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More than Baby Châteauneuf: Semelles de Vent's Terroir-Driven Vacqueyras

“There’s lots going on. This has character, and feels connected to its place, is STGT Vacqueyras”
—John Livingston-Learmonth, in his 5-start review

JLL’s STGT (“Soil To Glass Transfer”) label is one of our favorite hints that a wine may be a pure expression of its terroir. JLL is, after all, the great English-language critic of Rhone wines. So you may be just as excited to see his review as we were. And sure enough, when we got a sample, the wine was as pure and honest and expressive as he said.

But JLL’s high praise (and Gilman’s too; see below) begs the question: Is Vacqueyras’ terroir worth getting excited about?

Wines like Gigondas and Vacqueyras are too-often considered the “poor man’s Châteauneuf du Pape". Sure, they're Grenache-based wines, with a little less power (but cheaper prices).

But that misses the point.

While Vacqueyras is a little lower in elevation and a touch warmer than Gigondas, the bigger difference is that its soils are shallower, with more limestone and clay (as well as stony sands). Thanks to those soils, Vacqueyras can be more translucent, with subtler perfumes and a “chalky crispness” (to quote JLL) or “soil-driven personality” (Gilman) that complements the southern garigue and spice and sunny fruit. The British wine writer, Andrew Jefford, says to think of Vacqueyras as having “a kind of burgundy profile in a southern Rhône context” and, no matter how overused you find the simile, you see what he’s getting at. 

The Semelles de Vent is indeed a great example of Vacqueyras’ special charms. Its Grenache (about 75% of the blend) is from 60+ year-old-vines with deep roots that suck up all that terroir. The winemaking is traditional (fermentation in concrete, aging in old wood) and preserves the lovely fruit and terroir complexity. It’s great to drink right now but it will, undoubtedly, improve with a little time in the bottle.

The wine offers a whole lot of deliciousness – and a whole lot of terroir – for the price. 

Les Semelles de Vent, Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes, 2017
JLL says: “Dark red robe, a healthy aspect. The bouquet has a concentrated aroma of black fruits, prune, with inner sweetness. It has the sun of the garrigue bouncing off it, a note of menthol. The palate is firmly fueled, comes with robust Grenache red fruit, spicing, bears assertive tannins, travels with resolute intent to the finish, which involves those tannins with a little chalky crispness, pings of iron. The aftertaste is good and smoky. There’s lots going on. This has character, and feels connected to its place, is STGT Vacqueyras.”

Gilman says: “The 2017 version is excellent on both the nose and palate, offering up a deep and complex bouquet of dark berries, roasted meats, bonfire, pepper, a fine array of spice tones and a bit of autumnally-inclined soil tones. On the palate the wine is pure, full-bodied and nicely soil-driven in personality, with a fine core of fruit, ripe tannins and a long, complex and still fairly youthful finish. This is a seriously structured example of Vacqueyras, and though it is approachable today, it really deserves some more bottle age to soften up a bit more and blossom properly. A fine example.”