Category Archives: France – Rhône Valley

Domaine Saint Gayan, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Trescartes” 2016

($15, Europvin USA):  Domaine Saint Gayan, known for their Gigondas, also makes a notable Côtes du Rhône from grapes grown in the neighboring villages of Seguret and Sablet, two of the named villages of the more prestigious Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation, according to their website.  In keeping with the source of the grapes, the wine is a cut above the usual Côtes du Rhône, exhibiting more character than many.  Though from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (75%), Syrah (20%) and Mourvèdre, it is not a usual wine.  Fresh and juicy, it has a spice that gives it a charming edginess.  It’s another great choice for the grilling season.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 30, 2020

Domaine Saint Gayan, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Trescartes” 2016

($15, Europvin USA):  Domaine Saint Gayan, known for their Gigondas, also makes a notable Côtes du Rhône from grapes grown in the neighboring villages of Seguret and Sablet, two of the named villages of the more prestigious Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation, according to their website.  In keeping with the source of the grapes, the wine is a cut above the usual Côtes du Rhône, exhibiting more character than many.  Though from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (75%), Syrah (20%) and Mourvèdre, it is not a usual wine.  Fresh and juicy, it has a spice that gives it a charming edginess.  It’s another great choice for the grilling season.
90 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Abeilles” 2017

($13, Taub Family Selections):  Jean-Luc Colombo is a star producer in the Northern Rhône appellation of Cornas.  Many credit him as a locomotive for that appellation, pulling it onto the world’s stage.  It turns out that he also makes a stylish, bargain-priced Côtes du Rhône.  His “Les Abeilles” (the bees) is both fruity and spicy with good power without being overdone.  A blend of Grenache (60%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvèdre, it is far more polished than you’d expect for a wine from this appellation.  It’s a super value.  Buy it by the case for this summer’s casual drinking with hamburgers from the grill.
91 Michael Apstein May 26, 2020

E. Guigal, Condrieu (Rhône Valley, France) 2016

($61, Vintus):   Condrieu is a small, 500-acre, appellation just south of Côte Rôtie on the western bank of the Rhône River that produces only white wine made from the Viognier grape.  The clone, or bio-type, of Viognier in Condrieu is smaller and lower yielding than Viognier planted elsewhere, which helps explain the expense of the wine.  Guigal, the best and justifiably the most famous producer in the Rhône Valley, always makes an exceptional Condrieu.  Their 2016 fits that mold, delivering engaging floral note and bright, but not sweet, peachy flavors. An alluring slightly bitter finish provides a welcome ying-yang balance.  Fresh and bright, this Condrieu is a wonderful choice for those hard to match foods, such as roast pork, or sushi.
94 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2019

E. Guigal, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2017

($42, Vintus):  Guigal, based in the northern Rhône village of Ampuis, has made Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the southern Rhône’s most famous wine, since the 1940s.  But this 2017 is their first white Châteauneuf du Pape.  White Châteauneuf du Pape is unusual, since about 95 percent of the appellation’s production is red.  Guigal’s acquisition of Château Nalys in Châteauneuf du Pape in 2017 gave them access to high quality white grapes from nine other growers.  (Guigal also now makes two white estate Châteauneuf du Pape from their own grapes bottled under the Château Nalys label.)  This white Châteauneuf du Pape is in the Guigal style–opulent, but not heavy or overdone.  It conveys ripe stone fruit flavors offset with balancing firmness.   A full-bodied white, it would go well with sautéed chicken in a creamy mustard sauce.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2019

Antoine Ogier, Tavel (Rhône Valley, France) “Etamines” 2017

($15):  Tavel, an appellation established in 1936 solely for rosé, usually produces wines that are notably more robust than other rosé wines.  Indeed, in this case, you could consider many of them as light reds, and Ogier’s, befitting the appellation, has more color and depth, balanced by vigorous acidity.  It’s a good choice for the barely cooked tuna atop a salad Niçoise.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 3, 2018

Domaine Raspail-Aÿ, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2015

($38):  Gigondas and its more well-known brother, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, share the same level on France hierarchical appellation status: they are both one of nine cru of the southern Rhône Valley.   They both use a similar blend of standard Mediterranean varieties, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, among others.  The big difference is their price — Gigondas, lacking the name recognition of its more renown brother, is less expensive, but in my mind, no less satisfying.  Domaine Raspail-Aÿ is certainly one of the appellation’s top producers.  Their 2015 is stunning, with body and power befitting Gigondas, but a finesse and polish that is rarely seen in the southern Rhône.  Energetic and mineral-y, it’s a fine choice now for hearty grilled lamb or beef.  In celebration of an important birthday, I just had a double magnum of their 1988 Gigondas that was positively thrilling, so I have no doubt the 2015 will develop beautifully.  There’s no rush to consume it all now.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 19, 2018

Laudun Chusclan Vignerons, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Esprit du Rhône” 2015

($17, Quintessential):  Laudun and Chusclan are two villages, practically adjacent to one another, on the right bank of the Rhône, across the river from Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Although both villages are included in the umbrella appellation of Côte du Rhône-Villages, the members of the very good co-operative there, Laudun Chusclan Vignerons, also make straight Côtes du Rhône from vineyards that lie outside the strict borders of the two villages.  Comprised of the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsault, it has good density and an herbal, peppery component that gives it an appealing “not just fruit” character.  This mid-weight wine is satisfying now and goes right into my “wine with roast chicken” category. 89 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2017

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, Côtes du Rhône-Villages (Rhône Valley, France) “Domaine Grès St. Vincent” 2015

($15, Jenny & François Selections):  This fine co-op, Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, bottles wine from individual members by using a domaine label, such as this one, Domaine Grès St. Vincent.  The usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, produces an unusually fine wine.  The Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation is a cut above Côte du Rhône because the grapes come from a smaller number of villages with the potential to produce better wines.  Befitting the more exalted appellation, the Domaine Grès St. Vincent is bigger and bolder, without being boisterous, compared to the co-op’s straight Côtes du Rhône (also reviewed this week).  With substance and muscle, this wine is not appropriate for chilling, but rather for opening with robust fall fare.  Another tremendous value! 90 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2017

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, Côtes du Rhône-Villages (Rhône Valley, France) “Domaine Les Genestas” 2016

($15, Jenny & François Selections):  This single grower wine, Domaine Les Genestas, from the top-notch co-op on the “other” (western) side of the Rhone delivers power without sacrificing refinement.  Made entirely from Syrah, it combines pepper-like spike with plum-like flavors wrapped in smooth tannins.  It’s another great value.  Who says co-ops don’t make excellent wines? 93 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2017

Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Grandes Vignes” 2016

($15, Jenny & François Selections):  I know this producer, a co-operative, well, having rented a summer vacation house fifteen minutes down the road every year for a decade.  They have many bottlings and many labels, but one thing that is constant is the quality of their wines and the value they deliver.  Take this straightforward Côte du Rhône.  Made exclusively from Cinsault, it’s both earthy and fruity with suave tannins.  Refined and smooth, especially for a Côte du Rhône, it could be chilled for summertime sipping.  This mid-weight red is perfect for pizza or roast chicken.  It’s a tremendous value. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2017

Guigal, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) 2012

($16, Vintus): If there is a more enjoyable red wine at this price, I’d like to know about it.  Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône is always an excellent value and the 2012 is no exception.  It’s riper and a touch fruitier than the racier 2013, which is also on the market.  Which to choose?  Frankly, I’d stock up with both the 2013 and the 2012 if you can find them both.  Although ready to drink, my experience with these wines is that they evolve and are even better after a few years of bottle age, so there’s no rush.  Guigal’s 2012 Côtes du Rhône is the perfect wine for burgers or grilled meat at your end of summer BBQ.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2017

Guigal, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) 2013

($16, Vintus): Collectors and conoisseurs know of Guigla’s “La La’s”, as they are called — his tiny production, single vineyard wines from the Côte Rôtie, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque — that sell for hundreds of dollars upon release.  Though I adore those wines, I admire Guigal because he makes large quantities of high quality “basic” Côtes du Rhône that are affordable.  Indeed, if you are looking for an under $20 “go-to” red wine for everyday drinking, I can’t think of a better one.  The 2013, just on the market, makes for a fascinating comparison with the 2012, which is still widely available.  The 2013 Guigal Côtes du Rhône has a racy, earthy edge to its moderate weight.  With fine tannins, this wine is a joy to drink with simple summertime grilled fare.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 22, 2017

Mas des Bressades, Costières de Nîmes (Rhône Valley, France) “Cuvée Tradition” 2015

($15, Robert Kacher Selections): Costières de Nîmes, one of the lesser-known subregions of the greater Rhône Valley, lies on the right (western) bank of the river.  Wines from here lack the popularity — and price — of the more upscale subregions, such as Vacqueyras or Cairanne.  Hence, they are fertile hunting ground for bargains, such as this one.  It’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache that delivers a refined or charming rusticity.  It’s a nicely balanced blend of spice, herbal notes and fruity elements.   A perfect choice for those hearty dinners on the horizon as the temperature drops.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2016

Chene Bleu, IGP Vaucluse (Rhône Valley, France) “Héloise” 2009

($110, Wilson Daniels): Nicole Rolet and her team at Chene Bleu are shooting for the stars with their wines, aiming to be one of the Rhone’s top producers.  And they are well on their way.  This is a property to watch.  A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Viognier, Héloise has power coupled with exquisite finesse.  The Viognier adds an alluring flowery element that lifts the wine so that it dances on the palate.  Despite the lightness a foot, it has an almost paradoxical concentration and depth.  Rolet refers to it as wine for gibier à plume (literally game with feathers), such as a roast duck.  So if the financial gods were good to you last year, Chene Bleu’s Héloise would be a good reward this winter.
94 Michael Apstein Jan 12, 2016

Pierre Gonon, St. Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) 2012

($53, Kermit Lynch): Wow.  You don’t normally expect this kind of power and finesse from a wine from St. Joseph.  But some producers are now demonstrating that St. Joseph can be a locale for great wines.  Though it’s a long narrow appellation on the west bank of the Rhône, a portion of it at its southern end sits directly across from Hermitage and indeed, the granite rock in which the vines are planted is identical to the soil across the river.   Over the millennia, the Rhône cut this piece of granite into two, leaving a large chunk of either side of the river.   Gonon’s 2012 St. Joseph has a Hermitage-like meatiness complemented by just the right amount of spice.  Underlying minerality comes through so this is by no means a fruit-bomb.  A big wine to be sure, it’s polished enough to allow you to enjoy it now with a long-simmered beef dish.  Its balance and finesse suggests that you will be rewarded by cellaring it — that is, if you can resist its charms now.
95 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2015

Château de Saint Cosme, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2012

($42): Gigondas, another one of the nine “cru” in the southern Rhône Valley whose wines are distinctive enough to warrant identification by only the name of the village, is capable of producing powerful, yet stylish wines.  This is one them.  Using the usual blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault, the team at Saint Cosme have fashioned a delightfully unusual combination of black fruit flavors, mineral-like nuances and herbal notes, all of which are wrapped in suave tannins. Though not appropriate as a stand-alone glass before dinner, its balance and suaveness makes it surprisingly enjoyable — for a young beefy wine — for a hearty dinner tonight.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2015

Guigal, Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France) 2012

($24, Vintus Wines): Guigal is one of, if not the, star producer in the Rhône Valley.  Their wines, especially their single vineyard wines from the Côte Rôtie, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turgue, which now command hundreds of dollars upon release, have shown the world the grandeur and finesse of Rhône wines.  Guigal’s real talent, in my mind, lies in the quality they bring to the less prestigious appellations in the Rhône.  Take this Crozes-Hermitage for example.  Located on the flatter land around Hermitage, it sits well below that appellation on the prestige ladder.  But the beauty of Crozes-Hermitage is that the consumer gets an insight into the Syrah-based wines of the Rhône at a fraction of the price of Hermitage — and they are ready to drink far sooner than those from the more exalted appellation.  Guigal’s 2012 is a perfect example.  From the hand of a master, it’s suave with an almost creamy texture and a delightful mouth-tingling hint of spice.  Its weight and subtle power make it a perfect choice for hearty fare this fall and winter.  It’s hard to find a more enjoyable wine at this price.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2015

Domaine Montirius, Vacqueyras (Rhône Valley, France) “Le Clos” 2010

($26): This is a classic example of Vacqueyras, one of the nine “cru” in the southern Rhône Valley whose wines are distinctive enough to warrant identification by only the name of the village.  (Châteauneuf-du-Pape is likely the best known of the southern Rhône cru.)  This Vacqueyras is big, but not overdone, conveying a lovely combination of herbs, spice and dark fruit.  This attractively rustic wine would be perfect as the temperature falls and the hearty stews and casseroles of winter appear.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2015

Les Dauphins, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) Réserve 2013

($11, Monsieur Touton Selections): Côtes du Rhône, a vast appellation in the southern Rhone Valley, produces both well priced satisfying red wines and mediocre ones.  This one, in the former category, shows why the appellation remains so popular.   A “bistro wine” at its best, it’s refreshing, fruity and slightly spicy, but not heavy. The tannins are so minimal you can chill it without bringing out astringency, yet they add just the right amount of structure.  (Remember it for next summer when you’re grilling burgers.)  For now, it’s a tremendous value that will be perfect this winter with a pizza or a coq au vin.
87 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2015

Domaine de Fondrèche, Ventoux Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2014

($17, Robert Kacher Selection): Ventoux, an appellation in the Southern Rhône Valley, is known more for red wines than for whites.  This wine changes that impression immediately.  It’s crisp and clean, with a hint of white flowers and none of the heaviness frequently seen in southern Rhône whites.  Long and precise, it’s a revelation to see what this appellation can produce in white.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2015

Guigal, Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France) 2011

($24, Vintus): Crozes-Hermitage, an appellation on flatter ground surrounding the prestigious and sloped Hermitage appellation, is a sleeper site for attractively priced Syrah-based Rhône wines.  In distinction to its more famous neighbor, wines from Crozes, as they’re sometimes known, need less aging and are far less expensive, but can provide enormous value, especially when produced by a top firm, such as Guigal.  Guigal’s 2011 is a picture perfect example of Crozes-Hermitage, delivering an enlivening combination of minerality and black peppery notes.  Not overwrought — its stated alcohol is only 13 percent — it’s a sophisticated wine that would be a fine choice to accompany at steak on the grill this summer.
91 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

Les Dauphins, Côtes du Rhône (France) Reserve 2013

($13, Plume Ridge): I’m always amazed when a wine takes the trip across the pond, and then across the country, and still manages to deliver great quality for under fifteen dollars. Doesn’t the fuel to get it here cost almost that much?  I jest, of course, but there’s nothing funny about this value leader.  Classic white pepper, black and blueberry, soft spice and added notes of leaf and tar entice your nose, then flood your palate with full translation of aromas to flavors.  Food friendly acidity and moderate 13% alcohol make this a wine for a wide array of dining partners — I’d go for a simple seared sirloin or an herbaceous chicken recipe.  Contains 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre.
90 Rich Cook May 5, 2015

Guigal, Côtes du Rhône (Rhône Valley, France) 2011

($14, Vintus): Guigal, more than anyone, is responsible for catapulting Rhône wines from a cult following in the 1980s to their now extraordinary widespread popularity.  Guigal is, of course, famous for their single vineyard bottlings of Côte Rôtie wines, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque, which now are highly allocated and sell for hundreds of dollars a bottle upon release.  (To put the rocket-like rise of popularity of Rhone wines into perspective, La Mouline and La Landonne sold for less than $20 a bottle in the early 1980s.)  For me, what’s most amazing about Guigal is how they consistently produce such a high quality bargain-priced lowly Côtes du Rhône.  There’s nothing complicated about Guigal’s 2011.  This mid-weight wine is just a perfect mix of spicy, meaty and fruity flavors that delivers far more enjoyment than the price suggests.  Buy a case for grilling burgers this summer.  I just did.
90 Michael Apstein May 5, 2015

M. Chapoutier, Luberon (Rhône Valley, France) “La Ciboise” 2013

($15, Terlato Wines International): Though technically part of the Rhône, the Luberon is cool because of its elevation, with the harvest a couple of weeks later than Châteauneuf du Pape.  The cooler climate likely explains the bright profile of this zippy wine.  Without even a whiff of heaviness that sometimes plagues white wines from the Rhône, Chapoutier’s La Ciboise has a spiced note, is bracingly clean with even a slight prickly edginess in the finish.  It will awaken your palate and brighten your dinner.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 10, 2015

Domaine de la Citadelle, Luberon (Rhône Valley, France) “Gouverneur Saint-Auban” 2013

($25): Domaine de la Citadelle, one of the top producers in the Luberon and a name to remember, makes a range of wines.  This wine, labeled Gouverneur Saint-Auban, is their top white (They also make a stunning red under the same moniker).  A blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc, it is fermented in older oak barrels, which adds complexity — but not oaky or woody flavors.  Alexis Rousset-Rouard, who runs this family domaine, sums it up, “The oak brings more to it than it takes away.”  Subtle stone fruit flavors lend intrigue while energetic acidity prevents the heaviness that can plague white wines from the Rhône.  Try it with a roast chicken this winter.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Domaine de la Citadelle, Luberon (Rhône Valley, France) “Le Châtaignier” 2013

($17): Though the Luberon is known mostly for its red wines, notable whites are popping up in that appellation.  This one, from one of the region’s top producers, is a blend of mostly (70%) Clairette and Grenache Blanc.  Domaine de la Citadelle has avoided heaviness, something that plagues many Rhône whites, in this wine.  Fresh, clean and bright it conveys a touch of nuttiness that complements the delicate stone fruit flavors.  An attractive and subtle bitter finish makes it an ideal choice to accompany a seafood salad.
91 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Domaine de la Citadelle, IGP Vaucluse (Rhône Valley, France) “Viognier de la Citadelle” 2013

($17): The regulations for the AOP (formerly known as AOC) Luberon require the wines be made from a blend of grapes because it’s the tradition in the region. That’s why this one, made entirely from Viognier, a white grape whose home is the northern Rhône, but thrives at Domaine de la Citadelle, carries the IGP designation instead of a more prestigious AOP.  But don’t let the classification deter you from embracing this delicate and flowery example.  Not particularly heavy or alcoholic, as many Viognier outside of the northern Rhône can be, Domaine de la Citadelle’s bottling is a delight as it dances on the palate revealing subtle notes of white flowers and peach-like flavors.  It’s a great choice for roast pork.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Domaine de la Citadelle, Luberon (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Artemes” 2013

($22): This wine has, not surprisingly given the blend of Grenache and Syrah, considerable muscle for a rosé.  A touch of structure and spice balances the density perfectly. Alexis Rousset-Rouard, who runs the domaine, puts it nicely, “It’s a rosé for September instead of May.”  It’s also good with roasted salmon in January.
90 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Chateau la Canorgue, Luberon (Rhône Valley, France) 2011

($17, Polaner Selections): Though located in the southern Rhône — but really in the heart of Provence — the Luberon is cooler than one would imagine because of its elevation.  That explains why Syrah, a variety found more in the northern Rhone, is such an important component of the blends.  The wines, such as this one, have more than a fleeting resemblance to their northern Rhone cousins at a considerably lower price point.  This blend of Syrah (60%), Grenache and Carignan delivers a marvelous mixture of meatiness and hints of white pepper in addition to succulent fruit flavors.  Mild tannins allow immediate enjoyment with hearty wintertime fare.  Here’s a wine for slow simmered lamb shanks.
92 Michael Apstein Dec 30, 2014

Domaine de Durban, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône Valley, France) 2011

($30, Kermit Lynch): Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a unique fortified sweet wine, has long been held in high regard, having received appellation status in 1945 and elevated to a cru, comparable to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in 2005.  Domaine de Durban, one of the appellation’s top producers, makes a consistently glorious traditionally styled wine.  Honeyed, but amazingly not heavy, it finishes with uplifting acidity that imparts an invigorating vibrancy.  Its complexity appears gradually, with time in the glass, and makes you want to savor the wine slowly.  It’s a natural to pair with a cheese course or serve as dessert.  I avoid serving it, or any sweet wine, with desert because the sweetness of the two can clash.  It’s available in half-bottles as well, one of which will serve four people easily.
93 Michael Apstein Dec 9, 2014

Domaine de Durban, Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône Valley, France) Vieilles Vignes 2012

($19, Kermit Lynch): The reputation of Beaumes-de-Venise hails from it sweet wines.  But the red wines from Beaumes-de-Venise were recently promoted to “cru” status, much like neighboring Gigondas. Domaine de Durban, one of the leading producers of sweet Beaumes-de-Venise, shows itself to be equally adept with the red wine.  A blend of mostly (60%) Grenache, Syrah (25%) and Mourvèdre round out the blend.  It’s a sturdy red, full of mineral-like flavors, a hint of tar and herbs that complement deep black fruit flavors.  It’s a wintertime wine to accompany a hearty leg of lamb.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2014

Domaine Jean-David , Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Rhône Valley, France) 2011

($20, Polaner): Domaine Jean-David is a small 40-acre domaine located in Seguret, one of the 18 villages that make more distinctive wine and therefore are allowed to append their name to the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages appellation.  Made from the usual Mediterranean blend of Grenache (71%) and Carignan (14%) with Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Syrah rounding out the blend, it is both floral and mineraly with suave tannins.  It’s a great choice for current consumption with hearty winter fare.
89 Michael Apstein Mar 12, 2013

Le Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley) “Télégramme” 2009

($42, Kermit Lynch): The second wine of the famed Vieux Télégraphe, Télégramme is made from what the Brunier family calls their “young” Grenache vines, 20 to 25 years old! The 2009 vintage produced rich ripe wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the ‘09 Télégramme fits that mold. With more primary fruit and less complexity that the 2009 Vieux Télégraphe, it is nonetheless extremely satisfying for its vivacious bright fruit intertwined with spice. Easy to drink now because of suave tannins, it’s a good choice for hearty winter fare.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 12, 2013

Jaboulet, Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Jalets” 2009

($26, Frederick Wildman):  Jaboulet, one the great names of the Rhône, has been through some tumultuous times lately.  Fortunately, they have weathered the storms, turned things around, and are now back on track.  And if anyone needed any proof, I suggest tasting Jaboulet’s two wonderful Crozes-Hermitage.  The Les Jalets comes from younger vines within Jaboulet’s holdings in Crozes-Hermitage.  It receives no barrel aging.  Its beauty comes from its grace, balance and immediacy.  Spice and fruit come together seamlessly, unencumbered by oak.  To their credit, Jaboulet does not overwork this wine.  They just let the pure fruit shine.  It would be a good choice for a hearty stew tonight. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 23, 2012

Jaboulet, Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France) “Thalabert” 2009

($54, Frederick Wildman):  Old vines, also exclusively from Jaboulet’s holding, make this a more complex wine.  Judicious oak aging amplifies the palate of flavor.  Less immediately overt because of a more tannic structure, it reveals itself slowly, especially in the finish.  An alluring meatiness emerges.  Graceful, powerful and long, it’s far better than many producers’ Hermitage. 94 Michael Apstein Oct 23, 2012

Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône Valley, France) 2009

($119, Vineyard Brands):  Beaucastel is one of the top properties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Year after year, they produce a multidimensional, age-worthy wine.  Although Mourvèdre and Grenache, at about 30% each, comprise the majority of the blend, Beaucastel uses all 13 grape varieties permitted in the appellation, which may explain the phenomenal complexity of their wines, especially the 2009.  Their 2009 combines exotic earthy nuances with ripe red and black fruit flavors without being overdone, alcoholic or heavy.  It’s remarkable for its power coupled with refinement and freshness.  New flavors emerge with each sip and after 30 minutes it’s as though you are tasting an entirely different wine.  Though seductive and engaging now, my experience with Beaucastel tells me it will evolve beautifully over the next two decades. Lovers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in general or Beaucastel in particular or will want this one in their cellars. 96 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2012

Guigal, Condrieu (Rhône Valley, France) 2010

($57, Vintus):  Condrieu, home to Viognier grape, can be a hard wine to get right.  Viognier needs to be ripe to express its floral character, but not so ripe that the alcohol shows.  Guigal hit the bulls eye with their 2010.  It combines a lacey floral component with rich stone fruit flavors. There’s not a trace of heaviness.   A lovely firm minerality pulls all the elements together. 93 Michael Apstein May 29, 2012

Guigal, Côtes du Rhône Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2010

($18, Vintus):  Wine lovers know Guigal is one of the top, if not the top, producers of red wines in the Rhône Valley.  Their red Côte du Rhône is a consistent winner.  Their white Côte du Rhone has been getting better and better as they’ve increased the proportion of Viognier in the blend.  The 2010, with its healthy dose of Viognier, is perhaps their best ever, delivering the expected subtle peach and apricot nuances but with an engaging lightness on the palate.  It can serve double duty as a stand-alone aperitif or to accompany dishes enlivened with spice or red pepper flakes. 88 Michael Apstein May 22, 2012

Guigal, St. Joseph (Rhône Valley, France) “Vignes de l’ Hospice” 2007

($145, Vintus):  Hermitage and St. Joseph have precisely the same soil because when the Rhône River turned south, it sliced through the granite hill instead of coursing around it, putting Hermitage on the eastern bank and St. Joseph on its western bank.  Conventional wisdom has it that wines from St. Joseph are lighter and earlier maturing because the Syrah vines face east and receive less afternoon sun during the critical time just before harvest, resulting in less ripe grapes.  Well, true to form, Guigal is redefining conventional wisdom, much as he did in Côte Rôtie with his single vineyard bottlings of La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque.  Guigal acquired land in St. Joseph with the purchase of the Grippat firm in 2000 and have spent years restoring the steeply terraced vineyards.  Now, they have Vignes de l’ Hospice to add to their single vineyard offerings.  It’s a concentrated, but not overdone, mixture of meaty/beefy elements and a smattering of bright black pepper notes.  Great complexity, length and Guigal’s signature polish puts it head and shoulders above any other wine from St. Joseph. 97 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Guigal, Gigondas (Rhône Valley, France) 2007

($32, Vintus):  To my mind, Guigal is a genius.  And this wine shows why.  Gigondas is usually a big burly wine reflective of its home in the rugged area of the southern Rhone.  With concentrated black fruit-like flavors sprinkled with black pepper notes, Guigal’s 2007 Gigondas certainly has the burly aspect covered.  Where Guigal excels is the overall class that he imparts to the wine, taming it without losing anything. 92 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Guigal, Côte-Rôtie (Rhône Valley, France) “Brune et Blonde” 2007

($72, Vintus):  The Brune et Blonde designation indicates that the wine comes from grapes grown in a variety of parcels on the two major slopes of the appellation, the Côte Brune and the Côte Blonde, names that reflect the color of the soil.  Despite the ripeness of the year, Guigal manages to capture the quintessential peppery quality for which the wines of the appellation are known.  For such a powerful vintage, Guigal’s Brune et Blonde retains exciting freshness and amazing class.  The balance of the 2007 suggests that it is another one of his Côte-Rôtie that will develop beautifully with bottle age.  Should you opt to drink it now, try it with grilled meat. 93 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Guigal, Crozes Hermitage (Rhone Valley, France) 2007

($24):  Not surprisingly given the appellation, Guigal’s 2007 Crozes-Hermitage is more distinctive than his Côtes du Rhone.  It conveys attractive black pepper notes and a ripe dark-fruit character reflective of the warm 2007 vintage.  It has added depth along with the hallmark Guigal classiness.  Overall, it’s a more “serious” wine.  Still, it’s not so serious that you couldn’t enjoy it with reheated beef bourguignon.
91 Michael Apstein May 1, 2012

Guigal, Cotes du Rhone (France) 2007

($18):  Guigal is the finest producer in the Rhone, making tiny quantities of iconic, single-vineyard, expensive (hundreds of dollars a bottle) Côte Rôtie, elegant Condrieu, and stunning Hermitage.  I could go on and on.  He also makes hundreds of thousands of cases of affordable red Côtes du Rhone.  I am always impressed by a producer, such as Guigal, who can make large quantities of high quality affordable wines.    Guigal’s 2007 Côtes du Rhone delivers a concentrated array of spice and black fruit notes packaged with a shell of polished tannins.  Easy to drink now, it’s perfect for the grilling season when you need a robust red.
89 Michael Apstein May 1, 2012

Cave de Tain, St. Joseph Rouge (Rhône Valley, France) “Esprit de Granite” 2009

($22, Cognac One):  The appellation of St. Joseph lies on the right (West) bank of the Rhône, facing east and its more famous neighbor, Hermitage.  Though the granite soil is similar to that of Hermitage and the grape (Syrah) is the same, the wines are lighter and earlier maturing because the east-facing exposure means less sunlight–and ripeness–during the harvest season.  True to form, this one from, the well-respected local coop, is enjoyable now, delivering abundant black fruit flavors intertwined with peppery notes.  It’s a burly wine, nicely suited for hearty fare or a grilled flank steak. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 17, 2012

Domaine Philippe Faury, St. Joseph Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2009

($27, Winebow):  St. Joseph, well known for its reds, also produces a small amount (less than 10% of the appellation) of white wine from the usual white grapes of the Rhône, Marsanne and Roussanne.  In this one, the substantial amount of Roussanne (40%), imparts freshness and verve to the fruitier and slightly lanolin-like textured Marsanne.  Overall, it’s an enchanting delicate combination of fresh apple and pear-like flavors. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 10, 2012

Cave de Tain, Saint-Péray (Rhône Valley, France) “Fleur de Roc” 2009

($20, Cognac One):  Saint-Péray, a tiny appellation in the Rhône, produces only white or sparkling wine.  Cave de Tain is the local, highly regarded cooperative there.  Like many Rhône white wines, this one delivers fleshy yellow fruit flavors.  But unlike many white Rhônes, it also has lovely brightness and vivacity to balance the usual waxy texture.  It does double duty–rich enough to stand alone as an aperitif, it has sufficient verve to complement a meal. 89 Michael Apstein Apr 10, 2012

Vidal-Fleury, Côtes du Rhône Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) 2010

($17, W. J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd.):  This is a brilliant white Côtes du Rhône.  Guigal, the leader in the Rhône, purchased Vidal-Fleury about twenty-five years ago.  Their hand, in the form of a healthy amount of Viognier, is apparent in this wine.  To lighten and brighten their white Côtes du Rhône, Guigal has gradually increased the amount of Viognier in the blend.  The 2010 Vidal-Fleury, with 75% Viognier, has lift and freshness along with captivating floral elements.  This is an easy-to-recommend wine for spring and summer. 89 Michael Apstein Apr 10, 2012

Vidal-Fleury, St. Joseph Rouge (Rhône Valley, France) 2007

($30, W. J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd.):  Although owned by Guigal, the Rhône’s leading producer, since the mid-1980s, Vidal-Fleury remains a separate commercial entity with a separate winemaking team.  Nonetheless, the elegance and grace for which Guigal is known shows in this wine.  Engaging black peppery notes complement the black fruit flavors.  Fine tannins and a polished texture make it ideal for this year’s grilling season. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 10, 2012

Jean-Luc Colombo, Côtes du Rhône Blanc (Rhône Valley, France) “Les Abeilles” 2010

($11, Palm Bay International):  White Côtes du Rhône can be tough, often heavy, lacking acidity.  But when they’re balanced, like this one, they are hard to resist.  A blend of Clairette (80%) and Roussanne, Colombo captures the slightly peach or apricot stone fruit character while retaining vibrancy and freshness.  Sip it by itself as an aperitif or with hors d’oeuvres or put it on the table with sushi. 89 Michael Apstein Jan 24, 2012