Kermit is crazy,” says Louis Barruol, with a smile and an approving wink, as he taps his wine thief into a fresh barrel of Crozes Hermitage. “We used to make two, maybe three cuvées together from the northern Rhône each year... and now... eleven!” For a brief moment, I see his mind flare up with thoughts of what eleven different cuvées really means: different bottlings, different stocks to manage, different labels, and different orders not to mix up. He then pulls out some purple, vibrant juice from the barrel and lets it into our glasses. We give it a whirl, and with Louis now reassured that it’s all worth it, he concedes, “Crazy is good!” After more than a decade of collaborating and poking around Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage, and Côte Rôtie, Louis and Kermit have come up with a panoply of different batches from great and famous terroirs as well as obscure and unknown parcels. Finished wines from each parcel are tasted and scrutinized. Some are kept pure, like the single-vineyard Hermitage Pierrelle, and other lots are blended, such as the Crozes Hermitage Tiercerolles (five parcels) and the Côte Rôtie Les Roses (two parcels). The blending is simply a question of balance and harmony, tweaking notes of smoked ham, white pepper, and blackberry from the Crozes, while emphasizing the classic and unique violet, graphite, and licorice notes of the Côte Rôtie. The secret to the Marsanne from the Pierrelle parcel on the hill of Hermitage is picking early to ensure tension, expression, and salinity, while retaining the long and lingering bitter notes. It’s not every day you get to wrap your hands around an Hermitage blanc, folks. Dig in while you can.
Wines from the fabled hill of Hermitage undoubtedly represent the pinnacle of Syrah worldwide. However, these bottles are extremely limited in quantity, and they tend to be priced accordingly. Enter Crozes Hermitage: akin to an extension of Hermitage on the left bank of the Rhône, Crozes produces wines that are capable of hinting at Syrah greatness at bargain cost. That being said, quality varies tremendously here, as the appellation features both stony slopes ideal for producing wines of character and richer soils on flatter land—not nearly as noble a terroir. Louis Barruol has intimate knowledge of the northern Rhône’s vineyards, so he sources this Crozes from granite hillside plots that yield deep, chewy reds with concentrated aromas of smoke, black fruit, and graphite. Vinified traditionally (with stems) and aged in barrels without filtration, this is real-deal Syrah that demonstrates the strong personality—and value—to be found in Crozes.
The first time I tasted the Barruol/Lynch Hermitage Blanc was several years ago with the KLWM staff after work one night. It was love at first sip—and heartbreak by the last, since we had sold out of our shipment. I’m always happy to revisit this wine and marvel at the impressively delicate profile, yet towering potential for growth. It’s classic Hermitage Marsanne, with lychee, nectarine, white flowers, and a focused minerality that provides a solid backbone. It’s so pretty! One sip of this and you’ll be clearing out space in the cellar for a few cases.
The magic of great Côte Rôtie does not come from its reputation for being a big, bombastic wine. In fact, what you’re looking for is a balance of the wild, meaty, earthy characteristics, with the graceful aromas of—like the name of this particular wine—roses. Do not be fooled. Syrah with restraint gives the most depth, complexity, and aging potential. The 2017 Les Roses is a blend of two lieux-dits: Fongeant and Champin.
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