Photo courtesy of Vignobles Levet

Traditional Wines from the Northern Rhone: 2010, 2011 and Before...

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2010 is a truly exceptional vintage in the Northern Rhone. We are happy to offer three wines from estates whose traditional vineyard work and vinifications have produced superb, age-worthy wines of terroir, as well as a selection of older wines from these estates, and the recently released 2011 Côte-Rôtie from the talented Eric Texier. By "traditional" we refer to mechanical or manual working of the soil and the avoidance of herbicides and pesticides; old vines with a high percentage of "petite serine" or massale selection vines; hand harvesting; whole-cluster fermentations with wild yeasts, generally in cement vats; moderate alcohol levels; minimal attempts to extract color and tannin, and aging in used barrels with a small (or zero) percent new. Of course de-stemming in the Northern Rhone is not always a bad thing, especially with clonal-selection vines, and can help produce softer, rounder wines for more rapid consumption. But for consumers seeking Syrah to age, that will mature into gloriously complex wines such as those in the past of Gentaz or Trollat, we suggest considering an assortment of the old-fashioned Côte-Rôtie and Cornas offered below.

Vignobles Levet, Côte-Rôtie  "Some wines reflect inspiration, others love and care. The Levet wines fall into the second category" - Wines of the Norhern Rhone. Bernard and Nicloe Levet, with daughter Agnes, work approximately four hectares, primarily in Chavaroche, formerly owned by Nicole's father Marius Chambeyron. The vines are predominanty "petite serine" planted in the 1950s, with some clones planted in the 80s, and from the 1990s forward all new plantings are massale selection of petite serine. The soil is turned over mechanically and a small amount of natural compost is used. Fermentations are whole-cluster with wild yeasts for the "Chavaroche," with aging approximately 90% in old barrels. The Levet wines are agreeably earthy and "sauvage" when young and take time to come together, but when mature they can be among the very finest traditional wines of Côte-Rôtie. 2009 and 2010 are both exceptional vintages here. (The 2010s are now sold-out with the importer, as are the 2005 magnums and the 2007s so no further stock will be available.)

Domaine Lionnet, Cornas  Organic since 2007, the Lionnets work the soil with a small caterpillar tractor or horse and use only organic treatments on their 2.2 hectares on Mazards, Combes, Chaillots and Brugeres. (The parcel on Mazards was planted in 1910!) The grapes are not de-stemmed and fermentations are with wild yeasts, lasting about three weeks. A 19th century vertical wood press is used, slow and at mild pressure to avoid hard tannins in the wine. Aging is in two to eight year-old casks of 228 and 600 liters. "Our vinifications are completely traditional and natural to value all the terroir and typicity of Cornas" says their modest website, and indeed the 2010 here is a beautiful wine and a fantastic value.

Domaine Guillaume Gilles, Cornas  While working for Robert Michel, Guillaume Gilles began with one-half hectare inherited from his grandfather in 2002 and then took over the 1.5 hectares of Robert Michel on Chaillot in 2007. As at Lionnet, the soils are worked by tractor and by hand without herbicides. Fermentations are whole-cluster with wild yeasts and last three weeks or more, at relatively low temperature due to the cold cellar. Guillaume is fortunate to have superb terroir in the heart of Chaillot, with soils both of decomposed granite and of clay/limestone, givng a unique purity and saline minerality to his wines. His 2010 is superb, less sauvage than Lionnet, but very focused and pure, and sure to be an exceptional mature wine. This young man seems happily destined for a long career making fine traditional Cornas.

Robert Michel, Cornas  Robert Michel, whose last vintage was 2006, was one of the most solidly traditional producers in Cornas for over thirty years, with great vineyard holdings on Chaillot and old vines in the La Geynale parcel on Reynards. This parcel, planted in 1910, is one of the finest in Cornas with granite and gneiss subsoils with clay, giving wines of great elegance and complexity. Michel's winemaking remained traditional throughout, with wild yeast, whole-cluster fermentations and aging in used 600L and 228L casks, with only an occasional new barrel. (The Cuvée Coteaux, from Chaillot, was partially de-stemmed due to the high tannins often present in the wine). The two wines offered here are the only wines of Robert Michel still available from the importer and will soon be gone.

Eric Texier  Our friend Eric Texier, whose home and cellar are in Charnay (OK, Rhones-Alpes), makes some of the most gloriously traditional wines in the Northern and Southern Rhone. Eric sources the grapes for his Cote-Rotie from several parcels of old vines in the Cote Brune.  The soil is a combination of iron mica schist (a metamorphosed shale), decomposed gneiss (a metamorphic banded granite) and arzelle. Whole-cluster wild-yeast fermentaions, aging in old barrels, minimal sulfur.

All wines are in stock at CSW and discount 10% on a case or mixed-case purchase.

No Longer Available

Levet 2010 Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche

Deep red/black color. Bright, very perfumed black fruits, violet, musk, citrus and menthol, with great purity and persistence. Ethereal and powerful. The palate is deep and firm with black fruit liqueur, raspberry, violet and saline minerals. Exceptionally long and firm in the finish, quite bright and focused. Enjoyable now for its youthful exuberance, best after 8 to 10 years. DL

"This is a vin de garde, a keeping wine, par excellence — it has the nobility of that. Tannins are well present and offer steel to the wine. From 2018. STGT (terroir) wine — lovely harmony in mid-palate. Drink until 2034-36" DrinkRhone.com

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Levet 2009 Côte-Rôtie Chavaroche

Mostly from Petite Serine planted in the 1950s on Chavaroche, a superb parcel of granite and schist soils with clay and sand (just west of Cote Brune) a very warm terraced plot sheltered from the north wind. Whole-bunch fermentation, aged one year in old barrels, one year in 15% new, 85% old casks. The 2009 Chavaroche is a magnificent Côte-Rôtie with surprising structure and acidity for the vintage - in fact Nicole Levet suggests drinking the 2010 before the 2009. Superb, elegant nose of deep black fruits, stone and game with hints of cocoa. (Albert Dervieux-Thaise once told me that a good Côte-Rôtie should smell like "le ventre d'un lièvre chaud" (the gut of a warm hare) This is not that rustic, but definitely has distinctive aromas). The palate is bursting with stony blackberry fruit, with brown spice, citrus, smoke and licorice. This seems softer than the 2010 to me but there is ample lifting acidity and freshness to carry the wine into old age. This is a big, gorgeous Côte-Rôtie that will be a joy to drink over the next 15 to 20 years!

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Levet, Bernard 2007 Côte-Rôtie Chavaroche 1.5 L

"A real wine of terroir, delightful: rather thick red robe with a smudge of ruby evolution on its top rim: this looks good. The nose is clear, combines flowers, spice and notably mineral, with dust and tar undertones. This is a big nose potentially, and a compact, well-knit one. The palate is really of terroir, traditional wine from my youth in the 1970s: it has black berry jam with a smoky graphite fuse through it. It ends on dusty tannins that give it life, has a float of violet on the aftertaste. There are typical Levet notions of game on the later palate. This is moving into shape, and collecting its troops together. Genuine wine, with a becoming fullness. Delightful, spiced and floral flair on the finish with roast pork, the finish lovely and long. A wine of rugged quality with fibre in it. Air increases its weight and foundation, and starts to soak the palate well. Has bags of character. Drink till 2026-28" Livingstone-Learmonth in DrinkRhone

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Levet 2005 Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche

Deep red/black color with garnet edge. Upon opening, the aromas are immediately intense and complex with bright cherry/blackberry fruit, blood orange, smoke, musk, stone , tea and brown spice. Really lovely. The palate is structured but beginning to soften, with prune, earth, tea and blackberry with lifting citrus and menthol. Finishes with perfect acidity and good length. This is a beautiful Cote-Rotie just beginning to sing, drink now and until 2024.

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Lionnet 2010 Cornas Terre Brulée

A leading producer of traditional Cornas, Domaine Lionnet has modernized only slightly over the last 20 years with the wines losing their former "rustic" character, while retaining complexity and terroir expression, very much in the style of the Gonons in Saint-Joseph. Organic since 2007, whole-bunch fermentations with wild yeasts, aging in both 600 liter and 228 liter two to eight year-old oak casks. From 100 year-old vines on Mazards (a great parcel below Reynards having both granite and limestone/clay soils), 70 year-old vines on Combe, Chaillot and Pied la Vigne. The 2010 shows lovely deep aromas of blackberry and black cherry, with brown spice, cocoa and musk lifted by high-toned floral and menthol notes. The palate is deep and structured showing blackberry liqueur, earth and licorice with very firm acidity. Very long and tight. This is classic old-school Cornas from a great vintage, and although it's exciting now, it will age beautifully, probably best 2020 - 2030. David Lillie

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Gilles, Guillaume 2010 Cornas

From 35 to 40 year-old vines in the upper part of Chaillot ("Les Grands Murs" having clay/limestone soils above a granite base, and "les Terasses" with soils of decomposed granite) with some 60 year-old vines in Mazards and Saveaux. Yields of 27 hl/ha in 2010. Whole bunch fermentation in concrete vats with wild yeasts, minimal attempts to extract. Aged in 4 to 14 year-old 600 liter and 400 liter casks, with one new (10% of total) in 2010. High-toned, focused aromas of blackberry, cassis and violet. Well-structured palate - deep and dense with bright acidity under black fruits. Great purity and focus with firm acidity and terrific length, this is an elegant racehorse of a Cornas that will be superb when mature. Best perhaps 2020 to 2030. DL

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Michel, Robert 2006 Cornas La Geynale

Based mostly from vines in the La Geynale parcel on Reynards planted in 1910. Still youthful brick red/black; lovely cherry, tart berry and blood orange fruit with violet, pepper, musk and stone. Citrusy acids on the palate, not at all heavy, with smoky floral red fruits, earth and stone with a hint of lifting volatility. This is an elegant, silky, burgundian Côte-Rôtie that will benefit from 3 to 5 more years of cellaring, or decant and drink now with a steak! On day two this is still showing very firm structure and acidity - give this wine some time, probably best 2020 to 2030.

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Michel, Robert 2005 Cornas Cuvée des Coteaux

(Mostly from 30 year-old vines on Chaillot, partially de-stemmed, aged in old 228 and 600 liter barrels) Solid brick/red color. Needs decanting or time open, then subtle aromas of blackberry, prune, brown spice and musk with dusty stone. The palate is soft and balanced, but with good acidity and freshness, showing pretty red fruits with hints of tea, orange and spice. A more delicate, subtle wine than La Geynale that should improve nicely as secondary aromas and flavors develop, perhaps best 2016 to 2021. DL

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Texier 2011 Côte-Rôtie Vieilles Vignes

Eric Texier's Côte-Rôtie is always one of the finest, especially to those who appreciate a traditional whole-cluster fermentation and aging in old barrels. The 2011 shows highly perfumed crushed raspberry and red currant, very floral with animal notes, graphite and menthol. Dense blackberry and blueberry on the palate, with stone, animal, floral and citrus with a firm finish of stony acidity. On day two the wine has tightened and firmed-up showing good structure for a 2011. Not for long-term aging perhaps, but ten to fifteen years from now this should be extremely pretty. 2012 should be excellent here as well, but prices will be higher...

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