Salel and Renaud

Domaine Salel et Renaud La Galinette 2021

Domaine Salel et Renaud La Galinette 2021Salel & Renaud Wines – Organic and biodynamic

Salel & Renaud may be the most esoteric and “academic” of all the French growers that our new importer,  Transparent,  imports. For years, Elise Renaud and Benoit Salel worked in the vines and cellars under some of the biggest dogs in Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Provence, and Sancerre before starting their own farm in their native Ard猫che.   All wines are made by Elise Renaud; all farming is done by her husband, Benoit Salel. 

The Ard猫che sits on the western banks of the Rh么ne river and covers an important part of the northern Rh么ne vineyards while also bridging into the western side of the southern Rh么ne. Generally speaking, while the AOC-level appellations Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Saint-Peray, C么tes du Vivarais and some C么tes du Rh么ne vineyards are all located within this region, the IGP-level vineyards are found in the dry, scrubby foothills of the C茅vennes mountains and along the river Ard猫che valley. The narrow valley of the Rh么ne is often reserved for the more prestigious AOC wines. The department lies approximately 50km (30 miles) south of Lyon and 100km (60 miles) north of the Mediterranean, between the Rh么ne river to the east and the Massif Central plateau to the west.

Elise Renaud and Benoit Salel both hail from the Cevennes Ardechoises, where both of their families have tended the vine for many generations. While their elders sold all of their grapes to the local cooperative, Elise and Benoit decided to give it a go, making their own wines from their own vines. The two bought eight acres of vines in the rugged Ardeche region, and the rest is history. They have increased their holdings to 35 acres, and they have converted all of their vineyards over to organics.  

Since 2007 Elise Renaud and Benoit Salel have been doing double-duty as ampelographers and archivists, working diligently to find, propagate, and replant old varieties which were once grown in the southern Ard猫che. Like many of the more rural areas of France, the region鈥檚 indigenous/ancient grape varieties had long since fallen into oblivion. Along with the more familiar varieties that are found in appellations throughout the Rh么ne region, Elise and Benoit have patiently cultivated varieties such as Chatus, Dureza, Raisaine, and Picardan. For them, these indigenous grape varieties are the soul and identity of the C茅vennes Ard茅choises. As Elise and Benoit say, 鈥淭here is nothing to invent, the future is simply what has been forgotten.鈥

Their greatest passion is tracking down ancient, pre-phylloxera “heirloom” grape varieties in forests and long-neglected vineyards throughout the Ard猫che, then propagating, replanting, and re-introducing them to modern drinkers by way of delicious wines. It’s a decade-long process not for the lazy or faint of heart, but the results are stunning: Light/medium-bodied, but hauntingly floral, meaty, and tooth-staining reds from grapes like Dureza and Chatus, plus waxy, saline, and exotically aromatic whites from the Raisaine and Picardan grapes — and we would be remiss in not mentioning their electrifying Grenache/Gamay blend “Mescladis” and gorgeously textural Roussanne/Vermentino “Galinette”. Low prices, handsome labels, attention-grabbing wines, and an exciting back-story — do not miss Salel & Renaud! 

Their wines are brand new to the United States, and their La Galinette Blanc is my idea of the perfect white wine. What I like most about this wine is its elegance; White Rhones can often be a bit “clunky,” but this one is fresh, zesty, and precise. At just 12.5% alcohol, this blend of equal parts Vermentino and Roussanne shines with both Southern and Northern Rhone character. The Roussanne contributes heady scents and flavors of peach, lemon, and honeysuckle, while the Vermentino adds acidity along with notes of pink grapefruit, citrus zest, and herb. All in all, this all adds up to create a joyful and delicious drinking experience. This is a wine that would be great served with the classic Thanksgiving feast, but I don’t think we’ll have any left by the time Turkey Day gets here. Thus, enjoy now with roasted chicken and root vegetables or richer, oilier fish and seafood dishes. Or skip the food altogether and just drink this one with a good friend or loved one.    

Testaire is 100% Raisane, which is a grape I suspect you have never heard of, let alone tasted (i certainly haden’t!). The grapes for this wine are grown in a windy, high-elevation vineyard so there are thick skins and lots of phenolic development that impart the wine’s exotic, almost gummy worm-like aromatics…but the location leaves very little opportunity for fruit production, so the alcohol on this wine is always very, very low. It’s bone dry, fresh, and a great wine with which to begin a meal.
Galinette is an incredible value — it’s a mix of Vermentino and Roussanne, two grapes which are often planted on warm, flat vineyards in Rhone Valley 30min to the east of this vineyard, and thus, often tend to make somewhat oily and unrefreshing wines. But, because this vineyard is all granite and very high up in the hills, it has far more structure, stoney minerality and tension — and best of all, a blast of white peach and citrus stone fruit from the Vermentino. It’s a spectacular seafood wine. Love it.
Mescladis is a 50/50 mix of two fruity grapes, Grenache and Gamay. So, as expected, this wine has a mouthful of raspy, alpine strawberry fruit. But, that’s not the whole story: because grapes are grown at elevation on gravel and sedimentary rock, there’s also a unique “lift” and freshness to the wine, and a distinct white pepper aromatic note. This wine is bottled without sulfites and Elise, the winemaker, leaves a little trapped so2/co2 from fermentation in the wine to keep it fresh. Long story short, it will be best if roughly decanted before a first glass, and it will also be delicous well into days 3 and 4.  Great to serve slightly chilled, too!
Syramuse is 100% Chatus.  This is a suuuuuper rare Ardechoise variety that I’ve never seen planted. So, like the Testaire above, it is truly a one-of-a-kind wine. The Chatus grape reminds me of Carignan from Saint Chinian — in other words, there’s a meatiness and animal quality that jumps out on the nose. It’s fresh and juicy like all of Elise’s wines, but the fruit is chewy and rustic.  It’s a great sausage/lambchop wine. 

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