New faces and exciting new wines kicked off the first day of Wine Experience seminars, as eight of the Rhône's Rising Stars among vignerons introduced the audience to the valley's diverse appellations and styles. Wine Spectator senior editor and moderator James Molesworth aimed to "take a nice big, wide-angle look at the wines of the Rhône, going all the way from the north to the south."
Jean-Louis Chave; Yves Cuilleron, Vins de Vienne.
The panelists each poured one of their estate's wines. The tasting was split evenly, with four Syrahs from appellations in the Northern Rhône Valley and four Grenache-based wines from the south.
While his family's domaine is a big name in Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave's efforts to rehabilitate the neighboring St.-Joseph appellation led to his inclusion as a rising star. While Chave called his stylish 2006 St.-Joseph (93, $60) a "simple" wine, there's nothing simple about the hard work that goes into growing vines and producing quality wines in the Northern Rhône. Molesworth pointed out that the area is dominated by steep, terraced vineyards, typically with granitic soils.
As a group, the Syrahs showed great acidity, with pure fruit flavors and an underlying mineral tang, although the wines built in body and density from Chave's elegant St.-Joseph to the intense Domaine du Coulet Cornas Les Terasses du Serre 2006 (93, $65), poured by owner Matthieu Barret.
Matthieu Barret, Domaine du Coulet.
In between was Les Vins de Vienne’s sleek Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Sotanum 2007 (93, $66) from an area that does not have an AOC but has similar schist soils to those of Côte-Rôtie. Panelist Yves Cuilleron represented the Vins de Vienne partnership, founded in the 1990s with fellow winemakers Pierre Gaillard and François Villard. And Stéphane Ogier presented his juicy, dark Côte-Rôtie Lancement Terroir de Blonde 2006 (94, $232), a wine made entirely from the 30-year-old vines in the property's Lancement lieu-dit.
In comparison, the second half of the tasting showed more diversity of style. This was due in part to the different blends of grapes in each wine, but also to the area's geography. Molesworth explained that the Southern Rhône is a broad plateau, with rolling hills and few of the north's steep terraces; it also has a multitude of soil types, where the Northern Rhône is more homogeneous.
The Southern Rhône selections, all from the potentially classic 2007 vintage, started with the Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Hauts de Julien (92, $49). The grippy wine, half Grenache and half Syrah, comes from the recently approved Vinsobres AOC. General manager Marc Perrin and other members of his family, which owns famed Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, have diversified into other less-prominent Rhône appellations.
Stéphane Ogier, Michel & Stéphane Ogier.
Showcasing the Gigondas appellation was Louis Barruol, who poured his estate's racy Château de St.-Cosme Gigondas Le Claux (96, $65), from a 4.5-acre vineyard with Grenache vines dating to the early 1900s and the days of Louis' grandparents' stewardship.
A contrast between two Châteauneuf-du-Papes closed out the tasting. Domaine Giraud's Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Gallimardes (96, $52)—a pure, mouthwatering blend of 90 percent Grenache and 10 percent Syrah—is one of three reds made at the domaine, explained Marie Giraud. Her family had long sold their grapes to négociants, but as Barruol did when he took over St.-Cosme from his father, Marie and her brother started bottling their own wines.
The hedonistic Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Auguste Favier Réserve (95, $60)—a blend of 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Cinsault, plus Syrah and Mourvèdre—truly comes from a newcomer. Owner Isabel Ferrando only established the domaine in 2002 and admitted she was “unfortunately” a banker before then. “Why do I do wine? I do wine because I love wine, and I love Châteauneuf-du-Pape!" The audience shared her sentiment, extending it to the whole group of outstanding Rhône reds.