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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

RHONE-STYLED REDS FROM THE SOUTHERN RHONE MOSTLY,  THE NORTH,  AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND,  2002 – 2004



Given the hot temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003,  examining the style of the red wines from the Rhone Valley is of great interest.  This is the third batch a tasting group in Wellington,  New Zealand,  has looked at.  The goals of the tastings,  and the main conclusion,  are given in the Introduction to the set of reviews dated 15 September 2005.

GRENACHE BLENDS & SYRAH

2003  Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis Belle
2003  Domaine de la Charité Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cayenne
2004  Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage
2003  Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape les Origines
2003  Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Villages les Champauvins Vielles Vignes
2003  [ Domaine Grand Veneur ] Lirac Clos de Sixte
2003  Domaine de la Janasse Vin de Pays de la Principauté d’Orange Terre de Bussiere
  2002  Charles Melton Nine Popes
2004  Domaine de la Mordoree Cotes du Rhone La Dame Rousse
2003  Domaine de l’Oratoire St Martin Cairanne C. du Rhone-Villages Reserve des Seigneurs
2003  Domaine des Remizieres Syrah Vin de Pays de la Drome
2004  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose
2003  Domaine de la Vielle Julienne Cotes-du-Rhone


2003  Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape les Origines   18 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $70   [ cork;  Wine Direct;  Gr 50%,  Mv 30,  Sy25;  35 h/hl  (c.1.75 t/ac);  100% de-stemmed;  cuvaison 21 days,  18 months in new oak (% unstated);  Parker 156 considers: “their top cuvée les Origines may be the finest value of all the old-vine super cuvées …  it veers toward the more modern international style of winemaking …  large-scaled, full-bodied, chewy, concentrated but low acid and open-knit. …  it unquestionably possesses all the typicity of Chateauneuf.  91 – 93”;  www.domaine-grand-veneur.com ]
Ruby,  a little carmine and velvet.  This is a sensational bouquet,  showing classical grenache of great purity (apart from trace brett).  It illustrates the basic concepts of grenache varietal characters beautifully – subtle raspberry-scented fruit and sweet cinnamon-stick spice,  in this case with gorgeous cedary notes.  The latter includes the signature smell of the fragrant compound manool,  as found in the related conifer pink pine – a wonderful smell.  Fruit is noticeably rich alongside the same firm’s Cotes du Rhone,  totally dry,  seemingly scarcely oaked,  very beautiful Chateauneuf which will cellar 10 – 20 years,  becoming ever more fragrant.  GK 11/05

2004  Te Mata Estate Syrah Bullnose   18 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  Sy 100%;  includes clone 470 for first time,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison 3 + weeks,  followed by 16 months in new and older French oak;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  In the blind line-up of northern and southern Rhone wines,  the fruit quality on bouquet for this one is impressive,  sweet cassis,  dark plums,  and fragrant oak.  But even for Te Mata,  so restrained in their oaking alongside most New Zealand wineries,  this is clearly the oakiest amongst ten comparable French wines.  Palate richness is excellent.  One is always apprehensive about presenting a wine in a blind tasting with other well regarded labels,  when one has recently published a glowing account.  But on this occasion I found no reason to vary from my notes on this site 10/05,  and 10 of the 24 tasters rated Bullnose their wine of the night.  Worth investing in.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis Belle   18  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  Caro’s;  Sy 100%;  the top wine of a well-regarded producer,  from 30-year old vines.  Parker has expressed doubts about Rhone wines which were acidified in the hot 2003 vintage,  hence  his comments in Wine Advocate 156:  “Deep black fruit, olive, earth, and mineral characteristics emerge from the 2003 Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Louis Belle in addition to some tart acids that are not totally integrated. While ripe and elegant, it is questionable whether the acids will ever become fully incorporated. 86 – 89”.  Tanzer liked it more:  “Aromas of cassis,  licorice pastille,  mint,  tar and spicy oak.  Dense and super-sweet,  penetrating if rather backward flavours of black fruits,  espresso and tar. This has the power and structure of Hermitage.  Finishes with terrific breadth and sap,  with the tannins covered by persistent fruit.  90-92” ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the darkest wine of the set.  Bouquet is both rich and complex,  chock-full of dark berries,  and wonderfully free of the reductive veil often associated with the wines from Belle.  There is however a slightly savoury / meaty complexity removing it from the squeaky-clean category,  but this is probably no more than constructive brett.  Flavour is saturated with cassisy and plummy berry,  very rich and concentrated syrah more akin to good Hermitage than Crozes.  The quality of this fruit merited a little more new oak,  to add aromatics on bouquet and palate in the style the Bullnose shows.  Re Parker,  the acid balance seems appropriate.  I just wish the wine were a bit cleaner,  when the beauty of the grape would be more apparent.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Villages les Champauvins Vielles Vignes   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $25   [ cork;  Wine Direct;  Gr 70%,  Sy 20,  Mv 10;  38 hl/ha (c 2 t/ac):  destemmed,  15 days cuvaison;  % in oak not given;  the vineyard is said to be  (Parker 156):  “twenty feet outside the Chateauneuf border”,  and the wine:  “lovely fruit,  loads of body, and a heady bouquet of ground peppers,  raspberries, cherry liqueur,  currants and spice box.  Medium to full-bodied and dense,  it tastes more like Chateauneuf du Pape than Cotes du Rhone.  Buy this one by the case !  90”;  www.domaine-grand-veneur.com ]
Good ruby.  A mainstream Cotes du Rhone grenache / syrah blend shows up on bouquet,  with great berry fruit and hints of the cedar seen in the Vielle Julienne and Charité.  Palate is riper and softer than those wines,  a little hotter-climate and less vibrant,  but wonderfully rich plummy fruit,  lightly spicy.  Right alongside the Grand Veneur Chateauneuf,  it is not as rich as that,  but this is good wine which will cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine de la Vielle Julienne Cotes-du-Rhone   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $37   [ cork;  Caro’s;  Gr 100%;  Parker 156 considers the winemaker (based in Chateauneuf):  “one of France’s superstars … Fanatical about quality, incredibly small yields,  only ripe fruit.”   On this wine:  “Produced from 100+ year old Grenache vines, the 2003 Cotes du Rhone is reminiscent of a Burgundy grand cru. Aged in old foudres, it offers abundant amounts of sweet cherry fruit intermixed with notions of flowers, spice, and minerals. Medium to full-bodied, with supple tannin as well as a heady finish, it will drink well for 3-4 years. It is one of the finest Cotes du Rhones I tasted on my September trip.   89 – 90” ]
Ruby,  the lightest of the November set.  Bouquet is light but very beautiful,  with clear floral components hinting at dark roses and the best fraction of sweet-pea aroma,  on raspberry and cinnamon-tinged red berries.  It certainly tastes like straight grenache,  tasted alongside the Charité.  Palate has great initial red fruits and berry,  followed by the dry tannins so characteristic of optimally ripened grenache,  just like chewing on a cinnamon stick.  This is a gorgeous subtle Cotes du Rhone,  to cellar for 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine de la Charité Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cayenne   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $27   [ cork;  Regional Wines & Spirits,  available 2006;  Gr > Sy (possibly Mv);  vintage obscurely on back label;  elevage in fine-grain oak;  Cayenne a family vineyard name ]
Good ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet.  Bouquet on this wine is nearly as magical as Grand Veneur Chateauneuf,  though it is less than half the price.  It too illustrates a wine dominated by sweetly spicy grenache,  with wonderfully complex cassis,  bush honey and cedary thoughts from blending varieties,  and trace brett adding to complexity and vinosity as well.  Palate is softer than expected (but perhaps reflecting the vintage),  good fruit with greater complexity of berry flavours than the monocepage Vielle Julienne,  easy and accessible,  drying tannins on the finish,  all illustrating the food-friendly mouth-filling flavours of the southern Rhone to perfection.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine de la Janasse Vin de Pays de la Principauté d’Orange Terre de Bussiere   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $25   [ cork;  Caro’s;  from the  Vaucluse district,  in Cotes-du-Rhone but not entitled to the appellation,  non-authorised varieties.  Assuming this is much the same composition as the much riper 2003,  Parker 156 described that as: “ a blend of 60% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Grenache that sees no new oak … an amazing vin de pays that competes with wines selling for 2 – 3 times the price. 89 – 91”  No info on the 2004.  The 2003 was super-ripe,  at 15%. ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a beautiful rich colour.  This is the surprise of the tasting,  with a glorious bouquet epitomising all the aspects of merlot we read and talk about,  notably the smell of violets,  but all too often never encounter,  due to oak treatment dominating.  Behind the violets is glorious cassis and blackly plummy fruit.  Palate shows a perfection of ripeness and tannin ripeness,  soft round rich and full-flavoured berries,  yet the wine retains varietal delicacy and charm and freshness.  Bouquet and flavour seems little affected by oak,  but it is hard to imagine such complexity without some.  If merlot of this quality and complexity can be grown at the latitude of Orange (or Languedoc),  admittedly not in a hot year,  we need to be apprehensive in Hawkes Bay !  Cellar life uncertain,  but let's say 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/05

2002  Charles Melton Nine Popes   17  ()
Barossa Valley,  South Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $51   [ cork;  Gr > Sy > Mv;  some new oak;  2002 cool dry vintage and very high quality in the Barossa Valley;  95 points from James Halliday;  Parker 161 less keen:  “Funky, smoky, oaky, peppery, herbaceous, sweet fruit, medium body.  87”;  www.charlesmeltonwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  In the blind tasting,  one fleeting sniff of the glass with this in it,  and one groans.  Yet another eucalyptus-y Aussie red,  impossible for it to compete in any meaningful way with the wines of the world.  One cannot smell the varieties at all:  it is simply a caricature in an international tasting.  And that is in a cool year,  with less volatilisation of essential oils.  Physically,  the palate shows beautiful berry-rich fruit,  with a structure,  balance and freshness uncommon in South Australian GSM blends.  It might have fined down in 10 years,  but I doubt it.  Overt mint / euc’y / menthol components are pretty stable – 1963 Mildara ‘Peppermint Pattie’ tasted recently is in that respect much the same as at release.  Aussies will rate this blend higher than I do,  for it is a fine example of the style (when seen at home).  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine des Remizieres Syrah Vin de Pays de la Drome   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  12%;  $20   [ cork;  Caro’s;  Sy 100%;  Caro’s  advise this wine is 100% syrah grown just outside the Crozes-Hermitage approved zone. ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  A very fragrant,  winey and Rhone-y bouquet in a traditional style,  with lots of dark berry,  but also lots of brett.  One can’t dismiss the wine,  though,  when the whole package is so pleasant.  Palate sharpens up the bouquet impressions into clear ripe to over-ripe syrah,  lots of cassis and blackly plummy fruit,  not much oak,  tending lower acid.  It is fascinating to compare this very ripe rustic syrah with the under-ripe Chave,  both low on new oak,  and then compare both of them with a straight syrah in a higher percentage of new oak,  in the technically clean Bullnose Syrah.  One can learn a lot,  in this way.  Cellar 5 –10 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage   16 ½  ()
Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $35   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Sy 100%;  the wines from the re-named Bernard Chave,  now run by the son. ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet.  This is an astonishingly fragrant and pure wine,  and people either liked it,  or hated it.  It has a penetrating floral component on bouquet related to red carnations or wallflowers (as one hopes for in syrah),  but there a nearly herbaceous edge like jonquils (lily-whites).  Palate is crisp cassis,   reasonable body,  more acid than is desirable,  scarcely oaked,  a vibrant example of sub-optimally ripened syrah.  I like this style a good deal,  being a bit hung-up on floral qualities in wine bouquets,  and think it will cellar surprisingly well for 5 – 12 years,  becoming ever more fragrant though leaner.  It is only fair to say many of the 24 tasters rated it clearly their least wine in the set of 12 Rhone styles.  So buy one,  and try,  before investing.  GK 11/05

2003  [ Domaine Grand Veneur ] Lirac Clos de Sixte   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $60   [ cork;  Wine Direct;  Gr 50%,  Sy 35,  Mv 15;  30 hl/ha (c 1.5 t/ac),  de-stemmed;  18 days cuvaison,  oak regime not mentioned; this is a defined vineyard of old vines,  marketed under its own name with reference only to the proprietor,  not Grand Veneur,  and only 600 cases for the entire world.  Parker 156:  "an impressive effort that comes close to the brilliant Lirac made at Domaine Mordoree … scents of flowers,  terrific fruit intensity,  full body,  and a chewy,  long,  heady finish,  seamless integration of acid,  tannin and alcohol,  intense and voluptuous.  92";  www.domaine-grand-veneur.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  A big soft darkly-fruited and tending meaty bouquet,  a little organic and bretty alongside some of the sparklingly clean and aromatic wines,  but plenty of fruit.  Palate is rich,  flavoursome,  and broad,  in an over-ripe southern Rhone style,  darkest plums and dark chocolate.  As with the Belle wine,  this is almost the reciprocal style to the Yann Chave 2004 (leaving aside the varying cepages),  and likewise many people like soft rich wines more than I do.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 11/05

2004  Domaine de la Mordoree Cotes du Rhone La Dame Rousse   16  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $18   [ cork;  Wine Direct;  cepage usually c. Gr 40%,  Sy 30,  Ci 15,  Ca 10,  Counoise 5 ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  a bit lurid.  A big step down in the seriousness of the wines here.  This wine is  fragrant and blowsy,  a very ripe blend made in an obvious maceration carbonique / Beaujolais style.  As such,  it is ‘sweet’,  ripe,  full-bodied,  scarcely or not oaked,  and juicy,  but one-dimensional.  It is the French equivalent to the soft $10 Wyndham-type juicy Aussie supermarket reds,  and fair enough as such.  Don't cellar it beyond a couple of years,  though.  GK 11/05

2003  Domaine de l’Oratoire St Martin Cairanne C. du Rhone-Villages Reserve des Seigneurs   15  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $28   [ cork;  Caro’s;  Sy-dominant;  Parker 156 considers it:  “one of Cairanne’s  finest estates”,  and this wine:  “sweet fruit …  robust constitution with loads of blackberry and currant fruit,  low acid, a ripe fat finish.. 89” ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  A muted bouquet,  with retained fermentation odours and some sulphidic notes on dense dark berry.  Palate is rich and juicy,  scarcely oaked,  but made dull by entrained sulphur.  All the fruit and style is there,  but the wine doesn't sing,  and I doubt it will.  For southern Rhone wine,  like Burgundy,  needs to be fragrant to be good.  Not worth cellaring,  unless one is insensitive to reduced sulphurs (as many people are).  GK 11/05