I recently participated in the Wine & Spirits Northern Rhône tasting panel. Blind tasting 12 flights totaling 39 wines, 13 producers, and lots of discussion with a panel of articulate and experienced people. Of course there is no substitute for drinking wine at home with a meal, but this was a great learning opportunity, especially since I have so little experience with these wines. For me it was like taking an intro course in college - you learn what it is that you want to learn more about.
Here are my impressions, in broad strokes:
- I want to drink more white Rhône wine.
- Most of the reds were just too enormous for me. Granted, these are young wines, but even within that framework I found most of them to be huge and unsubtle, at times candied, just beasts. There were honestly only 2 that I would seek out and buy.
- Could it be that I'm just not a big fan of Syrah?
- Where was Dard et Ribo???
2004 Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc Chante-Alouette ($90)
2005 Chapoutier Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne ($115)
2005 Delas Frères Hermitage Les Bessards and Marquise de la Tourette ($?)
2005 Delas Frères Côte-Rôtie La Landonne ($129)
2004 Domaine Belle Hermitage Blanc ($107)
2004 Domaine Belle Hermitage ($107)
2004 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde ($70)
2005 Michel & Stephane Ogier Côte-Rôtie La Rosine d'Ampuis ($129)
This was blind, mind you. I'm not saying these were bad wines. I just didn't care for them and when I learned of their price tags I felt funny inside, glad not to covet.
Here are some of the white wines that I enjoyed:
2007 Guigal Crozes-Hermitage ($22) - such a lovely perfume, and nicely balanced.
2007 Chaptoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche ($30) - great perfume, great fruit, oily texture that retains some energy.
2007 Guigal Condrieu ($55) - my favorite of the whites. Complex and just delicious.
It's easy to fall for the nose on these whites with their luscious tropical and floral aromas. But they sometimes leave me wanting more on the palate - more acidity, more depth, more something. Particularly the Marsanne/Roussanne blends. Tasting these wines, though, renewed my interest in whites from the Rhône, and I already bought a nice bottle that I'm looking forward to drinking. Tell you more after I drink it.
There were honestly only two reds that truly excited me:
2006 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage ($33) - Clean and pure fruit, herbs, olives, bacon in the background, good balance, a wine clearly meant to drink with food.
2004 Michel & Stephane Ogier Côte-Rôtie Terres de Seyssuel L'Ame Soer ($58) - This was the one wine in the whole tasting that everyone at the table agreed on. It was excellent.
Most of the reds smacked of something unnatural to me - how can a wine be that intense and punchy, how can it "jump out of the glass" like that? They were more curiosities than something that I wanted to drink with a meal. But hey...what do I know. Maybe they just need time to settle down.
I will say this:
I drank that 2006 Graillot Crozes-Hermitage in October when I had dinner at Prune with Lars Carlberg of Mosel Wine Merchants. I thought it was great back then too. At this price point, this is a wine that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in the Northern Rhône.
I asked Lyle about the Graillot wine last time I was in Chambers Street. He gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up, but not the way he raved about this other wine, a 2006 St Joseph by Pierre Gonon ($30). Referring to the Gonon, he said, and I quote: "If you walk out of here with only one wine today, buy this wine." So I did (although I did not walk out with only one wine).
To make the Gonon wine feel more comfortable in my house I made a pot of real "grandmère cuisine," a stew of French green lentils and vegetables with chunks of bacon. Let me tell you that Lyle was completely and absolutely right about this wine - it was wonderful and totally compelling (I already purchased more for the cellar). Great ripe fruit, lush, dense, and very energetic. Good acidity and quite complex with pepper, herbal and animal notes - notes that become far more distinct on days 2 and 3. Incredibly pure with a real stony mineral sensation. Balanced and clean and very satisfying at 13% alcohol. Drinking beautifully now, but it's obvious that there is something lurking beneath the surface that will only come out with another 8 or so years in the cellar. This is a superstar at it's price point and well worth seeking out.
Lye recently wrote about this wine too, by the way, and the comment he received mentions Graillot's wines. Small world?