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 happy to offer the 2015 & 2016 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph, along with back-vintage Hermitage Rouge and Blanc stretching through 1985.
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.
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.
In the hills above Dijon you can find the roots to one of Burgundy's greatest inception stories. While it's is a fresh departure from a domaine's normal evolution in Burgundy, the wines in bottle are the most thrilling element from Marc Soyard. In only three vintages they have gone from obscure to seeing a cult following.
Today, I'm happy to offer Marc Soyard's 2017 Domaine de la Cras Rouge and 2016 "Cras" Blanc.Domaine de la Cras goes against the grain of what Burgundian law has dictated for centuries. Five years ago the city of Dijon purchased a vineyard just outside their limits. The city essentially held a casting call to find a winemaker for the property. The criteria was that they must be young, have no family vineyard holdings, be prepared for organic farming, and open the domaine for educational tours. The rent for the land would be paid each year to the city in bottles, 2,000 exactly.
Marc Soyard, originally from the nearby Jura, was chosen. Soyard does not come from a family of vignerons, but he had worked previously for the esteemed and tiny Domaine Bizot in Vosne-Romanée. Bizot is known for their rigorous vineyard work, minuscule sulphur regimen, and their use of whole grape clusters for fermentation.Soyard works a slope, En Bessy, just outside Dijon. His Pinot Noir pulled me in immediately for its super crunchy and unadulterated bright red berry fruit. 100% whole cluster ferment gives a lifted and spicy, floral character that just floored me. Even before tasting, those aromas are so intoxicating they grab ahold of you straightaway.
The Chardonnay's supple mouthfeel melds with an exotic stone fruit profile and is backed up by a crazy, zippy mineral drive. In short, these wines are unlike anything produced in the region today. and speak to this unique slice of Dijon.The "Cras" bottlings are the domaine's top wines and come from the oldest vines on the steepest portion of En Bessy. Biodynamic and organic approach to all viticulture here, with only small amounts of sulphur additions, primarily at bottling. Older barrel elévage for the Coteaux de Dijon Chardonnay, and 50% new wood for the two "Cras" cuvées.
The Côtes de Provence appellation is vast. Finding small slices of unique terroir where artisanal domaines reside has been a career-long journey for importer Kermit Lynch. Decades ago it was names like Tempier and Trévallon. Now, it is Clos Saint-Joseph.
Today, I'm happy to offer Domaine Clos Saint-Joseph's Cuvée Syrah from the exceptional 2016 Provence vintage.
30 minutes north of Nice is where you'll find the village of Villars-sur-Var, nestled high in these limestone hills just before the Alps. Here, Roch Sassi farms his 5 hectares with extreme care (organic with biodynamic principles followed). The big diversion from what the larger Provence region produces comes from the combination of these rocky, depleted limestone soils, the abundant sunshine, and the cold air howling down from the mountains. That's why tasting Cuvée Syrah you may feel whisked away to the northern Rhone. But, alas, the elegance endowed by these limestone soils is a different beast entirely.
Of all the vintages to debut, the 2016 is simply a perfect storm. Showcased is that magic combo of high ripeness and concentration, met with superb freshness. For my palate, everything points to this as the strongest vintage from Provence and the southern Rhone since 2010.
Cuvée Syrah is what really got me to stop in my tracks. 98% Syrah supplemented by a little Cabernet Sauvignon. This holds so much kinship to favorite Syrahs of the N. Rhone, but again, the interpretation through limestone (as opposed to granite and schist) finds a way of sharpening the focus and adding a finely-woven texture that still delivers massive concentration of fruit. A jewel in its construction and reflection of terroir. Aged exclusively in larger demi-muids.
When it comes to France's south-west Languedoc region, I tread lightly. There are some hidden gems, but certain criteria is a prerequisite: high altitude vineyards, very depleted rocky soils, organic farming, and a light touch in the cellar. When a Burgundian chooses to continue south after training under Jean Foillard in Morgon you know there's going to be something special at the end of that rainbow.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Maxime Magnon "Rozeta" Corbières Rouge for $40 per bottle.
Rozeta is sourced from a limestone and decomposed granite (schist) parcel of 50-60-year-old Carignan vines. Supplemented with small amounts of Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret. Aging takes place in neutral Burgundy barrels from a top Chassagne Montrachet domaine.
Prior to landing in Corbières, Maxime worked under Morgon icon, Jean Foillard. And then traversed his way through the Languedoc spending time with Faugères' most respected name, Didier Barral. It was with Barral where he was introduced to an abandoned plot of old Carignan vines in nearby Corbières. He quickly jumped on this unique hillside to embark on his own new chapter.
Most noted from Maxime's vineyards is the lack of topsoil. Certainly, all great vineyards have a rocky base below, but in these high altitude parcels the drama is jaw-dropping (see picture below). Old Carignan makes up most of the plantings, but small percentages of Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret are found throughout and all grapes are fermented together. It's this addition that helps brings an elevated lift and aromatic intensity to these wines that have ingratiated them to more natural-leaning wine lovers.
Magnon's influence from Burgundy and Beaujolais is clear the moment you put your nose in the glass. Rozeta has a paler hue and delivers a freshness of wild red fruit tones that are a huge departure from the Languedoc norm.
I speak a lot about a wine's sense of life and verve. This heartbeat of authenticity is something winemakers often shy away from, instead opting for the safe haven of dark extraction of fruit and density for the sake of powerful impact. Magnon flips these typical Languedoc sensibilities upside down, instead relying on transparency and only minimal sulphur at bottling to highlight the most natural characteristics of these ancient hillside plantings.
Dogliani, just south of Monforte in Barolo, is a land where Dolcetto rules the hillsides. There's no sibling rivalry here with Nebbiolo and Barbera. This is where Dolcetto gets all the love. And in Dogliani it's Nicoletta Bocca's 1936-planted Dolcetto vines that offer the most mesmerizing and enchanting reflection of this appellation.There are very few producers in Barolo that will devote prime hillside parcels to Dolcetto. But, in Dogliani only the best, steep, south-facing vineyards are planted to the variety. Bocca purchased the San Fereolo property in 1992 in the Valdibà subzone and converted to organic and biodymanic viticulture, now certified by Demeter. Bocca's oldest vines of her estate go into the flagship San Fereolo Dogliani bottling. She waits 8 years to release each vintage, with a split between large barrel elévage and then into bottle for extended aging.There's no denying how important Dolcetto is from Dogliani's northern neighbors. Even there it's more than a simple "daily drinker", with complex blue and black fruits, bitter chocolate, licorice, smoke, and black olive notes. But, San Fereolo's Dogliani from 81-year-old vines is entirely another beast. There's a weight and texture that points to a very different class, with an underlying stream of rocky minerality and agile frame that reminds us we're in another home.2009 was a warm vintage that gave us plush, forward, and very open-knit wines, full of dark, powerful fruit held in check with underlying structure. Whereas Nebbiolo tends to do best in more moderate growing seasons, Dolcetto is always eagerly awaiting those of serious warmth. It's in these vintages that Dolcetto excels the very most. For me, the introduction to Bocca's top wine really turned my preconceived notions of Dolcetto upside down. Even with exposure to the best bottlings from Barolo the Dogliani holds a grace and sense of quiet conviction that is undeniably great. This is where world class Dolcetto takes the leading role of terroir and runs with it.