Full Pull Southern Hinterland of the Northern Rhone

Hello friends. I’d say that about 95% of the time, my buying for Full Pull is rational, thought-out, cold-blooded. And then there are the exceptions, where I taste something remarkable enough that I freak out, buy all the wine available, and then do the research scramble to understand why the wine is as good as it is.

In this case, it was a wine that smelled like Cornas-meets-Cote-Rotie, at a price that would allow us to offer for $20. I didn’t hesitate. But even still, we didn’t quite end up with all of it. Apparently, right as I was tasting this wine, my colleagues at Pike & Western were also trying it, also loving it. We ended up splitting the Seattle allocation. My understanding is that most of their stash is going into their club shipments, but if we end up sold out, it might be worth a phone call to P&W if you’re interested in alternative access points for this wine.

2013 Charles Helfenbein Brezeme (Cotes du Rhone)  

So, Brezeme, the little Rhone appellation that could. As you can see on this lovely little Rhone map, Brezeme takes up the northwest quadrant of the corner formed by the intersection of the Rhone and Drome rivers. That basically makes Brezeme the southern hinterland of the Northern Rhone.

The vaaaaaaast majority of wines labeled Cotes du Rhone come from the Southern Rhone, and are predominantly Grenache. Brezeme CdR is in the Northern Rhone, and so this bottle is 100% Syrah. And in fact, I suspect at some point in the next decade or two, Brezeme will drop the CdR and will just become Brezeme AOC (reading a series of French websites garble-translated through Google Translate leads me to believe this, so take that with a grain of salt).

The wonderful Eric Texier (whose wines we have offered in the past) is the most prominent producer putting Brezeme in bottle. Think of him as the established player, and Charles Helfenbein as the young whippersnapper (a nice review from Eric Asimov in the New York Times back in 2013 helped on the buzz front). Helfenbein generally picks a few weeks after Texier, so his Syrahs are a bit riper, a bit more approachable in their youth.

As far as I can tell, up until this year, there was only one importer bringing in Helfenbein. They were New York based, and so the only places to purchase the wines were excellent shops like Chambers Street and Astor. For what it’s worth, when I’ve seen east coast parcels of this wine, I’ve always seen it at $24 or above, and usually closer to $28. Fortunately, we now have a direct-import partner bringing this wine straight to Seattle, which helps explain why our pricing today is so competitive.

Of course, I would argue that even at $28, this is undervalued wine. It’s only because nobody has heard of Brezeme, and because it still has the price-dampening Cotes du Rhone on the label, that this wine costs what it does. If Brezeme becomes its own AOC, I fully expect pricing to look more like Cornas soon after. But that’s another story for another day. Today we can glory in funky Northern Rhone Syrah for twenty bucks. Raised in big 400-liter oak casks (mostly neutral, some new) for 18 months, this offers a legit Northern nose: smoky peppered bacon, iodine sea funk, black fruit, flowers. Glorious, savory, and devilishly complex. Bright, juicy, and above all else earthy in the mouth, this drinks like Syrah carved out of a slab of granite. The last line in my note says “buy all of this!” I tried.

Please limit order requests to 3 bottles (sorry; the parcel imported to Seattle just wasn’t that big), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine is in the warehouse and ready for immediate pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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