One great wine to try before you die!


Grandes PlacesI get often asked: “What wine would you drink if your days were numbered?” It is a very difficult question to answer, not because I don’t have my preferences, favourites or have never experienced a wine moment where I said to myself:  “This wine is a proper one, whose transparency lets its sense of place shine through and transport you”, but because it depends on much more subtle details, such as the moment; what wine I would have at my disposal at that instant?

If my days were numbered, this wine moment could have well been on Monday 18th October, during a Wine School event dedicated to Domaine Gerin in Ampuis, the heart of the Côte-Rôtie appellation in the northern Rhône.

Well, at this stage you may not see my point, yet. The essence of this evening was a vertical tasting of their famous single vineyard wine Les Grandes Places, back from 2006 to 1999. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to have a clear picture and understanding of what this terroir is about, having just tasted recent vintages and one vintage only each time. On that particular evening I was glad to assist our highly esteemed Rhône Buyer, Simon Field MW, and excited because we had Jean-Michel’s son Michael as special guest.

We started with their entry level Côte-Rôtie, 2006 Champin Le Seigneur cuvée, made from most of their sites on the northern side of the appellation and with 10% Viognier. This was elegant and soft straight from the first sniff, with a floral tone (thanks to the Viognier) and clean black fruit notes. Still soft and fresh, the palate had very fine tannins and ended as it started: elegantly. One to drink over the next ten years.

Then followed 2006 La Landonne, a 0.4 hectare plot released as a single vineyard wine in 1996 (and 100% Syrah). Here the soils contain some iron oxide, which yield richness and black fruits notes.  This was a stylish and racy wine, spicy, structured and more profound than Champin Le Seigneur. Richness was here too but in the background, and will certainly break free from its oak nut shell. I would give it another four to five years, and then it will come together and last for another 15 years.    

J M GerinThen the curtain unveiled what we were waiting for: Les Grandes Places. Planted in two phases in the 1940s and 1960s, it has for a long time been the domain’s sole vineyard. This 1.3 hectare plot, sold as a single vineyard for the first time in 1988, encompasses flat and very steep areas. Here the soils have mica and schist with little iron elements. All these generate a character suggesting mint, laurel and gunflint.  2006 and 2004 were both tightly packed and straight but 2006 had more austerity with some mint components more evocative at this stage of peat. Both are promising wines and will benefit from further ageing. 2005 was rich, dense and ripe. Not too aromatic, yet reserved but already well balanced; a fine example of this memorable and stress-free vintage. Again still a bit young but should drink well from 2012 and before the 2006 and 2004 vintages.

Ripeness was a key element of the 2003 sample which, despite the extreme weather conditions, was fresh, elegant and tamed with rich black fruit and chocolate peppermint notes. Mouth-coating, and almost reminiscent of a good chocolate mousse, it led the way to a fat finish. Les Grandes Places’ characteristics were more obvious from that tricky vintage of which its freshness was evocative of a cool location.

The 2002 displayed a fresh and pure aspect. Obviously not a monster of concentration and complexity, some of its characteristics – mineral and mint – were playing an important part in keeping this wine alive. Nevertheless, it is a wine I would rather drink now and with food, like monkfish braised in bacon or the local cow’s cheese, Rigottes d’Ampuis.

2001 was the hardest vintage to apprehend in my view; dry and austere, giving very little away. Certainly shut down on that evening, it requires some time and patience but everything should be back together over the next year or so. Here the double decanting process did not provide any help.

The final pair included 2000 and 1999 respectively, both glorious and sumptuous samples combining at different levels. They brought together power, structure, a multi-layered texture and multi-faceted complexity. On both sides the gunflint, minty and bay leave characteristics were obvious and both were savoury. Of the two, 1999 certainly had the most poise and grip with a leafy note suggesting it is nearly approaching maturity, while 2000 had the slickest texture. Both provided ‘un grand moment’ of wine tasting, highlighting superbly what is requested to achieve Grand Vin status: a prime location, favourable weather conditions and a skilled grower/producer. Finally, both wines offer various options when matched with food as well as offering long-term potential. 

So now, based on that experience only, 1999 Les Grandes Places was certainly my favourite. And honestly, if my days had been numbered that night, I would have no remorse, maybe just a few regrets (for not having reduced “my 1000 wines to taste before I die” list to nil).  After tasting such a wonderful wine my very last will would have been to have: “Here lies the Rhône and Burgundy lover” carved upon my tombstone! (By the way, how on earth could I forget my native and cherished Burgundy?)

By Francis Huicq, Berrys’ London Shop