Les Vins de Vienne portfolio is the realisation of a dream about recreating an ancient wine.
The vineyards of Seyssuel, near the town of Vienne, in the northern Rhone Valley, in France, date back to the Roman Empire. British writer Jonathan Livingstone-Learmonth says that of the wines from Vienne, "the Vinum Picatum has become famous as the first Gallic wine to reach Rome". Well regarded by Roman high society, the wine was "apparently quite a snob drink in their day".
By the 1990s, ravaged by the pest phylloxera, those vineyards had long been abandoned. But three wine-producer friends - Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard, Francois Villard - believed vineyards located on the left bank of the river Rhone, just 25km from Lyons, still had potential and, in 1996, they acquired the land. When soil studies revealed it contained the same schist soils as those where Cote-Rotie wine is produced, they knew the had stumbled on something great. The rest is history.
The syrah-grape wines from Seyssuel have been receiving glowing accolades in the international wine press.
Cuilleron says that having three winemakers involved allows for more precise decisions, but they don't always agree, so logic is key.
Climate change has proved beneficial to the quality of the wines - with the hotter weather, grapes are reaching optimum ripeness levels. Sugar levels are higher and it is no longer necessary to chaptalise (add sugar to increase alcohol levels).
Compared with Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, those from northern Rhone still deliver value for money. As Cuilleron says, at the end of the 19th century, wines from Cote-Rotie and Hermitage were considered to be the best in France. Even Bordeaux houses permitted the blending of syrah grapes from Rhone, to add colour and fruit to their wines.
Les Vins de Vienne Saint-Peray Blanc "Les Bialeres" 2013
Saint-Peray, located in the southern part of northern Rhone, remains somewhat obscure. It is known for its sparkling wines although its still white wines are becoming popular. The main grape varieties grown are roussanne and marsanne.
Les Bialeres, made from 80 per cent marsanne and 20 per cent roussanne, is fermented in oak casks and matured for nine months in French oak.
Ripe apricot, honey, floral and some spicy notes. On the palate, generous ripe fruit, balanced and easygoing. Approachable and perfect for drinking now. HK$248
Les Vins de Vienne Saint-Joseph "L'Arzelle" 2012
Cuilleron says that Saint-Joseph wines deliver the best quality for their prices. The wines are often overlooked and are definitely worth a try.
Made from syrah. Expect notes of white pepper. Generally, the wines are lighter and elegant with fresh acidity and more mineral notes on the palate.
Wild thyme, black fruit, some savouriness with black pepper notes. Elegant with good fruit intensity, fine tannins and finishing fairly long. HK$275
Les Vins de Vienne "Sotanum" Collines Rhodaniennes 2012
Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote about Vitis allobrogica and the region of Vienne. "Sotanum" is a reference to an ancient vineyard.
Black cherries, floral, meaty notes with hints of dry herbs. Round with rich concentration of fruit, framed by ripe, velvety tannins. Drinking well now but has the potential to keep for another decade. HK$498
The wines are available from www.watsonswine.com.