‘Little’ Wine from a Top Dog, Northern Rhone Style

So years ago (2000 actually), we attended the first InterRhone exposition in the Rhone Valley, an event dedicated to presenting Rhone wines in groups during presentations within the various appellations.  One of the most memorable days was the ‘show’ in Hermitage, with a large number of who’s who producers.  It was in a bank building and the various growers were stationed behind teller’s windows presenting their wares.

The majority of the wines were from the outstanding 1999 vintage, there were three producers whose wines stood out even among the power lineup that was presenting that day.  One of the three was a house we had read about but had never yet seen in our part of the world, nor had the opportunity to taste.  That was Domaine Sorrel.  That event made a lasting impression and we spent the next few years trying to find a viable source for Sorrel’s wines.  We got a couple of scraps in the European market but were generally unsuccessful in our effort to solidify a steady source.

About a decade later, the Sorrel wines showed up at a local importer and it was a pretty happy day for us when we snagged the tail end of Sorrel’s 2010 Hermitage.  A  beautiful wine that encapsulated Sorrel’s distinctive style to a tee,  it showed depth and presence but also an uncommon elegance.  This wasn’t the biggest or jammiest example of the genre.  But it did not lack for stuffing and was impressive for its balance and polish.

Fast forward to today and the 2015 vintage.  We had never seen Sorrel’s Crozes Hermitage before but the house style was in full array.  The Marc Sorrel Crozes Hermitage 2015 showed plenty of dark fruits with insistent undercurrents of minerality, but the wine also had a harmony and presence that set it apart from the rank and file from this ripe, weighty but sometimes California-like vintage. Crozes can be a little curious from the standpoint of quality because the appellation extends from the hillside to flatter areas near the highway.  As we say here, hillside Crozes is better than ‘freeway’ Crozes.  In the hands of someone like Sorrel, the equation only gets better.

The reviews indirectly speak of the value in that the score was very close to the Hermitage but the Crozes costs about half as much.  Josh Reynolds of Vinous saw it this way, “Deep vivid ruby. Ripe blackberry and cherry scents are energized by cracked pepper and smoky mineral accents. Fleshy and open-knit, offering sweet dark berry and violet pastille flavors and a touch of salty olive paste. The peppery note recurs on a long, blue-fruit-inflected finish that’s given structure by mounting tannins…91 points.”  The wine definitely has an upscale feel to it, but at a touch over $30 its pretty wallet-friendly for what it delivers.

 

A Dandy Andezon in 2016

The Cotes du Rhone from Andezon has been on our radar for a long time.  It was on the front cover of our old printed newsletter at least once (maybe even a rare second time come to think of it).  So given our experience thus far with the ‘little’ 2016s in the southern Rhone, we were quite anxious to see how this Eric Solomon staple for more than two decades fared.

The brief background story for those that don’t know this one by now is as follows.  Back in 1994, Eric Solomon visited the Vignerons d’Estézargues Co-operative winery and met a young, passionate director/winemaker named Jean-François Nicq.  By the end of the day, they had decided on a custom bottling of old-vine Syrah (30-60 year old vines) from one of their best parcels, Andezon, that had been previously sold in bulk to a “very famous producer in the Rhone Valley”.  The rest, as they say, is history.

To repeat, unlike most Cotes du Rhones, the Andezon is predominantly  Syrah with a little Grenache (up to 10% depending on the vintage, though some will claim it’s all Syrah), unlike the typically Grenache-dominated cuvees from this part of the world.  It sees no oak, they use no cultured yeasts, no filtering, no fining and no enzymes during vinification or aging, and only add a small amount of SO2 at bottling. Les Vignerons d’Estézargues has begun to practice ‘natural winemaking’, for those interested in that sort of thing, and have to be one of the only co-ops in the world to do so.

As for the wine itself, the Les Vignerons d’Estezargues Cotes du Rhone Andezon 2016 is certainly the best example of this cuvee we have tasted, and that is saying something.  The signature of the vintage is here…deep, riveting fruit, uncommon richness yet with energy and lift.  We could go on but the prose of Wine Advocate’s  Joe Czerwinski certainly makes the point, “The 2016 Cotes du Rhone Andezon is 100% Syrah, aged entirely in tank. It’s a lush, medium to full-bodied wine bursting with ripe blackberries and blueberries. No, it doesn’t have the peppery spice of Syrah from the northern Rhône, but it does have enough cola-like spicy complexity to warrant an outstanding rating…91 points

In closing, it is important to make another point we refer to as the ‘theory of relativity’.  When a vintage this spectacular comes along, there is a tendency for reviewers to calibrate reviews between wines, and not necessarily factor in the vintage itself.  That’s not necessarily a criticism, but it is a fact.  People don’t always account for the fact that the whole category is working far above the norm.

The salient point is that better wines in lesser vintages often get higher scores than they should and, in outstanding vintages, the wines don’t necessarily get their due within the broader historical perspective.  Pull out this ’91-pointer’ and put it up against similar ‘performers’ from other vintages down the road and this will dominate.  The 2016s are that good, and this one will outperform the ‘number’ in the glass.  Good times, 2016 continues to look like one of the best vintages we have ever sold .

Rhone 2016: ‘A Little Something’ from Burle

We have been preaching the gospel about the southern Rhones in 2016, a vintage that thus far has not ceased to surprise and amaze us from the big gun Chateauneufs (tasted recently in Europe) to the littlest Cotes du Rhone.  The ongoing problem, however, is that the wines are concentrated thanks to super low yield.  So you have very compelling wines, just much less of them.

Think of this knockout little Cotes du Rhone, from one of the Rhone’s grand old families, as something you would have seen an email offer on except for that one, small issue.  As we often do when we run across something this compelling, we try to corral as much of it as we possibly can.  Sadly this time there simply wasn’t much to be had.  Hence this modest, if no less enthusiastic piece.

Looking at the facts, you have an estate that isn’t very big in the first place (they only produces around 500 cases each of three different wines in a good year) and you have a vintage that was woefully short anyway thanks to Mother Nature.  The fact that it is brought in by a small, relatively new importer may have also come into play, but probably not.

As to the wine, the Domaine Burle Cotes du Rhone 2016 might be the most impressive thing we have yet had from the Burle domaine.  Like some of the other 2016 Cotes du Rhones we have featured, this wine has an uncommon power and grace.  The vintage was very successful overall, with the wines showing deep, almost glowing mulberry color and unprecedented power thanks in particular to the Grenache (the wine is 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah from 40-50  year-old vines).

What makes 2016 special is not only the size and concentration of the wines, but the harmony and fine tuning they show from top to bottom.  Enter Burle, an estate that typically makes muscular, if sometimes a little rustic wines, here showing like it is dressed in its Sunday best.  Organic farming, bottled unfiltered and unfined, we suspect in this case they aren’t just going with the current trend.  They have always done it this way.

Rich, lifted, uncommon verve and balance, you’ve likely had Chateauneufs that aren’t this compelling, and you certainly paid more than $15 for them.  A must while it lasts, the ‘little’ wines in the southern Rhone in 2016 are special, even if the label here looks like it is some sort of ‘sun’ vision from the 70’s.  The media hasn’t really picked up on it in a big way and the ‘buzz’ hasn’t started…yet.  Take advantage while you can, but with 2016s you’ll likely need to move a little faster.

MO’ LAFAGE

The eye-popping values from Jean-Marc Lafage have been coming at a prolific rate.  If we did full emails on the every one of them, which would be easy to do given how good and how well priced they all are, we’d start looking like some sort of Lafage-of-the-Month Club.  So every now and again we’ll publish a little something on the ‘down low’, with the caveat that it could eventually be its own offer at some point.  Don’t confuse this smaller format with a lack of enthusiasm.  What Lafage has been doing of late is some sort of unprecedented run of ‘hits’ and this is simply one more.  Our task is to keep you informed.

There are so many different and exciting cuvees, it’s hard to keep them all straight.  We counted over 50 different wines reviewed by the Wine Advocate, some only with a single writeup.  The 2015 Domaine Lafage Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa is only the second in this particular series, an admirable followup to the 93-point 2014 and we think even a little more substantial.  Visually it is markedly different than the majority of the bottles in that it comes in a weapon-ready, super-heavy Bordeaux styled bottle with a black label (most others are Burgundy shaped and ‘dressed’ in white).  We aren’t sure what the message is, but the wine is definitely an attention-getter in the glass as well.

Grown in the typical black schist soils of the Roussillon, the 60 to 70-year-old vines of Syrah and Grenache are farmed organically, hand harvested, and brought up in 80% concrete and 20% large neutral barrels.  The harvest regimen is a little different for this bottling.  It is made in a semi-ripasso style by harvesting the Grenache in successive passes picking only the ripest clusters. Once at the cellars the fruit is destemmed and only the best berries are chosen for fermentation after a short pre-fermentation maceration.  The blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

This one is bold, full, flavored and definitely expressive of this unique terroir near the village of Maury and will stand up to the heartiest of fare.  The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck was glowing again in his ‘barrel’ review stating, “Notes of cassis, toasted spice, chocolate and licorice all emerge from the 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa…This hedonistic, downright sexy, ripe and layered beauty will drink nicely right out of the gate…91-93 Points.”

Barrels scores tend to be conservative and, in 2015, almost everything was outstanding so you don’t get as much ‘separation’.  So we suspect if it gets a final review, it will finish on the high end.   We think the 2015 Narassa has even a bit more muscle than the 2014, and definitely a riper profile.  Once again the magic is that this is an expansive, engaging wine that only costs $15 a bottle.  How does he keep doing it?

THE ‘SUD’ ALSO RISES

Back in the early-to-mid-90s there was something of a ‘modest’ period for potentially great vintages of red Rhone wines. Perhaps coincidentally, we started seeing a ‘new breed’ of wine emerging from the South of France. About that time a number of vignerons came to the realization that, with the warm climate, Mediterranean breezes and old vines, they had a shot at making some pretty serious juice if they employed more meticulous viticultural and winemaking practices. In our minds, that was when the ‘Sud’ as we affectionately call it (the south of France) was born.

In the latter part of the 90s, the Rhone went on an unprecedented run of vintages and people didn’t pay as much attention to the ‘new wave’ of producers emerging down south. It was tough getting the spotlight away from the more established appellations like Chateauneuf and Gigondas. Still, certain estates in the south persisted and grabbed a piece of the marketplace by virtue of a number of distinctive, full flavored wines that delivered remarkable value. The labels you have become accustomed to for both great value like Bila Haut and Lafage and elite performance like Gilles Troullier simply weren’t visible or didn’t exist yet back in those early days. But they are pretty darned important now.

Domaine des Aires Hautes was one of the early players we saw back in those ‘pioneer’ days. We remember selling a breakthrough bottling called Clos l’Escandil from them over two decades ago. But we really hadn’t seen much of them since until one day this little jewel rolled into the office.

Meet the new Aires Hautes, same as the old Aires Hautes, only better. For those who aren’t familiar with the region, Minervois is a sub-region of the Languedoc, and La Liviniere is a more specific ‘sweet spot’ of the Minervois, sitting on a chalky plateau facing the Mediterranean and protected from the Atlantic weather influences by the Massif Central. The Chabbert family owns 28 hectares in this lovely spot and Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre are the components in this wine, pretty much in that order. Hand-harvesting, destemming, concrete tanks and used oak are the practices, and the vineyards are farmed at a low 28 hl/ha.

While our memories are still fond of those breakout efforts so long ago, the Domane des Air Hautes Minervois la Liviniere 2015 is clearly a serious step up and a fantastic beverage for its sub-$20 tab. While it has the classic pepper, garrigue, lavender and floral notes one associates with this very distinctive village, they play a complex but subtle role in support of a big rush of glossy blackberry fruit that is rich and polished but never ponderous. It can play to a much wider audience than most Languedocs you have likely tasted. The 2015 vintage clearly dealt the family Chabbert a winning hand and they brought it home in style.

While the tasting notes from Jeb Dunnuck, writing for the Wine Advocate at the time, were based on the barrel tasting, it is clear to us this wine got into the bottle exactly as it should have. His prose was enthusiastic, “It’s a textbook, perfumed, full-bodied and incredibly sexy 2015 that offers notes of blueberries, flowers, lavender and jammy blackberries. It could be a true superstar and is loaded with potential…92-94 points.”

From our perspective, as you may have guessed, ‘potential’ achieved and this truly is one of the best efforts from the ‘south’ we have tasted this year. We’d dare say if Jeb went back to score the finished wine another time, it would rate at the higher end of the range. It is a ‘beaut’ and we bought every last box. Sadly, it was only 50 cases.

ROUSSET CROZES HERMITAGE PICAUDIERES 2015

As hard-core Rhonies know, the 2015 vintage in the northern Rhone was something special…a vintage to be placed along with the icon vintages of the last quarter-century (1989, 1990, 1999, 2003, 2009, 2010).  Some might make an argument that this could be the best given the fleshy ripeness, bright lift and freshness, and the fact that winemaking has come a long way in the last 25 years.

What some people tend to forget is that, in such vintages, a whole lot of producers have uncommon success.  The wine media will go out of their way to fawn over the acknowledged great ones like Chave, Ogier, and Chapoutier.  Those folks have earned their stripes, no question there.  But demand for these limited production gems will be fierce, quantities will be low, and prices, if you can find the stuff to buy, will be scary.   Our take on the 2015 northern Rhones is much like the 2015 Burgundies…find the hidden gems that you can drink and enjoy without the severe prices.  In such vintages, you can find some very cool stuff if you know where to look.

The story goes that the importer found Rousset by asking the locals, including already famous Jean and Pierre Gonon.  This was one of the names that kept coming up and, even though this family had been in these parts some eleven generations, they were still under the radar.  The press we found only went back a couple of vintages prior to 2015, including some nice notes on the 2014s from Vinous’ Josh Raynolds.  We haven’t seen any reviews on this one yet, but we didn’t need them in this case (though we’re sure they will come).

We tasted three wines from Stephane and Robert Rousset, all possessing pure, bright, succulent fruit, and those layered, nuanced, full throttle yet refined flavors that exemplify the best vintages from this part of the Rhone.  Since they were all relatively similar in price, we settled on our favorite, the Rousset Crozes Hermitage Picaudieres 2015 This is a single vineyard that is located on the hillside of Crozes with terraced, granite rows of vines facing south.  Some notes made comparisons to Hermitage with respect to the soils and exposure.

To be sure this is certainly no ordinary Crozes.  The Roussets own about a half-hectare here (about an acre and a quarter) of densely planted vines, many of which are quite old and date back to the 1930s.  It is said to be one of the best parcels of the appellation.  They plow by horse where they can, make the wine in the traditional way with only the wild yeasts and this particular bottlings sees a touch of new oak.

The result is a pretty thrilling bottle of Syrah with plenty of well-woven-in minerality and polished notes of the classic meat/smoke element that defines the region, all in a supporting role to a pure, juicy blast of perfectly ripened blackberries and black cherries.  This is Crozes that reaches to a higher plane and, with apologies to all of the Rhone Rangers everywhere else, is the kind of wine that can only happen here, when conditions are exceptional, and when the winemaker doesn’t get in the way.

The problem with Crozes is that the appellation has so many variables, with killer vineyards high on the hill and more ordinary stuff along the autoroute.  Picaudieres is top dirt and the wine costs way less than anything that says Cote Rotie or Hermitage on it, but it plays at that level.  A dark, expressive beauty.  These folks are still pretty ‘under the radar’, but we see that changing real soon. Beat the crowds.

 

 

BRIEFS (OK, maybe not quite so brief this time)

*If you’ll recall some of our ranting a few months back about how spectacular the 2016 vintage was in the southern Rhone, and our subsequent sellout of one of the first examples to hits the market in the Pere Caboche Cotes du Rhone, here’s another early warning release.  The Delas Cotes du Rhone Saint Esprit has been a reliable go-to in solid vintage for a long time, but the 2016 version just pulled a 95 from Decanter Magazine and some rather enthusiastic prose for a wine that will set you back a mere $10 a bottle.  They said, “95 Points!  60% Syrah, 40% Grenache. Lovely rich opulent and floral, black berry and plum nose, the palate is big with well layered fruit, attractively firm but soft tannin and hints of oak, a big wine with a lovely finish.” (July, 2017) We say that’s a lot of Rhone for the d’argent.

One would be well advised to start stocking up on the ‘little’ wines as those will be the first to come and go from this very special vintage. Also in-house, as well as later restocks of the afore-mentioned Pere Caboche and Saint Prefert Cotes Du Rhone Clos Beatus Ille 2016, are notable efforts from serious ‘players’ like  Domaine de MarcouxDomaine Giraud Cotes du Rhone Les Sables d’Arene 2016and Mordoree Cotes Du Rhone La Dame Rousse 2016, all under $20.  The press hasn’t hit most of these yet, but they will.  Early bird and all of that…

*We had been warned ahead of time that a group of newer producers from the ancient region of Tierra de Castillo y Leon around Madrid were going to be the next big thing.  We’ve tasted several examples from this emerging, highly touted group in the past and had been left a little cold by wines that were perhaps a bit too introspective and frankly at times reduced and standoffish.  We kind of wondered what the fuss was.  But recently, maybe it was a ‘special day’, maybe this band of iconoclasts have turned the corner, or maybe it was just that whole 2015 vintage thing, but we found religion in a number of uniquely expressive Grenache-based wines we tasted.  You will be hearing about Daniel Landi’s Las Iruelas 2014, Commando G’s La Bruja de Rozas 2015, and, in particular, the Bodega Marañones 30.000 Maravedíes 2015.   Like we said, Grenache (Garnacha if you will) plays the starring role in each of these wines but in a way that is unique from anything else we have ever tasted.  The flavors lean a little more mulberry than your traditional kirsch profile of the southern Rhone, but they also have a purity, lift, and freshness that is indescribable within most people’s context of the varietal.  This is exciting, breakthrough stuff!

*Yeah, we know it’s January but the trio of delightful Gosset Champagnes arrived literally at the last minutes of the holiday and they deserve a word.  The  Gosset Grand Reserve Brut NV (WA 90, JS 92) is a ‘biscuity’ charmer when the lines are clean as they are in this cuvee and the Gosset Grand Rose Brut NV (WA 93) is consistent winner and one we usually grab whenever we see it.  The  Gosset Extra Brut Celebris 2002  (WA 95, VM 96) is not only a remarkable example of the top tier ‘extra brut’ genre but one of the few 2002s left in the marketplace.  Champagne ‘season’ lasts 365 days around here.

A NEW OPPORTUNITY ON SOME OLDER LA NERTHE CHATEAUNEUF

Over the years we have had the opportunity to observe all facets of the wine business.  One thing that has always been a little quirky (OK, there are a lot of quirky things but that’s a piece for another day) is how older wines get distributed.  People wonder where we get all of the older Bordeaux we come up with on a regular basis.  The answer is simple…they are out there.  They are out there because there is an established, rather vibrant market supported by the negociants from older stocks, library holdings of some sort from most of the top chateaux, ‘exchanges’ of sorts like the one called ‘Livex’ where dealers all over the world can trade among themselves, and of course auction houses where consumers can buy or sell personal holdings.  That’s a lot of options, and no other genre has anything close to that.

For most everything else, one is relegated to finding older goods as they resurface in the auction market.  The frequency with which things appear there has a lot to do with the goods themselves.  Bordeaux and older domestic wines are most common because those are the most popular categories overall and fueled by a certain level of speculative buying.  At the other end of the spectrum, you see very little from certain categories like Burgundy and Rhone because those buyer purchase such wines to drink and very few scenarios would motivate them to part with those wines.  Very few of the producers themselves keep healthy back stocks for an extensive set of reasons we won’t get into here.

Our point here is that opportunities to buy older vintages of top quality Chateauneufs are rare by definition, and clearly something this rare and unique even more so.  The Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf Du Pape 2007 was a remarkably delicious surprise that appeared before us very recently.  You simply don’t see a lot of 10-year-old Chateauneuf from iconic vintages floating around out there, period, let alone with compelling reviews at palatable prices.

The wine is a textbook example of what a well-made Chateauneuf from a ripe vintage should be, a little bit of grilled herbs to the inviting nose of confectionary cherries, some spice and pepper woven into the lush, kirschy palate, resolved acidity, and resolved ripe tannins.  The quality of this particular bottling was enhanced because the domaine chose not to bottle their reserve Cuvee Cadettes and added that juice to this cuvee.  Why they would do that in a vintage of this caliber is anyone’s guess  But that is the fact and clearly that took this wine to another level.

There are compelling notes from Robert Parker and a 93-point score back in issue 185 (October, 2009), but we’d suggest even more relevance to the notes from Jeb Dunnuck in a 10-year Chateauneuf retrospective in February of 2017, “Still youthful and not yet fully mature, the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape (which includes all the grapes that would normally have gone into the declassified Cuvee Cadettes) is full-bodied and impeccably balanced, with a fresh, focused bouquet of cassis, licorice and charred meats. This cuvee always ages beautifully, and this is one of the more fresh, lively and focused 2007s out there–and it still has present tannin. It’s certainly enjoyable today but should be even better with a year or two of additional cellaring…94 points.”

Great older wine isn’t easy to get, great old Chateauneuf is super rare.  So take the time to reward yourself for the holidays, or for whatever reason you want, with this very special edition of Chateau la Nerthe.  Just don’t take too long (there’s not a lot).

FABULOUS FAURY

Everyone pretty much accepts that axiom that wine is subjective.  Not everybody has the same palate memory, tasting experience, or even the same physical ability to taste wine (or anything for that matter).  Even among ‘experts’ there are a widely varied opinions as to what defines a ‘great’ wine.  We could write pages (and have) on all of the things that determine and effect how a wine is perceived beyond the wine itself.  But our purpose today is merely to define our terms for this specific case.

The definition of ‘great’ depends on the format.  The winner of a mass tasting is often the wine that overpowers, or might be the most expressive on that day. Does that mean its great?  To some people maybe so.  But our enthusiasm for this pair from Faury, the Cote Rotie 2015 and Condrieu 2015, stems from their achievement of an ideal.  We’ll explain.

Yeah, we have been fans of Faury, an estate in the Northern Rhone, for a long time.  The wines have always been round, engaging, and well priced.  Philippe Faury founded the estate in 1979 and his son joined him in 2006, and it seems like they have been doing their best work of late.  The 2015s, not surprisingly, have been uniformly exciting from top to bottom.   But the pair we mentioned earlier kind of took us aback.

They are not the ‘biggest’, most aggressive wines we have had, nor would we guarantee they would win some knock down tasting event.  But without trying to sound presumptuous, the appeal with this particular pair was the proximity to what some might call ‘perfection’.  We are defining that as the wines performing beautifully to the ‘benchmark’ of their particular genre.  Simply put, they are sensational examples that you would describe exactly as how they might be described in a textbook.

We have gone into detail about how difficult it is to get Viognier right.  It is a capricious grape that can go from lean and undernourished to dumpy and flabby in short order.  If you were to describe the perfect Condrieu, it would be a wine with richness in midpalate, but not too much, supported by enough acidity for lift, but not too much, with just the right amount of tension between all of the components to sit perfectly centered on the palate.  The flavors would range from pear to peach to apple, with a slightly honeyed note and layers of spice tones.

With the Faury Condrieu 2015, you get exactly that.  Round enough to deliver and luxurious mouth feel and yet it sits high on the palate, perfectly proportioned, delicious but not overbearing Condrieu from vines planted between 1976 and 2007 in granite soils, this is exactly what it should be.

Perfect Cote Rotie?  Great Cote Rotie has a lovely core of blackberry fruit with streaks of mineral, smoke and bacon, ripe tannins, refined acidity, but also the best examples sport an almost Burgundian elegance.  Here we have a winner, lovely fruit, nicely proportioned with everything in harmony, plenty of style but not heavy or ponderous.  From schist and clay soils, the vines on this 1.7 hectare parcel were planted between 1976 and 2007, this one excels by virtue of its stylish execution of  typicite.

If you are looking to be bowled over with overt power, that’s not what these are about.  Nor should they be.  Here we are talking about a couple of truly delightful wines that excel because they are refined, well executed, captivating examples of exactly what they are supposed to be.  Brilliance without excess, it doesn’t hurt that they are attractively priced for their categories to boot.

 

Maxime Magnon Corbieres Rozeta 2015

MAXIME MAGNON CORBIERES ROZETA 2015

Think different. That has been a pretty effective marketing slogan for a certain tech company over the years, but it also applies to some of the revolutionary minds behind certain wine estates. In the earliest days of our wine experience, producers were struggling with more mundane problems like hygiene and weather. But as winemaking and viticulture improved, problem bottles were much less of an issue. Then it seemed that technology took over, and there was a period where far too many wines were technically flawless but not very interesting to drink.

 

The pendulum has now swung back the other way, with more and more producers eschewing the extreme technical regimens and moving back to a simpler time, organic viticulture and a more hands-off approach to winemaking.

 

This new/old trend is almost a complete return to old school winemaking which does the most to let the character of the vineyard shine by not doing the ‘hands-on’ things that might mediate that terroir element. Wines like these, when done right, are the purest expressions of place. The very best, as we have said on occasion, achieve a level of purity and expression that transcends even the appellation itself. The Maxine Magnon Corbieres Rozeta 2015 is that kind of effort.

 

Maxine Magnon is a Burgundian, an interloper to this land in the Corbieres A.O.C. Assembling parcels of old vines, he purchased mostly vineyards planted on schist and limestone subsoils in the sub-appellation Hautes Corbières, bordering Fitou to the South. Dogmatically focused on maintaining soil balance and a harmonious ecosystem in his vineyards, it is not surprising that his farming is certified organic and employs a number of biodynamic practices. This regional ‘hero’ is certainly a loyal follower of his mentor’s ideas, they being Jean Foillard in Morgon and good buddy, biodynamic guru Didier Barral in Faugeres. His wine retains the character and complexity of both these hands-off winemaking legends.

 

Maxime has made quite a name for himself in the short existence of this domaine (founded in 2002). We have had some pretty rousing examples ourselves on occasion. But even though we know the guy is something of a rock star in his part of the world, we don’t remember anything like this. Perhaps the deep, juicy fruit of 2015 is what took this one to the next level, but whatever the cause, the result is exciting.

 

The wine itself comes from two terroirs, one that contains an abundance of the classic garrigue of Corbieres and the other a rocky schist with virtually no topsoil that feels more like the Roussillon. The blend is predominantly old vine Carignane (65%) in a field blend with Grenache, Syrah and not-so-mainstream varietals Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret (the first two being white varietals and the third having mutations in both white and red).

 

Now the first thing we need to say is that the Rozeta is a real attention grabber that doesn’t taste like most people’s idea of Carignane, which can lean a little stemmy, nor does it have the intense garrigue component usually associated with the Corbieres appellation. It is a captivating red with an inviting nose of red fruits, spice, lavender and minerals that grows more intense and complex as it unwinds. In the mouth you get a ripe, lifted mouthful with lots of red and blue fruit, insistent spice notes and a pleasing touch of earth. In short, this is a delicious effort with both richness and brightness that takes a path all its own, with a direction veering towards the finest Morgons from mentor Foillard or, dare we say it, Burgundy. We had no idea this was a Carignane grown in Corbieres until they told us. All we knew is the wine was ‘a trip’ and offered a take on both the region and the varietal that we had not seen before.

 

Previous versions of Rozeta have received great press, and this is certainly the best version yet from a terrific vintage in The Sud. It will get a HUGE score. But that is not the point(s). The wine is the point.

 

Is it the vintage? The terroir? The 50-60 year old vines? The naturally manicured-by-farm-animals vineyard? The 30-something, low-keyed Maxine’s je ne c’est quoi? All of the above? Hard to know, but it’s something very tasty and engaging that steps outside the boundaries of its origins. For how it performs, it’s something of a bargain as well. We bought everything Kermit Lynch had because it lit us up, but quantities aren’t huge. Good hunting.