The Magic of the “Hautes-Côtes-du-Rhône”: New Releases from Sylvain Morey’s Bastide du Claux

Posted on Posted in Bastide du Claux, Rosenthal Wine Merchant News, RWM Contributor

Few American drinkers are well acquainted with the Luberon, the picturesque interzone between the southern Rhône and the northern part of Provence, as its production for many years has been geared toward simple bulk wine. However, our good friend Sylvain Morey—the youngest in a 400-year line of Moreys in Chassagne-Montrachet—is deeply engaged in unlocking the potential of the region, one whose cooler climate and historical underdog status led him to cheekily nickname it the “Hautes-Côtes-du-Rhône.” 

Sylvain’s fine and expressive Burgundies, from the tiny morsels he inherited in the Côte de Beaune, have deservedly been turning heads the past few years, but it is this passion project in the Luberon to which he has steadfastly dedicated himself for over two decades. In the late 1990s, Sylvain acquired the Bastide du Claux near La Motte d’Aigues, readying the cellar and revitalizing and acquiring nearby vineyards, and he bottled his first wines with the 2002 vintage. The Luberon is full of old plantings in various soil types and with a variety of expositions, and Sylvain’s holdings today encompass 20 hectares spread among nine distinct vineyards, with many vines planted back in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sylvain brings a Burgundian’s sense of precision and rigor to the farming here, working without synthetic chemicals (certified as of 2021), restricting yields, and harvesting entirely by hand—all rare practices for the Luberon. However, in the cellar, rather than sculpting these rugged southern wines into caricatures of the Côte d’Or, he applies a staunch minimalism that emphasizes terroir: natural fermentations in cement, aging in cement and old barrels with extremely low levels of added sulfur (between 20 and 30 milligrams per liter), and bottling without filtration. This low-tech approach, combined with the area’s modest land prices, allows Sylvain to produce deeply characterful wines of remarkable value which outperform a great many from the Luberon’s more famous flanking regions.

2019 “Barraban” Luberon Blanc
“Barraban” showcases the wide variety of grape varieties found in the Luberon, and its combination of expressive aromatics, brisk acidity, round but controlled texture, and lip-smacking minerality is a testament to Sylvain’s skill in harnessing the best from this terroir. A blend of 30% Grenache Blanc, 25% Vermentino, 15% Ugni Blanc, 10% Viognier, 10% Clairette, 7% Roussanne, and 3% Marsanne (Château Simone, watch out!), it spends just over a year in a combination of cement tank and used 600-liter oak barrels. Constituent parcels include Malacare (west-facing sandy limestone), Poudrière (sand over limestone with southern exposition), Le Claux (old vines in clay-limestone facing northeast), and La Roque (south-facing, with clay and pebbly limestone).

2020 “Poudrière” Luberon Rosé
Sylvain’s “Poudrière” comprises 60% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, and 15% Syrah, with the Syrah and part of the Grenache pressed directly, and the Cinsault and the other part of the Grenache bled off. Fermented spontaneously—a rare practice in the production of rosé in the south of France—and bottled after six months in cement, it is bright but vinous, with a salinity usually associated with wines from much nearer the Mediterranean. Constituent parcels include the namesake Poudrière (sand over limestone with southern exposition), Galon (calcareous sand, facing southwest), and Malacare (west-facing sandy limestone).

2019 “Malacare” Luberon Rouge
“Malacare” combines elegance and spicy punch in a way that speaks clearly to Sylvain’s pursuit of an expressive equilibrium in his wines. A blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, and 20% Carignan, it is destemmed entirely yet vinified with a third of these stems added back, and it spends 18 months in a combination of large foudre and cement tank. The flagship cuvée for the domaine, this wine is built around Sylvain’s holdings in Malacare, an east-facing 7.7-hectare vineyard of sandy limestone, containing seven different grape varieties with vines planted between 1948 and 2012. The Carignan comes entirely from an east-facing 1959 planting in the sandy clay-limestone soils of the Rourabeau vineyard, and the blend also includes 1982-planted Syrah from Sylvain’s highest-altitude parcel called Capriers—a northeast-exposed clay-limestone vineyard situated at 450 meters above sea level. This cool site’s spicy, tensile Syrah keeps “Malacare” fresh and balanced, harmonizing beautifully with the mineral-marked Grenache and the savory Carignan which comprise half the blend.

2017 “Le Claux” Luberon Rouge [NEW] The historical heart of the domaine, Le Claux is a 2.25-hectare site situated between 300 and 350 meters of altitude, just south of the winery. Its soils of clayey marl, rare in the Luberon, along with its less-solar northeastern exposure, contribute to a long maturation cycle and engender a wine of great complexity for the area. This wine comprises 60% Syrah from a 1973 planting, 30% Grenache from 1962, and 10% 1949-planted Mourvèdre, and Sylvain’s yields rarely top a meager 30 hectoliters per hectare. Naturally fermented with a portion of its added-back stems (following a full destemming), and aged two years primarily in used 600-liter demi-muids with a smaller proportion in cement, this 2017 “Le Claux” leads with its Syrah aromatically—a coolly spicy and black-fruited nose of notable lift. Densely concentrated and layered on the palate, its tannins have teeth, but their bite never breaks the skin. The wine finishes with a bright, vibrating energy emerging from the darkness, speaking to Sylvain’s skillful farming and light touch in the cellar.

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