Focus on the Northern Rhone

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As the 2014 En Primeur campaign has now come to a close, our focus at FINE+RARE has shifted to the Northern Rhône. An as yet undiscovered region for many, this small vineyard area (just 5% of the entire Rhône Valley’s overall output) undoubtedly produces some of the greatest and most singular wines found anywhere on the fine wine landscape.

For those in the know, these wines are stalwarts of the cellar – the famous names of Chapoutier, Chave, Guigal and single vineyard wines like La Mouline in Côte Rôtie and Le Meal in Hermitage. For some fine wine buyers perhaps, this can be considered an exciting but unknown region where wines may be too heavy, too big, too structured.  We can confirm that at the highest level, this is not the case – the wines are rich, polished, finessed and extremely long lived. This is a top wine region that deserves closer attention (alongside a sizeable chunk of the cellar!)

In contrast with the Mediterranean South, the climate in the North is continental; cool winters and hot summers. The Mistral wind stream concentrates and dries the grapes. Syrah is the dominant red grape variety, used almost exclusively in the reds with the occasional splash of the white Viognier in some Côte Rôties. White wines are often a blend of the rich and unctuous Marsanne and the slightly lighter Roussanne creating fine wines of intensity, richness and real longevity.

Steep granite slopes and terraced vineyards are a hallmark of the best sites in Côte Rôtie and Hermitage. Soil erosion can be a problem but the raised altitude improves the soil drainage and maximises sun exposure meaning the grapes on these sites gain some serious concentration and complexity. Significant differences in diurnal temperatures – between day and night – protects acidity and freshness in the grapes. The results, at this level, are quite often staggering.

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To realign our palates following on from a year to date packed with Brunello, Barolo, Burgundy and Bordeaux, we opened up a selection of bottles from the region’s greats and were seriously impressed with what we found. One of the most enjoyable fine wine workshops of the year so far.

Steve McNeill & Craig Norton
Private Client Sales 

The Blanc
2005 Ermitage Blanc Le Meal, Chapoutier
97 points F+R

“There aren’t too many wines in the world that can do what Michel Chapoutier’s white Hermitage can do. At 10 years old, this wine feels like it’s just starting to warm up, with a core of intense apricots, quince and honey that is starting to develop nicely with a waxy edge and savoury white pepper. Full on, powerful and rich and quite outstanding, this is one for the ages.” F+R

The Newcomer
2009 Cornas, Auguste Clape
95+ points F+R

“An impressive start, this is a show off wine, with intense colour, a pronounced dark fruit nose and a palate that is smoky, intense and a little meaty. Melded together nicely and well balanced, this is going to keep on giving for easily another 15-20 years.” F+R

The Face Off
1995 Côte Rôtie, Cote Blonde, Rene Rostaing
94 points F+R

“Slightly muted on the nose and this is showing some very nice development. More restrained and with less make up that the Guigal, this is a terroir wine. Now mature, this shows tobacco, sweet oak and black olives, is superbly balanced and shows the Cote Rotie’s slightly feminine style really well.” F+R

1995 Côte Rôtie La Mouline, Etienne Guigal
97 points F+R

“A head turner, a Bond girl, Guigal’s interpretation of Cote Rotie is a powerful and intense proposition. This has the core of colour, dark fruit and sweet spices but with real complexity of smoke, game, meat and cigar box. Cashmere textured and drinking beautifully, but still with plenty of life, we would expect nothing less from such a legendary wine. Buy as much as you can find!” F+R

The Museum Piece
1983 Hermitage Rouge, Jean-Louis Chave
97 points F+R

“Perfectly mature and the first across the line – this has everything you can want from a Hermitage of legendary renown at 32 years of age. Fully mature and medium bodied, the backbone of class runs through this. Extreme complexity, raisined berries, tobacco leaf, mint and spice, this is a showstopper now and an absolute pleasure.” F+R