Hospice du Rhone installment 2, Ogier: Finesse, Elegance & Pairing
Finesse & Elegance- two words that are spewed out to a point of surfeit in wine diction- two words which I'd like to dump into a biodynamic compost heap. They’re tired and they’re cliché and they’re archaic, but what wedgies my tighty whities most is how they’re mechanically thrown about the winespeak pitching mound regardless of who’s up to bat. Setting the bar low (or high, either way you slug it) with a 16.5% percent alcohol elephantine Pinot Noir from Napa Valley that ‘somehow manages to be elegant.’ Come on, really. Or another claret, in the long line of distinguished clarets, that ‘reeks of finesse’…well maybe it does, but can’t we use another word? No not reek, I like reek, I mean for elegant. If you’ve got a dozen elegant Bordeaux, one by one in a shooting gallery, who cares? Doesn’t that make what they don’t have more interesting? The erroneous use & sheer redundancy of 'finesse & elegance' have soured me on said terms a bit, but what about when they’re spot on, dead center apropos, absolutely perfect adjectives to use on a wine at hand? Am I still allowed to sneak ‘em in as descriptors after bashing the hell out of them? Caveat emptor- some wines strike me as so archetypal that they must have existed before the adjectives came around, as if the words were created just for them, like a tailored suit. Ogier’s Cote Rotie, for lack of better terminology (or perhaps as an emblem of said terminology in its quintessence), are the incarnate of all enological finesse & elegance in all their defining grace. They float, they glide, they tiptoe with authority. Justification for their use noted.
If you’d like the inspired gasbag to continue to state his case for using such timid terms for such exemplary wines, feel free to nudge. For brevity’s sake, let’s move onto door number two.
Pairing- usually a term associated with the grouping of particular wines w/ particular foods, but during the Cote Rotie, The Next Generation seminar, I felt compelled to take the liberty to direct said term towards the grouping of a particular winemaker with...a particular winemaker. John Alban sitting next to Stephane Ogier, tasting his wines. The aforementioned moderator of the seminar makes some of the most burly, broad-shouldered expressions of Rhone varieties on the planet, easily taking the cake in the ‘my wine can beat up your wine’ competition. That said, they not only express their Edna Valley site uniquely, they do so in a way that I find to be compelling, equally and oppositely from the stable of Ogier. How is that possible? Big & balanced, ethereal & elegant- or, sans alliteration- good wines come in all dimensions. The chemist in me is interested in pH, brix, phenolic ripeness, dry extract...though my gustatory marrow tends to win out. In Bacchus we trust (or, for you 80’s pop music fans, consider Paula Abdul’s ‘opposites attract’ in verse).
We’ll call Ogier the Chateau Lafite of Cote Rotie (or the Chateau des Tours of the North, or the…you get idea), with John Alban playing the electric bass to his acoustic violin. Seriously, could you possibly make two Viogniers that are more different than Alban & Ogier? No cheating Italian fans, your funky fermented on the skins jobs don’t count. Why don’t they count? ‘Cuz I make the rules, my game.
Stephane Ogier’s line-up (minus the ’08 Syrah, La Rosine VDP & ’07 Cote Rotie Reserve, which were casualties of the hit & run variety):
Viognier 2008, Viognier de Rosine VDP
The bulk of Ogier’s discussion on his whites consisted of ‘I do NOT believe in battonage (stirring of the lees).’ Cautioned w/ a ‘hey, it’s cool if you do it, but that’s just not the way I roll.’ I’m paraphrasing obviously, it sounded much better in his French accent. Well the first of his Viognier came in under 12.5% alcohol, which is exceptionally low for the variety. The hue was slightly pale, but the bouquet was sheer ambrosia. A fiery spray of honeycomb, warm apple pie crust, rose petals & grapefruit peel stole the show, as the palate turned a bit trim, w/ its crunchy, almost tart rip of green apple-peel acidity brimming through the finish, 88 points.
A slightly headier (13% alcohol), more golden colored Viognier, with a reserved, coiled nose of quince, sea salt, peach & rose water perfume. This fleshier, naked expression of Viognier rips through the palate w/ a tactile, rocky-river bed like layer of minerality pumping out to the juicy finish. While the Condrieu is obviously a tad riper, it maintains a poise and lacy texture that is all Ogier This wine sees zero small barrels, 91 points.
Syrah L’Ame Soeur, VDP 2007
How many VDPs come even close to the class of this effort? His ‘07s are just tremendous up & down the line, w/ the VDP revealing a deep ruby core of color. The sultry perfume of wild spices, briar, white pepper, flat iron singed meat & dark, smoky berries almost gave me goose bumps. In the mouth, the entry weaves in such fabulous layers of suave, velveteen texture that I seldom experience from young Rhone, even in Cote Rotie. The ethereal wave of earthy, delicate fruit spins its way to the finish, propelled by a stony, rippling undercurrent of acidity, 92 points.
Cote Rotie, Lancement 2007
The Lancement was completely de-stemmed in 2007, firing out another impressively aromatic statement that brings to mind the irresistible scent of smoke swelling up from wood grilled game. The attack brings about a raw kaleidoscope of flavors, shuffling in notes of pepper, brick dust, tilled earth & sun baked dark fruits. The flavors flicker & spark the taste buds throughout the palate through shapely curves- an almost impossibly elegant frame. This is singular stuff that I can’t imagine coming from anywhere but Cote Rotie, 95 points.
Cote Rotie, Belle-Helene 2007
The Belle-Helene represents some of Ogier’s oldest vines in Cote Rotie, with the 2007 incorporating about 15% of the stems. Quite the contrast to the Lancement, which was full of showy immediacy, the Belle Helene has a taut, more sinewy tannic frame. In spite of its backward disposition, the quality of the fruit is obvious with its intense & perfumy notes of caramel, milk chocolate, cassis & lead pencil shavings. She’s got a body to die for, but a few more years in the cellar are a must, 95+ points.
Cote Rotie, Reserve du Domaine 2001
In spite of the 9 years under its belt, the Reserve is still impenetrably dark, arguably more so than the babies of the flight. A funky, freaky blast of the bouquet and you’re transported over to something from the world of Bonneau, as a provocative array of cabbage, sweet balsamic, stable floor, mushroom & iron notes smack from the stem. I’d obviously wager Chateauneuf from the bouquet alone, but the savagery toned down a bit as it aired, w/ the enveloping, deftly textured palate of warm currant fruit leaving a silky, almost cascading impression on the finish, 94 points.
Roussanne VDP, 2005
This wine was so deeply golden it made the previous Viogniers in the grouping look like tap water. Think concentrated urine the Sunday morning after a weekend bender that got way out of hand. Pee shaded robe aside, this was a helluva wine (albeit one that is not for everyone) conceptually reminding me of what hefty, dry Sauternes would taste like. Brazen & complex with its nose of ceiling wax, honeysuckle, French vanilla custard, nail polish, bee pollen & quince. Wow- that’s a lot of characteristics to decipher but trust me, they’re all there! As for the mouth-feel, for all its fat, opulent layers of glycerine, the wild ride was reeled in by an idiosyncratic tang, reeling it all in for the dry finish, 92 points.
*For the record, one of my favorite wines (not necessarily best, but favorite) of all time is a ’99 Ogier Cote Rotie. If affluent were part of my checking account’s vocabulary there’d be a LOT more of his wines in my attenuation of a cellar.