Rhône's Forgotten Slopes Reclaimed
A La Tâche St. Joseph:
07 Guillamy & 09 Badel
Ridiculously Steep Slopes, Beautiful Syrah
Talk to growers in the Northern Rhône and you'll hear that St. Joseph has some great vineyards. You'll also hear that many are at risk of being lost - they're just too difficult to work.
Today, we focus on two of these insanely steep vineyards.
A La Tâche means "at work." And, first and foremost, the people at A La Tâche work the steep terraced vineyards for many of the great producers of the Northern Rhône.
Basically, if you're a top grower in the Northern Rhône, you have the A La Tâche boys' phone number in your contacts to maintain your steepest, most arduous to work vineyards. They plow, they rebuild terraces, etc. The story is that A La Tâche's importer was introduced to them by Eric Texier - they work his Brézème vineyard.
It probably goes without saying that the people at A La Tâche have a depth of knowledge of the Northern Rhône's vineyards that few possess.
As a sort of a hobby or side project, they started to make wine from two vineyards that people felt were too difficult to farm.
The two vineyards total something around 3ha, so it's one of those situations where we really love the wines, but there's not a ton to go around.
There are about twenty people involved with A La Tâche and from what I'm told all except one are Muslim and don't drink alcohol. The one who does is Fabien Bergeron, who has spent plenty of time in the cellars of the region's great growers. His methods in the cellar are exactly what you'd look for - stems are included, sulfur is added only at bottling, the wine ages in old barriques, etc.
I've tasted both bottles multiple times and continue to be really impressed by how pure, how precise and just how honest the wines are. There's a subtlety to both wines' deep complexity and both show a beautiful mid-palate perfume that only my favorite Syrahs achieve. There's also a lovely backbone of rocky minerality.
The '07 Guillamy is from a crazy steep granite slope in Mauves. Like many Northern Rhône wines from the classic '07 vintage, Guillamy is vivid, filled with a lovely energy and very well balanced.
The '09 has to be the most shocking. In the warm vintage, it only clocks in at 12% alcohol. Badel is a cool site that is ridiculously difficult to work. The '09 Badel offers up a harmonious weave of blackberry, tapenade, smoke, and violets all backed by a mineral streak. Above all, it's the freshness and clarity that shocks.
These are two beautiful expressions of the Northern Rhône. They deserve high praise and gushing prose, but they are such subtle and honest wines that such things feel inappropriate. I'll just say these are wines that I like to drink and look forward to following in my cellar.
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