ROCKIN’ RASTEAU FROM AN OLD FRIEND

Every so often we stop and think about just how many wines have come through these doors in the last 37 years. Many labels are gone, many new ones are popping up all the time here, and new (or maybe just unfamiliar) names are making their way here from distant shores because the world is far more accessible these days. Every day it seems there’s a lot more information to digest, so much so that we forget some of the grand labels we used to sell. Sometimes we catch a break.

As we were going through some open market offers in Europe, we ran across an offer for a Winex favorite from years past, Domaine de la Soumade in Rasteau. “Hey, we know those folks,” we said, “they used to make pretty impressive juice. Wonder what they are up to these days, and why no one is bringing them in.” Our research showed us two things. The wines were supposedly imported by someone in New York, but there was no New York outlet offering the wine for sale. Even now, wine searcher only shows four people that have the wine in the U.S., again none in New York.

We also noted that Domaine de la Soumade’s 2016s received the highest reviews that they ever had, and this is an accomplished producer. Our course was clear. We were big fans of Rasteau long before they received the official A.O.C. upgrade (with the 2010 vintage), and Soumade was among the crème of the appellation.

Domaine la Soumade was established by André Roméro in 1979. Since 1990 the whole production has been bottled at the domain. In 1996 when his son Frédéric Roméro had earned his BEPA Diploma in viticulture and oenology, he returned to the domain to join his father. These days André is dialing it back, essentially semi-retired, and the reins are now in Frédéric’s capable hands. The domain covers 27 hectares, one of which is Gigondas and the rest is situated in Rasteau. They make nine different wines including four selections of Rasteau. The trend here is to use larger foudres (really big barrels) with the idea of keeping the star of the show, the super ripe Grenache, as fresh and bright as possible.

This domaine has always played above their appellation, but the 2016s are another level. The reviews are more akin to top Chateauneufs, but the prices certainly are not. The star of today’s offer is the Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvee Prestige 2016 made from 70% Grenache Noir, 20% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre harvested from 30-50 year-old vines. It is done 50% in 4000-liter wooden barrels (those are the foudres) and 50% in concrete for 18 months. They do get a little help from a friend, the talented Stephane Derenencourt who is mostly associated with Bordeaux but is clearly comfortable letting the Rhone be the Rhone.

The results speak for themselves and we could enlarge on our ‘stop and smell the Grenache’ but the scribes provided more than enough print for the quantities we have. Joe Czerwinski of Wine Advocate offers, “…it starts with aromas of crushed stone and ripe black fruits. Full-bodied and richly concentrated, it picks up hints of cocoa and garrigue on the long, dusty finish…94 points.”

That is the highest Wine Advocate score ever for this illustrious bottling.

Jeb Dunnuck raises the bar a little more, “A rock star in the vintage, the 2016 Rasteau Cuvée Prestige offers more cedary garrigue, graphite, earth, and chocolate-laced dark fruits. It’s big, rich, beautifully concentrated, with a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, and will have 10-15 years of prime drinking…95 points.”

That is the highest Jeb Dunnuck score ever for this illustrious bottling.

Getting the picture?

Rasteau as an appellation offers some of the prettiest reds in the region, with plenty of weight but a bit more elegance and tenderness, and a little less rusticity. We have ours and you can rest assured we are going to enjoy getting reacquainted with these wines (We have the 2016 Confiance as well). You need to get yours. Brilliant stuff!