“Anyone who creates wines must be generous and festive. Without such qualities the creative act is doomed, sterile and vain.” Michel Chapoutier
I just returned from a remarkable week in Chile. The focus of the week was terroir: climate, weather, soil. In the Rhone Valley Michel Chapoutier is the benchmark for terroir driven wines. Embracing the understanding that good wine starts under the ground, Chapoutier has been certified in biodynamic and organic farming for most of their vines since 1999. Allowing the soil to intertwine in the expression of the wine is central in each glass of Chapoutier.
“Wine is the combination of two forces — the magnetic force of the earth and the cosmic force of the sun. The winemaker’s art consists of encouraging the accumulation of these two energies with the grape up to the point of harvest.” ~ Michel Chapoutier; via Terlato Wines
The Chapoutier name is embedded in the Rhône Valley. The winery was started in the late 19th century when Michel Chapoutier’s great, great, great, grandfather, Marius Chapoutier, purchased the estate and vineyards in the famous Northern Rhone Village of Tain l’Hermitage. He was the first in the region to vinify his own fruit. Over time the modernization, expansion, and improved vineyard practices fueled the winery’s reputation as high quality Rhone Valley wines. Today, all recognize the iconic status of the family and the famed M. Chapoutier sign high on the hill of Hermitage draws wine lovers from across the globe.
Michel Chapoutier took over the estate in 1990. Upon taking the reins he introduced some key practices including bottle vintage dating, aggressive vineyard practices, eliminating fining and filtration to enhance the wine’s flavors, and possibly most importantly imposing biodynamic and organic practices through their large vineyard holdings. The biodynamic conversion was controversial; however, the success in quality of the wines has proven it to be a smart move.
It is important to note, Chapoutier is in the business of making the best wines possible. In an interview with the Drinks Business he said when he purchased his family winery if he could have made the quality wine he was seeking with traditional farming he would have stuck to it. However, his passion in wine is about the expression of terroir. He believes biodynamic farming allows the best expression of unique soils, leading to more expressive wines. He takes this believe beyond the vineyard and into the cellar. He believes winemaking intervention should be kept to a minimum, allowing again the natural expression of the wine. He told the Drinks Business, “Filtering a wine is like making love with a condom.” However, he is staunchly opposed to “natural” wine; believing there is nothing natural about allowing toxic yeast to inhabit wine and omitting the use of sulphur is “stupid.”
In 1994, he was the first to introduce braille on his top wines as a tribute to Maurice de la Sizeranne. The Sizeranne family owns a coveted parcel of land in Hermitage. It is from this site Chapoutier sourced fruit for its “Monier de la Sizeranne” wine. Chapoutier chose to honor Sizeranne, who lost his sight at the age of nine, with a braille label. By 1996, braille labels adorned every bottle, providing vintage, region, vineyard, and color information.
Although the Rhone Valley is home to Maison M Chapoutier, crafting wines in both the Northern and Southern Rhone, he also makes wines in Alsace, Roussillon, Australia, and Portugal.
This month’s French Winophiles is exploring the Rhône Valley through three wines by Michel Chapoutier. I will share these wines from north to south as we travel the Rhone River. To learn more about each Cru please read, “Cruising the Rhone River, Sipping Cru Wine.” Today our wines take us to three appellations, Crozes-Hermitage in the north, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Luberon in the south.
- Crozes-Hermitage AOC: the largest of the Northern Rhône vineyards; reds from Syrah and whites from Marsanne and Roussanne are made here; style and quality varies depending on vineyard site from lesser expensive easy drinking to fine wines with long age-ability.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC: this is where the AOC concept was born; rich in history and wine, this is the most prominent of the Southern Rhône crus and the largest of all the crus in the Rhône Valley; quite diverse in aspect and soil types, though the vineyard areas are notably flat; grape varieties range up to 13, allowing for wide diversity in the wines produced; Grenache Noir dominates and some wines produced are even 100% Grenache; a small amount of white wines are also crafted; quality is key when buying wines from CDP, not all the wines are made with care.
- Luberon AOC: This region has a distinguished history dating back 5,000 years. Due to a large scale modernization implementation by the wine growers, Luberon was awarded AOC status in 1988. The vineyards lie at altitudes of 200 to 450 meters above sea level, resulting in a variety of soils and temperatures. It is home to many red and white grape varieties of the region.
2015 M Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “Les Meysonniers” Rouge Rhône France ($44): 100% Syrah; deep garnet; medium+ aromas of ripe dark berries including black cherry, black berries, and black raspberries, mingled with black pepper, dried violets, cured meat, smoke, dusty earth; wraps palate in supple medium+ tannins with balanced medium+ acidity, elegant and rich its medium+ body feels like silk, a medium finish that is refined. A wine with depth and focus, young, will age well, decanted recommended if drinking now.
Pair this wine with a delicious bowl of Lentils with Sausage.
2015 M Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Bernardine” Rouge Rhône France ($60): 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah; deep garnet; pronounced brooding aromas of black berry, black cherry, black plum, black raspberry, spice notes, dried violets, dried tobacco, black licorice, roasted espresso beans, cocoa, vanilla; bold on the palate, rich and round pronounced tannins, high acidity, full body, elegantly balanced and structured, long rich finish; decant now; will age well.
Pair this wine with Braised Beef Short Ribs.
2016 M Chapoutier Luberon “La Ciboise” Blanc Rhône France ($16): Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc, Roussanne; medium lemon; medium+ aromas of acacia, stone fruit, lemon zest, grapefruit, smoky notes, crushed stone; crisp and refreshing on the palate, medium+ acidity, zesty, no MLF, medium mineral driven finish; elegant and easy drinking.
Pair this wine with fish tacos.
Take a moment to see what my fellow Winophiles think about these wines and some more food pairing suggestions:
Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label and Other Pioneering Moments of Chapoutier”
J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux)”
Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
David Crowley at Cooking Chat at tells us about “London Broil Steak with Châteauneuf-du-Pape”
Rob Frisch at Odd Bacchus writes about “Return to the Rhône”
Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Châteauneuf-du- Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
Camilla Man from Culinary Adventures shares a post on “Sober Clams + a French Syrah”
Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous shares “Bison Burger Paired with Northern Rhône Syrah”
Martin Redmond Enofylz at shares “A Taste of The House of Chapoutier”
Rupal Desai Shankar at Syrah Queen writes about “Chapoutier: King of the Rhône”
Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”
Liz Barrett at What’s In That Bottle writes “Get to Know the Rhône Valley with Michel Chapoutier #Winophiles”
Please join us to share your thoughts about Maison M Chapoutier, Rhône Valley, and food pairings tomorrow at 10 CST on Twitter using #Winophiles.