The Sine Qua Non of the Roussillon – Séverine Bourrier’s Chateau de L’Ou

Séverine Bourrier - Queen of the Roussillon

Séverine Bourrier –
Queen of the Roussillon

 

If you could go back in time to the early 1990s, find yourself in Los Angeles as a frequent and very preferred diner at the über-hip restaurant, Campanile – co-owned and managed at the time by one Manfred Krankl – and be considered “in the know” enough to be part of the inner circle which Krankl and his good buddy winemaker John Alban ran with, well – would you? Because if did – if you could – you would be one of those very lucky few to have been on Krankl’s mailing list when he launched Sine Qua Non with all those freakishly incredible wines that didn’t cost near what they do today.

Krankl launched Sine Qua Non – SQN for those in the know – along with his wife Elaine and their buddy John Alban in 1994. Self-described as “project wines”, each bottling was geared towards the Rhone Ranger category, but there were no rules. They hit gold with Syrah. Syrah in their hands began landing them Parker scores of between 95 and 100 points. They were instantly unobtainable; sold exclusively via mailing list – a list so well managed and guarded that it has a 10 year waiting list.

The wines are unreal. They are about as perfect as anything you’ll ever drink. I once had an employee working for me who did an internship at SQN. He was a generous young man, so I have enjoyed a few of Krankl’s wild masterpieces. I’ve also had to rub my eyes in absolute disbelief when I see the prices the wines trade for at auction as well as on-line. The inaugural bottling from Krankl – his 1994 Syrah-based blend they named Queen of Spades – now trades for $6,000 a bottle.

Okay, so none of us can go back in time. We can, however, go back to the Mother land; the place where Syrah really struts its stuff. Yes, I’m talking about my beloved Roussillon. Home to more wines represented in the “let’s drink this tonight and really blow ‘em away” corner of my personal cellar, you are well aware of my time in this region and my discoveries along these schistous cliffs.

I have tasted what everyone is – or soon will be – calling “the SQN of the Roussillon”. In fact, that’s EXACTLY what Jeb (Wine Advocate) tells us. Known as Chateau de L’Ou, this is the home estate of Séverine Bourrier. Born in Africa, she trained in Bordeaux, working for the top estates of the Medoc before “catching the Syrah bug” (as she says) during her travels and eventual studies in the South. Syrah calls to her, it is her native varietal, and the magic she performs with this varietal directly mirrors what I have experienced in the wines from SQN, John Alban and the rest of the Cult masters.

"SQN of the Roussillon"

“SQN of the Roussillon”

I cannot express enough how passionate I am about the work being performed at this magical estate. In particular the Secret de Schistes – now in its 6th season – is what the young folks call “sick”! It absolutely screams SQN – FOR A PRICE THAT IS INSANELY CRIMINAL!

 

Interested in locating this dreamy wine, at the best price in the States? Let me know in the comments…

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ERIC & JOËL DURAND – Rock Stars of Cornas – Hottest Wines of the Region

                               Cornas Rock Stars

 

Brothers Eric and Joel Durand are precise, authoritative artisans. Perhaps you’ve heard that from professionals such as Jancis Robinson, who, after the most exhaustive, comprehensive tasting of the region’s wines I’ve discovered (vintages spanning 1972 to 1991, multiple Crus, every major estate you can imagine) swooned for the Durand Brothers. Speaking of the Durands’ youngest cuvee at that time, Jancis Robinson reported:

“The wine is testament to some very fine, sensitive winemaking with lots of fruit in the middle to compensate for well-managed tannins.”

That started the ball rolling for the young artisans – European sommeliers couldn’t get enough – and soon the world was calling.

Approaching the Durand vineyards, one cannot help but be awestruck. You wonder how these guys ever mustered the strength – the stamina – to rework these treacherous, crumbling hillsides. After assuming the family estate in 1991, they began reworking their vineyards, but not the vines – not just yet – they had to first secure the terraces which supported their family’s old Syrah vines. One by one, rock by rock and parcel by parcel they rebuilt the terraces on their steeply sloping hillside vineyards – the only method to secure their incredible vineyards and save their Syrah from literally sliding into the valley.

From there, the brothers designed the most intricate trellising system I’ve ever witnessed. Zig-zagging their way up the granitic slopes of the Cornas hills, the vines in each of the Durands’ oldest parcels grow upwards, arching at the top, forming an upside down “U”, reaching the vine adjacent.

                                        Durand Vineyards

This work on the terraces as well as the wildly imaginative trellising spanned nearly 20 years; when I witnessed it, I was taken aback. Words cannot do justice.

Three unique, beautifully individual as well as incredibly limited cuvees (low yields are a given in this environment) are now offered by the brothers. Their soils change as you move gradually up the Cornas slope; silt laden deposits give way to pure granite, which then changes to migmatite (granitic components within metamorphic surroundings). Complexity; awe-inspiring; mind-changing – you have never tasted Cornas quite like this…

Take my advice; seek out the trio of their top offers (Prémices, Empreintes and Confidence). That’s the only way you will truly understand the minute differences and striking, individual personalities of each of these treasures of time, place, mono-varietal, and human endeavor.

If you’re curious where to locate, leave me a reply…

2016 Bordeaux – My Days with the Big Guns – Chateau Margaux – Wine of the Vintage II

 

                           Chateau Margaux — the Appellation’s Wine of the Vintage

The day I would visit Chateau Margaux for my scheduled tasting of their 2016 during en primeur week – a week involving more than 400 samplings of 2016 Bordeaux – began bright and early with a formal, 9am (sharp) appointment at Chateau Lafite. Indeed, my day which included the unforgettable set of wines at Chateau Margaux (which I scored 97-99 points) – their Grand Vin very easily on par with Mouton Rothschild for Wine of the Vintage honors – included more riches than I can recall in a single day of tasting Bordeaux en primeur.

That brilliantly sunny day – impeccable, real “Chamber of Commerce” kind of day – witnessed yours truly at Chateau Palmer (which I scored 96-98 points), Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou (another 96-98 pour moi) where the “sights” are as beautiful as the Chateau and the many wines offered for tasting, as well as Chateau Leoville Las Cases (yes, another 96-98 points), where it felt I was tasting perhaps the most glorious Las Cases in years.

All of this just one day after finishing up at Chateau Mouton Rothschild (98-100 for me), as well as the drop dead gorgeous Chateau Latour (97-99 points), which we won’t see for years – and years.

Yes, there were more than 100 additional 2016 Bordeaux across those two days – plus an addition couple dozen over dinners and lunch breaks.

But there can be no denying the amazing presence, the glamor, the sheer “gotta have it” of the 2016 Chateau Margaux.

2016 Perfection?

For me, unfortunately, memories will have to suffice, as allocations of Chateau Margaux are so drastically limited that only a few of you will enjoy the opportunity to purchase this gem – I’ll have to rely on the generosity of others.

 

 

2016 Bordeaux – Multiple 100pt Chateau Pavie – Wine of the Vintage?

                                Chateau Pavie – Perfection in 2016 – Profound in Every Sense

My final full day of tasting 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week culminated just at it should have, two hours at Chateau Pavie.

Approaching the Pavie hills – their historic coteaux rising steeply behind the white-washed stone Chateau – the sky a deep blue, not a cloud to be witnessed, a sense of something very special came over me.

I’d heard from other professionals during the week that the subtle changes at Pavie had returned the most profound wine; not just that Pavie had ever bottled, but quite possibly of the 2016 vintage. As I made my way up the majestic, “Gone with the Wind” staircase to the open air tasting room, you could have heard a pin drop.

Though many were in attendance, there was a reverence in that space that day.

This was my 8th version of Pavie. This was the first time I have ever been so moved.

To say the Pavie terroir spoke through the wine is the understatement of the vintage. There has never been such a profound Pavie.

Wine of the vintage? Certainly better than a few of the Premier Crus.

Unquestionably among the top 3 of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage.

2016 Bordeaux – Thoughts On A Selectively Superb Vintage

                  One Of The Top Three Wines Of The Vintage For 2016 Bordeaux

 

Having recently returned from 8 grueling days in Bordeaux, tasting the 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week – most days beginning at 7am, ending after even the pigeons had gone to sleep, usually close to 11pm – I can personally attest that the name of the game this year is “selectivity.”

Two thousand sixteen is NOT an across the board, knock it out the park home-run vintage.

Peaks and valleys – extreme highs, pitiful lows – exist practically everywhere when discussing 2016 Bordeaux.

The top producers – Premier Cru estates – performed very well, generally speaking. Pavie outdid themselves.

But as I made my way through some of the finest wines, tasting approximately 400 samples at various locations to include top negociants, the finest Chateaux, multiple UGC events (some visibly under-attended), certain aspects of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage became clear.

This was a vintage that challenged winemakers; many spoke of their fears – a repeat of 2013, troubles with mildew, uncontrolled yields – while others rightfully proclaimed they had made their finest wines ever.

I’ve tasted in Bordeaux for many years, and I concur with the assessment shared by Justine Tesseron at Pontet Canet when asked which vintage 2016 most closely resembles.

She looked me dead in the eye and said,

“2016; there’s never been anything else to compare.”

2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” Pinot Noir – Phenomenal Old-Vine Beauty

 

Where The Rippon Magic Happens

 

I first began drinking these phenomenal Pinots with the early 2000s, earning the chance to work directly with the estate a couple years ago with a small release of their 2010s and sensational 2003s. My adoration is well known to friends, family and colleagues alike, with the Wine Advocate on record as well, referring to Nick’s wines as “Pinot Noirs that rekindled memories of those glorious Burgundy 2005’s”. You’ll be as thrilled as I am to hear that Nick’s most well-priced treasure – the 2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” – has finally landed in the States – ready for your immediate, hedonistic enjoyment!

The site which would eventually become known as Rippon was first planted to 25 various varietals during the 1970s by its founder, Rolfe Mills. Rolfe had spent time in the Douro Valley during the 1940s and the site of schist, rich in foliated mica and quartzite, on his land in Central Otago sparked a great curiosity. Rolfe began experimenting with his soils, isolating a parcel on the western board of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka.

This ancient parcel is Rippon’s north-facing escarpment, and it forms the meeting point of terminal moraines and coarse gravels, all based in schist, where Central Otago’s earliest vines were planted. Rippon’s Mature Vines cuvee is issued from all of the fully developed Pinot vines growing in this expansive parcel. This is where it all began for Rippon, and the fruit of the vine from this parcel bears witness to the perfectionist style Nick (and his father Rolfe before him) is renowned for.

2012 “Rippon Mature Vines”

For those new to these pages, I’d like to take the time to remind folks how vital Nick’s training has been to the continuity of these world class Pinot Noirs. Not only are these the oldest plantings in the region, but they are tended by a man who spent his formative years working the soil and terroirs of Burgundy; he knew how vital his understanding of such things would be. To that end, Nick tenured with de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée Conti) , and spent time with Jean-Jacques Confuron, Lucien Jacob, Alain Meunier, Nicolas Potel and Domaine de la Vougeraie as well. His are truly the wines of a master craftsman.

 

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Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie 2009 – Stefano Cesari’s Best Ever

Aerial View of Brigaldara

Aerial View of Brigaldara

“The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage… an object of real beauty.” Wine Advocate (ML)

With those words – and the highest score for any 2009 Amarone published up to that point – Wine Advocate used issued #217 to place Brigaldara on a pedestal reserved for the singular names in Amarone and the Veneto. For Stefano Cesari, it would be a proper recognition of a life’s work.

Perfectly situated on an incline above the Marano Valley (one of the four valleys which comprise the Valpolicella Classico zone) to the north of Verona and just outside San Floriano, Bigaldara’s 125 acre estate includes vineyards within the most important communes of the DOC. In particular, their “Case Vecie” vineyard – in the commune of Grezzana – is one of their most important holdings.

The estate bottled wines from Brigaldara began to gain recognition in the 1980s and Stefano Cesari recognized the importance of augmenting the family’s “Case Vecie” holding with additional parcels at higher elevations. Through rental agreements, the family began planting additional parcels to the “Case Vecie” vineyard in the early 1990s. The fruit from this new plot – 1,500 feet in elevation – has added phenomenal depth to the Amarone Case Vecie bottling.

For 2009, Brigaldara bottled their single greatest version of this intense, full bodied, ultra-complex yet elegant, velvety and flat out sexy wine to date. Gambero Rosso: Tre Bicchieri; Bibenda Wine Guide: 5 GRAPPOLI; and of course, our beloved Wine Advocate: 95 points!

2009 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie

The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage thanks to the immense clarity and purity of fruit that is put on proud display. One step beyond those pretty fruit tones are more evolved and elaborate tones of leather, tar, resin, licorice and grilled herb. The wine is aged for four years in both barrique and botte grande and the oak has positively impacted the smooth, luscious texture of the mouthfeel. This is an object of real beauty.

95 points – Wine Advocate (ML)

For Amarone lovers and purists, this is a must-have …