Calgary Wine Life: Paul Jaboulet Aine Tasting with Adrien Laurent @ Calgary Petroleum Club, Part I

29 04 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Not a bad way to dust off my blogging chops after a lull. A chance to taste a 100-point wine? Sure thing. The fact that said 100-point wine happens to be the 2015 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle causes my already surging excitement to soar into the stratosphere. Although I am not personally enamoured with the Parker-style point system nor its myriad effects on winemaking and consumer preferences, such a feat STILL means something even to this skeptic. I am truly happy for winemaker Caroline Frey. My sincere congratulations! This was a generous enough spread of wines that two posts are in order. I shall try to do the first set of these marvels justice here, stricken as I have been (by Bacchus himself?) with some sort of virulent bug that makes my bones feel like rheumy old birch twigs stashed away in a mausoleum. And I was hoping to sip something while writing this … Discretion is probably the better part of valour.

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We were greeted with some entry level Jaboulet Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone bottles … A red, a white, and a rose … I sampled them all, of course. šŸ˜‰

Our host Adrien Laurent felt like a kindred spirit, keeping things scholarly while occasionally flashing an understated charisma or busting out some hilarious off-colour jokes about the French distaste for monarchies (you had to be there). This tasting featured not just the one legendary new release but THREE Hermitage selections, plus an additional spread of whites and reds in what turned out to be a guided tour of nearly the entire Northern Rhone, through the lens of a single producer. How utterly marvellous. I shall cover them all, after first providing some background on the region and this historic producer.

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Adrien really does a stellar job as host and tour guide.

The Northern Rhone is often considered the benchmark for quality Syrah, with the best appellations known for small production. Indeed, a mere 5% of all wine produced in the Rhone valley hails from the north, which is much cooler and wetter than the south. Most vineyards are planted on steep slopes that preclude machine harvesting, although the latter is employed when possible. Syrah is the only red grape allowed in Northern Rhone wines. Although fantastic Syrahs do hail from other locales, with Washington state rapidly making me a convert, here we have the very blueprint for the pinnacle that this grape can achieve: a plummy core of blue-black fruits supported by a panoply of complex elements that can include savoury, meaty, herbal, mineral, and even industrial. Anything too weird is mollified by the fruits, but these same idiosyncratic notes also save the wine from being too “cheap and cheerful”. I am curious to see how Paul Jaboulet Aine captures this magic.

If the Northern Rhone is the benchmark of Syrah, Paul Jaboulet Wine arguably became the benchmark of the Northern Rhone. Founded in 1834, six generations of the Jaboulet family shepherded this estate until it was purchased by the Frey family, with the present winemaker Caroline taking over in 2006. Although Paul Jaboulet Aine became the dominant Hermitage producer for the second half of the 20th century, with the 1961 La Chapelle bottling perhaps standing tall as the greatest Hermitage of all time, it became difficult to sustain this sort of peak performance and quality started to fluctuate. Caroline Frey is determined to restore this estate to its former glory. She quickly adopted integrative farming practices, such that all vineyard sources are now certified organic, and there is also a strong push to adopt biodynamic principles across the board. The scrupulous attention to detail in the vineyards carries over to work in the winery. Indeed, I was struck by how precise, elegant, and thoughtful all these wines are. They are not lacking in concentration, far from it, yet they are superbly graceful with a decidedly (dare I say) feminine energy. Such a superb example of how a winemaker’s vision and skill can traverse multiple appellations and terroirs to yield a singular stylistic vision, yet the regional differences are adroitly captured nonetheless. Without further ado …

France-Rhone-North

For your reference, fromĀ http://fernandobeteta.com/wine-maps/

2015 Crozes Hermitage Mule Blanche (~$54)

We start with two whites from the largest Northern Rhone appellation by production volume, with about 8% of total production in Crozes-Hermitage being whites from classic Rhone varietals Marsanne and Roussanne. This charmer is a 50-50 blend of the two from a 7 ha plot near Mercurol that is biodynamically farmed, consisting of 60+ year old vines grown on rocky debris over a bed of clay and limestone. This situation permits the drainage that really helps these varieties mature into a full-flavour state. The wine sees no malolactic fermentation and is aged in 55% French oak (5% new), 25% small concrete eggs (one of Caroline Frey’s favourite weapons), and 20% stainless steel tanks. The result is taut, nervy, positively alive with cracking tension. The fruit is but one element here and perhaps a comparatively minor one, green and yellow pears with a dollop of creamy lime yogurt. The floral and mineral elements reign supreme. The nose is spiked with gunpowder and Epsom salts, and mid-palate I get pungent roadside weed aromatics: thistles, yarrow, and a few sweeter yellow flowers. Slightly toasted almonds and raw cashews vie with just a hint of butterscotch in a finish that loops back to more minerals. This wine embodies what I love about Rousanne. Such a strange, peripatetic grape, full of mercurial savoury and herbal elements one moment, lush stone fruit the next. A good white to enjoy with food.

91 points

2015 Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Roure Blanc (~$62)

This is 100% Marsanne from a 2.5 ha plot just north of Hermitage, the product of 60+ year old vines on loess soil near the commune of Gervans. This hilly northern frontier of Crozes-Hermitage yields better grapes than the plain to the south, and in this case biodynamically-informed early picking preserves acidity. I certainly get that on the palate but the wine is not as taut as its stablemate, fresh and tense but also creamy, thick, and rather elegant. The nose is slick with wet gravel, hunks of beeswax, and ambergris-like musk. The fruits are again pared down, low key yellow pears and Golden Delicious apple with lime zest and navel orange, but they do persist right through into the long finish. The minerality reflects a curiously metallic cast, reminiscent of a well-used wire brush or steel wool or a carbide drill bit. French oak sees use here and the wine seems to have some additional structure and a slight vanilla perfume. That classy steel, though.

93 points

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We begin in Crozes-Hermitage.

2013 Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert (~$61)

Crozes-Hermitage produces more than eleven times the wine as does its more renowned and far smaller neighbour. Although some producers have failed to worry much about quality, there has been a recent shift to producing distinguished red wines that are softer and fruiter than Hermitage due to more fertile soil. Domaine de Thalabert has the distinction of being the first vineyard owned by Paul Jaboulet and also happens to be the oldest vineyard in the appellation. The vines are 60-80 years old, biodynamically farmed, and grown on terraces covered with pebbles that aid maturation by releasing stored heat at night. This is 100% Syrah (as are the other reds I will review here: Jaboulet does not include a small proportion of white grapes, although this is still permitted in Hermitage and Cote Rotie). The wine is aged in French oak (20% new). Although the 2013 vintage was plagued by some inconsistent weather, this seems none the worse for wear. What a smoky nose (!), just wafts of pachouli incense, charcoal briquette, and bacon bits with hints of wet sauna rocks and toast, floating over a core of red currants, underripe blueberries and blackberries, and middling black olives. The acidity remains fresh and mouth-watering. The tannins are supple and still flashing some velvet-gloved power, and the fruits persist into the long finish. Full-bodied, dark, and smoky for days, but the red fruit holds its own against the black, and that acidity is a serious trump card (pardon the expression).

90 points

2015 Crozes Hermitage Domaine de RoureĀ Rouge (~$70)

The Domaine de Roure site we met earlier yields reputed Syrah as well, with these 70+ year old vines taking well to steep, granite-heavy sites just on the rear end of Hermitage hill. I love the contrast between this wine and the previous Crozes-Hermitage. Here the soft red fruits are more prominent than the black, the tannins have more grip despite retaining a round and rather silky character, and the dense smoke is replaced by a lovely floral character. Lilacs or violets (I believe that when I get lilac, others say violet! … Hey, I grew up in northern Saskatchewan), tobacco flower, and even some pink blossoms that recall a classy old lady’s perfume are wreathed around fresh red plums, Bing cherries, and a hint of black liquorice. This is still young, bright and bold, and it promises much interest as it ages.

91 points

2015 St. Joseph Les Croix des Vignes Rouge (~$80)

We arrive next in St.-Joseph, described as the most variable of the Northern Rhone appellations. Apparently St. Joseph is the protector of scorned husbands, making me wonder if there is some interesting history underlying the first vineyard of the same name. The appellation was expanded in 1971 , with a corresponding dilution of quality, although anything from a sloped vineyard is probably a safe bet and could turn out to be a great value. This is one such esteemed bottling, from very steep plots above Mauves and Tournon. The soil is essentially pure granite.

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Consider the bottle on the right a teaser for Part 2!

It is with this wine that I first get some clear-cut cassis along with fresher blackcurrant notes, with little by way of red fruits. This is big, broad, rich, and opulent, with any purple Kool-aid impressions quickly snuffed out by handfuls of fresh ground black and white pepper, dried lavender sprigs, black olives, and a medicinal earthiness that recalls liquorice root and red ginseng. Everything is stitched together by fine but rock-hard tannins. The impression of elegant precision I got from the previous wines remains despite this flood of spices, flowers, and rock. I kept circling back to this glass as I’m wont to do when comparing wines from the same grape, and admittedly this one got some extra love. Mmmm, that St.-Joseph pepper. We are half way there, folks. Stay tuned for the big guns.

94 points

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