Incredibly Well-Made Côte-Rôtie at a Steal of a Price

Today’s Story: Domaine Xavier Gérard

Domaine Xavier Gérard is an exciting and relatively young Northern Rhône wine producer that, as a rising star, seems to have gone cult over the past few years. In 2013, Xavier Gérard who is now in his 30s took over top-notch parcels from his family’s domain in the Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu appellations. Today his holdings include three hectares (seven acres) of estate-owned vineyards in Condrieu and 2.2 hectares (five acres) of estate-owned vineyards in Côte-Rôtie. He also sources an additional 0.5 hectares (one acre) in Condrieu and one hectare (two acres) in Côte-Rôtie. A small parcel in Saint-Joseph completes the portfolio, resulting in the production of four Viognier bottlings (Condrieu) and two Syrah bottlings (Côte-Rôtie and the single-vineyard designate Côte-Rôtie La Landonne).

From a winemaking standpoint, Xavier has shifted his viticultural practices to organic with a hope of receiving certification in the near future. To this end, he only uses copper sulfate in the vineyards as a treatment for mildew when necessary. Like his neighbors, all vineyard work is done completely by hand thanks to the incredibly steep vineyard sites of the appellations. Additionally, Xavier’s yields are kept rather small thanks to severe pruning, debudding, and green harvesting if necessary, with a typical yield of 35-40 hl/ha.

In the cellar, Xavier follows pretty traditional winemaking practices with minimal intervention the goal. All wines, white and red, go through spontaneous primary fermentation using only native yeasts and see either neutral oak, stainless steel, concrete, or a combination based on cuvée. During aging, the wines enter an oak or stainless steel program based on cuvée (for example the Côte-Rôtie sees 24 months in neutral oak while the Côte-Rôtie La Landonne sees 30 months in 50% new oak) and malolactic fermentation occurs spontaneously in barrel. The wines are only racked off their gross lees following primary fermentation, then off the fine lees not until assemblage. Reds are bottled unfined and unfiltered, while the whites are bottled unfined but plate filtered.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Côte-Rôtie

93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie is medium purple in color. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, but the nose is incredibly complex showcasing notes of blackberry, red plum, blueberry, dried black licorice, violet, candied bacon, sun-dried loam, dried rosemary, olive, charred underbrush, cracked black pepper, and a hint of iron. There’s mild oak influence there as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate is equally complex, offering up notes of blueberry, spiced plum, blackberry purée, black cherry, licorice, black olive, violet, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, charred green herbs, ground green peppercorn, cocoa powder, and a hint of baking spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium but vibrant acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Outstanding quality.

Price: $65. This is a screaming value and I’d be shocked if it stays this way for long. While the intensity is great, the complexity and balance in this wine already at a relatively young age are profound. This kept changing and changing.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Delicious Northern Rhône Syrah That’s Light on Its Feet

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Paris

Domaine Vincent Paris was established in 1997 with 1 hectare of inherited vines in Cornas of the northern Rhône Valley in France. Vincent studied enology for four years before working alongside his uncle, famed Cornas vigneron Robert Michel, and ultimately desired autonomy with his own wines. Vincent set about planting vines in St. Joseph and Cornas, ultimately acquiring La Geynale in 2007 and farming a total of 8 hectares today. Vincent farms 1.5 hectares of Saint Joseph, 6 of Cornas, and 0.5 of Vin de Pays with meticulous attention and refuses to use insecticide or chemical fertilizers while limiting treatments. Vincent severely prunes his vines (to only 4 bunches per vine) which helps produce concentrated, high quality berries and cuts down on green harvests. In the cellar, Vincent destems his fruit to varying levels and ferments the wines naturally after cold maceration at relatively lower temperatures. The wines spend 3 months in vats and then a year in oak barrels that are never new but rather 2-8 years old in an effort to not mask terroir, before they are ultimately bottled with light fining but no filtration.

I previously wrote about the 2017 Cornas Granit 30 from Domaine Vincent Paris, so feel free to revisit those tasting notes if you care to explore another wine from the portfolio.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Saint-Joseph Les Côtes

100% Syrah; 12.5% ABV

The 2016 Saint-Joseph Les Côtes is medium purple in color. This was another Coravin pour for me, so I simply let this open up in the glass for about 30 minutes. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases notes of plum, blueberry, violet, bacon fat, scorched earth, dried garden herbs, coffee grounds, and smoke. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, blueberry, black plum, smoked game, sweet tobacco, dried herbs, cracked pepper, and chocolate. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. The 2016 Les Côtes doesn’t drink like your typical Syrah but it is both incredibly accessible and fun to drink.

Price: $34. I’m very impressed by the value of this wine, as the aromas and flavors are so true to variety and showcase the terroir beautifully but this is rather light on its feet. Nothing sticks out of place here, with the finesse being rather impressive for the price.

Quintessential Northern Rhône Syrah

Today’s Story: Domaine Faury

Domaine Faury is a family-owned and operated Northern Rhône wine estate, established in 1979 by Philippe Faury. Though Philippe’s father, Jean, settled the family in the tiny hamlet of Ribaudy in the hills of Chavanay, his wine production was somewhat limited and often sold in bulk to locals alongside peaches, cherries, and apricots. When Philippe took over, however, he transitioned the estate to focus entirely on wine production and grew the 2.5 hectare holdings over time into the 17 hectares the Faury family owns today. In 2006, Philippe’s son Lionel took over management of the estate and the two work side-by-side crafting traditionally made and terroir-centric wines. Dedicated largely to Syrah with smaller plantings of Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne, Domaine Faury owns vineyards in the appellations of Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, and Saint-Joseph as well as IGP Collines Rhodaniennes.

Lionel seeks to produce wines with a true sense of place while also showcasing the signature characteristics of each variety. Winemaking is therefore rather minimally invasive, starting with gentle crushing and temperature-controlled fermentations onto pigéage (punch downs) by foot rather than machine or tools. To preserve the more delicate and floral aromas of his wines while offering an accompanying freshness, Lionel eschews the overt use of new oak and instead opts for a combination of very large old barrels such as demi-muids and foudres. Attention to detail and an artisanal approach to winemaking is palpable in these wines, and production is capped at around 7,000 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Côte-Rôtie Emporium

+/- 98% Syrah, +/- 2% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2019 Côte Rôtie Emporium is medium purple in color. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours, with it only becoming more impressively nuanced over time. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing notes of blueberry, black cherry, blackberry, violet, sweet tobacco, smoked game, crushed rock, graphite, black pepper, and roasted coffee. Meanwhile the palate is of medium (+) intensity, displaying flavors of brambly blackberry, blueberry, plum, black olive, blue and purple florals, charred green herbs, iron, a hint of smoke, and mild baking spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but refined and silky tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $100. While this may not be the best “value” of Northern Rhône, I struggle to recall a wine I’ve had that has been this spot-on of a representation of the variety and the region. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous wine with elegance, finesse, and a magnificent perfume already at such a young age.

Entry Level to a Northern Rhône God

Today’s Story: Domaine Jean-Louis Chave

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave is one of, if not the most, highly regarded northern Rhône domains and it was established by the Chave family in 1481. Still family-owned and operated to this day, Domaine JL Chave produces arguably some of the greatest Hermitage and Saint-Joseph wines on the market. Though initially winemakers in the Saint-Joseph appellation, the Chave family started buying vineyards in the Hermitage appellation during the mid-1800s and moved there entirely by the end of the 19th century as phylloxera ravaged their vineyards in Saint-Joseph. The domain revitalized these holdings, however, during the early 1990s when 16th generation Jean-Louis joined his father Gérard and replanted the vineyards there. Today, the domain is one of the largest landowners on the Hill of Hermitage with about 14.5 hectares planted to vine, though the Saint-Joseph bottlings are nothing to snooze over.

Jean-Louis and Gérard are staunch traditionalists from the way they farm their vineyards to the way they make their wines. In the vineyards this means unyielding attention to detail, very small yields, and full ripeness. In the cellar, they typically destem the grapes before fermentation in stainless steel, cement vats, or old open-top French barrels then age the wines for around 18 months in minimal new oak. The entire process is minimally invasive and all wines are bottled unfiltered following blending.

With this in mind, however, their skill is seemingly most appreciated in the way that they blend the wines into the final Hermitage bottling. The domain never bottles single-vineyard wines, even though they own 14 different parcels across 9 vineyards and the quality of these individual vineyards or lieux dits can be immaculate. Instead, Jean-Louis and Gérard start every vintage from “scratch” and vinify every lot separately before blending them together into the final wine. Each vintage the percentage from each lot will vary, and each vintage the wines will show a unique charm. The Hermitage bottling is 100% Syrah, which is planted on about 10 hectares of the Chave family’s total 14.5. Chave also produces an Hermitage Blanc made of 80-85% Marsanne and 15-20% Roussanne, with the fruit sourced from the remaining 4.5 hectares or so. Tying into today’s post, Chave also makes a Saint-Joseph bottling from their vines in that appellation and it is 100% Syrah.

At the end of the day, when you see a bottle with the name Jean-Louis Chave on it you can expect a concentrated, elegant, finessed, and complex wine built for the ages. The Chave Hermitage typically needs 15 years to really start coming together in the bottle, though this depends on vintage and the great ones can go for 50+ years. Expect to pay around $80 for the Saint-Joseph, $250-300+ for the Hermitage Blanc, $350-400+ for the Hermitage Rouge, or $5,000-10,000+ for the ultra-rare Cuvée Cathelin which has been produced only a handful of times in miniscule quantities from the greatest vintages.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Saint-Joseph

100% Syrah; 14.5% ABV

The 2017 Saint-Joseph is opaque deep purple in color, clearly demonstrating its youth. I decanted this for two hours and drank it over the following two hours, which at this stage is quite advantageous. Aromas are of medium intensity with black plum, blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, licorice, violet, black pepper, smoke, chocolate, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get medium (+) intensity with notes of blackberry, black plum, blueberry, black raspberry, anise, sweet tobacco, rocky earth, dried green herbs, black pepper, clove, charred cedar, and smoke. I am quite honestly surprised how much depth there is here at such a young age. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Given several more years to better integrate the tannins and alcohol, I think this will be a rockstar.

Price: $80. I’ve had several vintages of this wine (fortunately some older than this bottle) but the one constant that remains is that I believe this is a very solid value. Given some time to age, these become beautifully balanced wines that showcase their terroir with remarkable depth and complexity. Plus they’re a great “middle-ground” in the Chave portfolio! If you include his JL Chave Sélection négociant wines, that is…

Perhaps the Greatest Name in Crozes-Hermitage

Today’s Story: Domaine Alain Graillot

Domaine Alain Graillot is a family owned and operated Northern Rhône wine estate established by Alain in 1985. Though he cut his teeth working in Burgundy and received advice from Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac, Alain returned to his home in Crozes-Hermitage to fulfill the dream of making his own wines. In the short few decades since, Alain’s wines rose to legendary status and are widely considered the greatest coming out of Crozes-Hermitage. The wines sell each year on an allocation basis, with about 50% leaving France and 50% remaining in France with large amounts going to the country’s best restaurants. Though Alain retired in 2008, he is still highly involved at the domaine where his sons Maxime and Antoine now hold the helm.

Though Alain rented vineyards to produce his wines in 1985, by 1988 he began acquiring them and the domaine today consists of about 22 hectares of organically farmed vines. The vineyards are planted mostly to Syrah (Alain’s passion variety), though they do contain about 3 hectares planted to white varieties of Marsanne and Roussanne. In addition to the holdings in Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot owns small parcels of Syrah in Saint-Joseph and a very tiny parcel in Hermitage. Graillot’s vines are incredibly low-yielding thanks to severe pruning, and all fruit is harvested by hand.

In the cellar, Alain and now his son Maxime follow traditional vinification methods and utilize whole cluster fermentation with the red wines (except for the Saint-Joseph which uses destemmed fruit). White wines ferment 50% in one year old oak barrels purchased from top Burgundy estates and 50% in stainless steel tanks. After being blended at the end of winter, the white wines age before bottling in the spring. The reds, on the other hand, ferment in concrete vats and age for one year with about 80% going to one to three year old used Burgundy barrels and the remaining 20% going to vat. Before bottling, the reds are lightly filtered but unfined. Total production is around 10,000 cases annually.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Crozes-Hermitage

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Crozes-Hermitage is opaque deep purple in color, which leaves fairly heavy staining on the glass. After spending 2-3 hours in the decanter, this opens up with aromas of plum, blackberry, blueberry, black licorice, violets, black olive, wet rocky earth, underbrush, smoke, and a hint of oak. The palate, meanwhile, is opulent and decidedly sexy with notes of blackberry, cassis, black plum, tobacco, black tea leaf, scorched earth, crushed rock minerality, black pepper, and mild oak-driven spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained but high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Give this another 3-5 years and it’ll be singing.

Price: $35. I think this is somewhere between fairly-priced and a great value. I know this is young but it has great finesse to it already that I think will improve with bottle age. It also exhibits a great sense of place that would be a great addition into any Syrah lover’s lineup, particularly if they’re not familiar with Crozes-Hermitage.