The very delicious Condrieu from E. Guigal. Why don’t rap stars drink Guigal? Just look at this bottle.
Who buys wine from the Northern Rhône these days? When this question came up at the dinner table, many admitted that buying these wines was a rarity, even for ourselves. We’re not talking about the Southern Rhône where you can stick a Châteauneuf-du-Pape that cost you $50 on a wine list and it will move. Or case-cut a Côtes du Rhône for $25 on the floor of a wine shop and it will walk out the door. The Southern Rhône can be approachable, full-bodied, with plenty of glycerol and consumers will understand it, appreciate it and be able to afford it. The North is often more floral, feminine, acidic, complicated and definitely not inexpensive. It’s rarer and usually more labour intensive to farm and make. Yet assemble a group of wine professionals in a room and offer to open either a great bottle of wine from the North or a great bottle from the South and you’d be hard-pressed to find a vote for the latter.
As John Clerides from Marquis Wine Cellars pointed out, even the bottles from great producers like Clape and Cuilleron are a hard sell and take months to move small coveted allocations. Perhaps a Côte Rôtie or Hermitage will never will be as popular as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas, but with only 10% of the Rhône Valley’s total production coming from the North, they don’t have the capacity to.
Bottle after bottle shone and, despite two flawed wines (one a Rene Rostaing ’95 Côte Rôtie if you can believe it), the flight was brilliant. We learned fairly quickly that in the early evening July heat, these wines begged to be served out of the fridge with a slight chill; there’s nothing refreshing about a warm glass of Syrah when you’re sweating the heat. Our dinner began with antipasti, spreads and charcuterie as we tasted through the wines and ended with a seasoned and seared beef tenderloin with green herbs and onions as we drank the remainder of the bottles. The rare beef was potato-fed from PEI (sourced from Market Meats) and was the most incredible Syrah pairing partner I’ve yet encountered.
Unanimously, the bottle of the night was M. Sorrel’s ’01 Hermitage ‘Le Gréal’. Minerally, deep and intense red fruit and an everlasting finish. It’s a complete wine and possesses that basic yet great quality where it keeps you coming back for more. Sorrel isn’t available in our market and this bottle was carried back from the Rhône. Since this vintage, the estate has moved towards a more modern/international style with darker, riper fruit and more extraction. It’s sad that anyone would want this wine to be any different than the bottle we drank.
Champet’s ’95 Côte Rôtie ‘La Viallière’ was elegant – herbal and peppery with iron sanguine characters. It was still quite bright and fresh on the palate and had settled into a place of comfortable finesse.
A surprise for me was the style of both the Clape ’07 Cornas and the Eric Texier ’06 Côte Rôtie. Both were showing dark purple fruit and were cleaner and more linear and driven than I expected. Especially since when I bought the Texier, the shop clerk in Portland asked me, “Do you like bret?” And when I admitted that I, in fact, did, he shoved the bottle at me and proclaimed, “then you’ll like this.” It didn’t have the earthy and funky personality that I expected and was actually quite the opposite. A delicious wine, yet likely in need of more age to blossom. The Clape Cornas was my second favourite bottle of the night – there was an elevated level of intensity and at this point in it’s life, was much more complex and expressive: a tangy acidity balanced the darker, deeper fruit and the tannins were soft.
Chapoutier’s ’01 Hermitage ‘La Sizeranne’ was showing what I was expecting from Texier: a funky, leathery, spicy animal. I loved that earthiness combined with a fresh, elevated acidity, yet it’s definitely not a style for everyone. Yves Cuilleron’s ’04 Côte Rôtie ‘Terres Sombres’ was tight, nervy and bruting. It was the only wine that I wrote any notes suggesting oak influence and it was full, deep and meaty. I was shocked to discover that it was 2004 – it’s still a baby and will keep gaining complexities for years.
This is completely un-Rhône related, but it was fun to drink Movia’s ’9 Moon’ Lunar. This wine gets milkier with thick sediment the further down you drink if you don’t decant it properly. I was reciting possible sales techniques in my head: “Hey, want to try some fucked up Chardonnay? It’s absolutely delicious.” Or, “Looking for some La Crema Chard? Man, are you going to hate every sip of this.” Here’s how you’re supposed to decant this bad boy:
Wines from Clape and Cuilleron are available at Marquis Wine Cellars in small quantities. The odd wine from Guigal and Chapoutier is on the shelves at Kitsilano Wine Cellar. You’re on your own for the rest.