Greg Talks Terroir: The Alexandre Rochette Winemaker Dinner
Given his position as head winemaker for Chapoutier's wine empire, Greg's access to the best vineyards in the Rhone is unmatched. His commitment to biodynamics and low yields enhances the quality of fruit he has to work with. But Greg's vinification methods are equally important to the Alexandre Rochette wines, which he made especially for Montesquieu's clients. In discussing the two Hermitage cuvées at the dinner, Greg spoke about the delicate, attentive methods required to produce such fresh, focused wines. For the 2007 Hermitage blanc, which was composed of 100% Marsanne, he gently pressed the grapes and aged them in ½ foudre and ½ stainless steel to achieve both complexity and purity. For the 2006 Hermitage rouge, the goal was to harness the wine's power and align it with the too-oft-forgotten elegance that Syrah can develop in the Northern Rhone. This required separate harvesting and fermentation of each lot to coax the best out of every grape. Such exacting treatment calls for an average of 1500 man hours per year hectare! Now that's dedication to your craft. As we tasted the Rochette Cote Rotie, the Rhone's most Burgundian region, Greg made sure we understood the effort and judgment required to capture the elegance and floral qualities that too often escape wines from even the most revered Cote Rotie vineyards. In Greg's view, concrete fermentation, delicate maceration, and a judicious use of new oak are all vital to capturing the true essence of this famed terroir – and after experiencing the 2006 Alexandre Rochette Cote Rotie with Loin of Watson Farm Lamb on our plates, we were inclined to agree. And where most winemakers would go the Hermitage or Cote Rotie route to finish the evening, Greg's exclamation point on our night was a thunderous 2006 Latour de France from the Cotes du Roussillon Villages appellation. This hulking wine, heavy on Carignane but expertly blended out with Grenache and Syrah, could only be tamed by the beautiful selection of artisan and farmstead cheeses.
Speaking of terroir, Greg took time to examine the finer points of each of the regions that make up the Rochette portfolio we were drinking. While some people lump Cote Rotie and Hermitage into one broad category, Greg urged us to focus on the critical differences between the two neighboring AOCs. Located 50km upstream from Hermitage, Cote Rotie is the northernmost Rhone appellation and possesses a cool climate that requires careful skill and patience at harvest to get the feminine allure that marks the region's top wines. In contrast, the granitic slopes of Hermitage need far less time to achieve ripeness and bring out Syrah's earthy, leathery complexity; but it's the prudent handling of the fruit after harvest that delivers the essential balance that makes these powerful wines so age-worthy. As we drank the Hermitage rouge with a succulent Sonoma Liberty Duck dish, winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt interjected, applauding the work of his far too modest friend. "It is simply impossible to find a better example of Hermitage," exclaimed Stéphane. "This wine is magical."
Each wine that evening offered pleasure and intrigue, but perhaps the most poignant lesson in terroir came from the "least prestigious" of the reds, the 2007 Coteaux du Tricastin. This Southern Rhone appellation may not be as well known (yet) as its famous neighbor Chateauneuf du Pape, but its similarly stony terroir makes for a deeply fruited, intense wine that has the potential to far surpass its humble origins. In the hands of a master like Greg, this blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache sported a bright, explosive garrigue-infused bouquet to accompany the dark, complex flavors on the palate. By separately vinifying his lots and keeping yields painfully low, Greg has made the most of this promising terroir, achieving a new standard for Tricastin wines.
We walked away from the dinner with full bellies and a deeper understanding of the pleasures of Rhone terroir thanks to Greg's insightful tutelage – a fitting end to two unforgettable days of food and wine.