Archives for category: Northern Rhône

We have a lovely book here to give to one of you – it’s a collection of photographs of the vineyards of the Rhône Valley. It should go to someone who likes photography and wine (and especially wines of the Rhône Valley). Is that you? Or do you know someone who fits the bill?

The photography is by Christophe Grilhé and the text by Christophe Tassan.

Nominate yourself or someone else and we’ll give each application due consideration. But to make it fair, and as this is open to those of you on twitter, facebook as well as through a comment here, please keep your nominations to about 140 characters.

We’ll post the book out to anywhere in Ireland and we’ll pick the lucky person by next Friday, 9th August.

…and we have a winner: @jonnyfallon via twitter

This February, for the month that’s in it, we are running an offer through our website on wines from the Northern Rhône, an area close to our heart. Below are the producers that feature. If you are interested in availing of the offer please visit our site to find out more.

DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET

Stéphane Montez

The Montez family live in a remote set of disjointed buildings high above the Rhône River in Chavannay. The domaine is sandwiched between the cliff edge, that falls away to the Rhône and the imposing Mont du Pilat, which rises behind. The feeling of remoteness is set aside only when one dares to peer over the edge of the cliff, down to the hustel and bustle of the industry on the valley floor below. The range of wines produced at the domaine goes from Vin de Pays to St.Joseph, to Condrieu and Côte Rôtie. Stéphane Montez who today runs the family is a bundle of energy who in the ten years that we have been working with him has matured into one of France’s finest wine producers. Having started in 1997 with a constant sense of experiment, particularly with the use of wood, Stéphane has now settled down and has reached a stage where his understanding of his vineyards and how best to transform the grapes that come from them into wine, is at an imcomparable level. His wines have always had a delicious fruit character but today they also show a deep, underlying core of minerality allied to tremendous finesse. The overall range of wines is quite large but from top to bottom they are all outstanding examples

DOMAINE PATRICK ET CHRISTOPHE BONNEFOND

The terraces of Côte-Rôtie

Brothers Patrick and Christophe Bonnefond own, roughly, eight hectares of vineyard, the vast majority of which is in Côte-Rôtie, but with one hectare of Condrieu and a very small amount of Vin de Pays. Prior to 1990, their father sold all his production to local merchants, but once the brothers took over they decided not only to bottle their own wine but also to increase their vineyard holdings. Eight hectares may not sound like much but eight hectares on some of the steepest and most sought after vineyards in France is quite considerable. Most of their holdings are in the Côte Brune, with significant parcels of Les Rochains, Côte Rozier and Rozier. The whole Bonnefond operation is very much a family affair. Patrick and Charles, the father, look after most of the vineyard work whilst Christophe is the winemaker. Most producers will tell you that the most important work is done in the vineyards but in reality to produce truly outstanding wine a certain amount of genius is also required in the cellar and Christophe is unquestionably one of the region’s greatest winemakers. Of all the producers of Côte-Rôtie that we have tasted over the last eight years, Christophe is without doubt the one who has made the most progress in terms of quality.  He has become more pragmatic over the years regarding his vinfication and barrel ageing and the wines today certainly possess a greater sense of balance between fruit and wood. The two top wines Côte Rozier and Les Rochains vie for top spot depending on the vintage. Côte Rozier with its easterly orientation performing better in hot years like 2003, Les Rochains which faces South coming out on top in cooler years like 2004. The Bonnefond brothers not only represent all that is good in the recent changes in Côte-Rôtie, they also remain immeasurably modest both in character and pricing, despite all their success.

DOMAINE MICHEL ET STÉPHANE OGIER

Domaine Michel et Stéphane Ogier

Stéphane Ogier is a legend in the making and the really good news is that at thirty three years of age we are only at the very start of his career. Stéphane has talent to burn and today produces the most elegant and fine wines of all of Côte-Rôtie. After studying for five years in Beaune he returned to the family domaine to take over from his father Michel. From his time spent in Burgundy it is clear when tasting Stéphane’s wines how much it has influenced what he is trying to achieve. Even his great Cuvée Lancement is (half) jokingly referred to as his “Musigny”. After recent purchases the domaine’s vineyard holdings cover just over 12 hectares: three and half in Côte-Rôtie, six in Vin de Pays between Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu and one and a half hectares in the exciting re-planted vineyard area of Seyssuel to the north of Vienne on the eastern side of the Rhône. The latest addition is 1.2 hectares of Condrieu with 2007 being the first vintage to be released. The Côte-Rôtie holdings are split between the Côte Brune but with a significant parcel in the Lancement parcel on the Côte Blonde. The granite soils of the Blonde providing the elegance and finesse, the mica-schist soils of the Brune bringing intensity and minerality. Stéphane has improved the quality of fruit emerging from the vineyards and has redefined the vinification process completely, moving to a modern approach, more Burgundian in its style. He has adopted a pragmatic approach, cooling the fruit when he needs to, starting the ferments cool but allowing them to rise in temperature almost as much as they want towards the end and really only employing pump overs as a method of extraction. Stéphane has also adapted the length of the barrel ageing, particularly after the first year, depending on the vintage and the quality of the fruit.

DOMAINE DU COULET

Ovoid fermentation tanks at the domaine

Matthieu Barret, the owner of Domaine du Coulet, is going to become the star of Cornas and to our mind one of the emerging greats of the Northern Rhône. Mathieu only started at the domaine in 1998 as his family previously either sold the production to local negociants or had the land rented out to other growers. When Matthieu finally takes back all the vineyards he will in fact become the largest landowner in Cornas with approximately ten hectares. Don’t be fooled by the first impression of his apparent laid back nature because behind that facade is a desire to place his domaine and his appellation to the forefont of Northern Rhône. Cornas often suffers in comparison to other Northern Rhône appellations because the wines can be both powerful and rather aggressive in terms of their tannins. The appellation is sandwiched between two limestone outcrops, the Rocher de Crussols and the Rocher de Rochepertuis whilst the main soil of the area under vine is a loose granite rock, known locally as gore. Matthieu is aiming to use this superb mineral soil to give his wines a real sense of freshness to balance the richness of the fruit from the South facing slopes. The domaine’s vineyards are essentially situated on the side of a mountain with the Brise Cailloux cuvée coming from the bottom slopes, Les Terrasses du Serre cuvée from the mid slopes and Billes Noires from the top of the mountain. A fourth red wine is produced under the Côtes du Rhône appellation and which comes from a tiny parcel of vineyard with a clay/limestone soil that lies between Cornas and St.Joseph and which has never been claimed by either appellation – hence Matthieu decided to call the wine “No Wine’s Land.” The domaine is certified biodynamic (Ecocert & Biodyvin) and Matthieu keeps the amount of sulphur he uses to an absolute minimum with the aim of providing the consumer with a wine that resembles as closely as possible the fruit produced in his vineyards. Vinification takes place in both in stainless steel tanks and increasingly in the ever popular cement eggs. These are ovoid fermentation tanks that allow the wine to remain in greater contact with the lees whilst the porosity of the cement also permits a certain amount of micro-oxygenation. For maturation Matthieu likes to use a mixture of different barrel sizes and different ages, displaying his pragmatic approach to wine making. The resulting wines are amazingly accessible for Cornas. They all possess excellent fruit concentration and lovely silkiness, present but fine tannins and wonderful minerality.

DOMAINE YANN CHAVE

Yann Chave

Yann Chave

Yann Chave today creates some of the best and most elegant wines of the Northern Rhône. Yann took over from his father, Bernard in 1996, having worked previously as a bank fraud inspector in Paris. Yann works his vineyards organically and in spite of the problems posed by certain vintages, such as the early part of 2007, he is convinced that he has gained a tremendous amount in terms of fruit quality. His vinification techniques differ depending on the wine. For the Crozes-Hermitage Tradition the wine is fermented only in tank with a gentle oxygenation to open up the wine in its youth.

John Livingstone-Learmonth writes of Yann in his book The Wines of the Northern Rhône “one of the best young men to appear in the northern Rhône in the past dozen years”

Jancis Robinson calls Yann “hugely gifted”.

DOMAINE