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Average critic rating : 93.0 points
Ripe, voluptuous and textured, the 2007 Ermitage Les Greffieux is a sexy and delicious effort that offers serious charm. Blackberry, cassis, lavender, incense, white pepper and floral notes all emerge from the glass and it is full-bodied, nicely concentrated and mouth-filling, with a broad, supple feel. Drink it over the coming decade or so. ||Michel Chapoutier continues to knockout it out of the park with his tiny, single plot “Selections Parcellaires” releases from throughout the Rhone Valley. For this tasting, we focused on three of his northern Rhones: the Saint Joseph Les Granits, which is the largest production cuvee of the three; his new release, the Saint Joseph Les Clos, from a newly replanted vineyard that’s just now coming online; and his Ermitage Les Greffieux, which is a vineyard that Michel is liking more and more. Starting off with the Saint Josephs, Chapoutier’s Les Granits releases, both in red and white, lead the way in terms of quality in the appellation. Looking at the Saint Joseph red that’s the focus here, this roughly 500-case release (it can get close to 1,000 cases in some vintage) comes from the lieux-dits Saint Joseph and Les Chames, both of which are located around the towns of Mauve and Tournon, and have superb, southerly exposure. The lieu-dit Saint Joseph is the vineyard that the appellation is named after, and it’s a gorgeous, steep, south-facing vineyard planted on pure decomposed granite soils. The wine is 100% Syrah, from 60-to-70-year old vines, and sees a similar elevage to all of Chapoutier’s Syrahs, with the grapes completely destemmed and aging occurring in a scant 20-25% new French oak barrels. As I hope these notes show, it ages beautifully, but also dishes out loads of pleasure in its youth as well. It just so happens to also represent an awesome value. Moving to Chapoutier’s newest Saint Joseph, the Saint Joseph Les Clos comes from a southeasterly facing vineyard, located high up on the slope, and only one kilometer from the Les Granit, that was replanted in 1990. While it was widely recognized for quality wine in the past, the vineyard wasn’t replanted after it was wiped out due to phylloxera. It too is all decomposed granite, yet has a different exposure than the Les Granits, and the wines show additional purity, minerality and structure. The first release was in 2011, and the quality here is shocking; these new releases have more than a passing resemblance to a top Hermitage coming from the Les Bessards lieu-dit. Hold onto your hats and jump on board, because with wines like this, Saint Joseph is going to be the next hot commodity! Moving to Chapoutier’s Hermitage releases, there’s normally 300 cases or so of the Ermitage Les Greffieux, which comes from a lieu-dit that’s located at the bottom of the Meal, butting right up against the outskirts of Tain Hermitage. The soils here are varied, with alluvial and sediment soils giving way to deep rolled pebbles (a la Chateauneuf du Pape) as you move further up the slope. While this plot has been more widely recognized as white-wine territory, Michel makes one serious red Hermitage from it. It’s also noteworthy that this plot could be considered a clos, as it’s completely surrounded by a stone wall. As with Michel’s other Syrahs, he’s moving away from huge amounts of new oak, and this cuvee is completely destemmed (this is the norm for Hermitage) and is aged in 20-25% new French oak today. eRobertParker.com.August, 2014
CHAPOUTIER: THE IMPORTANCE
Chapoutier has received more perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker than any other winery, leading to Robert Parker saying that: “Michel Chapoutier's enthusiasm and commitment to exceptional, naturally made wines is a winemaking triumph, as well as a clear victory for all who care about the quality of wine.” Parker has also described Michel Chapoutier as “the world’s leading irreverent genius in winemaking and winemaking philosophy.” This has made Maison M. Chapoutier’s wines, alongside those of Etienne Guigal, some of the, if not the, most sought after wines from the Rhône Valley.
In 2016, Chapoutier was named the most admired French wine brand by Drinks International. Topping this annual list, put together by over 200 Masters of Wine, sommeliers, teachers and journalists, demonstrates the continuous improvement of quality, reflection of terroir and global appeal attained by this winery.
CHAPOUTIER: THE INSIGHT
Although they produce a large range of classic wines that are perfect for immediate drinking, it is their finest wines, the téte de cuvées, also known as Sélections Parcellaires or Single Vineyard Selections, which should be on every collector’s radars. These terroir-driven wines have the ability to age for several decades and hail from single plots of 50-100 year old vines in Côte-Rôtie (La Mordorée), Crozes-Hermitage (Les Varonniers), Hermitage or Ermitage as they call it (De l’Orée, L’Ermite, Le Méal, Le Pavillon, Les Greffieux and a sweet wine called Vin de Paille), Saint-Joseph (Le Clos and Les Granits) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Barbe Rac and Croix de Bois). These always high-scoring wines are the embodiment of terroir and are only produced in the hundreds of cases. So high is the demand for them that Chapoutier have started to release them En Primeur.
Due to Chapoutier’s attention to detail, the quality of their wine is extremely high even in lesser vintages. However, in exceptional vintages they truly excel. 2015, 2013 and 2010 were strong in both Northern and Southern Rhône, 2009, 2003 and 1999 offer excellent quality in the North as do 2007, 2001, 2000 and 1998 in the South. 1990, 1961 and 1947 have been described as legendary.
For those looking for something off-the-beaten-track, the hotly-tipped Bila-Haut wines from Roussillon demonstrate what a master of finding and exploiting terroir Michel Chapoutier is.
CHAPOUTIER: THE BACKGROUND
Maison M. Chapoutier is one of the undisputed elite of Rhône wine, if not the world. Based in Tain l’Hermitage, this winery and négociant business produces over seven million bottles of wine a year from the very southern extent of the Rhône Valley, through Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras and up to the major appellations of the Northern Rhône. And it is here in the Northern Rhone that it makes its most famous wines; Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie.
Although this is a family-owned winery that is able to trace its roots within the region back through seven generations to 1808, it is not stuck in the mire of tradition and history. As its motto: “fac et spera” - which translates as do and hope - suggests, the focus is very much on innovation, modernity and the unorthodox.
Michel Chapoutier took control of the family business in 1988 and the quality of the wines produced skyrocketed. He has pushed his preference for single varietal wines, championed Rhône whites, introduced complete destemming before fermentation, converted all of the estate’s vineyards to biodynamic farming, reduced manipulation in the winery by avoiding acidification, filtration, fining and over-oaking and introduced braille labelling.
Not satisfied with that, Michel’s penchant for Champagne has driven him to produce one in collaboration with Devaux. This incredibly prolific man and team also own estates in Alsace, Roussillon, Australia and Portugal, as well as collaborating with French multiple Michelin star chefs Anne-Sophie Pic in Saint-Péray and the surrounding area (see Pic & Chapoutier) and Yannick Alléno in Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, and Michel has even expressed a desire to make wine in the UK.
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