Sunday, April 20, 2008

2003 "Tour de Rhône": Cornas, St-Joseph, Rasteau and CDP

I love experimenting with wine, rigorously experimenting with wine. Which leads me to tonight's "Tour de Rhone", a blinded comparison of some top wines from this diverse region - same vintage, four different appellations, three different winemakers, and all at broadly similar price points.

The northern Rhone red wines (Hermitage, Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, St-Joseph) are typically 100% Syrah, and that was the case with tonight's two wines. With sky-high prices for Cote-Rotie and Hermitage I settled for a Cornas and a St-Joseph:

The 2003 Tardieu-Laurent St-Joseph (100% Syrah) was the crowd (but not my) favourite, exuding spicy tea, nuts and new oak on the nose, violets and blackberries as well. Medium-bodied and very dry with crisp fruit (easily the least fruit-forward) and woodsy tannins, I found it a bit "simple" vs. the Cornas and Rasteau and a bit heavy on the oak. 
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$47.25 (SAQ)

Also from the north, the 2003 Delas Freres Cornas Chante-Perdrix (100% Syrah) was a tremendously interesting wine, constantly changing and showing off fresh notes and layers - cherry coke, wildflowers, wet stones, damp forest undergrowth, leather, cloves, caramel and liquorice on the nose - very cool. Liquorice, crisp cherries, wet wood and a minerally palate, really elegant with a very long finish. Probably my favourite (and the most expensive...), put it away for five more years if you can wait.
cork. 13% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$49 (SAQ)

Southern reds are typically blends of grenache, syrah and mourvedre, and that was the case with tonight's Chateauneuf du Pape and a village wine from Rasteau:

The 2003 Tardieu-Laurent Rasteau Côtes du Rhône Villages was anything but a humble village wine. An attractive nose of white pepper, plums, grenadine, white flowers, ferns, vanilla, and coffee. Beautiful on the palate - crisp acidity, dense velvety tannins, gravelly cherry fruit, beautifully textured with great length. A fantastic 'village' wine - maybe it was the 80 year old vines? This is a serious wine (blinded, I thought it was the Cornas).
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 18/20
Price: C$42.75 (SAQ)

Everyone's least favourite, the 2003 Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf du Pape, was all cooked fruit - a cherry/rhubarb pie with cream on top - some floral notes. Decent on the palate, but hard to get over the hot raisiny fruit. Especially disappointing given that it is currently one of my Top 50 cellar picks...A good drink on another night, but not in the presence of these other greats. Drink now.
cork. 14.5% alcohol
Score: 16/20
Price: C$35.25 (SAQ)

Hats off to Tardieu-Laurent for producing elegant, well-structured wines at both ends of the Rhone Valley, and while pricey I think they were great values given the quality inside the bottle. All wines paired very well with marinated lamb chops fresh off the grill. 


Shea said...

Great note! The Rhone Valley is my favourite wine region. I love the rusticness and brambly flavours. I wouldn't fret too much about the CDP - 2003 in the south I find tended to producer weaker and simpler wines. The T-L was probably a great exception - and it better be at that price for a CDR!. I'd also recommend checking out the 2006 Saint Cosme's CDR (or if you can put the money down, their single vineyard Gigondas). I think 2006 will be an amazing vintage for bargins in the southern Rhone Valley.

I also find T-L to be a very reliable producer, although a bit more 'modern'. If you want a more classic Cornas try to seek out Auguste Clape. The vineyard is amazing, albeit hard to find, and even producer a fantastic norterhn Rhone (young syrah vines) CDR for about the same price as the T-L CDR.

Joe said...

Hi Shea - I find the Rhone to have many great values, but I must confess I am losing some of my previous enthusiasm for CDP. Have not seen the Saint Cosme's here in Montreal, will look for it.

In this grouping the T-L wines were the most traditional, with the Delas Cornas being much more modern than I expected (I mistook it for a southern Rhone, thinking the Rasteau was a Cornas because of its power and elegance). The '02 Clape Cornas is $81 here - seems like a lot of $$$ for that vintage?

Shea said...

Ya, that's crazy for an 02. You can pick up the 05's here (to be released generally in the summer) for $90 for the highest end bottling or $70 for the "renaissance" bottling. The 04's are going for less by about 15-20%, and it's still a very classic vintage.

I'm surprised you found the T-L the most traditional. I find they still use a lot of small oak barrels a la guigal, which changes the character. I mean, they are still great. Maybe they are more of a bridge between classic and modern. What made you find them 'traditional'? - were they higher in acidity than you expected? Or were they less smooth/round?

I agree with you about CDP actually, except for a few producers. I tend to like Gigondas as a better value from the south. But Vieux Telegraph, Chateau La Nerthe, and Beaucastel are all producing outstanding CDP. I know Parker likes the Pegau CDP, but I haven't tried it since it is sitting at $100 a bottle now b/c of his something like 99-100 points review.

noble pig said...

Thanks for the reviews. This is a producer I trust with great value.

Barry said...

I am a big fan of the Northern much in the glass...and some of the 'Villages' wines have been excellent with many 'new' domaines with 'older vines'.
The one word in your notes Joe..'cool' why these wines win when compared to the New World Syrah.
Not sure which vintage is better..2003 or 2004..both very good indeed...

Joe said...

Shea- good comments - first, oak is traditional, it's how you use it - as per your comments, the St-Joseph had a more modern use of oak, but great acidity and crisp fruit - not over-ripe fruit, round. For the Rasteau, it had great acidic structure, crisp fruit and a very deft use of oak - maybe the St-J and the Rasteau received different oak treatment? Basically, of the four wines it seemed the T-L wines were the earliest picked fruit - more acidic and structured. I definitely like the Gigondas as a value, but some better bottlings hit the CDP price ranges...sigh. I have the '99, '01 and '04 Pegaus - will open those in a vertical someday.

Cathy, the pleasure is all mine!

Hi Barry, I am definitely becoming more of a northern Rhone fan (vs. the south, New World) - they are on my list of things to buy. I have not tasted '03 vs. '04, so I cannot comment on the relative merits of those vintages. I am pretty impressed that the Rasteau was using 80-year old vines - you are bang on that there are some good villages wines.

Shea said...

Hm, very interesting. I'll have to investigate the specific use of oak techniques. I was under the impression that Guigal revolutionized the use of oak in the northern rhone by using a certain kind of barrel (maybe more new oak?), but that this also moved towards a more modern approach.

I like your description of the 'classic' style. One new world producer that I find stays pretty true to that old world style is Beckman. I've had the Purisma Mountain Syrah Clone #1 and it was an amazingly structured syrah with tarter fruit and pretty nice acidity. They are also a lot cheaper than northern Rhone syrahs. Might be worth a look.

Joe said...

Hi Shea - the T-L website describes the St-J as all new Troncais casks, while the Rasteau gets a mix of new and used casks. Never heard of Beckman, will look for it. I had an UNTI (Sonoma) Syrah that was more old world (French winemaker...).

Shea said...

Very interesting. Thanks for all the replies! I will try to visit Unti when I am in California next year.