• Côte Rôtie's Tiny Jewel: 2019 Chambeyron-Manin Côte Brune

    Côte Rôtie's Tiny Jewel: 2019 Chambeyron-Manin Côte Brune

    The secret is out on this tiny jewel of a domaine in Côte Rôtie. With less than 165 cases produced annually, Chambeyron-Manin is small-production on a wildly different scale. They farm just 0.5 hectares of a rare clone of Syrah named Serine in the decomposed granite, iron-rich soils of the Côte Brune.

    Chambeyron-Manin's expression of Serine harnesses the dark and feral characteristics of the Côte Brune, featuring smoke, bacon fat, crushed rocks, dark plum, black pepper, and black olive notes. Even with all the brawn and scorched earth elements, it's still the violet and lavender that speaks to this slice of the most sensual Syrah on the globe.

    Like many domaines here, the Chambeyron-Manin family has historically produced and sold meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The minuscule plot of vines they have, located behind their home, only supplement their main work operating Les Jardins de la Côte-Rôtie. 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. Alas, half a hectare is all there is, and I'm so fortunate to have been introduced to this tiny jewel.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Definitive Crozes-Hermitage: 2019 Alain Graillot

    Definitive Crozes-Hermitage: 2019 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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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • No Stone Unturned: 2019 Jean-Louis Chave

    No Stone Unturned: 2019 Jean-Louis Chave

    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.

    Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992 after completing his studies in enology at UC Davis. Once home, his primary mission was to re-plant the steep slopes of Saint Joseph—the same hillside where the domaine first began, but the vineyards laid fallow since the 19th century when phylloxera decimated them. Jean-Louis knew these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing a magnificent yet value-conscious alternative to Hermitage.

    Saint-Joseph's boundaries have expanded immensely since the appellation gained AOC status in 1956, but Chave's choice parcels still represent the best and most serious terroir. Here, there's an underlying mineral component that provides the backbone to their wines, and it's this definition that allows them to age effortlessly. Examples of Saint Joseph from the late 1990s have floored me with their sense of vivacity, freshness, and regal structure.

    It's been nearly three decades since these terraces were re-built by hand, and vines were re-planted among traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of Rhone's success comes from hands-on work and attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Bona Fide Cornas: 2018 Domaine Clape

    Bona Fide Cornas: 2018 Domaine Clape

    A visit to the Northern Rhone for my birthday started by hitting the road at dawn. I was short on sleep from the previous night's festivities in Burgundy, but the anticipation for the next stop on the tour was all of the fuel I needed: Domaine Auguste Clape.

    The style here has always pushed for maximum ripeness, choosing to pick at the last moment before the ominous fall rains begin. These fruit-forward Cornas from porous granite soils endow the wines with tremendous structure but with a pleasurable side of lusciousness. It's often argued that of the Big Three, including Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, Cornas offers an up-front approachability thanks to its southern and warm amphitheater setting. However, the savage scorched earth quality where Cornas derives its name is the foundation of this fabled domaine.

    Clape's five hectares of vines in Cornas cover over 10 parcels, such as Allemand's Reynard and Chaillot and Nöel Verset's 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 most traditionally with 100% whole cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels, with the two Cornas cuvées seeing 22 months in large foudre.

    Finding adequate words to place Auguste Clape into the context of Northern Rhone's history is difficult—Eric Asimov does a much better job in the NYT. Auguste started bottling under his own name in 1955 and stopped all négociant sales in 1968. Sadly, the day after I visited his son Pierre-Marie, he passed away at 93. Auguste is a pioneer of the Rhone alongside Noël Verset, Raymond Trollat, and Marcel Juge.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Süd Sensation: 2020 Gramenon Release

    Süd Sensation: 2020 Gramenon Release

    Domaine Gramenon's brilliance comes in harnessing sun-baked Southern Rhône and producing fleshy wines with a level of briskness and refreshment that's simply unrivaled. If Southern Rhône has pulled you toward Châteauneuf du Pape, or even quaffable Côtes du Rhône, you must try Gramenon.

    Drinkability isn't the sexiest descriptor, but damn, Gramenon epitomizes a quenching trait more than any other name in this region. They're often the first wines emptied on a crowded dinner table, showing soft tannins, seamless texture, and fruit so fresh as if just plucked from their gnarled gobelet vines.

    Michèle Aubèry-Laurent and her husband Philippe founded Gramenon in 1978, and 11 years later, the couple bottled their first wine. Their grand vision was to create an estate where organic farming and biodynamic principles extended beyond wine, growing their own produce and raising animals too. I suggest you use the modest pricing below to reacquaint yourself with the alternative and natural side of the Süd.

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    Posted by Max Kogod