Posted by: jmbwineblog | October 9, 2011

Under the Radar (Les Vins des Hautes-Alpes du Mollard).

When I first made my way to revisit the family residences in France, you may remember that I found an unknown and unloved wine/grape variety called Mollard and may even remember that I recommended trying the wines or searching out for them if you ever make it down to the French Alps, and in particular Gap and the surrounding areas. You may also remember that I said that I would visit arguably the best producer in the region and let you know what it was like to visit them.

Well, that is exactly what I did…

The Winery with a mountaindrop background.


Mollard, is the native grape from the Hautes-Alpes Department in France, and evidence of its long heritage in the region, can be found in the writings of Guyot in his magnum opus with relation to viticulture and vinification. At the time he speaks highly of Mollard, which at the time took up roughly 140 hectares in the environs of Gap, Tallard, Theus, Espinasses, Embrun and a few other areas. The grape is a variety that likes sunlight (of which this area being part of the PACA region has plenty), altitude (we are in the mountains) and it ripens much later than your normal vitis vinifera varieties. This combination is perhaps a reason why the grape variety is on the verge of dissappearing but for the efforts of two men (to whom I will come to shortly). The vines are grown in the Goblet style which is prevalent in the Southern Rhone which isn’t too far away. Today there are probably only 40 hectares of Mollard still planted, and half of these are abandoned being tended to when found by local co-ops, or slowly being purchased by the two main growers of the grape in the region. Other than small new plantings on a low scale, there is not a single vine that is used in wine currently on the market that is less than 40 years old. With some vines well over 100 years old. This is old vine country in extremis.

Le Mollard (one month from full maturity).

Domaine Allemand & Domaine Petit Aout

The two main partners in crime when it comes to wine made from 100% Mollard are in effect the same operation. Marc Allemand is the proprietor of Domaine Allemand, and Yann de Agostini is the wine-maker here. Yann also has his own vines and makes wines from these under his own label. All the wines are made at Domaine Allemand in Theus, although their vines are spread out in various different areas throughout the region. Being mountainess, there are distinct terroir distinctions, but for me the biggest difference between the two is a combination of vine age, and terroir. Yann’s vines are younger than Marc’s, but they are made in identical ways. These two men believe strongly in the potential of these wines (which have a bad reputation because the old winemakers picked grapes based on general thoughts of harvest times, rather than on full phenolic ripeness). Good winemakers, even those who don’t grow Mollard in the region understand this, and the wines are coming on in leaps and bounds. They are going back to how these wines were made hundreds of years ago. These two are also fighting with the authorities to have wines made from 100% Mollard given their own AOC (at present all wines are Vin de Pays des Hautes-Alpes or Indication Geographique Protege Hautes-Alpes). Most Mollard is used in blends, and thus these are the only two domaines who have wines that would thus be allowed.

Yann with some of the Muscat a Petit Grains Vines

Wine-Making Style

Yann likes to be as hands off as possible, in an attempt to allow the grapes and the terroir to shine, whether the wine be a blend, a single variety or a sparkling wine that they are experimenting with. Everything is harvested by hand from mainly Calcium and Limestone soils of which 4 to 5 hectares are Yann’s and 12 hectares are Marc’s. They have recently replanted some plots that historically grew grapes, with the Muscats now at 5 years of age, and the Merlot, Mollard and Chardonnay just in their third year. Everything else is a minimum of 40 years of age, with some vines over 100 years going into the Vieilles Vignes Cuvees.

The Fermentation tanks, with moveable lids.

The fermentations are temperature controlled to 10 or 12 degrees, with natural yeasts used, no pumping over or punch downs for the reds, with the hat, Carbon dioxide, alcohol and fruit levels used to protect against oxidisation. The wines are matured in the tanks, except for a little bit of old wood from Meursault used on some of the prestige Merlot and Mollards. They do not like the taste of oak, and try to avoid it. Everything is done by gravity when things need to be moved, and only a tiny amount of sulphur is used post fermentation. Malolactics take place at their own rate in the vessals being used for maturation.

The extent of the wood, all old... 6 barrels!!

The estate makes one sparkling wine, but another will soon come on to the production line as well. Domaine Marc Allemand have a blanc made from juice taken out of Chardonnay and Muscat, and is made using the traditional method or champagne method and everything is done by hand.

Yann with his Sparkling blanc resting on its lees! All hand spun!

The sparkling wine that will be released soon is some early run-off from the Domaine Petit Aout Rose. It is to some extent and experiment, but one that will produce some interesting results. The wine is still eggy at present having tried a mid-secondary fermentation bottle but there is lovely fruit charactar and purity to the wine. Although it is a wine that technically is a traditional method wine, Yann is following the Provencal method, where the wine is fermented to a higher degree primarily than in Champagne, and gaining less spritz with more ripeness to the sparkler. Perhaps this means that there is less need for dosage when the wine is finished, but the wine already has more body that the whites! The grape is 100% Mollard.

Discussing the bottle before opening it up for a taste!

The Domaine also makes eau de vie from various fruits, and they are also available from the shop attached to the winery, where we would taste through a number of the wines. These are also of a high quality, as many top quality fruits are planted in the area as well.

Fruits fermenting away to be distilled into Eau de Vie.

The Wines

I have tasted a number of bottles from both these producers prior to the visit and as such, I will add these to the tasting note section, and will also add some notes from tastings held after the visit from bottles that Yann gave to me to taste.

At home…

2010 Vieilles Vignes Cepage Mollard, Domaine Marc Allemand, IGP Hautes-Alpes: perfumed, red plum, strawberry, rose, rosewater. Soil, earth, rocks, poised and fresh, some tannic structure, and vibrant acidity. Well balanced, restrained and slightly herby. Pebble stones and sand, a bit of escargot and basil. Rosemary, herbs, nice black plum and earth coming through with more time in the glass. The finish is long, subtle and restrained. Focused, delineated, but with structure and balance. You could see this ageing for at least 5 years. Bramble, forest fruits, clearly not as rich as 2009s, but with more refinement, balance, delicate and elegant, with more old vine charactar. This is high quality, but needs a lot of time for one to sit and contemplate, what this is all about. It grows and slowly reveals more of its subtle charactar. Hints of chocolate and blueberries. A slight touch of wood spice but it will integrate well in time. This is all about the minerality. The soil, the earth, where this wine comes from and the unknown grape that produces it. Mint, eucalyptus, and even a tiny hint of bell pepper giving a vegetal lift to the finish and keeps it all from being fruit driven. Kernal. A touch of expresso pops in here and there, but is very subtle and hidden as you start to wander whether the flavour is actually present. Sandstone, truffle, and a hint of meat appear with further aeration, braised pork and leather, but the palate shows more fruit both red and black. A bit of pain grille gives a kind of blueberry muffin sensation as well. This really shows what this region nearly lost but hasn’t because of two visionaries. If you like fresh fruit, herbs and minerals, you will like this. [4+4+4+4.5=16.5/20]

2009 La Memoire Neuve Cepage Mollard; Domaine Petit Aout; IGP Hautes-Alpes: cherries,black forest fruits, earth, chocolate, dark plum, some nice rocky, slightly iron ore minerality. A fresh, balanced, supple wine, with soft tannins, cherry, plum, minerals, liquorice. Nicely poised with some depth, in many ways it reminds me of unoaked Dolcetto showing lots of red fruits. A bit of bubblegum in the background which dissipates with air. I can see this developing as it is balanced, has good depth, but is already lovely to drink, and goes well with food. I could see this being really loveable in a few years time. [4+4+4+4=16/20]

At the winery:

2010 Orcanette Blanc; Domaine Marc Allemand [a blend of Chardonnay, Muscat a Petits Grains and Ugni Blanc]: grape, olive, balanced, round, nice freshness, lemon, very good length, soil, earth, chalk, limestone and minerals. [4+4+4+4=16/20]

2009 Le Globe-Trotteur; Domaine Marc Allemand [100% Chardonnay]; crisp, fresh, olives, richness, balanced, lemon curd, lemon butter. [4+4+4.5+4.5=17/20]

2010 New Rose; Domaine Petit Aout [100% Mollard]; plum, roses, round, ripe, mineral, soft and appealing, nice length, elegance. Strawberry. [4+4+3.5+4=15.5/20]

2010 Rivieres d’Ete Rose; Domaine Marc Allemand [Cinsault and Muscat blend]; crisp, mineral, delicate, provencale style, earth, soil, strawberry, raspberry, grassy, herby finish. Classic. [4+4+4+4.5=16.5/20]

2010 Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Cepage Mollard; Domaine Marc Allemand: crisp, round, clean, soft, dolcetto-like, earth, lime, deep, poised, tobacco, smoke, leafy, herbs, basil, rosemary. Good length. Dark. [4+4+4.5+4.5=17+/20]

2010 Les Amis Imaginaires; Domaine Petit Aout [50% Mollard, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon with Malolactic fermentation taking place in barrique] herbs, dark plum, cedar, tobacco, pepper, soil, coffee, spice, smoke, needs time but has good balance and length. Clean, crisp, bramble, plum, cassis. [4+4.5+4.5+4.5=17.5/20]

2010 Rayon du Soleil; Domaine Marc Allemand [late harvest Muscat a Petit Grains]; crisp, round, fruity nose, grapey and balanced, elegant, grass, herbs, orange peel, lime zest. [4.5+4+4+4.5=17/20]

Eau de Vie de Plum Mirabelle; Domaine Marc Allemand; crisp, clean, smooth, plummy, round, delicate, subtle but with power. Earthy and herby. [4+4+5+4=17/20]

The Boozy Bottle...

Back at home post visit…

NV Brut Methode Traditionelle; Domaine Marc Allemand: oyster shell, herbs, grass, chalk, lemon, olive, poised, balanced, round and subtle. Lime, lemon zest. Good length, a touch of yeasty breadiness. [4+4.5+4.5+4=17/20]

2010 Sur Le Fil; Domaine Petit Aout [Chardonnay and Muscat a Petit Grains with a hint of residual sugar left behind]; oyster shell, olive, grapey, poised, deep and intriguing. Nicely balanced, real depth and je ne sais quoi. Sea air, salty, subtle, restrained, and not willing to show everything, with a long slightly chili spice finish. Grass, herbs, lemon, lime, precise, round, slightly closed but this will age; nuts and wax with time to aerate. [3.5+4.5+4.5+4=16.5++/20]

2010 Les Amis Imaginaires; Domaine Petit Aout: crisp, structured, plum, cherry and some greenish cassis, earth, tobacco, cedar, smoke, minerals more serious but the Cabernet seems to be more for structure as oppose to vinious charactar. Soft tannins, and good length to the finish, balanced, fresh, elegant. Herbs, a bit of mint, soil, flint and a linear red and black plum finish. This will improve; the question is, How will it taste being the first vintage. [4.5+4+4.5+4=17+?/20]

a day later… plum, strawberry, raspberry jam, cassis, herbs and a savoury note, earth and truffle, again the tannins are soft but perhaps a touch more prominent and the Cabernet shows more. More depth and focus. Lovely freshness, with lots of mineral charactar, fresh blood and roses. Working well with a well made steak. Still young and clearly needs more time to pull together. Mint, earth, and a touch of chocolate dusted truffles and plums. I have more faith in this wine now. [4+4.5+4.5+4.5=17.5/20]

Mollard Vines

The wines of the Alps are most certainly idiosyncratic, and show a strong mineral charactar, due to the age of the vines, and the high altitudes at which the grapes grow. The altitude and low nighttime temperatures means that acidity is well maintained despite the very hot summer day-time temperatures. If the grapes are allowed to gain full phenolic ripeness you can ripe fruit flavours, but they are always balanced. Of course, rain and sunlight will have some affect on the type of flavours, but you can guarantee freshness which means that the wines will age. To be fair it is too early to tell how the wines will develop as there are few old examples of any quality as the wines are more than drinkable young. What one can say, is that Yann de Agostini is making excellent wines whether it be from his own wines or from the vines that Marc Allemand owns.

They plan to expand their holdings further and really put Mollard on the map, both in France and also globally. The firmly believe it to be a variety that will work well in South America in the Andes due to its liking of altitude and late ripening. Once they find the best clones, they will aim to try to export the vines around the world, but for the meantime they are doing a great job of trying to improve quality in the region and an upgrade to AOC based on the quality of the wines is not out of the question. I for one will be following their development closely.

Keep an eye out for these! There are more good producers.

Until next time, Happy Drinking.


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