I've been tasting the en primeur releases of Michel Chapoutier's Selections Parcellaires for 15 years and it never fails to be a fascinating experience. Chapoutier decided years ago that he would present these small production wines to the world with an annual trade and press tasting in London, before showing them anywhere else. The idea is that merchants have the opportunity to assess the wines before certain market influencing international critics.
Chapoutier enjoys his customary glass of Bollinger before giving us the low-down on the vintage, his latest vineyard purchases and then moves on to Life, the Universe and Everything Else. 2017 in the Rhone was nowhere near the easy ride of 2015 or 2016. The threat of damaging frosts led Chapoutier to deploy twelve helicopters to circulate the air above the vines (Chapoutier is a helicopter pilot, himself). As the flowering started it became evident that coulure would also be an issue; post frost, as the vines rushed to reproduce, their flowering was erratic. To add insult to injury, sustained drought conditions resulted in further reduced yields. Whilst none of these issues impact the quality of the wines, the compound effect means there is much less wine to go around.
His views on sustainable vineyard practices and the importance of maintaining the microflora and fauna of the soil are well documented. He elucidates that the European practice of blending grapes evolved to compensate for a lack of complexity in wines, resulting from decreased biodiversity in the soils, due to overfarming. He further illuminates that the once traditional practice of field blending Viognier with the Syrah in Cote Rotie, derives from an early attempt to chaptalise, as Viognier has a naturally higher sugar content.
Chapoutier now has vines in Alsace, Australia and Roussillon, as well as the Rhone. His fascination with Riesling leads him to 'keep an eye on' Germany and a love of Chasselas tempts him to do something in Switzerland. Watch this space...
The following are my tasting notes from the Masterclass:
The Schieferkopf Riesling barrel samples have not yet completed their fermentations so still showed a little residual sugar but Chapoutier believes in always fermenting to full dryness for these wines. They are left in barrel, on their lees, for the maximum extraction of flavour.
2017 Riesling Lieu-Dit Berg, Alsace
Intensely floral, honey and apricot nose. Rich and luscious. There’s spine-tingling acidity. Fresh and zesty with a long, delicate finish. Drink over the next 5-8+ years.
2017 Riesling Lieu-Dit Buehl, Alsace
This has a more delicate honeysuckle scent. Ripe and fleshy, with mouth-watering acidity. The sensual palate is filled with flavours of peach, apricot and lemon sherbet. It’d vibrant and very long. Drink over the next 8-10 years.
2017 Riesling Lieu-Dit Fels, Alsace
Dried fruits, lemon and marzipan fill the nose. Very full and rich from start to long finish. Ripe strawberry, raspberry and red apple flavours combine on the palate. This has the most powerful delivery of the three wines. Drink over the next 8-10 years.
Bila-Haut, Cotes de Roussillon
The Bila-Haut property in Roussillon was Michel Chapoutier’s first purchase, back in 1995. The vines in Collioure which produce Chrysopee are over 60 years old, on average.
2017 Collioure, Chrysopee
Tiny yield of just 18hl/ha. 90% Grenache Gris + 10% Grenache Blanc The nose dsiplays greengage, lime and lemongrass. On the palate, there’s lots of grip and plenty of dry extract. It’s firm, bold and impressive. There’s a salty minerality, reminiscent of a fine Albarino. Very long and focussed. Drink up to 5-8+ years.
2017 R.I, Cotes du Roussillon Villages
This has a really gamey character to the nose. The palate is surprisingly sensual and seductive, with hedonistically ripe pomegranate and passionfruit flavours. Fresh acidity and soft tannins make for a balanced and rounded red that really hits the spot. Drink over the next 5+ years.
2017 V.I.T, Cotes du Roussillon Villages
60% Grenache + 40% Syrah Parma ham and clementine aromas. This is supple, succulent and fleshy. Fresh, ripe and almost delicate. It’s highly attractive quaffing right now and will be good for the next 5+ years.
Chapoutier’s 2017 Northern Rhones are less defined by the lush ripeness of 2015 or 2016; they are instead distinguished by the hallmark minerality and fresh acidity which underlines every vintage but has particularly come to the fore here.
2017 Les Granits Blanc, Saint-Joseph
This has a fragrant, waxy / lanolin nose. There are flavours of cantaloupe melon and dried apricots on the generous palate. An impressive mineral streak lends focus. Confidently structured, firm and balanced. It’s very long. Drink over the next 8-10+ years.
2017 Le Meal Blanc, Ermitage
The Meal vineyard derives its name from the French word for honey and there’s a floral, honeyed character to the nose here. In addition, I found attractive notes of ripe cheese rinds. It’s rich and full, in a structured and reserved style. Layered and complex, with plenty of dry extract. Very long and engaging. Drink over the next 15-20 years.
2017 De L’Oree Blanc, Ermitage
This is bursting with lively floral perfume and lifted citrus aromatics. The palate, too, is zesty and energised, with super-concentrated levels of extract and racy acidity. It’s elegantly defines and utterly harmonious. Delicious as it is now, it has the potential to cellar 20-25+ years.
2017 L’Ermite Blanc, Ermitage
Subtley seductive fruit salad aromas. The palate is like a tightly coiled spring. There are flavours of yellow gooseberry and plum. This is denser and fleshier but like the other whites, is defined by its rapier-like acidity and high extract. A poignant and long effort that will reward for easily 20-25+ years.
2017 Croix de Bois, Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Dark chocolate and fragrant black cherry dominate the full nose. The palate is fresh and lifted, with plenty of dark fruit character. Structure and defined. This is a wine which has steadily improved vintage on vintage and become increasingly sophisticated. Enjoy over the next 8-10+ years.
2017 Barbe Rac, Chateauneuf-du-Pape
At first, this appears more restrained but then it reveals fragrant aromas of dark plum and cherry. There’s a lovely palate of fresh and succulent red and black berries. Juicy and pure, with fine underlying tannins and balancing acidity. This has real finesse. Drink over the next decade plus.
2017 Les Varonniers, Crozes-Hermitage
This has classic aromas of smoky roasted meats. It’s firm and grippy but not so austere as to hide plenty of red and black cherry character. It’ll need a couple of years in bottle to soften the tannins and will reward for a good 8-10 years. A true vin de garde.
2017 Les Granits Rouge, Saint-Joseph
The nose delivers dark and brooding aromas of plum and chocolate. There are crunchy tannins supporting a full palate of dark fruits, ending in a long mulberry and violet finish. Drink over the next 10-12 years.
2017 Le Clos, Saint-Joseph
There are gorgeous aromas of cured ham, pink grapefruit and orange zest. This is fleshier, with an added succulence. There’s lots of red cherry, redcurrant and strawberry fruit character. Elegant, pure and perfectly rounded. It has a long, tapering finish. Drink over 10-12+ years.
2017 La Mordoree, Cote Rotie
Subtle aromas of raspberry and strawberry creams. The palate starts tight and tannic but unfolds to show lifted blackcurrant and cherry flavours. It’s powerful and dense. Massively proportioned and certainly structured for the long haul. It should improve comfortably for 12-15+ years.
2017 Neve, Cote Rotie
Loaded with summer pudding aromas and overlaid with a spicy orange note. This is so vibrant, you can feel it bursting with zesty energy. There’s serious structure but this is fleshed out with fruit. Dense and powerful; it’s built to last and should easily enjoy 15-20 years of life.
2017 Les Greffieux, Hermitage
Fruit cake mingles with a hint of mocha on the refined nose. This is supple and rounded, with flavours reminiscent of a cherry and crème Anglaise patisserie. Fresh, harmonious and vigorous. Enjoy over the next 12-15+ years.
2017 Le Meal Rouge, Ermitage
There’s ripe plum, black cherry and rose water on the nose. The palate echoes this, with the addition of a long blackberry finish. There’s real finesse here; everything is in harmony. It’s not the most massively ripe vintage of Meal but it doesn’t need to be. Once again, a light touch by Chapoutier has allowed the vintage to expressive itself in an unforced and natural way. Drink over the next 15-18+ years.
2017 L'Ermite Rouge, Ermitage
The L’Ermite vineyard is harvested a full 15 days later than Le Meal, due to its higher altitude.
Redolent with dark, perfumed plum. As usual, this is the most dense and massive of the red crus but this year it appears even more introspective than ever. The fine balance and precision almost go without saying. This is all about the marriage of power with subtlety. Game, cherry and redcurrents dominate the elegant and complex palate. This will need a good decade to unfold and will likely be at its best in 15-25 years time.
2017 Le Pavillon, Ermitage
This has a heady perfume of dark plum. The palate is compact and brooding. There are game and cherry and redcurrant notes starting to emerge. Despite the obvious sense of power, there’s subtlety, elegance and harmony throughout. Give this 15-25 years.
2017 Lady’s Lane Shiraz, Heathcote Australia
There’s a wonderful full nose of fresh orange and root ginger. The palate is subtle and effortless, showing redcurrant, raspberry and wild strawberry. It’s fresh, elegant and unusually gentle for a premium Ozzie Shiraz. Drink now and over the course of a decade or more.
2017 Saddleback Shiraz, Pyrenees Australia
The nose is a big hit of ginger and hoisin. Ginger comes through intensely on the palate, too. In addition, there’s ripe red cherry and further spicy notes of nutmeg and cinnamon. This would be a match made in heaven for many Chinese dishes. Drink now and over the next 8 years or so.
2017 L-Block Shiraz, Pyrenees Australia
There’s an intense aroma of cracked black pepper here. The palate is almost searingly tannic, with lots of concentrated plum and dried black cherry. Bold, powerful stuff that will need a few years to settle. Drink 5-12+ years.