There's nothing more exciting than discovering new producers that defy conventional thinking on what their region's are capable of. Looking closer at the landscape where France and Spain converge at the Pyrenees I've found a domaine both raw and genuine. But, it's the refinement that comes from this absolutely gnarly and mind-bending terroir that defines this moment of impact. This is Domaine de l'Horizon.
l'Horizon was created when German-born Thomas Teibert met Gerard Gauby (Arguably SW France's most respected vigneron) while consulting for small wineries. He was introduced to a small village with just 200 residents. Before we move onto the wines, we need to talk about place.
Calce is a village in France about 20 miles away from the Spanish border. Yes, this is part of the Languedoc-Roussillon, but please just forget that because it is Catalan. Calce sits on a specific spot where, during the Ice Age, the slate soils of the Pyrenees collided into the limestone of Corbières. The result is what importer Neal Rosenthal appropriately dubbed, a geologist's dream. Under only 8 inches of top soil we reach an amalgamation of black and brown slate, gravel, and red-tinged iron-influenced marl, and a surface littered with river stones à la Chateauneuf du Pape (see below). And, we cannot leave out the wind: the violent Tramontane from the Pyrenees mountains meets the Marin coming north from the Mediterranean.It's this setting at the foot of the Pyrenees that mirrors something out of a fantasy novel. 100+ yr-old vines here give minuscule yields from digging deep into these wildly unique, porous soils. The domaine produces two whites and two reds. Fermentation and aging is split between concrete tanks and neutral wood from Austria's Stockinger large barrels and foudres.
To touch on the sense of place again, these rocky soils bring spine-tingling minerality, with warm days full of intense sunlight, but absolutely frigid nights (acid's loyal friend). Wines clock in with very modest levels of alcohol, topping out at 13% even.L’Esprit de l’Horizon Blanc is a blend of 80% Macabeau and 20% Muscat, all from old vines. On one hand it shows some of the faint honeyed notes you'd expect from the varieties, but it's really an acid-driven mineral showstopper with lime in the forefront supported by an array of other citrus fruits.
l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc is an equal blend of Macabeau and Grenache Gris. Co-fermented in neutral Stockinger large barrels. This, the top white of the domaine, takes on the mineral-driven personality from L'Esprit and doubles down on the intensity. The very oldest vines of the estate bring a different level of saturating minerality that's surely appeals to devoted followers of Grand Cru Chablis. The first time I saw a bottle of l'Horizon was on a shelf in Burgundy sitting next to Raveneau and Dauvissat.L’Esprit de l’Horizon Rouge is comprised of 60% Carignan and 40% Syrah and fermented with about 1/3 whole clusters, bringing spice, structure, and complexity. Fermentation sees only gentle pigeage (punching down) by foot, with remontage (pumping over) providing the even gentler extraction. At 12.5% alcohol, this proves that SW France can indeed be built on concentration of fruit, but with freshness ultimately being the major take away.l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge is comprised of 70% Carignan and 30% Grenache, sourced from vines over 120-yrs of age. As you can imagine, the intensity of fruit here is through the roof with yields well below 15 hectoliters per hectare. Yet, there's no heft. It's the ultimate reflection of what separates very good wines from great ones: immense concentration without palate weight. This is in that red cherry-dominant camp, with crazy focus and precision, like a finely tuned Porsche.
I see no prize in beating the drum for unknown appellations just for the sake of obscurity. I judge all wines in the context of the benchmarks. I highly recommend tasting what the other-worldly terroir of Calce is all about. Burgundy may have a head start, but this perfect storm of a setting has just as compelling a story to tell.Purchase Here.2016 Domaine de l'Horizon "L'Esprit de l'Horizon" Blanc IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine De L'Horizon "L'Esprit De L'Horizon" Rouge IGP
$34 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Blanc IGP
$59 per bottle.
2016 Domaine de l'Horizon Côtes Catalanes Rouge IGP
$65 per bottle.
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.