March 25, 2011 M. Chapoutier
M. Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage
Chapoutier’s label appeals to the eye and to the hand. It incorporates both text and Braille, being the first, and still one of the few, to take this initiative. The use of Braille is especially noteworthy in the case of this Hermitage. It was named in tribute to the Sizeranne family who once owned the vineyard from which the wine is made, in particular to Maurice de La Sizeranne, blind at age 9, a tireless activist for the visually impaired in France during the late 19th century.
The region of the Rhône has been home to the Chapoutiers for 200 years. The key figure today is the garrulous, outspoken Michael Chapoutier, who took charge of the family’s vineyards in 1990 when still in his mid-20s. Michael has led the way in reshaping its approach to winemaking. The quality of the wines has vastly improved, in no small measure to the introduction of biodynamics throughout the roughly 150 hectares of prime property in the Rhône Valley. Today Chapoutier stands as the largest biodynamic producer in Europe. Its business stretches well beyond the Rhône, with joint ventures in Roussillon, Portugal and Australia. In total, the Chapoutier name finds its way onto 5 million bottles each year.
Michael Chapoutier is a man on a mission, and quite a successful one at that. His wines have the accolades to prove it. His Hermitage bottlings from single vineyards, both white and red, are benchmarks of the Northern Rhône, with stiff prices to match their demand. He offers, however, a broad range of less expensive wines through both the winery and his négociant business.
The ticket price of a bottle of Monier de la Sizeranne sits a shade shy of my limit. It is a blend of syrah from three different soil profiles: “les Bessards”, “le Méal”, and “les Greffieux”. Hand harvesting and total destemming is followed by fermentation in open wooden vats. The wines are matured in oak casks, one-third new, for 18-20 months. No filtering or fining. Definitely not governed by international trends. As the boss has said, ‘In the end I make wines for myself. The only taste I really follow is my own.’
M. Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 2000
I check out some vintage charts. Supposedly I’m catching this bottle at the beginning of its peak years, with 2000 being a moderately strong vintage in the Rhône Valley, although not a profound one. Nevertheless, the reputation of this domaine should deliver something to be remembered. The colour is great — deep inky red. I have to admit I don’t find much excitement in the nose. The woodsy, dense blackcurrent notes are there, but in a holding pattern. It is on the palate that the wine comes into its own. A fine fullness, an elegant tannic grip, a richness that lingers long. It exudes confidence as Hermitage should do. Something classic is awash in my mouth, a mirage of leathery dark fruit flavours. A wine to linger over, pairing very nicely with a Moroccan-syle lamb tagine. $$$