Syrah With an Incredible Sense of Place but Missing a Few Key Components

Today’s Story: Marie et Pierre Bénetière

Marie et Pierre Bénetière is a very small family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Northern Rhône appellation of Condrieu. As a native of Condrieu, Pierre developed a love and passion for Viognier at a young age and set his sights on making wine for a career. Pierre’s first love was the wine of Domaine Georges Vernay, a legendary vigneron in the appellation who Pierre studied under at the start of his career. Though Pierre didn’t have a ton of money at the time, he purchased a small unplanted parcel on an incredibly steep hill in the very southern reaches of Côte-Rôtie to begin his namesake domain. Pierre spent years manually carving terraces into the rocks and planting vines, which he continues to do to this day. Over time, he was able to acquire a couple parcels in his beloved Condrieu and today owns 2.5 hectares (6 acres) between the two appellations.

Due to the incredibly steep hillsides of Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, Pierre works entirely by hand in his vineyards as do practically all of his neighbors. From a winemaking perspective, Pierre follows rather traditional techniques including full stem inclusion with his Syrah and minimal SO2 adds throughout the process. A reserved and private man, Pierre maintains a small cellar for his wines where he produces Condrieu (Viognier) and Côte-Rôtie (Syrah) designated bottles. The Syrah portfolio includes two wines, the Cordeloux which I am reviewing today and the Dolium which is only made in the greatest vintages and when yields allow. Each Syrah bottling represents a distinct terroir of Côte-Rôtie, with the Cordeloux sourced from vines on the granitic Côte Blonde and the Dolium sourced from vines on the clay and iron rich Côte Brune.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Cordeloux Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Cordeloux Syrah is deep ruby in color. I decanted this for three hours and tasted it along the way, though finished the bottle over a total of six hours. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, black olive, bacon fat, forest floor, charred underbrush, truffle, cracked black pepper, a hint of smoke, and chocolate. There’s slight VA here as well, though not as bad as what other consumers have reported and not enough to make it unenjoyable to drink. The flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate offers up notes of brambly blackberry, black cherry, tobacco leaf, olive, mushroom, smoked meat, forest floor, crushed rock, cracked green peppercorn, and chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) dusty tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. While I got lucky due to the reported bottle variation and VA experiences, I was worried about this one the first hour or two of decanting. With such a young wine I’m concerned slightly by the lack of fruit, however the classic tertiary notes of Syrah found in this bottling are great for current drinking. Needs to be slightly better-balanced and more intense to warrant a very good or outstanding quality rating.

Price: $150. There’s a lot of good in this wine from an aroma and taste perspective, however I think by being slightly off-balanced, not very intense, and with a shorter finish than expected I can’t justify the price-point. Factoring in the reported bottle variation, this vintage seems like a gamble. All this being said though, there’s more than enough for me to like to encourage me to seek out other vintages of Bénetière.

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

An Interesting Note on the 2015 Vintage:

You may have noticed on my label shot above, if you have a discerning eye, that it appears there are two labels on this bottle. For instance, you can see some of the font below overlapping the label above. In other vintages of this bottling, the label shows the AOC designation of Côte-Rôtie where the Syrah for this wine is planted. In the 2015 vintage, however, according to Chambers Street Wines the domaine filed paperwork for AOC designation too late and the wine could therefore not sell under the Côte-Rôtie AOC designation. Instead of peeling off all the original labels with this designation, a second label was placed over top with the lower designation of “Vin de France” coupled with the wine’s variety which is Syrah. Thinking it might make for an interesting keepsake or picture at the least, I partially peeled back the top label to reveal the below:

La La Land

Today’s Story: Guigal

Guigal was established in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small village in the Côte-Rôtie appellation of the northern Rhône region in France. Etienne arrived in Côte-Rôtie at the age of 14 in 1924, and early in his career he helped develop Vidal-Fleury for 15 years before starting his namesake venture. His son, Marcel Guigal, took over management of the Guigal domain in 1961 when Etienne was struck with temporary but total blindness, and Marcel was joined by his wife Bernadette in 1973. As Marcel and Bernadette worked tirelessly to expand the family business (namely by purchasing Vidal-Fleury in the early 1980s and Château d’Ampuis in 1995), their son Philippe (born 1975) grew amongst the vines with expectations of one day joining the domain. Today, Philippe serves as Guigal’s oenologist alongside his wife Eve and the two strive to produce the greatest wines of the Rhône Valley.

Guigal has experienced significant expansion since their first acquisitions in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in 2001 when they purchased the domains Jean-Louis Grippat and de Vallouit to not only strengthen their stature in Côte-Rôtie but expand into the Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, and Crozes-Hermitage appellations. In 2003, Guigal started producing their own wine barrels to not only learn more about the entire wine production process but control another facet of their business. Guigal expanded yet again in 2006 by purchasing Domaine de Bonserine, and made strides in 2017 by purchasing Château de Nalys in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to establish a foothold in southern Rhône.

Today’s Wine: 2004 Côte-Rôtie ‘La Turque’

93% Syrah, 7% Viognier; 13% ABV

The 2004 La Turque is mostly opaque and medium ruby in color. This requires at least an hour decant, but then the nose blossoms to emit aromas of plum, blackcurrant, bing cherry, licorice, cola, smoked game, loamy soil, white truffle, flint, cracked pepper, and oak. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of ripe red cherry, redcurrant, candied raspberry, dried blueberry, forest floor, graphite, earthy mushroom, leather, smokey tobacco, dried green herbs, and mineral. This supple and elegant wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. 350 cases produced.

Price: $300. Though not one of the “greatest” vintages of La Turque, this is an exceptional wine drinking beautifully right now. I would say this has another five years left in its prime drinking window and could be a great introduction to Guigal’s “La La’s.” Pair this with wagyu filet mignon, grilled lamb, hare, or pheasant.

Opulent CdP

Today’s Story: Château de Beaucastel

A much-needed easy one today, as I’m still recovering from all the wine I drank over the Thanksgiving holiday and this past weekend… I previously wrote about Château de Beaucastel on October 27 in Ethereal Chateauneuf-du-Pape, coincidentally reviewing a different vintage of the same wine today.

Long story short, Beaucastel is a long-standing and famous producer of CdP. The château has had its ups and downs and changed ownership multiple times over the years, however with its deep roots and the Perrin family’s guiding hands over the last century the wines are of exceptional quality. I encourage you to read my previous post, linked above, for more of their exciting story.

Today’s Wine: 2003 Hommage a Jacques Perrin

60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise; 13.5% ABV

The wine is medium ruby/garnet in color and opaque. Unfortunately I didn’t have a decanter, so I let this breathe in the glass and it allowed some initial barnyard to blow off the nose. When opened, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, purple florals, loamy earth, black truffle, tar, and exotic white spice. Once in the mouth, I get notes of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, black licorice, charred earth, truffle, Asian spice, and mineral. I was pleasantly surprised with the complexity of this wine given its status as a “lesser” vintage. This CdP is full-bodied with high acidity, medium refined and dusty tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. This is showing quite well right now, though I’d imagine it will stay in its optimal drinking window for another 5-7 years.

Price: $350 (though this vintage seems to have a very broad range of $250-500). Much like the last Hommage I reviewed (the 1994), this is a rare bottle experience that I couldn’t pass up. Unless you get a great deal, however, as lovely as this bottle is I’d save your money for a spectacular vintage such as 2001, 2007, or even 2009. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb (and truffles are your friend).

Ethereal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Today’s Story: Château de Beaucastel

Château de Beaucastel, as it exists today, traces its history back to 1549 when Pierre de Beaucastel purchased a barn and plot of land extending to Coudoulet. Chateauneuf-du-Pape (which translates to “the Pope’s new castle”), however, is a French AOC that traces its history back to the early 1300s. In 1321, Pope John XXII sent four barrels from the papal cellars to be filled with wine in the region and constructed a castle for his use. As the wine became a favorite of the Pope’s, it became known as “Vin du Pape” until eventually becoming Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP).

Though Beaucastel’s origins place the estate well within CdP’s winemaking history, there is no certain record of vines on the property until many years later in the early 1800s when ownership credits to Etienne Gontard. As some of you may know, however, phylloxera hit vineyards during the 19th century and, with the estate under new ownership yet again by Élie Dussaud, Dussaud decided not to replant vines and rather sold the estate.

With over 300 years of history at this point, Beaucastel’s true winemaking prowess did not come about until Pierre Tramier purchased the estate in 1909. Under his ownership, he led massive vineyard replanting efforts and eventually transferred responsibility to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin. Perrin dramatically expanded the vineyard holdings during his tutelage and the estate has been in the Perrin family since then, eventually passing to his son Jacques Perrin who managed the estate until 1978.

Today, Jacques’ sons Jean-Pierre and François Perrin continue to manage the estate with the help of Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César who make up the fifth generation. They continue to farm their vineyards organically, a practice since 1950 at the estate, and introduced biodynamic farming in 1974. Grapes are always picked exclusively by hand and carefully monitored to use only the best fruit.

Today’s Wine: 1994 Hommage a Jacques Perrin

60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise; 13.5% ABV

I am a big fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and every bottle I’ve enjoyed from Beaucastel has been a wonderful representation. However, this is my first time trying the Hommage as they can be hard to find and come at a significantly higher price-point. The Hommage, as the name states, is made in honor of Jacques Perrin and comes from the best vines on the property.

Our wine today is opaque medium ruby in color with pale ruby variation toward the edges of the glass. Slightly tight on the nose, we let this decant while my friend and I enjoyed a different bottle. Once the wine opened, the nose offered aromas of dusty pomegranate, graphite, sous bois, wet gravel, mushroom, and cigar ash. This is another wine I could smell all day. Since that’s not the main point of wine, the palate showcases notes of chewy cherry, red licorice, tobacco, soggy earth, and green underbrush. A beautiful bottle with plenty of gas left in the tank, this is full-bodied with moderately high acidity, fully integrated mild tannins, and a long finish that really made me wish we had more with my last sip.

Price: $500. Certainly a rare experience and one made possible thanks to my good friend’s tendency for sharing. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb and add a mushroom sauce.