Wine Review: 2011 Les Halos de Jupiter Cotes du Rhone

11 02 2014

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

You can take the emptiness of the bottle as a sign of how good this wine is.

It had all the hallmarks of a crappy week:  utterly frigid weather, lack of sleep due to a teething baby, tons of stuff to do at the office.  But everything changed yesterday afternoon when I had an unexpected visitor at work:  a courageous rep from The Wine Syndicate who braved the cold to drop off a box of 5 killer-looking wines for me to try.  One of them in particular caught my eye, a French red from the Southern Rhone with a decidedly un-French approach to branding.  It was the first vin de France I had ever seen with a planetary body on the label, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I was opening it that night.  As it turns out, I lucked out, because this is a comfort wine to the nth degree, the ideal way to warm up after plunging through gruesome winter on the way home.

Les Halos de Jupiter is a negociant operation (where grapes are sourced largely or entirely from vineyards not owned by the winery) overseen by French master consultant Philippe Cambie, who provides his expert touch to a number of famous Rhone labels and has taken this on as his own personal side project.  The obvious first question on my (and everyone’s) mind:  what’s with the name?  The label explains that Jupiter (in Roman mythology, the same as Zeus in Greek mythology) is the king of gods and humans, the head of the patriarchal family of deities.  It’s also the biggest planet in our solar system, and Halo is the closest of its rings.  Cambie believes that Grenache is the king of all grapes and the “natural leader of Rhone varietals”; it’s the Jupiter of viticulture, and its Halos are the various subregions of the Rhone Valley that best allow it to express itself.  If this were an SAT questionthe best SAT question ever, its answer would be Halos:Jupiter :: Rhone regions:Grenache.  Cambie’s Halos span the most prestigious areas of the Southern Rhone, from Chateauneuf-de-Pape to Gigondas and Vacqueyras, but they also extend to areas where hidden values can be found.  Cotes du Rhone is a catch-all appellation that basically covers all of the areas of the Rhone that aren’t scooped up by a sexier subregion, but this particular wine is a single vineyard offering grown at elevation just outside of the quality region of Rasteau, yielding top-end old vines Grenache without the CNDP price premium.

Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (Great font, plus the kicker below…)

Cork Rating: 8/10 (Great font, plus the kicker below…)

This particular Halo is 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah, although it shows all the hallmarks of the former with only slight hints of the latter.  I was a little scared to pour my first glass because of the rather daunting alcohol content (15.5%) showcased on the label, expecting to encounter a massive over-extracted beast of a wine.  Instead, Jupiter’s Halo came out a bright and translucent ruby-purple, completely see-through straight to the core, a testament to its Grenache-based soul.  The grape was ever-present on the nose and palate too, an explosive and exuberant mix of sweet red currant fruit and violets, trending into that candied realm of Grenadine and grape Rockets, but pulled back from the edge by classic notes of sage, rosemary and dusty earth, a savoury herbal mix that is a hallmark of Southern Rhone wines and is often referred to (by snobbier folk than I) as garrigue.  It is all fruit- and soil-based flavour, without any overt hint of winemaker intervention — I was halfway through my second glass when I realized that I didn’t notice any of the smoky, chocolatey, toasty flavours brought on by oak aging, and sure enough, the Halo Cotes du Rhone saw no oak at all, aged instead in neutral concrete vats for a year (an approach that it turns out Cambie always insists on taking with Grenache).  There isn’t lot of blatantly evident structure in the wine, as its subtle acidity and fine-grained tannin linger quietly in the background, but they do their job, keeping a flavour-packed wine from getting out of control.  The finish is long, peppery and almost medicinal, a welcome respite from the torrents of potent ripeness that characterize the rest of the wine, and a sure sign of a winemaker deftly in command of his craft.

I said to myself while pulling the cork, "There had better be a halo on here", and sure enough…bam!

I said to myself while pulling the cork, “There had better be a halo on here”, and sure enough…bam!

This bottle is a fascinating study of contrasts:  it is intense, concentrated and ultra-ripe and yet amazingly light on its feet and nowhere near overpowering.  The elevated alcohol level was almost entirely contained throughout, although there were instants here and there where the boozy warmth pushed through and made itself known.  I found that serving temperature made a huge difference to my tasting experience with this bottle:  after I chilled it a bit (which I do with almost all reds) it really fell into place and all came together.  To me this is a wine that can cross a lot of boundaries, appealing to fruit-focused Cali fanatics and terroir-mad Francophiles alike.  If this is what Cambie can do with the Cotes du Rhone, I can’t wait to see what his higher-end labels bring to the table.  Find this.

88+ points

$20 to $25 CDN

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