Earlier this year I spent a couple of hours with Stéphane. Closing my eyes I can still recall the beguiling scent that lifted from the glass of each wine he poured. We tasted through the Lieu Dit, individual sites, of his Côte-Rôtie vineyards, his knowledge of the sites was only matched by the individual expression each of the wines gave us. The hit rate of the descriptors: stunning, harmony, layering, purity, length, complexity, beautiful tannins, balance, restraint and poise across the tasting was insane!
Turning to a selection of older wines from 2010, 2007 and 2005 everything just made sense. The power yet elegance of these wines with the addition of additional layers of complexity, secondary characteristic only developed with time was on show. Such exceptional wines with so much personality.
We have, only 5 bottles of each wine available. I’m keeping a set for a dinner with the Wine Decoded Community, keep an eye on your email for details!
About Stéphane Ogier
Sometimes you meet a winemaker and there is a little spark, in their eye, you can just tell they have all the passion needed to excel. Then you taste!
Fresh, vibrant, poised, harmonious, layered, and, of great length. No super-ripe fruit characters, heavy-handed oak and just a splash of Viognier. Ogier want’s Viognier to be complexing, not an individual character in his wines. As is the norm, it is a field blend, when included in a wine and typically less than 5%. For reference Guigal’s La Turque has 7%, and, La Mouline 11% Viognier.
What happens when you blend Shiraz & Viognier
The blending of Shiraz and the white grape Viognier originated in Côte-Rôtie. The interplay between the two varieties is truly something special.
Co-fermenting rather than blending finished wines simply results in greater harmony and expression.
The colour of the wine becomes darker as a scientific phenomenon known as co-pigmentation occurs, small compounds from the Viognier stabilises the large colour compounds from the Shiraz.
Perfume, flowers, and, spice from the Viognier adding intrigue to the aroma. Making it so much more inviting!
Those aromas carry through to the palate where the last bit of magic happens. The tannins develop differently to 100% Shiraz wines, beautifully refined, and, silky they offer a wonderful feeling in your mouth. mouthfeel.
Tim Kirk from Clonkilla was kindly sent me a mixed case, including some experimental wines not for release. In it, 3 wines, 100% Viognier, 100% Shiraz, the components of his Shiraz Viognier, and, the Shiraz Viognier itself. A fascinating tasting, you could see how each of the component wines contributed to the blend. The blend just had something extra. This is the result of fermenting the red grapes of Shiraz with the white Viognier. The chemical soup that exists during fermentation ends up coming together to be greater than the sum of its parts.
In Côte-Rôtie the vineyards are mixed plantings with Viognier vines next to Shiraz, all picked at the same time. The proportion of Viognier ranging from none up to 10-12%.
Shiraz or Syrah
You’d think that Shiraz would be easy to explain. The relatively recent expansion of cool climate vineyards throughout Australia, and, experimentation with a wide array of making techniques has seen an increase in the diversity of styles produced. Think Canberra, the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills, and, Mornington.
At the same time, the warmer, established regions like the Barossa and McLaren Vale are rapidly evolving the styles of Shiraz they produce. A new wave of producers are making wines of restraint, and, elegance, through earlier picking and careful handling of fruit.
In the Rhône Valley, particularly around Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas, we see some extreme vineyards that climb into the skies from the Rhône River at calf breaking angles. Some, terraced, others taking rocks that have made their way to the bottom of the slopes, on a anual pilgrimage back to the top.
When you have exceptional Shiraz the opportunity to experiment with whole berries, whole bunches, stalk use, cold maceration, extended maceration, fermentation vessel, maturation vessel, cap management, and, any of 1,000’s of other variables is possible.
In Australia, we are seeing increasing use of whole bunch ferments for at least a portion of the fruit. The perfume, stalk tannin-rich wines, layering extra dimensions into the aromas and textures of the typically more restrained wines.
Single Vineyard vs Blend
Over time ‘fashions’ have shifted from blends to single vineyard wines. Perhaps driven by the popularity of Burgundy, we’ve seen the Barolista making single vineyard or Cru wines as they call them, Australia has followed, in the 70’s Guigal launched the La La’s, creating three of the now most renowned single vineyard wines of the world.
Staunch ‘terroirists’ will claim a wine loses its identity, it’s sense of place if blended. Personally, I just want to drink great wine, whether, blended or single site. Aldo Conterno’s top wine is a blend of three adjacent vineyards, Vietti’s Castiglione represents, perhaps, their best value Barolo, and, often includes the fruit from the Villero vineyard, that, in exceptional years makes their Riserva, Sandrone’s Le Vigne is a blend, yet all of these wineries also make single vineyard wines. With my consumer hat on I just get to enjoy the fruits of their labour!
Sitting down with Stéphane Ogier and trying his Lieux Dits, which translates to ‘said location’, and, refers to a specific site akin to a single vineyard. Trying 6 of his Lieux Dits across both the Côte Blonde and Brune was a fantastic experience, as Stéphane walked us through the sites, terms like feminine, masculine, floral, savoury, earthy, and structured come through. Each wine had a great personality. Most would stand on their own, one or two looked to offer more structural elements, without the balance of fruit weight, although this judgement needs to be reserved given the youth of the wine. Tasting aged wines from the Ogier demonstrated just how much the blossom after just a few extra years in bottle.
When we got to the blended Reserve, containing each of the Lieux Dits, the whole, was definitely greater than the sum of the parts. The poise and harmony of the wine were at the next level.
So, my challenge to Guigal is to make a 4 pack with the 3 La La’s individually and a blend of the 3 La La’s!
Where in the World is Côte-Rôtie?
Today’s wines all hail from the Northern part of the Rhône Valley between Vienne and Valence.
Côte-Rôtie itself is split into to main sub-regions, the Côte Blonde and the Côte Brune. Hermitage is some 50km further South down the Rhône River.
If you face the hill from the Château d’Ampuis itself to the South you find the Côte Blonde, where soils are heavy with granite and produce elegance feminine wines.
To the North lies the Côte Brune, here the soils comprise mica schists and clay, yielding more masculine, structured wines.
Like Burgundy, individual vineyards in Côte-Rôtie have been identified, named, and, clear boundaries established.
Ogier’s Côte-Rôtie Reserve wine is made from 7 of these vineyards with a mix from the Côte Blonde and Côte Brune: But du Mont, Fongeant, Côte Bodin, Bertholon, Montmain, La Viallière, and, Lancement.
While there is individual bottlings of Lancement and Belle Hélène, the wines Stéphane calls his Grand Crus.
Where Hermitage is dominated by 4 main producers, including Guigal, Côte-Rôtie, now has around 100 producers making wine from it’s 550acres of plantings. It’s much more like Burgundy in this way.
What’s the Difference between the Côte Blonde & the Côte Brune?
Stéphane immediately refers to the soils of the two.
The Granite heavy soils of the Côte Blonde offering feminine, floral wines with fine tannins.
The mica schist and clay of the Côte Brune yielding more powerful wines with greater structure.
Ogier’s winemaking is all about careful fruit handling.
De-stemmed fruit with less risk of aggressive stalk tannin is macerated for 3-4 weeks.
Wholebunch ferments, see bunches gently crushed and lest on skins fo a couple of weeks.
Wines are pressed to talk settled for a month and racked into barrique retaining fine lees.
While the 2009s are unusually plump and ripe – particularly attractive attributes in a region whose Syrah vines sometimes struggle to ripen fully – the 2010s are devoid of puppy fat and are better at expressing terroir. The juiciness of wines grown on sand, the freshness of those from limestone, and the majestic concentration of those from vines whose roots try to penetrate granite are all particularly evident in the 2010s.
The summer of 2010 was much cooler than 2009, especially at night, and yields much lower, so that the ripening process seems to have been slower, steadier and more complete. After a cold winter, spring 2010 was usefully wet, but the flowering in June was unusually extended in changeable weather so that an exceptionally low proportion of potential grapes was fully formed on each bunch.
Overall, the northern Rhône 2010s are delightful – ripe but fresh and silky. After a reasonably but not uncommonly dry summer, early September rains usefully propelled vines towards full ripeness and an easy harvest in late September and, in many cases, early October. Purist Jean-Marc Jamet describes 2010 as ‘really perfect’. Certainly, the bunches with their reduced number of berries were loose enough to stave off any rot or disease and such grapes as were picked were very healthy.
“Back in the cellar we taste through Ogier’s 2015 reds still in barrel. It’s clear he’s sitting on a big year, with various lots of Côte-Rôtie showing vivid purple and black fruit flavors, racy graphite spines and long, sanguine-edged finishes. Some parcels are fleshier and bigger, others more elegant and refined. It’s an embarrassment of riches …” James Molesorth
Marcel Guigal is the godfather of the Rhône Valley. His company in Ampuis uniquely combines quantity (to the tune of more than seven million bottles a year) and quality in both its own holdings and massive purchases throughout the valley. For him 2015 was the best vintage he has ever known, in a career that began in 1961 – that was a far from shabby vintage itself.
For talented négociant Michel Tardieu of Tardieu-Laurent, ‘never, ever have we tasted such quality of juice. The wines are both dense and fresh: the perfection of their balance is astonishing.’
Both Hermitage and Côte Rôtie are more luscious than usual, as well as having an admirable charge of ripe tannins. Perhaps predictably, for Jean-Paul Jamet up on the cool plateau above Ampuis, who enjoys a winemaking challenge and makes some of the most subtle Côte Rôtie, 2015 is ‘un petit peu too much’. While drawing out cask samples of his various ingredients from large barrels old and new, he told me that he saw his job with 2015 as attempting to limit what he called the generosity of the vintage but admitted, ‘I’m starting to enjoy it but it’s more complicated than you’d think to find wine with both pleasure and elegance. I think there will be some 2015s that will be too tough to enjoy young.’ For Jamet 2015 and 2016 is a pair a bit like 2009 and 2010, with the later vintage designed for a longer life.
Tips for Drinking these Wines
🌡Temp: 16-18°C. We tend to drink reds an edge warm. There’s nothing wrong with chucking the bottles in the fridge for 15minutes to drop a few degrees off them. If they end up too cold they’ll warm up quickly in the glass.
🍷Decanting: Definitely. Gentle decant for the 2010’s, heavy decant for the 2015.
⏳Time: I love trying good wines stand alone, with food, and, often the next day. It gives them the chance to shine and ensures you don’t miss a good wine through impatience or fail to bring out it’s best by not marrying them to food.
🕯Cellaring: Over 3-7 years they harmonise and secondary development starts. The real magic happens from 8+ years NOW for the 2010’s, they hit a phase where they appear almost transparent to taste, yet retain incredible depth of flavour, the complexity levels lift another notch, keeping you entranced by the wine’s scent alone.
🥩Food Match: Just think red meats, braises, roasts cow on the BBQ, pork, rabbit. As they reach the third phase go with the lighter meats.
The Best 2 Options for Preserving your Wine:
- Grab a Coravin wine preserver.
- Watch this video, “Stop the Wine-ocide” Kaani 2012 – My Deep Dark Secret, one of my first, about saving open bottles of wine from the drain, sorry about the quality, but, the message is still there.