Cote-Rotie (aka the roasted slope) is one of the most significant spots for Syrah production anywhere in the world. We recently visited Agnes Levet and were absolutely delighted by her unassuming operation. Levet is a classicist and viewing this region through her eyes is a great way to see and taste the historic qualities of the region. The winery itself, sits right in the middle of the village of Ampuis, the heart of Cote Rotie. We took a short walk from the winery, towards the hills, where she took us into the Cote Brune lieu-dit, one of the most revered sites in all of Cote Rotie. Many may even recognize the name Brune from Guigal's Brune et Blonde Cote Rotie, which is a blend of many different sites throughout the appellation, but it makes a handy and delicious reference point.
Climbing up the hill, you struggle up and down stone walls and steps that the Romans originally laid out and that are in constant need of maintenance. Cote Brune is made up of predominantly schist and mica soils. You can see by the way the outcropping of rocks how crumbly the soil can be. The vines themselves are planted tightly together at about 1m x 1m density. Not as tight as Burgundy, but this is not the same kind of trellising system, because each tiny ridge or outcropping may only hold a few vines.
Levet has positioned herself as one of the most classic producers in the region. Agnes took over primary production from her father Bernard in 2004. They use a small berry clone of Syrah called Serine (good to know for that sommelier quiz) which is considered by many of the top-producers to be the original clone of syrah planted in the northern Rhone. The vineyards have been in possession of the family since 1936 and were passed to Agnes’s mother Nicole, where she and her husband Bernard began making the wine in 1983. Just shy of 4 hectares, they have six parcels split amongst various sites.
From Brune, we could spy the nearby parcel of La Chavaroche, the jewel of Levet's holdings. Sitting in the center of a very steep hill, it has one of their best exposures with its southwest facing slope. Their particular parcel requires a special all terrain vehicle to visit or your best hiking boots. The wine, once harvested, is fermented whole-cluster (no destemming) and aged between 30-36 months in a mix of used barrique and demi-muid.
The other great site, which makes up the Les Journaries bottling along with the parcel of Cote-Brune, is from the famed La Landonne vineyard. Of course you’ll spend 6 times as much for Guigal’s version of La Landonne. Agnes partially destems this cuvee from 20-40% depending on the vintage and it also ages in a mix of barrique and demi-muid.
The Levet wines, as mentioned earlier, are truly classic examples and one of my greatest experiences with them came from a bottle from importer Neal Rosenthal’s cellar. At a luncheon, he brought out a magnum of a 1998. The wine was singing. All of the garrigue and brushy notes elevated to a symphony of smoky black fruit and North African spices. These can be wines of patience but with just the effort of a few years that potential unfolds into a true sense of time and place.
|| Bernard Levet "Les Journaries" Côte-Rôtie (Pre-Arrival)
|| Bernard Levet "La Chavaroche" Côte-Rôtie (Pre-Arrival)
2013 Bernard Levet "Les Journaries" Côte-Rôtie (Pre-Arrival)
"(aged in all older foudres): Dark purple. Powerful, strongly perfumed blackberry and cherry liqueur scents pick up sexy floral and spicecake nuances and a hint of smokiness with aeration. Rich, seamless and broad on the palate, offering concentrated yet lively black and blue fruit and violet pastille flavors energized by juicy acidity and an intense mineral quality. Finishes smooth, sweet and extremely long, with velvety tannins and a strong echo of peppery spices and smoky minerals. (JR)" (03/2016)
| K&L Staff Member | Review Date:
March 23, 2017|
The "Les Journaries" Cote-Rotie comes from two of the region's most prestigious sites. The Cote Brune and La Landonne. You may recognize both names from Guigal's basic Cote Rotie and remarkable La La wines. I would not equate the two producers though. Levet is a far more traditional producer using large oak casks for most of the aging of this wine. The Journaries is not shy though, full of roasted plums, blackcurrants and smoky mineral notes. Violets, olive tapenade and crushed rosemary leap from the glass. The tannins are silky and the acid is present retaining the classic structure to lay this wine down for many years to come. But where the Chavaroches (the other famed site) is meant for the cellar, this has a slightly more open sexy quality that can be unlocked now. Lamb, lamb and more lamb is what I want with this. But it's finesse and versatility will yield delicious results with many other dishes.
2013 Bernard Levet "La Chavaroche" Côte-Rôtie (Pre-Arrival)
"Brilliant violet. An explosively perfumed bouquet displays intense black and blue fruit liqueur, incense, olive and floral pastille scents underscored by a smoky mineral quality. Broad, weighty and surprisingly lithe on the palate; sweet, palate-coating blueberry, cherry cola and candied violet flavors show superb concentration and energy thanks to a spine of juicy acidity and repeating minerality. Strikingly vibrant, seamless and persistent on the finish, where the mineral and floral notes emphatically repeat. (JR)" (03/2016)
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:
"While no 2012 was presented, I was blown away by Levets 2013 Côte Rôtie La Chavaroche Cuvee Speciale (released as La Peroline in France). Gorgeous on all accounts, with a deep, mineral-laced slant to its black raspberry fruit, cracked pepper, and violet/floral nuances, it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, bright acidity and impressive density. It shows more and more tannin with time in the glass, so short-term cellaring is advised here. It should have 15+ years of overall longevity. (JD)" (12/2014)
| K&L Staff Member | Review Date:
March 23, 2017|
La Chavaroche is one of those striking vineyards that looks nearly impossible to farm. Its steep stony slopes give you vertigo just staring at them from the bottom of the hillside. And yet, dedicated producers like Levet are able to create silk purses from these sow's ear sites which makes them all the more remarkable. The 2013 is a breakout wine for this classically styled producer. Saturated purple color leads to a nose of savory herbs and spices, loaded with potpourri and succulent black meaty fruit. All the elements of what makes Cote Rotie as a region special come together in this surprisingly accessible wine. Make no mistake though, this is meant for the ages. I drank an older bottle from the late 90s a year ago and the harmonious quality of Levet's style is even more apparent. Serve with a nice long decant with some roasted duck or squab or forget for 5-10 years. Either way, this is a purse worth having.