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Syrah Standouts, Part II

24 top Côte-Rôtie producers who are making some of the Northern Rhône's best Syrah ever

James Molesworth
Posted: October 23, 2008

Not so long ago, the hillside vineyards of the Northern Rhône's Côte-Rôtie appellation lay dormant as local growers abandoned grapes in favor of higher-income crops. But over the last generation, a group of vignerons has reclaimed the top vineyards and revived the wine industry with some of the area's best Syrah ever.

Côte-Rôtie counts 130 grapegrowers, about 50 of which are currently bottling their wines. From that group, I've selected two dozen of the most important producers working in the appellation today to profile.

The profiles are arranged in alphabetical order by winery. Each listing includes the number of vineyard acres owned by the estate, its total annual production, a list of bottlings currently produced (in ascending price order) and a brief description of the domaine.

Note that some domaines may not have their entire acreage in production, may lease part of their vineyards to others, or sell off some of their grapes. Other domaines purchase fruit to augment their estate production; a few are solely négociants. We've also created a map pf the region to help you better understand Côte-Rôtie. For the first half of this report, see Part I.

Acres owned 19.7 Cases made 2,500 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie; Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune

Joseph Jamet sold his grapes to négociants before creating this domaine during the 1970s. Today his sons Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc run the estate. They have steadily increased holdings to reach the domaine's current size, and are among the qualitative leaders in the appellation.

The Côte-Rôtie is made traditionally, with partial destemming, and is sourced from a blend of some of the best lieux-dits in the appellation, including Chavaroche, La Côte Brune, Fontgeant, La Landonne and Côte-Rozier. Typically sauvage and loaded with olive and tobacco notes, the wine has a track record for aging well. Though the Jamets publicly espouse the one domaine/one wine philosophy, they produce 200 cases annually of a single-parcel La Côte Brune cuvée that is highly sought after by collectors.

Acres owned 13.6 Cases made 2,000 Bottling Côte-Rôtie

Patrick Jasmin worked with his father, Robert, for many years before assuming control of the family-owned domaine with the 1999 vintage. The domaine produces just one red cuvée, sourced from a collection of 11 different parcels spread over the length of the appellation.

The Côte-Rôtie is made using a mix of modern and traditional techniques; Jasmin employs both stainless steel and cement vats for fermentation, then ages the wine in a range of new and used barrels. The wine is elegant and perfumy in style, emphasizing red fruit and mineral notes.

Acres owned 9.9 Cases made 1,250 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche; Côte-Rôtie Les Journaries

Bernard Levet presides over this family-run domaine. Levet sells a portion of his grapes to négociants, but for the U.S market he bottles his top lieu-dit, Le Chavaroche, as a separate cuvée.

Bernard and Nicole Levet with their daughter, Agnès

The La Chavaroche lieu-dit is particularly steep, and is located just above the La Côte Brune lieu-dit on similar dark, schist soils. The wine is wild and gamy when young, but with aging settles in as an inviting olive-, tobacco- and black cherry-filled wine. The Les Journaries cuvée is a new addition for the U.S. market; it's sourced from Levet's holdings in the La Landonne parcel and shows pronounced herb, tobacco and mineral notes.

Acres owned 9.9 Cases made 1,665 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie; Côte-Rôtie Lancement terroir de Blonde; Côte-Rôtie La Belle Hélène Côte Rozier

Initially founded by Michel in 1983, this domaine is now run by his son, Stéphane, and it is among the most dynamic in the appellation. Ogier practices a long élevage in varying amounts of new oak-up to 30 months for the top cuvées. This contributes to creating wines with distinctive black tea, licorice and coffee aromatics backed by fine-grained tannins, along with sanguine and mineral-filled finishes.

The Côte-Rôtie is a blend of vineyards, including prime lieux-dits such as Côte-Rozier and Champon. The Lancement terroir de Blonde, first bottled in 2001, is sourced entirely from the Lancement lieu-dit from vines averaging 30 years of age. The La Belle Hélène Côte Rozier, first bottled in 1997, is sourced from the domaine's oldest vines (55 years) in the Côte-Rozier lieu-dit, located just above La Landonne. The latter two wines show intense dark fruit and lavish textures, with the La Belle Hélène the slightly more tannic of the duo.

Acres owned 17.3 Cases made 2,665 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie; Côte-Rôtie La Landonne; Côte-Rôtie Côte Blonde

Rene Rostaing has owned vines in the appellation since 1971, though most of his current holdings came following the retirements of his uncle, Marius Gentaz, and his father-in-law, Albert Dervieux, both superb producers during the 1980s. Rostaing became a full-time vigneron starting in 1991. He uses a touch of new oak and a modern roto-fermentor, but still manages to produce wines that are distinctly traditional in style, with all his cuvées marked by a distinctive white pepper note along with hints of lavender, game and black fruit. They age well.

The Côte-Rôtie cuvée is a blend of parcels, including La Viallière and Fontgeant. The La Landonne is very sanguine, with a pronounced minerally tang; the Côte Blonde cuvée, (sourced from that lieu-dit, is the most structured of the three cuvées.

Acres owned No Cases made 750 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie

This is the négociant arm of Gigondas-based Château St.-Cosme, owned and run by Louis Barruol. He sources fruit from Serine vines only, and ages the wine in two-thirds new oak.

For the Côte-Rôtie, Barruol purchases grapes from some of the appellation's key parcels, including La Viallière, Le Plomb, Les Grandes Places, Rozier, Côte-Rozier, Champin, Brosse and Semons. In the 2007 vintage, a single-vineyard wine from the Côte-Rozier parcel will be added to the portfolio.

Acres owned 11.1 Cases made 665 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie; Côte-Rôtie Vieille Vigne en Coteaux; Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Tupin

This domaine, which debuted in 1994, has become one of the more idiosyncratic in the appellation. Jean-Michel Stephan's artisanally made wines are the result of minuscule yields and uncommon vinification techniques. The wines are not sulfured, and sometimes show signs of reduction early in their development in bottle. With cellaring, though, they display racy, dark fruit and vivid minerality. Stephan's domaine is centered entirely on parcels in the southern region, around the town of Tupin-Semons.

Jean-Michel Stephan

The basic Côte-Rôtie bottling is sourced from young vines in the Coteau de Bassenon and Les Bercheries parcels; the wine undergoes semi-carbonic fermentation to emphasize its fruit. The Vieille Vigne en Coteaux is sourced from 100-plus-year-old Serine vines in the Coteau de Bassenon and Coteaux du Tupin parcels. The single-vineyard Coteaux du Tupin bottling is sourced from young Serine vines that Stephan planted a decade ago.

Acres owned None Cases made 500 Bottling Côte-Rôtie

Winemaker and co-owner Michel Tardieu, a former chauffeur who became familiar with the vineyards of the Rhône while driving his customers through the area, teamed with Burgundy-based Dominique Laurent to launch this operation in 1994. A micro-négociant house, Tardieu-Laurent owns no vineyards and produces just a small amount of wine. The winery produces dark, rich, heavily toasted wines that emphasize fruit and power. They are aged in 100 percent new oak and typify the modern style.

The Côte-Rôtie is sourced from vines averaging 50 years of age in the La Landonne, La Chavaroche, Viallière and Moulin parcels.

Acres owned None Cases made 100 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes

This small négociant is actually based in Beaujolais, to the north, but focuses on Rhône wines. Texier, a former nuclear engineer, began his business in the 1998 vintage after learning winemaking from Jean-Marie Guffens and Michel Lafarge in Burgundy.

The Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes is sourced from parcels in the Côte Brune region only, with vines averaging 30 to 70 years of age. It sees no new oak and can be crisp and lean when young, but it ages well, emphasizing elegance over power.

Acres owned 7.4 Cases made 1,000 Bottlings Côte-Rôtie Blonde du Seigneur; Côte-Rôtie Maison Rouge

Though better known for its Condrieu bottlings, this domaine's reds are now consistently outstanding, thanks to the talent of winemaker Christine Vernay. The wines are silky and graceful in profile.

Chistine Vernay

The Blonde du Seigneur cuvée is a blend from the Lancement and Coteaux de Semons parcels, both of which are on granite soils in the Côte Blonde region. The Maison Rouge bottling, from the parcel of the same name in the southern Côte Blonde region, is the more structured of the two cuvées.

Acres owned 1.7 Cases made 1,000 Bottling Côte-Rôtie Les Essartailles

Owned by a quartet of local vignerons (Yves Cuilleron, François Villard, Pierre-Jean Villa and Pierre Gaillard), this négociant house was founded in 1996 and has grown steadily in recent years. Originally based in Vienne, the label is building a new facility near Chavanay just south of Ampuis. The project aims to develop long-term relationships with growers, and focuses on specific terroirs rather than buying grapes and wine en masse for blending into large volume cuvées.

The Côte-Rôtie Les Essartailles is produced from vines in the Rozier, La Côte Blonde and Verenay lieux-dits. A recent purchase of vines in the Le Plomb lieu-dit is earmarked for a new Côte-Rôtie bottling labeled Les Archevêques. The wines are racy and modern in profile, without losing their distinctive terroirs.

Acres owned 1.8 Cases made 1,100 Cases made Bottlings Côte-Rôtie Le Gallet Blanc; Côte-Rôtie La Brocarde

François Villard runs a Condrieu-based domaine which he created in 1991, and makes outstanding whites as well as reds. He is also one of the founders of Les Vins de Vienne (see previous profile).

The Côte-Rôtie Le Gallet Blanc, actually y a red that contains no Viognier, is sourced from four schist-soil parcels in the Côte Brune region and is aged in two-thirds new oak. It typically shows a mix of dark fruit and olive notes with a muscular finish. The La Brocarde cuvée is sourced from the parcel of the same name, located just below the lieu-dit La Côte Brune. It contains 10 percent to 15 percent Viognier, is only partially destemmed, and is the more aromatic and floral of the two cuvées, with a softer texture and more supple finish.

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