Tag Archives: Rhône

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 Busy Week for Wine in Ireland

The coming week (and a bit) is proving to be something of a purple patch for lovers of wine in Ireland.

Tonight (Thursday 29th October) is the inaugural edition of SPIT, a day-long event that showcases five of Ireland’s best small wine importers: WineMason, Vinostito, Tyrrells, GrapeCircus, and Nomad.

It’ll be held in the gorgeous Smock Alley Theatre, with the public session starting at 18.30 and tickets a mere €25pp – for the quality, breadth and range of wines on offer, that’s actually a bargain. For more see here.

Yours truly will be at the Bloggers’ Table with Paddy of The Vine Inspiration,  where we’ll have some of our picks from the evening on tasting. Trust me: it was an incredible difficult decision to choose just a few wines from the hundreds of gorgeous bottles on show at the event.

Click here to read more about SPIT, or better yet pop down to Smock Alley tonight and just go.

 

Then next week we have a fantastic double-whammy in the form of Rhône Wine Week Ireland and International Sherry Week Dublin. Spoiled for choice doesn’t even cover it: both event are run by those most passionate about the subjects and I’m sure that every event will be really excellent. Below is a quick run-down of what’s on where:

 

Rhône Wine Week Ireland 2015

Always a fantastic week of wine, immaculately organised by Tyrrells, who themselves are the undisputed experts of the Rhône in Ireland.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 17.30
The ever-popular Big Rhône Quiz takes place once again – more info here

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November, 18.30
Domaine de Mourchon will have a wine tasting at the IFI before a screening of Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips.  €25pp. More info here.

DUBLIN: Monday 2nd November
L’Gueuleton will host a dinner with Etienne Defosse from Delas. €35pp. For more information contact l’Gueuleton on 01 6753708.

CORK: Tuesday 3rd November
L’Atitude 51 in Cork city will host an evening with Jean Louis from Famille Quoit. To book please call 021 239 0219 or email info@latitude51.ie.

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.00
*Highly Recommended* – if there’s only one event you can make this week, make it ely‘s excellent Big Rhône Tasting. €15pp. For more click here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November
Hatch & Sons host wine heavyweights John Wilson and Mary Dowey as they join winemakers Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons d’Estezargues and Thomas Schmittel of Domaine Graillot for a 3 course meal including wines. €35pp. for more info and to book please email hatchandsons1@gmail.com or call 01 661 0075.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 19.30
Mitchell & Son will be at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club with Christophe Jaume of Domaine Grand Veneur for a four course wine dinner. €65pp. For more click here.

LIMERICK: Friday 6th November, 17.00
There’ll be an open tasting of Rhône wines at The Wine Room in Limerick’s boutique One Pery Square.

 

International Sherry Week Dublin 2015

DUBLIN: Tuesday 3rd November, 18.30
Stanley’s Wine Director Morgan VanderKamer and Sherry Educator Paddy Murphy host a “Four Sherries, One Vineyard” tasting. More info here.

CORK: Wednesday 4th November, 15:30
Sherry talk and tasting at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. More here.

DUBLIN: Wednesday 4th November, 18.30
Stanley’s Restaurant is the epicentre of sherry once again, and on Wednesday they’ll hold a tasting of Fernando de Castilla’s Antique range. More here.

DUBLIN: Thursday 5th November, 17.00
Taste through the many styles from Bodegas Tradicion in Stanley’s. More here.

DUBLIN: Friday 6th November, 17.00
After all the sherry talks and tastings during the week, it’s time to flaunt your own: Stanley’s will host an innovative ‘Bring Your Own’ evening where all bottles brought on the night will be available for sampling. More here.

 

The Lidl French Wine Selection for Easter 2015

Lidl invited me to taste through a range of French wines they’ll be introducing to Irish stores this Easter, appearing on-shelf from Monday 3rd March.

I’m always impressed by how both Lidl and Aldi manage to source some really decent wines for pittance, a skill which they are both getting better at and gaining recognition for. OK, they may not be the most complex wines that are representative of their terroir or vintage, but they do tend to be very enjoyable for very little money, and for that they should be lauded.

So below are my picks of the wines they’ll have in-store from next week, but first a round-up of the sparkling wines which they have available year-round…

 


 

The Bubbles

 

Prosecco Treviso Frizzante
€7.99, available all year round
This is a simple, very fruit-forward fizz tasting mostly of pear drops. Not exactly interesting but it really is unbeatable at this price.

Arestel Cava
€10.49, available all year round
I was a little amazed at how muted this was – not bad, but not good either, just … meh. So not a terrible decision if you’re desperate for some fully-sparkling bubbly at a ridiculous price like this, just don’t expect any typical Cava character.

Marquis de Plagne, Crémant d’Alsace
€12.99, available all year round
Though the nose is nice and floral, the palate is simple and inoffensive. Still, an OK steely sparkler from an often over-looked region.

Comte de Brismand Champagne
€19.99, available all year round
A relatively simple and straightforward Champagne, some floral characteristics and noticeable acidity. A little aggressive initially it softens out to a creamy but still slightly tart palate. Twice as good as, say, Moet et Chandon, at half the price.

Bissinger & Co. Champagne Premium Cuvée
€29.99, from 2nd February until stocks last
Ironically, this is positively stratospheric price-wise in Lidl terms, but relative to Champane prices everywhere else outside of the German discounters you’re only really getting started at €30.
It’s hard not to call this a “baby Bollinger”, given the rich grilled nuts aromas and the equally rich and creamy, brioche-tinged palate. Granted, the length is only medium and the bubbles could be finer, but at €30 this is a steal.

 


 The Whites

To be honest the whites were disappointing, with the majority of them being flabby and lacking in the crucial acidity needed for some decent balance. This is despite the inclusion of an Alsace Gran Cru for a paltry €12.99, but even that didn’t warrant its price tag, despite its esteemed provenance.

Lidl Pouilly FumeThere was, however, one diamond in the rough for me, but at €12.99 for this I’d still opt for, say, Aldi’s excellent Gavi at €8 approx. any time:

 

Les Vignes de Saint Laurent l’Abbaye, Pouilly-Fumé 2013
€12.99
This had some nice smoky/flinty notes on the nose and lively white stone fruit on the palate with gooseberry and asparagus showing. OK at this price.

 


 

The Reds: Bordeaux

 

Lidl Chateau ArnaudChâteau Arnaud 2012
€9.99
A really quite nice ‘entry level’ Bordeaux: blackcurrant and oak, with a rich enough palate and nice tannin. Everything present and correct.

 

Lidl Chateau PithivierChâteau Pithivier 2011
€9.99
Much richer nose than the Arnaud with dark red fruit evident over a soft lush palate with noticeable blackcurrant. Very good.

 

Lidl Chateau de ClotteChâteau de Clotte, Côtes de Castillon 2010
€12.99
The most  complex nose thusfar with cedar and blackcurrant trading blows over a light a fragrant palate

 

Lidl Domaine la RocheDomaine la Roche, Pessac-Léognan 2008
€19.99
The joint oldest vintage in the tasting, this had a beautiful perfumed nose with black tea and evident oak. The palate was nicely balanced and flavoursome. It’s rare to get a readily-aged Bordeaux from one of the best vintages of the last decade in your local German discounter for €20, so I’ll be picking up a bottle of this to try again at home.

 

Lidl L’Enclos de Chateau Saint PeyL’Enclos de Château Saint Pey, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2011
€13.99
This had a bloody, meaty fragrance, which isn’t as unappealing as it sounds, promise! The palate was supple and rich(ish) with nicely integrated tannin. Very good and a great price.

 

Lidl Tour de LarozeTour de Laroze, Margaux 2008
€17.99
The other oldest vintage in the tasting. All was present and correct here but I felt there was better value to be had at lower price points. It was nice, though, and great if you feel the pressure to have the famous Margaux name on your dining room table.

 


 

The Reds: Rhône

 

Château Notre Dame des Veilles, Côtes-du-Rhône 2013
€8.99
A ridiculous price for a CDR, though its flavour profile was very much on the lighter, bubblegum and boiled sweets side of things.

 

Lidl Saint JosephSaint-Joseph 2012
€12.99
Again, another ridiculous price, but then this is Lidl after all. This was really very good, with a smoky, black pepper nose with some grilled meat evident. It had a silky peppery palate that was soft and spicy. I’ll definitely be picking up a bottle on my travels for this money.

 

Lidl VacqueyrasSerabel Vacqueyras 2012
€12.99
Though the nose was rather muted the palate was better, with floral rose and cherry flavours with some raspberry. The Saint-Joseph is much better in my opinion but it’s good to have options.

Highlights from The Corkscrew Winter Wine Fair – Part 2

 For Part 1 – which included my sparkling and white wine choices – click here.

Looking back over my notes now I realise that I regretfully missed quite a few wines that I would really loved to have spent some time over: a tableful of Portuguese dry wines ruefully skipped; another table that held nothing but sherries, a missed opportunity to  fill in a major gap in my knowledge; the reds of Domaine La Perriere and Domaine Sagat, whose whites I really enjoyed; the first ever craft beer section; and so on.

But such is life, and these things roll around again. Anyway, below are some reds that jumped out at me on the day:

Allegrini La Grola 2010
€27.95 from The Corkscrew, Mitchell & SonWineOnline.ie

A beautifully rich and intense wine, herb-tinged and deliciously structured. Another cracker from Allegrini, and an interesting mix of 80% Corvina, 10% Syrah and 10% Oseleta, the previously ‘lost’ grape native to the Veneto recently ‘resurrected’ by Masi.

 

Rodet Bourgogne Pinot Noir
€15.99 from The Corkscrew

For me the generic ‘Bourgogne Pinot Noir’ is something of a minefield. Burgundy is the home of Pinot Noir and where the best expression of the grape can be found, albeit at a price. The more affordable bottles – simply labelled Bourgogne (i.e. Burgundy) – mostly don’t do the region any justice and tend to be thin and cheap-tasting in my experience.

But this is the best generic Bourgogne I’ve come across. It’s noticeably light but has a lovely mineral streak over some delicate savoury flavours. Refreshing and elegant.

 

Niepoort Rótulo, Dão 2012
€17.50 from The Corkscrew

Dry Portuguese reds are definitely in the ascendancy at the moment, but it’s a style I’m ashamedly not familiar with. Interestingly,  Niepoort have opted to prioritise – nay, exalt – the Dão region very prominently on the colourful label ahead of the historic and famous Niepoort name, or indeed even its given

It’s very intense, taut and concentrated but with elegant floral and dark fruit flavours; the tannin is just right and calls out for food. But I won’t event try and pronounce the grapes: Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheir.

 

Ziereisen Tschuppen 2011
€23.95 from The Corkscrew

“This is Pinot Noir”, said the man behind the table (who I later discovered was Ben Mason of Origin Wines). “Or do you mean … Spätburgunder?” said I, twinkle in my eye. “Ho ho ho” we chuckled together, knowingly, for what fun we trade insiders have .

Seriously, this was an amazingly impressive wine, a steal at under €25. It toes the line between the New World and Old World style of Pinot deftly, taking the savoury elegance of the latter and combining it with some headonistic richness of the former. A really notable wine.

 

Château du Cèdre Heritage Malbec 2011
€14.95 from Le Caveau, The Corkscrew, TheWineShop.ie

Another great value wine from Le Caveau with fresh, juicy, ripe sweet fruit. Given it’s organically produced the value is even more impressive.

 

Chaume-Arnaud Côtes du Rhône 2012
€16.55 from Le Caveau, MacGuinness Wine Merchants

Another VGVFM (Very Good Value For Money) wine; medium-bodied, spicy and noticeable tannins that cry out for some meaty food. A traditional blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault.

 

Maison Ambroise, Cotes de Nuits Villages 2010
€28.90 from Le Caveau and MacGuinnes Wine Merchants

A delicious, fresh wine of cherry and red berries but also an underlying savoury note, light but packed with flavour, really beautiful. Again organic; chapeau to Le Caveau for sticking their neck out and producing such ethical, delicious wines for such amazing prices.

 

Mouchão 2007
€38.95 from The Corkscrew

An incredible, amazing nose of smoky complexity. Outstanding stuff, deep, intense, multi-layered, meaty, taut and with tingling acidity. An outstanding heavy-hitter, made predominantly from Alicante Bouschet with a small percentage of Trincadeira

 

Château de Pierreux Brouilly Réserve 2007
€24.95 from The Corkscrew

A Beaujolais no doubt! I’m usually wary of the region, which I’m aware is a sweeping generalisation, but good examples for me tend to be few and far between, diamonds in the rough. This is one such wine, though; smooth and delicious with some gentle spice , noticeable tannin and a lip-smacking finish.

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).

The Ely Big Rhône Tasting 2014

Though a little late in the posting – given this is based on a tasting conducted on the 6th November – if you’re reading this before Christmas Day then in theory this is actually perfectly well timed for the festive season. That’s how I’m validating the delay to myself anyway.

Last month I popped in to the Big Rhône Tasting that took place in the atmospheric subterranean vaults of Ely CHQ to get my chops around the wines of the famous southern French wine region.

This is the second iteration of Rhône Wine Week, organised by Rhône experts and general all-round lovely people Tyrrell & Co. (Wine Importers) Ltd with a little help from Inter Rhônes. It’s heartening to see the love and support Simon Tyrrell et al receive from the wine community before and during this week, all of it absolutely warranted.

Events are run up and down the country in the shape of everything from light and fun intro evenings to serious tastings and brain-churning quizzes that would make the most expert wine buff sweat.

Throw in radio spots, dinners and lots more besides, and you have an amazingly well-assembled and comprehensive paean to a region Simon Tyrrell feels is under-loved; at this rate there no fear of that being a reality for much longer.

You can read more about the week on the Rhône Wine Week website, as well as Jean Smullen’s Wine Diary and plenty of other places if you Google it.

 


The Findlater Selection

My first port of call was the Findlater Wine & Spirit Group stand to call in on some friends and former colleagues who on this occasion were showing a nice broad range of wines from renowned – and sometimes controversial – Rhône producer M. Chapoutier. I’ve written extensively about the living legend that is Michel Chapoutier and his company which you can swot up on again here.

 

Chapoutier ‘Belleruche’ Rouge Côtes du Rhône 2013
€15.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; Molloys Off-Licences, Dublin; Martins of Fairview, Dublin; Next Door Off-Licences nationwide; Mitchell & Son, Dublin
Soft and sweet but still some nice drying tannins at the end; cherry and coffee with some of the expected spiciness, but not excessively. Quite good value for money and another wine that dispels my quickly-fading fear of generic Côtes du Rhône.

 

Chapoutier Gigondas 2011
€25.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; WineOnline.ie
A really lovely wine with a much more floral nose than expected, underlaid with some herbal characteristics and leather. The palate is light and silky but has a slightly bitter, tannic finish that cries out for food. Great tasting on its own at a table but would be amazing with some meaty fare.

 


Chapoutier ‘Les Meysonniers’ Crozes-Hermitage 2012

€20.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; Millésima
This wine was much more the ‘typical’ Rhône style I had come to expect with noticeable spice and a kick of heat over savoury, leathery flavours and dark red fruit. Despite this the palate was again much lighter and silkier than expected, with tannins nice and integrated.

 

Chapoutier ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2012
€34.99 from O’Brien’s nationwide; The Vintry, Rathgar, Dublin; WineOnline.ieMillésima
Much more deep and concentrated this one, with brambly fruit, damson and blackberry with some grilled meat notes too. The palate is taut with only a gentle lick of black pepper spice – again another food-hungry wine.

 

Chapoutier Rasteau 2012
€19.99
I’ve written “more tactile than flavoursome” in my notes, but that’s not in a negative way: apart from some nice but general savoury, blackberry, slightly spicy characteristics, for me the wine was better enjoyed for its silky, taut, brooding palate. At this price it’s really good value for money, a sort of little brother to the ‘La Bernardine’ Châteauneuf-du-Pape perhaps. Really good value for money.

 

 


 

Best of the Rest

It’s incredible in retrospect, but I didn’t get to taste any white wines, most definitely a loss on my part as I rarely (correction: ever) get to taste white wines from the Rhône normally. But given the tight timing (I had to rush off to a dinner with friends) and the fact I was with a friend who was definitely a ‘red’ guy, then the whites had to be sacrificed in order to prioritise those wines that the region is most noted for. Next year I’ll be sure to sample some whites!

 

Simone Joseph ‘Les Vignes Paralleles’ Côtes du Rhône 2012
€13.45 from TheWineStore.ie; TheDrinkStore.ie
I had to do a double-take at the price of this wine – at €13.45 it’s incredible value for money. Though hardly the most complex wine of the evening, understandably, for some decent change out of €15 you get a lightly pleasant, interesting wine from Simon Tyrrell’s own négociant business.

 

Domaine Brusset Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages ‘Les Travers’ 2010
€19.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
Initially I got some worryingly ‘green’ aromas on the nose, which thankfully faded quickly enough to give way to deeply brooding, interesting, dark fruit aromas, and a taut, rich, long and spicy palate of black fruit and dried currants. Really quite excellent, another excellent value for money wine.

 

Domaine La Monardière Vacqueyras 2010
€22.85 from JNwine.com and WineOnline.ie
Another wine with little by way of tasting notes, but this time due to chatting away to the affable Jonathan Tonge of JN Wines. What I do have recorded, however, is that this was a delightfully light wine but with a palate that defied its weight with taut, heady, savoury flavours and a long delicious finish.

 

Domaine Brusset Gigondas ‘Tradition Le Grand Montmirail’ 2012
€25.99 from Mitchell & Sons, Dublin
A really good wine made somewhat unapproachable by its immense tannins. Paired with some intensely meaty dishes – an/or a little time – this would soften out to be a really notable wine.

 

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2012
€45.99 from Mitchell & Sons
One of the highest of highlights of the evening. I remember it taking my breath away, but evidently it took away my ability to write also as I simply have one word scrawled beside it in the booklet: “Wow!”

So I’ll have to refer you to Frankie Cook – who liked it also – who noted that, “it’s a delicious wine that showcases some of the best that Rhône Syrah can do.  There is bacon and black olives, pepper and spice, but above all refined power from the fruit.” Read the full review here.

 

Domaine M. et S. Ogier d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie 2010
€74.95 from TheWineStore.ie
Wow wow wow – incredibly alluring and multi-faceted aromas above a saline, gorgeous palate of coffee, dates, cassis; long and luxurious, a stunner.

Fac et Spera: M. Chapoutier

I love Maison M. Chapoutier, to give the company its full and proper title, though I’ll admit that it was the aura around the company itself and not its wines that attracted me first, in particular its colourful figurehead Michel Chapoutier; you may remember him from my first Wine Wisdom posts in fact.

Michel Chapoutier

Though I’ve never had the chance to meet him, Chapoutier seems to me to be a fantastically idiosyncratic and colourful character: opinionated, deliberately and consciously contrarian, proud, stubborn, revolutionary, arrogant, bombastic, narcissistic, and so much more. He seems to be a person that some love to hate, and others hate to love. He’s ruthless and cold on one hand then generous and emotive on the other, noted for his hyperbole and grand pronouncements, and talking effusively at length about minutiae others often overlook, whether for better or worse. Love him or hate him, you can’t but be captivated by this man and, by extension for me at least, his wines too.

I originally began this post as a review of one of his excellent wines, but ended up spending a couple of happy hours picking over the details of this fascinating man and his company. Here’s a little review of it all – enjoy!

Chapoutier: The Company and the Man

The story of how the M. Chapoutier business as we know it today came about is like something out of House of Cards.

Michel Chapoutier’s grandfather, Marc, handed over the reins to the family winery to Michel’s father and brother in 1977, though only nominally. In what may be seen as a foreshadowing of his grandson’s own ambitions, Marc still maintained control over vinification – i.e. growing the grapes and making the wine itself – leaving his son and grandson the relatively demoted tasks of bottling, ageing and distribution.

In 1987 a 23-year-old Michel returned from a few years working in other wine regions to join his grandfather in the vineyard,  and immediately set about impressing his own stamp on the Chapoutier brand. But as his brother and father were responsible for the finishing of the wines then they were never going to be “his” wines in their entirety, a troubling situation for the obsessive Michel.

Taking his grievances directly to his grandfather, he was offered the chance of assuming the head role of the family business ahead of his own father, an opportunity that itself should have been conceited enough to keep him happy. But still this wasn’t enough for the driven young Michel, who didn’t fancy sharing the spoils of his hard work with what he saw as his lazy and therefore undeserving family members.

So, in 1990, at only 26 years old, Michel Chapoutier bought the company outright from his grandfather, firing all family members involved in the firm soon after. In my mind this plays out like the final scene of The Godfather, where the heads of all the rival families are toppled in one fell swoop. Ruthless doesn’t quite cover it.

The Wines

Unusually, unlike Burgundy and Bordeaux, the Rhône doesn’t have an official cru (vineyard) classification system, despite the region’s wine being some of the most renowned and diverse in the world.

There are, however, lieux-dits, “named places” or place names that denote vineyard sites and plots within each appellation which have been recognised – either historically or via more recent investigation – as producing wines of a distinct quality or character.  Chapoutier has been voracious in his appetite for snapping up these lieux-dits and now is one of the largest holders of some of the most rare and exclusive plots of land in the Rhône, including most notably a large swathe of the fabled Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier is also famous for his production methods. Most of his wines are certified organic, with the top wines going one step further by being produced biodynamically. Biodynamic winemaking is like organic farming on speed: not only are synthetic sprays banned in their entirety, but soil treatments such as natural sprays and manure are treated with certain ‘preparations’ such as “flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder” and “oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal.”

Not only that but certain key vineyard jobs such as pruning, picking and the aforementioned spraying are performed according to the phases of the moon. I kid you not. There are more winemakers than you’d think around the world practicing biodynamics at the moment, with many transitioning to the practice. I won’t try and cover this weird and wonderful way of making wine in this blog, but Jamie Goode (again) has an excellent and comprehensive explainer here should you wish to know more.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003

So, on to the wine. This one comes from Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône, which is the largest appellation in the region and can produce some nice if ordinary wines.

But this is a Chapoutier wine, and not only that but Les Varonniers is from his ‘Sélections Parcellaires‘ top tier of wines, so you can fully expect it be anything but ‘ordinary.’

The wine is sourced from a lieux-dit known as Varognes; originally it was blended with wine produced from another Crozes-Hermitage lieux-dit called Les Meysonniers, with the resulting contraction of the two names giving “Varonniers.” Now, however, it is completely sourced from the Varognes plot alone, which boasts vines with an average age of 65 years and an esteemed placement at the fringe of Hermitage hill.

Chapoutier Les Varonniers 2003The wine was very reductive and funky on initial opening and needed a bit of air to blow this off before some gamey, barnyard aromas revealed themselves before moving on to very savoury, meaty notes. Eventually some dried fruits such as redcurrants and raisins were evident, overlaid with some typical spice. And I may be crazy, but I thought I detected some lavendar – but that’s sure a more South of France thing?

Anyway, that gamey characteristic appeared again on the palate again, with layers of leather and a little liquorice too. It had lovely acidity and tannin – enough to warrant good food, but not so much not to be able to enjoy on its own. A gentle long finish completed this delightful wine.

M. Chapoutier Crozes-Ermitage ‘Les Varonniers’ 2003
www.chapoutier.fr
Approximately €40 from Millesima and specialist off-licences
100% Syrah

(Thanks to Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak site for providing much of the detail for this post)