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Tough Act to Follow, Part 2

How do you follow the epic 2015 vintage in France's Northern Rhône Valley? Michel Chapoutier has an answer
Chapoutier and the Northern Rhône are on a run of stellar vintages.
Photo by: James Molesworth
Chapoutier and the Northern Rhône are on a run of stellar vintages.

Posted: Jul 27, 2018 10:30am ET

When I last stopped in at M. Chapoutier, in 2016, I tasted through the 2015 vintage here, which will indeed go down as one of the greats, but now along comes 2016 … and 2017 ….

Yesterday I posted my notes from my tasting of the 2016 Northern Rhône white wines with Michel Chapoutier and his maître de chai, Clément Bärtschi. Now we're onto the reds.

"In 2016, yields are higher for Syrah than the whites in general, with exception of Hermitage, which got some hail," says Bärtschi.

The 2016 Alleno & Chapoutier St.-Joseph Couronne de Chabot is alive with violet and mineral notes that race through a core of bright, lively plum and cassis fruit. There's a nice kick of graphite through the finish.

Starting off the M. Chapoutier lineup, the 2016 Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers is very bright and fresh, with dark cherry and blackberry fruit lined with subtle bay and violet notes. The long finish ripples with minerality. It's a delight.

The 2016 St.-Joseph Les Granilites offers violet, plum and lavender notes that meld gently together, ending with a supple feel. It has a bit more flesh and range than the Crozes.

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses delivers lots of loganberry, sage, savory and anise notes with a light smoldering bay note on the finish. Its solid grip is nicely buried, its acidity is very alive.

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie Quatuor (just the second vintage for this bottling) is sourced from estate vines that have matured to the point that Chapoutier believes they merit a separate bottling. Farmed biodynamically, they cover four different blocks, two of them schist, one granite and one gneiss. The wine is intense and very grippy, with lots of bramble and briar carrying sage, olive and cassis notes along. The finish really kicks into second gear too.

The 2016 Cornas Les Arènes is very juicy and engaging, with lots of brambly grip that stays fresh as it moves along, pulling cassis, plum and raspberry fruit with it. Bright minerality lines the finish.

The 2016 Cornas Temenos (first vintage for this wine, from organically farmed vines in the Reynard lieu-dit that Chapoutier is working to convert to biodynamic) is lively and racy. It bristles with sage, bay and savory while the core of steeped plum and blackberry fruit waits in reserve.

The 2016 Crozes-Ermitage Les Varonniers is dark, with warm stone notes rolling through with waves of dark blackberry and boysenberry compote. There's a tarry note giving it a dark profile. But there's also a freshness here, too, thanks to an iron streak.

The 2016 St.-Joseph Les Granits is ripe and focused, with a gorgeous streak of lavender and violets through the core of dark cherry and blackberry fruit. It has some grip, but it's decidedly racy overall, with a blaze of minerality on the finish.

The 2016 St.-Joseph Le Clos is sourced from younger vines than Les Granits and also comes from a later-ripening spot. It shows a dark and alluring profile, with very creamy blackberry and black currant fruit flavors that seemingly glide through. But there's a girder of acidity throughout while intense violet, bay and lavender notes fill in. The finish has depth and fruit to burn. It's a very impressive wine.

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie La Mordorée is nicely packed with loganberry and raspberry fruit that moves through in waves, picking up anise, bramble and savory along the way. This is yet another wine here with a finish that kicks into second gear.

The 2016 Côte-Rôtie Neve (the first commercially available bottling of this wine) is sourced from the lieu-dit of the same name, on schist soils behind La Viailliere. It is sleek and racy in style, with bright savory, bay and lavender notes out front followed by lively red currant and damson plum fruit. This is backed by mouthwatering minerality and a flicker of mesquite.

The 2016 Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne is fleshy and open in feel, with lots of warmed anise, blackberry compote and tar notes rolled together. The dark finish has smoldering bay, charcoal and warm stone notes.

The 2016 Ermitage Les Greffieux is warm and inviting, with a velvety feel to its mix of warm stone, smoldering bay, tar and blackberry puree flavors. It sports a strong bass line as usual, with nicely buried acidity in reserve for cellaring.

The 2016 Ermitage Le Méal is youthfully tight and restrained, keeping its large core of crushed plum, boysenberry and blackberry fruit in check with a wall of roasted apple wood and smoldering charcoal notes. The finish has a brooding hint today, with coiled energy that shows flashes of stretching out, but this will need some time for sure.

The 2016 Ermitage Le Pavillon  parcel was touched by hail. "We had to manage the picking date so as not to get too massive, because with the low crop load it could've gotten very ripe," Bärtschi notes. "But at the same time you can't struggle against the vintage too much, so it does have a bit more concentration that usual. And that's partly why Hermitage wines are special in '16 compared to other AOCs in the north." The wine is very focused and sleek in feel, unusual for Pavillon, which is typically more rambunctious in its youth. It shows waves of raspberry and blackberry fruit laced with dark tobacco, anise and fruitcake. There's a big swath of roasted apple wood on the finish, but it has more than enough fruit to handle it. It's a beauty.

We finish with the 2016 Ermitage L'Ermite, which is cut from a different cloth, as usual. The wine is refined and racy from the start, with a pure beam of cassis and black cherry fruit that sails through, enlivened with a bright mineral note that just won't quit. All the while, enticing floral, rooibos tea and juniper notes flitter through with everything tightly focused on the finish, which shows dreamy length.

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1, and Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

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