Domaine du Tariquet had been, since its inception, largely a producer of grapes for Armagnac. In 1982 they diversified into white table wines and planted grapes not normally emphasized in Gascony: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc.
During the 1995 crush, a storm front swept through, forcing the harvest of a parcel of Chardonnay. When the grapes arrived at the winery, there was nowhere to put them. Winemaker Yves Grassa decided on the spot to throw the Chardonnay juice into a partially filled tank of Sauvignon Blanc, creating a 50/50 blend and a problem, since no one really knew what a Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend might turn out to be.
“It was,” says Julien Ducos, the Export Director for Domaine du Tariquet, “the lucky mistake.”
After the fermentation, Grassa and Tariquet’s American importer, Robert Kacher, tasted the wine — which Grassa referred to as “de Côté,” idiomatic French for “separated.” (A gentle way, in fact, of referring to the wine as a “weirdo blend.”) Kacher loved the wine and wanted to buy the whole tank. Grassa, however, wasn’t selling. He preferred, in Ducos’s delightful wording, to “see if he could repeat more seriously the mistake.”
In subsequent years, Grassa tried blending after vinification, but the effect wasn’t the same. He quickly returned to fermenting the two juices together.
“Thanks to this co-fermentation we have created new, original and unique tastes, the successful alliance between two identities,” says Ducos, channeling his inner wine label writer. “Two opposing characters, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, merge in a wave of astonishing flavours. The mineral character of the Sauvignon is subtly reinforced by the roundness of the Chardonnay.”
I forgive Ducos his soaring rhetoric not only because liking the wine is part of his job description, but also because he’s actually describing the wine pretty well. The 2009 Côté Tariquet has a nice, fresh, tropical nose that promises much. The palate lives up to the promise, tart and soft at the same time, each aroma present as a flavor as well. Can a wine be simple and complex at the same time? Isn’t that what the early Beatles did, supporting their pop hooks on a complicated foundation easily ignored by screaming bobbysoxers? That’s what this wine does.
Ducos notes that it is popular as a by-the-glass offering in trendy French restaurants, and that sounds about right. I’d be as comfortable serving it almost frozen to hipsters sampling spicy Pacific Rim hors d’oeuvres as I would be putting it barely cool on my own table with simply sautéed, caught-it-this-afternoon-fresh fish.
Domaine du Tariquet has developed, over the years, a reputation for innovation. An American journalist — no one remembers which, but one of the hundreds that roam the French outback looking for The Next Big Thing in wine — described Tariquet’s wines as “an act of disobedience,” a theme that the winery has adopted on its website.
“There are two approaches to wines nowadays : a typically French one, all about AOCs, and you also have the Anglo-Saxon approach, with firstly people and varietals,” says Ducos. “Our philosophy is the second one. We believe that wines are always created to one’s own image, with or without AOC. Armin and Remy Grassa, the owners and winemakers of Tariquet, love grapes. They like tasting in wine the fruit that can be found in the grapes themselves.”
And I love that sometimes the most creative acts are accidental.