Domaine Richaud – Cairanne Veteran

Marcel Richaud is a veteran of the organic and natural wine movement and is primarily responsible for Cairanne’s reputation as one of the better ‘villages’ in the Côtes du Rhône. He belongs to the early wave of winemakers who, following Marcel Lapierre and colleagues, went in search of a purer and more digestible style than had become the norm in their respective appellations.

Even when Richaud took over the family domain as a young boy in the late 1970s, honest farming and traditional winemaking were his motives. Much to the shock of his father, who saw the family vineyards as a burden rather than a calling and always sold his grapes safely to the co-op. But Marcel aspired to the real vigneron-ship, and wanted to maintain himself in the vineyard and cellar without the intervention of modern trickery – with all the associated risks.

Fortunately, there was soon an enthusiastic in-crowd in Paris who eagerly bought Richaud’s wines – just like those of fellow leaders like Pierre Breton. More than twenty-five years later, Domaine Richaud – just like Domaine Breton – has grown into a serious company that combines uncompromising winemaking with substantial volumes. The domain now covers 80 hectares, now overseen by Marcel’s daughter Claire and son Thomas.

Vision and method have remained the same. The aim is to make fresh and expressive terroir wines, despite the increasing temperatures (and thus alcohol percentages). In service of this, the vineyards are less Grenache-dominant than most of the houses in the area, with a star role for Mourvèdre who needs just a little more sun to ripen. In general, everything revolves around expressing the healthiest possible grapes as purely as possible: organic farming, unsulphurised and spontaneous fermentation in concrete tanks, maturation in tanks or old wooden barrels.

All wines are bottled without clarification and unfiltered, usually with a pinch of added sulphite. The result is wines that amaze with their aromatic expressiveness, power and digestibility. Yes, the alcohol nowadays ticks the 15%, but it is so well packed in pure matter and carried by beautiful acids that you hardly notice it (dangerous!). We now have the following cuvées:

Cotes du Rhone ‘Terre des Galets’ 2019

The beautifully aromatic ‘Terre des Galets’ comes from young vineyards on stony soils full of pebbles. One of the most complete wines we’ve tasted recently and a microcosm of everything that makes Richaud so great. Enchantingly open and layered on the nose, full of violets, wild herbs, pepper and smoke, with fresh notes of orange but also a clear hint of jammy ripeness. Rich and soft at the start, followed by a much denser and more complex structure than the ‘Terre d’Aigles’.

Cairanne Rouge 2019 (Sans Soufre)

The completely unsulphurised version of Richaud’s flagship, the wine that established both Marcel’s name and that of the village of Cairanne. 50-80 year old vines of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Syrah and Counoise in sunny but relatively cool vineyards on hard limestone clay soils. A sumptuous wine full of life, partly vinified and fully aged in old wooden barrels. A swirling mass of ripe fruit in the glass, from fresh red berries and cherries to dark cassis and prunes. At the same time intensely savory and spicy. Firm acids and light CO2 sting fully support the heavy body (15%), making the wine treacherously easy to drink. Wow.

Cairanne Blanc 2019

Of the four wines we now import, Richaud’s white Cairanne is the rarest and currently the least approachable. But put this blend of Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Marsanne away for a while, even if it is a few months, and you get a very complex wine with sumptuous Mediterranean (fish) dishes. Rich, viscous, to the point of creamy, supported by fresh acidity and briny minerality. Full of ripe stone fruit, honey and citrus, but also spices such as ginger and anise. Patience will be rewarded.