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!