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stirring the lees with james molesworth

The Rhône, Day 6: Going Fast and Hanging Out with the Young Crowd

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 6, 2009 12:13pm ET

It's Sunday. No days off here. As if to rub it in, Mother Nature returned to her surly ways: It's gray, cold and rainy today after a spate of bright, mistral-driven weather for most of the week.

A little while back we ran a reader letter that related a story about their car being broken into in Châteauneuf, and the rather tepid response they got from local law enforcement. A letter eventually followed from the town mayor noting that a new gendarmerie station was being built in Châteauneuf and things would soon be changing. I can attest to that, as I was slapped with a speeding ticket on my way into town this morning. Playing the role of ignorant tourist didn’t work. I wasn’t alone either—a line of cars soon formed behind me, all waiting for their tickets, including a pair of old ladies in a battered Renault. The local vignerons may have their hands full if this is the new regime ... perhaps a case or two of Châteauneuf delivered to the gendarmerie as a welcome present might be in order?

Not many folks will grant you a visit on a Sunday—you have to ask a younger vigneron with less of a penchant for standing on tradition. Julien Barrot, 28, and Adrien Fabre, 27, were hip enough to take me in on what is always a very quiet day in France. Barrot is the young owner of Domaine La Barroche. (He guest blogged for us during his recent harvest.) One of the youngest vignerons in town, his enthusiasm always bubbles over as we taste. You can reference background on the domaine from my 2007 blog post.

Barrot started his own Domaine La Barroche in the 2003 vintage (his parents had sold the family grapes off to négociants before that). His goal when starting out was to eventually bottle half of the family’s own grapes, while still selling off the other half. With the 2007 vintage, Barrot is way ahead of his plan—he bottled all of the domaine’s production in this vintage, good timing considering the quality.

“It’s a big achievement to bottle everything. I am very proud of doing that,” said the still-baby-faced and always smiling Barrot.

Starting in 2006, Barrot began vinifying his varieties and parcels separately, as he now has enough tanks to do so. In addition, starting in 2007, Barrot has reduced his élevage to 12 months in wood (a mix of foudres and other vessels) as he now has enough storage vessels to accommodate his production.

“In 2004, I just used any container I could get my hands on. Now it’s a little more precise,” he said.

In addition, Barrot wants to preserve the freshness of fruit in his wines. “After more than 12 months in wood, the wood starts to eat the fruit a little bit,” he said.

All the tweaking has resulted in a set of 2007s that crystallize the hyperconcentrated fruit of the vintage into a set of sleek, polished, mouthwatering wines. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Terroir 2007 is mostly Grenache, along with some press wine that goes into the "Signature" cuvée. Mostly destemmed, the wine shows sappy kirsch fruit with a hint of garrigue and a minerally finish. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (which Barrot refers to as the ‘Signature’ cuvée) is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. The Grenache is aged in foudre, the Cinsault in cement vat and the Syrah and Mourvèdre in used barrels. It’s a step up in concentration, with a tight core of cassis fruit and a long, racy finish. Both it and the Terroir cuvée are clearly outstanding. The latter should open up with cellaring—the wine was so rich that its ferment stopped, and Barrot had to add some must from the 2008 vintage to get it going again. It finally completed its ferment in December 2008.

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Fiancée 2007 includes some of the estate’s 100-year-old Grenache vines (see the accompanying video as we go into the vineyards with Barrot to look at the differences between some of his parcels of 100-year-old Grenache vines) along with 20-year-old Syrah. “Twenty years is old for Syrah,” said Barrot. “For Grenache of course, 20 years is nothing.” The wine is creamy, lush and loaded with raspberry, spice, loam and mineral notes that sail on through the superlong finish. It’s potentially classic in quality, along with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pure 2007, a 100 percent Grenache cuvée from the Grands Pierres parcel located just next to Rayas. It sports gorgeous blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry fruit aromas and flavors, with melted licorice, Linzer and black tea notes. It’s not shy at 16.5 percent alcohol, but as with most of the top wines in the vintage, it’s totally seamless. “Besides, that’s normal now for Châteauneuf,” said Barrot. “Even in 2008 I have some tanks at 15 and 16 percent.”



This is a domaine on the rise, both in quality and quantity (thankfully). There are around 20,000 bottles each of the Terroir and "Signature" cuvées, and around 4,500 each of the Fiancée and Pure.

***

Making that my last visit in Châteauneuf for this trip, and driving a little more slowly, I then headed back out into the sticks, to the small town of Visan, located about 20 minutes north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Tucked up on a winding road are the dual domaines of Adrien Fabre: Domaine de l'Echevin and Domaine La Florane.

Domaine La Florane totals 20 hectares of vines based in Visan and comes from Fabre’s mother’s side of the family. Domaine de l’Echevin totals 15 hectares of vines located in the village of St.-Maurice and comes from Fabre’s father’s side of the family. Both estates were selling their grapes to their respective village co-ops up until 2001, when Fabre decided to make a go of it bottling the production himself.

Fabre works out of a small, efficient, well-appointed, gravity-flow winery. All the wines are fermented in stainless steel, with the reds then aged either in steel, cement vat or a mix of barrels, demi-muid and foudre that Fabre is slowly accumulating.

The Visan vines are south facing and at a slightly lower altitude than those of St.-Maurice. The result is the Domaine La Florane wines rely on Grenache and are a little bigger in mouthfeel and darker in terms of fruit, while the Domaine de l’Echevin wines feature Syrah, along with more Northern Rhône-like character.

From Domaine La Florane, the Côtes du Rhône-Villages Visan à Fleur de Pampre 2007 is 90 percent Grenache with the rest Syrah, from the domaine’s youngest vines. It offers tangy red berry, licorice and mineral notes. The Côtes du Rhône-Villages Visan 2007 was just bottled, and the 80/20 Grenache/Syrah blend is sourced from 35- to 40-year-old vines from vines located higher up. “Elevation is a big factor in the wines,” said Fabre. The wine is streamlined, with more tangy red berry fruit, but a higher pitched floral note and a mouthwatering finish.

The Côtes du Rhône-Villages Visan Terre Pourpre 2007 is sourced from the domaine’s highest elevation vines, a selection of 40-year-old Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre aged in used Burgundy barrels. It offers a dark, winey aroma but a stylish, racy palate full of graphite, black currant and spice notes.

From Domaine de l’Echevin, the Côtes du Rhône-Villages St.-Maurice 2007 was also recently bottled. Made from two-thirds Syrah (aged in two-year-old Bordeaux barrels) and the remainder Grenache (aged in cement vat), it’s very floral, with violet and bright Bing cherry notes similar to a small-scale St.-Joseph. The finish is elegant and persistent. The Côtes du Rhône-Villages St.-Maurice Guillaume de Rouville 2007 is to be bottled next week. Made from 95 percent Syrah (35-year-old vines) with the rest Grenache, it's very concentrated but pure, with violet, plum, graphite and black tea notes.

Equally delicious and also potentially outstanding is the Côtes du Rhône-Villages White St.-Maurice Guillaume de Rouville 2007, made from equal parts Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne vinified and aged entirely in barrel, including barrels Fabre purchased from Château d'Yquem, "for the quality of the wood," he said. "The grain is so fine, it's perfect."

The wine is very inviting, with delicious melon and heather honey notes that eventually turn racy and fresh on the finish, turning to mineral and green plum hints.

Fabre is a smart, young vigneron committed to his craft and working out of the spotlight. The result: excellent wines retailing in the $15 to $30 range, and worth tracking down.

I've got just one more day of visits in the south—Gigondas and Vacqueyras up next—before heading north.

Daniel Posner
New York —  March 7, 2009 12:14am ET
I drank a 2005 Barroche Fiancee two weeks ago...WOW! A relative bargain these days...
James Molesworth
March 7, 2009 5:26am ET
Dan: That's the benefit if well-farmed, old vine vineyards - a domaine can hit high qualitative marks fairly quickly with that recipe. Now look for improvement as Barrot gets his cellar fine tuned and gains experience - think of it, he's got 30+ vintages in front of him...
Eric P Perramond
Colorado Springs, CO —  March 8, 2009 11:41am ET
James, perhaps I missed this in earlier blogs, but is this the son of Lucien Barrot, or no relation? I've always enjoyed the L Barrot CdP and they seem to be always among the most affordable. And how is Julien distinguishing himself vs. his family bottlings, if it is indeed the same kinship network? Any comments?
James Molesworth
March 8, 2009 12:22pm ET
Eric: Yes, there is a connection. Lucien Barrot is Julien's great-uncle. You can read more here:

http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Blogs/Blog_Detail/0,4211,809,00.html

The Lucien Barrot bottling is a solid value in top vintages. The wine is in the more rustic, beefy, gusty style versus the more polished bottlings the younger Barrot is now producing.
David Smith
Austin, TX —  March 14, 2009 1:06pm ET
That is great to hear about Floraine and Echevin. Some of the earlier WS ratings seemed to show them as sort of mid level for the appelations. Do you feel that they have improved since the reviews from 2-4 years ago? Did you do the earlier reviews? If so, what changes do you see stylistically?
James Molesworth
March 14, 2009 1:50pm ET
David: Good question - the earlier vintages in our database were reviewed by me. Some of them are the debut vintage, so not surprising to me that as he's built the winery, gotten a handle on the vineyard and gotten a few vintages under his belt (he's not even 30 yet) that things have improved. A few were from '03 - an inconsistent vintage due to the wild heat. You'll notice the '05 vintage was the best rated one yet, so there is a clear trend line there.

I think sometimes the dot.com Cabs that get 95 points out of the gate make it seem like making wine is easy. It isn't...these things take time.

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