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the wines of Domaines Chancel

by Tom Cannavan, 09/08

I was contacted recently by Jean Barthélémy Chancel of Domaines Chancel Père & Fils, based at Château Val Joanis in the Côtes du Lubéron region that straddles a buffer zone between the southern Rhône and Provence.

Domaines Chancel is a négociant and grower, producing estate wines at Château Val Joanis and Domaine Saint Andrieu, and making Champagne many miles to the north, under the Champagne Louis Barthélémy label. The domaine has earned a very good reputation for its wines, with Coup de Coeur awards from the Guide Hachette and big points from critics like Robert Parker.

   Château Val Joanis is situated north of Aix-en-Provence, on the site of an ancient Roman villa, the foundations of which are still visible. Jean-Louis Chancel bought the property in 1977, and began a "Herculean task of rehabilitation," including the planting of 186 hectares of Syrah and Grenache for red and rosé wines, and Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Ugni-blanc for whites.

A system of sustainable agriculture is employed, with chemical fertilisers replaced by organic supplements of vegetable origin. Erosion is controlled by systematically sowing the vineyard with ground cover plants, and spraying is kept to the necessary minimum on these limestone and gravel soils.

The Champagnes of Louis Barthélémy have been causing some ripples too, with Swiss magazine '24 hours' awarding the Cuvée Brut Améthyste top marks in a tasting of non-vintage Champagnes.

Champagne Louis Barthélémy

Louis Barthélémy Brut Améthyste NV
This blend of 20% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier from Louis Barthélémy pours a most delicate pale gold colour, with a very steady, even stream of tiny bubbles. The aromas are fresh and delicate, with a little suggestion of summer flowers and light lemon and apple fruit. There is just a suggestion of oatmeally richness behind. On the palate this has presence, with a crisp, elegant mousse and quite a full palate, with clean citrus fruit flooding the mouth, but really quite creamy and rich, with a suggestion of sherbetty brightness too. Well-mannered and not at all thin or tart, this stays fresh and zippy, with elegant acidity pushing through to a long finish in an impressive and delicious Champagne. Around £22.00, from The Sussex Wine Company, Laithwaites, and see all stockists on

Château Val Joanis

Château Val Joanis 2006
A blend of Syrah and Grenache harvested at 45 hectolitres per hectare and aged only in older barrels, this has a dark, almost opaque crimson colour and a nicely open nose with a little floral and herbal suggestion to creamy raspberry and redcurrant fruit. There's just a little suggestion of gaminess adding complexity. On the palate this is pure and broadly fruity, but there's a serious edge too, with firm, but ripe tannins adding a sheen of liquoricy grip to the sweet fruit. The wine is quite savoury, powerful and structured in the finish, with good balancing acidity and considerable length. Another powerful wine from Val Joanis, with a bit of staying power. £9.25, see all stockists on

Château Val Joanis Reserve les Griottes 2004
Val Joanis's Reserve les Griottes is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, harvested at a lowly 35 hectolitres per hectare and matured in Alliers oak for up to one year, with one-third new barrels. It has a dark, saturated crimson colour and tight, sinewy aromatics with compact dark cherry and blackberry fruit, woven with a hint of woodsmoke and herbs. On the palate this is a dense, muscular wine, where a meaty weight of thick, chocolate-rich tannin marries with savoury black fruit. This is a firm and authoritative wine, with spice and a lean acidity adding to its structured, powerful personality. It finishes with the tannins coating the mouth, and a suggestion that this may well need a year or two more to loosen up. Around £13.50,