Showing posts with label Côte Rôtie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Côte Rôtie. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Hospice du Rhône in Walla Walla

Last December, my girlfriends and I were sipping Champagne when we learned that Hospice du Rhône was coming to Walla Walla in 2024. Tickets had just gone on sale. In our happy tipsy space, we proceeded to purchase a few for the Grand Tasting. And just like that, plans were made for our next trip to back to wine country.

Beautiful Abeja Winery in Walla Walla

So What Exactly is Hospice du Rhône?

Hospice du Rhône is a non-profit business league with the goal of promoting Rhône variety wine growers and producers. Its catchy tagline reads “Twenty-Two Varieties. One Vision.” But the organization had a humble starting with only one variety - Viognier. It all began in 1991 when wine shop owner Mat Geretson showcased 35 Viogniers to about 20 tasters near Atlanta, Georgia. It was called Viognier Guild. 

Rhône River by Txllxt TxllxT via Wikimedia Commons

The next year, John Alban offered to host the event in his winery and expanded it to include other Rhône variety wines. Renamed Raisin’ Rhône’s, the event was moved to the Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, California. Over the years, the celebration of Rhône variety wines grew into a multi-day affair. 

In 1998/99, the event was rebranded again as Hospice du Rhône (HdR). Vicki Carroll was hired as the Director, and Paso Robles became the new venue. Under Vickie’s leadership, HdR became the largest international vintners association that focused on Rhône grape varieties. Its event brings over 120 Rhône variety wine producers all over the world. 

In 2010, HdR added luxury resort Blackberry Farm in Willard, Tennessee as a second venue for the celebration of Rhône variety wines. The format there was smaller and more intimate. After a brief pause, Paso Robles continued to be the venue for its biennial flagship events starting in 2016. There were two exceptions. The event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it came to Walla Walla in 2024!

HdR, Walla Walla Edition

Four to five years in the making, Walla Walla became the third destination to host HdR in 2024. The three-day affair that ran from April 25 to 27 consisted of a dozen Rhône Around Dinners, two Master Classes, two seminars, two focus tastings, and a Grand Tasting. 

Walla Walla has a few things going to make it HdR-worthy. First, the region has over time built its cred in producing high-quality Rhône variety wines starting with the likes of Christoph Baron and Charles Smith as well as the more recent recognition of the Rocks District AVA. 

Force Majeure winemaker dinner

Second, the culinary landscape and hospitality industry continued to excel in showcasing the wine offerings and making Walla Walla a wine destination. But HdR could not have happened without the support of the wine community, and in particular, Carrie Alexander of Atelier Freewater and Force Majeure Vineyard.

My Grand Tasting Experience

The Grand Tasting featured over 130 international and domestic Rhône variety wine producers and importers. The biggest showing came from California, followed by France and Washington. Since I am not blessed with an unlimited alcohol tolerance, I went prepared with a dozen “must try” wineries circled in my copy of the exhibitor map. (I deliberately skipped my French favorites like Vieux Télégraphe and Beatus as well as Walla Walla gems such as Reynvaan and Latta because I either already own or have access to those wines.)

The clear winners at the tasting for me were Cave Yves Cuilleron and M. Chapoutier. Yves Cuilleron (the man himself) was at the event pouring a selection of wines that included an unclassified Syrah, three classified Northern Rhône wines, and a collaboration project with Sonoma’s Jeff Cohn Cellars. I particularly enjoyed his 2020 Labaya Crozes-Hermitage and 2020 Madinière Côte Rôtie.

Cave Yves Cuilleron 

As for M. Chapoutier, you could spot the stall a mile away. It was the one with the longest line, but the wait was worth the while. The pour included one Hermitage (2018 Sizeranne) and three Chateauneuf de Papes (2021 La Bernardino, 2015 Croix de Bois, and 2015 Barbe Rac). There was not a miss among them!

M. Chapoutier

While it was no chump change at $175 per ticket, the HdR Grand Tasting experience was phenomenal given the quality of wines that were poured. There were a couple of things that would have elevated the experience for me. One, the space was tight for the number of participants. I had moments of pandemic PTSD. Two, plain demi baguettes were a paltry offering for a tasting that ran around dinner time. I would have happily paid $25 more per ticket to have hors d'oeuvres instead to pair with the wine.

My Verdict: Despite an initial buyer's remorse (especially after I found out about the demi baguettes), the answer was a resounding YES! I wish I had given more thoughts about other HdR activities such as the focused tastings, seminars, Master classes, or wine dinners; each of which ran the gamut of $50 to $500. For a Rhône lover with a deep pocket and a palate to match, participating in multiple HdR activities could run into thousands of dollars. But if the Grand Tasting is any indication, they may be worth every penny for the right person.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Côte Rôtie - The Brunette, the Blonde, and the La Las

While doing a bit of spring cleaning in my cellar, I unearthed a bottle of 2014 Vignobles Levet Côte Rôtie Les Journaries. Medium garnet in color, the wine was floral and full of black fruits on the nose. Acidity was very high, and body was medium plus. On the palate, it was elegant with well-integrated tannins, a savory note, and an incredibly long finish. While savoring this gem, I decided to dig into what makes Côte Rôtie so special.

2014  Vignobles Levet Côte Rôtie Les Journaries

Roasted Slope and Racy Grapes

Located on the northernmost end of the Rhône Valley wine region in France, Côte Rôtie is often translated to the Roasted Slope. This is attributed to the steep slopes or hillsides that rise up to 1,150 feet (over 330 meters) off the banks of the Rhône River, allowing for maximum sun exposure on the vineyards. 

In some areas, the sharp incline gets up to 60 degrees. That with the constant risk of erosion bring unique challenges to vine growing. Vineyards are planted in terraces. Since there is no way to use tractors and other machinery on the slopes, tending to the vines and grape harvesting have to be done by hand.

Côte Rôtie by Olivier Lemoine via Wikimedia Commons

The grapes grown in the region are mostly Syrah and a small amount of Viognier. With 224 hectares (or 550 acres) of vineyards, Côte Rôtie is one of the smallest appellations in the Rhône Valley. It is about a third the size of Walla Walla Valley and only about 1.2% the size of Napa Valley.

To qualify as Côte Rôtie AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), the wine needs to be made with predominantly Syrah and up to 20% of Viognier. The rules also require that the grapes be co-fermented rather than fermented separately and blending afterwards. It is believed that the co-fermentation with Viognier, a white grape, stabilizes the color of Syrah and also adds a floral note to the savory wine.

The Brunette or the Blonde

There are two main hills in Côte Rôtie where some of the best wines are made. According to folklore, a feudal landlord gifted his two daughters each a hill. The hill that went to the dark-haired daughter is known as Côte Brune while the hill that went to the light-haired daughter is called Côte Blonde.

Brunette and Blonde by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash

The soil of Côte Brune is mostly reddish-brown mica schist and is rich in iron. Côte Brune is often made with 100% Syrah. The wine tends to be tannic, structured, and powerful with good aging potential. Côte Blonde has pale yellow gneiss soil that is similar to granite. It is more likely to be co-fermented with Viognier. The wine is lighter, fruitier, and more approachable when enjoyed young.

But why pick a Blonde or a Brune when you can have the best of both worlds? Renowned Rhône winery and négociant, Guigal, has you covered with its Brune et Blonde that retails for around US$70 a bottle. Feeling spendy? For about twice the price, you can get Guigal’s higher-end Château d'Ampuis, that is made with grapes from seven select terroirs on both hills. Château d'Ampuis is known to be incredibly perfume-y and combines muscle (from Brune) and elegance (from Blonde) beautifully.

The La Las

Next, let’s zoom into three famous vineyards in Côte Rôtie known as the La Las. They stand for La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque, the vineyards behind Guigal’s single-vineyard wines. The La Las rose to fame when they started receiving multiple 100 points from Robert Parker in the 1980’s. Today, Guigal’s La La wines run north of US$300 a bottle.

La Mouline, located in Côte Blonde, is the oldest vineyard with a history that goes back 2,400 years. It is also the first of Guigal’s single-vineyard wines with the inaugural vintage of 1966. La Mouline is a monopole, which means that Guigal is the sole wine producer for that vineyard. About 10% of Viognier is typically used in La Mouline, making the wine floral and elegant with complex aromatics.

Guigal vineyard in Côte Blonde
La Landonne is the second single-vineyard wine released by Guigal. Located in Côte Brune, it is made with 100% Syrah and is the most powerful and structured of the La Las. It also has the longest aging potential. La Landonne was planted by the namesake winery founder Etienne Guigal in 1975 to honor the birth of his grandson, Philippe. Unlike La Mouline, La Landonne is not a monopole. You will see La Landonne wine by other producers, such as Rene Rostaing and Bernard Levet. In fact Levet’s Les Journaries is made predominantly from La Landonne grapes.

La Turque, Guigal’s third single-vineyard wine, is located north of Côte Blonde and into Côte Brune. It was re-planted in 1980 and 1981 with mostly Syrah and a small amount of Viognier. In terms of style, it marries the power of La Landonne with the elegance of La Mouline. Like La Mouline, La Turque is also a monopole.

Guigal’s La La wines
In November 2021, Guigal announced the addition of a fourth La to the collection - La Reynarde in Côte Brune. Just as La Landonne was a tribute to Philippe Guigal, La Reynarde will be dedicated to his twin sons, Charles and Etienne. The vineyard went into construction in 2010, the birth year of the boys. Syrah vines were planted in 2015, and the first vintage is expected to be from 2022. 

My Verdict: For a very small appellation, there is certainly a lot to discover in Côte Rôtie. The Les Journaries has given me a flavor of the power of a Côte Brune. It will be fun to do a horizontal tasting of Côte Brune and a Côte Blonde, or better still, a horizontal tasting of the La La wines! Do you have a favorite Côte Rôtie? I’d love to hear what you think.