Boutinot Rhône’s Eric Monnin and Kim Tidy presented a Rhône Masterclass at the London International Wine Fair on 22nd May, tasting along with the 75 Rhône devotees in attendance, six wines including the world première of Eric’s new Rhône blend under the working title of ‘Les Six’ Cairanne 2011 – currently still in cask.
Kim welcomed everyone to the tasting which he hoped would provide “an insight into the ‘different route’ Boutinot Rhône takes when making wine“. The range started in 2003 with the ‘Fide et Arte’ range, following the discovery of vineyards with fantastic potential just under 3/4 hour from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and experimental vintages in 2000 and 01. “We have a simple philosophy – no recipe, we don’t do the same thing every year to produce great wine, as that would be madness and we follow our heart in the way we make wines” .
Later in the tasting Kim goes on to say that “we let the wine decide” meaning that wine is only released when they think it’s ready, rather than responding to market demand. So 2009 is the first vintage where Boutinot Rhône released side by side a Sablet, Séguret, Cairanne and Les Coteaux Côtes du Rhône Villages and therefore it would not have been possible to put on such a ‘horizontal’ tasting in the past.
History of Boutinot Rhône: Kim and Eric then went on to explain that in 2010 Boutinot realised their dream of establishing a home in the Rhône, buying a long established estate in the old hills high above the church which is the pinnacle of the village of Cairanne. Here they found the “most fantastic” vineyards and plots, as well as sourcing excellent grapes from other villages, which are not so well known but which they believe have huge potential, such as Sablet and Séguret.
Winemaking Philosophy: Eric then continued to describe the idea behind the winemaking which is to ‘work as little as possible‘, joking that everyone knows “in France we only work 35 hrs a week!” so the idea is to make sure “the job is an easy job in the cellar“.
“Most of the time we pick by hand, bring the grapes to the cellar in small boxes of 300kg – small for the area – and manipulate the grapes as little as possible. Mostly we keep the stem as the grapes go into the tank. Then, I would say a child of seven years could do the vinification if you have found the best grapes!.”
Eric went on to describe the vinification – no yeast, just a bit of délestage if it’s needed and “playing” as much as possible with pigeages (pushing down on the whole grapes to gently break their skins and extract their juices).
Unusually for the Rhône, during the pigeage large open-topped fermenters are used; a winemaking method revived from the past and largely an old-fashioned way of making wine, but one which allows a much longer cuvaison of at least 3 weeks and up to 5 if the vintage allows.
Eric and Kim then moved on to the first of the six wines to be tasted:-
Arc du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011
So called because of the arc formed by the villages of Cairanne, Rasteau, Roaix, Sablet, Séguret and Gigondas. “So this wine what I call the beginning, the ‘mise en bouche’ (ready to drink. We are speaking about a fresh and new wine from the Rhône, mainly old vine Grenache Noir and Syrah with some Carignan Noir. A very traditional vinification, wild yeast, délestage, pumping over but not such a long cuvaison to make a fruity, wine to start with” explained Eric. During the Indian summer of 2011, grapes ripened quickly and Syrah was picked on the 7th September, Grenache on the 17th.
- An unoaked easy version of Côtes du Rhône Village.
- From vineyards in the Plan des Dieux
- Terroir with good provenance on a flat plateau across the valley floor at the foot of Cairanne, originally a wood
- Here pebbles release the sun’s heat during the night.
Southern Rhône Vintage 2009. Before tasting the next four wines winemaker Eric described the conditions during the 2009 vintage. A quite warm spring and summer seemed to predict a heatwave, as in 2003; by late summer the vines were suffering from the heat. Thankfully by the end of August and beginning of September saw fresher nights but still good weather by day, conditions closer to 2007. So Eric describes the vintage 2009 as a “blend of 2003 and 2007“.
Boutinot ‘Les Coteaux’ Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009
“What’s unusual about this wine is that we mature wine to make it. So whereas the Côtes du Rhône Villages which went into the Arc du Rhône wine was a ‘vin de l’année’ , this Côtes du Rhône Village is 2009 – so we mature this mostly unoaked wine itself for about two years”.
“We don’t have a recipe and we (ironically) say that we let the wine decide. So when we feel the wine is ready, we bottle it. Not always the most convenient for our markets as there can be pressure to release stock to meet demand; but we believe we should release the wine when it is beginning to be ready to be drunk, rather than releasing it and having to cellar bottles”.
Grapes are sourced from Roaix, Sablet, Vinsobres with a tiny proportion from Saint Gervais on the right bank of the Rhône, where there is fantastic fruit. Also from the named Villages of Cairanne, Séguret and Sablet of course.
Compared to the previous wine it is “much more serious, much more spicy, with a little liquorice”. Largely an unoaked wine, a small proportion is part-aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. “We haven’t tried to make an oaky wine, we just wanted to make a wine which has more layers and complexity in which you have nice length“. Eric adds “you can see the evolution of Grenache in these first two wines that brings depth and spiciness.” The blend is mostly Grenache Noir and Syrah.
- Blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah
- Wine is sourced from a number of vineyards with exceptional terroir
- Classified, barrel aged wine from named Villages is added
- This ‘top down’ approach aimed at making the best Côtes du Rhône Villages possible
Boutinot ‘La Citadelle’ Sablet Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009
Sourced from the named Village of Sablet on the other side to the valley from Cairanne and Rasteau. Eric urged everyone to take the time to visit the villages of Sablet and Séguret as a visit will help understand the wines.
“Immediately you notice we are now talking about a wine which has been barrel aged for 22 to 24 months in French oak; not only barrels of 228 litres but mostly demi-muids – much bigger barrels of 600 litres“.
“The reason we moved to demi-muids is that we liked the wedding – the marriage, I should say- between the oak and the wine but we didn’t want to make the oak too obvious. I don’t expect you to smell the wine and say ‘the cooperage has done a good job’; I hope you find an interesting balance”.
“By using demi-muids we have a bigger proportion of wine to less oak in comparison to 228 litre barrels. Therefore the oak integration is a little bit more interesting. To balance the ageing between a big demi-muid and a normal barrel we need to have greater thickness on the stave of the barrel to manage oxygenation. So demi-muids have a thickness of 42-47mm compared to 22mm in a barrel. This means that the micro-oxygenation which goes through the staves takes longer. So bigger the barrel, longer is the ageing and better is the integration of the oak.
Grenache and Syrah were sourced from first slopes around the village of Sablet and vinified separately, with racking (décuvage) for up to 4 weeks. Eric went on to explain “for this vintage  the malo-lactic fermentation took place very quickly, under the cap in fact, before the press; which is never a good situation for the winemaker but it happened completely naturally and so quickly we did it without any problems and finalised the ageing in demi-muids!”
“I used to say this is a wine for men, but strangely most of the time women love it. We have managed to achieve a wine which is quite oaky, but with the flavour of the fruit and what I definitely love is the silkiness of the tannins.”
- Blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah from two Sablet vineyards
- Vinified with long cuvaison, pigeages and remontages
- Part aged in large demi-muids (600l) giving more integrated oak component
Boutinot ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux, Séguret, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009
Moving 3 km along the road to the very top of the village of Séguret Kim described “the most unforgettable vineyard, partly because of the bumpiness of the ride to get there and partly because of the age of the vines, at least 50 years, which are planted higgledy-piggedly; mostly Grenache with a few vines of Syrah dotted about“.
Here the focus turned to Grenache; although this Séguret has a small amount of Syrah it is as close to 100% Grenache as it is possible to be in the Côtes du Rhône Villages.
Eric asked all to note the difference in colour between the Sablet (Grenache / Syrah) and the Séguret (almost all Grenache) -“Grenache has not so much colour – the juice of the Grenache is almost white“.
During the 2009 vintage when Eric first tasted the grapes from the Séguret vineyard he could ‘feel’ that he should make a fantastic wine. Once the grapes had been in tank for two days Eric tasted the ‘fruit juice’ he knew that the wine was going to be outstanding. In situations like this he said “the winemaker ‘is just a nurse, there to urge the grapes to transform into wine“.
A two week fermentation followed and cuvaison lasted for nearly 30 days in total. Like the Sablet, ageing was in demi-muids and traditional barrels of 228 litres for up to 22 months.
The end result was ‘all the purity of Grenache from the Rhône; and I would describe its richness as a ‘Pinot Noir from the Rhône’; it’s Grenache Noir of course but I believe you can feel the finesse and delicacy that you would discover in a Pinot Noir from Burgundy“.
Kim added that Grenache Noir deserves a better reputation ‘the purity of flavour and delicacy and softness is something quite extraordinary‘. Later he referred to the ‘tenderness‘ of Grenache Noir used in this Séguret.
Eric’s passion for this wine clearly showed as he interjected to say “when you taste the Séguret you will see there is a fantastic length that comes from the ageing and especially the purity of Grenache“.
- Shows the purity of Grenache Noir
- Aged in demi-muids and Burgundy barrels for up to 22 months
Co-fermentation was a key theme in the discussion about this wine. Old vine Carignan Noir, picked at the same time as Grenache (even though the Carignan is not at maximum ripeness) are co-fermented to add colour, natural acidity and decrease the level of alcohol in the final blend (in the current climate Grenache can reach up to 15 degrees so Carignan has a balancing influence).
Mourvèdre, picked late for spiciness and tannin, is co-fermented with Grenache and the Syrah is vinified separately.
Kim explained that like Grenache Noir, Carignan Noir doesn’t have a great reputation but when produced from low-yielding vines it can produce fantastic results in a blend, so much so that Carignan has been replanted in the Boutinot Domaine in Cairanne.
Just 10-15% of the grapes were de-stemmed to get initial juice, and then a wait of 3 to 4 days went by for Mother Nature to start the fermentation .
Barrel Selection. For the 2009 vintage cuvaison took 30 days, with malo-lactic fermentation in demi-muids and barrels. Eric explained that barrel selection is crucial, all barrels are tasted and the final selection totalled 10 of the best demi-muids and 32 barrels. These barrels were all 2-3 years old, so there is less new oak in the 2009 Cairanne than in either 2009 Sablet or Séguret.
Barrels not selected are used in the Les Coteaux Côtes du Rhône Villages – a top down approach where barrel-aged classified wine is used to enrich the ‘Les Coteaux’ Côtes du Rhône Village.
- Co-fermentation is key to balancing the wine
- Grenache co-fermented with Carignan to balance acidity and decrease alcohol
- Rigorous barrel selection
- Complex wine with further ageing potential
Before moving onto the last wine, Kim hoped the group could see the difference in styles, the pure fruit of the Arc du Rhône, complexity and greater age in ‘Les Coteaux’ Côtes du Rhône Villages, the silk of ‘La Citadelle’ Sablet, the purity and almost tenderness of the Grenache Noir in the ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux’ Séguret and in the La Côte Sauvage Cairanne quite a lot of complexity – a wine with a great future ahead of it.
Boutinot ‘Les Six, Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011 (cask sample)
“A bit of an experiment and perhaps a little bit of a dare” the last wine, a blend of six varieties, is a glimpse into the future; presented before it goes into barrel for maturation.
Kim and Eric passionately believe there is a lot more to the Rhône than Grenache and Syrah, so the blend also includes Counoise (occasionally seen in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Mourvèdre (15%) , Carignan (approx 10%) and Cinsault. Although tasting fantastically well in the cellar the previous day, Eric was concerned that, after travelling the wine was a bit ‘topsy-turvy’ however he wanted to give the opportunity to taste today to allow a comparison next year when the wine is in bottle.
As to the blend Eric noted that each variety is not just a drop, but a significant amount (at least 10 to 15%) and included Mourvèdre and Counoise in equal parts, Carignan and Cinsault and Syrah in similar proportions and a larger amount of Grenache from vines over 100 years old .
Again co-fermentation was important with pairings Grenache and Carignan and Mourvèdre and Counoise. Syrah and very old vine Cinsault were co-fermented as the more oxidative power of Cinsault balances the more reductive Syrah to “obtain a Syrah that was absolutely amazing“.
The sample bottles were taken from a very big tank of 6,000 litres, so no oak should be detectable at this stage. “We are going to try and keep the purity of the wine and see what happens with it“.
Questions from the floor:
When will Cairanne be recognised?
Eric answered “A very good question. Cairanne today is not a cru like Vacqueyras or Gigondas; in the past two years Rasteau has been recognised as a Cru like Vinsobres a couple of years ago. I do believe that within three, more or less years Cairanne will become a Cru. We are working hard with the syndicate of the village to go to a higher level in terms of appellation”.
Do you experiment with picking the grapes earlier for more acidity?
Eric answered “I don’t try to pick earlier as I don’t think it’s a good thing with red wines. I try to keep the acidity playing a lot with the Carignan or sometimes the Syrah depending on the vintages. Taking the natural acidity from the Carignan where possible. Don’t forget that I tend not to de-stem so we catch a little bit of acidity from the stems, this happens most of the time after 15 days – I can’t prove it but the acidity has a nice evolution at this moment”. Kim added “By picking the Carignan at the same time as Grenache you are picking something that has a higher acidity than Grenache, then with the last two – the Counoise and Mourvèdre which are the very late picking varieties, both have a high natural acidity but you are picking them very ripe. So we are picking grapes with natural acidity, not necessarily picking them green to get acidity.”
What’s the average age of the vines you select?
Eric “For all the wines except the Arc du Rhône the average age is 45 years.”
What is the effect of winter temperatures on the vintage?
Eric responds “Obviously we prefer to have cold temperatures; as I expect the vines to sleep, to stop for at least a couple of months. This year (2011/2012) December and January was too warm, it was 12° C sometimes. We should have lower temperatures! So it will be interesting for this coming vintage. You are right we should also consider the winter not only the Spring and Summer when you talk about the vintage.
What’s the ideal winter temperature?
Eric ” I like it to be just below zero“. Kim added “We had snow in Cairanne in February and we were glad; apart from killing all the bugs and encouraging the vines to shut down and rest, you also want cold weather to help settle the various vintages of wine in the barrel. You don’t want warm weather in December and January. One day hit 18°C; ridiculous for that time of year as you turn the vines into apoplexy and stir up the maturing wines; they don’t know what’s going on!”