A Rhone wine tasting: the northern wines
This past weekend a group of us gathered in my living room for a hastily planned tasting of mature Rhone wines. The motivation for the tasting came from an exchange with Jess Hagadorn (Young Winos of DC) where we quickly found a mutual love of Rhone wines. Sometimes a last minute arrangement works well and in this case it did. Many thanks to Jess, Bryan, Lou, Darryl, Nancy, Roland, Adrienne, David, and Isaac (Reading, Writing & Wine) for contributing an assortment of wines. There was no formality to the tasting so for this post I have grouped all of the Northern Rhone wines together.
By all accounts the odds were against the 1987 H. Sorrel, Hermitage Le Greal. Michael Broadbent is quite succinct describing the 1987 vintage as the “worst weather of the decade” with a rating of zero out of five stars. He does not bother to even list any wines. John Livingstone-Learmonth is a bit more detailed describing the vintage as “Mediocre, but some charming wines emerged.” He noted the wines of M. Sorrel. Marc Sorrel took over the estate from his father Henri in 1982. Though he quickly ascended the learning curve, there was a rocky period between the late 1980s to mid 1990s. John Livingstone-Learmonth attributes this to a divorce. Undoubtedly helped by good provenance, our bottle sported an attractive and complex nose. Ultimately, I felt the vintage showed through with hints of greenhouse and a lack of concentration. It was a lovely, traditional wine that I enjoyed very much. It also left me curious about other vintages.
After tasting a stinky 1978 E. Guigal, Hermitage just a few days prior, I was pleased to taste a well cellared 1990 E. Guigal, Hermitage. It is a solid wine that will not disappointed. I wanted to enjoy the 1995 Michel Chapoutier, Cote Rotie La Mordoree more for it had good, young blacker fruit. In fact, the wine seemed very young and unevolved. But after a few days it refused to budge leaving me to believe the very fine and powerful tannins will outlast the development of the fruit.
The 1999 Domaine J. L. Chave, Saint-Joseph exhibited the most smoke out of all the wines. It is a domaine wine and not from the negociant side. It is produced using vines dating back to World War 1 but most of the vines were planted in 1992 and 1993. This does come through in the wine but it is all done just right. John Livingstone-Learmonth writes “Father Gerard would call his St-Joseph red ‘an amusement,’ and this is the broad spirit in which the wine should be taken – a wine to drink in free quantities, with its fruit leading the way.” There was none of this bottle left by the end of the evening.
A new producer for me came in the form of the 1999 Domaine Burgaud, Cote Rotie. Bernard Burgaud produces just one wine and that is a red Hermitage. He has 22 acres of vines split across multiple sites each of which ripens at a different time. He typically destalked his fruit but not so for the 1999 vintage for he needed to absorb back some color. He ferments at high temperatures in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts then ages the wine for 15 months in 15-20% new oak barrels. John Livingstone-Learmonth writes that his “aim is to make a wine that is as tight-knit as possible, one of full integration of both elements and flavor.” At 16 years of age, this old-school bottle of wine was accessible in that it was balanced but there was no doubt in the room that it will take long to develop. I would love to taste a mature vintage while waiting for this vintage to blossom.
1987 H. Sorrel, Hermitage Le Greal
Imported by World Shippers & Importers. This wine is 100% Syrah the majority sourced from Le Meal with the rest from Greffieux that was aged for 18-22 months in used oak. Alcohol 12% to 14%. There was a great, complex nose with mature aromas with hints of green. In the mouth were light, mature, and ethereal flavors that made way to a mineral finish. The hints of tea and greenhouse flavors were kept alive by watering acidity. This bottle was in great condition, while the wine could have used more concentration, it was a lovely experience. *** Now.
1990 E. Guigal, Hermitage
Imported by Classic Wine Imports. Alcohol 13%. In the mouth were greenhouse flavors that eventually developed into a sweet floral profile. The wine showed young in the mouth with the fruit more ethereal than weighty. The acidity was present on the tongue with the structure coating the gums. With air this firm and dry wine took on some old wood notes, a lipsticky note, and finish with some sap. There was a fair amount of presence. There is plenty of life ahead but I wonder if the fruit will develop rather than the structure just persist. *** Now-2020+.
1995 Michel Chapoutier, Cote Rotie La Mordoree
Imported by Paterno Imports. 12.8%. There were firm, violet-like aromas on the nose. In the mouth this wine was still infantile with dry, floral dark fruit, and a very fine-grained, powerful structure. I wonder if the fruit will survive for the tannins to resolve. **(*) 2020-2030.
1999 Domaine Burgaud, Cote Rotie
Imported by Connoisseur Wines. This wine was aged for 15 months in oak barrels. Alcohol 12.5%. Still a very dark color the nose was tent with both tart aromas and old wood. In the mouth this wine had an old-school nature. There was plenty of fruit, textured and ripe vintage wood, and ultimately a sense of firmness. With air there is more structure evident and clearly the need for further cellaring. ***(*) 2020-2030.
1999 Domaine J. L. Chave, Saint-Joseph
Imported Langdon Shiverick. Alcohol 12.5%. The seductive nose blended smoke and fruit as if from young vines. In the mouth was a young start with the structure evident and a tart grip. The wine had wood nose, some salty, good grip, and the right amount of smoke. It showed less weight in the finish. ***(*) Now-2020+.