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stirring the lees with james molesworth

From a Mom & Pop to a Pop & Sons

A stone's throw separates traditonal and modern-styled Côte-Rôties at neighbors Domaine Clusel-Roch and Jean-Michel Gerin
Photo by: James Molesworth
Autumn colors on the steep slopes of Cote-Rotie make for a dramatic vista.

Posted: Nov 13, 2013 12:20pm ET

Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth is in France, visiting select domaines of the Northern Rhône Valley, tasting the 2012 vintage and more in Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Hermitage and Cornas.

Domaine Clusel-Roch

Domaine Clusel-Roch is a mom-and-pop operation. Brigitte Roch and Gilbert Clusel manage their 20-acre estate that has a solid 13.5 acres in Côte-Rôtie and the rest in Condrieu and the Coteaux du Lyonnais.

This is a traditionally-run domaine, where a few nods to modernity, such as the shift to stainless steel fermentation, have resulted in brighter, more pure and more precise wines in recent years. For more background, you can reference my blog notes from my most recent visit here in 2010.

This is one estate affected dramatically by the low yields in 2013, where about 1.5 tons per acre were brought in for the reds and a minuscule 1.1 tons per acre for the whites—ouch.

As for the 2012 lineup, it rests in barrel, and Roch is happy with the quality.

"A good year," Roch said simply. "The coulure wasn't too bad for us and the mildew pressure not as bad as elsewhere. We did the usual three or four treatments [in the vineyard to prevent the spread of rot] but not more. The start of the season was cool, but then warm at the end, and I think the '12s are a little more structured than the '11s."

A lot of young-vine juice from the Champon lieu-dit makes up part of the 2012 Côte-Rôtie Petite Feuille. The wine shows a nice piercing feel, with high-toned red currant and bitter cherry notes and a hint of savory on the lacy finish.

"We keep the young vines separate to protect the quality of the classic cuvée," said Roch. "Vines are 10 years minimum before they might make the classic blend."

The classic blend is the 2012 Côte-Rôtie, made of one-third each of three lots, the first being from the Les Plantes lieu-dit. It's sappy in feel with tasty, bright red currant fruit and good energy on the finish—racy and pure, but without a lot of flesh. The next portion comes from the older vines in the Champon lieu-dit, and it too shows tangy red berry fruits and a bright iron edge—longer, but not much richer. The bass notes of the wine come from the final component, a blend of mostly fruit from the Viallière parcel along with a few other smaller lots. Here there's dark currant fruit, prominent charcoal and loam notes, but still freshness, with obvious angularity on the finish. Roch then makes a blend of the three to approximate the final wine and it knits together almost immediately, with the red fruit aspect leading the way, the darker fruits waiting in reserve and a lovely mix of piercing iron and charcoal filling out the finish.

A portion of the Viallière from higher on the slope goes into its own bottling. The 2012 Côte-Rôtie Viallière shows an amazing difference from the part that goes into the classic cuvée. The fruit is still dark and intense, but there's less loam and heaviness through the finish, as instead it shows energetic drive and a strong iron edge that really stretches out.

Capping the Côte-Rôtie cuvées is the 2012 Côte-Rôtie Les Grandes Places, which sports a serious core of mulled black fruit meshed with bay and savory notes and lined with charcoal on the finish. It's easily the darkest in profile of the three but equally aromatic and vivacious overall.

It's a big step down in body, but the 2012 Coteaux du Lyonnais Traboules, made from Gamay and vinified in stainless steel, offers refreshing Campari and blood orange notes with a savory hint on the light, almost breezy finish. The 2012 Coteaux du Lyonnais Galet is sourced from a vineyard with large rolled stones similar to those down south in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Also vinified in stainless but aged in used barrels, it shows more bass, relatively, with a plumper feel and good damson plum, Bing cherry and violet notes.

The 2012 Condrieu Verchery, bottled in September, offers a round, plump but slightly soft profile featuring peach, anise and melon notes. It's open-knit, lacks a little tension through the finish, but is very enjoyable for immediate consumption.

Jean-Michel Gerin

Literally a stone's throw down the street from Clusel-Roch is the cellar of Jean-Michel Gerin, where I've seen impressive changes since I first started visiting here nearly 10 years ago.

Gerin, now 52, is still plenty spry and sharp-witted, no question there. But he has given up his rugby and now has his two sons helping in the cellar. The cellar itself has tripled in size as the domaine has grown from 20 acres to 35 (mostly planted by Jean-Michel himself) with production further augmented by purchased fruit.

This is a reference point domaine for modern-styled Côte-Rôtie and Gerin is one of the deans of the appellation. For more background, you can cycle back through my blog notes on this domaine, starting with those from my 2011 visit here.

Sitting in tank about to be bottled is the 2012 St.-Joseph. It's a very solid version, with the fruit sourced from parcels in Chavanay, Serrières and Sarras providing a darker, richer-styled wine with steeped currant and cherry fruit and good flesh through the smoldering finish.

The 2012 Côte-Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur blends fruit from 11 parcels and Gerin's son Michael draws parts from a few lots to approximate the final blend. It shows a range of red and black fruit, along with a noticeable mesquite edge. But as always, despite the prominent toast here (new oak is used liberally by Gerin, 50 percent on this cuvée) the wine is integrated, with fresh structure and a savory hint on the finish.

The 2012 Côte-Rôtie La Viallière is aged entirely in new demi-muid (600-liter barrels) and it's a racy red currant- and bitter cherry-filled wine backed by a long, taut, iron spine. My favorite of the portfolio is the 2012 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne. Aged entirely in new barrels, it offers prominent singed mesquite and roasted vanilla bean notes before giving way to a large core of crushed black cherry fruit. It's showing it's toast today but the core is pure, the texture lush and the finish long, and it should all integrate nicely in due time. Bigger and more structured still is the 2012 Côte-Rôtie Les Grandes Places, again aged entirely in new barrels, but sporting more of a kirsch core, with extra crushed plum and savory notes and a powerful bittersweet, cocoa-fueled finish. There's great spine here too, though, to match the power, and the finish has impressive length.

The 2011 lineup is impressive as well, in a fleshier, more forward style than the nicely tannic 2012s. The 2011 St.-Joseph has currant paste, cherry and singed vanilla notes with a perfumy finish. The 2012 Côte-Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur shows the plusher edge of the vintage, with currant preserve studded with roasted vanilla. The 2012 Côte-Rôtie La Viallière is quite plush and toasty but has lovely integration between red and black currant fruit, plum sauce and cocoa flavors. The 2012 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne is the most overtly minerally, with a robust iron note out front, backed by a currant paste note and a long singed mesquite edge through the finish. It's really showing it's grip today and seems more in the mold of the '12. The 2012 Côte-Rôtie Les Grandes Places is dense and chewy along the edges hut has a very fleshy core of plum, currant and blackberry fruit. It's the most backward of the bunch but should knit, as the finish, loaded with charcoal, is very long.

There's value in the portfolio as well, with the 2012 Syrah Collines Rhodaniennes La Champine La Champine showing pretty, aromatic cherry, violet and white pepper notes, while the 2012 Viognier Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes is a soft, friendly wine with green melon and plantain notes and a gentle finish. The 2012 Condrieu La Loye is also plump and friendly, with a larger range of melon, green fig and almond notes, a rounded open-knit finish. It's a touch shy on zip in the end but has lovely pure fruit.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

Eric Campos
Canada —  January 22, 2014 9:59pm ET
James, I didn't see any comments on the Clusel-Roch 2011 Cote-Roties -- any impressions you can share?

thanks!
James Molesworth
New York —  January 23, 2014 9:05am ET
Eric: During this trip I focused on '12s in barrel. I'll taste the '11s from bottle in the coming months as they are released int the marketplace and the wines are submitted by the importer for my blind tastings in NY.

My report on the '11 vintage in general is in the Nov. 30, 2013 issue, fyi...

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