Tag Archives: Crozes-Hermitage

Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Rhône

The night before Ireland took on the might of the French rugby team in Lansdowne Road, I had to contend with a daunting French lineup of my own. It was a far more genteel affair in contrast to what faced our men in green, however: an evening in the famous Michelin-starred L’Ecrivain restaurant, hosted by importer extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell and featuring some of the finest wines of the Northern Rhône from Stéphane Montez and Yann Chave.

The two winemakers were by the bar with Simon when I arrived, sipping on the delicious Gaia Assyrtiko from Santorini in Greece – I suppose even the French must get tired of drinking their own wines the whole time. We exchanged pleasantries while establishing that neither of us spoke the other’s language to any notable degree, and though a flurry of arrivals meant we couldn’t probe the extent of this situation, Stéphane wittily quipped that given the quantity of wine on offer we were sure to speak the same language by the end of the evening.

Little did I know how close to the truth he was…

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Chalk & (French) Cheese

Stéphane Montez is, incredibly, the 10th generation of winemakers in his family. I say ‘incredible’ not because ten generations is a long time – it is of course, but it’s not entirely unheard of in the wine world, with the Antinori family of Italy currently into their 26th generation for example.

What I found most fascinating about Stéphane’s heritage is how lightly he wore it. Other winemaking dynasties of that pedigree, though affable and generous to a fault, can over time assume a regal air about them.

Mr. Montez, however, was anything of the sort: laid-back, quick with a joke, and with an unshaven insouciance. A natural raconteur, he introduced his wines as though recounting a humorous story he heard earlier that day, punctuated here and there with the requisite nonchalant Gallic shrug and pout.

Yann Chave, on the other hand, was more reserved and professorial, most likely as a result of his previous profession: a bank fraud investigator, of all things. In 1996 Yann took over the winemaking activities of father Bernard, whose wines were apparently generally good without being exceptional, perhaps partly explained by the fact that his attention was also taken up cultivating apricots, cherries and peaches.

Yann brought a more studious and focused approach to running the domaine, certifying it as fully organic in the process and insisting on labour-intensive handpicking and no or little oak for his three wines in order to allow their pure fruits shine through – in other words a pared-back, honest, and almost reverential approach to the region and its wines.

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Samsung a Little Bit Different

The venue for the evening was not to be the main upstairs restaurant of L’Ecrivain, as I had originally assumed, but instead their brand new Samsung Kitchen located just off the reception bar. It was my first time in this space that essentially acts both as a private dining room and demonstration kitchen, and where the dishes for our evening were finished off before serving. It was staffed by one or two L’Ecrivain sous-chefs, depending on requirements, although for our starters Derry Clarke himself lent a hand. The memory of a Michelin-starred chef cooking my starter in front of me is not going to leave me for some time!

We were handed a list of wines to be tasted that evening, six superb bottles in total. But in keeping with the French nonchalant air of the evening we were told to largely disregard this sheet since three of the six wines were unavailable, as it happens, and what’s more we were in fact going to be served a whopping thirteen wines in total. Mais oui!

As an aperitif we were served the superb Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc (reviewed below), before being poured both the 2008 and 2015 vintages of Stéphane Montez’s Condrieu “Les Grandes Chaillées”, a blend of eight select parcels from this historic appellation. The 2008 was waxy and even slightly Maderized, as you’d expect from an eight-year-old white wine, while the younger and fresher vintage was much more to my taste: weighty yet elegant with some blossom and woodsmoke.

Continuing the theme we next enjoyed the 2014 vintage of a Condrieu lieu dit called “Chanson”, which was softer than the Les Grandes Chaillées blend and perfectly poised; a properly fine wine.

While all this was going on we were first served a crab meat amuse bouche followed by incredible roast scallops with Jerusalem artichoke. Scallops are one of my favourite dishes but need to be ultra-fresh and deftly handled, which of course they were in the hands of Derry Clarke (did I mention he cooked them right in front of me?!), and served alongside some of the Rhône’s most famous whites they were, obviously, superbly paired.

 

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The Best Things Come in Two

From there it was on to the reds, starting with a pair of Yann Chave’s “Tradition” Crozes-Hermitage wines. First there was the 2003, an infamous year which saw an extreme heatwave rip through Europe, though you wouldn’t have noticed it in Yann’s bottling, which was superb and still ripe with an aged smoky minerality and black olive flavours. The 2015, one of my recommendations below, was a younger version and equally outstanding.

We progressed then to the next level of Chave’s Crozes-Hermitage, “Le Rouvre”, and again we had to vintages to compare and contrast. First was a complex, minty-cool black fruited 2007, followed by a magnum of its spicier, ‘hotter’ younger brother 2011 which needed a little time yet to knit together.

It seemed by this point that the French were intent on killing us with kindness: we were presented, yet again, with two vintages of yet another wine, this time a 2006 and 2014 of Montez’s St Joseph “Cuvée du Papy”. It comes with a lovely backstory too: it has been produced since the 1989 vintage when Antoine, Stéphane’s father became a grandfather. To celebrate he chose “his best sites, his most beautiful vines and his most select grapes, selected his best barrels and put all his love and know-how into the development of an exceptional vintage: Cuvée du Papy.”

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Stéphane was eager to draw the distinction that the 2006 was “Bordeaux in style”, while the 2014 was “Burgundy in Style”, which I agreed with wholeheartedly. In truth my preference was with the 2006, which was quintessentially aged Rhone with crunchy blueberry fruit and violets, while the 2014 was more funky and a touch ‘bretty‘, and indeed lighter and earthier in style.

Oh, and of course there was the food. Amongst all this incredible wine were some fantastic dishes, with my choice falling firmly on the sika deer on offer (it didn’t take much to predict that stone bass wouldn’t pair so well with punchy Rhône reds!)

Finally, we came to the last two red wines, both the apogées of Stéphane and Yann’s efforts. First was Montez’s 2009 Côte-Rôtie “Fortis”, a supremely elegant, deep and beautiful wine just showing a touch of bottle age through some smoke and coffee notes, followed by Chave’s 2009 Hermitage, a more serious and concentrated, herbal, long and complex wine.

Apologies to anyone looking for more extensive reviews of these two iconic wines: my notes weren’t exactly extensive at this point, since at this stage in the evening I was reeling in the hedonistic pleasure of drinking some of the world’s most prestigious and finest wines and enjoying the fantastic company.

We finished off then with what was a surprise for most of us there: a sweet Condrieu, a rarity in itself these days. Specifically, it was Stéphane’s 2007 Condrieu “Grain de Folie”, made 50% with botrytised grapes and 50% with grapes that raisined on the vine. The result was stratospheric – my more extensive review is below.

The evening was so enjoyable that next day when Ireland bravely defeated the French side I almost felt sorry for Stéphane and Yann, given how generous, humorous and memorable they were the night before.

Well, almost.

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THREE TO TRY

Les Hauts De Monteillet Blanc 2014, Domaine du Monteillet
€24.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown

stephane-montez-domaine-du-monteillet-les-hauts-du-monteillet-blanc-igp-collines-rhodaniennes-france-10371422A blend of Viognier, Rousanne and Clairette, this proved to be incredible value for money.

Beautifully mineral and herbal characters (white pepper and fennel in particular) provide foil for a toasty, buttery creaminess.

A concentrated and elegant wine that punches well above its weight. Delicious.

 

Crozes-Hermitage ‘Tradition’ Rouge 2015, Domaine Yann Chave
€27.95 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

yc03_crozes_hermitage_bis_rouge_2012_yann_chave_bdwebA fully organic wine, this provided a fresh fruity, very typically young Northern Rhône nose of blueberry, blackberry and black pepper.

The palate took a different tack and instead provided cool-climate Syrah’s distinctive smoky, mineral and savoury streak with some fantastic tannin. Poised and elegant, this is a fantastic wine.

Condrieu ‘Grain de Folie’, Domaine du Monteillet
€40 from Searson’s, Monkstown and Donnybrook Fair

condrieu-domaine-du-monteillet-les-grandes-chailleesAlmost an afterthought, Stephane Montez’s sweet wine was stunning, and a refreshing coda to the serious flight of reds that came before it.

Being a botrytised wine it had the style’s distinctive marmalade character, but with supreme elegance, concentration, and refreshing acidity.

I’m a fan of sweet wine and this is up there with the best I’ve ever tasted, if not the best I’ve tasted. Superb.

 

This article first appeared on TheTaste.ie

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A Murder of Crozes

I had intended this to be a sort of addendum to my last post about the Ely Big Rhône Tasting, but figured it would be long enough for its own post. Also I really needed to finish the last one in a hurry.

One of the tables at the event belonged to Nomad Wine Importers, Burgundian wine distributor of note, run by Frenchman Charles Derain. But don’t go Googling just yet, for Nomad dodoesn’t’t have a website, it’s not on Facebook, nor does it dabble in Twitter – nada – so the only contact seems to be via direct email to Charles. A pretty old-school way of doing things in the 21st century.

One of the few pictures available online of Charles Derain!

I first briefly met Charles at the Ely Big Tasting back in October where, apart from a few delicious wines, I was taken by his very Gallic, effusive nature. His passion was undoubtable, as it should be, but he had a refreshingly cheeky chappy demeanour laced with pithy, often audacious throwaway comments, all punctuated with that nonchalant shrug that seems to be the birthright of every Frenchman. He was great craic.

Charles was Head Sommelier in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud for over 6 years and produces the critically-acclaimed Les Deux Cols Côtes du Rhône with wine polymath extraordinaire Simon Tyrrell, so to say he knows what he’s doing is an understatement. You can read a really good Q&A with Charles and Simon on Julie Dupouy’s new blog.

Anyway. What was most notable about the Nomad table, apart from Charles’s vivacious energy, was that he was holding a mini vertical and horizontal tasting combined (a vertical is when different vintages of the same wine are tasted, a horizontal is when different producers’ wines from the same vintage are tasted).

So what we had on the night was two vintages each of two wines, both Crozes-Hermitage: Domaine Maxime Graillot’s ‘Domaine des Lises’, and Domaine Alain Graillot’s regular Crozes-Hermitage. The eagle-eyed will have spotted the similarity of the names, and they’d be right, for Maxime Graillot is son of Alain Graillot, the latter being a big deal in Crozes-Hermitage since he set up shop there in 1985.

Maxime and Alaine Graillot (Photo: vigneronsdexception.com)

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€28.00 in good wine shops

The 2012 vintage of this wine was the first in our glass, and wow was it good. Beautifully perfumed, intense but elegant, savoury gilled meat and graphite, a subtle and reserved, quite dry palate with really lovely tannin at the end. What a fantastic start – I was salivating at the thought of how the tasting would progress from here.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2012
€29.50 from Mitchell & Son, Terroirs and Vanilla Grape

This was quite … characterful. I have three adjectives related to its acidity written on my notes: the first is “very vivid”, later it’s “electric”, before finally relenting to “aggressive”. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a bad or unbalanced wine in the slightest, but it certainly had plenty of … well, character, for want of a better word.

Charles looked on intently and seemed pleased that my expression matched his expectations. “Yes, it’s ‘very French’” he said, smiling, before going on to acknowledge that it’s quite the challenge. The nose was feral, earthy. But it’s a delight to taste something from the same region and same vintage as the previous glass, but in such a significantly different style. The joys of wine, eh?! I just wouldn’t be rushing to drink this particular bottle just yet.

 

Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage 2009

I was looking forward to this. After the stellar performance of the 2012 I couldn’t but wait to see what a few years would do to it, especially from a noteworthy vintage. But what’s this? The amazing fruit of the 2012 had faded far beyond its three years; sure enough that earthiness was now coming through, but accompanied by somewhat off-balance acidity and tannin. This wasn’t going down well at all – admittedly, it was a disappointment . A wine to drink young then it seems (but then what a wine in its youth!). A little confused, I moved on to the 2009 Alain Graillot, though with some trepidation after the almost literally shocking experience of the 2012.

 

Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2009

And what’s this? The jarring, aggressive punk-rock characteristic of the 2012 was gone, and in its place was a softer, smoother, more supple drop. True enough its acidity was still significant but it had relaxed to give way to some actual noticeable fruit now, though more in the blackberry and plum region than savoury meatiness. It would be great to taste this in a  couple of years again; definitely the winner of the 2009s.

 

 End Result

I was quite relieved to discover that my thoughts were in line with Charles’s – it’s always flattering to know you’re on the same  page as a former 2 Michelin star sommelier! It was a fantastic experience that showed how you can take two quite different approaches to much the same grape juice from the same area: a more youthful, fruit-forward style that’s excellent when young but doesn’t age well, versus the old guard approach where the wines can often be undrinkable young but grow old gracefully. With some panache Charles not only managed to succinctly highlight this in a few glasses, but worked in a father and son angle too. Chapeau!

 


 

Postscript

This is the first of a new section I’m going to establish for posts like these. One of the great things about doing this blog is the research behind wines I come across that I like, and comparing and contrasting my experiences with certain wines against others out there on the internet. So this will be a piecemeal section where I’ll link to other articles on the topic for further reading, recommend select reviews on a wine I’ve reviewed and other related bric-a-brac I think would be of interest.

  • Here’s a great write-up by New York sommelier Victoria James on her visit to the Graillot winery. In it she mentions that the Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage in general, “in its youth, the wine is abrasive but very appealing, though the finished product holds such longevity it can seem a shame to drink it young.” Yep, abrasive is another word for it! More specifically, she said of the 2012 that “while [it] held less intensity [than the 2013] its aggressive structure transmitted power and a robust energy.”
  • I’m finding it difficult to find a retailer for the Maxime Graillot Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage online, though Terroirs and Vanilla Grape do have the next bottle down called “Equinoxe”. I recall having it in The Cellar Restaurant under The Merrion a couple of years back and really quite liking it, so I’ll have to pick up a bottle again soon.
  • John Wilson of the Irish Times didn’t seem to find the acidity of Domaine Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage too much, not that he could say in the handful of words he’s permitted at least (2011 vintage notwithstanding).