Weekend Vinopolpick- September 21st

September 21, 2013
Appellations and Wines of the Northern Rhone

The Rhône river begins life way to the north in Switzerland. As it makes it way down through the length of France it widens to become the central feature of the Rhône valley, the famed region situated at the center of what are some of the most privileged vineyards in the world. Although often lumped together under the ‘Rhone Valley’ descriptor, the Northern and Southern Rhone regions are really quite distinct.

The Northern Rhône is a land of steep, steep slopes carved into granite hillsides by the progress of the river over thousands of years. These vineyards, some of the oldest in France, have had to be etched into the mountainside on narrow terraces and at dizzying heights. The winemakers of the north are largely family-owned concerns who have worked these daunting slopes for decades, often tending to their own vines as well as purchasing fruit from the other appellations.  The northern Rhône is characterized by a continental climate with harsh winters but warm summers. Higher elevations and the climate make the area overall much cooler than the Southern Rhone, producing red wines with more herb and mineral flavors. The Northern Rhône’s finest wines are the Syrah reds, also considered some of the world’s greatest wines. For the whites, Roussane, Marsanne and Viognier are the key grapes in the Rhone Valley, with primarily Viognier grown in the North. Today, we focus on the six main appellations of the Northern Rhone, moving from North to South; Cotie Rotie, Condrieu, St.Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cornas.

Steeply terraced vines of Cote Rotie


Cote Rotie

The northernmost appellation of the Rhone, Cote Rotie has some of the steepest vineyards in the world, with terraces high above the western bank of the Rhone. The name Cote-Rotie means literally “roasted slopes,” because of the near-constant sun exposure on the steep, southeastern-facing hills overlooking the Rhone River. Generally, Cote Rotie is more approachable when young, is more aromatic, and is considered a very elegant wine. Vineyards to the south are collectively known as the Côte Blonde and the wines they produce are known to mature earlier than those on the Côte Brune to the north. Côte Rôtie is distinguished from the more masculine Hermitage by its perfume, which is in some cases due to the inclusion of a small proportion of white Viognier grapes allowed in the reds, but in practice most producers of Côte Rôtie use 100% Syrah.

Delas Freres Cote Rotie Seigneur de Maugiron 2010 ($89.95) $69 special 3 cases remaining
Wine Spectator 94 points
 “Packed with lots of dark ganache, tapenade, tobacco, blackberry compote and freshly sliced plum fruit flavors, this really courses along with noticeable energy, while bramble, singed bay leaf and charcoal stud the finish dramatically.”

Delas Freres Cote Rotie La Landonne 2010 ($249.95) $219 special 6 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 98+ points 
“Flirting with perfection, the 2010 Cote Rotie La Landonne offers up scents of black truffles, incense, smoked game, creosote, spring flowers and black fruits. Full-bodied with mouth-staining tannin as well as mouth-saturating extract and richness, this powerful, strikingly intense 2010 is young and unevolved, but it is filled with potential. Interestingly, Jacques Grange told me this cuvee was made from 100% destemmed fruit. Forget this wine for 4-5 years, and drink it over the following three decades.”

Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Classique 2007 ($79.95) $69 special 7 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 90 points
 “Bright ruby. Highly aromatic nose shows raspberry, blackberry, Asian spices and dried violet. Classic Cote-Rotie, with elegant red and dark berry character and sexy finishing notes of cinnamon and allspice. Showing more energy and grip than it did in barrel.”

Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Ampodium 2009 ($79.95) $69 special 12 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 92 points
 “Dark ruby.  Ripe cherry and dark berry aromas are complemented by notes of anise and allspice, with subtle smoke and black pepper nuances in the background.  Then brighter on the palate, offering vibrant cherry and bitter rhubarb flavors and a late note of candied licorice.  Shows very good energy and a touch of licorice on the intensely spicy, persistent finish.”

Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne 2009 ($159.95) $139 special 7 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 94 points
 “Bright ruby.  Black and blue fruits on the nose and palate, with an array of spice and floral qualities adding dimension.  Rich but very lively, with impressive intensity and concentration but no sense of heaviness.  Supple tannins add shape to the extremely long finish, which features notes of star anise, candied violet and cracked pepper.”

Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie La Landonne 2010 ($159.95) $149 special 12 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 96 points
 “The prodigious 2010 Cote Rotie La Landonne reveals a dense purple color along with a huge, impressive perfume of roasted meats, black currants, black raspberries and scorched earth. This 100% Syrah comes from vines planted on exceptionally steep slopes composed of schist and iron-like sub-soils. Some graphite also makes an appearance in this mineral-dominated, well-delineated, rich, intense wine.”

Faury Cote-Rotie 2009 ($79.95) $59 special 27 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 92 points
 “(this includes 10% viognier, which Lionel Faury said was not typical for the northern part of the appellation, where the soils are mostly schist):  Vivid ruby.  Raspberry, cherry and violet on the sexy, perfumed nose.  Juicy and energetic, with very good depth and focus to its tangy red and dark berry flavors.  Becomes spicier with air and finishes with excellent clarity and lingering sweetness.  I find this wine quite approachable now but it has the depth and balance to age”




Condrieu is arguably the northern Rhone’s most distinctive wine appellation. The focus of Condrieu is white wines made exclusively from Viognier, while its larger neighbors specialize in robust Syrahs. Condrieu’s whites, which strike an unusual balance between delicate perfume and substantial body, are produced only in tiny quantities in the nine-mile winding stretch of the Rhone Valley that makes up the official Condrieu. Characterful Condrieu wines have enjoyed increasing popularity since the 1970s, bringing the Viognier grape back from the brink of extinction. The wines of have evolved stylistically over the decades, shifting towards dry styles and away from the intense, sweet styles in which they were once made, making them an even more widely appealing, food-friendly wine.

Andre Perret Condrieu Chery 2011 ($89.95) $79 special 8 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 96 points
 “As usual, a prodigious effort, the 2011 Condrieu Coteaux du Chery comes from one of the appellation’s great terroirs. It offers an intense, expansive perfume of honeysuckle, tangerine, lychee nut, white peach and spring flower notes, followed by an elegant, full-bodied white. In each vintage, this cuvee is consistently one of the top three or four wines made in Condrieu. Enjoy the 2011 over the next 3-5 years.”

Faury Condrieu 2009 ($74.95) $59 special 3 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 91 points 
“Greenish straw. Emphatic, mineral-laced aromas of tangerine, peach and melon, with a hint of white flowers. Sappy and palate-staining, with a suave blend of power and vivacity enhancing its orchard fruit and citrus flavors. Finishes with very good clarity and a lingering note of honeydew. This is already delicious.”



St. Joseph

This region is named after the original vineyard site of Saint-Joseph. The terrain here has less of the granite that warms the vines across the river, and the majority of its slopes face east rather than south-west towards the ripening rays of the afternoon sun. Both a red and white producing appellation, St. Joseph wines are generally made in a lighter style, for earlier consumption, and lean towards fruitier flavors with softer tannins. In 1971, a decision to expand the appellation allowed for new plantings and experimentation, leading to a larger array of wines available from the area.

JL Chave Saint Joseph Blanc ‘Celeste’ 2010 ($31.95) $24 special
Wine Spectator 92 points 
“This has a lovely, creamy mouthfeel, with very enticing blood orange, creamed peach, Cavaillon melon and sweetened butter notes. The long, dacquoise-framed finish glides beautifully. Drink now through 2014”

Faury Saint Joseph 2009 ($39.95) $29.90 special 28 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 90 points
 “Bright ruby.  Aromas of red berries, cherry and Asian spices, with a smoky topnote.  Juicy and precise, offering tangy black raspberry and violet pastille flavors and a late note of licorice.  Shows very good clarity and cut on the finish, with the spicy note repeating.  This seamless, elegant wine is drinking very well right now.”

JL Chave Saint Joseph Rouge 2010 ($79.95) $69 special  17 bottles available
Wine Spectator 94 point
 “ Very solid, with the dark briary grip of the vintage carrying layers of fig, blackberry and plum fruit. An iron hint lurks in the background while the finish gets lift from bay and roasted alder notes.”

JL Chave Saint Joseph Rouge ‘Offerus’ 2009 ($34.95) $28 special
Stephen Tanzer 90 points 
“Opaque purple.  Classic syrah aromas of cassis, cherry pit, olive and violet, with smoke and cracked pepper accents.  Juicy and sharply focused, with deep but vivacious dark berry and bitter cherry flavors.  Clings impressively on the finish, leaving behind notes of candied flowers and spices.  As usual, this is a great introduction to Jean-Louis Chave’s winemaking style at an easy price.”

Andre Perret Saint Joseph Les Gresieres 2010 ($59.95) $49 special 5 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 93 points
 “The 2010 St.-Joseph Les Grisieres is brilliant. A spectacular wine, it boasts a dense ruby/purple color as well as an exceptional bouquet of lead pencil shavings, black currants and black cherries. It is a fuller-bodied, denser, richer cuvee produced from Perret’s finest parcels. The wine has sweet enough tannin to be consumed now, or cellared for 10-12 years.”

Faury Saint Joseph 2009 ($49.95) $39.90 special 28 bottles remaining
Stephen Tanzer 90 points
 “Bright ruby.  Aromas of red berries, cherry and Asian spices, with a smoky topnote.  Juicy and precise, offering tangy black raspberry and violet pastille flavors and a late note of licorice.  Shows very good clarity and cut on the finish, with the spicy note repeating.  This seamless, elegant wine is drinking very well right now.”

Alain Voge Saint Joseph 2010 ($39.95) $31.90 special 28 bottles remaining
Wine Spectator 93 points
 “Rather bold, with roasted fig and warm boysenberry confiture liberally layered with charcoal, roasted mesquite, anise and ganache. Almost heady, but the grip is there, with a smoldering charcoal note that holds the finish together. Best from 2014 through 2022.”



HermitageChapoutier’s vineyard in the rolling Hermitage hills


Hermitage, on the left bank above the Rhone, takes its name from the hill of Hermitage above the town of Tain. A famously historic wine-producing area, some of the best wines in the world are being produced in Hermitage. The rouge is 100% Syrah. Deep, dark and serious, these wines are strapping and tannic in youth, developing complexity as they age over 20 years or more. White Hermitage is also produced, from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, and many consider the blanc to be the greatest white wine outside of Burgundy.  In and around Tain are a bevy of gifted and determined winemakers, the larger houses of Chapoutier and Delas, and smaller family domaines such as superstar JL Chave. 

Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc Chante Alouette 2006 ($119.95) $89 special 12 bottles remaining
Wine Spectator 95 points 
“Really lush, with chamomile, sweet butter, macadamia nut, citrus peel and yellow apple flavors that pump through the rich, layered finish, where hints of fig and green tea echo. Very accessible now, but there’s also purity and balance for aging. Drink now through 2020.”

Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc Chante Alouette 2010 ($119.95) $85 special 12 bottles remaining
Wine Spectator 95 points
 “Lush and inviting, but also invigorating as the tropical papaya and mango notes are enlivened with extra quince and green fig flavors. A yellow apple skin edge and a salted butter note add more length and definition on the finish. Best from 2013 through 2023. 112 cases imported”

JL Chave Hermitage Blanc 2009 ($299.95) $249 special
Robert Parker 99 points 
“The bottled 2009 Hermitage Blanc is one of the greatest whites ever made chez Chave, and that’s saying something given Chave’s track record. This spectacular wine, normally a blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne, exhibits layers of concentration, superb acidity and minerality, laser-like focus, and plenty of quince, white currant, citrus oil, honeysuckle, anise, white peach and apricot marmalade notes. This significant, full-bodied, dry white Hermitage should age for 30-50 years. However, given the vintage’s flamboyance, it will be drinkable early in life.”

JL Chave Hermitage Blanc 2010 ($299.95) $249 special here now 9 bottles available
Wine Spectator 99 points 
“Ripe and unctuous, showing terrific cut, with heather, white peach, green almond, Anjou pear, persimmon and macadamia nut notes, all framed by a toasted brioche hint. Exquisitely detailed through the finish, this shows salted butter and chamomile details. Remains refined, focused and pure, despite the obvious power”

JL Chave Hermitage Rouge 2008 ($249.95) $149 super special  12 bottles available
JL Chave Hermitage Rouge 2008 1.5L ($499.95) $319 super special  7 magnums available
Wine Spectator 94 points 
 “This is suave, with a smoldering tobacco note running from start to finish, while truffle, cocoa, braised fig and warm black currant confiture notes fill in the remaining space. Dense, but very silky along the edges, with remarkable harmony for the vintage.”

JL Chave Hermitage Rouge 2010 ($499.95) $399 special 13 bottles available
Robert Parker 100 points
 “Pure perfection, the 2010 Hermitage reminds Jean-Louis Chave of their 1990. It appears to be a richer, fresher example of what I remember the 1990 tasting like in 1992. The wine exhibits an opaque purple color along with an extraordinary bouquet of sweet blackberry fruit intermixed with creme de cassis, lead pencil shavings, acacia flowers, bouquet garni, meat and crushed rocks. Full-bodied and stunningly rich with laser-like precision, this is a powerful, massive yet exceptionally well-balanced wine that should be forgotten for a decade and drunk over the following 30-40 years.”

JL Chave Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin 2009 ($4199.95) $3799 special  1 bottle available
Robert Parker 100 points 
“Last year I gave the 2009 Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin a three-digit rating, but it was nice to be able to re-taste it since it is largely impossible to find in the marketplace. Essentially 100% fruit from Les Bessards, this cuvee is only made in vintages where it will not compromise the integrity and quality of their standard Hermitage (although there is nothing standard about it). The Cuvee Cathelin sees more oak than its sibling, enjoys 50-75 years of aging potential, and boasts over-the-top blackberry and cassis fruit notes intertwined with pen ink, spring flower, graphite and subtle vanillin characteristics. It is a brilliant wine that almost defies description given its ethereal complexity allied to massive weight, power and richness. Yet, it never comes across as heavy or overly-extracted. Forget this for another decade and you and your progeny can enjoy it over the following 50-75 years. I have had the privilege of tasting at this brilliant family-owned estate for over 30 years. During that time, I have seen first-hand the glory of a true evolution from father Gerard Chave to his son, Jean-Louis, and of course, the Chave family has been doing this since 1472. It is one of those small but world-class wine enterprises that is truly inspiring”

Delas Freres Hermitage Les Bessards 2009 ($399.95) $299 special 3 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 100 points
 “The most prodigious wine I have yet tasted from the Delas portfolio is the brilliant 2009 Hermitage Les Bessards. Its inky/purple color is followed by abundant notes of acacia flowers, blackberries, black currants, new saddle leather, roasted meats and graphite, amazing concentration, a skyscraper-like texture, supple but significant tannin and low acidity. The result is a perfect example of Syrah from this great vineyard site in Hermitage. It will offer immense pleasure for 40+ years.”

Delas Freres Hermitage Les Bessards 2010 ($299.95) $249 special 11 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 100 points
 “The uber-impressive 2010 Hermitage Les Bessards ranks alongside the perfect 2009. The strikingly intense powdered stone/granite minerality is apparent in this wine of great intensity, prodigious, almost skyscraper-like texture, massive body and high tannins. It is only for true connoisseurs who have a cold cellar as well as the patience to wait a minimum of a decade for it to round into drinking form. Filled with potential, it is one of the single greatest Hermitages I have ever tasted. There is no hint of its 100% new oak aging! “

Delas Freres Hermitage Tourettes 2009 ($149.95) $99 super special 33 bottles remaining
Delas Freres Hermitage Tourettes 2009 1.5L  ($299.95) $219 super special  11 magnums  remaining
Robert Parker 98 points
 “The magnificent 2009 Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes boasts a black/purple color as well as a wonderful nose of creosote, incense, charcoal, blackberry jam, acacia flowers, white chocolate and a hint of espresso roast. Full-bodied and unctuously textured with low acidity and magnificent density, this 2009 can be drunk in 5-6 years or cellared for 30-50 years.”

Delas Freres Hermitage Tourettes 2010 ($149.95) $99 super special  26 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 96 points
 “One of the finest Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes I have ever tasted is the 2010, which comes close to rivaling their prodigious 2009. A wine of great intensity, it possesses an inky/purple color, plenty of creme de cassis, licorice, lead pencil shavings, camphor, flint and barbecue smoke characteristics, and a thickness and viscosity that eclipse that of the 2009. Full-bodied and powerful with sweet tannins, a striking floral/mineral component in the mid-palate, and a huge, massive finish, this brilliant Hermitage should be consumed between 2018-2035.”

Chapoutier Ermitage Rouge  l’Ermite 2005 ($399.95) $349 special 6 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 99 points
 “Lastly, from the very dome of the granite hill of Ermitage is the 2005 Ermitage l’Ermite. An extraordinarily powerful wine that probably needs 10-15 years in the bottle (last year I thought 20 was probably conservative), this is a 100-year wine and probably best appreciated by our descendants rather than anyone currently over the age of 30. Dense purple to the rim, with notes of crushed rock, charcoal, roasted meats, and enormous quantities of blue and black fruits, this wine is almost painfully rich and thick, with mouthsearing levels of tannin and zesty acidity. Monumental!”

Chapoutier Ermitage Rouge Le Meal 2010 ($349.95) $299 special 12 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 99 points
 “From the warmest site of these three vineyards, the 2010 Ermitage Le Meal has sweet creme de cassis, blackberry, bacon fat and a meaty, bloody steak component to its richness. It has good acidity, but is clearly the most voluptuous and succulent of this quartet of monumental wines from one of the greatest appellations for wine in the world, Hermitage. This wine needs a good decade of cellaring and should continue to evolve for 40-50+ years.”

Chapoutier Hermitage Rouge Sizerannes 2004 ($99.95) $69 super special 24 bottles remaining
Wine Spectator 91 points
 “Dark red. Wild, funky, game- and earth-accented dark fruit aromas, with strong iron and graphite components. Packed with bitter cherry and dark berry skin flavors, plus deeper espresso and dark chocolate notes. Finishes with powerful tannins and real grip, suggesting that this serious, structured Hermitage needs to be left alone for some time.” 

Chapoutier Hermitage Rouge Sizerannes 2007 ($119.95) $99 special 20 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 90-93 points
 “The 2007 Ermitage La Sizeranne displays a similar deep ruby/purple-tinged color in addition to sweet aromas of raspberries, black currants, smoke, gun flint, and spice. This full-bodied, well-made wine reveals outstanding richness, purity, and overall balance. Consume it over the next 15-20 years.”

Colombier Hermitage Rouge 2009 ($89.95) $59 super special 32 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 94 points
 “There is not much of it, but the 2009 Hermitage is sensational. Abundant aromas of blackberry fruit, white chocolate, espresso roast and acacia flowers jump from the glass of this opulent, full-bodied, powerful Hermitage. With great intensity as well as silky tannins, this chewy, thick, well-endowed wine should evolve for 20-25+ years.”


The gently sloping Southern hillsides of Crozes-Hermitage (left) and Cornas (right)



Crozes Hermitage is the largest of all the northern appellations of Côtes du Rhône, producing more than half of all the wine made in Northern Rhone. The vineyards lay in the flatter land around Hermitage, where the soil is richer and easier to work with. Crozes Hermitage wines are less robust then Hermitage but are very aromatic and fruity, open to young drinking, and are a great value Syrah from the Rhone.

JL Chave Crozes-Hermitage Rouge ‘Silene’ 2010 ($34.95) $28 special
Stephen Tanzer 92 points
 “Bright ruby.  Heady aromas of blueberry, olive and incense, with a bright mineral topnote.  Elegant, seamless and precise, offering tangy black and blue fruit flavors and a touch of peppery spices.  Finishes with good back-end lift, gentle tannins and lingering sweetness.  Shows a finer grain and more finesse than the Offerus today. “

Domaine Hauts Chassis Crozes-Hermitage 2010 ($24.95) $21.90 special 10 bottles remaining
Wine Spectator 89 points
 “A tightly wound, minerally style, with a strong, chalky spine holding the bitter cherry, plum pit and white pepper notes together. A flash of bay leaf marks the finish, which has nice cut.”



 Cornas is still an underappreciated appellation despite producing very worthy and exciting age-worthy Syrah-based reds. Located at the Southern-most part of Northern Rhone on south-facing hills, Cornas wines are known for an intensity and body similar to those of Hermitage, if lacking some of the finesse, and for the extreme values that come from this underrated appellation. Many winemakers in the area are just beginning to gain worldwide attention, with August Clape at the forefront.

Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas 2007 ($119.95) $99 special 8 bottles remaining
Domaine Auguste Clape Cornas 2007 1.5L ($239.95) $199 special 2 magnums remaining
Wine Spectator 92-94 points
 “Wild, exotically perfumed bouquet of cherry, blackcurrant, olive, insence and minerals.  Then surprisingly lithe, with tangy red fruit flavors, silky texture and very good back-end snap.  Finished with a seductive spiciness and superb clarity. No excess fat here.”

Alain Voge Cornas Chailles 2010 ($49.95) $41.90 special 37 bottles remaining
Robert Parker 95 points
 “The opaque purple-colored 2010 Cornas Les Chailles offers up scents of smoked game and charcoal, a full-bodied mouthfeel, supple tannins and pedal-to-the metal richness and density. Already drinkable, it has at least 15 years of aging potential. One of the superstars of Cornas is Domaine Alain Voge. In the top vintages, three cuvees are made, but in most years only two are produced, Vieilles Vignes and Les Chailles, from Voge’s 15 plus acres of Syrah planted on the decomposed granite slopes of Cornas…The three 2010 Cornas represent the pinnacle of Voge’s winemaking. They are the finest wines I have yet tasted from this estate (and I’ve been tasting their wines since the late seventies).”