Historically, the southern Ardeche was not known for its wine, and what wine there was was almost exclusively produced at the various local cooperatives. Today, while the cooperatives still produce about 90% of the region’s wine, more and more independent producers are becoming known for the quality of their wine.
One producer that is leading the charge is Domaine Mazel, located in the village of Pradons, whose winemaker, Jerome Mazel, is on his way to establishing himself as one of the top vignerons in the southern Ardeche. The Mazel property has been in the family for several generations, but until recently the grapes from the estate were sold to the cooperative in nearby Ruoms. Then, seven years ago, 21-year-old vigneron Jerome Mazel decided to turn the family domaine into an independent wine producer. After completing his studies in Carcassone, Jerome had apprenticed at several wineries in the
Rhone, including Domaine de Tunnel in the Cornas region. He then returned to Pradons and set about remaking the domaine. With help from his family and friends, Jerome spent four years renovating the property, adding winemaking equipment, and planting additional vines.
Then, three years ago, Jerome was able to begin making and bottling wine at the estate. When we visited in April 2010, Jerome’s parents started the tour for us, explaining the winemaking process at the estate. They explained that the southern Ardeche has been known for making simple wine for everyday drinking, but Jerome decided to make more complex wine, cutting back on yields (to a very low 20 hectoliters/hectare) to make more concentrated wine. Part way through the tour, Jerome joined us, and then took us into the cave for tasting. We tasted the entire range of the domaine’s wines,
8 in all: 3 whites, 2 roses, and 3 reds. There were 2 dry whites from the 2009 vintage – a Viognier (called Odyssee) and a Chardonnay (called Alter Ego). Both were aged for several months in 3-year-old oak barrels, which gave each of them just a slight bit of extra complexity without dominating the flavors of the grape. We then tried 2 roses from the 2009 vintage - a traditional dry rose, called Ribambelle, made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, and a little bit of Cinsault; and a slightly sweet rose, called Chamboultou, made principally from Grenache grapes and intended to be drunk as an aperitif. Both roses were made by the saignee method – bleeding off some of the juice from grapes intended for red wine. We had the Ribambelle with lunch the next day; it was perfect with olives, tapenade, and goat cheese.
After the roses we tried the range of reds from the 2008 vintage. The first, called Coeur de Pierre (Heart of Stone) was mostly Grenache, with a little Merlot. The second was a 100% Syrah wine called Magie Noire (Black Magic), a rich, complex wine with some ageing potential. We had it with steak the next night, which was an outstanding match. The final red, Corps et Ame (Body and Soul) was mostly Merlot, with a little Syrah added.
To finish the tasting, Jerome poured a late-harvest Viognier from the 2009 vintage called Equinox, named for the autumnal equinox, which is when the grapes for this wine are generally harvested. This medium-sweet wine would be great as an aperitif, or, as the winemaker’s mother noted, with foie gras. Although we didn’t find any foie gras the next day, we did buy the nearest thing, duck liver mousse, and it was a perfect match.
A couple of days later we returned to Domaine Mazel to buy some more wine and chat with the winemaker and his father. Jerome discussed his grape growing and winemaking philosophy a little more. He also told us that for now, almost all of their wine is sold right at the domaine, with just a few restaurants and one shop carrying some of their wines. Jerome also gave us some literature and write-ups about the estate. Domaine Mazel’s wines have won numerous gold medals throughout
, and have garnered much praise from the top French wine publications. Based on what we tasted here, I expect that eventually their wines will be discovered in the France . United States