I began my seventh day in France's Northern Rhône Valley tasting red and white wines from Cornas, St.-Joseph, Hermitage and beyond. Here are my notes on the recent vintages from Alain Voge, Pierre-Henri Morel and Ferraton Père & Fils.
Ever since Albéric Mazoyer joined the venerable Alain Voge as a partner here in 2004 (Michel Chapoutier is also an investor), progress has been steady at this small domaine. A new tasting room is now nearly finished, set to be inaugurated in June, and then it will be open for public tastings and direct sales. The domaine is located down one of Cornas' typically narrow streets—I always wonder what the logistics for construction projects are like in Cornas.
Mazoyer has also helped to slightly update the reds here while staying true to their classic, fresh, chalky style. The whites have steadily improved too. Though known for the Cornas bottlings, the Marsanne bottlings here should not be overlooked. They are delicious, lightly oaked examples (two of the three cuvées are oaked) that deliver textbook Northern Rhône white wine profiles.
Mazoyer is also heading over to Paso Robles at the end of the month for his first ever visit to the Hospices du Rhône event. He's said he's tired of hearing how good a time it is from his colleagues in the area.
The white wines are sourced from the domaine's 10 acres in St.-Péray. The St.-Péray Terres Boisées 2008 is fermented in one-third new oak and offers a creamy, delightful peach and melon profile and a lightly honeyed finish. The St.-Péray Fleur de Crussol 2008 sees a touch more new oak and is sourced from the estates's oldest vines. It's round and lush, but with floral and green plum notes guiding the salted butter and creamed melon fruit to keep it honest. The finish is long and brings you back for another sip.
The St.-Péray Harmonie 2009 is the brisk, stainless steel fermented version, sourced from the estate's young vines (30 years old). It's lively, with more blanched almond and melon rind notes and a lovely finish. The St.-Péray Terres Boisées 2009 is racy for the vintage, showing a touch more toast, with hazelnut and graham hints weaving through the peach and Cavaillon melon flavors.
"The advantage in St.-Péray is the whites always have bright acidity. And '09 was an early vintage too. We picked the Marsanne the first week of September, so it is quite fresh," said Mazoyer.
The St.-Péray Fleur de Crussol 2009 is still tight, with the toast hanging on the finish for now, while the white peach, anise and green melon notes are in reserve. It's racy throughout though and should stretch out easily enough.
For the reds, the St.-Joseph Les Vinsonnes 2008 is sourced from young vines (10 years old) in the southern portion of the appellation around Mauves. It's lightly firm, but open, with bitter cherry and violet notes and a lightly dusty finish.
The Cornas Les Chailles 2008 is mouthwatering, with lively cherry pit, Damson plum and light spice notes followed by a long, minerally finish. It has the lighter-bodied fruit of the vintage, but stays persistent and pure on the finish. The Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes 2008 contains the Vieilles Fontaines parcel, which was not given its own bottling in the vintage. It's got ample depth for the vintage, with black cherry, cassis, violet and briar notes backed by a nice streak of dark olive and good grip on the finish, without being overly angular.
The Côtes du Rhône Les Peyrouses 2009 is an all-Syrah cuvée sourced from vines around the region, including some within the Cornas appellation. It shows the stark contrast between the vintages though, with noticeably plusher texture and more cocoa, plum sauce and violet notes that are longer and rich on the finish. It's still a fresh, Northern Rhône style, but amplified by the quality of the vintage.
"2009 is a warm, sunny, ripe vintage," said Mazoyer. "But even though there's a lot of fruit, it will still need a little time in bottle to show itself fully. But it's definitely not like '05, which really closed up right away."
The St.-Joseph Les Vinsonnes 2009 will be bottled next month. It's nicely detailed, with bright, mouthwatering acidity from the start framing the licorice and crushed plum fruit nicely, while spice and cocoa hints flash on the finish.
The Cornas Les Chailles 2009 will be bottled at the end of May. Before deciding if you prefer one of the two diametrically opposed styles of Cornas from Colombo (modern) versus Allemand (traditional), this is the Cornas you should try to introduce yourself to the appellation, as it bridges the two sides perfectly. It's fresh and pure, with brisk acidity and lots of iron combined with a deliciously ripe core of red currant, cherry and red licorice. A flash of bay leaf chimes in on the finish, which has enough grip to allow the wine to age nicely for five years or more.
The Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes 2009 combines several parcels ranging from 35 to 50 years and older, all in the middle of the slope, including the Teyssier parcel and others at the northern end bordering St.-Joseph. It's dark, with a nice briary feel to the currant, plum and fig notes, all laced with bay, graphite and spice. The finish is racy and muscular at the same time and this will need a good eight to 10 years to stretch out fully after it is bottled this summer.
The Cornas Vieilles Fontaines 2009 returns in this vintage. A single parcel, located next to the Sabarotte parcel of Domaine Courbis and featuring 80-year-old vines, the wine is aged for 24 months in barrel and there are only around 350 cases produced. The core is a tightly wound ball of cassis and anise, with plenty of dark briar, sweet spice and lightly roasted tobacco leaf notes. There's ample grip and the finish is long. Though still tight, it's showing its purity and flesh nonetheless and this should be destined for a solid 15- to 20-year evolution after it's bottled in the fall.
For a sampling of the 2010s, we then headed downstairs, into the cramped cellars (Cornas is typified by very small domaines that always seem to work in undersized cellars).
From tank, the St.-Péray Harmonie 2010 is brisk and mouthwatering, while the St.-Péray Terres Boisées 2010 from barrel is starting to take on weight, with salted butter and melon notes and a bright finish. We tasted the St.-Péray Fleur de Crussol 2010 from a new barrel, but nonetheless it's very fresh and pure, with white stone fruit notes and lots of floral hints.
"That's the style of '10. They have picked up the texture of the oak but not the flavor," said Mazoyer.
The Cornas Les Chailles 2010 form barrel is dark and ripe, with mouthwatering cassis and iron notes that are youthfully exuberant. The Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes 2010 from barrel is also very impressive, with not yet fully defined but dense graphite, olive and blackberry notes and lots of serious grip.
As the cellar is small, the quarters are cramped and Mazoyer is having a hard time finding the Cornas Vieilles Fontaines 2010. Eventually we gave up.
"After we finish the new tasting room, we'll expand the cellars," said Mazoyer, with a wink.
Pierre-Henri Morel has been the managing director at M. Chapoutier since 2001 and in '08, backed by Chapoutier, he started his own project in the Southern Rhône.
I tasted this set of wines, along with the wines from Ferraton Père & Fils, on the same day I tasted the full '09 and '10 lineups at Chapoutier—the M. Chapoutier wines will be detailed in a separate blog entry to follow.
The Côtes du Rhône-Villages White Laudun 2010 is a blend of Clairette, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc, sourced from growers under long-term contracts. Fermented in stainless steel tank, it's a brisk version with lots of bitter almond and melon rind notes and a lively green fig finish.
There are 2,800 cases of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages Signargues 2009, a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend that is fermented and aged in cement vat and sourced from contracted fruit. It's bright and piercing, with a strong bitter cherry and pomegranate profile and a lightly dusty finish. There are 5,000 cases of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages Signargues 2010 as the project grows. The wine is quite tight and primal, with lots of stone, cherry pit and red licorice notes wound up.
"I prefer the profile of the '10, and the '08 even, before the '09," said Morel. "There's more freshness and minerality, and more tension in the wines. Starting with the '08s [when the domaine debuted] was not as difficult as you might have thought. Even though the vintage was challenging, the minerally profile of the vintage is what I like."
The Gigondas 2009 is also vinified and aged in cement vat, which allows the core of crushed plum and macerated black currant fruit to be nicely harnessed by black tea, graphite and loam notes. It carries a modest (for the vintage) 14.5 percent alcohol. There were 450 cases made.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 is 80 percent Grenache, along with Syrah and Mourvèdre. It's a very bright and lively style. Set to be bottled next week, it really lets a racy red licorice, mulled strawberry and spice profile blaze through, with a long, linzer-filled finish. In contrast, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 shows more stuffing, with darker blackberry and fig paste notes, long, graphite-tinged tannins and ample, tannic drive on the finish.
Sourced from sandy soils and featuring just pure Grenache, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape lieu-dit Pignan 2009 was aged entirely in demi-muid for 18 months. Also set to be bottled soon, it's a gloriously lush yet driven example, with great linzer, blackberry confiture and dark spice notes that stay silky and refreshing all the way through. It has ample tannic backbone, but it's well-embedded on the rich finish.
"We started with the wine in concrete for the '08, but then moved it to demi-muid, where it really gained that tension that I like," said Morel. "I can't imagine what the '09 would have been like without demi-muid, as it would have been too big for sure."
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Lieu-Dit Pignan 2010 has finished its malo, though there is still a touch of sugar to be digested, a not uncommon though slightly worrisome aspect of the slow-evolving 2010s (the potential for volatile acidity lurks when the malo finishes before the primary fermentation). Consequently, it's a flattering linzer- and boysenberry-filled wine right now as it still shows a sweet side, with the minerality hidden by the fleshy finish. It's pure though, and long on the finish. It should develop nicely as it moves through its final stages of the ferment.
Damien Brusset has been in charge of the winemaking and Sigfried Pic has managed the business side at Ferraton Père & Fils since 2005. Since the tasting here is a bit of a marathon, we started first with the Ferraton wines that I have yet to taste from the 2009 vintage (others have been recently reviewed officially, from blind tastings in New York, and can be referenced in our online database).
The portfolio here has grown in recent years, following the Chapoutier model of appellation-based blends topped by single parcel cuvées. Ferraton Père & Fils now totals 12 hectares of vines, plus purchased fruit and produces a total of 45,000 cases annually. Exports to the U.S. have risen steadily in the last few years and now represent one-quarter of the production. This is a steadily improving operation delivering some excellent value amongst the big name appellations of the northern Rhône.
The Hermitage White Les Miaux 2009 is predominantly Marsanne. It's ripe, round and lightly toasted with a hazelnut edge to the creamed peach and verbena notes.
The St.-Joseph La Source 2009 is bottled; it's still a touch tight, with violet and cassis notes held in check by fine minerality. In contrast, the St.-Joseph lieu-dit St.-Joseph 2009 is due to be bottled in the next day or two. The debut for this cuvée shows dense, sappy kirsch and plum sauce notes with a nicely focused, graphite-filled finish. The parcel features 70-year-old vines with full south exposure and managed to produce a scant 125 cases. The Côte-Rôtie L'Eglantine 2009 is bright and lively, with a nice streak of kirsch backed by briar and sweet spice. The texture is plush, but the finish nicely focused.
The Cornas lineup has been one of the more dramatic areas of improvement here. Starting first with the Cornas Les Les Grands Mûriers 2009, which has a lively streak of mouthwatering acidity cutting through the red licorice, cherry compote and sweet tapenade notes. Following it, there are now two single parcel selections, starting with the Cornas Lieu-Dit Patou 2009, sourced from a smaller hillock on the southern edge of the appellation, with full south exposure, relatively rare in Cornas. It's dark and sappy, with lots of kirsch and blackberry fruit, ample spice and mouthfilling finish.
"It's a hot lieu-dit, which makes it a bold expression of Cornas. And it's taken a long time to settle in during the élevage," said Pic.
In contrast is the Cornas Lieu-Dit Les Eygats 2009, sourced from 40-plus-year-old vines from high up on the slope, resulting in fresher, more acid-driven fruit.
"Les Eygats is windy and very cool and thus it's almost always the last parcel we harvest," said Pic.
The wine is on the tangy side of the spectrum, with red cherry, plum peel and iron notes and a brisk feel cutting through the finish. Both show easily outstanding potential.
The Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères 2009 is new in this vintage as well. Just bottled, it's sourced from alluvial soils around the town of Pont de l'Isère, where the pebbles are larger than elsewhere in the appellation, with red clay and sand underneath. It's still quite tight, with very brisk minerality and lovely iron, red currant and rose petal notes that drive through the finish. It's a surprisingly structured '09 as well and should unwind nicely over the next three to five years. The parcel selection Crozes-Ermitage Le Grand Courtil 2009 is from a mid-slope parcel in Mercurol.
"Sandier soils and smaller pebbles than around Pont de l'Isère, with some limestone and granite too," said Pic. "So the minerality is more pronounced. It's completely different in style from the Les Pichères, which pushed us to bottle it separately."
Still to be bottled, so a bit more open now than the Les Pichères, the Le Grand Courtil is darker in profile, with fleshier plum and cassis, though the finish is quickly harnessed by long iron and graphite notes. It's also a touch longer than the Les Pichères but the quality here is pretty close.
The trio of Hermitage cuvées remains unchanged in '09, starting with the Hermitage Les Miaux 2009, a bold, ripe, wine that cuts a nice broad swath with dark currant paste, fig and graphite notes. It blends fruit from the Dionnières and Méal parcels while portions of each of those parcels are then also kept separate for the two parcel selection bottlings.
"Hermitage is always amazing because within five meters, the soil changes dramatically," said Pic. "And the vines [we keep separate] for the Dionnières bottling are older too."
The Ermitage Les Dionnières 2009 is sourced from the portion of the parcel that is on limestone soil, as opposed to the portion with more clay that goes to the Les Miaux blend. It's racier, with a noticeable chalky spine cutting through the boysenberry and kirsch fruit, with a long, stylish finish. The more powerful of the two is the Ermitage Le Méal 2009. It's fleshier, with cocoa, espresso and loam notes leading the way for a core of black currant and fig fruit that waits in reserve. It's defined more by tannins than acidity on the finish, which rumbles along with authority. These are quietly among some of the better Hermitage examples in the appellation, and often check in at a relatively modest prices vis à vis the big names of M. Chapoutier and Jean-Louis Chave.
Finishing the '09 lineup is a pair of white parcel selections, both of which are planted to equal parts Marsanne and Roussanne. The St.-Joseph White Les Oliviers 2009 is pure and unadorned, with beautiful green plum and heather notes that glide along effortlessly, followed by a rounded, flattering finish. The Ermitage White Le Reverdy 2009 has just been bottled and is a touch tight, with a salted butter and blanched almond profile, followed by a tight chalk edge. There's a core of chamomile and verbena in reserve and this should flesh out easily as it recuperates from the bottling.
The Crozes-Hermitage White La Matinière 2010 (100 percent Marsanne) is one of the top values in the profile. Bottled two weeks ago, it hasn't tightened up yet, with friendly chamomile and white peach flavors and a twinge of salted butter on the finish—it's a textbook Northern Rhône white.
"Mineral, mineral, mineral is the way to describe the '10s. But the depth is there too," said Pic. "As opposed to the flashy fruit of the '09s."
The St.-Péray Le Mialan 2010 (100 percent Marsanne) is not yet bottled. It's aged in mostly stainless steel along with a touch of demi-muid to lend just a light creaminess to the wine. It is nicely rounded, but very floral and pure, with peach and pear notes that glide through the finish. The St.-Joseph White La Source 2010 (100 percent Marsanne) is also still on its lees and will be bottled just before summer. It's very expressive, with enticing melon rind, chamomile and quince notes and a long, mineral-driven finish that shows the vintage's profile in spades. The St.-Joseph White Les Oliviers 2010 (50/50 Marsanne and Roussanne) is a few shades of gold darker, thanks in part to its 100 percent oak, though none new (a steady shift in recent years).
"There are only two and a half barrels of the wine so there's not a lot of room to play. If one new barrel out of two and a half is new, it can really dominate the finished wine, so we've decided not to do it in recent vintages," said Pic of the shift.
The wine is quite lush, with more mango, quince and chamomile notes backed by a dense, minerally finish that will take a few years to open fully.
The Hermitage White Les Miaux 2010 (almost all Marsanne with a drop of Roussanne) shows lively acidity from the start, with chartreuse, quince, chamomile and candied citrus peel notes racing through the finish. The Ermitage White Le Reverdy 2010 is tighter and more focused, with melon rind, green fig and green almond notes taking the lead and a long, salted butter finish that sports mouthwatering minerality. It's one of the best young whites I've tasted here since Chapoutier took full control of Ferraton in 2007.
"It's been a great opportunity for the team at Ferraton," said Pic. "With Michel Chapoutier's investment, we've taken control of new vineyard parcels and improved the winemaking facility. There have been big changes."
The lone Vigonier bottling here is the Condrieu Les Mandouls 2010, a pure, green fig and pear peel-filled white with a bright candied lime peel and floral finish.
The Crozes-Hermitage La Matinière 2010 is a great introduction to the vintage. This workhorse cuvée for the winery delivers a beautiful, fresh beam of violet and cassis, with a nice flicker of iron hanging on the finish. The Crozes-Hermitage Les Pichères 2010 is winey and dark, with racy cassis, boysenberry and spice notes and lots of graphite stretching out the finish. It marries the ripe fruit of '09 with the extra racy profile of '10 nicely. The Crozes-Ermitage Le Grand Courtil 2010 is the most structured of the three Crozes cuvées, with grippy briar, tar and graphite up front, holding the core of boysenberry and blackberry at bay for now. It's dense, but still plenty fresh, with nice drive on the finish.
There are now three red St.-Joseph cuvées, starting with the St.-Joseph La Source 2010, which was just racked, so it shows sappy kirsch fruit and tangy white pepper notes with a slightly angular finish, a result of it being moved. It should settle in well enough though. The St.-Joseph Lieu-Dit Le Paradis 2010 is new to the lineup in '10, sourced from a fully south facing 0.48-hectare parcel in Mauves, which features the three soils of the appellation - wind-strewn loess on the plateau atop the slope, decomposed granite in the middle and alluvial sand at the bottom. It shows gorgeous purity, with long, flowing violet, plum and cassis notes and a lovely graphite edge on the finish. There are just 125 cases of the cuvée, well worth a search. The St.-Joseph Lieu-Dit St.-Joseph 2010 features granite-only terroir and it shows a racier profile still, with mouthwatering cut to the violet, pastis and boysenberry fruit notes that course through the long, iron-filled finish. Again, there are just 125 cases produced, the price of working artisanally on steep, low-yielding slopes.
The Cornas Les Grands Mûriers 2010 continues the upward trend of the Cornas bottling here, qualitatively, with attention-getting acidity right on the attack, followed by invigorating pastis, violet and blackberry notes inlaid with a note of sweet tapenade. The Cornas Lieu-Dit Patou 2010 is remarkably defined and open, with saturated boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry fruit offset wonderfully by briar, sweet spice and dark tobacco notes. The Cornas Lieu-Dit Les Eygats 2010 is much tighter though, with the briar, tapenade and chalk notes up front, while the core of black currant and boysenberry fruit sits in reserve. The finish is almost rigid now, but the acidity ripe and mouthwatering and this should stretch out during the upcoming élevage,
The Côte-Rôtie L'Eglantine 2010 is a sappy, densely packed wine, with kirsch, roasted apple wood and licorice notes and a long finish. It's among the more primal of the '10 reds here. Another new addition in '10 is the Côte-Rôtie Lieu-Dit Montmain 2010, from the northern end of the appellation, which shows in the piercing iron, sanguine and alder wood notes that cut through the core of velvety plum and blackberry fruit.
"The wine was so dense and tight before the malo, it was really difficult to taste and see where it might be going," said Pic of the new Montmain cuvée. "But after the malo and racking, the terroir has really come shining through here."
Considering they have finished their malos and been recently racked, the three Hermitage cuvées are all remarkably defined and vibrant (after racking, wines typically turn backward or sullen for a period), as the minerality of the '10 vintage seems to make the wines brighter and more expressive than the '09s were at this stage. The Hermitage Les Miaux 2010 has started to broaden out already, with velvety currant sauce, fig paste and graphite notes laced with dark cocoa. The Ermitage Les Dionnières 2010 is dense and dark, with espresso, pastis and plum sauce notes still wrestling with one another, backed by a solid, tannin-driven finish. The Ermitage Le Méal 2010 is the most backward of the three, with grippy, smoldering iron and charcoal notes up front, but still plenty of vivacious plum, blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors and a long spice and graphite-filled finish. As with the white Le Reverdy 2010, these three red Hermitage bottlings are potentially the best wines from Ferraton yet.
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