A Rhône Valley Tale With A Happy Ending

By Robert Parker

Maison M. Chapoutier, located in the quaint northern Rhône town of Tain l'Hermitage, was founded in 1808. With just under 200 acres, it is a huge landholder by Rhône Valley standards. For many years the business muddled along, producing irregular and largely indifferent wines. When Max Chapoutier retired in 1989, his energetic, brilliant young son Michel took charge. Michel introduced "biodynamic farming," banning the use of chemicals and relying on organic techniques to cultivate the grapes.

Michel's moves led to a dramatic jump in quality for Chapoutier wines. Here are some of my favorites from the 2005, 2004, and 2003 vintages, the ones you're most likely to find on store shelves or restaurant wine lists.

2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche (white)

87 points. This blend of grenache blanc, bourboulenc, and marsanne shows honeysuckle, lemon oil, and white currants in a medium-bodied, crisp, attractive, surprisingly serious style. $8-$10

2005 Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche (red))

86 points. Made from 80% grenache and 20% syrah, this wine offers some herbal notes, dark ruby color, good fruit, medium body, and a straightforward style. $8-$13

2005 Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonnieres (white))

88 points. The lemony, apricot, and pear-like notes of this crisp, medium-bodied, zesty and fresh wine are well-presented. Don't wait too long to drink it. $17

2005 Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonnieres (red))

87 points. The aroma of sweet and sour cherries, olives, licorice, and smoke appear here. Dark ruby, the wine exhibits crisp acids and a spicy, heady finish. $20

2004 Hermitage Chante-Alouette)

94 points. This white has wonderful notes of honeysuckle, licorice, quince, and white currants in an almost thick, juicy style that is buttressed by considerable acidity. It is a gorgeous wine with terrific intensity and richness. $54

2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Barbe Rac)

93 points. Displaying a deep ruby hue, this cuvée is a classic Châteauneuf du Pape, offering superb aromas of roasted herbs, licorice, ground pepper, and sweet black cherry fruit. It tips the scales at over 16% alcohol but doesn't show it, which is a tribute to the ancient grenache vines that produced it. Deep, full-bodied, and opulent, this wine is best enjoyed during its first 15 years of life. $66-$79

2004 Ermitage Cuvée de l'Orée)

99 points. White currants and quince light up the golden 2004 Ermitage Cuvée de l'Orée. This is a fabulous wine, with blockbuster intensity and richness. It is the kind of wine that with proper storage may last 50 or even 100 years, but I'm sure most of it will be consumed a whole lot sooner. $149-$161

2003 Côte Rôtie La Mordorée)

96+ points. The dense, purple-hued La Mordorée reveals a sumptuous perfume of new saddle leather, barbecued meats, herbs, black raspberries, and crème de cassis. This stunningly concentrated, full-bodied, rich wine takes Côte Rôtie to a new quality level. It can be drunk young or cellared for 15 to 20-plus years. $188-$200.

Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average to very good.

Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit www.eRobertParker.com to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.

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