My previous visits with Jean-Michel Gerin have always started with an early morning, stomach-churning drive up into his vineyards in his mini-truck. This visit was different. We started with an early afternoon, stomach-churning drive up into his vineyards in his 1984 Renault, which he proudly showed only had 27,000 kilometers on it. I’ve never seen a gear shift that came out of the dashboard before. The only thing that topped the drive up was the drive down, the car groaning with each hairpin turn. Good times.
In all seriousness though, it’s always great to get into the vineyards with Gerin. I’ve visited his parcel in La Viaillère now three years in a row. The first time they were rebuilding the terraces. Last year they were putting in the drainage system (run off on these steep slopes can be wild). This year the vineyard looks great, so good in fact, that Gerin will be making a separate La Viaillère cuvée from the 2007 vintage.
We also looked at some hail damage (a highly centralized storm hit some of Gerin’s vineyards in June), and the vines that were hit had some damage to next year's buds. That means lower yields, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Gerin knows he’s lucky the damage wasn’t worse. Nonetheless, despite all the difficulty in the vineyards in ’07, Gerin got wines with "huge polyphenols." A few samples tasted from tank (the wines underwent malo in tank for the first time ever here) showed gorgeous color and fresh, forward fruit notes.
As for his ’06 cuvées, Gerin has a really good trio of red, starting with the 2006 Côte-Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur, which sees aging in 50 percent new oak. It has bright cherry and pepper notes and really crunchy acidity. The 2006 Côte-Rôtie La Landonne was assembled in October and then racked back to barrels. We tasted from a barrel (it’s 100 percent high toast new oak on this cuvée and the Grandes Places) that showed this wine’s typically lush texture, with gorgeously suave fruit and a long, alluring, mocha-tinged finish. The 2006 Côte-Rôtie Les Grandes Places, from higher on the slopes, is typically more structured than the La Landonne, and the parcel’s 50-year-old vines produced a sappy, loaded wine with loads of kirsch and spice and a superdriven finish.
As for the '05s, Gerin noted that he racked the wines three times as opposed to the usual two, in order to get the tannins to loosen up.
Gerin is a busy guy. He’s one of the new owners of Bistro à Serrine in Ampuis, and he’s partner with Laurent Combier of Domaine Combier (Crozes-Hermitage) and Peter Fischer of Château La Revelette in Provence to produce wine in Priorat. As for his own wines, if you like lush, modern styled Côte-Rôtie, his '06s are worth getting in line for.
If you were building a baseball team of vignerons, Stéphane Ogier would be the young, slugging, good fielding third baseman that you’d have to lock up early with a big contract, for fear of losing him on the free agent market. At just 30, Ogier already has transitioned his domaine smoothly from his father, Michel, who started in '83 (after previously selling grapes to Etienne Guigal), and is primed to become one of Côte-Rôtie’s top vignerons.
A few years ago, Ogier had the foresight to join some of his fellow vignerons in planting vines on the opposite side of the river, near Vienne, and his excellent L'Âme Sœur bottling of Syrah sourced from there enters its third vintage in 2006. Earlier this year, Ogier finalized a purchase of 1.2 hectares in Condrieu (his first vines there, and he’s vinified an '07) which brings his holdings now to a total of 11 hectares. Along with additional Vin de Pays bottlings of Syrah and Viognier from the right bank of the river and his superb Côte-Rôties, this domaine offers quality up and down the line.
As for the Vienne project, Ogier is happy with the results so far.
"You can make really serious wines with young vines, if you work them hard," he said. "Prune short, green harvest and keep yields to 30 hectoliters per hectare."
The schist terroir of Ogier’s Vienne holdings combines the best of both of the famous "Blonde" and "Brune" terroirs in Côte-Rôtie, said Ogier.
"It's schist, so its like the Côte Brune, but it’s lighter in color, so it's like the Côte Blonde too," he explained.
The 2006 Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes L'Âme Sœur offers the telltale flinty note of Syrahs from this area, along with cherry and iron and a lovely tangy finish. From vines just outside the Côte-Rôtie appellation above Tupin-Semons, Ogier produces his 2006 Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes La Rosine. Two parcels of vines, one planted by his father, the other by Stéphane, are combined to create a supple, silky, medium-weight red with black cherry and black tea notes backed by fine minerality.
Ogier returned to a normal élevage for his '06s—18 months for the regular Côte-Rôtie and 24 months for the two parcel blends—after extending the élevage for the '05 cuvées.
"You had to take your time with the '05s," he says.
Ogier ages the wines in new oak, but racks back to used barrels for better integration. The 2006 Côte-Rôtie is made from a blend of parcels, including barrels from Lancement and Côte Rozier which don’t get selected for the single vineyard bottlings. After tasting through several parcels, which are vinified and kept separate for the first year of élevage, Ogier then put together an approximate blend of the final wine, which shows beautiful smoke, blackberry, incense and dark fig notes with a fleshy finish. The 2006 Côte-Rôtie Lancement Terroir de Blonde, from a single hectare in the Lancement parcel is another potential classic, with riveting black cherry and currant fruit stitched with Turkish coffee, sweet tobacco and sanguine notes. Based on price, the 2006 Côte-Rôtie La Belle Hélène Côte Rozier is technically the top wine here, though I have preferred the Lancement bottling in the past (as did Ogier in ’04, he admits). Sourced from the Côte Rozier parcel it offers terrific blackberry ganache, fig and gun smoke tea with a long and driven finish, and it too offers potentially classic quality.
We also tasted through the '05s, which are waiting to be bottled. The 2005 Côte-Rôtie Lancement Terroir de Blonde received 50 percent new oak in '05, a touch more than usual, and Ogier likes the results.
"I’m glad I left this longer in oak, the tannins are much finer now than they were in April," he says.
The wine offers lapsang souchong tea, cherry confiture and a perfectly embedded structure, showing the power of the vintage but the finesse of the Côte Blonde terroir at the same time. Of equal quality is the 2005 Côte-Rôtie La Belle Hélène Côte Rozier, aged in 100 percent new oak, which shows more sauvage notes and serious grip along with plum sauce, fig cake and licorice flavors.
This is a domaine to be taken seriously—it represents the new face of Côte-Rôtie.