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)|