2000 Domaine de la Citadelle Les Artemes Cotes du Luberon

Domaine de la Citadelle Les Artemes Cotes du Luberon There are a number of excellent, but seemingly forgotten appellations in France--areas where the best producers make stunning wines. In unusual cases, these producers make wines that are superior to many, if not most of the wines of their more celebrated neighbors. As the appellation itself is an impediment to sales, despite the brilliance of the wines, these producers are largely forced to sell their wines at prices that have little to do with the quality of the wine in the bottle. Such is the case at Domaine de la Citadelle in the Luberon.

The Luberon is a magnificent region, but best known for beautiful fortified villages like Gordes and Roussillon. Peter Mayle in his book "A Year in Provence" opened many readers eyes to the Luberon and specifically to his own home, Menerbes. But the most remarkable attribute of Menerbes isn't the beautiful ruelles (or tiny cobblestone streets) or the Maison des Truffes (the newly renovated town hall that overlooks the magnificent countryside). The greatest treasure of Menerbes, unknown to most who visit, is the Domaine de la Citadelle, an estate whose wines seem to bridge the gap between the rich, alcoholic intensity of Chateauneuf and the refined generosity of the Syrahs of the Northern Rhone.

Alexis Rousset-Rouard, in his late thirties, runs the estate. Alexis is a journalist by trade, having worked for Parisien newspapers before deciding to move full time to his father's estate in Menerbes. When he arrived, he decided that there was no sense in changing careers if he wasn't going to pursue excellence. So, he decided to set about his work as the best producers of Chateauneuf or the Northern Rhone would, not as most of his neighbors do. He hired the best viticultural manager he could find and directed the manager to farm for quality, not quantity. He then began acquiring parcels of land, what is now a patchwork of 23 non-contiguous vineyards--old vine grenache and syrah, mourvedre and viognier. The winery is state of the art. Alexis is fond of saying that he wonders why they spent so much money on the winery in the early days (as opposed to the land), but in certain vintages where heat or mildew are obstacles to quality, he acknowledges his appreciation for the state-of-the art winery.

The best adjective for the wines of Citadalle is 'pure.' White, red or rose, these are exquisite wines full of ripe fruit, but remarkably nuanced and aromatic. The best of the red wines age remarkably well, as can be seen in the "Artemes" 2000. Made predominantly of old vine Grenache (like the best Chateauneuf), and blended with Syrah and Mourvedre, this wine is concentrated, intensely flavored, but wonderfully aromatic--the kind of wine that just begs for a large glass and plenty of air before drinking.