In a recent tasting of Vacqueras and appellations alike I came across the above 2 wines. These are all from the Southern Rhone in France, one of my favorite areas. They can be a combination of 6 to 8 different varietals but mostly syrah, grenache, cinsault,and mouvedre.
Located a short distance from Avignon, these two appellations are very close to each other, easily amenable to visit by car in a same afternoon.Their relationship couldn’t be much different in distance than say, Carneros versus Calistoga in the Napa area. As you can see from the photos the wines were both young and both from what are already considered “powerful” vintages.
This tasting provided what I considered as close to a controlled experiment as one would ever come in observing differences in wines.
The Beaume de Venise wa a decidedly lighter wine, with a thinner structure, lighter fruit, and more acidic character. It had the nose and flavors of the area but gave a more subtle expression of the Southern Rhone. By comparison, the Vacqueras was a bigger wine, with bigger depth and more flavors. When we polled the participants in the tasting they all agreed that the former was a “thin” wine, and the latter a better structured expression of the region.
Here’s the catch: the varietal composition of both wines was identical: 70% grenache, 25% syrah, 5% mouvedre.
Now wait a minute! Two wines from appellations within virtually a bike riding distance from each other, both young, both from similarly powerful years, and both with identical varietal compositions that tasted so radically different?!
To me the experience was a nearly pure expression of terroir. Beaume de Venise is a lesser terroir than Vacqueras (growers in that region might disagree with me, but on our end as consumers this is unquestionably true). My suspicion is that the difference in the two wines had to do with the different expression of grenache, the main ingredient of both in the different soils of the region.
Those of us who drink domestic wines care precious little about terroir and focus on varietals. Winemakers cater to this demand by producing predictable varietals across different geographic regions. Here is a European example, reasonably well controlled for other variables, in the radical difference terroir can make with exactly the same varietals.
The lesson from the experience is one that I have often repeated in this blog: don’t focus on individual bottle labels but tune your palate to apellations. Those you like will deliver predictably over good and bad vintages, and be a guide through unfamiliar and intimidating territory such as restaurant wine lists. To me Vacqueras is on the top 5 list of my favorite apellations. Beaumes de Venise is off my radar screen. Based on this tasting, nothing will change.