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Wine Reviews
Dinner with Michel Chapoutier

© Sue Courtney, 3rd December 2001

When Michel Chapoutier stopped in Auckland the other night, en route to the Hawkes Bay area to talk to winemakers and look at vineyard sites, Michel Chapoutier and Jean-Philippe Archambaud he had the time to meet a few of the local writers for a whirlwind tasting which included some of his rarely seen wines.

His Australian winemaker, Jean-Philippe Archambaud, joined him and I snapped him relaxing over a glass of the brown sparkling stuff before dinner. (Photo has Michel Chapoutier on the left and Jean-Philippe on the right).

Then we adjourned upstairs to a private room at Rocco's in Ponsonby Road, to taste the wines and try them with a selection of food.

Although it was an informal and casual evening, Michel Chapoutier had time to remind us of the goal for his wines -

  • to make wines that best represent the soil character
  • to make wines to be married with food.

He says he doesn't care about the fruit in the wine. "The fruit is to wine as a disco is to music", he analogises, He says he wants texture, complexity, structure, low acidity and dry extract, which causes him to fight with the judges when he is judging at Australian wine shows.

We tried the wines. "You don't need much time to taste the wines", he said. "What I want you to do is taste and remember when it comes to the food".

We had magnificent Riedel glasses - large Bordeaux style glasses that would have probably held a bottle on their own. We only had a couple of minutes at the most to taste. I scribbled my notes as quickly as I could.

Firstly the whites, starting with the Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage 'Les Meysonniers' 1998 made from 100% Marsanne. This was a lemony, richly textured wine with a touch of lanolin and "bitterness" on the finish. $NZ29.75.

Then the wine that threw me for six, one of the most gorgeous Rhone whites I'd tasted for a while. It was the Chapoutier Blanc 'Les Granits' 1998, a 100% Marsanne from the company's oldest vines on the granitic soils of St Joseph. First the smell, a combinations of melons and meat. It sounds awful but it isn't really, when you think of a combination such as melon and prosciutto. "Black truffle" said Michel. This felt cooler in the mouth with a broad, weighty texture, a hint of lychees, honey and butter and a touch of saltiness of the finish. An intriguing, interesting wine. The guys didn't like it, but us girls sure did. $NZ81.

The Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape 'La Bernadine' 1998, made from 100% Grenache, had flavours of wild cherry and a rich, licorice-like texture, with subtle white pepper spice and a floral nuance to the finish. $NZ55.

The Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage 'Les Meysonniers' 1998 made from 100% Syrah, was meaty and floral with a touch of musk, blackcurrant fruit and firm tannins. $NZ29.75.

Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage 'Les Varonniers' 1998, made from the oldest Crozes Hermitage Syrah vines, was richly concentrated with aniseed, spice and red cherry. Ripe and elegant, this is a super wine with firm tannins and a dry finish. $NZ74.

Chapoutier Hermitage 'Monier de la Sizeranne' 1998 is a 100% Syrah grown on a combination of soils on the vineyard, The stinky nose was typically of what I think of as France. Call it rural, farmyard, whatever. But in the mouth the wine was rich and intense with baked berry, meat and licorice flavours and a very dense and long finish with an overlay of spice. ($N/A)

The Chapoutier Ermitage 'Le Pavillon' 1995 is one of the rare Selections Parcellaires wines. Made from Syrah harvested from vines that are over 65 years old, the wine is a very deep colour and very ripe flavours reminiscent a little of blackcurrant jam. It's a huge wine, but the tannins are elegant. It's smoky, with spice and a truffle-like flavour emerges. The texture is dry like that of rose petals. $NZ235.

Chapoutier Ermitage 'Le Pavillon' 1992 is a lovely dense wine with earthy, rural aromas, sweet fruit and floral nuances. It's thick, but elegant. and very long and flavoursome in the mouth with floorless, spice, that sweet truffle meaty richness and a touch of licorice. Mr Chapoutier said that 1992 was not an easy vintage, but it doesn't seem to have impaired this wine. What a gorgeous vinous experience. $NZ235.

But we move on and a Chapoutier Chateauneuf du Pape 'Barbe Rac' 1993 is poured. This 100% Grenache seems so lifted in the palate after Le Pavillon. Meaty spice, berries and a lovely elegance and power with licorice and a gorgeous spice regime. I just loved the flowing texture as well. A good example showing how well this wine ages. Perhaps my favourite red wine of the evening - the Blanc de Granits being my favourite white of the night. $NZ86.

Chapoutier Terra D'Or 1998 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache from 45 year old vines grown in the Coteaux d'Aix en Provence. This hugely coloured wine was ripe and raisiny, very complex, full and rounded with a floral nuance, baked redcurrant flavours and huge tannins. But a slight leathery note and a drying finish made me think it could be slightly corked and later when tasting over dinner this flavour had become more pronounced. I would love to see a clean bottle of this wine, if that was the problem. $NZ83.

With dinner, the wines were returned to the table to accompany the foods that Michel had selected after discussing with the chef. I thoroughly enjoyed a Cerviche of white-fleshed fish marinated with coriander leaf, with the Chateauneuf du Pape 'La Bernadine'. It's not a combination that I would have thought of and further proves whoever made the rule of white wine with fish didn't experiment very much.

We also tasted a Chapoutier Muscat de Rivesaltes ($NZ18.50) from the Roussilon area at the end of the evening. By this time, my book had long been put away (we were rushed thru the tasting so fast I didn't have time to use my PDA). I remember, though, that it was typically muscat with its telltale aromatic scents and sweet fruit flavours. I would love to try it again as an aperitif.

It was an interesting evening and we even got to discuss one of Michel's other loves, fast cars. His son has a Ferrari, his daughter has a Porsche. He has an Audi, which cruises at a pleasant 280 kph !!!

There was also quite a bit of talk about 'Soil Discovery", marriage (lying, discovering the defects and rebuilding of personalities) and genetic modification. "We cannot let it happen", said Michel of the latter.

Chapoutier's biodynamie techniques are well known, but to read more, check out the Chapoutier website at www.chapoutier.com.

The New Zealand agents for Chapoutier are Eurowine. They sell most of the rare wines by indent while the others are available in general retail. Contact them for further information on the New Zealand availability.


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