I am back in France's Rhône Valley, this time to taste the 2009 and 2008 lineups from the region's best domaines. For more on these vintages' characteristics and links to my recent coverage of the region, check out Tasting 2008 and 2009 Rhône Wines.
For background on R. Rostaing, you can reference my cellar notes from visits in January 2005, November 2006, November 2007 and July 2008. Little has changed here, as the formal and direct René Rostaing eschews most modern techniques.
"The less people are involved in the winemaking, the less chance there is for a mistake," he said. "Enzymes, 100 percent new oak, all these things are a horror to me," he added, putting his hands to his head in mock defense.
Rostaing was in a particularly talkative mood today. He had just returned from his Languedoc property where—surprise, surprise—there was still snow.
"The first time in 25 years we have snow in March in the Languedoc!" he said.
As for his Côte-Rôties, Rostaing has managed to turn in a fine performance in 2008.
"The 2008 has surprised me, but so did '93 and '97," he said, when I ask him if he thought of declassifying all the cuvées to one wine, as he did in 2002. "The élevage really ameliorated the wines nicely with time. The fruit is light but ripe, and the acidity is fresh. With time, the character of each cuvée really developed."
The 2008 Côte-Rôtie shows focused violet and white pepper aromas, the signature notes for this domaine, along with very good ripeness and a racy edge that shows well even in Rostaing's very cold cellar. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne could merit an outstanding rating after bottling—it's lilting, with perfumy, incenselike aromas giving way to a lightly taut, chalky palate of good kirsch fruit. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie Côte Blonde had just been racked and it shows a little fatigue from the move, with the black cherry fruit receding in the face of more overt chalky minerality and peppery grip, but it should recover well enough.
"The racking really tires the wines in 2008, so I might do one less racking than normal, but I'll still keep the same time in barrel," said Rostaing, who also destemmed entirely in '08 to avoid any additional vegetal notes in the wines (normally he destems partially, varying on the cuvée, for "freshness").
My first thought as I try the 2009 Côte-Rôtie, is "Ah, here we go!" It's considerably riper, with a sappy intensity and extra layers of anise and plum to go with the usual white pepper and violet profile. The 2009 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne, which combines four parcels in the lieu-dit, including some 100-year-old vines from the former Gentaz estate, is grippy and driven, with loads of graphite, pastis and sanguine notes and a superlong finish; it flirts with classic in quality. But for the first time in my visits here, I actually give the edge to the 2009 Côte-Rôtie Côte Blonde at this early stage, as it shows stunning purity and loads of pastis, kirsch and violet aromas and flavors and a great underlying iron note. Its grip is obvious in the cold cellar, which accentuates the feel of the tannins, but they're ripe and integrated.
"2009 has the fruit of 2005, but 2005 was marked by drought, whereas 2009 had just the right rain at the right time, so the structure isn't as rustic," said Rostaing, who likens the vintage to 1991 "which is just perfect to drink now," he added.
This domaine was known as Edmond & David Duclaux until the 2001 vintage. It also changed its label design starting with the 2005 vintage. Brothers Benjamin, 32, and David, 39, now run the estate. David took over full time from his father, Edmond, in 1994; Benjamin joined in 2001.
This family domaine was founded in 1928, starting with a mix of grapes and apricot orchards. It eventually changed to all grape production and Edmond, who had been selling his grapes to Guigal for several years, began to bottle his own production starting in 1978. Since taking over the running of the domaine, David has helped initiate numerous changes, including destemming entirely and doing a portion of the élevage in new oak—two things his father never would have done.
The old cellar at Benjamin & David Duclaux, which has improved its wines in recent years.
"He was an extremist," said the wiry and friendly David with a smile.
"And new barrels were expensive back then," said Benjamin.
Benjamin is the softer spoken of the two brothers, but they share in all the duties at the estate, and each gives a half-answer, complementing the other's as they answer questions.
As if they knew I was spared from a dramatic drive into the vineyards on Monday morning at chez Jean-Michel Gerin, we take a ride up the slopes on one of the narrow, dirt access roads. Some of the hairpin turns are so extreme, Benjamin actually backs up them, being unable to turn the truck around completely. Good times …
The estate totals just 6 hectares of vines, all located on the gneiss soil in the southern Côte Blonde portion of the appellation, a unique band formed from the compression of the Côte Brune's schist and Côte Blonde's typical decomposed, sandy granite. The brothers work their vines in the dramatic Coteaux du Tupin lieu-dit, as well as the Pimotin, Collet, Tupin, Maison Rouge and Coteau de Bassenon parcels, producing about 22,000 bottles a year of their two cuvées. There were new vines planted in 1999 and 2000, though some of the estate's oldest vines were planted as far back as 1924.
The two red cuvées are both fermented in cement vat, receive a two- to three-week maceration and a pumping over, instead of the manual punching down done by the previous generation. The cellar was expanded in 1994, allowing for gravity flow into the barrel-aging portion below. Aging has been shortened from their father's 24-month élevage to about 20 months now. While new oak is now in the mix, some barrels are still kept for up to six vintages.
"We keep the ones that we like a little longer, since each one has its own flavor," said David.
In addition, a new press was bought in 2001 to further update the winemaking.
"But of all the changes, the biggest is the destemming," said David.
"Well, the vineyards too," said Benjamin, noting that they've reduced or eliminated their use of herbicides in the vineyards.
This domaine had its image of old-school wines reinforced by slow moving inventory in the U.S., as its former importer had several older vintages in stock while newer vintages were slow to make it to retail. Since changing importers however, the domaine will be releasing its vintages in step with the rest of the appellation.
The 2008 Côte-Rôtie La Germine contains 5 percent Viognier and represents a blend of all the domaine's parcels. It's supple for the vintage, with black tea and mulled cherry notes backed by a touch of peach and a nice, silky mouthfeel. As white varieties did exceptionally well in 2008, those Côte-Rôtie cuvées that have a percentage of Viognier in them are standing out from the pack. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge (which debuted in the '05 vintage) is a selection of their best barrels from the lieu-dit of the same name (Georges Vernay makes a wine from the same lieu-dit as well). It's 100 percent Syrah, and aged in nearly half new oak. It offers bay leaf, mulled red cherry and light olive shadings with a nice supple texture for the vintage. Both could potentially be outstanding, which is impressive for the vintage.
In the southern half of the appellation, the Coteaux du Tupin lieu-dit is one of Côte-Rôtie’s most dramatic set of terraces.
The 2009 Côte-Rôtie La Germine is juicier and darker, with more layers of mulled currant, fig and Maduro tobacco and nice buried acidity. The finish really opens up nicely and extends with time in the glass. A half-step ahead is the 2009 Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge, which is rich and velvety in feel, with lots of blackberry, coffee, raspberry ganache and tobacco notes backed by a sweet tapenade note. Both wines are well-defined already, with open aromas and excellent latent grip in reserve. Both are in the upper band of the outstanding quality category and potentially the best wines produced here to date by David and Benjamin.
We also tried the 2007 Côte-Rôtie La Germine, a vintage with sneaky good quality that shows lovely drive and lots of crushed berry, grilled herb, briar and pepper notes. The 2007 Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge is really inviting, with coffee, Valrhona chocolate, dark fig and blackberry notes and impressive grip. It still shows its oak, but the texture is plush and it should absorb that easily enough. This has become a domaine to watch, with wines priced below the norm for the elite of the appellation, so start getting in line now.
Since the muskateers of Cuilleron, Villard, Gaillard, Gerin and Villa took over the ownership of Bistrot à Vins de Serine in the idle of Ampuis, things have only gone up. The food is solid, the wine list features both theirs and other producer's wines and there's a good buzz at lunch.
The food is better and the wine list excellent, making Bistrot à Vins de Serine the lunch time heart of Ampuis.
In the afternoon, I began to head south, though just a little bit. Located in Chavanay is the newly finished cellar and office of Yves Cuilleron, whose expansive portfolio of Condrieu, St.-Joseph, St.-Péray and Côte-Rôtie is among the best in the Northern Rhône. This is one of my regular stops when in the Rhône, so you can reference additional background via my cellar notes from December 2005, November 2007 and July 2008.
Cuilleron himself was off in England for a tasting, so I met with his chef de cave since 2005, Lionel Brunier.
This domaine is generally known for its whites, which marry rich, ripe flavors to bright, fresh finishes. There's judicious new oak used, which helps the wines to show the minerally side of rich, unctuous grapes such as Roussanne and Viognier.
All 2008 whites are now bottled. The 2008 St.-Péray Les Potiers is 100 percent Marsanne, aged 90 percent in oak, but none new. It's very succulent, with candied citrus peel and yellow apple flavors backed by a honeyed note. From older vines on slopes above those for the Potiers comes the 2008 St.-Péray Les Cerfs, which is made entirely in oak, only 15 percent of which is new. Despite the touch of new oak, it's bright and fresher in the mouth, with more orange blossom and honeysuckle notes and a longer, more minerally finish.
"2008 gave good acidity and low pH for grapes that normally don't have that, and they were nicely resistant to oxidation, so they are really fresh," said Brunier, 38. "And with all the malic acidity, the long, slow ferments we usually do here really worked well."
The 2008 St.-Joseph White Lyseras is equal parts Marsanne and Roussanne, though the Roussanne half dominates a little today, showing more apricot and heather notes and a round, creamy finish.
"That's the quality of the vintage," said Brunier. "The Roussanne is really rich in 2008."
The 2008 St.-Joseph White St.-Pierre is 100 percent Roussanne and vinified in 10 percent new oak. It has the rich, apricot and honeyed edge of the Lyseras, but shows better cut and definition, with a nice lingering finish. The 2008 St.-Joseph White Le Lombard is the Marsanne cuvée from the appellation, which gets 20 percent new oak. It's got a mouthwatering floral edge, but is plumper than usual, with green melon and yellow apple notes.
"The Marsanne is richer than usual in 2008," said Brunier, noting that both Marsanne and Roussanne were naturally resistant to the rot problems that plagued the Syrah in 2008.
For the Condrieu cuvées, the 2008 Condrieu La Petite Côte, vinified in barrel but none new, is a nice collar-tugging expression of Viognier, with some snappy lime and verbena notes weaving in through the melon, peach and anise flavors. It's both fat and bright at the same time. The 2008 Condrieu Les Chaillets got its usual 20 percent new oak, and it displays excellent ripeness and focus, with mouthfilling melon rind, green almond, pear tartine and citrus peel notes; it's in the upper band of outstanding. The 2008 Condrieu Vertige was bottled yesterday. The top bottling here, it receives an ample 60 percent new oak, but it's already completly absorbed, with racy, pure Cavaillon melon, Bosc pear and Jonagold apple notes that cascade over each other, through a long, mineral-filled finish. It doesn't seem affected at all by the mis, though Brunier notes it's closed a bit since just before it was bottled. While the 2008 doesn't have quite the outward volume of the stellar '05/'06 duo, it's equally as impressive as either the '04 or '07, and could merit a classic rating when released.
Brunier, like me, enjoys his Viognier on the young side, when the aromas and flavors are vibrant.
"Just four to five years of age for the Condrieu, but in 2008 they will certainly age longer because of the acidity," he said.
The new digs for the growing Vins de Vienne. Landscaping still to come …
All of the 2008 reds have been bottled save for the Madinière and Terres Sombres. The élevage was not changed to accommodate the lighter 2008s, though new wooden vats were used for the fermentation, which Brunier thinks helped to round off the vintage. The 2008 St.-Joseph Les Pierres Sèches is stylish, with a twinge of pomegranate giving way to violet and red berry notes. The finish shows just a hint of herb but the fruit is still persistent. The 2008 St.-Joseph L'Amarybelle is sourced from slightly better exposed vineyards, which bears out in the slightly riper feel to the red cherry and raspberry fruit, which then picks up nice spice notes along the way. The 2008 St.-Joseph Les Serines is the ripest of the three, with a solid core of dark cherry and a hint of raspberry ganache, all laced with a whiff of bay leaf. The finish has nice verve, with a chalky but not angular, edge and should merit an outstanding rating when released.
There was no sorting table used here in 2008 . The selection was done primarily in the vineyards as the harvest was done in tries (successive passes through the vineyard) to deal with uneven ripening.
For the Côte-Rôtie cuvées, the 2008 Côte-Rôtie Bassenon comes from the southern half of the appellation and received its usual 40 percent new oak. With 10 percent Viognier in the blend, which helps to offset the angular Syrah in 2008, the wine, is showing pretty peach and cherry aromas, with a dusting of cocoa and tobacco to the ripe Bing cherry fruit. The rot was more of an issue in the schist soils of the northern half of Côte-Rôtie, according to Brunier, as those soils held more humidity during the season, another reason to focus on the southern, granite-based and Viognier-influenced Côte-Rôties in 2008.
The 2008 Côte-Rôtie Madinière is all Syrah, aged half in new oak, from the lieu-dit in the northern half. It's slightly crisper in feel, though the fruit is just as dark as the Bassenon, with raspberry and Bing cherry notes. The vintage's chalky edge emerges more on the finish, along with a peppery note. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie Terres Sombres sees 60 percent new oak and combines three northern located, schist soil parcels. It offers both a dark cherry and currant profile, along with tangier herb and tobacco notes and a briar-tinged finish.
Cuilleron is also a founding partner in the Vins de Vienne operation, and from there he sources his 2008 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Terre de Viennae Ripa Sinistra, aged in half new oak. The Seysseul vineyards weren't spared the disease pressure in 2008, but the wine still manages to show its telltale iron and violet profile, with a slightly crisp palate of red cherry and high-toned vanilla notes.
Added to the portfolio in the 2006 vintage, the Cornas Les Vires has quickly and quietly become one of the top reds here. The 2008 Cornas Les Vires is quite crisp, with olive, pomegranate and cherry pit notes, though there's good vivacity and length to merit waiting for the flesh to fill in. It certainly won't be in the class of the excellent '06/'07 duo, but should be solid nonetheless.
We tasted a smaller selection of 2009s, as they are in various stages in their development, both pre- and post-malo. Brunier noted that some cuvées may have their malo blocked, as there was extra ripeness in 2009 and based on the analysis from parcel to parcel, chez Cuilleron may wish to preserve some freshness in the wines that way. The 2009 St.-Joseph White Lyseras is quite creamy already, with a mix of primal citrus and orchard fruits. The 2009 St.-Joseph White St.-Pierre is in a pre-malo state and shows some oxidative notes of apricot and nectarine, with a crisp edge as well.
"That changes from barrel to barrel," said Brunier of the oxidative nature. "It's the nature of the Roussanne."
The 2009 St.-Joseph White Le Lombard is a touch tight and reductive, with a berry hint as the yeasts are still active here, but there's good underlying fruit and mouthfeel.
The 2009 Condrieu La Petite Côte is quite defined already though, with lively peach, fennel and starfruit flavors and a long, fresh finish. Its malo is already complete, a function of Viognier, according to Brunier, and itis low in acidity (whereas the acid-driven Marsanne is often the last to go through its malo). The 2009 Condrieu Les Chaillets shows a range of green and yellow fruits, with a very long, floral-filled finish. It's still a bit youthfully raw but has impressive material to sort through. The rest of the portfolio is even more unresolved and so it was not shown today.
Les Vins de Vienne is the Seysseul-based estate and micro-négociant founded by the Cuilleron/Villard/Gaillard trio in 1998. In recent years it's both grown in size and improved in quality as its plantings around Vienne have matured and its grape sources have expanded. You can reference my background in my cellar notes from November 2007 and July 2008.
With its growth, new digs were needed and a new facility was finished in September 2009 in time to vinify the 2009 vintage, though apparently the group of friendly vignerons is waiting to finish the landscaping …
As former director Pierre-Jean Villa has moved to concentrate on his own domaine (see yesterday's blog post), Marie-Mélodie Condette, 30, was brought in as the new commercial director while Pascal Lombard, 35, the chef de cave at Les Vins de Vienne since 2001, takes on the full-time winemaking role. For the tasting, I was also joined by the always-ebullient Villard himself.
It's an expansive portfolio here, so not all cuvées may be found in all markets, as Les Vins de Vienne uses several importers for the U.S. market. The 2009 Vin de France Reméage White (formerly a non-vintage Vin de Table Français) is a fun, friendly blend of 42 percent Viognier, 42 percent Chardonnay and 16 percent Grenache Blanc fermented separately in tank and then blended to give a fresh apple peel- and nectarine-filled wine ideal for summertime outdoor sipping. The 2009 Viognier Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes is sourced from parcels on the plateau above Sarras. It's very clean, with an almost porcelainlike feel to the floral and verbena notes. The 2009 Condrieu is fermented in barrel, none new, creating a lush fennel-, green apple-, lime- and fig-filled wine with a round, accessible finish.
From there's it's a big step up to the 2009 Condrieu La Chambée, which has quietly put together an impressive run in recent vintages. It continues here, as the wine is loaded with quince, persimmon and pear tartine flavors and well-integrated toast and is potentially in the upper band of outstanding. The 2009 Condrieu Les Archevêques (2008 was the first vintage for this cuvée) comes from two parcels in St.-Michel-sur-Rhône and Chavanay, and is even richer, with lush apple, piecrust, verbena and heather notes, though not quite as minerally as the La Chambée.
"The pH in 2009 is normal but the total acidity is lower," said Villard, "So the wines really come off as rich and creamy."
From Viognier planted around the estate in Seysseul, the 2008 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes White Taburnum has a well-defined range of creamed pineapple, coconut oil, persimmon and lemon curd notes, with a creamy yet vibrant finish that enables it to pull off its typically exotic profile.
Moving to the Marsanne/Roussanne cuvées, the 2009 St.-Péray (no new oak) is light but invigorating, with snappy apple, lime and white peach notes that ripple through the finish. The 2009 St.-Péray Les Bialères, with a split of 80/20 Marsanne and Roussanne, was aged in a single, new foudre (rather rare) and comes off as a very ripe, creamy, sweetened butter-filled white with mango and papaya hints that still manages to stay fresh. It begins a run of potentially outstanding whites, followed by the 2009 St.-Joseph White L'Élouède, which has the same varietal makeup and also saw a new foudre, but manages to ratchet down the opulence, showing more stylish verbena, orange blossom and quince flavors and a suave finish. The old-vine selection from estate vines is the 2008 St.-Péray Les Archevêques. Bottled just last week, it has a hint of fatigue from the mis, but it still shows ample sweetened butter, creamed almond, ginger, papaya and lemon pound cake notes that all glide along the gorgeous, creamy mouthfeel.
The reds start with the 2008 Vin de Table Français Reméage Red, which contains 45 percent each of Syrah and Grenache as well as 10 percent Merlot. It has a note of rhubarb, as well as mulled plum and spice notes and a dash of bay leaf. The 2008 Côtes du Rhône Les Cranilles combines 60 percent Grenache with 30 percent Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre, resulting in a tangy, taut red cherry and cranberry profile backed by a dusting of grilled herb. The 2008 Crozes-Hermitage gives a whiff of toast before showing light, supple dried red cherry and tobacco hints. The 2008 St.-Joseph is also easygoing and forward, with more black cherry and roasted vanilla hints, backed by a dash of violet and a slightly chalky-edged finish typical of the vintage. All are in the very good range.
The 2008 St.-Joseph L'Arzelle pulls the quality level up a step, showing better flesh and concentration to its dark cherry and mulled blackberry fruit, spiked with a hint of bay leaf. From the younger vines around the Seyssuel estate, the 2008 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Heluicum is decidedly light, but balanced and persistent, with more floral and incense notes than red cherry fruit. The older vines go to the 2008 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Sotanum, which delivers a Côte-Rôtie-like profile, though on the more minerally side, with sanguine, pepper and olive notes out in front of a core of medium-weight black cherry fruit. It's more sinewy than previous versions, a result of the vintage.
Back across the river we go, for the 2008 Côte-Rôtie Les Essartailles, which delivers a shade more flesh along with mulled plum and bay leaf notes. The 2008 Cornas Les Barcillants has good snappy pomegranate and red currant notes with a hint of lavender before showing the chalky edge of '08. The 2008 Hermitage Les Chirats de St.-Christophe has good length for the vintage, with mulled plum and blackberry fruit extending nicely, backed by a note of tapenade. The old-vine and estate-owned parcel selection 2008 St.-Joseph Les Archevêques looks to be the top red here in '08, with a sappy edge to the kirsch, graphite and anise notes that ably offset the chalky spine of the vintage, potentially meriting an outstanding rating.
Moving to the ensuing vintage, the 2009 Crozes-Hermitage delivers a fresh, uncomplicated beam of kirsch and pepper notes, with solid flesh. The 2009 Crozes-Hermitage Les Palignons (which was declassified in '08 into the straight Crozes) is a touch reduced, with slightly raw violet, pastis and cassis notes that need more time to define themselves. It's also the only '09 red that has yet to finish its malo here.
The 2009 St.-Joseph is very lively, with blackberry fruit that sits atop the spine of acidity for now, but should meld together. The 2009 St.-Joseph L'Arzelle is also a touch reduced, but shows admirable length and taciturn floral and cassis notes driven by a mouthwatering iron note. Lombard hopes to handle its reduction with an extra racking and less new oak during the élevage, needed because the vintage is so rich.
From the Seyssuel estate, the young-vine 2009 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Heluicum potentially betters the old-vine Sotanum '08, with silky raspberry and violet notes and a long, seamless finish that drips with a licorice snap hint. Not surprisingly, the 2009 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Sotanum could rival the best yet made here (including the '99 and '05), with superfine-grained tannins holding the plum sauce, raspberry ganache and fennel seed notes together, while an invigorating sanguine note has begun to develop on the still youthful finish.
The 2009 Côte-Rôtie Les Essartailles already displays nice polish and lush, velvety structure, with raspberry ganache and braised fig notes. The 2009 Cornas Les Barcillants is very young, with a kirsch and violet core that has yet to stretch out fully. The 2009 Hermitage Les Chirats de St.-Christophe and St.-Joseph Les Archevêques were not shown as they were in the midst of their malos.
The irrepressible Villard is tough to stop when it comes to tasting and talking wine. He's the bouncy one of the musketeers. For background on his domaine, you can reference my cellar notes from November 2007 and July 2008. Villard has also steadily grown his domaine to a healthy 200,000 bottles in the bountiful 2009 vintage, so more of the good stuff to go around.
The 2009 St.-Péray Version (first vintage was made in 2006) is made from all Marsanne and is just trickling to the end of its primary ferment while the malo has yet to kick in. It shows a sweet, mulled cider and sweet tea profile that has yet to settle down. The 2009 St.-Joseph White Fruit d'Avilleran is also all Marsanne and it too is just finishing its ferment. It's racier already though, with a tangy persimmon note starting to emerge on the finish. The 2009 St.-Joseph White Mairlant has 30 percent Roussanne in the blend and has finished its malo, showing lively quince, candied citrus peel and honeysuckle notes with a dash of white chocolate and excellent length.
Villard is equally adept with his Viognier cuvées, which commence with the 2009 Condrieu Les Terrasses du Palat, a blend of three parcels in Chavanay. Both ferments have finished but, as with all the whites at chez Villard, it will stay on its lees for some time to come. The wine is a bit tight today, with white flower, white peach and blanched almond notes and a racy finish. This should flesh out as it sits in barrel.
"I'll do a little less bâtonnage (stirring of the lees) though in 2009, since the vintage is so rich," said Villard. "The ripeness was so advanced in the vineyard, you don't have to push the wine."
The 2009 Condrieu Le Grand Vallon is sourced from St.-Pierre-de-Bœuf parcels and has finished its primary ferment with its malo about halfway finished. It shows a mix of snappy green apple with richer lemon pound cake, green fig and almond notes.
"2009 was a vintage for three kinds of vines—old vines, those higher up or those with deeper soils—as they could resist the drought," said Villard.
The 2009 Condrieu De Poncins, though the biggest wine, is also the most defined already, as it combines Villard's three keys to white wine success for 2009. Very racy, with saturated quince, green almond and pear flavors, it shows its breed—two small parcels in the blend are in the La Cartharie lieu-dit, older vines which sit above the Château-Grillet appellation.
Now bottled, the 2008 St.-Péray Version is lush and forward, with a hint or marmalade to the quince and fig flavors. The difference between it and the 2008 St.-Péray Version Longue mirrors that between Cuilleron's Potiers and Les Cerfs bottlings from the same appellation (see above), the first being from lower portions in St.-Péray that deliver riper, more forward fruit; the latter from steeper slopes that deliver more finesse. The Version Longue is much brighter and relies more on its lemon zest and orange blossom notes, backed by stylish yellow apple fruit.
The 2008 St.-Joseph White Fruit d'Avilleran is classy and long, with great creamy mouthfeel and long flavors of yellow apple, honeysuckle and heather that stay intertwined all the way through.
"There's a full degree of alcohol less in 2008 and you can really see it in the wines," said Villard. "The whites are so long and fresh."
The 2008 St.-Joseph White Mairlant further proves that point. It's got a buttered pound cake note up front, but soon turns to quince, lemon curd and floral notes that drive the lengthy, creamy finish.
The 2008 Condrieu Le Grand Vallon is packed with quince, green fig, blanched almond and pear tartine notes that are rich but bouncy, leaving a mouthwatering feel. The 2008 Condrieu De Poncins flirts with classic quality, for its gorgeous display of candied citrus peel, stone and tropical fruits, all backed by a long, minerally finish. Its fruit is rich but its texture is lithe, a rare feat.
Whites lead the way at chez Villard, but the reds are not to be overlooked either. They've also improved in recent vintages as Villard has admittedly aimed for less extraction, destemmed more (up to 90 percent) and gone for more finesse overall. Villard has done a nice job of massaging the delicate 2008 vintage.
The 2008 St.-Joseph Mairlant is nicely rounded, with briar and blackberry notes caressed by subtle spice hints on the finish. The 2008 St.-Joseph Reflet is more aromatic, with violet and anise notes giving way to pepper and licorice. It shows nice weight and texture without being overwhelmed by its nearly two-thirds new oak élevage. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie Le Gallet Blanc is 100 percent Syrah and shows inviting plum sauce and raspberry notes with a focused, vanilla bean-tinged finish. The 2008 Côte-Rôtie La Brocarde was bottled two weeks ago and contains 10 percent Viognier. That helps give it the edge in 2008, where white varieties were favored, so the Syrah's plum and blackberry notes are softened yet lengthened by additional peach, anise and violet notes from the Viognier.
Both of Villard's Côte-Rôties tend to age nicely. While the 2008s won't be long-term agers, they should benefit from a few additional years of bottle age.
Among the young '09s, the 2009 St.-Joseph Mairlant is done with its malo and is beginning to show its sappy fruit and lush, velvety texture. The 2009 St.-Joseph Reflet, 40 percent whole-berry ferment and 60 percent in barrel, is a touch reduced but shows gorgeous color and an intense profile. The 2009 Côte-Rôtie Le Gallet Blanc is packed nicely with briar, blackberry and boysenberry notes and a dark pastis-tinged finish.
That's a full day. Tomorrow, I continue to move slowly south, hitting some new spots in the St.-Joseph appellation.
[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
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