In April, in conjunction with the wine's release, I wrote a blog wondering if we'd just produced the world's first-ever 100% Vaccarese. Before you scoff, I don't think that's impossible. At just 12 hectares (about 30 acres) in France as of 2012, it's scarce, and the majority of that is in Chusclan, a minor appellation in the Gard, where it is generally blended (at a maximum percentage of 20%) with Grenache to make rosés. And it's not like it was common historically; In Pierre Galet's 1990 ampelography Cépages et Vignobles de France, he reports just 40 hectares (100 acres) in France. Viala and Vermorel's 1901-1910 Ampélographie doesn't even have an entry for Vaccarese, instead listing it and a few alternate spellings in the index as "nonspecific names given to grape varieties in the Vaucluse". So, at least for the last century Vaccarese has never been widely planted, or been a lead grape where it was.
But that April blog did produce a lead. Joe Czerwinski, who covers the Rhone (and was named Editor-in-Chief this week) for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, left a comment reporting that he'd tasted a special cuvee from Chateau des Fines Roches called "Forget Me Not" which he understood was made from Vaccarese. We did a little digging, found the wine's page on the producer's website, and reached out to its American importer, Bradley Cohen of Bradley Alan Imports. The wine isn't imported into the United States, as there were just 1000 bottles produced, but Bradley reached out to the proprietor Amelie Barrot and she was generous enough to include a bottle with their next United States-bound shipment. Bradley forwarded it on to us and we let it rest through harvest before convening yesterday to open it and see what we could learn. The guest of honor (left) alongside ours:
The Forget Me Not was showing beautifully. My tasting notes on it:
The nose is lovely, with cedary, warm earth and loam over brandy-soaked cherries. There is great vibrancy on the palate, bitter chocolate and more cherries, herbes de Provence, and a lovely sweet pungency like chocolate-dipped orange peel. Soft tannins. Good acids. Warm tones. Silky.
By contrast, our version felt very spiky and young. My notes:
A nose of spicy purple fruit, grape and elderberry, lavender, mint, and black licorice. The mouth is younger, more tannins evident, with a tarter fruit profile like pomegranate seed and apple skin. The black licorice note comes back out on the finish. Cool tones. Somewhat tannic at this stage.
What did the two wines have in common? A feel and weight more than specific flavors. Good acids. Solid tannins. A mix of herbal, fruit, and earth characters. But I'm not sure that having tasted only our Vaccarese I would have identified the Forget Me Not as made from the same grape. I think I would have guessed Grenache if I'd had to (and their website does indicate that the wine is a blend of 90% Vaccarese and 10% Grenache). But I think I would have identified the wine as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It's a testament to the power of terroir that an appellation can shine through this clearly even through the lens of a grape that's rarely even appears in small quantities there.
Our own wine felt cooler, crunchier, darker, and more tannic than theirs. That contrast was doubtless exacerbated by the fact it was three years younger, 2019 instead of 2016. But the observation, along with noting the difference in alcohol between ours (13%) and theirs (14.5%), made me wonder whether we might experiment with leaving at least a portion of our Vaccarese grapes on the vine a little longer, in the hopes of getting a little more of the silkiness that I found in the Chateauneuf.
In any case, we all ended the tasting wondering why, with its obvious charms, Vaccarese didn't become more popular at some point in its history. It is apparently quite susceptible to powdery mildew, which would have been a disincentive to plant it in an era where there weren't good tools to treat that malady. Research I've done has suggested that Picardan suffered a similar fate. But whatever its historical issues, we're convinced that Vaccarese's future is bright. We can't wait to try, in a few years, a future vintage of ours against the same vintage of Forget Me Not. When we do, I promise to report back on what we find.