rose are refreshing and also suitable for food pairings, while the Calligrappe is a medium-bodied red that stands up well to spicier foods. We’re also importing a new wine called “Cuvée Soprano” made from 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 20% Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir, not typically found in Luberon wines, gives more up-front ripe fruit flavors and adds additional softness to the finish. (By the way, the Soprano isn’t named for the TV show but for music -- another of M. Montagne’s new wines is called Cuvée Tessiture. And also for you Francophones, the name Clapier comes from a Provençal word for stone, a reflection of the terrain, and not the clapiers that hold chickens and rabbits!)

A few additional points: Because of its higher Grenache content than the typical Côtes du Rhônes red, the Calligrappe is a bit earthier than others. Since the white has less Clairette than other Rhônes whites, it is crisper, but still has the roundness of the other Rhônes whites – the Roussane that grows in the Luberon has some of the characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc without the grassy notes. The 2006 rose is mentioned in the 2008 Guide Hachette as being of excellent quality and well-balanced with a floral nose, a taste of citrus and a nice bit of acidity at the finish. But the Guide Hachette was particularly enthusiastic about the Soprano Rouge.

Cave la Romaine, Vaison la Romaine

Vaison la Romaine is a village in the Northern Vaucluse, and is home to a world-famous weekly market for foods and dry goods. If you’ve read any of Patricia Wells’s Provençal cookbooks, you’ve seen pictures of Vaison with its Roman ruins, ancient (and still used) Roman bridge, and breathtaking stone houses hanging on a cliff by the river. Vaison la Romaine’s cooperative winery produces Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Ventoux wines – the latter named for nearby Mont Ventoux (famous in the U.S. for the Tour de France). While similar in composition to Côtes du Rhônes, Ventoux wines are a bit lighter and brighter tasting. We’re importing three Ventoux wines new to the Washington, DC area: a Tradition Rose made from 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, a Tradition Rouge (red) made from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, and a Rouge Volupté also made from 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. The Tradition red is a wonderful sipping and apéro red that goes well with everyday food. The Volupté, as you might expect from the name, is richer and has a longer finish than the Tradition, making it an excellent wine for meats and roasted vegetables. The rose is a perfect accompaniment to shellfish – it particularly brings out their sweetness – and also your Thanksgiving turkey.

The Tradition red is a lot like the Templiers red – slightly lighter-bodied but with enough tannins to stand up to most food. It goes well with roast chicken and salmon like the Templiers. The Tradition rose is nearly like a white wine, except that it has a bit of tannins at the end that help it cut through heavier foods. The Volupte is richer than the Tradition.

Les Terrasses du Belvédère, Cairanne

Owned by Gérard and Nicole Julien, Belvédère is a family vineyard that has not previously exported to the U.S. The property is in the Vaucluse and boasts a view both of Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail – jagged limestone mountains with holes etched in them, named for their resemblance to lace. While Belvédère wines are labeled as traditional Côtes du Rhônes, M. Julien has developed a more fruit-forward balance to what are usually earthier red wines. The earthiness is still there, but there’s more of a ping of fruit flavor to start, particularly apparent in the Côtes du Rhône Villages Selection Vieilles Vignes (“Old Vines”) Rouge 2005. It’s made from 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, and 5% Cinsault and is a fine stand-alone wine that also pairs with foods needing that extra bit of fruit as accompaniment. We’re also carrying two other wines from the Juliens: a Côtes du Rhône white, made from 100% Clairette, a medium-bodied white that’s great with poultry and seafood; and the 2003 Côtes du Rhône Villages Cuvée Prestige, a wine that’s now growing into its roundness of flavors. Made from 80% Syrah, 15% Grenache, and 5% Mourvèdre, it’s a big-ish wine that wraps your tongue in a bath of deep fruit with a little spice, and finishes with just enough tannins to last – although you won’t be waiting too long until your next sip.

The Julien's reds have more up-front fruit than other Rhônes, perfect for people who are looking for more richness in their wines without too much fruit or alcohol. The white isn’t too rich, in spite of being 100% Clairette, and the aroma is really floral and lovely.

Cave TerraVentoux, Mormoiron

TerraVentoux was created in 2003 from the merger of two village cooperative wineries in the Côtes du Ventoux: Les Roches Blanches in Mormoiron and La Montagne Rouge in Villes-sur Auzon. These wineries had sold good wines in bulk to other entities for redistribution, but without their own identities. TerraVentoux has taken advantage of the clean slate to launch a line of wines designed to appeal to various tastes based on the older wineries’ good practices. The results are encouraging, and First Vine is the first in the DC area carrying their wines. We have six: an everyday TerraVentoux red and white Côtes du Ventoux; Terres de Truffes, a red wine created in tribute to the region’s truffle production; La Cavée red and white, two finer wines that are aged in oak barrels, and La Font Nouvelle, an organic red wine. The red wines are blends of Grenache and Syrah, and the whites are both 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Clairette.

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Vinsobres

Valérie Chaume-Arnaud started producing and bottling her wine with one very old press and six fermentation/aging tanks in 1996. Her parents had run the vineyard until then, but sold their grapes to the local cooperative wineries in Vinsobres and St. Maurice sur Eygues. Valérie decided to make her own wines and was a pioneer in chemical-free grape production. She expanded the business in 1999, along with the help of her husband, Phillipe. Together, they produce a range of excellent wines from everyday to more elegant, from wines Valérie calls “tres françaises” to some of the finest wines in the region using no added yeast and manual harvesting. Her reputation for quality production is so esteemed that she was able to secure a special designation from the AOC authorities when Vinsobres was elevated to cru status in 2005, and was the only producer in Vinsobres to be honored in that way. Although her wines are produced with 100% organic grapes, she has not yet decided to apply for organic certification.

First Vine is the first importer to bring Chaume-Arnaud wines to the DC area. We import two of her “tres françaises” everyday reds, Le Petit Coquet (40% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, and 20% Carignan) and Granges Rouges (100% Grenache), as well as two of her richer reds: the Vinsobres 2005 (60% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Cinsault, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% Carignan) and La Cadène 2000 Rouge (a blend of 50% Grenache, 50% Syrah). We’re especially pleased to offer her La Cadène Blanc (50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier), a white wine unlike any other in the Southern Rhône Valley – truly a treat!

Domaine Fond Croze, St. Roman de Malegarde

Domaine Fond Croze is the culmination of the work of three generations of the Long Family. Charles Long first purchased the land after returning from World War I. His son, Raymond, expanded the vineyards once he started full-time in the business. Today, his sons Bruno (the winemaker) and Daniel (the vineyard manager) produce wine at Domaine Fond Croze, which Raymond, Bruno, and Daniel began officially in 1997. It’s truly a family business – any and all of the family is likely to be at the cave when you go to visit. If you’re really lucky, Bruno will take you up to the loft and you can try some of the Syrah right from the barrel. The Longs produce a wide range of wines from Vin du Pays Principaute Orange to Côtes du Rhône Villages.

First Vine is the first importer to bring Fond Croze wines to the DC area. We import a great everyday Merlot (don’t believe everything you hear at the movies!), the Cuvée Confidence Côtes du Rhône white (50% Grenache Blanc, 50% Viognier) and red (70% Grenache, 30% Syrah), the Cuvée Vincent de Catari Côtes du Rhône Villages red (70% Grenache, 30% Syrah), and two other special red cuvées: Romanaise (50% Grenache, 50% Syrah), and Shyrus (100% Syrah). These last three are aged in oak. The Catari is made from the oldest vines, while the Romanaise and the Shyrus are bolder because of their higher proportions of Syrah.

Domaine la Croix des Marchands/Château Palvié, Montans (Gaillac)

The village of Montans was a crossroad for the pottery trade from Roman times. It was also an important area for wine production, and the wine amphoras produced in the area (and presumably filled with local wine) have been found as far away as Northern Scotland and Southern Spain. The village is part of the Gaillac AOC in the Tarn. Jerome Bézios produces wines under two labels: Domaine la Croix des Marchands, a tribute to the traveling merchants of the past, and Château Palvié, a subsection of the property named for the owners prior to the French Revolution. First Vine is the first importer to bring M. Bézios’s wines to the U.S.

Gaillac wines fall into two categories: The area’s terrain and soil support both local grape varietals and Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. M. Bézios focuses on the locals: Mauzac (the region’s oldest grape varietal), Muscadelle, and Loin de l’oeil for whites and Duras and Braucol as the base of the red wines, along with Syrah. Duras provides the structure and some of the earthier flavors, while Braucol provides color, fruit flavors, and spice. Mauzac can take on multiple characteristics depending on the vinification, and is found in both spicy dry whites and sweet dessert wines.

First Vine imports five of M. Bézios’s wines, including a dry white, the Gaillac Blanc Sec 2006 (50% Mauzac, 50% Muscadelle) and two reds: a Gaillac Rouge (equal parts Syrah, Duras, and Braucol), and Les Secrets du Château Palvié 2002 (100% Syrah). We’re also importing a dessert white (Les Secrets du Château Palvié Doux 2002, made from 50% Muscadelle and 50% Loin de l’oeil), and a sparkling demi-sec “Methode Gaillacoise” that is 100% Mauzac.

Domaine de Mairan, Puisserguier

Domaine de Mairan is located on the site of an ancient Roman villa, and the property was also the birthplace and home of Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan, the celebrated 17th century physician, mathematician, philosopher, and academic. Jean-Baptiste Peitavy, the winemaker, is the seventh generation owner of Domaine de Marian, and took over production from his father and grandfather, who was the first winemaker in the region to introduce single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines. Today, the vineyard is frequently listed in the Guide Hachette and sells wine to restaurants throughout France. First Vine is the first importer to bring Domaine de Mairan wines to the U.S.

Jean-Baptiste’s grandfather decided to break with the traditional Languedoc grape varietals, and Jean-Baptiste has continued refining the wines to strike a balance between rusticity and elegance, using Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and of course, Cabernet Franc. We import three of his wines: a crisp 100% Chardonnay aged in steel, a rosé made from 70% Grenache and 30% Merlot, and an oak-aged 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that strikes a balance between a full-bodied red wine and one with slightly less alcohol than you'd find in new-world Cabs.

Château Milon, Salleboeuf (Bordeaux)

Château Milon is named for the castle on whose former land the present-day vineyard is located, halfway between the cities of Bordeaux and St. Emilion. The first buildings constructed on the vineyard property were built by 18th century monks, who also planted the first grapevines. Although the monks left the property by the end of the 19th century, Castle Milon was still the site of religious pilgrimages. The vineyard was purchased by the family of Gustave Eiffel in the early 20th century, and the family replanted the vineyard, which was subsequently divided and sold in 1950. Château Milon became the property of Henriette Majou de La Débutrie and her two children in 1987. In 2003, her son, Gérald Majou de La Débutrie, gave up his career as an engineer and took over as winemaker and manager to restore the Château’s illustrious wine heritage (Gustave Eiffel was himself a lover of fine wines). Gérald uses organic farming methods and the best of old and modern techniques, and puts part of his family’s coat-of-arms on the labels. First Vine is the first to bring these wines to the DC area.

We met Gérald through the wonders of electronic social and business networking. He contacted us when Tom was in France on a buying trip, and they arranged to have samples sent for Tom to try the night before his departure. Picture a brightly-lit yet dingy airport hotel room, complete with furniture bolted to the walls, transformed by an impromptu picnic of cheese, bread, apples, chocolate, and of course wine.

And marvelous wines they are. First Vine imports two of them: The Bordeaux Blanc is 50% Muscadelle, 45% Sémillon, and 5% Sauvignon Blanc. It’s aged in oak and has a crisp apricot flavor with a nice acidic finish. The Bordeaux Supérieur Rouge is 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Malbec. A beautiful red, it has it all – great fruit, complexity, long finish.

Champagne Bernard Mante, Trélou-sur-Marne (Champagne)

With a vineyard located between Château Thierry and Epernay in the Champagne region, Bernard Mante is an independent producer making seven varieties of champagne. He approaches the cultivation of grapes and winemaking in a way that produces superior product with the least possible ecological consequences, and was a pioneer in planting between vine rows to control erosion and fertilize the soil as well as what has come to be known as integrated pest management. An avid gardener as well, he applies the same care to his garden. The results are spectacular for both.

First Vine is the only U.S. importer of Bernard Mante champagnes, through a happy bit of circumstance. Bernard’s cousin is the father of Tom’s French teacher. And although Tom couldn’t make it up to Champagne to try the selections initially, Bernard sent samples to the cousin (and French teacher’s father) in Southern France, who met Tom one afternoon in a parking lot off a highway exit (where people appear to meet for, ahem, short stays). The handoff took place without incident. Christianne, Bernard’s wife, is an English teacher who spent time in the U.S., which means that Tom has to use his pathetic French less. A bonus all around!

We import four Bernard Mante champagnes: Brut, Extra-Brut, Brut Grande Reserve, and Rosé. Champagne is made from three different grapes, the Pinot Meunier, which gives fruitiness, Pinot Noir, providing the body and structure, and Chardonnay for elegance and finesse. Each of the individual champagnes is a blend of these grapes to varying extents. Because of the climate of the Champagne region, champagne can be acidic, and it’s a tribute to careful winemaking that provides the results here -- beautiful balance, small bubbles, and a delightful flavor and finish.

Meridiana Wine Estate, Ta' Qali, Malta

Wine from Malta? Absolutely! But while most Maltese wines are made from table grapes, Meridiana Wine Estate produces wine from world-class international varietals. The company was founded in 1987 by Mark Miceli-Farrugia, a wine trader, and began with experiments to determine the best varietals for the local soil and climate. In 1992, Marchese Piero Antinori became a partner in the venture, bringing the expertise and institutional heft of his family's winemaking experience to firmly establish Meridiana as a winemaking company. The aim was, and is, to make high-quality wines that show the mark of Malta’s unique soil and climate.

The estate lies on land that was used by the British Royal Air Force as a base in the Second World War, in Malta's agricultural heartland. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot were planted in 1994 and 1995, and the first limited harvests took place in 1995 and 1996. The wines were an immediate success, and production has increased each year since then. First Vine is the first importer to bring Meridiana's wines to the U.S.

Meridiana's Isis Chardonnay is named for the Phoenician goddess of sailors. The wine is crisp and fruity, perfect as an aperitif, yet substantial enough to stand up to the foods you typically serve with whites, including fish and seafood, poultry, and cheeses. The Melqart is named for the Phoenician god of sailors, and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a wonderful wine with meats and robust cheeses. Both are truly unique!

Les Vignerons de Tutiac, Marcillac (Bordeaux), France

Tutiac wines are made at two different cooperative wineries in the Bordeaux wine region: La Cave des Hauts de Gironde and les Caves d'Alliance-Bourg. La Cave les Hauts de Gironde is the newest cooperative winery in the Aquitaine, created in 1974. It has gained a reputation for exceptional quality in white wines, for technological advancement in equipment and innovation in cultivation. Les Caves d'Alliance-Bourg was created in 1936 and has focused more on the traditional wines of the region. The company is named for the Tuitac Chapel, constructed in 1234 on a nearby hill and dedicated to Notre Dame de Verdot.

Les Vignerons de Tutiac is probably the largest producer from whom we import wines. While the company exports worldwide, First Vine is pleased to be the only U.S. importer of Quintet, a 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It's a light-bodied, crisp wine with great acidity and the aroma and flavor of grapefruit.

Bodegas Fusión, Peñafiel, Spain

Bodegas Fusión was created in 2007. The winery is a collaboration between two established Spanish companies: Rutas de Vino – Vintage Spain, a travel agency specialized in wine and food tourism and Bodega Histórica Don Carlos S.XV, a long time wine distribution company and vinoteca. Cristina Alonso and Fernando Ortiz have combined their experience in the wine industry to create a company that produces exceptional wines. They are made in Peñafiel, in the heart of Ribera del Duero, using 100% Tempranillo grapes from the best old vineyards, and aged in an old cellar from the XV century in Aranda de Duero. First Vine is the first importer to bring these wines to the Washington, DC area. The Lara O Crianza 2006 is made from grapes on vines that are at least 40 years old. The wine is aged 12 months in oak, then 12 months in the bottle. It has a little toastiness from the oak, and a gutsy, remarkable body that has ultra-ripe fruits, woodsiness, and a little tobacco. The Lara O Special Selection 2006 is made from grapes on vines that are at least 60 years old. It’s aged in oak for 14 months for extra smoothness, great red and black fruit flavors, and just enough tannins to create a great finish.
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