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

There is sometimes an Alice in Wonderland quality evident in reading overseas reviews of the 2005 Chapoutier Selections Parcellaires wines (and to a degree,  the top Guigal wines too).  The wine world seems so dominated by American reviewers these days,  it is as if no-one in the rest of the world dares say 'peep' about these sometimes indulgent reviews.  Some of the wines are simply being hyped.

Take the four grand cru Chapoutier red Hermitages,  from 2005.  Scores for them range from 95 – 98 in Wine Spectator,  94 – 99 + in Wine Advocate,  and 93 + – 94 + in Stephen Tanzer.  Yet assuming Chapoutier 'assembles' the wines (so that all bottles start much the same),  one of the four is demonstrably reductive,  to a degree which will impact negatively on it,  probably for ever.  It is a very dubious cellar prospect,  at least for anybody at all sensitive to reduced sulphur in wines.  In case readers draw the conclusion I am overly sensitive to reduction,  winemakers from two of New Zealand's top wineries were present at this blind tasting of the Chapoutier grand cru wines.  They independently found the wine reductive.  But not one of the reviewers cited above mentions this issue.  [ Perhaps in some cases this may be due to reports influenced by barrel samples,  highlighting the perils of over-reliance on anything but finished bottled samples.  The reports however appear to be single-number scores,  implying bottled wines. ]

Similarly,  the three often-clumsy white wines from the hill of Hermitage also secure reviews ranging from 96 – 97,  96 – 98,  and 94 – 95 respectively,  as above.  Every year,  the same excuses are trotted out for them,  their richness,  how they improve in cellar,  etc.  But the fact of the matter is they are more or less excessively oxidative in their style,  and they are often further dulled by high-solids retained fermentation odours,  and high to very high alcohol.  This year,  they vary from a given 14% to 15%.  They are simply incongruous with most foods.  They are everything a white wine should not be,  neither fresh nor food-friendly.  How bizarre it is therefore that in a world crying out for grand cru red Hermitage,  that winemakers do not top-graft these curiosity white grapes over to syrah,  and make more of what the world actually wants.  The fact that these eccentric wines are of limited interest is evidenced by firms like J L Chave requiring buyers to take the white Hermitage,  to secure the red.  Why then the hyped reviews ?  

White wines reasonably conforming to world standards for big white wines can be made in the Rhone Valley.  The 2005 Vielles Vignes Blanc of Chateau de Beaucastel achieves that goal.  But for the Hermitage whites more particularly,  what do these wines contribute to the world of wine,  alongside the absolute beauty which syrah from these sites is capable of achieving,  in sensitive hands,  in a good season ?  This prized terroir on the hill of Hermitage is simply being wasted,  persisting with these incongruous whites.

But meanwhile,  as always,  some of the 2005 Chapoutier Selections Parcellaires red wines are beautiful examples of their style.  The very best of these syrahs shows exactly the optimal varietal characters described in my review of the ripening curve for syrah (30 Sept 2007),  characters which with careful viticulture and conservative yields we can also achieve in favoured sites and years in New Zealand.  Given the exceptional prospects for syrah in New Zealand,  these world-recognised Chapoutier top wines are therefore of critical importance to this country.  Since it was common knowledge that 2005 was an excellent vintage in the northern Rhone,  it is extraordinary therefore that the New Zealand importer of Chapoutier (a New Zealand company called Eurowine) chose to import so few of them that demand cannot be met.  Apparently six-only bottles of some labels were brought into this country.  How are questing winemakers to secure key reference wines such as these,  when they are unnecessarily made so scarce ?  It seems unlikely that is due to absolute rationing by Chapoutier,  given the bread & butter wines sell.

Acknowledgement:  this blind tasting was presented by Raymond Chan at Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington.  The background wine information is taken from his immaculately-prepared tasting notes,  supplemented by further reference to Chapoutier's very informative website.


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2006  Chapoutier Condrieu Invitare
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc l'Ermite
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc l'Orée
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc le Meal
 Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2005  Chapoutier Cote Rotie la Mordoree
2005  Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage les Varonniers
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage l'Ermite
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage le Meal
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage le Pavillon
2005  Chapoutier Hermitage les Greffieux
2005  Chapoutier St Joseph les Granits
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
2005  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac
2005  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Croix de Bois
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.


2006  Chapoutier Condrieu Invitare   18 +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $79   [ cork;  Vi 100% on granite hillsides;  hand-harvested;  cold-settled,  wild-yeast fermentation peaking @ 21 C;  full MLF;  30% only in French oak;  excellent info on website;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Lemon with a flush of straw,  appropriate,  immediately contrasting with the white Hermitage wines.  Bouquet is terrific,  pinpoint varietal viognier with yellow honeysuckle florals arising from clear-cut apricots ripened to full orange in colour.  There is even a hint of freshest dried apricots.  Palate initially is a bit of a shock after this sultry introduction.  It is full of flavour,  but very phenolic,  making the wine very firm.  Yet on the good side,  it is not over-oaked as the Guigal Condrieus so often are,  and the fruit richness is such that the flavours last and last.  Gradually the mouth accommodates quite happily to the phenolic load.  Yet alongside the beautiful 2006 Condrieu la Petite Cote from Yves Cuilleron,  it does seem heavy-handed.  It would therefore be harder to match with food.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc le Meal   17  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $277   [ cork;  Ma 100% 50 years age,  from le Meal on old cobbly terrace deposits;  hand-harvested "at full maturity";  cold-settled,  MLF assumed;  50% barrel fermented and aged in French oak some months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Colour is much the same as l'Orée,  full straw.  Bouquet however is neither as oxidative as l'Orée,  nor as reductive as l'Hermite,  taking the best features of both to be nearly dried fruit and mealy,  offset by pale sherry notes.  Palate is clearly spirity,  making the wine coarse in white table wine terms,  but the dried fruit flavours with just a hint of the mercaptan in l'Hermite are interesting,  if oaky.  This is the most accessible and pleasantly flavoured of the three wines,  and illustrates the eccentric style well.  As to cellaring,  I do not have sufficient experience of these wines well-aged.  Given the fundamentals evident in their youth,  that has never seemed a worthwhile deployment of funds.  Le Meal falls between the other two Hermitages blancs in style,  so conclusions may be drawn from the comments in their reviews.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc l'Ermite   16 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $447   [ cork;  Ma 100% more than 70 years age,  from granite hill-slopes at top of Hermitage hill;  hand-harvested;  cold-settled,  MLF assumed;  100% barrel fermented and aged in new French oak 10 + months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
A paler full straw than the other two,  but still very developed.  Bouquet on this wine is the most sulphur-affected,  with subtle mercaptan complexity adding charry notes to high-solids.  Palate reveals the same mealy to biscuitty and dried stone fruit flavours as l'Orée,  but all somewhat fresher and harder on entrained sulphur.  Trendy / imitative wine-writers will refer to this as minerality,  but being sulphur-based,  it is clearly not food-friendly.  The slightly lower alcohol helps the wine,  and it will cellar the longest of these three,  probably marrying away the sulphur notes.  So it may be a 10 or 20 year wine,  but given the original cost you would have little choice but to rationalise liking it at that point.  Suggestibility is a great thing,  in expensive wine.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage Blanc l'Orée   16  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $277   [ cork;  Ma 100% 60 – 70 years age,  from les Murets on alluvium;  hand-harvested "at advanced maturity";  cold-settled,  MLF assumed;  50% barrel fermented and aged in French oak 10 – 12 months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Colour is full straw with a flush of orange.  And the bouquet matches,  clearly showing oxidative characters,  and further dulled by high-solids fermentation odours.  Beyond these distracting details,  there are rich mealy to biscuitty lees-autolysis and barrel characters.  Palate is richly mealy grading to nutty,  with dried peach flavours,  good texture,  too spirity,  very dry,  some minerality,  a hint of pale sherry picking up the oxidative characters.  This wine probably has the lowest total sulphur of the three,  and is the most oxidised through bouquet and palate – standard clumsy grand cru white Hermitage.  Commentators assert these wines take on a second life after 10 years or so in cellar,  but where romance and fact coincide is hard to say.  For this wine in particular,  a pretty dubious cellar prospect,  I would say.  GK 07/08


2005  Chapoutier Hermitage le Pavillon   19 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $349   [ cork;  Sy 100% 65 years average  age,  from le Pavillon on mid to upper slopes on granite;  hand-harvested "just beyond peak maturity";  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top oak vessels,  fermentation to 32 C,  cuvaison up to 4 weeks;  15 – 18 months in 50% new French oak;  regular racking;  not fined or filtered;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a glorious syrah colour,  though not quite the deepest.  Bouquet is pinpoint syrah,  the sweetest and purest of the four,  wallflower florals in a firm way,  clear-cut cassis,  subtle black pepper,  and lots of dark fruit best characterised as darkest bottled black doris plum.  This suite of specific syrah varietal aromas is also exactly found in 2006 New Zealand Church Road Syrah Reserve,  and 2005 Te Mata Syrah Bullnose,  but in both cases without the firm authority of this wine.  Palate is the perfect match,  succulent in its richness (like the 2006 Church Road Reserve),  but again firmer than the New Zealand examples even though seemingly less new oak-affected,  wonderful dry extract,  great cassisy length,  and a clear black peppercorn and berry finish.  Not for nothing did Professor Sainsbury describe red Hermitage as the 'manliest' wine in the world !  It is not a very big wine,  but is perfectly proportioned.  Cellar 10 – 30 + years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage l'Ermite   19 +  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $422   [ cork;  Sy 100%  80 years average  age,  adjacent the Ermite chapel on top of Hermitage hill on granite;  hand-harvested ideally at minimum 13 degrees alcohol;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  fermentation to 32 C,  cuvaison up to 6 weeks;  15 – 18 months in 100% new French oak;  regular racking;  not fined or filtered;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the lightest of the four Hermitage syrahs,  but still good.  And the reason is evident as soon as one smells it,  for the ratio and influence of new oak is greater than the other three.  Like Pavillon the bouquet is redolent of wallflowers / carnations,  cassis and darkest plums,  though it is harder to pick up the black peppercorn,  due to the oak.  Palate is not quite as succulent as Pavillon,  and the new oak is more noticeable – no doubt accounting for the higher scores for this wine (in many instances).  Actual richness expressed as dry extract seems not quite as high as Pavillon,  but it too should cellar for 10 – 30 + years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage les Varonniers   18 ½ +  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $78   [ cork;  Sy 100%  60 + years age,  from footslopes on old terrace materials adjoining Hermitage hill;  hand-harvested;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  cuvaison up to 5 weeks;  12 – 14 months in various ages French oak;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally the darkest of the syrahs.  This wine needs a little time to unfold,  to reveal a slightly more new-world syrah of great intensity,  more noticeable toasty oak,  and marvellous cassisy and darkly plummy fruit.  There is a floral dimension too,  hinting at violets.  Palate is of tactile richness,  classical syrah,  succulent like the Pavillon,  perhaps not quite so noble in its fruit flavours,  though that is getting pretty rarefied / precious.  Length of flavour at this lower alcohol is wonderful.  This is the greatest Crozes-Hermitage I have ever tasted.  In the sense it does not come from the steep and rocky slopes of the hill of Hermitage proper,  this wine with its perfect ripeness is a critical link to Hawkes Bay syrah.  Since it is not as rare (or expensive) as the Hermitage grands crus,  it is a tragedy for everybody interested in syrah in New Zealand that the importer chose not to import it – beyond a token few bottles.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Cote Rotie la Mordoree   18 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $228   [ cork;  Sy 100%  of 60 + years,  from schist and granite hillside adjoining the Cote Blonde;  hand-harvested "at peak maturity";  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top oak vessels,  fermentation to 32 C,  cuvaison not given;  30% new French oak;  not fined or filtered;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the lightest of the syrahs.  Freshly opened this wine is a little disorganised.  With air it settles down to be deeply floral including violets and wallflowers,  in clear cassis,  bottled black doris plum,  and again black peppercorn.  Palate brings up the cracked black peppercorn a little more,  in a taut cassis-dominated wine like the Pavillon but not as rich.  It is not as rich as the Varonniers either,  but is more finely tuned,  with just a hint of Cote de Nuits in its well-breathed bouquet.  In a blind tasting,  one might just work out it was Cote Rotie,  therefore.  Oak is beautifully balanced,  much of it new.  There is a lot in common with the 2005 Te Mata Syrah Bullnose here.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage les Greffieux   18  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $228   [ cork;  Sy 100% ,  from the Greffieux vineyard on old cobbly terrace materials on lower slopes;  hand-harvested ideally at minimum 13 degrees alcohol;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  fermentation to 32 C,  cuvaison up to 6 weeks;  15 – 18 months in new and 1-year French oak;  regular racking;  not fined or filtered;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little deeper than l'Hermite.  Freshly poured,  there is a shadow of reduction about this wine,  nothing which can't be dissipated by a good decanting.  But it takes the edge off the florals,  the emphasis being more on cassis and bottled dark plums,  and some black pepper.  Palate likewise does not have quite the crystalline purity of the top four wines,  and the slight sulphur hardness exacerbates the oak.  This will settle down into a pretty reputable Hermitage,  I think,  with black pepper complexity emerging,  but give it 10 years to sort itself out.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac   18  ()
Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $141   [ cork;  Gr 100% including some of oldest in district 90 + years,  on old cobbly terrace materials;  hand-harvested;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  fermentation to 33 C,  cuvaison up to 3 weeks;  concern to prevent oxidation so matured only in s/s c.12 months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Older ruby.  I am generally not much attracted to Chapoutier's monocepage Chateauneufs,  believing that his adherence to a doctrinaire policy of one variety only,  without much evidence to support the merit of the notion,  is wilful.  It simply denies the wine the complexity and beauty an appropriate blend of varieties would bring.  But all the same,  this is pretty good grenache,  wonderfully pure,  with pinpoint red cherry,  raspberry and stick-cinnamon varietal characters both on bouquet and palate.  It is a pity the alcohol is 15%,  but at least the oak is seemingly older,  though pure and elegant.  And grenache does hide alcohol very well indeed.  Perhaps it is all s/s,  as the website suggests.  This should cellar well,  5 – 25 + years,  and be a food-friendly wine despite the alcohol.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier St Joseph les Granits   17 ½ +  ()
St Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $78   [ cork;  Sy 100% including old-vine material,  on granite;  hand-harvested ideally at minimum 12 degrees alcohol;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  cuvaison up to 4 weeks;  12 – 14 months in new and young French oak;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deeper than the Hermitages.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  the only one amongst the reds to be a touch rustic / bretty,  but much less than recent years of this label.  Complexed with those savoury notes are florals,  cassis,  black peppercorn and bottled plums.  Palate is quite rich,  very dry,  savoury,  tannic and more like a Cornas wine,  reasonably concentrated and long.  You'd have to be a bit of a brett-nazi to object to it in this year's Granits,  but some in the new world will.  Cellar 10 – 25 + years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape Croix de Bois   17 +  ()
Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  16%;  $112   [ cork;  Gr 100%  on old cobbly terrace materials;  hand-harvested;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in closed concrete vessels,  cuvaison up to 3 weeks;  concern to prevent oxidation so matured only in s/s c.14 – 16 months;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Younger ruby.  Bouquet is lifted and fumey,  at first making one think of some VA,  but on reflection it is probably just the spirity high alcohol.  Berry character is overt,  in the raspberry to loganberry to nearly boysenberry sequence,  all tending Australian,  over-ripe,  and clumsy.  Palate fits in with that sentiment,  but unlike most Australian offerings,  the oak is vanishingly subtle,  which helps alleviate the spirity palate a little,  and highlights the varietal cinnamon.  Hard to believe this wine needed to be so sugar-ripe to achieve pleasing flavours,  but the simple fruit purity is delightful.  [ The oak comments in these two Chateauneufs are the tasting impressions – reading the instructions comes later.]  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 07/08

2005  Chapoutier Hermitage le Meal   16 ½  ()
Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $301   [ cork;  Sy 100% ,  from le Meal on old cobbly terrace materials on mid-slopes;  hand-harvested ideally at minimum 13 degrees alcohol;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in open-top concrete vessels,  fermentation to 32 C,  cuvaison up to 6 weeks;  14 – 18 months in 50% new French oak;  regular racking;  not fined or filtered;  www.chapoutier.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not too different from Greffieux.  This is the runt in the litter,  the wine opening clearly reductive,  killing all florals and fragrance.  There is good rich fruit below,  however.  In mouth the entrained sulphur hardens the wine,  with some bitterness in the rich cassisy and darkly plummy fruit.  Oak is as attractively balanced as the other red Hermitages,  but like Greffieux and moreso,  the sulphur hardness makes it appear more noticeable.  A potentially fine wine has been rather wrecked in the elevage,  here.  I think it dubious it will ever bury the sulphur,  or blossom.  It therefore seems extraordinary this obvious defect is not mentioned by other reviewers,  so far as I am aware.  It seems improbable a winemaker in Chapoutier's position would fail to 'assemble' the wine before bottling,  to minimise bottle variation.  Chapoutier however declines to answer correspondence on this matter.  All very curious.  It will cellar 10 – 30 years,  but is unlikely to improve (unless one is insensitive to reduced sulphurs – as many are).  GK 07/08