Monday, August 22, 2011

In the Glass: Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche - Blanc, Rosé and Rouge - Maison M. Chapoutier

When the legendary Rhône valley winemaker Michel Chapoutier created his Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche — white, rosé, and red — he envisioned food-friendly wines, intended to be served with classic French home cooking. My wife cooked dinner at home and we had these 3 wines for dinner: They are indeed food friendly wines.

Maison M. Chapoutier

Maison M. Chapoutier is a winery and a négociant in Tain-l'Hermitage in the Rhône region in France. Chapoutier produces wine from appellations across the Rhône region, but it is typically their top Hermitage wines, both red and white, that receive the most attention. What Maison M. Chapoutier represents today is connected with the name of Michel Chapoutier, although Polydor Chapoutier bought the first vineyards and started the winery in 1879. In the mid-20th century Max Chapoutier led the business until 1977.

Since taking over his family business in 1990 at age 26, Michel Chapoutier has transformed Maison Chapoutier into the leading Rhône Valley producer. He combines the modern and the traditional: crusading for biodynamic winemaking, while expanding operations around the globe and experimenting with cutting edge wine making techniques. All of the company’s vineyards in the northern Rhône (54 hectares), the southern Rhône (90ha) and the Roussillon (69ha) are certified biodynamic, while the 80 hectares Down Under (20ha in Victoria and 60ha in South Australia) are cultivated organically. This makes Maison Chapoutier the largest biodynamic winery in Europe. Other innovations introduced by him include: aggressive vineyard management, vintage dating for all the estate’s wines, and the elimination of fining and filtration.

Picture: The Wine Regions of France, including the Rhone Region

Maison Chapoutier produces wines from a range of appellations in northern and southern Rhône, as well as from some Roussillon appellations. In addition, there are joint ventures in Portugal and Australia.

Maison Chapoutier was the first wine producer to introduce braille on its labels in 1994. The information presented in the braille print includes the producer, the vintage, the vineyard and region as well as the color of the wine.

Michel lives with his wife Corinne and their two children in Tain-l'Hermitage. The story of how Michel came to take over the family business in 1990, ousting his own father in the process, is complicated and occasionally brutal. There are other big names in Tain-l'Hermitage --Jaboulet and Chave, to mention just two. But it is Michel Chapoutier, who owns 25 percent of the 320 acres of vines in Hermitage and who has, in a mere decade, managed to change the way Rhône wines are made.

Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche — Blanc, Rosé and Rouge

2009 Belleruche Blanc

Although the rich red wines and bright rosés produced there are the most famous wines to come from the Rhône valley, Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc — made from Grenache Blanc (White Grenache) with the addition of other white grapes — has long graced the lunch and dinner tables of French families. White Grenache, with its distinctive aromatic profile, gives this wine its unmistakable herbaceous and white fruit nose. While smaller amounts of Clairette help to bring the alcohol level up to a judicious 13-13.5%, it is the Bourboulenc that gives Belleruche Blanc its delightful acidity, making it a fantastic pairing for salads and seafood.

In the vineyard, the grape growers wait until peak ripeness before picking in order to allow the fruit to show its natural flavors and aromas. In the cellar, the key to the vinification is freshness: the grapes are pressed the moment they arrive in the cellar, thus retaining the wine’s bright fruit and crisp acidity.

Grapes are immediately pressed when they arrive at the winery. Settling is carried out by cold-stabilizing after 24 hours. The wine is aged in vats without malolactic fermentation.

Tasting notes: Pale yellow and clear, green apple, hawthorn and white blossoms, citrus aromas and exotic fruits, fresh and well-balanced, lot of fatness and length.

60% Grenache, 20% Clairette, 20% Bourboulenc
Appellation: Côtes-du-Rhône
Alcohol Level: 13.5%
Number of cases: 20,000

2010 Belleruche Rose

In the tradition of the Rhône valley’s great rosé wines, Chapoutier’s Belleruche Rosé is made from a blend of Grenache (roughly 75%), with smaller amounts of Cinsaut (Cinsault), and Syrah. The Grenache in this food-friendly wine gives it bright red stone fruit flavors and beautiful color, while the Cinsaut gives its delicate strawberry aroma and the Syrah its body, making it a great pairing even for the intense flavors of seafood. Rosé wine is obtained by limiting the amount of time the grape must (juice) is allowed to macerate in contact with the skins. While rosé can typically lack tannic structure (the grape skins also impart tannin to the wine), Chapoutier uses the Syrah to balance it with tannic structure.

After the grapes are pressed for the production of Belleruche Rosé, the winemaker employs a process known in French as débourbage: the grape must (juice) is allowed to settle for a period of 24 hours. This allows the solids and the liquid to separate naturally and reduces the need for filtering later. This ancient technique — now abandoned by many wineries because it is time-consuming — helps to create the wine’s gorgeous rosé color by allowing the skins to gently impart their color to the wine.

Cold setting is performed for 24 hours. The alcoholic fermentation lasts from 10 to 12 days. Aged in vats.

Tasting notes: Deep pink, with salmon-pink highlights, red fruits, currant, raspberry and cherry, the freshness is well-balanced and round.

90% Grenache, 10% Syrah-Cinsault
Appellation: Côtes-du-Rhône
Alcohol Level: 13.5%
Number of cases: 3,000

2009 Belleruche Rouge

Chapoutier’s Belleruche Rouge is made from roughly 80% Grenache (the grape variety used primarily in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the south) and 20% Syrah (the grape used to make the Rhône valley’s most famous red wines in Côte Rôtie, Crozes Hermitage, Hermitage, and St Joseph to the north). Michel Chapoutier loves to serve this wine at Sunday lunch: its perfect balance of natural fruit flavors from the Grenache and the structure, spiciness, and gentle tannins from the Syrah make it an excellent pairing for a wide variety of dishes, from roast chicken and pork to grilled and roast lamb.

After handpicking at the peak of ripeness, extended maceration (up to 15 days) and natural fermentation give this wine its rich color and mouthfeel, freshness on the nose, and red berry fruit and structure in the mouth.

100% destemming. Maceration lasts 15 days and procures a good tannic structure which permits the ageing and guarantees the stability of the wine. The wine is aged in vats.

Tasting notes: Garnet red in the glass, red fruit aromas, well-structured, with dark red fruit and pepper notes, sustained tannins.

50% Grenache, 50% Syrah
Alcohol Level: 14%

Importer: Terlato Wines International

The 3 bottles were provided to me by Terlato Wines International, the flagship company of the Terlato Wine Group. Owned and operated by the Terlato family, the Terlato Wine Group, operating out of the Chicago suburb of Lake Bluff, Illinois, is a holding company for 13 independent companies that are owns both vineyards and wineries and is involved in the import, export, sales, and marketing of premium wines. Several of its vineyards are located in famous California wine regions: Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara. Flagship subsidiary Terlato Wines International markets more than 50 foreign and domestic brands of wine in the US through a direct sales force and distributors. Terlato also has global joint venture wine operations in Australia and Italy.

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