Full Pull Northern Rhone

Hello friends. Neal Rosenthal is one of the finest importers working in the United States, and has been for many years now (he launched his business in the late 1970s). Here is how he describes the Rosenthal import philosophy: Wine is an agricultural product, and in its best and purest form wine must reflect a specific sense of place. We share the goal of communicating this concept to a growing audience by presenting the finest examples of wine made in the classical western European tradition.

We haven’t worked much with his book, but it has purely been a supply issue. The amounts that come into Seattle tend to be in like the one-to-ten case range: great for restaurants; not so effective for our purposes. We’ve decided to solve this problem by special-ordering direct from Rosenthal in New York. The only downside is a little longer arrival time than normal (these wines should arrive in early December), but the upside is that we get to explore Rosenthal’s glorious northern Rhone book during a time of year perfect for trying these wines:

2015 Yves Cuilleron Roussanne Les Vignes d’a Cote

Excerpts from Rosenthal’s description of the winery: The Cuilleron family domaine, located in the hamlet of Verlieu (part of the town of Chavanay) was founded several generations ago (1920). Yves Cuilleron’s grandfather was the first to bottle wine for commercial purposes in 1947. Antoine Cuilleron, the uncle and immediate predecessor of Yves, assumed control of the domaine in 1960 and significantly increased the percentage of wine bottled at the estate and extended the scope of the domaine. Yves assumed full ownership and direction of the domaine in 1987 and, since that time, has built an entirely new facility while at the same time acquiring additional vineyard property.

The Roussanne is sourced from vineyards in Chavanay and in St. Michel sur Rhone, essentially granite-infused soils. The fermentations (alcoholic and malolactic) are done in stainless steel; then, the wine is racked into a mix of barrels and stainless steel cuves for a six-month elevage before bottling.

This clocks in at 14% listed alc and begins with a nose combining nectarine, marzipan, and chalky mineral. It’s an intense, palate-staining white; a white for red-wine lovers. The fleshy stone fruit is offset by pleasing nutty tones and a bright acid-mineral spine.

Wine Spectator (James Molesworth): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

2012 Domaine Lionnet Cornas Terre Brulee

Excerpts from Rosenthal’s description of the winery: Appellations like Cornas and Hermitage are very small in area and there are very few growers of exceptional quality. I turned to our grower of Cote Rotie in Ampuis, Bernard Levet, and asked him to help in the search. Shortly thereafter, Bernard called and referred me to the young Ludovic Izerable, someone whose wines he had tasted recently and whose work mirrored his own: only manual work in the vineyard, long cuvaison and elevage of the Syrah using everything in the grape (yes, those very precious stems are part of the package) and superbly-sited vineyards full of old vines within Cornas. So begins our liaison with the Domaine Lionnet. Ludovic Izerable, a refugee from the Haute Savoie city of Grenoble, married Corinne Lionnet whose family has been growing grapes in the village of Cornas since 1575 (that’s correct … no typo … almost five centuries ago). Corinne took control of the domaine in 2003 when her father, Pierre, retired and she and Ludovic now run the show.

The domaine is quite small, only 2.2 hectares at the moment. The vineyards are organically farmed and are certified as such by “Ecocert”. The vineyards are divided into four separate parcels across four distinct lieu-dits: Mazards, Combes, Chaillot and Brugeres. The vines are all between the ages of 40 and 100 years! Each parcel is harvested separately and vinification is done parcel by parcel as well. The harvest, of course, is manual with a severe selection being done in the vineyard. The cuvaison is long (three weeks) and the fermentation is completely natural: indigenous yeasts and no other materials whatsoever (no albumin, no enzymes, no gelatins … zero!). The grapes are left intact; they are never destemmed. The fermentation occurs in cement vats; then, the wines are racked into large oak barrels (tonneaux and demi-muids). No new oak is used.

After the elevage, the wines are assembled to make a single cuvée known as “Terre Brulée”. The bottling takes place after two winters have passed. All work is done by gravity. The wine is never fined nor is it filtered. There is a single bottling of the entire lot. We have been buying the wines of the Domaine Lionnet since the 2004 vintage. Their Cornas is a true classic: firm, sturdy, rigorously tannic, explosively aromatic, complete and satisfying. We are indebted to Bernard Levet for his wise counsel in leading us to the doorstep of the formidable Domaine Lionnet in Cornas. We have the privilege of purchasing 2400 bottles and 90 magnums per vintage.

This comes roaring up out of the glass with a glorious Cornas nose: smoky minerals, smoky cherries, black walnuts, and an intense meatiness that reminded me of demi-glace. In the mouth, the first thing you notice is the texture. Yes, there is richness and intensity (13.5% listed alc), but there is also something we don’t see much of in new world Syrah: tannin. Those Rosenthal notes about how this is “firm, sturdy, rigorously tannic”? All true. It’s a wine that’s just beginning to relax and unwind, now four years past vintage, but still, this is a robustly structured Syrah, beautiful scaffolding to hold the palate-coating mix of minerals and rich red fruits and meaty savories.

Wine Advocate (Jeb Dunnuck): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

2012 Bernard Levet Cote Rotie La Chavaroche

Excerpts from Rosenthal’s (admittedly lengthy) description of the winery: Nicole Levet’s grandfather first purchased vineyards in Ampuis in 1936 and began making wine immediately thereafter. Initially, he delivered his Cote Rotie in barrels to the city of St. Etienne where he sold it to bistros and cafes for consumption by the miners of that city. In 1966, Nicole’s father, Marius Chambeyron, began to bottle a small portion of the production of the estate. I first encountered Marius Chambeyron in 1982 as I prospected in the region. He was a proud and somewhat brazen man who, despite the tiny size of his estate, proudly painted his name on the rocks that fronted the terraces of his small swath of vineyards as in the manner of the seigneurs of the appellation like Guigal, Delas and Vidal-Fleury. As we were preparing to begin our commercial relationship, Monsieur Chambeyron took ill and we never had the opportunity to bring his wines to the States.

Fortunately, his daughter, Nicole, and her husband, Bernard Levet, were prepared to continue Chambeyron’s life’s work. It was with the formidable 1983 vintage that Bernard Levet took over the wine production as well as the management of the vineyard with Nicole. This exceptional couple has now been responsible for the development of the domaine, increasing the vineyard holdings and expanding the cellar capacity so that they can now bottle their entire production. Nicole and Bernard have now been joined by their daughter, Agnes, who has inherited the love for vineyard work and obsession with detail that are essential parts of her parents’ character.

The Domaine’s current total production is 12,000 to 15,000 bottles annually and is exclusively of the appellation of Cote Rotie. We can proudly say that we have imported the wines of this domaine since that fabled 1983 vintage, never missing a vintage and eagerly accepting our annual allocation. The domaine consists of 3.5 hectares of vineyards, all of which are located within the boundaries of the town of Ampuis and are entitled to the Cote Rotie appellation. The vines are dispersed among six separate parcels. The vineyards are all steeply terraced and must be worked and harvested manually. In my entire experience, I have encountered no one who takes better care nor manages a vineyard with the talent of the Levet family.

The grapes are generally not destemmed before passing through a pneumatic press. The primary fermentation takes place in epoxy lined cuves. There is a long maceration and the cuvaison lasts three weeks. The fermentation temperatures reach 30 degrees centigrade. The malolactic fermentation normally finishes by the end of the year. The wine is then racked into large oak barrels where it spends the remainder of its first year. At the beginning of the second year, the wines are racked into medium-sized barrels (“demi-muid”) 10 – 15% of which are new. In the third year, the wines are racked again and left to complete the barrel aging in a mixture of “demi-muid” and small barrels. The wines are bottled after three years of barrel aging with a light fining and no filtration.

The cuvee that we have imported from the outset (1983 vintage) is from the “Chavaroche” vineyard (Cote Brune/southwest exposure/average age 40 years/1.2 hectare). As explained above, this wine is aged for thirty to thirty-six months prior to bottling. It is, quite simply, a ferocious wine, unique in its uninhibited expression of the smells and flavors of the appellation. No compromise is brooked here. The result is a wine that is controversial, too “wild” for many but, for us, one of the most elite wines in our personal pantheon. We import annually approximately 2400 bottles (a mix of 750mls and magnums).

I’m a huge Levet fan. This is a producer that has stubbornly resisted modern trends (more ripeness, more wood) that, in my opinion, take Cote Rotie away from what makes it so beautiful in the first place. Levet’s is transparent Cote Rotie that revels in traditionalism. I’ve had 5- and 10- and 20-year-old bottles, and each tasting experience has been a total thrill ride. This one begins with a soaring, honest Cote Rotie nose: the full charcuterie plate, wildflowers, miso, huckleberry, sanguine minerality. This region produces such uniquely savory Syrah; there’s just nothing else like it. The lithe (13%) palate nonetheless conveys real, insistent intensity. There’s beautiful inner-mouth perfume here, a fine balance to the smoky meaty funkiness and the long, wild finish.

Vinous (Josh Raynolds): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Please limit order requests to 36 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wines should arrive in early December, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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