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» Favored by the Tsars

Text Charles W. Borden
Photos Sergei Koshkin

This month’s wine tasting was inspired by the Valence area in the heart of the French Côtes du Rhône wine region, which runs along the Rhône River in southeastern France from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south to Côte Rôtie and Condrieu in the north. The Ancient Romans used the Rhone for transport and trade, establishing a city at Vienne and planting the first vineyards in the area that is now known as St. Joseph and Côte Rotie. These are France’s oldest wine districts.

The French Appellation d’origine contrôlée [controlled term of origin], or AOC, system controls the use of regional names such as Côtes du Rhône in the labeling of wines. The system dates back to the 15th century, though many AOC designations are more recent. When an AOC designation is granted, only grapes from that AOC district can be used in wines that carry the name, and there are often restrictions on the varieties of grapes that can be used. For instance, wines from Hermitage AOC must be made from Syrah grapes with only small amounts of Marsanne and Roussanne grapes.

An AOC designation may cover an entire region like Côtes du Rhône (and all wines with that name must come from that region), or a small vineyard area like Condrieu. The wines from the narrower designations are likely to demand a higher price. In addition to wines, AOC designations are given to cheese, poultry, and even lentils.

The principal and best known AOC wine districts of Côtes du Rhône are Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, St. Joseph, Crozes- Hermitage, Hermitage, Cornas, Gigondas, Tavel, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The most widely planted red grapes are Black Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Carignane. Viognier, Marsanne, White Grenache, and Roussanne are the favored whites.

With the exception of the E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc, the wines from this wine tasting come from the following AOC districts:

Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Named for its selection as the Pope’s summer residence in the 14th century, the area received AOC status in 1936. The principal grapes are Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Clairette, and Bourboulenc.

Condrieu
This small district produces some of the region’s best whites, exclusively from Viognier, which has experienced a resurgence in popularity during recent years with plantings in most major wine regions of the world. It is often blended with Syrah wines to soften them.

Côte Rôtie
According to the AOC rules, this district produces exclusively red wines from Syrah grapes that are co-fermented with up to 20 percent of the white Viognier.

Hermitage
According to legend, this district was established by Henry Gaspard, a knight from Stérimberg, who returned from the Crusades to embrace a life of prayer and retreat. The grapes of Hermitage are produced on just 130 hectares, and the AOC permits only Syrah for red wines with small amounts (up to 15 percent) of Marsanne and Roussanne. These two grapes form the area’s white wines as well. The wines of Hermitage were favored by the Russian tsars.

Tavel
Th is is exclusively a rosé district with wines produced from Grenache with a maximum of 15 percent of other grapes.

As usual we began with the whites, led by Château de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2004, a “value” at just 525 rubles (about $21), much less than the comparable price in the UK. This is unusual for Moscow. Th is bright, fruity, light golden wine scored well with our panel. The next two wines, E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône 2005 Blanc and Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets 2006, are both made from Viognier, a very distinctive white grape that can be great with proper handling, as with the Condrieu. The Condrieu, which carries a Parker score of 93, received our highest rating. Parker’s Wine Advocate describes it as follows:

The 2006 Condrieu Les Chaillets is superb. A greenish hue to the light gold color offers up notes of ripe peach, poached apricots, crushed rocks, and acacia flowers. Broad, smoky, luscious flavors are concentrated with good underlying acidity. This is a beauty to drink over the next several years.

The Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage Chevalier de Stérimberg 2001, though highly rated by Parker at 91, was disappointing. Following the whites, the two rosé wines from Tavel did not provide our Knights with a good reason to choose them over a nice white wine.

After a break, we resumed with the reds, led by two from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Domaine Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf- du-Pape Cuvée de Mon Aïeul, made with 100 percent Grenache grapes and with a Parker score of 90-93, was my personal favorite. However, despite its heft y price tag, our Knights did not score it quite as high as the lower-priced Clos de L’Oratoire Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Another big-ticket bottle, the Chapoutier Côte Rôtie Les Becasses 2004, did not score well at all.

Then the star came out: the Chapoutier Ermitage L’Ermite 2000, with a Parker rating of 99 and a price of 12 800 rubles.

A wine that should warm the heart of any oligarch or tsar, a Wine Advocate reviewer described it:

I grossly underestimated the 2000 Ermitage L’Ermite from barrel. This wine, which emerges from largely pre-phylloxera vines planted on the dome of Hermitage, adjacent to the chapel that is perched there so photogenically, possesses extraordinary finesse and elegance. It reveals notes of liquid minerals intermixed with kirsch liqueur and blackberries … [It] displays a certain austerity early in life. The extraordinary 2000 fl irts with perfection. A provocative wine with great minerality, finesse, and delineation, it blew me away when I tasted it from the bottle.

With our Knights, the Chapoutier Ermitage barely edged out the other reds, but I have to admit that the P&P (price and Parker) of this wine heightened the experience of enjoyment of a good wine.

Read about Carré Blanc, the venue for the June wine tasting, in the July issue of Passport.

Knights of the Vine

John Ortega, International Apparel
Charles Borden, Meridian Capital
Arian Alikhani, Lensmaster
Kim Balaschak, Monsoon Accessorize
Jim Balaschak, Deloitte & Touche
Frank Benhamou, CISLink.com  
Phil Dixon, Morgan Hunt Selection
Victor Frumkin, Bridge Town
Justin Harman, Ambassador of Ireland in Moscow
Jan Heere, Inditex (Zara)
Art Vartanian, Retail Solutions
Dan Vigdor, AutoLocator
Tony Wong, Abbott

Ortega Easy Rating System

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.

Moscow Value Wines

As a service to wine-loving readers on a budget, each month we will rate and recommend several wines in the price range of 250 to 600 rubles. The crop for June:

Wine Ortega Easy Rating System Price Supermarket
Spier Chenin Blanc 2007

(Stellenbosch, South Africa)

4 355 R Aromatny Mir
Westend Estate Down Under Shiraz 2006 (Southeastern Australia) 4 345 R Azbuka Vkusa
Hardy’s Stamp Series Riesling/Gewurtztraminer 2007 (Southeastern Australia) 4 339 R Sedmoi Kontinent
Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc 2006 3+ 379 R Sedmoi Kontinent
  Wine Retail (RR) Retail (USD) Rating
  White
1 Chateau de la Gardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2004 525 $21 3.76
2 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2005 1 640 $67 3.36
3 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets 2006 3 370 $138 3.96
4 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg 2001 2 940 $120 3.11
  Rose
5 E. Guigal Tavel 2004 632 $26 2.58
6 Chapoutier Tavel Beaurevoir 2005 910 $37 3.21
  Red
7 Clos de L’Oratoire Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2001 908 $37 3.74
8 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee de Mon Aïeul 2004 4 590 $187 3.68
9 Chapoutier Cote Rotie Les Becasses 2004 3 320 $136 3.27
10 Chapoutier Ermitage L’Ermite 2000 12 800 $522 3.76


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