Tasting the entire range with Raphael Bérêche last year was a masterclass in champagne precision. While this stable of artisanal wines are produced in very small quantities, the Coteaux Champenois Rouge is simply on a different scale. I'm thrilled to showcase two warm vintages where this rare bird soars.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1999 and 2015 Bereche Coteaux Champenois Rouge Les Montées for $109 per bottle.
Bérêches's Les Montées is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. The grapes are only partially de-stemmed and the fermentation is done in barrel, sometimes yielding only a single one. There is no fining or filtering before bottling.
On one hand, Raphael is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a child-like joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, him and his brother, Vincent (who focuses in the vineyard) take an exacting approach to every detail in this domaine founded in 1847.
The nine hectares owned by Bérêche are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio. But, Rapha knows the quality in bottle will be dictated, above all, by the number of minutes each vine sees of hand working through the growing season.
The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal. Starting at home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay (pictured below), all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and those heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel. In addition to the Coteaux Champenois Rouge, these other cuvées are available below.
NV Brut Resérve is comprised of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims is where parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced to bring that nervosity from chalky soils. And the broader and richer tones come from Pinot Meunier and additional Chardonnay parcels from Mareuil le Port in the western Vallée de la Marne.
35% of the Brut Réserve comes from a perpetual blend of reserve wine and is supplemented with 65% from the harvest listed below. It's this reserve portion of the blend that brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage. Fermentation is split between 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, aging taking place in 600-liter neutral barrels.
Coteaux Champenois Blanc 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois is the rarest wine from the domaine. A still, single vineyard Chardonnay, this wine from a surprisingly warmer vintage (2013) in Champagne has all of the chalky drive and crystalline personality that you'd imagine, but with a definitive weight that fleshes out on the palate and finishes very long. I've stashed many bottles in my cellar and always am amazed at the evolution from one year to the next, slowly picking up more deeper color, orchard fruit tones, but framed by wild acidity, nonetheless.
Remensis Rosé comes from a single parcel in the Petite Montagne de Reims village of Ormes. 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, with all color coming from small addition of still wine. This has always been a favorite for its ginger and tangerine notes supported by beaming acidity and a precision rare to find in the world of rosé champagne. Today's offering features wines from the 2012 base vintage, the maturing in bottle has put this in a perfect spot where all of the notes are now more pronounced and expressive than I've ever tasted before, still finished by laser-focused salinity.
Les Beaux Regards is sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Rapha's great-grandfather in his home village of Ludes (pictured below). The interplay between finely-woven threads of minerality and a concentrated driving force through the finish really had the tasting come to a halt in my mind. The balance is an ideal example of how Rapha is at the top of the echelon today. 2013 and 2014 available below.
Les Cran is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming from old vines in the best mid-slope parcels in Ludes. Raphael has an interesting take, "[Le Cran] demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.”
Reflet d'Antan is as special as they come. Sourced from a solera started in 1985 by Rapha's father, Jean-Pierre. This is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Each vintage 2/3 of each barrel is removed to blend with the Brut Reserve. "Reflection of yesteryear" tells the story of this esteemed producer, still showing the fine lacy texture and brimming energy that you will find with the youngest wines here.
Tempier defies all rules of the rosé category. In 1941, the domaine just about single-handedly petitioned the Bandol appellation into existence. While there's a push each year to get the new vintage of their rosé on the market to quench the ever-increasing thirst of summer's appetite, the best of Tempier's rosé is always yet to come through bottle development.
That's why today I'm happy to offer the 2018 & 2016 Tempier Rosé, complete with special pricing on mixed 4-packs.
The blend of the rosé is 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, and 20% Cinsault, planted on limestone and clay just above the Mediterranean coast. Much of the secret of this highly coveted pink is in its ability to transform over time, continuing to hold onto that critical freshness. Visiting the domaine in July 2016 again proved these back vintage rosés and reds deserve their place atop France's hierarchy of cherished estates.
The southern Rhone valley is home to Grenache-dominant blends, and it's Châteauneuf-du-Pape where these wild strawberry, white pepper-spiced, and gamey reds reach their apex. The perfect exposition and drainage from vineyards perched high on the hill in Châteauneuf-du-Pape make for the most thrilling and age-worthy wines of the entire southern Rhone.
The style of CdP has been one of ever-growing power and ripeness. The hot temperatures here have a tendency to give these blends roasted fruit notes. The prominent gallet river stones have a large role in this, as they absorb daytime heat and reverberate it upward to the hanging clusters even through the night. This is where sand enters the equation.
Rare pockets of sand-dominant parcels give a decidedly different quality to the wines - one marked by elegance, racy structure, and a more quiet purity, void of any sense of stewed or baked fruits. And, in these small zones few producers have garnered more respect and praise than Laurent Charvin.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape & 2017 Côtes du Rhone Le Poutet.
* The appellation originally received its name when Pope John XXII relocated in 1309 from Rome to Avignon and constructed "the new home of the pope", or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At this time the wines of Burgundy were more likely served to the pontiff, but things quickly changed when the pope familiarized himself with the Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah blends from Avignon's most revered hillside vineyards.
Laurent Charvin took over this 6th generation domaine in 1990 and that's when the magic truly started. Unlike most producers, Laurent chose whole cluster fermentation and has stuck with bottling only one Châteauneuf-du-Pape - no reserve, no spéciale cuvée, no old-vine bottling. Why should an estate's hallmark wine suffer by taking the best components out to bottle on its own? So, the sole CdP bottling here is always a masterpiece year in, year out. But, 2016 is simply a dream year for the southern Rhône, and not since 2010 have we seen something this pitch-perfect.
The domaine is located in the northwest of the appellation. With sandy soils and northern exposure (mitigating the sun's influence), the wines here take on a different quality than is the norm in CdP.
Farming of these 60-year-old average vines is organic, with a blend usually of 85% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah, and 5% Vaccarèse. The wines are fermented with stems and aged in concrete tanks. This approach to elévage works really well to preserve brightness and verve in the wines that otherwise may easily fall by the waist side.
Laurent's wines are seamless, spicy, and posses an elusive purity not often found in CdP. They always show of dark raspberry, asian spices, with smokey and wild floral notes. These are absolutely singular expressions Châteauneuf-du-Pape and each release quickly sells out from importer Weygandt-Metzler. Quantities are very limited.
"With a mere three and a half hectares of vines, all of them in Côte-Rôtie, the Levets' wines will never be especially easy to find, but they have become a beacon for fans of traditional renditions of the appellation." - Josh Reynolds of Vinous (April 2017)
Today, I'm happy to offer the top 2016 Côte Rôtie from Bernard Levet, La Chavaroche, sourced from a 1.4 hectare portion within the Côte Brune.
Levet has been the standard bearer for ultra-traditional Côte Rôtie since Neal Rosenthal began importing the wines in the early 80's. Rosenthal's words on Bernard and Nicole Levet have always stuck with me, declaring these the best and most carefully tended to vines in his iconic portfolio, one filled with names like Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Paolo Bea.
Indeed, the magic of Levet is derived from the unadulterated raw material from these treacherously steep terraced granite slopes. Levet works with the oval-shaped Serine, a genetic variation of Syrah more common in Côte Rôtie - known for its vivid, explosive violet tones, bacon fat, smoke, black pepper, with a pulverized granitic streak that carries through the long finish.
2016 is a vintage in the Northern Rhône with clarity and site reflection front and center, still with ample forward ripeness. Coming off the bombastic 2015 you can expect the 2016 Chavaroche to have a more tightly coiled energetic personality, bursting with intense red and black fruit tones from this tiny 1.4 hectare parcel of Serine vines.
Levet offers the best opportunity for long, slow evolution in bottle of any Côte Rôtie traditionalist. La Chavaroche is fermented with 100% whole clusters and goes through a three year aging regimen in foudre, demi-muid, and smaller barrel.
At the cooler, northernmost stretches of the Rhone Valley, Côte Rôtie is where we find Syrah at its most hauntingly pure and precise. It's these characteristics that have long turned the eyes of Burgundy collectors south with this kinship. And for those who favor Burgundy, the wines of Bernard Levet are the first stop on the stylistic shift into the Northern Rhone.
"Inky, vivid purple. Highly perfumed, mineral-laced black and blue fruit, violet, smoked meat and incense qualities on the nose. Fleshy, sweet and expansive on the palate, offering densely packed yet surprisingly lively boysenberry, candied licorice, spicecake and violet flavors enlivened by an undercurrent of juicy acidity. Deftly blends richness and finesse and finishes extremely long and youthfully tannic, leaving floral pastille, star anise and dark berry liqueur notes behind."- Josh Reynolds of Vinous (June 2018)
“As I have commented in the past, Roy just doesn’t seem to miss as she’s a perfectionist.”
– Allen Meadows, BurghoundAs any lover of Burgundy knows, one of the most satisfying aspects of collecting is finding special vineyards that fly under-the-radar due to humble villages designations, yet hang tight with Grand Cru terroir. Clos Prieur of Gevrey Chambertin is one of those secret sites, and Alexandrine Roy of Domaine Marc Roy now defines the heights this lieu-dit (named vineyard) is capable of achieving.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Marc Roy Gevrey Chambertin Clos Prieur for $89 per bottle.
Clos Prieur is a very small vineyard located directly east and adjacent to Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin. Situated on limestone bedrock with high portions of iron and clay, vines organically farmed here by Alexandrine are 60+ yrs old. Stylistically, Roy is known for very concentrated and ripe fruit coming from an unusual collection of nearly all old vines. Purity is front and center with all grapes being de-stemmed, and extraction kept modest. Aging here is 50% new French oak to soften Gevrey's inherently formidable tannins, though in bottle, Clos Prieur is all about silky fuit and exotic spices.
Alexandrine's Clos Prieur is undoubtedly fruit-forward in style, with black cherry and plum fruit melding with game and forest floor notes that will ensure drinkers are very much in the old world. The real skill, as I see it, is Clos Prieur's finish, always wrapping up dry and full of lingering mouth-watering mineral notes. If there was one lieu-dit and one producer to embody the secrets to be found tucked adjacent to Grand Crus, Roy's Clos Prieur would be atop my list.
Alexandrine also produces a very rare cuvée comprised exclusively of millerandage grapes clusters - those that are very tiny and result in high skin:juice ratio. This micro-production wine is fermented in small stainless steel vats and is punched down exclusively by foot. Aging takes place in 70% new French oak.
And, finally, her rare Côte de Nuits Chardonnay from Marsannay's Les Champs Perdrix lieu-dit is a wonderful place to turn to see what the more limited Chardonnay plantings in this Pinot Noir-dominant zone of Burgundy can reveal. More tropical and broad on the palate with a serious dollop of salty inflection make this a great departure from what you may be accustomed to from Côte de Beaune villages like Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chassagne-Montrachet.