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Pure & Precise: Famille Levet Côte-Rôtie
Famille Levet is one of Côte Rôtie's most fervent traditionalists and smallest domaines with only 1,000 cases produced annually. While my love of Northern Rhône Syrah veers heavily toward the most old-school and authentic interpretations of terroir, Levet is almost in a category unto itself.
This domaine has been the standard-bearer for ultra-traditional Côte Rôtie since Neal Rosenthal has imported the wines, starting in the early 1980s. Rosenthal's words on Bernard and Nicole Levet have always stuck with me, declaring these as the best and most carefully tended to vines in his iconic portfolio (also filled with names such as Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Paolo Bea).
The magic derives from the raw material on 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, and black pepper, with a pulverized granitic streak that carries through the long finish. The wines are fermented with 100% whole clusters with a three-year aging regimen in foudre, demi-muid, and smaller barrels.
At the northernmost, cooler-temperature stretches of valley, Côte Rôtie is where we find Syrah at its most hauntingly pure and precise. These characteristics have long turned the eyes of Burgundy collectors south with this kinship—this should be your first stop on the stylistic shift into the Northern Rhône.
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Provence Renegade: Domaine de TrévallonEloi Dürrbach of Domaine de Trévallon believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. Since the early 1970s, he's proved this slice in Les Alpilles, aka the Little Alps, can produce some of France's most celebrated wines.
Trévallon is situated in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of the Alpilles mountains. Driving here from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon, I began to wonder how Cabernet Sauvignon could thrive here. But upon arriving on the northern side, temperatures quickly dropped, and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south gave way to a picturesque roadway leading to Trévallon.
The estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, most of which are planted to the latter. Cabernet Sauvignon was widely planted here pre-phylloxera, but in the 1930s, the appellation system set rules establishing which varieties could be labeled under particular zones. Cabernet Sauvignon got the boot. Still, Dürbach knew Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah achieved something greater as a blend than each on their own, so he labeled his rouge under France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
After whole cluster fermentation, the red wines age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving them tremendous clarity and brightness. They call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, with the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. Burgundy, Rhone, and Bordeaux take the lion’s share for most significant French reds. Still, the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage are unsurpassed. Dürrbach has won the hearts of collectors across the globe!
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Definitive Crozes-Hermitage: Alain Graillot
Crozes-Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value from esteemed parcels. Graillot's wines nail the value element, and he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône Valley.
Graillot's journey began in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac, so as one might imagine, there will be stems! The eponymous domaine is unwavering in its 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging in older wood, divided between barrique and foudre. La Guiraude is not a single vineyard but rather a selection of the best barrels according to Alain.
Before starting his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted key traits to his winemaking style—he wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. While temperatures have warmed in the last three decades, Graillot is still a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines steeped in tradition.
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Worlds Collide: Kimmel's Lillied & Ungilded
It's a rare treat to be able to offer a new American wine project and be present at inception. Years ago, in Potter Valley, Mendocino, walking the Kimmel Vineyard with Sashi Moorman and Jason Kimmel, it became apparent a special combination of minds and terroir was ready to take form. Today, I'm happy to announce our exclusive release of the 2019 Kimmel Lilied and Ungilded!
Kimmel Wines was born to honor low interventionist winemaking, allowing the land and each vintage to be the guiding light. Lilied began as an idea from Sashi Moorman to produce a soulful blend of equal parts Syrah and Cabernet Franc similar in style to the wines by Provençal iconoclast Domaine Trevallon. The wines all go through élevage under the guiding hand of Sashi and his thoughtful team led by John Faulkner. Founded in 1969, Kimmel Ranch is in the far reaches of Mendocino in western Potter Valley. Located at 1,000 feet of elevation, at the entrance of the Mayacamas, the sprawling mountain range gives way to afternoon coastal breezes allowing for cool relief after warm summer days.
Lilied is 50% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard and 50% Syrah from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard's X Block. A long élevage (First in barrique and then puncheon) was crucial to resolve the firm tannins into silky fineness that dances on the mid-palate. The Cabernet Franc's nervy nature and dark fruit, married with the savage wildness of Syrah, makes for a striking wine you can confidently enjoy now. The cuvée name means "to adorn" and combines the names of Lilian and Edward Kimmel.
Ungilded is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard, inspired by the wines of Clos Rougeard. The fruit is destemmed and fermented without additives, and it starts in an open-top dairy tank to give a greater cap-to-juice ratio. The unadulterated fermentation gives a pure expression of Cabernet Franc (Hence the name, Ungilded). The nervy nature of the Cabernet Franc softens to a lacey texture with classic floral aromatics. These vines were planted in 1980 on Franciscan shale with Saint George rootstock in a California sprawl configuration. Edward and Lilian had the foresight to settle in the far reaches of the California wine region and plant where there were few vines at the time.
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Featherweight Champion: 2021 Marquiliani Rosé
Marquiliani's pale copper-hued, diamond-cut rosé from Corsica is one of our most highly anticipated rosé releases each year. The native Sciaccarellu grape is grown here on decomposed granite terraces a couple of miles from the Mediterranean, just below the towering 8,000 foot Mount Renosu, ensuring cool breezes to balance out the island's hot summer temperatures.
Here, every single grape grown is destined to be rosé. Vin de Corse Rosé shows the domaine's more incisive, linear style of rosé. The smaller production Rosé de Pauline is a touch broader on the palate but counter-intuitively paler in color than the Vin de Corse. Even with Syrah's more prominent role here, this is rosé at its most featherweight and saline-driven.
Anne Almaric tends these minuscule two hectares of vines, which her family took over in the 1950s. There was a 20-year span where this centuries old domaine was abandoned, and Anne's father was the first to plant Sciaccarellu on the eastern side of the island. Anne's background in agricultural chemistry lends a keen eye toward viticulture, and the vines have prospered under her watch.