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The Kid's Still Growing

Stéphane Ogier, the face of the Northern Rhône's new generation, has another winner in 2017
Photo by: James Molesworth
Stéphane Ogier compares his 2017 Côte-Rôties to ripe vintages like 2015 and 2009, but with better balance.

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 10:30am ET

The kid just keeps going .... Since my last stop here, Stéphane Ogier has added more to his holdings, this time a bit of the prized La Viaillère parcel in Côte-Rôtie. The face of Côte-Rôtie's new generation has come a long way.

The showpiece winery he recently built with room to grow? "Actually, I am already in need of a little more space," he says with a sheepish grin.

The good news is that the more wine he makes, the more good wine you will have access too. His top-of-the-line cuvées of Côte-Rôtie and his growing project in Vienne are all small-production wines that carry a stiff price. But he covers the gamut now, with the base of his production pyramid a delicious Côtes du Rhône that brims with fun raspberry and cherry fruit laced with a whiff of garrigue that retails for about $25.

In 2017, Ogier has continued to play with the use of stems in his wines. When the vintage is ripe, he dials it up, when it's less so, he backs off (stems ameliorate alcohol and add a herbaceous freshness to wines).

"I did a lot of whole cluster in '17," he says. "Especially on the schist parcels. The ripeness of the vintage is more like '15 in terms of weather, with a pick date of early September. It's high alcohol Côte-Rôtie, but of course low if compared to Châteauneuf. But with the lower acidity I like to keep the freshness that whole cluster brings."

A sample of 2017 St.-Joseph from a parcel in Limony that was destemmed shows a blast of violet and cassis, while one from Malleval fermented with whole bunches shows the cassis note, but pulls in the racy savory edge that marks the stems.

The 2017 La Rosine Syrah shows darker plum fruit, with a silky, suave feel and flash of violet at the end. From across the river, the 2017 L'Âme Sœur is darker still, with a winey feel to its plum, anise and black currant notes laid over a streak of mesquite. "But even with the ripeness of '17, it's not at all like '09," adds Ogier. "In 2009 you can feel the sun in the wines. I like the balance that '17 has. It's ripe but with a freshness 2009 doesn't have."

Tasting through lots destined for the base-level Côte-Rôtie, a sample of 2017 Besset has dark cherry fruit infused with mesquite, backed by a very focused finish.

The 2017 But de Mont shows more savory, pepper and bay aromatics. The former is the backbone of the blend, the latter added for spice.

We move into lots that could wind up in the base-level cuvée (what Ogier refers to as the "village" wine) or move up to the Réserve (what he calls the "premier cru," using a Burgundy-style approach). The 2017 Montlys is dark, with fig fruit and sweet tannins. The 2017 Cognet bursts with pepper and lavender. The 2017 Fongeant is grippy and tannin-driven.

Ogier uses a submerged cap fermentation when he does his whole bunches, as the stems create a more open matrix for the juice to run in and around. When he does this there is less pigéage (punch-down) and remontage (pump-over).

"It's an infusion, like a tea, rather than an extraction," he says. "And there is also less mechanization in the process."

The "grand cru" parcels start with the 2017 Viaillère, the recently added parcel, though he had been farming the vines since 2014. It's intense, with energetic black currant fruit and streaks of iron and savory. The 2017 Lancement is tight and focused, all iron and bay on the exterior for now, with the core of dark fruit in reserve. The 2017 Côte Rozier is a laser beam of warm cast iron, tobacco, cassis and lavender, with a ridiculously long finish.

We end with the 2017 Côte Blonde, a parcel that was replanted in 2010, but has managed to make one of his top wines while being bottled separately since 2015. So much for the theory that old vines are needed? It sports intense licorice root, black currant, pastis and cast iron notes with a savory edge embedded deeply on the finish.

"Oh, I love to have old vines," says Ogier when I ask if young vines can be just as good as old vines. "But the vines don't really matter if you don't have the terroir. Great terroir always shows in young vines or old vines."

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

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