Small Batch Series: Rhone Valley

Today I’ve got an assortment of wines from France’s Rhône valley, mostly in super small quantities. They’ll be sold on a first-come-first-served basis, unless two collectors ask for the same wines at the same time, in which case the wines will be awarded based on competitive displays of strength. In the unlikely event that those two collectors deadlift the exact same weight, the matter will be resolved in an adjudicated exhibition of interpretive dance. Should the judges reach an unlikely impasse because the scores for each performance are equal, the wines will be awarded to the winner of a game of Mario Kart – made more difficult because we’ll be using the 150cc mode, and the screens will be upside down. 

Or you could just buy them the fastest. We begin: 

NORTHERN RHÔNE 

René Rostaing La Viaillère 2016, Côte Rôtie AOC. From a lieu-dit to the north of the appellation comes this herbaceously floral, objectively pretty Syrah (100%) from 100+-year-old vines, approachable and balanced, despite the firm tannins. I use “René” Rostaing so everyone knows which house I’m talking about, but in truth the winemaking duties have passed to René’s son Pierre, who carries on his father’s practices of older barrel use (only 10% new oak at any time), whole-cluster pressing and (along with Jamet) traditional, long fermentations. René inherited the La Viaillère plot from his famous father-in-law Albert Dervieux, and this 2016 drinks like a tea party: bright red fruits, lavender and jasmine notes over a firm, full core. Hella concentrated, these ancient vines produce few grapes and the production is miniscule. 96 points Vinous, 94 points Robert Parker, 5 bottles available, $169.98 +tax 

Pierre Gaillard “Rose Pourpre” 2017, Côte Rôtie AOC. I’ve never tasted a Rôtie quite like this deep, savoury beast – it’s like espresso beans staged some performance art with a herb tapenade then set themselves on fire. Much longer a farmer than winemaker, Pierre helped plant the vines for Guigal La Turque vineyard back in the day, but he pretty much spends all his time now in the granite/schist-y Cote Rozier lieu-dit (adjacent to La Landonne, surrounds it, in fact), where he makes contemporarily dynamic Syrah like this top cuvée called Rose Pourpre, an assemblage of the vintage’s best barrels. Holy schist, this is a big wine, living up to the ‘rôtie’ (roasted) moniker with its south-facing slopes and toasty barrels. Good to go but dense enough to bunker for a decade. I was only allocated one 6-pack of this. 94 points Robert Parker, 6 bottles available, $172.98 +tax 

Domaine Barge Côte Brune 2016, Côte Rôtie AOC. 3rd generation Julien Barge now runs the show at the domaine that his grandfather started in 1929 (although Barges had been farming that hill for others since 1860). His father was the first resident of Ampuis (the oft-overlooked village at the foot of the hill) to go to winemaking school and his grandfather was the first to bottle Côte Rôtie on-site (as opposed to selling the fruit down the river to be bottled by Négocients). Arguably in the zone now, soft espresso notes lift the bright red fruits above the present cedar and molasses aromas, with white pepper rounding off the medium-full body. By dint of concentration this’ll bunker like a hermit, but those who cannot wait shall not be punished. 96 points Wine Spectator, 95 points Robert Parker, 3 bottles available, $184.98 +tax 

Domaine Jamet Syrah 2018, Vin de Pays Collines Rhodaniennes IGP. Fill your house with this and ye shall never be lonely. I keep telling people that there’s no “hack” to northern Rhône wines, you get what you pay for, no shortcuts – well, this wine handily undermines that statement. Using high-planted young Syrah vines from the outskirts of Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, Jean-Paul, Corinne and Loic Jamet have managed to bottle the basic soul of the valley without the structure of the more totemistic cellaring wines. White pepper and gravel notes surround the crushed blueberry and cranberry vibes, the tannins support but don’t poke out, and this is an immensely drinkable affair. A great movie trailer for how the sun-kissed 2018 vintage will treat the northern Rhône’s appellation wines. This is all I’ll get for this year, so don’t be bashful. 92 points Robert Parker, 6 6-packs available, $42.98 +tax 

Xavier Gerard Côte Châtillon 2018, Condrieu AOC. The Official Viognier of the Pleasure Dome, produced by young Xavier Gerard, who inherited his family’s holdings around Condrieu that used to supply Jaboulet. His best vineyard is this Côte Chatillon, perched mid-slope overlooking the village, and 2018 blessed this site with the Awesome Wand® – the wine is bursting with buttery pear, jasmine and spicy notes, with the body showing the extra heft that a year in old barrels can add. This Condrieu doesn’t have to try to be a sexy beast, it just has to roll out of bed. No ratings found as of yet. 6 bottles available, $80.98 +tax 

 

SOUTHERN RHÔNE 

Rotem & Mounir Saouma “Omnia” 2017, Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC. Sourced from all 5 of the AOC’s communes (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Courthezon, Sorgues, Bedarrides and Orange) and produced by the husband-and-wife team behind Burgundy wunderkind Lucien le Moine, this “Omina” (Latin for “all”) shows respect for tradition by walking around it and not bothering it at all. Unapologetically contemporary, powerful and precise, this (mostly) Grenache is entirely whole-cluster pressed before spending 2+ years in anything that holds wine: big barrels, wee ones and cement. What we get is modern fruit over classic structure, showing the softer, elegant cherry notes from the whole-bunch method before sucker-punching with weight and wood tannin – I’d like to see a couple more years on this to allow both camps to negotiate a peace treaty. Fantastic wine, vanguard CdP, it likely won’t remain at this price. 96 points Vinous, 12 bottles available, $123.98 +tax 

Domaine des Sénéchaux 2016, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2016 AOC. Now owned by the Cazes family from Bordeaux’s Lynch-Bages, this 70-year-old house in the Bois Sénéchaux lieu-dit (translates to “Sheriff’s Wood”) follows the more classic CdP composition (47% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 19% Mourvèdre with help from those rounding-error grapes like Vaccarèse) but with modern fruit extraction. The Grenache is aged in traditional foudres but the other grapes spend time in the year-old barriques from Lynch-Bages. While this kind of time-jumping can be meh in off-years, it really comes together in stellar vintages like 2016: space-age cherry cola and lavender mingle with medieval garrigue and kirsch elements, the medium-full body has great energy and posture, it drinks tastily now but has 10 years in the tank if you wish. 95 points Jeb Dunnuck, 94 points Robert Parker, 12 bottles available, $61.98 +tax 

Domaine Santa Duc Les Saintes Vierges 2015, Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC. One of the most eyebrow-raising things about the Chateauneufs from Santa Duc is that the winemaker isn’t from there: Yves Gras cut his teeth in his hometown of Gigondas (other side of the valley), but his CdPs drink like a local made them, not like a “yep-we-got-one-of-those-too” Chateauneuf from a larger Rhône Négocient. Sourced from the Saintes Vierges lieu-dit on the eastern extreme of the AOC (adjacent to La Crau) on a plot Yves owns and runs, then aged in foudres and terracotta, this 2015 features a duet of raspberry and blackberry over a core of ripe plums and opulent licorice, the structure supports but doesn’t poke out, and we are already pretty much in balance. Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise – no Syrah. 95 points Robert Parker, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $84.98 +tax 

Chateau de la Font du Loup “Le Puy Rolland” 2018, Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC. 100% Grenache. Named after the lieu-dit just south of Saintes Vierges where the estate is situated, Font du Loup (named after the natural springs that wolves used to drink from) owns a small vineyard planted in 1905 exclusively on north-facing sand called Puy Rolland. Given the aspect and the difficult soil, the Grenache ripens more slowly and is harvested a clear 2 weeks after all surrounding estates, but unlike their more oxidative neighbour Henri Bonneau (who trains Grenache to kill), Puy Rolland is a study in elegance. With the help of Philippe Cambie (one half of Halos de Jupiter), Anne Charlotte Melia-Bachas weds the increased phenolic ripeness to a Burgundian, delicate frame, showing boysenberry, lavender, anise and chocolate cherries over fine tannins and a round footprint. This is unique stuff, a new experience even if CdP is old hat for you. 94 points Robert Parker, 12 bottles available, $87.98 +tax 

Lou Coucardié 2010, Costières de Nîmes AOC. A powerhouse in its prime, I had this vintage brought in again just for me. Made by Michel Gassier (the other half of Halos de Jupiter), this is an inverted CdP blend (60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 10% Syrah) from the southernmost Rhone region, but since these vineyards are near the north of the Costières de Nîmes appellation (just behind Tavel), the large stones (“Gallets”) and iron-rich clay resemble Chateauneuf soils pretty closely, just in a hotter setting. The extra heat units can squeeze a bit more ripeness out of the monster they call Mourvèdre, but this is still a bruiser: heavy plum and blackberry notes throw burning coffee beans at each other before getting swallowed by a lake of dark chocolate – in fact, everything about this is so dark it’s surprising that The Cure didn’t sing about it. The several years in bottle have sanded the edges nicely, but it will always have edges, the beast sheds not his spikes. 94 points Robert Parker, 3 wooden 6-packs available, $57.98 +tax 

 

NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS 

What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you. 

Le Colombier Vieille Vignes 2015, Vacqueyras AOC. 94 points Robert Parker, 12 bottles available, $40.98 +tax 

Ferraton Patou 2013, Cornas AOC. 94 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $69.98 +tax 

  1. Guigal La Landonne 2014 Cote Rotie AOC. 99 points Jeb Dunnuck, 98 points Robert Parker, 3 bottles available, $499.99 +tax 

Tardieu-Laurent 2017 Côte Rôtie AOC. 96 points Wine Spectator, 6 bottles available, $118.98 +tax 

Saint Cosme 2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC. 96 points Robert Parker, 10 bottles available, $80.98 +tax 

Ferraton Les Dionnieres 2012 Hermitage AOC. 94 points Wine Spectator, 10 bottles available, $121.98 +tax 

Until next time, Happy Drinking! 

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