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Franck Balthazar is one of our favorite producers in the Northern Rhone and we're happy to offer his 2016 Cornas "Chaillot" and "Casimir" which have just arrived. 2016 is proving to be a better than expected vintage in the Rhone Valley, with difficult growing conditions giving lower yields, but the resulting wines, while lacking the fat of the 2015s, are dense and well-structured, more classic in style and very appealing to purists of Syrah. Balthazar is one of the few growers in the Northern Rhone who is totally organic in the vines, does not de-stem and adds minimal or zero sulfur. His wines have remarkable purity and length, and we recommend them highly in this classic vintage. (Read our friend Josh Raynold's excellent piece in "Vinous" for more about the 2016 vintage)
René-Jean Dard, of Dard & Ribo, on "natural" wine: "I’ve been making sulfur-free wines since I was 15. I didn’t even know you could add sulfur to wine until going to oenology school! "You have to", they said! My dad never sulfured the wines and I basically just followed in his footsteps. ..A lot of people are hiding behind the word "natural" to escape criticism from their lack of serious work in the cellar. The wines are jam packed with volatility, they are muddled and murky; that's not wine. Just because you didn’t do anything to the wine doesn’t mean it's good. Making "natural" wine should not be a goal unto itself. It should be a tool to make qualitatively superior wine." (Interview with René-Jean Dard courtesy of Louis/Dressner Selections) Happily, the wines of Dard & Ribo have evolved to become some of the most pure and delicious wines of the Northern Rhone, much sought after by lovers of natural wines. Quantities are tiny, of course, but we are glad to offer a few bottles of the light and lovely 2017 "C'est le Printemps" as well as most of the superb 2016s, including a few of the rare special cuvées.
Corinne Lionnet and her husband Ludovic Izérable have been organic since 2007 and also vinify with whole clusters - their Cornas "Terre Brulée" is always one of the most authentic wines from the AOC. Not much wine is currently available, but try the 2013 which is opening up nicely, and the 2015 is a classic, complex and full-bodied Cornas for aging....
From Isabelle and Stephane Rousset, we are happy to offer their just arrived 2016 Crozes-Hermitage "Les Picaudières," from probably the best single vineyard in the apellation. This may be the best value in the Northern Rhone, from steep granite terraces in the north sector - in 2016 it compares favorably to many Hermitage and will drink beautifully over the next ten to fifteen years.
The Northern Rhone is perhaps not thought of as a source of wines offering great value, but in fact there are many small estates in Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage producing beautiful wines that are very affordable. Our favorite example is Domaine des Amphores, in Chavanay, just south of Condrieu. Working with great enthusiasm and energy, Véronique and Philippe Grenier are making delicious Condrieu and Saint-Josephs, certified organic and with biodynamic methods as well. Their Saint-Joseph "Les Sept Lieus" is particularly successful in 2016 and their 2016 "Detour" Blanc - a blend of Roussanne. Marsanne and Clairette - is a delicious and sensational value!
Note: All wines arrive by Thursday, July 19
Northern Rhône Dinner on Wednesday, July 25: Arnaud Tronche and Pascaline Lepeltier, MS, of Racines NY will offer a dinner featuring many of today's wines from the 2016 vintage, including all four wines from Pierre and Jean Gonon, the two Balthazar Cornas, four special cuvees from Dard & Ribo plus wines from Clos de la Bonnette and Rousset. We'll enjoy a superb 4 course menu created by Racines Chef-in-Residence Paul Liebrandt, and commentary from Eben Lillie. Due to the rarity of the wines seating is very limited. $195 inclusive of tax and tip.
A leading producer of traditional Cornas, Domaine Lionnet has modernized only slightly over the last 20 years with the wines losing their former "rustic" character, while retaining complexity and terroir expression, very much in the style of the Gonons in Saint-Joseph. Organic since 2007, whole-bunch fermentations with wild yeasts, aging in both 600 liter and 228 liter two to eight year-old oak casks. From 100 year-old vines on Mazards (a great parcel below Reynards having both granite and limestone/clay soils), 70 year-old vines on Combe, Chaillot and Pied la Vigne. The 2013 shows lovely deep aromas of blackberry and black cherry, with brown spice, cocoa and musk lifted by high-toned floral and menthol notes. The palate is deep and structured showing blackberry liqueur, earth and licorice with very firm acidity. The 2013s are dense and earthy but underestimated - give this wine and long decant and enjoy or cellar a few more years, probably best 2020 - 2030. David Lillie
From parcels in Pied la Vigne, Mazards, Combes and Chaillot, with vines from 40 to 105 years old, certified organic. Wild-yeast whole-cluster fermentations, cap-punching by foot, aged in 2 - 8-year-old 228 and 600-liter barrels. Deep black-red color. Subtle, complex aromas of black fruits, violets, stone and musk, quite elegant. (This includes the last crop of Serine from 1919) This is very much in the style of 2009, but a bit fresher, showing ample fat with cherry and blackberry liqueur with hints of earth, game and citrus. Beautiful old fashiond Cornas, best 2025 to 2035+ David Lillie
From 60 to 90 year-old Marsanne vines in the hillside vineyards of "les Vedias" and "Tout" in Erome, decomposed granite with clay and gravel - great terroir producing this serious but overlooked wine from the Rousset family. The 2016 is an intense and delicious Marsanne showing elegant aromas of lemon, stone, dried pear, almond, apricot and hay - really lovely. The palate is dense, mineral and balanced by firm acidity with citrus, pear, grilled almond, anise and herbal flavors, with a long stone and citrus finish. Delicious in its youth, this will benefit from a few years in the cellar and should be quite interesting in 2025. Serve with white meats, full-flavored fish dishes or provençal fish soup and a wide variety of cheeses. David Lillie
Clos de la Bonnette is a relatively new estate - their first vintage was 2009 - but they have great terroir in Condrieu (and a small parcel in Cote-Rotie) and are one of the few truly organic domaines in the AOC. The 2016 "Legende Bonnetta" is a superb Condrieu showing a pale gold/bronze color and subtle aromas of apricot, almond, peach, iris and stone, really quite lovely. The palate has a saline, mineral introduction, then elegant stone fruits, white flowers, citrus, almond and stone - quite rich but with firm acidity and a very mineral finishwith citrus and white fruits. This is a beautiful Condrieu that is all about the terroir rather than the winemaking or elevage. "It's the only Condrieu I can drink" says Eric Texier. Lovely now, better with 3 to 5 years of aging. David Lillie
One of the few "natural" winemakers in the northern Rhône, Frank Balthazar is certified organic and vinifies with wild yeasts and minimal sulfur, even producing a cuvée of Cornas without SO2. The Cuvée Casimir Balthazar is from 25% old vines in "Les Mazards" and younger vines in "La Légre." Balthazar's Cornas are aromatically beautiful with silky, pure fruit and terrific length and are never heavy or over-extracted. The 2016 Casimir shows a dense red/black color, with very fragrant blackberry, cassis aromas with violet and stone and hints of spice, quite exuberant and open for a 2016. The palate is supple, ripe and ready, lush and medium-bodied, with soft tannins surrounding lovely pure black fruits with a core of minerals, earth and berry fruits. This is extremely delicious now - drink over the next eight to ten years. DL
We're very happy to once again have Cornas from Franck Balthazar in the store - organic farming, no nonsense vinifications with low or zero sulfur - some of the best work in the Northern Rhone. As we haven't gotten to the note, here's it is from our friend JLL at Drinkrhone "There is sultry promise on the nose, airs of crushed black fruits, roast beef depth, keen lines of cassis-blueberry, a wee note of smoked bacon. There are great shafts of fine sunlight in the bouquet. The palate is coolly fruited, has real wavy elegance, is sumptuous and sustained, This is very belle (rather than beau), super fine, well balanced, comes with some tannic cut and depth, delivered with a velvet glove. The attack is up and live, holds great fruit; it lengthens with brio, has a finely mineral tune in closing, violets on the aftertaste. The mineral comes along by stealth. There is great transparency of terroir in this STGT Cornas. From mid-2020. 2034-36" "...great shafts of sunlight in the bouquet" I'll drink to that! (STGT stands for Soil To Glass Transfer!)
Dark ruby robe. The nose offers heady aromas of brambly blackberry, wild raspberry and freshly ground Telicherry peppercorn. The mid-weight palate features ripe, racy hedge fruit flavors overlaying savory herbal and soil notes. There's fine acidity and energy here on a bright, lilting finish. Serve with a slight chill with saucisson and charcuterie or enjoy with grilled foods and sheep's milk cheeses. And while one could age this in the midterm, it's so delicious now, it seems a shame to not to enjoy in its flush of exuberant youth! John McIlwain
Syrah 50% from sandy granite on Pitrou at St-Jean-de-Muzols (1940s-1950s Syrah) and 50% from hard granite, quartz, red clay, alluvial stones on Les Champs at Tournon (1960s Syrah), sandy granite at Vion, whole bunch fermentation, pumping overs, aged used oak 10-12 months, unfined, unfiltered
From Les Pins (gore soils, 1999, 2000 Syrah), Chavanessieux (grey granite, feldspar) at Crozes-Hermitage, Pé de Loup, Les Bâties at Larnage, whole bunch fermentation, pumping overs, aged in used 600-litre oak casks for 11-15 months, unfined, unfiltered.
Made from 1940s-late 1980s Syrah grown on southeast facing red clay and rolled stone soils at Les Bâties at Larnage. Mostly whole bunch fermentation, pumping overs, raised in used oak casks for 10 months, unfined, unfiltered.
The Dard & Ribo Crozes Blanc is 50-67% Roussanne (1986), 33-50% Marsanne (1986) from Les Bâties at Larnage.
There's some confusion about this wine but it seems to be the cuvée "K" perhaps for "kaolin" (white clay) though the invoice said "Karrières" (quarry). Grown in or near an old quarry in Larnage. At any rate, the white clay soil is a great terroir... 90-100% Marsanne (1920s, 1940s), 0-10% Roussanne from two plots on the kaolin, white clay soils of Larnage. (We are open to any Korrections!)
Certainly one of the best sites in Crozes-Hermitage, "les Picaudières" is a steep, south-facing granite hill with high-density old vines, formerly owned by the legendary Raymond Roure. 2016 is a great vintage for "Les Picaudières," showing fabulous elegance and purity of fruit. The aromas are bright and pretty, very floral with black raspberry and red currant liqueur with hints of blood orange, musk and smoked meats. The palate is dense and cool with silky berry fruits, Asian spice and firm acidity with a strong core of graphite and saline mineral flavors. This is a beautiful Syrah of terroir that should be decanted well in advance if drinking now, best perhaps 2022 - 2030. We thank Stéphane and Isabelle for this lovely wine at a very reasonable price! David Lillie
Les Picaudières is perhaps the best vineyard in Crozes-Hermitage, formerly owned by Raymond Roure and now tended by Stéphane Rousset. It's a steep slope of granite terraces, isolated in an oak forest facing due south and protected from the wind. (In the opinion of Livingston-Learmonth in "Wines of the Northern Rhône" wine from Les Picaudières is "certainly better" than many Hermitage from the eastern part of the hill.) The vines range from 20 to 80 years-old. The grapes are hand-harvested and mostly de-stemmed. The wine ages 16 months, 40% in foudre, 60% in burgundy barrels, new to 5 year-old. "Les Picaudières 2015 was harvested on September 21st, after a very dry period in late August. The vines profited from the rains in September to finish the maturation" said Stéphane, givng grapes in perfect condition at 13% alcohol. The 2015 shows a deep red/black color with elegant aromas of blackberry, black cherry, bitter chocolate, black olive earth and menthol. The palate shows bright berry liqueurs with deeper earthy black fruits , black pepper, cocoa and mineral flavors with ample tannins and a long saline finish of black fruits and firm acidity. This is a superb northern Rhône Syrah that can be enjoyed young, especially with grilled foods, but best to wait five to ten years and drink until 2035 and beyond. Highly recommended. David Lillie
Domaine des Amphores has a small, steep hillside parcel on granite soils in Condrieu, organic since 2002 and now farmed with biodynamic methods as well. Philippe and Veronique Grenier have made a lovely 2016, 100% Viognier of course, showing a pale gold color and aromas of lime-flower, pear, stone, lemon zest, almond and hay. The palate is dense and sapid with a firm center of mineral and stone flavors underlying apricot and pear fruit with almond and citrus. Rather full-bodied for a Condrieu but not in a cloying way, this should open up nicely over the next few years - serve with fish in sauce, Asian foods and white meats or as a superb aperitif with fois gras, patés and goat cheeses. David Lillie
Since its inception in 1992, Philippe and Véronique Grenier have practiced organic farming on their tiny estate in Chavanay, in the AOC Saint-Joseph just south of Condrieu. Their 2016 "Altitude 300" is a beautiful white Saint-Joseph made from 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne.The wne shows subtle, fresh aromas of pear, almond, hay, bitter lemon, stone and lime-flower. The palate is refreshing and bright with creamy citrus, pear, thyme, flint and stone, with nice density and length and firm acidity. Drink now with fish in sauce, chicken and white meats and cow cheeses. A lovely wine and a great value! David Lillie
The Detour Blanc is a a beautiful blend of Roussanne, Clairette, and Marsanne from the Collines Rhodaniennes. The nose is fresh and lively with notes of grapefruit, tangerine, nectarine, white peach, honeysuckle and acacia. The palate is soft, round, and plush, with a hint of an herbal character, maybe sage, to compliment the aromatic fruit and floral elements of the wine. A perfect pairing for picnic sandwiches, summer salads, and carefree evenings on the patio. Oskar Kostecki
(From young vines, planted in the 90's, always organic, and from parcels of old vines, converted to organic, in Chavanay, below Condrieu) Philippe and Veronique Grenier have always farmed organically and now they have added biodynamic methods as well, bringing the quality even higher at this wonderful small estate. 2016 is the best vintage yet for the domain's "regular" cuvée, now called "les Sept Lieux." The wine shows subtle aromas of blackberry, black plum, blueberry, violet, mint and spice with meat, earth and mineral notes. The palate is dense and well balanced, not a fruit bomb, but with a core black fruits, earth and citrus with a long cool finish of earthy black fruit and firm acidity. While it's delicious now, it should open up nicely over the next few years and drink well until 2025 - 2030. This is a great value in Saint-Joseph from the northern zone and is highly recommended! David Lillie
"Les Mesanges" is a cuvée of Saint-Joseph made from organic grapes grown on the best terroir at Domaine des Amphores in Chavanay, aged 18 months in 600 liter barrels. The 2015 shows a deep black/red color that coats the glass with aromas of black raspberry liqueur, quite ripe, with violet, spice, black olive and bitter chocolate. The palate is lush and supple with black fruit liqueur, menthol, spice, earth and mineral flavors, quite intense but very bright, lifted by firm acidity and quite balanced at 12.5% alcohol. This is a pure and delicious Syrah, showing the great organic and biodynamic farming of Philippe and Veronique Grenier. Please decant or open well in advance if drinking now, best probably 2020 - 2025. David Lillie
We're not sure about the spelling, but Véronique and Philippe Grenier's "Sphé-érique" is a lovely "natural" Saint-Joseph, fermented and aged in a round concrete vat, and bottled with zero added sulfur. The wine shows lovely aromas of cool blackberry and blueberry fruit with violet, mint and citrus aromas, really quite complex and pretty. The palate is balanced and earthy with bright black fruits and firm acidity with stone and berry flavors in the refreshing finish. Aromatically very complex, the palate may need a few years to open up. Serve this light and lovely Saint-Joseph with lamb, pork, guinea hen and of course with caillettes ardechoises. (Like most no-sulfur wines, it is best to consume on the day opened.)