I did get a chance to try a few restaurants during my recent trip through the Rhône Valley, and following are my brief notes. Some have been covered before, but deserve mentioning again.
After tasting through the complete lineup of wines from Michel Chapoutier and his associated labels today, I moved on to the wines of Ferraton Père & Fils.
I wrapped up my Rhône trip with what is usually my biggest day when I am in the region: a tasting at chez Michel Chapoutier, covering two vintages of not only the M. Chapoutier wines, but also the wines of Ferraton Père & Fils (I'll get to those later this week), owned by but operated separately from M. Chapoutier, as well as the wines of Pierre-Henri Morel, M. Chapoutier's director.
Coffee: check. A little more coffee: check. Time to taste …
M. Chapoutier director Pierre-Henri Morel presented the wines. Because the tasting included so many wines, I focused primarily on the tasting notes rather than additional commentary, so for additional background be sure to reference blog notes from previous visits, the most recent being May 2011.
Today was a white wine day, with stops at Château-Grillet and then Georges Vernay, two domaines where the Viognier grape reigns. I also tasted the latest efforts from Pierre-Jean Villa. Here are my notes.
Since my trips tend to be long—upwards of two weeks—I invariably have a weekend to fill on my schedule. But I don't take time off while I'm here, so I need to fill them with work, and not play. Sundays can be tough though, as many domaines are family-run and Sundays are sort of sacred in France. So, in recent years I've often taken the opportunity to use Sunday as a time to taste through verticals of wines or horizontals of vintages, with samples provided by the domaines. I keep working, and they get me out of their hair for a day.
On this quiet Sunday, I was particularly grateful for the the opportunity to taste through 20 vintages of Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave, a complete set from 2009 back to 1990. But a quiet Sunday turned into a family affair. For the tasting, I was joined not only by Jean-Louis Chave, but his father, Gérard, and Jean-Louis' wife, Erin, as well as Chave's cellar hands and vineyard manager. Jean-Louis admitted he had never opened 20 vintages of his wine for a single tasting before, so he wanted to share the experience with his team.
Cornas and Côte-Rôtie: same grape, same region, but two totally different wines. Cornas is all about controlled rusticity, with olive, bramble and chalk notes that need to be massaged into a core of fruit. Few producers manage to do it well, but at its best, it's arguably the Northern Rhône's most distinctive wine.
In Côte-Rôtie, it's about controlling amplitude of fruit to find balance. Letting the sanguine and mineral notes edge out from a ripe blackberry and plum core, as well as a sometimes-exuberant new oak élevage employed by a few vignerons, is key.
Put the two together, and Cornas and Côte-Rôtie are the yin and yang of Northern Rhône Syrah. Today I visited A. Clape and Stéphane Ogier.