Wines from Domaine Brusset in the southern Rhône Valley: Gigondas, Rasteau, Cairanne | Britt on Forbes

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From the many villages in the southern Rhône Valley comes a steady stream of delicious wines in all price ranges. Southern Rhône is located in Provence, and the landscape and climate are different from the Northern Rhône. In the southern Rhône, you have olive trees and lavender. The wines are made with grenache and taste warm, ripe fruit and herbal spices. We have tasted wines from Domaine Brusset, a family estate with vineyards in some of the famous Southern Rhône villages, Gigondas, Rasteau and their home village of Cairanne.

The southern Rhône Valley is large. The Côtes du Rhône, the extensive overall appellation, is almost 40,000 hectares. If you want a more defined origin, you look for a cru. A cru is a village that has its own appellation, such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Beaumes-de-Venise.

This is a longer version of an article published on Forbes.com.

I recently met Laurent Brusset, the fourth generation at Domaine Brusset in Cairanne. In 2016, this village became the 17th cru village in the Rhône Valley. The producers were very pleased. Laurent is president of the Cairanne Growers’ Association (Syndicat des Vignerons de Cairanne) and he assures me that it was worth the trouble.

Laurent Brusset, owner-winemaker at Domaine Brusset in southern Rhône, Cairanne
Laurent Brusset, owner-winemaker at Domaine Brusset in southern Rhône, Cairanne, copyright BKWine Photography

Domaine Brusset sold its grapes to the cooperative until 1947. They left the cooperative and became one of the first private wine producers in Cairanne. “From the beginning, we had six hectares and also olive trees, apricot and cherry trees,” says Laurent.

He studied oenology and started working with his father and grandfather at 21. Now he is 53 years old and has made 32 harvests. He learned a lot from working with the older generations, he says, things that you do not learn in school, such as what to do when you have a stuck fermentation, for example.

Today, Domaine Brusset has 70 hectares of vineyards divided into five different appellations: Cairanne, Gigondas, Rasteau, Côtes-du-Rhône and Ventoux. “Four generations have developed the property. Our strength is that we own everything,” says Laurent. “We make wine from different appellations, but everything is our own vineyards.” The yield is small, 30–35 hectolitres per hectare, and the harvest is manual. Laurent always uses natural yeast. It makes a difference, he says.

Laurent’s father started early to export the wines. Today, just over 60% of production is exported to the USA, Canada and almost all of Europe. He thinks it is good to sell to many different countries, not put all the eggs in one basket.

Cairanne

His white wine from Cairanne has been a great success. The wine is Cairanne blanc Les Travers 2020 and the grapes are clairette, grenache blanc, roussanne and viognier. The wine is flavourful and full of character, quite full-bodied with apricot and floral aromas (12 euros). Laurent ages the wine for one year, partly in demi-muid (600-liter oak barrels) and partly in stainless steel tanks. He makes 20,000 bottles a year, 10% of his total production.

Malolactic fermentation takes place naturally; Laurent does not add lactic acid bacteria. It is a good thing to do the malolactic also for whites, he says, because it stabilises the wine.

Only 5% of the Cairanne wines are white. The reds dominate.

Cairanne blanc Les Travers 2020, Rhone Valley
Cairanne blanc Les Travers 2020, Domaine Brusset,Rhone Valley, copyright BKWine Photography

Cairanne rouge Vieilles Vignes 2020, Domaine Brusset is made with 80-year-old vines of grenache and syrah from a poor and rocky soil. 80% of the wine is aged in a steel tank, and the rest in old 500-litre barrels. The wine has a good structure and spicy aromas; it is elegant with a nice, smooth finish.

Cairanne becomes cru

Cairanne was a famous village long before 2016. “We have many front runners”, says Laurent, “Marcel Richaud, not least.” But also many other prominent names that have given the wines from Cairanne a good reputation and a high and consistent level of quality.

As president of the growers’ association, Laurent guided the district through all the administration required to become a cru. The association has 122 members of various kinds: cooperatives, grape growers, private producers, small and big. When I talk to Laurent, I understand that it is important to be diplomatic.

The Cairanne symbol moulded on a wine bottle from the village in the Cotes du Rhone
The Cairanne symbol moulded on a wine bottle from the village in the Cotes du Rhone, copyright BKWine Photography

“You have to respect everyone,” he points out. “The whole process took nine years,” he continues. INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality that overseas all French appellations) sent commissions of experts and geologists to inspect and analyse the soil. When they were done, another commission came and started all over.” Anyhow, in 2016, the cru status was a fact. Now the producers can put Cairanne AOP on the label instead of the lengthy Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Cairanne.

The regulations had to be changed. The rules are now stricter. Manual harvesting is a requirement, and chemical herbicides are prohibited. Permissible sulphite levels were lowered and are now at the same level as organic wines.

Côtes du Rhône rouge Laurent B, 2020, Domaine Brusset

Laurent makes 60,000 bottles of this delicious and affordable Côtes du Rhône where 60% grenache is blended with carignan and mourvèdre. The style is relatively light, with pleasant fruit aromas and good length. It is refreshing and easy-drinking. It has been aged in a tank for six months before bottling. (8.50 euros)

Rasteau rouge La Bastide 2020, Domaine Brusset

Rasteau La Bastide comes from a three-hectare vineyard, with a bastide (house) in the middle of the vineyard. Rasteau is a village also known for its sweet wine doux naturel wines. Here, grenache ripens easily. Laurent blends 50% grenache with 50% mourvèdre, an unusual blend in Rasteau. Mourvèdre is not as alcoholic, he says, so the wine becomes more balanced and digestible.

His grandfather loved mourvèdre, and he is the one who planted these vines, now old and precious. Mourvèdre ripens late, so it needs nice and warm autumn weather. “But it’s an interesting grape to work with,” says Laurent. The wine stays for ten months, partly in tank and partly in larger oak barrels. It is powerful with a taste of liquorice, dark fruit and herbs, and tannins that give structure. (16 euros)

Southern Rhone Valley wines from Domaine Brusset, Cairanne, Rasteau, Gigondas
Southern Rhone Valley wines from Domaine Brusset, Cairanne, Rasteau, Gigondas, copyright BKWine Photography

Gigondas rouge Les Hauts de Montmirail 2020, Domaine Brusset

Gigondas is the most famous village in the southern Rhône after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with which it is often compared. The grapes in Les Hauts de Montmirail are 50% grenache and 25% each of mourvèdre and syrah. The vineyards are on terraced slopes with southern exposure along the Dentelles de Montmirail, the mighty limestone massif.

The skin contact lasts for 30 days, and then the wine is aged in partly new oak barrels. The fruit is delicious with a warm feeling, typical of the region, black pepper and soft tannins. There’s some roundness at the finish and balanced oak flavours. (28 euros)

Gigondas rouge Les Secrets de Montmirail 2020, Domaine Brusset

Les Secrets de Montmirail is one of Laurent’s top wines. He only makes 3000 bottles. Here, too, the vines are on terraced slopes, shaded in the afternoon, which alleviates the heat of summer. With this wine, Laurent wants to show the best of grenache (with a bit of help from syrah). It is a superb wine with intensity and concentration. You get a sensation of ripe fruit on the nose, but it is still very fresh, and the fact that only 30% has been aged in oak – the rest in stainless steel – underscores the fresh fruit aromas and the herbal spices. The wine is complex but still easily accessible. (41 euros)

Listed prices are for purchases on the estate.

The Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the Rhone Valley
The Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the Rhone Valley, copyright BKWine Photography

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