My next visit in the Northern Rhone brought me to Jean-Luc Jamet and his new winery built next door to his brother, Jean-Paul's. Sometimes a domaine's split between siblings is smooth and agreeable. This one, not so much. Of course there's much I don't know about specifically what lead to this separation, one officially marked by the 2013 vintage. But, of this I'm certain: Jamet is Côte Rôtie gold.
Today, I'm happy to offer wines from both brother's domaines, as well as back-vintage wines produced when they worked together.
Joseph Jamet started the domaine in 1950 and by the early 90's the production was under the control of his two sons, Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc. The wines have truly been benchmarks for the Côte Rôtie appellation. Elegant, age-worthy, with an undeniable sense of place like no other domaine. When given the choice to drink any producer from Côte Rôtie, there's no debate from my perspective.
Although Jean-Paul and Jean-Luc worked closely for decades, the split essentially came down to Jean-Luc's desire to produce wines with a slightly more modern footing. Jean-Luc's wines see more de-stemming, more new oak (still modest levels), and greater extraction during fermentation. While Jean-Luc's wines show more unctuous plush fruit, softer tannins, and darker concentration, the wines of Domaine Jamet (Jean Paul) show more transparency and a more tightly coiled sense of minerality. Both produce wines of exquisite balance and sophistication, yet rooted in the tradition their father Joseph instilled.
As the 25 parcels were split between the brothers in 2013, we see Domaine Jamet's (Jean-Paul) more evenly divided between the iron-rich granite of the Côte Brune and the lighter and chalkier Côte Blonde. Jean-Luc's plots are more concentrated in the Côte Blonde.
My most memorable Syrah experience was a bottle of 1988 Jamet opened at a restaurant with friends in the Rhone several years ago. As sense memories go, it's one that has stayed with me more vividly than any other. The combo of perfume, delicacy of fruit, and that finely woven mineral lacing was Syrah at its most pure and haunting. A first sip that was followed by a deafening silence that filled the table for what seemed like minutes on end. That's why we hunt.
2013 Jean-Luc Jamet Valine VDP
$37 per bottle.
2013 Jean-Luc Jamet Côte Rôtie Terrasses
$108 per bottle.
5x 2015 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie Côte Brune (Jean-Paul)
$639 per bottle.
3x 2014 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie Fructus Voluptas (Jean-Paul)
$117 per bottle.
12x 2013 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie (Jean-Paul)
$159 per bottle.
2x 2013 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie (Jean-Paul) 1.5L
$374 per bottle.
1x 2001 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$339 per bottle.
2x 1998 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$379 per bottle.
9x 1999 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie
$526 per bottle.
After I finished up a great birthday dinner with friends in Meursault, I packed my bags and prepared for the 6am departure for Cornas. Leaving eight days of Burgundy in my rear view was difficult, but the upcoming appointments in the Northern Rhone Valley had enthusiasm sky high. First stop: Domaine Auguste Clape.
Today, I'm happy to offer wines from the legendary Cornas family, stretching from 1988 to 2016.
Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult. Eric Asimov does a much better job. Of course, being the original producer in Cornas to bottle under his own label is a notch on the belt. And, having worked exclusively by hand on these treacherously steep terraces is another. Sadly, the day after my visit with his son Pierre-Marie, Auguste Clape passed away at 93.
No domaine founded in the birthplace of Syrah captures the soul of its appellation like Clape has with Cornas. Having started with a domaine bottling in 1955 and having stopped all négociant sales in 1968, Auguste Clape is a pioneer of the Rhone joined in ranks with names like Verset, Trollat, and Juge.
Clape's 5.5 hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Reynard and Chaillot from Allemand fame, as well as Nöel Verset's cherished, Sabarotte. This dizzying array of Cornas terroir plays a huge role in the success that's spanned so many decades here. The wines are produced in the most traditional fashion with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.
The style of the domaine has always been one that's pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. This style of fruit-forward Cornas coming from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure, but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. Unlike Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, the argument is often made that of the Big 3, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the typical savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of the wines from this fabled domaine.
Tasting through each parcel and visiting the vines with Pierre-Marie was a window into a time long ago. Methods and settings have remained unaltered. There hadn't been rain for some time, and just maintaining footing on these steep slopes was a challenge, as both of us used a grasp on the échelas stakes for support.
In the cellar, tasting 2017 in foudre back through bottles from the 90's was a great lesson in the transformation of the wines. The highlight may have been that 2017 barrel sample of the isoloted 80-yr-old, 1.2 hectare Reynard parcel. A concentrated and chiseled beast from the robust 2017 Northern Rhone vintage.
Côtes du Rhone is 100% Syrah from 30-50-yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 6 months in cement, and another 6 months in foudre. 2% is comprised of free fun juice from young vine Cornas.
Cornas is sourced from 30-60 yr-old vines. 100% whole cluster fermented. Aged 22 months in 6 or 22 hl-foudres.
Cornas Reinassance is sourced from younger vines. Fermentation and aging is the same as the Cornas.
8x 2016 Clape Côtes du Rhone
$49 per bottle.
6x 2015 Clape Côtes du Rhône
$49 per bottle.
7x 2014 Clape Côtes du Rhône
$46 per bottle.
7x 2015 Clape Cornas Renaissance
$99 per bottle.
4x 2000 Clape Cornas
$227 per bottle.
4x 1999 Clape Cornas
$299 per bottle.
5x 1995 Clape Côtes du Rhone
$135 per bottle. (Pre Arrival)
1x 1989 Clape Cornas
$579 per bottle.
1x 1988 Clape Cornas
$579 per bottle.
Of all the discoveries for the shop through the last three years there's none that have captured my attention more than the Côte Rôtie of Chambeyron-Manin. Today, I'm thrilled to finally offer the much-anticipated 2015 vintage.
The secret is out on this tiny jewel of a domaine. At under 165 cases produced annually the Chambeyron-Manin domaine is small-production on a wildly different scale. They farm just a 0.5 hectare of a rare clone of Syrah named Serine in the decomposed granite, iron rich soils of the Côte Brune.
While Côte Rôtie is the most seductive end of the Northern Rhone Valley, the Chambeyron's expression of Serine harnesses the dark and feral characteristics of the Côte Brune. With all the brawn and scorched earth elements of this combo it's the violet and lavender that still speaks to this slice of the most sensual Syrah on the globe.
I had thought visiting the Calmont vineyard in Mosel's Bremm would surely be the most jaw-dropping site of my wine travels, it being the world's steepest. But, when I descended into Ampuis, driving along the Rhone river and gazing up I realized this was a different animal. Immediately visualizing the hands-only work required on these towering terraces that stretched completely vertical from the river to the clouds brought on a sense of anxiety. Something like when Chief Brody saw that shark up close for the first time at the back of the boat.
The Chambeyron-Manin family historically, like many here, sell meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The minuscule plot of vines they have just behind their home only supplement their "main" work operating their Les Jardins de la Côte-Rôtiemarket. Tasting their wine for the first time it's hard to imagine they would devote their lives to anything except ramping up production and getting it into as many hands as possible. But, alas, half a hectare is what it is, and I'm just so fortunate to have been introduced.
The dark expression of Serine and the Côte Brune feature smoke, bacon fat, crushed rocks, dark plum, black pepper, and black olive notes with the vivid tell-tale florality that separate Côte Rôtie from its southern neighbors. I'm always on the hunt for more bottles from this domaine's current release, but finding wines with bottle age was a huge surprise.
2015 has demanded more interest than any other vintage in the Northern Rhone to date, and for good reason. The obvious element is the dry and warm year that turned out incredibly concentrated wines with relentless finishes. But, for me, it's the surprising freshness that has made them so very delicious.
2015 Chambeyron-Manin Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune
$99 per bottle
3x 2015 Chambeyron-Manin Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune 1.5L
$229 per bottle.
12x 2013 Chambeyron-Manin Côte-Rôtie Côte Brune
$109 per bottle.
Since 1481, there have been 16 generations of unbroken lineage at the Chave estate along the Rhone River's towering granite slopes. When we look closely at the birthplace of Syrah there's no name more respected than that of Jean-Louis Chave.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the brand new release of Domaine Chave's 2015 Saint Joseph.
Additionally, this offer covers vintages 1998, 1999, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013.
Chave's Saint Joseph captures everything that thrills the senses from Northern Rhone Syrah, while offering an immediacy and generosity upon release that Hermitage simply cannot. Each vintage flaunts a huge spectrum of black, blue, and red fruits. Spices range from exotic Indian to cracked black pepper. And the tell-tale notes of violets, olive tapenade, and roasted meats are always on full display.
However, it's the underlying mineral component from these granite terraced slopes serving as the backbone of Chave's wines. It's this definition that allows the wines to age effortlessly, and makes reaching for another sip habitual. Examples of the Saint Joseph from the late 1990's have floored me for their sense of vivacity, freshness, and still-present regal structure - Both 1998 and 1999 vintages offered today are in a magical spot.
Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992, following his studies in Enology at UC Davis. Once home, he undertook his primary mission of re-planting the steep slopes of Saint Joseph, as his ancestors had done centuries ago. In fact, it was precisely on this hillside that the domaine officially started in 1481. These vineyards had remained fallow since phylloxera decimated vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century.
Along with carrying on the tradition of producing the the iconic Hermitage bottlings, Jean-Louis knew that these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing magnificent wines, and offered a value to consumers that Hermitage could not. 25 years have now passed since these terraces began to be re-built by hand, and vines have been re-planted among the traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of all success in the Rhone comes from hands-on work and fastidious attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.
Since the Saint Joseph appellation was officially given AOC status in 1956 the boundaries have expanded immensely. It's these choice parcels that represent the best and most serious terroir for the zone. Slopes that the Chave's knew were capable of producing intensely concentrated, structured, and age-worthy Syrah. Land where machines were incapable of working, as everything must be done entirely by hand.
2015 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$89 per bottle.
2013 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$79 per bottle.
2011 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$79 per bottle.
2010 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$89 per bottle.
2009 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$89 per bottle.
1999 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$179 per bottle.
1998 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph
$179 per bottle.
1985 Chave Hermitage Blanc
$459 per bottle.
Many visits along the wine route have left significant impressions on me. At the very top of the list is surely a mid-July visit in 2012 with Jean-Michel Stephan in Côte Rôtie. My friend and I had just finished taking in our first Bastille Day celebration in epic fashion at Lapierre's annual feast in Villié-Morgon. It's fitting that only days later we found ourselves atop the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie with a vigneron who remembers Marcel Lapierre as his greatest inspiration.
Jean-Michel Stephan takes an approach to vinification in Côte Rôtie that differs drastically from his neighbors. But, the most profound bottles hit the same mark as great traditionalists like Jamet, Benetière, and Levet. Stephan's philosophy, coming from his time in Villié-Morgon, mean that he employs full carbonic fermentation for his Syrah - a process customarily reserved for Gamay in Beaujolais.
As he explained to us, the whole clusters are placed into fermentation tanks free of sulphur additions, he pumps in some CO2, closes the hatch, and walks away. When he returns, the intracellular or "carbonic fermentation" is complete. On one hand this gives a fruitier note to Syrah, but the addition of stems counter that with spice, tannin, and freshness.
Stephan also stands out for his use of 100% Serine in his Coteaux du Tupin cuvée. This is remembered by vignerons as the ancient clone of Syrah. Differing with a move oval shaped berry, providing a darker take on the already wild Syrah variety, and doubling down on the violet aromatic notes. Old Serine vines here are planted on granitic gneiss with white mica schist, the same commonly found in the Côte Blonde.
Stephan's Coteaux Bassenon is comprised of 60% Syrah, 30% Sérine, and 10% Viognier (oldest vines planted in 1896 and 1902). This parcel is on darker mica schist soils in the northern part of the appellation. This soil is more commonly found in the Côte Brune.
And Stephan's Côte Rôtie "Classique" is comprised of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, sourced from various parcels throughout the appellation.
At first glance it may appear that Stephan's wines are Côte Rôtie through a Beaujolais prism. I don't see them like this at all. For me, they offer a mineral streak and wild aromatic range that is so very unique. However, each of the three cuvées do show an immediacy that is akin to Beaujolais. The dark and brambly fruit is unadulterated through the complete absence of sulphur additions. With a decant these young wines open up to reveal a side of Côte Rôtie that makes you feel like they are your first. They are exceptional, and they are singular.