By Josh Raynolds
With a mere three and a half hectares of vines, all of them in Côte-Rôtie, the Levets’ wines will never be especially easy to find, but they have become a beacon for fans of traditional renditions of the appellation. Made with a high percentage of whole clusters (100% for the La Chavaroche) and raised in foudres and demi-muids, virtually all of them old (there’s about 10% new oak introduced each vintage) but very well maintained, these are Côte-Rôties in a style unaffected by fashion, which means they demand patience. When Agnès Levet talks about a vintage that requires cellaring, like her 2015s, she means a minimum of 15 years and really more like two decades. I’ve drunk plenty of bottles made by her father Bernard and her late mother Nicole back to their 1983 and I can say from experience that even in lesser vintages like 1984, 1986 and 1992 the wines evolve very slowly.
That said, I do find the wines made under Agnès’ watch, which began in earnest with the 2004 vintage, to show more polish and fresh, sweet fruit than those of her parents. These 2015s demonstrate what I mean as they possess the depth and power that one should expect from the vintage as well as a vibrancy and clarity that I have rarely experienced over the years since I first started visiting the Levets’ cellar in 1994. I wish that I could say that the wines are more accessible now than they were in the past. While I suppose I could, it would mean that I think that they now start showing well at 12 to 14 years of age rather than 15 to 18 as in the past, which would be cold comfort for impatient wine lovers or those without proper cellar conditions.
I’ve been especially impressed by the progress that Agnès has made with the Journaries bottling, which includes the fruit from the Levets’ tiny 0.3-hectare holding of La Landonne. While La Chavaroche, which is labeled La Péroline everywhere except in the U.S. market, holds pride of place for the Levets, the Journaries has, to my taste, been slowly and steadily approaching its big brother in quality, if not in sheer wildness, over the last few vintages.
|Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche||Dark purple. Wild, highly perfumed blueberry preserve, smoked meat and Asian spice aromas expand and deepen with air, picking up suggestions of potpourri, olive and woodsmoke as the wine opens up. Sweet, seamless and concentrated, offering sappy, sharply focused black and blue fruit, floral pastille and spicecake flavors that show a compelling blend of power and vivacity. Closes sweet and broad, delivering outstanding persistence and slowly emerging, youthfully chewy tannins.||(93-95)|
|Côte-Rôtie Les Journaries||Bright violet. Smoke- and pepper-accented dark berry and cherry pit aromas pick up suggestions of game, licorice and pungent flowers with aeration. Sweet and expansive on the palate, offering concentrated black and blue fruit and spicecake flavors that unfold steadily as the wine opens up. Finishes strikingly long and smooth, featuring lingering smoked meat and candied dark fruit notes, supple tannins and an emphatic echo of candied flowers||(92-94)|
|Côte-Rôtie Améthyste||Lurid ruby. Smoke- and spice-accented red and dark berry aromas show very good clarity and a suave floral topnote. Nicely concentrated black raspberry, bitter cherry and spicecake flavors display a complementary hint of succulent herbs and pick up sweetness on the back half. Finishes silky and very long; harmonious tannins come in late to add shape and gentle grip||(91-93)|
|Saint-Joseph Le Blanchard||Youthful purple. Mineral- and spice-accented aromas of dark berries and violet on the expressive nose. At once fleshy and lithe, offering appealingly sweet blackberry, cherry liqueur and spicecake flavors, plus a building suggestion of smokiness. Shows very good clarity on the nicely persistent finish, which features silky tannins and lingering spice and floral nuances.||(90-92)|
“Since I like Syrah that’s powerful and expressive, 2015 is a fantastic vintage where nature basically made the wine,” Yves Cuilleron told me. He pointed out that ’15 is “an extremely unique year because it’s like a mix of the best qualities of the best vintages of the last 30 years: healthy ripe fruit, concentration, aromatic expression, harmony of tannins and fruit, structure and a healthy crop.” It’s rare in a producer’s lifetime, he went on, that nature is “so generous in all the important departments of winemaking.” I was very pleasantly surprised by how harmonious the tannins of Cuilleron’s ‘15s were when I visited in early February. His young red wines can often be a tough read because of their structure but I didn’t find that to be the case at all this go-round. Then again, the red wines here, which do get a healthy dose of new oak, as in around 50% for the top bottlings, have become steadily more elegant since the early 2000s, when they were among the brawniest of the region.
|Cornas Les Vires||(raised for 18 months in new and used barriques) Vivid purple. A complex, highly perfumed bouquet evokes ripe dark berries, incense, musky flowers and allspice, and a smoky mineral element adds interest. Sweet, focused and energetic on the palate, offering sappy black raspberry and cherry liqueur flavors that turn deeper and sweeter on the back half. Combines power and vivacity with a smooth hand and finishes juicy and extremely long, fine-grained tannins gently framing the plush dark fruit.||(92-94)|
|Cornas Le Village||(aged in new and used barriques for 18 months) Dark ruby. Sexy dark berry, violet pastille and incense aromas are sharpened by black pepper and mineral notes. Displays very good focus and intensity on the palate, offering sweet boysenberry, violet pastille and allspice flavors that show no rough edges. Supple tannins build slowly through a very long, floral-accented finish, where the floral note echoes emphatically.||(91-93)|
|Côte-Rôtie Terres Sombres||(raised for 18 months in new and used barriques) Bright purple. Complex, highly perfumed aromas of blackberry, potpourri and smoky Indian spices, accompanied by olive and black pepper nuances that build in the glass. Sappy, palate-staining black and blue flavors gain energy from a suggestion of smoky minerals and pick up a violet pastille quality as the wine opens up. The mineral element carries emphatically through the impressively long, gently tannic finish, which leaves behind sweet dark fruit and floral notes.||(93-95)|
|Côte-Rôtie La Madinière||(raised in new and used barriques for 18 months) Brilliant violet. Heady, assertively perfumed aromas of ripe black and blue fruits, incense, vanilla and woodsmoke acquire a suave floral topnote in the glass. Spice-laced blackberry, boysenberry and fruitcake flavors unfold slowly, picking up mineral and cola nuances on the back half. The sweet, supple, extremely long finish is framed by velvety tannins that sneak in late to add gentle grip.||(92-94)|
|Côte-Rôtie Bassenon||(aged for 18 months in new and used barriques) Glass-staining ruby. Intensely perfumed aromas of ripe dark fruits, potpourri and olive; a zesty mineral nuance adds vivacity. Deeply concentrated blueberry, spicecake and floral pastille flavors take on suggestions of cola and candied licorice on the back half. Finishes on a suave note of candied flowers, delivering mounting tannins and superb energy and focus.||(91-93)|
|Saint-Joseph Les Serines||(raised in new and used barriques for 18 months) Dark purple. Smoke- and pepper-accented black and blue fruit aromas pick up suggestions of candied licorice, violet and star anise with aeration. Sweet and expansive on the palate, offering intense, mineral-laced cassis, bitter cherry and floral pastille flavors that smoothly combine richness and vivacity. Shows excellent clarity and floral lift on the finish, which features building tannins and an emphatic echo of smoky minerals and peppery spices.||(92-94)|
|Saint-Joseph L’Amarybelle||(aged in new and used barriques for 18 months) Lurid ruby. Highly perfumed aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry cola, floral pastilles, licorice and woodsmoke. Plush, seamless and sweet, offering concentrated black and blue fruit flavors accented by cracked pepper and violet qualities. Broad, appealingly sweet and lively; velvety tannins lend grip to the clinging finish. This bottling was formerly called L’Amarybelle.||(91-93)|
|Saint-Joseph Les Pierres Seches||(raised in used barriques for 18 months) Deep ruby. Smoke- and spice-tinged blackberry and dried cherry aromas are enlivened by a suave floral topnote. Nicely concentrated cassis, bitter cherry and spicecake flavors are complemented by a touch of succulent herbs and a building floral pastille note. Finishes chewy and long, with dusty tannins coming in late to add shape and grip.||(90-92)|
|Crozes-Hermitage Les Deux Terraces||(aged for 18 months in new and used barrels) Bright violet. Spice-accented cherry, black raspberry and violet on the perfumed nose. Round and fleshy but energetic as well, offering dark berry, allspice and white pepper flavors that spread out nicely on the back half. Deftly melds power and vivacity and closes juicy and long, smooth tannins harmonizing with the juicy dark fruit.||(91-93)|
|Crozes-Hermitage Laya||Vivid ruby. Intensely perfumed, spice-accented dark berry and cherry aromas, along with a subtle floral quality. Silky and open-knit, offering expansive black raspberry and candied cherry flavors complemented by notes of cracked pepper, violet and allspice. This is quite elegant for the vintage. Finishes sweet and long, with smooth tannins adding shape.||(90-92)|