Yves Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie Bonnivières 2019
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Yves Cuilleron is based in the Northern Rhône Valley in a hamlet just outside of Condrieu (the spiritual home of Viognier). The estate was established by his grandfather over 100 years ago, but Yves has taken it to its current notoriety, having grown it from 3.5 hectares to 75. He also became president of the Condrieu grower's association in 2004. He's kind of a big deal.
In my opinion, some of the most captivating expressions of a given grape variety come from more marginal locations, where the grapes fully ripen, but it is a hard-won struggle. For Syrah (for now and for me), this is in the Northern Rhône. While the region is littered with place names that translate as phrases like "burnt earth" and "roasted slope," these are relative terms. Syrah certainly finds powerful expression in the more southern appellations of the region, but when forced to battle for sugar accumulation, Syrah yields enticing nonfruit aromas ranging from delicate flowers and herbs, such as violets, lavender, thyme, rosemary, and bay, to more meaty-spicy elements such as olive, smoked meat, and cracked pepper. It is these beguiling characteristics, accenting just ripe blackberry fruit and licorice, and an abiding freshness supporting the power of these wines, that keeps me coming back for more.
Bonnivières, a lieu-dit in the famous Côte-Rôtie appellation, is a beautiful east-facing hillside, known for producing a more fresh, elegant expression of Syrah (owing to the exposure). Some of Yves's oldest vines are planted here and they are planted at a high density. Harvest is conducted by hand, and the clusters are partially destemmed. The wine macerates on the skins for approximately three weeks in open vats, with regular punchdowns and pump-overs, before spending 18 months in barrel.
The 2019 vintage in the Northern Rhône Valley was superb. This is definitely one for your cellar.--Brian Acton