Did you know that if you aimlessly wander around through France, you will eventually run into a vast paradise where the wine flows like wine? Well, it’s true. This is my attempt to chronicle these adventures and somehow prove that it is actually true. Hopefully, I learn a few things along the way….
First stop, Côte Rôtie and then Condrieu:
Time to dork-out, a quick refresher on Côte Rôtie:This is the most northern appellation in the Rhone Valley and some of the most extreme grades that I have seen in viticulture (I would venture to guess 30% in certain areas). Although the area has expanded, total area under vine is a little over 200 ha. There are two main reasons for great wine here:1. as can see on the image to the left, the river pitches west here, and all of the vineyards face southeast, maximizing sun exposure and protecting the grapes from the wicked “mistral” winds that come whipping down the valley from the north and2. soils, Bedrock of the northeastern part of the scarp upstream from Ampuis is a schist containing both Muscovite (white mica) and biotite (black mica). The rock weathers to a dark brown which gave it the nameCôte Brune (brown slope). South of Ampuis is a complex of schist and gneiss (a granite-like, metamorphic rock), which weather to a grayish cast, giving it the name Côte Blonde (blond slope).The picture below, shows the hill just above Ampuis, the Côte Brune:
You can see the terraces or “cheys,” that have been in place for centuries and are necessary for cultivation on this extremely steep slopes. You can also see the single and double stakes of which the single guyot vines are trained:The grapes. As you may be aware, syrah is the main grape with a permitted blending of up to 20% of the viognier white grape which does well on the Côte Blonde; however, in practice much less is typically used. So, to generalize, if you are drinking a Côte Rôtie, Côte Blonde then it will typically have a bit of viognier and may be better for earlier consumption as opposed to Côte Rôtie, Côte Brune, in which the wines are typically all syrah and meant to age.My experience (which we’ll see later) are massive, especially in warm years like 2009 and 2010 and need considerable aging. They do produce wines that are extremely aromatic (especially with the addition of viognier), deep color, new oak and full of undergrowth and ripe black fruits. However, with all this they are typically much more feminine that their Hermitage counterparts (we”ll get to that in a later post).Also, it should quickly be noted that the reason for the resurgence in this areas wines is due in large part to Robert Parker, due to his love and writing of these wines, but also the main producer here Marcel Guigal, who’s name is plastered all over the Côte.Condrieu: This is essentially where the love for viognier began eventhough total area under vine was only 10ha in the 1960′s (they are now up to about 100ha). The area is just south of Côte Rôtie and very similar in that it has very steep hillslopes with the best facing southwest to protect from those strong winds again. However, the soil tends to be granite, with a layer to arzelle, or decomposed mica. Average yields tend to be very low. Couple this with the low area under vine and you get relatively expensive wines. As this is really the only all Viognier French appelation (outside of Chateau Grillet which is in Condrieu), may as well discuss it’s attributes briefly.Apparently, through DNA profiling, viognier was found to have a relationship to the Italian Friesa grape from Piedmont and thus likely a progeny of Nebbiolo. The grapes are deep yellow and the resulting wine tends to be high in color, alcohol and a high perfume. The wines should be drunk young to maintain this bright perfume and before the relatively low acidity fades.The Wines:So, I attended the “découvertes en Valée du Rhone” in Ampuis on March 1, 2011. There were approximately 60 producers at the conference and I was able to steadily hammer through about 13 of them. This includes:Domain André FrançoisDomain GaronDidier GerinDomaine du Monteillet S. MontezLes Vins de VienneDomaine PichatGuigalDomaine Benjamin & David DuclauxDomaine du ChêneDomaine RichardDomaine de Corps de LoupMichel & Stéphane OgierAurélien ChatagnierI will spare you all of my tasting notes, but here are some of it condensed and some the highlights:Condrieu: Both the 2009 and 2010′s are beautiful. The 2010′s tend to be extremely floral with bright acidity, but lack the complexity and spice that the 2009′s are showing. The standout for me was the 2009 from Michel & Stéphane Ogier with a bright floral nose with peaches and spice. On the palate, similar to some of the other standouts (Domaine Pichat), the acidity was bright, a nice waxy note and a long floral spicy finish. Overall, many of these viogniers were beautiful wines.Côte Rôtie: Again, a great showing from the 2009′s, but these are incredibly young wines with great, nearly baked red and black fruits and spice. The best examples showed a bit more crushed flowers, less agressive tannins and a nice “roast” of olives and underbrush. I say “less aggressive tannins” because of the infincy in these wines that are ready to rip your face off. One thing that really stood out on the 2009′s was the finish that could be the longest I’ve tasted… lingering for nearly a minute in certain cases. Overall, I really enjoyed the “Les Rochins” from Domain Garon, which I believe was Côte Blonde, with softer tannins, crushed flowers and a lingering finish full of spice and dark fruit. The 2010′s are a bit tough to gauge at this point, nearly blue wines filled with fruit and spice with some of the most agressive tannins ever experienced. With time these two vintages could prove to be phenomenal.It should be noted that our man, Parker, is giving the 2009′s a rating of 98, the best rating since he began tasting Côte Rôtie in 1970. Well off to Hermitage tomorrow….