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Our friend Éric Texier is making some of the finest wines in the Rhône Valley, both in the south and the north. His Châteauneuf-du-Papes, red and white, are outstanding. His work in Brézème and St Julien-en-St Alban has resurrected forgotten vineyards and is producing magnificent wines. His inexpensive Côtes-du-Rhônes are wonderfully refreshing and balanced, unencumbered by high-alcohol and gobs of hedonistic fruit. In Cote-Rotie, he is one of the very few producers maintaining the traditions of past growers whose wines were known for finesse, purity and aromatic beauty rather than power, concentration and new oak.
Before we get too verbose, the basic idea here is that this is a superb collection of Rhone wines marked by elegance, balance, great terroir expression and sensational purity of fruit. Eric, Laurence, Martin and their team are practicing cutting-edge farming and meticulous vinifications with zero or minimal SO2. The results are joyful and delicious!
Featured today is the extraordinary 2020 Le Clau, "a very particular Serine of a glowing intensity. It represents only a few rows from a plot of our old vines in Ardèche. Its very particular ampelographic characteristics distinguish it from the Serines of other northern vineyards, notably by its low alcoholic degrees at full maturity. It's a very early selected massale of Syrah, kept away from further selection or external genetic input," says Éric, "No SO2, hand-bottled, no filtration, 100% of the work is done by Laurence and me, alone!" 48 bottles are available.
From the Texier website (thank you, Éric!): "The estate consists of two very distinct terroirs in the northern Rhône valley - Brézème in the Drôme (left bank of the Rhône) and the Ouvèze valley in the Ardèche (right bank), two areas well identified on wine maps of the Rhône. However, due to their small size and geographic isolation, they are almost forgotten when talking about the region.
Brézème is a limestone hillside facing south, the last ridge of the Vercors at the mouth of the Drôme river. The Ouvèze valley, on the Ardèche side, marks the geological separation between the Massif Central and the Cévennes. The vineyard, facing south, is a granitic flank with a mixture of schist and gneiss on its surface and islands of limestone."
"We have been working in organic agriculture since the beginning and our farming methods are directed towards agro-ecology (cover-crops, no ploughing, manual work, etc.) Our winemaking style is traditional and very minimalist: indigenous yeasts, whole bunch maceration, no sulfur on the grapes or on the must, aging in concrete tanks or in foudres for 10 to 48 months depending on the cuvées, and no filtration or fining. The use of sulfites at bottling is possible without being systematic, always at a minimum and depending on the cuvée, the vintage and the terroir. (Four of today's wines were produced with zero added SO2) Most of our wines come from the vineyards of Brézème and the Ouvèze valley, today worked by our son Martin. We also produce some Côte Rôtie and both a red and white Châteauneuf du Pape by buying grapes from friends with the same work philosophy (traditional vine growing, mechanical weeding, organic treatments only)
Brézème, the most southern of northern Rhone vineyards
"The Brézème vineyard is located on the north bank of the Drôme, at the confluence of the Rhône. The south-facing slope of Brézème is composed of limestone marl similar to the Beaume-Maison Blanche area in Hermitage. Its geological characteristics, very atypical in the northern Rhône valley, combined with its exposure to the cold winds from the last ridges of the Vercors, make Brézème a unique vineyard. When Éric discovered Brézème in 1998, the hillside had only a handful of vines still being cultivated. It was the great Saint-Joseph winemaker Raymond Trollat who put us in touch with his friend François Pouchoulin, whose family was the last to maintain vines on the hillside in the 1970s.
Saint-Julien en Saint-Alban, Ouvèze valley in the Ardeche
"About twenty kilometers south of the vineyards of Cornas and Saint-Peray, a rare and unique terroir is nestled at the foot of a mountain on the northern bank of the Ouvèze. The Ouvèze marks the radical geological separation between the southern Ardèche with its limestone soils and the granitic foothills typical of the northern Rhône. At this point, a deep fault formed, revealing 300 million years of subsoil history. The result is an exceptional geo-diversity: on a granitic flank, slopes of leptynite (fine-grained gneiss) and schists on a substratum of calcareous marls. From these soils, we produce 100% Syrah wines and blended wines (Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Roussanne, Marsanne, Muscat and Viognier.)
The wines have arrived in NY and should be in the store by Tuesday 6/14
Viticulture in Brézème, on the primarily limestone marl south facing steep hillsides, dates back to Roman times. Records from the early 1800's indicate plantings of Syrah from vines in Hermitage and Cornas. Éric Texier has been instrumental in reviving the vineyards, especially with his Domaine du Pergaud Vieilles Vignes and this lovely Syrah from 20 to 40 year-old vines. Whole cluster maceration for 6-8 days, fermentation in open cement vats on the lees for 20 months, unfined, unfiltered, zero SO2, 13% alcohol. "Ripest Brézème ever," says Éric, "more Northern Rhone Syrah than Brézème, in my opinion. A pop, pour and drink wine that I like to chill a little bit." Pop, por and drink, perhaps, but a seriously beautiful Syrah, showing bright black/red color and perfect Syrah aromas with subtle fresh blue and black fruits, a bit of funk and dusty earth. The palate is ripe with vivid fruit, but with a lightness and underlying mineral core that makes it both a refreshing "pop and pour" and a great food wine as well. The long finish is a superb blend of fruit and saline minerals. Fabulous purity, just a beautiful wine. Enjoy! David Lillie
The 2020 Texier Brézème Roussanne is an extraordinary glass of wine, combining the richness and texture of Roussanne with a bit of the oxidative character of a Jura white. The wine shows aromas of ripe yellow fruits, almond, citrus and white flowers lifted by the slight oxidative notes. The palate is round and complex with the ripe fruit vying for attention with a dense mineral core, finishing with sapid and saline yellow fruits with firm structure and fantastic length. This is a fascinating wine with the oxidative quality balancing the richness of the fruit. "A food wine" says Éric "a fantastic pairing with poultry and grilled fish. Tastes like the Roussanne of Clos de l'Arbalestrier from the '80s." David Lillie
Often we think we can peg vintage character based on sweeping generalizations only to taste the wines and have our expectations completely blown by what's in the glass. And such is the case with the 2015 St. Julien St Alban from Éric Texier. Rather than a blocky, fierce wine from a torrid vintage, the wine is perfumed, fine-boned, and graceful--more balletic than bruising The 2015 boasts a deep ruby verging on purple robe. Pretty aromas of wild violet, blackberry blossom, bramble and licorice waft from the glass. The lithe mid-weight plate shows wild blackberry and blueberry fruit with ripe tannins and fresh acidity. There's fantastic freshness and energy on the startlingly long, lifted finish. This really sings in 2015 and reflects dedicated farming and deft winemaking by Texier. "A long term wine" says Éric "high ripeness with good acidity, very much like 2009. No sulfur."
Made primarily from 80 to 90 year-old vines of Serine, grown in a small hillside parcel of limestone marl soil in Brézème, generally regarded as an old version of Syrah (which evolved from Mondeuse Blanc and Dureza) with smaller berries which survived through massale selection, principally in Cote Rotie. Serine gives a more aromatic and elegant wine that the larger berried modern Syrah. "Probably the last "classic" vintage of my life" says Éric "old school, harvested in October, classic balance but gentler than 2013, so very approachable. One of my personal favorite Brézème Pergaud, unmistakably Brézème. No sulfur. "The wine shows a dark garnet/black color with subtle, elegant aromas, floral, then gamey, then dense high-toned blackberry, a bt of blueberry with stone and spice. The palate is lean and youthful with firm acidity, dense but weightless. Elegant red fruits need time to emerge. The finish is long , all minerals and saline acids. Approachable, perhaps, but I would put this away for 5 to 8 years then drink until 2042. David Lillie
"From a handful of rows in our 0.5 ha of a very particular strain of Serine. Planted in the 1930’s in the Masson parcel of Saint-Julien en-Saint-Alban in the lieu-dit Le Clau. They present unique ampelographic qualities, very different from the Serines we find in Brézème or other Northern vineyards, notably very low alcoholic degrees when in full maturity. All replacements here have been done through marcottage, without the introduction of any clones. We are still not sure of their exact nature, and certain ampelography experts believe it may not even be Syrah. It may actually be Bravade or Exbrayat. We've decided to vinify these separately and the result is unique. We’ve discovered a very particular personality, and it’s an immense pleasure to share this with you.Whole-cluster, with a light treading for 20% of the grapes. 6-8 days of maceration with an immersed cap, no extraction. Native yeasts. Aged 18 months in demi-muids. No filtration or fining. No sulfur was added at any point during vinification, aging or bottling." The 2020 Le Clau shows an inky black/purple color with bright rim. Vivid black fruit aromas (boysenberry, blackberry) with black peppercorn, earth, mint, garrigue - develops quickly with aeration. The wine is intense but not heavy with a very mineral attack and very firm acidity with bright cassis and blackberry fruit that emerges with air. A fascinating melange of black fruits, anise and minerals lingers lightly on the palate in the very long finsh. This is an extraordinary wine that is great fun to taste now but 5 years in the cellar, and perhaps much longer, should create something quite unique. David Lillie
"Châteauneuf du Pape is certainly the best white wine terroir in the Rhône Valley. Warm and sapid wine in its youth, the wine evolvesinto noble notes of pine nuts, turpentine, and honey. A fascinating pairing with Provencal cuisine but also surprisingly unorthodox in its possibilities to match all types of food. The 2018 is from old vines of Clairette and Bourboulenc in "Bois Senechaux" on alluvial gravels of glacial origin called ‘galets roulés.' The wine ages for 18 months on the lees in 3 to 5 year-old barrels. "The magic of Bourboulenc" says Eric, "the 2018 has huge potential but is so good now!"