Wine cooperatives are underrated – discuss.
I’ve never quite understood the slightly negative view of buying wine made by a co-operative. These are wineries jointly owned by vine-growers, grape-growers, vignerons, farmers, whatever you like to call them, which produce wine from the area in which their vines are situated. Over half of all French wine is made by co-operatives. It seems to me to make a great deal of sense to pool resources with your neighbours to buy expensive equipment, some of which is only needed for a couple of weeks a year, and to be able to employ a qualified, often well-travelled and experienced wine-maker to do a job you may not be quite so skilled at as you are at growing grapes. Sourcing grapes from a larger area than one or two plots of land also gives options unavailable to the individual wine producer. This is very much in evidence in the diverse range of Cellier des Dauphins in the Rhône Valley along with a new aim to highlight specific appellations and producers.
Cellier des Dauphins was founded over fifty years ago, a brand created by the Union des Vignerons des Côtes du Rhône which is today one of the biggest co-operatives in France with over 2300 growers and 12500 hectares of vines to work with. Cellier des Dauphins is well-known in the UK for its distinctive Les Dauphins labelling, unusual bottle shape and great value for money. The white, I should add, should not be overlooked – a fresh and crisp 70/30 blend of Grenache Blanc and aromatic Viognier – a Decanter Silver medal winner and only £8 a bottle.
The hot-of-the-press recently launched Réserve range is equally good value. Only £9.95 in the UK, both the red and the white possess lovely balance and texture from lees ageing and the merest hint of oak, and an easy drinkability and fruity style which punch above their price point. The red was awarded 97 points and a Platinum medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2019 which is truly going some for a wine retailing at under a tenner. Some people say a wine needs a story behind it; well, this one will sell instead on its clear labelling, its impressive medal, its characteristic embossed bottle and its seductive price for palate pleasure. Buy it from Exel Wines.
If you need a story, Cellier des Dauphins is working with 5 different growers each owning a large vineyard area in a specific village. The wine is not made solely from their own vineyards but they are represented on the label and will market the wine around the world. The two I tasted, Côtes du Rhône Villages, Plan de Dieu and Côtes du Rhône Villages Puyméras, are represented by Matthieu and Laury respectively. The garrigue aromas on the Plan De Dieu (you know, that thyme, lavender, rosemary smell you notice in the South of France which makes you want to immediately upsticks and live in that very spot forever) was beautifully pronounced so it didn’t really matter what the wine tasted like – I was going to like it. And I did. Rich and concentrated with lush black fruit and a soft spicy finish. Matthieu and his mates have done a fine job. The Puyméras was a very different wine despite the grape blend being almost identical – 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre – but the sites are higher at up to 600m and therefore cooler. The wine was more cherry flavoured with dusty tannins and an elegant smoothness. Check out Laury on the label – I’m saying nothing.
Cellier des Dauphins has given the wine a personality, a person behind the wine and on the front of the label. For me though the real story is about people working together to make a great product and that includes the winemaker who refers to these wine growers as his bosses. There is another story about the village of Puyméras and an explanation as to its relative obscurity in the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations. I was told that this was an area of olive groves until a frost hit so severely in the March of 1956 that the temperature dropped 20 degrees and more in an afternoon, freezing the sap in the trees from which they never recovered. Many olive farmers planted vines instead and thus a new wine village was created. So there’s another story.
From named village level to Cru des Côtes du Rhône and here I tasted four from Cellier des Dauphins. The two I was most impressed by were the Cairanne, the most recent village to upgrade to AOC, and the Vinsobres. Again two completely different wines: the Cairanne all black cherry aromas, rich, velvety tannins and mouth-watering acidity and the Vinsobres dark, concentrated and grippy, a wine that has the potential for ageing while all the others I’ve mentioned are perfect for drinking now. Grenache, which is the principal grape of the region for the reds, doesn’t necessary improve with ageing and certainly this isn’t what Cellier des Dauphins is looking to achieve. They are, for the most part, making wines to be enjoyed within a couple of years of release which actually suits most wine drinkers around the world, too.
What this tasting confirms is that there is great value wine at every level but, even more important, passion and care in the vineyards, individuals who are working to make a living as well as make quality wine (the two don’t always go hand in hand). The relatively new winemaker, Laurent Paré, has experience of working in many wine areas around the world and he brings with him his knowledge and dedication to ensuring his ‘bosses’ have a product on the market for which everyone can be proud. And so they should be.