Robert Parker Wines of the Rhone Valley

ISBN 13: 9780751310948

Wines of the Rhone Valley

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9780751310948: Wines of the Rhone Valley

In the precursor to this book, "The Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence", first published in 1987, Robert Parker began a campaign to share with the wine consumer the wealth of wines to be found from this under-appreciated region. He believes that the finest wines of the Rhone Valley rival the greatest first-growths of Bordeaux and the grand crus of Burgundy. Although wine has been produced in the Rhone Valley for 2000 years, and many of today's wines come from the oldest vineyards in France, in recent centuries these wines have been misunderstood, ignored and consequently undervalued. In this revised edition of "Wines of the Rhone Valley", updated and greatly expanded to reflect changes in the region, new personalities and the latest vintages, Parker provides the key to enjoying the winemaking world's best-kept secret. The book is divided into two main sections - the lush valleys of the northern Rhone and the sunbaked hillsides of the southern - profiling each appellation. A handy summary box provides information at a glance, including types of wines produced, grape varieties planted and number of acres under vine. The price range of the wines is listed, along with an assessment of their quality and ageing potential. The description of each appellation that follows - its history and personalities, successes and failures - is accompanied by a rating of recent and older vintages using Parker's 50-100 point scale. He provides his classification of the growers of each appellation, explaining how the wines are vinified and bottled and advising how long to cellar and when to serve the wines. He also provides guidelines on what a visitor travelling in the Rhone Valley can expect to pay for a meal as well as recommending restaurants and lodgings. This is a resource for every wine lover, highlighting both the greatest wines of the Rhone Valley and the region's finest wine values.

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About the Author:

Robert M. Parker, Jr., is the author and publisher of The Wine Advocate. His nine previous wine books include Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Parker lives in the rural countryside of Maryland with his wife, Patricia, and daughter, Maia. His English bull dog, George, and his basset hound, Clara, are never far from his side.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

CôTE RôTIE

One of France's Most Historic and Greatest Red Wines

CôTE RôTIE AT A GLANCE

Appellation creation: October 18, 1940.
Type of wine produced: Red wine only.
Grape varieties authorized: Syrah and Viognier (up to 20% Viognier can be added, but as a rule few producers utilize more than 5% in their wines).
Total surface area: 497 acres.
Quality level: At least good; at best exceptional; among the finest red wines in the world.
Aging potential: The finest age 5-30 years.
General characteristics: Fleshy, rich, very fragrant, smoky, full-bodied, stunning wines.
Greatest recent vintages: 1995, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1985, 1983, 1978, 1976, 1969.
Price range: $30-$50, except for Guigal's and Chapoutier's single vineyard and/or luxury cuvees, which cost $150 or more.
Aromatic profile: These intensely fragrant wines offer compelling bouquets showcasing scents and flavors of cassis, black raspberries, smoke, bacon fat, violets, olives, and grilled meats. For wines where a healthy dosage of new oak casks are employed, add vanillin, toast, and pain grillé aromas.

CôTE RôTIE

Textural profile: These are elegant yet authoritatively powerful wines that are often chewy and deep. They are usually medium- to full-bodied, with surprisingly good acid levels for such ripeness and power. Tannin levels are usually moderate.

The Côte Rôtie appellation's most profound wines:
Chapoutier La Mordorée
Domaine Clusel-Roch Les Grandes Places
Gentaz-Dervieux
Jean-Michel Gérin Les Grandes Places
Guigal Château D'Ampuis
Guigal La Landonne
Guigal La Mouline
Guigal La Turque
Jean-Paul et Jean-Luc Jamet
René Rostaing Côte Blonde
René Rostaing Côte Brune La Landonne
L. de Vallouit Les Roziers
Vidal-Fleury La Chatillonne

RATING THE CôTE RôTIE PRODUCERS

*****(OUTSTANDING)

Chapoutier (La Mordoree)
Domaine Clusel-Roch (Les Grandes Places)
Marius Gentaz-Dervieux
Guigal (Chateau D'Ampuis)
Guigal (La Landonne)
Guigal (La Mouline)
Guigal (La Turque)
Jean-Paul et Jean-Luc Jamet
René Rostaing (Côte Blonde)
René Rostaing (Côte Brune La Landonne)
L. de Vallouit (Les Roziers)
Vidal-Fleury (La Chatillonne)

****(EXCELLENT)

Bernard Burgaud
Domaine Clusel-Roch (other cuvées)
Henri Gallet
Vincent Gasse
Jean-Michel Gérin (Les Grandes Places)
Guigal (Côtes Brune et Blonde)
Michel Ogier
René Rostaing (regular cuvée)
René Rostaing (Côte Brune La Viaillère) (since 1991)
Vidal-Fleury (Côte Brune et Blonde)

***(GOOD)

Gilles Barge (including Pierre Barge)
Guy et Frédéric Bernard
Gérard Bonnefond
Domaine de Bonserine (Domaine de la Rousse)
Emile Champet
Joel Champet (La Viaillère)
Chapoutier (regular cuvée)
Domaine Clusel-Roch (regular cuvée)
Delas Frères (Les Seigneurs de Maugiron)
Albert Dervieux-Thaize
Yves Gangloff
Jean-Michel Gérin (Champin de Seigneur)
Paul Jaboulet-Ainé (Les Jumelles)
Robert Jasmin (***/****)
Lyliane Saugère

Côte Rôties have become among the most fashionable and popular wines of the Rhône Valley. Whether it is the extraordinary, sometimes explosive perfume often consisting of cassis, raspberries, olives, fried bacon fat, and smoke, or the cascade of velvety, berry-flavored fruit flavors, Côte Rôtie is an undeniably seductive, voluptuous wine that one needs little experience to appreciate.

The first view one has of Côte Rôtie (literally translated, "the roasted hillside"), which sits on the western bank of the Rhône with a perfect southeasterly exposure, is unforgettable. Just 20 minutes by car south of Lyons is the tiny, rather drab town of Ampuis. Looming over the town are the precipitously steep terraced slopes (a 55° gradient in some spots) of Côte Rôtie. Except for some vineyards in Banyuls and along the Mosel River, there are none in Europe that appear so vertical and formidable as those of Côte Rôtie. Cultivated entirely by hand, the narrow terraces of vines and difficult footing have made the use of machines impossible. In many places even oxen and horses are useless. Undoubtedly, the huge expense of human labor has caused many a less hearty grower and winemaker to look elsewhere for a career in winemaking.

Côte Rôtie, the most northern of the Rhône Valley's appellation, has a remarkably long history and, of course, the usual legends surrounding the established facts. One school of thought attributes the origin of these vineyards to the ancient Greeks, claiming they introduced viticulture to Côte Rôtie in the sixth century B.C. This line of thought has its critics who claim it was the Romans, in the first century, who built the network of terraces and planted vines on these steep hillsides. It is this latter theory that seems more plausible, given the fact that Vienne is a Roman center. Vienne, only five miles away, is still a hallowed site for Roman ruins, particularly the temples of Livia and Augustus, believed to have been constructed 100 years before Christ's birth. Whichever theory is true, it seems doubtful that the look of Côte Rôtie's hillside vineyards has changed much over the last 2,000 years. There can be no doubt, however, that the size of the area under vine has increased, and will continue to do so given the great demand for this wine and the higher and higher prices Côte Rôtie can command. Côte Rôtie's current-day popularity began in the late seventies, benefiting enormously from the world's increased interest in fine wine. But this was not always the case.

Côte Rôtie's fame was such that in the eighteenth century Thomas Jefferson visited the region, describing the vineyards of Côte Rôtie as "a string of broken hills extending a league on the river from the village of Ampuis to the town of Condrieux." Moreover, Jefferson apparently admired the wines enough to consummate a purchase. In 1787 he wrote, "There is a quality which keeps well, bears transportation and that cannot be drunk under four years." Jefferson went on to buy Côte Rôtie, having it bottled and put in wooden cases for shipment to his home in Paris.

About 100 years later, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, the phylloxera epidemic devastated Côte Rôtie, as it did nearly every major viticultural region of France. Following the phylloxera came two world wars sandwiched around the century's worst economic crisis, the Great Depression of 1929. These events seemed to further push this backwoods, miniature viticultural region to the brink of extinction. As Marius Gentaz-Dervieux once told me, it was easier to make a living growing apricots in the post-World War II era than it was to grow grapes.

However, the world's growing interest in wine, and the higher prices demanded by France's best products began to benefit the Côte Rôtie growers. But it was the labors of one Côte Rôtie producer, Etienne Guigal, and the praise these wines received, that seemed to awaken an entire wine world to the realization that France produced great wines other than those from Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. The ascendency of the house of Guigal, which coincided with the early eighties' explosive interest in fine wine, has continued uninterrupted. While all the attention lavished on Guigal at first met with predictable jealousy from other Côte Rôtie producers, those raw emotions have been replaced with respect and admiration as foreigners from around the world can now be spotted on the streets of the one-horse village of Ampuis.

The growing enthusiasm for the wines of Côte Rôtie is attested to by the fact that the acreage under vine has increased in the last 37 years from 121 acres to nearly 500. Production has doubled from just over 40,000 cases of wine in 1987 (when the first edition of this book was published) to nearly 80,000 cases in 1995 (still far less than several châteaux from Bordeaux's famed Médoc region). This includes all of the hillside vineyards and a burgeoning, even alarming, number of new vineyards above the hills on the plateau behind the town of Ampuis. Much of the plateau is officially within the Côte Rôtie appellation boundaries, and expansion will no doubt continue in these less desirable spots. While wine produced from the plateau can be very good, it will never be as majestic as that from the slopes of Côte Rôtie. For example, the plateau vineyards yield 15-30% more juice than those from the hillsides, the density of vines per acre is much lower, and the plateau vineyards do not enjoy the near perfect south/southeasterly exposure to the sun that the hillside vineyards possess.

With respect to the hillsides, there are two of them, one called the Côte Blonde, and the other the Côte Brune. From a surface perspective, the Côte Brune is significantly larger. Both are frighteningly steep (they are almost 1,000 feet in height and have a gradient of 30-55 degrees) as well as stunningly photogenic. In addition to the sheer precipitousness of these vineyards, the old Roman terraces that snake horizontally, and sometimes vertically, across these slopes, are a majestic sight. On each terrace, the vertical pruning system, with each vine specially trained by the Guyot method, makes for additional beauty. (Guyot was a respected nineteenth-century scientist who specialized in vine growing.) Each vine must be held into these narrow escarpments by vertical stakes that cannot be driven into the rocky ground without punishing labor. When standing on one of the terraces, looking down over the slope, the impression is that should one fall off, there is a high probability of being impaled by the vertical trellising system on a lower terrace. Despite the justifiable concern about the explosion of new vineyard planting on the plateau, a young generation of growers dedicated to reclaiming more of the hillside vineyards, aided by new technology and small, powerful bulldozers, has actually led to reclamations of some of the very steep hillside slopes. In fact, more than one grower told me that most of the new planting being done in 1996 constitutes the rediscovery and resurrection of hillside slopes, rather than additional plantings on the plateau.

Local legend gets credit for giving the two slopes, the Côte Blonde and Côte Brune, their names. According to history, a feudal landlord named Lord Maugiron bequeathed these hillsides to his two daughters, one with golden blond hair and the other with dark brown. Visitors to Côte Rôtie will not find a marker dividing the line between the two hillsides, but it begins just south of a small Rhône Valley tributary, Ruisseau de Reynard, that can be spotted in the southern part of Ampuis, not far from the Guigal cellars. Certainly the soil composition of each slope is different, and the type of wine produced is profoundly marked by the dissimilar soils. The Côte Brune, the northernmost slope, has more clay and iron, the Côte Blonde more sand, granulite, and limestone. How this affects the resulting wines is usually quite obvious.

As a rule, the wines from the Côte Brune are darker in color, noticeably tannic, with more power and obvious weight. They are usually less flattering to drink in their youth, leading most observers to claim they are Côte Rôtie's longest-lived wines. The wines from the Côte Blonde are less tannic, more perfumed and fragrant, round, supple, and more easily approached when young. Côte Rôtie's appellation laws permit the use of up to 20% Viognier, the fragrant white wine grape that has made Côte Rôtie's closest vinous neighbor, the appellation of Condrieu, world famous. Virtually all of the Viognier planted in Côte Rôtie is on the Côte Blonde. This grape does not flourish in the heavy clay-and-iron-based soils of the Côte Brune. Few winemakers at Côte Rôtie use more than 5-10% in their blends, but those that do all concur that Viognier gives considerable finesse and distinction to the already majestic bouquet of a Côte Rôtie. Moreover, it adds velvet to the wine's texture. One hundred percent Syrah, the only varietal authorized in the northern Rhône, is the uncontested preference of most winemakers. Clearly the modern-day trend has been to reduce the amount of Viognier in the wine, opting instead for wines that for all intents and purposes are 100% Syrah.

The two hillsides consist of increasingly famous vineyard sites as well as equally renowned lieux-dits, or place names. There are nearly five dozen officially recognized vineyards or lieux-dits. On the Côte Blonde, the most famous vineyards are La Mouline (owned exclusively by the Guigal family), La Chatillonne (marketed under the name of Vidal-Fleury but owned by Guigal), La Garde (managed by René Rostaing), and Le Clos. On the Côte Brune, the names La Viaillère (partially owned by Dervieux-Thaize and managed by René Rostaing), La Landonne (Guigal and Rostaing are its most prominent proprietors), La Chevalière (owned by several growers, most notably Jasmin), La Turque (a Guigal vineyard), and Les Grandes Places (Clusel-Roch and J. M. Gérin designate their top wines with this vineyard's name) can all be found on bottles of Côte Rôtie. Other vineyards of Côte Rôtie include La Viria, Le Truchet, Les Triottes, Tharamon de Gron, Les Sévenières, Rosier, Les Rochains, Les Prunelles, La Pommière, Le Pavilion Rouge, Nève, Les Moutonnes, Le Moulin, Montuclos, Montmain, Le Mollar, Les Lézardes, Lancement, Les Journaries, Janville, La Guillambaude, La Balaiyat, Le Grand Taille, La Garelle, La Giroflavie, Les Germines, Les Gagères, La Fuzonne, Le Fourvier, Le Cret, La Côte Baudin, Corps des Loups, Combe de Calon, Le Combart, Le Cognet, Chez Guerard, Chez Gaboulet, Le Chavaroches, Chambretout, Le Car, La Brocarde, Les Bannevières, La Blanchonne, Bassemon, and Les Arches. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Côte Rôties on the market will not be designated by the name of a vineyard, but simply "Côte Rôtie" or "Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde," the former referring to the fact that the wine is made from a blend of grapes from the plateau, plateau/hillside, and the latter, a wine produced exclusively from hillside vineyards.

For the last decade, the production of high-quality Côte Rôtie has been dominated by the Guigal family, who has increased their vineyard holdings and taken the quality of winemaking to the highest possible level. Their winemaking philosophy has also had a profound influence on other growers, some of whom remain vociferous in their criticism of the Guigals' introduction of new oak barrels to age Côte Rôties, and of their concept of vineyard-designated, luxury-priced Côte Rôties. Despite some philosophical disagreements of how Côte Rôtie is to be made and aged, there is no question that the overall quality of winemaking in this tiny appellation is extremely high. Guigal does indeed produce the appellation's most glamorous wines, but superb Côte Rôtie is also made by others (see my classification of producers).

There appear to be three distinct styles favored by Côte Rôtie producers. I have labeled them traditionalists, liberators, and revolutionaries. Traditionalists are resistant to changing the way things have been done, and continue to produce Côte Rôtie the way it was made 50-10...

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Parker, Robert
Editorial: DK (1997)
ISBN 10: 0751310948 ISBN 13: 9780751310948
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