I actually tasted through the portfolio of 2007 wines from Tardieu-Laurent on day six of my most recent Rhône trip, but I wanted to file a separate entry on them, as there is more than a handful of wines, and they require some detail.
Those who dismiss the wines because of their apparent hyper-modern profile are missing out. This is not a winery that simply slaps new oak on all its wines to dress them up for maximum impact. Michel Tardieu (who works with Philippe Cambie) is a seriously committed vigneron with a penchant for locating excellent parcels of vines. He works with a mix of both traditional (varying the amount of destemming) and modern techniques (aging in new oak barrels) that lend the wines a density and clarity to their fruit without sacrificing their terroir.
Yes, they show a new oak influence when young, but during their lengthy élevage the reds are blended and then racked back into used oak, thus minimizing the overt influence of new barrels. The wines age well, with the wood treatment melding into the body of the wine to let a kaleidoscope of spice, fruit, toast and mineral notes develop together. In recent years, the lineup has really excelled—the 2006 portfolio earned outstanding marks for 13 of the 14 wines I reviewed. The 2007 lineup is potentially even better.
The winery is currently producing 100,000 bottles annually, 60 percent of that from the Southern Rhône. They recently signed on with a prominent U.S. importer, which should help boost their distribution here as well. All of the ‘07s reds noted below are slated to be bottled between now and the start of the ’09 harvest.
The Côtes du Rhône Guy Louis Red 2007, a 60/40 Grenache/Syrah blend of fruit sourced from Cairanne, Plan de Dieu, Roaix, Courthézon and Rasteau. It typically retails for about $20 and is a dynamite value. Destemmed 100 percent, the wine is ripe and full of terrific fig, graphite and hoisin sauce notes with a long, charcoal-tinged finish. The Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau Vieilles Vignes 2007 is primal, but it’s stunning already for its laserlike blackberry and boysenberry fruit laced with pastis, violet and graphite notes. The long, creamy finish just sails on. The 80/20 Grenache/Syrah blend (80-year-old vines for the Grenache, 35-year-old Syrah) is also destemmed entirely.
The Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes 2007 is an 85/15 Grenache/Syrah blend sourced from four growers that is 80 percent destemmed. It’s very grippy, with lots of graphite up front, followed by spice, mesquite, tar and currant notes with super definition on the finish already. The Gigondas Vieilles Vignes 2007 takes a step up. The 75/15 blend of Grenache and Syrah, with the rest Mourvèdre and Cinsault is among the best wines produced in the appellation. It’s very primal right now, with lush black tea blackberry and boysenberry fruit that seems almost endless, though a chalky spine and perfumy hint check in on the finish.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape cuvées are overlooked in the context of the appellation, perhaps because Tardieu-Laurent is based in the charming Provençal town of Lourmarin, a 40-minute drive south of the town and away from its day-to-day buzz. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2007 blends 80 percent Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre, the Mourvèdre a key player in the ’07 vintage.
“The Mourvèdre is fantastic in ’07,” said Tardieu. “Very ripe, but with a natural austerity too.”
The wine, sourced partially from the famed La Crau lieu-dit and destemmed entirely, shows musk, black tea and mesquite aromas backed by macerated currant fruit and a superfresh minerality. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Speciale 2007 is the most traditional of the batch, entirely whole-bunch pressed and fermented in cement vat, this 100 percent Grenache cuvée sourced entirely from sandy soils in La Crau offers captivating pepper, lavender and iron notes with superfresh tobacco, black fruit and hoisin sauce flavors. It sports a long, gravelly finish and is loaded with character. Both wines are potentially classic in quality.
From the Northern Rhône, which represents about 40 percent of the production here, the Hermitage White 2007, made from a blend of 85/15 Marsanne and Roussanne shows gorgeous purity, with Cavaillon melon, star fruit and liquefied fennel notes, backed by a whiff of heather on the creamy finish. The mouthfeel is just superb. The Crozes-Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2007 is sourced from 50-year-old vines planted on a mix of clay and granite soils, which results in a perfumy styled wine, with lilting lavender, iron, mesquite notes, black cherry fruit and fine-grained structure. The St.-Joseph Vieilles Vignes 2007 is sourced from parcels I the northern end of the appellation, around Chavanay and Chanson. Using both Syrah and the ancient Serine clone, the wine shows the piercing violet and mineral aromatics Serine is known for, along with richer black cherry and pastis notes and broader tannins than the more northerly St.-Josephs typically show.
It’s a radical change of gears to the Cornas Coteaux 2007, which again blends modern Syrah and ancient Serine vines sourced from the Chaillot and Eygats parcels, among others. Only partially destemmed, the wine drips with cassis fruit but has a fierce, minerally spine, with sauvage and charcoal notes framing the very grippy finish.
Also made in the throwback style is the Côte-Rôtie 2007, which is whole-bunch pressed. Sourced from some of the appellation’s top parcels, including La Landonne and Chavaroche, it’s a gorgeous iron-laced, blackberry-filled wine with grippy tannins that let additional tobacco, tapenade and smoke notes weave through the finish. It’s rather Jamet-like in person today, and is among the stars of this very impressive lineup.
The Hermitage 2007, from 60-year-old vines in the Beaumes and Muret parcels, among others, is the tightest of all the cuvées today. Partially destemmed, the wine shows a racy edge buried underneath the black tea, mineral and mixed berry fruit. It’s still slightly edgy on the finish, but has the stuffing to pull together.
Production on these cuvées tops out at just a few hundred cases each, some even less. Even with the improved distribution you will have to track them down, or ask your retailer to get in line for them. But they are among the most vivid, precise and exciting wines being made in the region today.