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Domaine de L'Oratoire St-Martin

Benchmark Bio Rhône
Domaine de L'Oratoire St-Martin
Next year, we will have worked with this outstanding Rhône producer for twenty years. When offering the domaine’s 2004 vintages back in 2006, Rob wrote, “Oratoire Saint Martin are considered by many to be the finest examples of Cairanne—the best of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellations of the southern Rhône”. While much has changed since that time—not least that Cairanne has its own AOC—some things have remained the same: Oratoire continues to be a benchmark address of the Southern Rhône.

Pierre Fabre, the charismatic owner of Château Mont-Redon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, knew what he was doing when he purchased the domaine from the retiring Alary family in 2020. At the time, Fabre spoke of inheriting the “best terroir in Cairanne,” referring to Frédéric and François Alary’s meticulously managed old-vine vineyards in the rocky Montagne subzone of Cairanne, high up on the hill looking out to Gigondas.

Fabre’s confidence in his vineyards certainly plays out in a set of 2021 reds that showcase Cairanne’s natural leaning towards finesse (more so than its immediate neighbours). Weighing in at least a full degree below the wines of 2020, these are lucid and vibrant Rhône reds, unfettered by alcoholic heat. For their part, and belying a warm season, the entry-level Côtes du Rhône wines from 2022 are delightfully pure, balanced and a lot of fun to drink.

Finally, this is one of the few southern Rhône domaines that could live solely by the quality of its white wines. The chalky limestone soils and the vineyard’s elevation enable this domaine to fuse exceptional depth and texture with unusual structure and energy. Matt Walls confirms as much in his ‘Wines of The Rhône’, where he writes that Oratoire’s “white wines deserve particular praise as some of the best in the southern Rhône.” The latest releases do not disappoint.

The Wines

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs Blanc 2022

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs Blanc 2022

Biodynamic. The limestone soils of Cairanne make it an outstanding appellation for white wines, while the elevation and Oratoire’s meticulously managed old vines produce average yields of just 25 hl/ha. In this wine, the domaine’s low-input, precise winemaking plays its part. However, the intense energy and vibrant mineral freshness can only be attributed to the vineyards and the work within them. The 2022 is a blend of 30% Clairette (planted in 1935), Grenache Blanc and Gris (also from the 1930s) and co-planted Roussanne and Marsanne from a beautiful old plot surrounded by pine trees. The fruit is fermented without additions and raised in the domaine’s old concrete tanks. 

This is a cracking, textural white Rhône. You get the intensity and concentration from the low yields alongside balancing freshness. The satin-textured palate offers layers of fleshy orchard fruits, golden lees, and almond notes with a chalky, pithy freshness cutting through the flesh. Closing with a fresh and floral finish, it’s another engaging white Rhône packed full of complexity and interest. Simply decant and add roast chicken.

“Shiny yellow; the bouquet has capacity, can emerge with interest, shows an aroma of crushed white fruits, peach and a little pear. The palate attacks with a rounded wave of citrus-tinged white fruits, holds its shape, has the gras to accompany sauced dishes, Munster, Brie de Meaux, Isle of Mull cheese. It seems to carry Roussanne, Gren blanc fat at its heart [tasted blind]. 13.5°.”
John Livingstone-Learmonth, Drink Rhône
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs Blanc 2022
Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Blanc 2022

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Blanc 2022

Biodynamic. This entry-point white comprises Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and a little Viognier. The idea here was to utilise the domaine’s younger vines (and slightly more generous yields) to offer a charming, easy-sipping white. Even so, the soil and the site's elevation shine through in the zesty, punchy personality. Fermented wild and raised in the domaine’s concrete tanks, it is a deliciously moreish and textural white drizzled with flavours of honey, flowers, orange and peach blossom, all supported by zesty acidity. It finishes with a nip of kernel bitterness and ripe pear juiciness. This 2022 release is loaded with personality and the kind of texture and food-friendly structure that you might not expect from an entry-level Rhône white.

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Blanc 2022
Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Rouge 2022

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Rouge 2022

Biodynamic. This superb-value wine was previously known simply as the Côtes du Rhône cuvée. It is now named Les P’tit Gars (‘the little mates’), a term used to refer to the brothers Frédéric and François Alary around the town of Cairanne when they were boys. It’s crafted from mature-vine 42% Grenache Noir, 38% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah, with small amounts of  Counoise, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, Muscardin and Terret Noir from the domaine’s new plantings (massal selection from Châteauneuf-du-Pape) included. 

Here, you get greater depth, structure and savouriness for a few dollars more than the entry-level Côtes du Rhône (P’tit Martin). No small oak barrels were used during maturation, and the wine was bottled without fining or filtration. It’s a deep yet fragrant release, all silk and sinew, with a soul of sweet blueberry spice and herbs cosseted by lovely, snug tannins and vibrant freshness. An outstanding-value wine from a benchmark producer.

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône Les P'tits Gars Rouge 2022
Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône P'tit Martin Rouge 2022

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône P'tit Martin Rouge 2022

Biodynamic. An impressive Côtes-du-Rhône, this is taken from Oratoire’s younger vines, which mainly lie just 300 metres from the commune of Rasteau. The 2020 blend is two-thirds Syrah and one-third Grenache with small amounts of Counoise and Vaccarèse. This packs a serious punch for the money—touchstone Côtes du Rhône here. Despite the younger vine source, the domaine’s signature low levels and nuanced biodynamic farming means this wine consistently over-delivers.  This year’s wine hits the Côtes du Rhône sweet spot—juicy wild blackberry fruitiness, spiciness and supple drinkability—right out of the park. 

Oratoire St Martin Côtes du Rhône P'tit Martin Rouge 2022
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Blanc 2021

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Blanc 2021

Biodynamic. 30% Clairette, 30% Roussanne, 30% Marsanne and 10% Grenache Blanc. This wine achieved cult status in France when Olivier Poussier (Sommelier du Monde 2000 and La Revue du Vin de France’s Rhône specialist) compared its quality to a white Hermitage. Haut Coustias is selected from the estate’s oldest, lowest-yielding white vines, which mostly face east in the chalkiest, coolest part of Oratoire’s La Montagne terroirs (the name given to the steepest area of Cairanne). The average age of the vines is 75 years, and these venerable plants produce low yields of 20 hl/ha. Each variety is harvested and vinified separately in concrete egg or old foudre before blending.

We’ve often said that we know of very few Rhône whites that can match the depth, complexity and sheer presence on offer here. Seductive and textured, there’s a brew of ripe pear, garrigue and anise on the nose, joined by fleshy peach skin on the palate. The wine’s shapely richness is deftly controlled by deep-rooted energy (no malolactic conversion this year) and mouth-watering phenolics. Despite the wine’s power, its classy subtlety, balance and length of flavour set it apart. If a hot white Burgundy grower made wine this far south, it might look like this... (wax cap and all).

“A fresh and precise white with aromas of white peaches, cooked lemons and fennel. It’s medium body with poise and vitality. Saline and succulent with a flavorful finish.”
92 points, James Suckling, jamessuckling.com
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Blanc 2021
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs 2021

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs 2021

Biodynamic. The Oratoire vineyards are located on steep hills in two climats of Cairanne: Saint-Martin and Les Douyes. This is a blend of 60-plus-year-old vines from both terroirs, mainly from the yellow clay and limestone of Saint-Martin, supplemented with a bit of fruit from their limestone-rich Les Douyes vineyard. The yields can dip as low as 20 hl/ha depending on the vintage.

A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, plus a sprinkling of whole-bunch Carignan and Counoise, all the harvest is fermented with indigenous yeast in concrete vats; split between concrete and large-format oak, the wine is matured for 12 months and bottled without fining or filtration. Only a touch of sulphur is used at bottling. The high proportion of Grenache (60%) really sings this year in a velvety, chalky, inky and long release that draws comparison with the finest vintages we have shipped. 

“This stunning Cairanne has a wonderful balance of complex Mediterranean herbs, wild blackberry fruit and candied orange peel character on the beautifully crafted medium- to full-bodied palate. Very long plush finish.”
93 points, James Suckling, jamesuckling.com
“Blackberry fruit with a cool thread features on the nose, mixed herbs, raspberry coulis also present, has a smoke coolness. The palate presents a lucid stream of red fruits with garrigue-rosemary touches, stimulating notes late on. It shows definite promise and verve, energy.”
John Livingstone-Learmonth, Drink Rhône.
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs 2021
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Rouge 2021

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Rouge 2021

Biodynamic. Crafted from 45% Mourvèdre, 45% Grenache and 10% Syrah, the Haut Coustias is this vineyards tour de force red—the most distinctive wine of the domaine, even if we often rate Les Douyes just as highly. It is made from 65-year-old vines planted in the rocky, limestone-rich, blue clay soils of the estate’s highest plot. Only 8,000 bottles are produced each year.

Befitting the domaine’s flagship red, grapes are sorted three times (in the vineyard, then pre- and post-destemming), and the wine naturally ferments in concrete before spending ten months in large, 22-hectolitre wooden foudres. Hewn from tiny yields of intensely flavoured fruit, the palate is refined, flowing and full-bodied, sculpted into silky shape by great, powdery tannin and lifting acidity, with a lovely note of freshly ground coffee on the long finish. Haut Coustias is the priciest of the l’Oratoire offerings yet offers fiendishly good value. Although the style is more ‘limestone’, tapered and fine, it’s a wine that would happily take on many a Châteauneuf-du-Pape at twice the price. There is no hurry here, but thanks to the balance and lucid freshness of the year, it already shines at the table. 

“The bouquet is reserved, but carries potential, has a brewed tone to its dark fruit, the non-Grenache varieties emphasised, with a dab of blood-mineral within. The palate holds nicely sustained matter, is well centred, elegant, with some inner drive in the tannins. It has enough stuffing to pair well with beef dishes, and lasts with a little iron, droiteur, into the extended close. There’s plenty here to get into.”
John Livingstone-Learmonth, Drink Rhône
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias Rouge 2021
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Les Douyes Rouge 2020

Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Les Douyes Rouge 2020

Biodynamic. Around 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre with just a touch of Counoise. The cuvée Les Douyes is drawn from a single limestone-rich terroir with vines co-planted in 1905. In qualitative terms, this wine stands toe-to-toe with the domaine’s cult rouge bottling Haut Coustias, though this wine spends a shorter time (12 to 15 months) aging in large old foudre.

The vines are now well over 100 years old and yield between 18 and 25 hl/ha—one of the reasons this wine offers extraordinary power and value for money. 

Expect layers of black fruits with drive and clarity, a slick of creamy tannin and a lingering cool, bright tone on the finish. Unlike Haut Coustias, it needs a bit of time to fuse and unfurl. In the meantime, a T-bone steak and a decanter are your friends.  


Expect layers of black fruits with drive and clarity, a slick of creamy tannin and a lingering cool, bright tone on the finish. It needs a little time to fuse and unfurl, but in the meantime, a T-Bone steak and a decanter are your friends.

“A seductive and well-made Cairanne with crunchy berry character. On the nose cherries, forest berries and herbs dominate. The medium-bodied palate reveals a harmonious structure and poised character. Delicious and vivid.”
92 points, James Suckling, jamesuckling.com
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Les Douyes Rouge 2020

“Leading name, STGT (soil-to-glass-transfer) leanings, highly skilled commitment to quality in vineyard and cellar, with the ability to adapt to whatever a vintage throws at them. Elegance favoured over power.” John Livingstone-Learmonth, drinkrhone.com



“The wines are full, intense and concentrated, surprisingly sophisticated. At less than half the price of a top Châteauneuf this domaine offers splendid value for money.”
Clive Coates MW

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