Each one has its own personality, variously expressed in the field, during fermentation and in the wine glass.
Valcolombe is one of very few estates with 11 different varieties on 7 hectare of vineyard, vinifying each one separately.
While larger estates simply cannot manage such variety, it enables us to produce nothing but tête de cuvée wines. It also gives us a free hand to develop the great French tradition of wine blending.
Let's take a look at the Valcolombe grape varieties.
Merlot is a national treasure, an aristocratic variety associated with the renowned Château Pétrus. Its straight vines are an elegant green, with sparse foliage. Its produces clusters with a multitude of small, sweet, sun-drenched black berries. It is harvested very early, often in late August, and always gives our first red cuvee owing to its impressive alcohol potential.
"Merlot is the grape picker's nightmare and the vintner's delight."
It always ferments steadily, giving a wine that everyone likes.
Merlot gives elegant, structured reds, silky and not too tannic, suitable for drinking young. But it also ages particularly well and can give a very fine single-variety wine.
Cabernet-Sauvignon is a true aristocrat, but very different from Merlot. Its foliage is an abundance of small, tough, deeply-indented leaves of a characteristic bronze colour. The berries are small and black, with tough skins.
Winemakers are wary of Cabernet-Sauvignon; despite a high alcohol potential it is unpredictable and capricious during fermentation.
Cabernet-Sauvignon can produce the worst of wines as well as the best. It gives powerful, structured wines that age very well in the bottle, with sumptuous tannins.
But its style is not easy. Not everyone likes this rough, virile, haughty variety.
Syrah grows fast and exuberantly, with a lavish jungle of leaves. Its medium-sized clusters of pink-tinged berries have a distinguished look and are easy to pick. Syrah is equally suitable for making red or rosé wines, and is harvested accordingly: some is picked early for the rosé and then, when the sun has ripened the rest to perfection, the deep red clusters are picked to give a fantastic red wine.
Syrah produces a highly aromatic, elite red with great ageing potential. In the tank, it needs to be watched carefully as it ferments.
Syrah is rarely used on its own but brings richness, intense colour, velvety tannins and spicy notes to a blend.
At last a cheerful, reliable variety that's easy to get along with! Its vines are a delicious, almost fluorescent green. Its shoots are thick and robust but easy to prune. Grenache produces big, dense clusters of dark bluish-purple berries with the odd feature of always having a few green berries even when the cluster is completely ripe. Grenache vinifies reliably and can be counted on for alcohol strength. Low in tannins, it can be harvested at the just-ripe stage to give a very fruity rosé instead of the good red of the riper berries. Red or rosé, Grenache is a highly aromatic bouquet of meadow flowers. These wines are slightly rustic but have undeniable charm. They are also excellent for blending.
Cinsaut is for rosés. The vine is similar to Grenache, easy to prune, never diseased, with a tendency to over-produce. It gives big clusters of large, dark-skinned berries. Excellent as a dessert grape, it ripens and ferments very slowly, the alcohol content increasing gradually. Its rosé is elegant, delicate and quite sensual.
Mourvèdre is a southern variety with a vertical growth habit and not too many leaves. It produces generous quantities of small, black, tough-skinned berries that promise excellent wine quality. Quick and easy to harvest, Mourvèdre gives a rosé wine and sometimes, in a particularly sunny year, a red. A Mouvèdre rosé has incomparable class and excellent keeping quality. As it ferments it develops rather unexpected aromas of strawberry and raspberry.
Carignan's photogenic vines display goffered leaves and large winged clusters of blue-black berries. Originally from Spain, this red wine variety acquired a bad reputation at a time when it was grown on young vines for high yields, with a negative impact on quality. But on old vines, as at Valcolombe, it produces characterful wines of surprising quality. In the tank Carignan ferments steadily come what may, and a combination of good vine care, controlled vinification and some time in a barrel will bring out all its best qualities.
Rolle or Vermentino is a white Mediterranean grape. It is easy to identify from its large, soft, slightly blueish-green leaves looking as if waxy finger-prints had been left on them.
The clusters are quite large and well-formed, often with a large wing, almost a double cluster. There are no special features in the harvesting and vinification of Rolle.
Rolle produces a pale but bright white wine with citrus and exotic fruit notes. A round, supple wine, in no way heavy or viscous.
This widespread variety is also called Trebbiano in Italy. It is often used to make brandy.
It is a discreet, fragile variety and is naturally low-yielding. Ripening late, it is among the last to be harvested.
For the vintner it has presents no special characteristics.
In the glass it gives a rustic wine, discreet and honest, full of goodwill.
But it is useful in blends, as its sweetness can attenuate wines whose aromatic temperament is too impetuous and powerful.
Growing the robust vine of this white variety takes a lot of work! It has to be regularly trained although its yield is somewhat unpredictable. Viognier vines are easy to recognise: with their drooping leaves they look like rows of dwarf weeping willows. But they must not be topped, because the abundant foliage and small volume of berries combine to make sumptuous wines.
The clusters are lovely, and so tight that the berries get deformed.
In the tank, however, Viognier behaves reliably, developing marvellous aromas that produce high-quality, round white wines with aromas of peach, pear, lime blossom, white flowers and honey. In winegrowing circles Viognier earns respect: not everyone has the courage to grow it, but those who do are proud of it.
Sémillon is a rather tricky white variety. The vines are beautiful, with magnificent clusters, among the first to ripen. But they have one latent defect: they are highly susceptible to rot, which can decimate a yield without warning. In the tank Sémillon springs no surprises and gives a distinguished wine with no hint of vulgarity but no outstanding character either.