2018 Côte-Rôtie, Champin le Seigneur
Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin
£195 per 6 bottle case in bond
plus a limited quatity of single vineyard releases
Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin is synonymous with great Côte-Rôtie and has been for quite some time. As a fan of Northern Rhône Syrah, I have tracked their progress over many years and enjoyed wines at all levels from their range, and I am really pleased to have secured an allocation of the impressive 2018s including their single parcel (or lieux dits) Côte-Rôtie.
Introduction to Côte-Rôtie:
Côte-Rôtie is a fascinating appellation and the most northerly in the Rhône Valley. It incorporates three communes; Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, Tupin-et-Semons but is centred on Ampuis. It was in the 1980s, when Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin was founded, that Côte-Rôtie enjoyed something of a renaissance. This area has been connected with viticulture since Roman times, but as with many regions, it struggled incredibly after phylloxera ravaged most vineyards in France at the end of the nineteenth century. As Remington Norman commented in his superb guide to the Rhône, ‘by 1945 a kilo of apricots fetched one franc and a kilo of Côte-Rôtie grapes 45 centimes’. It is no surprise that by the late 1950s, a mere 50 hectares were still in production in the entire appellation (to put that into context, that equates to half the size of Château Lafite-Rothchild’s vineyard holding). Fortunately, interest returned, due in no small part to the efforts of Marcel Guigal, whose wish to push quality and rejuvenate the region attracted media and critics a plenty…a certain Robert Parker among them.
What makes Côte-Rôtie unique:
Let’s be clear, Côte-Rôtie is comprised of a tough terrain, largely steep terraces and slopes that limit any form of mechanisation as a hike through the vines once proved to me. I have never failed to be impressed at the sight of these precipitous terraces on approaching Côte-Rôtie, they range up to 350 metres in altitude and are quite something to behold. The climate is perfectly suited to Syrah as the stony-surfaced soils absorb and reflect heat back on the vine and serve to protect the thin soils beneath. They are mainly iron-rich mica schists with elements of clay, slate and sand as well as limestone, gneiss and granite in different areas of the region. This region sums up the French word ‘terroir’ so neatly, as a multitude of factors combine to render it ideal for Syrah – I have mentioned the soils already, but then consider that the slopes face south or south-east, offering perfect exposure to the sun allowing for excellent ripening. Consider that these slopes exceed a gradient of 60% in places, which means there is little shading too. Dry stone walls are necessary in many places to prevent erosion. And then consider that the vines receive sufficient rain but benefit from the drying southerly winds, which assist in keeping them in healthy condition. Listed in this manner, and even if you haven’t visited the region, you start to sense that great wine should be made here, and believe me, it is.
About the domaine:
This outstanding estate of Jean-Michel Gerin was created in 1983 after the purchase of a parcel of vines in Côte-Rôtie. Over the years the family has added parcels in some of the most illustrious vineyards of the region, starting with Les Grandes Places, then La Landonne, La Viallière, and finally Côte-Bodin. Some of these parcels needed replanting and therefore it took time for production to commence and the wines to be added to the Gerin stable. Overall, the estate extends over 17 hectares, of which 12 are in Côte-Rôtie itself, and is managed by Michael and Alexis Gerin, who last year decided to convert the entire domaine to organic viticulture - yet another step in the estate’s evolution.
I have been impressed by the Gerin wines on so many occasions, they always have a certain approachability and I never seem to have caught a bottle at a bad moment – they can be broached early on and their different characters still shine through. They are wines of roundness and texture – the extraction of tannins from the skins is carefully managed, meaning they aren’t the most assertive of styles. I personally enjoy young Syrah for its accessibility – I don’t need every bottle to need a prolonged snooze in a dark cellar for a couple of decades. Some used to criticise Gerin for their use of wood in the early years, but this has been stepped back, and some argue that they aren’t the most classical – well, fair enough, that is down to winemaking choices and is surely part of the enjoyment of stylistic variation among estates. What you will get with Gerin’s Côte-Rôtie is beautifully textured, hand crafted wines that speak of the virtues of Syrah in this part of the world as well as the varied terroir of this appellation. You will be able to enjoy or bottle or two early in their life and age the rest of the case further as desired, but by wish not necessity. In that way, I think that the ‘Seigneur du Champin’ is a very strong entry point for their range of Côte-Rôtie. This wine comprises fruit from 11 different parcels of vines across the tapestry of Côte-Rôtie vineyards; all of the vines are in excess of 30 years of age, so this is no simple young vine cuvée. The ‘Seigneur’ is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier, reflecting the historical approach of co-fermenting the aromatic, low acidity Viognier with the more powerful Syrah. Initially, it is said that this was to alleviate the tannins of the thick-skinned Syrah, but today I feel this is less of its role; I believe growers persist as it gives more complex aromas and adds to the roundness of the wine.
Please see below for my note on the Seigneur du Champin alongside notes from Josh Raynolds from vinous.com. Alas, I wasn’t able to taste all these wines, so I have added Josh’s detailed notes for La Viallière and Les Grandes Places, with my suggestion on cellarage potential as no drink dates were given. Please note that all stocks are limited, as even modern-day Côte-Rôtie is limited in scale, today covering not much more than 500 hectares.