Under normal circumstances when France’s largest wine producer Castel is releasing a new wine range on top of its sizable production, it’s hardly the news that will make you jump out of your seat, except nothing about Castel’s ‘Séries Limitées’ range is normal.
Known for its vast output of affordable wines, it might sound like an oxymoron that the French wine powerhouse is dialing back volume on a new release. True to its name though, ‘The Séries Limitées’ range initially comprised of three wines has only a mere production between 1500 and 5000 bottles each depending on vintage. The three wines are comprised of a Pézenas from Languedoc, a Gigondas and a Condrieu from Rhone Valley.
To put it in perspective just to understand what the small production meant for Castel. The French wine giant owns over 20 vineyards in all major French wine regions, and sells about 4.6 billion bottles a year, while producing 640 million bottles of wine annually.
The limited range aptly called Séries Limitées from Maison Castel – the more premium end of Castel’s wine division that focuses on diversity of French terroir – therefore looks like a renegade.
HAUTE COUTURE WINE
One thing for sure is that it’s not an overnight sensation.
Castel’s long-time chief winemaker Cedric Jenin has been prodding the project along since 2016, scouting vineyards and inking partnership with esteemed local vignerons before officially launching the wines in 2019.
Jenin, a Burgundian who had worked over 20 years in Languedoc and chief winemaker at Castel since 2005, would tell me with strong conviction that the wines are what he hails as “Haute Couture” with top-of-range quality and craftsmanship.
It took 20 Castel oenologists with specialist regional expertise and 8 partner-oenologists in the production regions working on a daily basis in the vineyards and winemaking facilities to craft the wines, according to the winery.
Spoken of in the highest echelon of Castel’s wine collections, restauranteurs from fine dining establishments eager to find novelties took note. The wines are being poured at some of Asia’s finest restaurants including Singapore’s Odette, ranked No.8 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and various Michelin-starred restaurants in Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
With eyes fixed on on-trade consumption, Jenin explained on the strategy, “the best way to highlight the quality of the wine is to pair it with fine dishes. That’s why we want to be represented on the best tables around the world, and we know gastronomic restaurants are the best ambassadors for wine. They are the places of emotions and sharings, so it’s logical for us.”
As fine dining restaurants heeded, reviews matched. Both the inaugural 2018 vintage of Condrieu and 2017 Gigondas earned 97 points, respectively at Decanter World Wine Awards, while the 2017 Pézenas was awarded 96 points.
“We know very well the terroir of Languedoc, and we are interested in smaller appellation business which brings us exactly what we expect: freshness, fineness and elegance,” Jenin says, commenting on the wines.
The wines are presented as chapters, the winemaker explains, as a way to allow the specific terroirs and local vignerons to “write” for themselves.
The first wine in the range or Chapter I zoomed in on Pézenas in Languedoc, the heartland for Castel’s wine operation. Located on the coastal plains between Narbonne in the west, Montpellier in the center and Nîmes in the east, the climate at Pézenas is distinctly Mediterranean, with long, hot summers and relatively mild winters helping to bring the grapes to full phenolic ripeness.
Jenin selected parcels from two domaines with what he believes to be “complementary terroirs”. The first is more arid, producing “concentrated, deeply coloured wines”, and the other is later ripening, on clay-limestone soil, lending a more elegant touch to the final wine.
Grapes are a mixture of organic and HVE- certified grapes with vine age up to 65 years old. The resulting wine, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Carignan is deep, intense and powerful. And as for pairing with Asian cuisine, the acidity and juicy tannins in the wine will match nicely with mid spicy slaty dishes, or meat cooked in black bean sauces, or even Chinese hot pot, says Jenin.
The second wine Chapter II turned a focus on Gigondas. As Jenin tells me it was a project born out of love after he fell head over heels with a specific 7 ha parcel of organically-grown vineyards in Dentelles de Montmirail. Situated 300 meters above sea level, highest in the area, it is blessed with a unique micro-climate where the limestone peaks create a shady corridor of cooler air and the lush green vegetation protects the vines from excessive sun.
A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Shiraz, the fleshy red with plenty of floral notes will prove to be a chameleon when pairing with Chinese dishes. Be it with traditional cuisine from Sichuan or festive staples like peking duck or braised beef, the wine will stand up to the dishes’ potent flavours, says Jenin. But most interestingly, as he adds is that dark chocolate and the Gigondas will also be a winning combo.
From Gigondas, Jenin moved northwards to Condrieu where Séries Limitées’ Chapter III was created. For this wine, he chose four similar, designated terroirs – Peyrolland, La Ribaudy, Boissey and La Côte – from Domaine Faury and Domaine Cuilleron in the commune of Chavanay.
Domaine Faury’s 3.5 ha vineyard lends the wine with freshness and elegance, while Domaine Cuilleron’s wine aged in new barrels brings heft and density.
Aged for over 15 months, the 100% Viognier shows stone fruit and pear with hints of jasmine, violet and ginger. Smooth and generous, there’s no shortage of freshness and complexity. When it comes to pairing, the seasoned winemaker sees synergy between the wine and Thai cuisine, where the additions of ginger, coconut, spices in their cooking will gently compliment the richness and texture in the wine.
Asked if there are more wines in the pipeline, Jenin revealed that the range will soon see a new addition of Chapter IV highlighting terroir from Collioure located in the Mediterranean coast of Roussillon district in southern France.
At the same time, Chablis and Côte Rôtie will also get its due attention. Séries Limitées’s first Chablis premier cru 2020 has just been bottled and will become available this summer, followed by a Côte Rôtie next year.
But rest assured, that’s far from the end.
“We have been trying to diversity as much as possible on all French terroirs, and we are prospecting everywhere. We are thinking of Loire valley, Burgundy, and we are thinking of new ways to age the wine as well. We bought terracotta jars,” says Jenin, pausing before adding, “We are always looking for new ideas.”