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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Day 5: From Mauves to Côte-Rôtie

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 4, 2007 3:33am ET

I transitioned from the southern part of the north up to Côte-Rôtie by the end of the day. My first stop was back in Mauves, where I met with Jérôme Coursodon whose domaine is located just off the Place de Marché at the northern end of the town.

Jérôme Coursodon, 33, added his name to the label in the ’05 vintage, but he had taken over from his father Pierre by ‘98/’99. The domaine totals 15 hectares of vines, all in St.-Joseph, and all centered on the sweet spot of the appellation – the granite slopes around Mauves, Tournon and St.-Jean-du-Muzols. Production is ample: over 5,000 cases annually, with slightly less than 10 percent coming to the U.S.

With a wiry build, short brown hair and square face, Coursodon looks like he stepped out of a Truffault movie. He produces two white cuvées, the first of which is fermented partially in tank and partially in wood. The 2006 St.-Joseph White Silice is bottled after the malolactic is completed in February. Designed for early consumption, this 100 percent Marsanne sourced from a blend of parcels averaging 20 years of age is very concentrated and stony, with peach pit and bitter almond notes. The 2006 St.-Joseph White Le Paradis de St.-Pierre contains five percent Roussanne and is fermented entirely in barrel and is allowed to sit on its lees with batonnage (stirring of the lees, for added texture and complexity). The resulting wine is very round and lush, with tropical papaya and mango notes backed by a nice buried minerality.

The red cuvées here are very modern in style – the grapes are destemmed, given a one week cold soak and then pumped over two to three times per day. After ferment they are moved to barrel for their malos and age for a year before bottling.

“2006 is a touch less rich than ’05,” said Coursodon. “But the tannins are finer and more pleasant.”

The 2006 St.-Joseph Silice is made from a blend of parcels on granite and clay soils and it sees no new oak. It’s fresh with purple fruit and a driven finish. The 2006 St.-Joseph L’Olivaie is from 55 year-old vines and gets a touch of new oak – it’s really plush, with gorgeous purple fruit backed by licorice and mocha notes. The 2006 St.-Joseph Paradis contains a small amount of fruit from the St.-Joseph lieu-dit vineyard – it’s more structured, with a racy texture, purple and black fruits and a great iron note on the finish. The top red cuvée, the 2006 St.-Joseph La Sensonne is a blend of the domaine’s oldest vines, and it offers the darkest profile, with black fruits intertwined with notes of charcoal, mocha and black tea along with ample grip on the finish. It sees 80 percent new oak and it shows, though the stuffing is there to absorb it in time. This is another domaine whose style fits perfectly with the lush, flattering style of the vintage, and where the ‘06s rival, if not surpass, the ‘05s.

I left Mauves and made the drive up to Limony, just south of Condrieu. I stayed on the RN 86 rather than crossing over to the autoroute – it’s a much prettier drive. In Limony, a one-stop light town, you take a sharp turn off the main road and follow the small signs up a narrow, winding road to the cave of Domaine Chèze.

Louis Chèze, 50, founded his own domaine with a single hectare back in 1978 – today he has 30, spread over St.-Joseph, Condrieu and now Seyssuel, across the river. He’s a quiet vigneron – rarely attending trade shows or the like.

“Louis is always in the cave,” said Alexandre Poinard, his recently hired director. “Or, if it’s five in the morning, he’s in the vineyards.”

The house style here is one of elegance - the whites have tropical fruit flavors but soft, creamy textures and easy finishes. The reds are very fine-grained and supple. Whites are fermented in barrel, reds in stainless (all reds are destemmed), and then moved to a mix of barrels from eight different coopers. Production totals nearly 12,000 cases annually.

The 2006 St.-Joseph White Cuvée Ro-Rée is a blend of 60 percent Roussanne with Marsanne that offers captivating fruit and texture. The 2006 Condrieu Pagus Luminus is from Viognier parcels high on the slope, and it delivers a more minerally, elegant profile, in contrast to the 2006 Condrieu Brèze, sourced from Viognier vines on the middle of the slope, which delivers fatter melon and peach notes.

Among the reds, the 2006 St.-Joseph Cuvée Ro-Rée is from the estate’s youngest vines, and it offers a mix of bright fruit and smoky notes with a soft but lengthy finish. The 2006 St.-Joseph Cuvée Prestige de Caroline comes from a parcel selection of 30- to 35-year-old vines aged two-thirds in new oak. Despite the additional oak treatment, it remains lacy and pure, with a long, graceful finish. The top cuvée is the 2006 St.-Joseph des Anges, a 100 percent new oak cuvée (two years of aging) that is nonetheless very feminine in style, with espresso and black cherry notes and a very long, silky finish.

Chèze has also crossed the river and is among the handful of pioneers reestablishing vines around the ancient city of Vienne (along with Vins de Vienne, Michel Chapoutier, Stéphane Ogier and Alain Paret). Chèze’s Les Vignobles de Seyssuel produces two cuvées from these schist soils, both 100 percent Syrah. The 2005 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Sixtus is aged one-third in new oak for one year; from vines higher on the slope, it shows pungent pepper and lavender notes with a tangy, taut finish. The 2005 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Saxeolum (the cuvée names pay homage to the ancient Roman history of the area, which at one time had more vines than in Côte-Rôtie) is a 100 percent new oak cuvée, aged for two years, and it shows very fine-grained tannins along with dried currant, mineral and sanguine notes. It’s very tight, but the length is there, and both of these wines (which debuted in the ’04 and ‘05 vintages respectively) show the potential of this exciting viticultural spot. Once again, Louis Chèze is quietly going about his business.

After a quick lunch (well, I tried to make it quick, but this is France after all) I made it to Ampuis, and drove up another windy road through the striking fall foliage colored, steeply terraced vineyards to the cellar of Bernard Burgaud.

Burgaud, 50, started his domaine in 1980, breaking from the tradition of his father who previously sold the grapes off. Burgaud, built like a rugby player and still youthful in appearance, with only a slightly weathered face and close-cropped, curly white hair, farms just four hectares of vines. But they’re well situated in the Le Champin, Les Moutonnes and Fontgeant parcels, among others.

On first impression you’d expect a staunch traditionalist – 27 vintages under his belt and just one cuvée. But Burgaud has a bit of modernity as well – he destems the wines entirely and ferments his parcels separately (since they can ripen over a week apart). He ferments at a slightly higher temperature than is common (which gets a bit more extraction), and uses frequent pigeage (punching down) before moving the wine to barrel. He also makes the blend right after malolactic is complete (usually in February after the harvest), then puts the wine back into barrel (20 percent new) until bottling a year later.

“2006 offered beautiful ripeness with very sweet grapes,” said Burgaud about the vintage currently in barrel. His 2006 Côte-Rôtie shows a juicy core of black cherry and currant fruit along with enticing briar, mineral and coffee notes. It’s both flattering and structured at the same time and should rival Burgaud’s excellent 2005. He compares the tannic ’05 and lush ’06 duo to the ‘88/’89 combo.

Burgaud produces just 1,600 cases per year and sends about 200 to the U.S. He has a dry wit – when I asked him if he ever used Viognier in his wine he responded, “Red wine is made from red grapes.”

Yields here are not low – 36 hectoliters per hectare in ’05 and 43 in ’06, but the wine is concentrated and full of ripe structure. A bottle of his 1988 Côte-Rôtie was still very plush, with cocoa, aged tobacco, flint and black olive notes which showed lovely poise on the lengthy finish.

This is a domaine without star power that quietly makes a rock solid, cellar worthybottling

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