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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hangin' w/ Julien Barrot of Domaine Barroche, Some Thoughts, Some Wines

I was fortunate enough to spend some time w/ Julien Barrot recently during his whirlwind tour of the United States (as if his wines needed additional promotion) & we caught up on some Chateauneuf gossip over dinner. For those that haven’t seen any photos of Julien, he’s a painfully handsome, young Frenchman (the perfect weapon to bring to a pour happy, female bartender) and while not gun shy, he’s as modest a farmer as any. Farmer being the operative word, considering that he would never refer to himself as a winemaker.

The Barrot family has owned several hectares for centuries, yet like most traditional families in the region, they sold off nearly all their grapes in bulk to negociants, tucking away the rest for personal consumption (a 1980 Julien opened for our birth year was showing surprisingly spry recently). Julien is part of a large generation of young, ambitious offspring; call it the ‘acknowledgement era’ that propelled children into adulthood, turning their birthright vineyard holdings into something truly special. As Julien would walk along his sandy soil plots of century year old Grenache vines that lay adjacent to the famed Chateau Rayas vineyard, he knew he was sitting on the equivalent of liquid gold and was not content to put his treasure in the hands of a negociant. He knew it was time to make something singular & put Domaine Barroche on the map. After a few short months interning in Australia and satellite appellations of France, he returned to an inauspicious occasion, the 2002 vintage. After the torrential harvest floods of the vintage, he tucked away his dream for another year, only to be met by the scorching heat of 2003. Not exactly an ideal springboard to greatness. ’04 was solid, yet quiet. Then ’05 absolutely erupted onto the scene and in the blink of an eye, his wines were gone. So much for slow and steady…..

In spite of the Domaine’s polarizing beginnings, things are starting to settle into a groove for Julien and his wines continue to go from strength to strength. His portfolio has a traditionally fashioned Chateauneuf, a more progressive cuvee called ‘Fiancee’ (that utilizes a hefty dollop of Syrah) and his flagship wine, simply called Pure, a tribute his finest terroirs, using 100 percent old vine Grenache. He has a penchant for Syrah that isn’t shared by many of his fellow vignerons in Chateaunuef, who believe Syrah belongs in the North and has no earthly business in the South, except for a bit of blending here and there. Considering that Cabernet has yet to excite his palate, I figured some New World Syrah was in order, particularly from producers that he can’t grab back in the old country.

We began the evening w/ a glass of pungent, tropically infused Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay. Julien and I appreciated its exuberant passion fruit, grass and quince flavors that exploded through the palate, zipping through a sweet, impressive finish. Others at our table found it to be a bit much, though that tends to be par for the course w/ Cloudy. Speaking of ‘a bit much,’ what better way to ignite the fire than w/ a Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah '05? The aromas were completely ridiculous, brewing from the decanter like a beef stew that had been seeping for days. I said it then and I’ll say it now, this is the only wine that makes me giggle when I’m smelling it. Almost on command, I go from uncontrollable laughter, to downright salivation, chewing my way through its rich, creamy flavors of smoked ham, crème de cassis, flowers and warm ganache. This wasn’t the brightest showing of this vineyard, yet it remained sinfully delicious and got us started on the right foot.

Moving back to the white spectrum, I figured an Alban Roussanne '05 was in order to demonstrate what California could do in honor of Beaucastel. The sweet, honeyed nose revealed copious amounts of tangerine, candle wax and buttered brioche scents that were round and plump in the mouth, reeling in the sweetness of fruit w/ nice focus and precision. The one bit of ‘cheating advice’ I can offer for this type of wine is to serve it a bit on the cold side, keying up the acidity and toning down the alcohol just a bit so she can really shine (don’t blame Roussanne, it’s just her nature to be heady and a bit soft). Moving on to the old world, an '01 Pegau Laurence brought us back to the Provencal breezes that Julien was more familiar with, expelling a bouquet of freshly cut rosemary, white pepper, sweet spices and pure black currant fruit that seemed to gain weight and intensity as it sat in the glass.

While the Laurence was tough to top, I figured Kongsgaard’s Syrah could be up to the challenge. Indeed it was, yet not at first. The stacked, layered opulence of the Syrah was taut and bound initially, but resolved over the evening to pump out fried sausage, blackberry sauce and exotic spice tones that filled out the palate w/ a full bodied, multi-dimensional personality. The ’02 is not the strongest vintage John has made (the ’05 is the finest Syrah I’ve tasted from California), yet it was by no means a slouch and acquitted itself well. Another Alban, the ’05 Pandora, was disappointing. While ripe, fleshy and certainly high octane, it lacked the rugged charm and distinctiveness I look for in John’s wines and demands cellaring to kick its uber-primary profile. For dessert, the Saxum James Berry Syrah perfume fabulously well, w/ soaring aromatics of crushed berries, cola, licorice and iron. Like most of Justin Smith’s wines, this was fabulously textured and had striking richness to the fruit.

As Julien and I bid a bientot he mentioned how difficult it was for him to leave the bright lights of the big city. I said that’s funny, I felt the exact same way when I drove away from the galet covered soils of his homeland, Chateauneuf du Pape. Grass is always greener I suppose….except in Brooklyn, where we don’t exactly have any grass.

Wine Rating
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 91
Cayuse Cailloux 2005 95
Alban Roussanne 2005 92
Pegau Laurence 2001 95+
Kongsgaard Syrah Hudson Vineyard, 2002 94
Alban Pandora 2005 90?
Saxum James Berry 2005 94


Blogger cellar rat said...

Brad, excellent writeup! Julien is a great guy and super humble. Keep em coming Brad.

Thursday, November 20, 2008  
Blogger Brad Coelho said...

Thanks for the love man! Julien is good times- he dug you and had a great time in CA. I would have had a great time too if I were lubed up w/ all those great bottles he was pounding! '47 Leroy?!

Thursday, November 20, 2008  
Blogger cellar rat said...

'47 Leroy? Geezus! I was only with him when he was pouring! I missed out big time. Damn. I can't wait to see the wines he's putting out next year. Hopefully they'll sale some at the Domaine. ;)

Friday, November 21, 2008  

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