MAGIQUE: TARDIEU-LAURENT COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES BECS FIN 2016

It’s a bit of a mixed bag for us from the standpoint of history.  We were heavily involved with this dynamic duo of winemakers a decade ago, only to barely see them at all for a substantial stretch of time since then.  The story here makes for a great instructive tale on what a difference an importer can make in the marketplace by virtue of their ‘marketing’ regimen and pricing.  That, however, is a story for another day and we mainly want to make the point that we are glad to have this house as an option once again.

Even though this isn’t a new brand label (in fact it was one of the most talked about labels during the 90s and early ‘oughts’), we are going to treat it as if it is because we are pretty sure a lot of people new to Rhones, or to wine in general, have little awareness of who these guys are.  So we are going to do the quick ‘cliff notes’ version to get everyone caught up.  It’s a pretty interesting story that gives great insight into why this is a negociant house unlike any other.

It is the partnership of two important wine entities.  Dominique Laurent, who we met in the mid-90s, was one of the People Magazine stories of the time.  A producer of Burgundies, with a style that showed a modern flair and new school philosophy, gained a lot of notoriety during those formative years for his use of ‘200 % new oak’ on his top bottlings.  Simply stated, it was said that he would put certain wines in a new oak barrel and then, after a period of time, put the same wine in another new oak barrel.  Whether or not that was the literal goings on, that was the buzz.   But the result was a style of Burgundy that had a unique sheen of well-integrated vanillan oak tones.  When we asked Dominique how it was done, he said simply ‘magique.’  Magic.

Michel Tardieu was a Provencal local who knew his way around the vineyards of the Rhone and South of France.  He was a former state employee that had a passion for people, wine and a nose for sniffing out important vineyard sites with distinctive characteristics and old vines.  The mantra was always to use the oldest vines from the best parcels in the Rhône, work with organic and biodynamic farmers, and establish long-term relationships with the growers they work with.

Together Dominique and Michel established quite a reputation for meticulous winemaking, polished wines and a rather modern flair for the genre.  The reviews were consistently enthusiastic and we were huge fans as well, as their wines offered a unique choice stylistically for the genre.  In all honesty though, they didn’t fly off the shelf back then because the prices were at a bit of a premium for the category.  Subsequent ‘marketing arms’ sadly only added some additional tariff but little in the way of significant exposure in the market.

Since 2008, when Laurent decided to dial things back, the Tardieu family has been in control of the operation with Michel’s son, Bastien, at the helm of the winemaking.  While they have apparently backed off the wood elements, the wines still have that distinctive textural ‘polish’ no doubt in part as a result of more experience with this particular site and having worked so long with a ‘Burgundy guy’.  In other words, they still have the ‘magic’, and this is still a very sophisticated ‘Cotes du Rhone Village.’  Also note the price is about what it was ten years ago, which means that they have a more realistic approach to pricing and have found a new distribution scenario that doesn’t add excess to the fare.

The vineyard is comprised of 60-year-old Grenache and 30-year-old Syrah, with the Syrah the star of the show (it makes up 60% of the blend) while the Grenache wraps around and gives the wine a sexy mouth feel and an outgoing fruit component.  The Tardieu-Laurent Cotes du Rhone Villages Becs Fin 2016 is no ordinary ‘Cotes du Rhone. ’ It plays well above its ‘station’.  The fact that 2016 was a special vintage was not lost on these folks either.

As the esteemed MW Jancis Robinson summarizes, “Very ‘serious’, savoury, dense nose for a wine with this appellation. This tastes so much better than many a Châteauneuf I have had from less irreproachable sources! This is the first ambitious 2016 southern Rhône red I have tried and I am knocked out by the quality and concentration. No heat on the end. It would be a shame to drink this too young.”  Sorry Jancis, that ‘early drinking’ is likely to happen with this one.

Jeb Dunnuck echoes Jancis, and us for that matter, in saying, “The 2016 Côtes du Rhône Les Becs Fins is slightly more forward and charming, with a modern style in its cassis, vanilla bean and blackberry jam aromas and flavors. Possessing both richness and elegance, it’s going to a delicious red that drinks well above its price point…90-92 points.  We’re glad to have Tardieu-Laurent back in the house!

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.