This is a wine that I’ve been really looking forward to trying. And I can’t think of a better one to exemplify non-Californian cool-climate Syrah. The Northern Rhone is, after all, the birthplace of Syrah and still represents the pinnacle of this style of the variety. The Clusel-Roch came as a Christmas gift from my wife and although I’ve had a few Côte-Rôties, I’m looking forward to really delving into this one to find out what it’s all about. Part of the unintended outcome of this blog has been the realization that the more you write about a subject, the more you learn. The Northern Rhone wines that I’ve tried in the past have all been delicious but I haven’t taken extensive notes on them or really learned about the stories behind them. It’s time to change that.
Day 1: On the nose this wine has a beautiful salted plum aroma with notes of pepper and gravel. Initially it’s smooth on the palate but transitions to some pretty intense acidity. There’s a verve and energy with this wine. It’s a fresh wine, and one that could cellar for a while. The finish is dry and bright with a lingering acidity that makes you crave another sip or a bite of rich cheese.
Day 2: One night sitting on the counter with the cork in has allowed the Clusel-Roch to really emerge. It seems to be a darker and richer wine. I’m getting similar aromas but also a hint of dark licorice and leather. The midpalate and the finish have mellowed immensely making the wine richer and smoother and a little less angular. If this is a hint as to what the wine might develop into after a few years of age, then I’m intrigued. It’s delicious.
Made from Syrah vines grown on steep hillsides, this is a cuvee made from a mix of the older and younger vines in the Clusel-Roch holdings. These vineyards are farmed in a traditional way, without the use of pesticides or any chemical additions whatsoever. Most of the farmwork is done by hand, which the farmers believe adds to the authenticity of the wines. According to my most informative guide book to the Northern Rhone, The Wines of the Northern Rhone by Jonathan Livingston-Learmouth, the winery’s owners Gilbert Clusel and Brigitte Roch believed that a purity in their wine could be achieved by farming organically and with traditional methods.
Many Côte Rôtie wines are traditionally made with a little Viognier and this wine is too (just 4%), although it’s hard to parse out any of the usual floral aromas that can come from Viognier. The Classique is made by traditional foot stomping and some whole cluster fermentation, depending on the vintage. The wine sees 20% new oak and is aged in the barrel for two years.
I’m very impressed with this wine and hope to taste more Côte-Rôties from perhaps more modern wineries so that I can compare them. It’s a beautiful wine and could be the beginning of a new obsession. If only it were cheaper.