Tales of Brune and Blonde: The Côte Rôties of Domaine Garon

Tales of Brune and Blonde: The Côte Rôties of Domaine Garon

Bonjour du coeur des terroirs Brune et Blonde,

In my ongoing attempt to represent an ever increasing swath of the parcellary diversity of the northern Rhone, there is one sector where I have been waiting particularly patiently to find a partner: the heart of the Brune and Blonde soils of Côte Rôtie behind the village of Ampuis.  These steep, terraced vineyards of darker, harder iron rich micaschist (Brune) and paler, more decomposed micaschist (Blonde) are a sight to behold and then some, one of the most breathtaking vineyard sites anywhere in the world.  The elemental combination of pole trellised (aka échalas) Syrah grown on poor rocky soils, with literally roasted slope exposure to the sun, and intense cooling Mistral wind render a wine unique on the world stage, at once powerful and improbably light on its feet, full of savory and mineral tones.  Tiny production levels and an ever increasing global demand for these Grand cru caliber wines keep the appellation a known mystery to all but the most motivated of consumers.  I am doing my best to change that…..

                     Enter today’s introduction, the Garon family, denizens of Ampuis since the 15th century.  Their holdings lay principally in the terres Blonde lieu dits Triote, Lancement, Mollard, and Combard, with a notable exception in the terres Brune parcel of les Rochins.  The contemporary history of the estate begins with parents Jean-François and Carmen, who made major reinvestments in the estate starting some 30 years ago, replanting vineyards and repairing terraces.  This contribution was then in due course passed to the next generation, Fabien to the left, and Kévin to the right, who continue to hone a style at once serious and accessible, in a manner informed by Kévin’s Burgundian trained sensibilities to favor finesse and terroir expression.  As he states it: “I reject the idea of the ‘winemaker’ – I’m seeking a more Burgundian style; I’ve learned to extract less.”  With a brand new state of the winery at the foot of the hillside bringing additional precision, Kévin and Fabien are just now arriving at a summit of sorts, the cumulative qualitative and stylistic refinements finding their names mentioned with increasing frequency among the brightest stars of the appellation.  Their time is clearly now…..
                    This brings us to today’s menu, from what I consider one of the great “classical” vintages of my lifetime, 2016…..The concentration and power of the solar 2015 vintage stands in its own light of qualitative greatness; however, I tend to prefer the finesse and cooler precision of 2016, as do many growers with whom I have spoken.  In both vintages, the Garon wines have been chosen by critics among the appellation’s best, from their ’15 Triotes being awarded a “Coup de Coeur” in the Revue des Vins de France, to Josh Raynolds of Vinous giving top notes to their full range.  Kévin has more than graciously set aside a small parcel of their already sold out 2016 production for us, to get our relationship started on an ideal foot…..and so……

LE MENU: To give you an idea of the house style, all wines include 20-30% whole cluster, temperature controlled alcoholic fermentation with regular remontage and occasional pigeage, and aging entirely in French oak, 0-40% of it new according to the personality of the cuvée.  Precise, serious, balanced, and accessible would be my global descriptors….

2016 Syrah Collines Rhodaniennes $20 24 bottles available – This is their entry level wine from the flats along the Rhône, a wine intended to give pleasure whilst remaining clearly faithful to its origin, aged entirely in older wood barrels.  You can think of this as the “baby Côte Rôtie” sector Côtes du Rhone animal.  As one can’t call a wine this far north a Côte Rôtie, it falls into the Collines Rhodaniennes appellation.  I am sure that I could sell a whole lot more than this, but Kévin is at the tail end of the ’16s and can only spare a few boxes.  Nibble here to get to know, so that when the ’17s are offered next year you know what you’re reaching for…..value hounds, this is you.

2016 Côte Rôtie les Triotes $49 60 bottles available – This is one is a business card of the estate, of sorts, a perennially way over achieving bottling from a blend of their blonde schist holdings in Triote (the first parcel replanted by mom and dad), Lancement, Combard and Mollard.  This cuvée has been their main estate bottling since 1995, renamed in 2006.  This contains 30% whole cluster, aged in 25% new wood (sorry, Josh), from roughly 30+ year old vines.  In substance and value, this one is a winner winner chicken dinner, as Côte Rôtie can be prohibitively expensive.  As an intro to the finesse of the terres blondes soils and the house, this is as good as it gets…..
“(40% new oak) Opaque ruby. Smoky, mineral-accented cherry and blueberry scents are complicated by hints of vanilla, Indian spices and licorice. Supple and broad on the palate, offering pliant blackberry and bitter cherry flavors that become sweeter as the wine opens up. A sexy floral pastille note emerges on the clinging finish, which shows excellent clarity and gentle, slow-building tannins.” 92 Josh Raynolds

2016 Côte Rôtie Les Rochins $85 12 bottles available – Perhaps their most celebrated flagship cuvée, this is the lone terres brunes entrant, from a single very steep terraced parcel in les Rochins.  30% whole cluster, aged in 40% new oak, from 20 year old vines; the first vintage for this cuvée was 2003.  This is their Grand cru Brune bottling, self-evidently of great harmonious class and intensity, at once voluptuous and ever rising on the finish.  I only wish I could offer more……this one is likely to involve hair splitting come allocations time…..

“(40% new oak) Bright violet. Smoke- and mineral-accented aromas of dark berries, cherry pie and vanilla, along with a hint of olive in the background. Supple, broad and sweet on the palate, offering concentrated black raspberry, spicecake and violet pastille flavors and a snap of smoky minerality on the back half. Shows impressive energy and detail and reveals no rough edges. Finishes velvety and quite long, displaying excellent focus, even tannins and lingering spiciness.” 93 Josh Raynolds

2016 Côte Rôtie Lancement $129 24! bottles available – The counterpoint Grand cru from an outstanding upper slope, terraced terre blonde lieu dit that I have been a huge fan of since encountering Stéphane Ogier’s example (that now costs $250+ per bottle)….From finer sand-like decomposed rock and smaller stones, the face of the blonde’s finesse meets mineral power and poise is featured here.  Color me psyched to be able to offer this one, their smallest and rarest production.  Its first vintage was 2013, thus it is much less well known than the Rochins.  I have a few more bottles to play with, so go for it if you’ve got it…..!!

“(50% new oak and 50% whole clusters) Vivid purple. Candied cherry, blueberry, Moroccan spices and olive paste on the exotically perfumed nose. Silky, seamless and sweet on the palate, offering juicy, spice-laced black and blue fruit, floral pastille and spicecake flavors that tighten up slowly on the back half. A smoky mineral note comes up on the strikingly long finish, which is framed by smooth, well-integrated tannins.” 94 Josh Raynolds


I am flattered that Kévin was excited enough to join team Down to Earth that he was able to pull from the restaurant reserves for our inaugural step together, and from a vintage like 2016, no less….!  Moving forward, quantities will not be so tight, as well as will include the most gourmand of their Côte Rôties, their entry level Sybarine.  I would like to think that there is something here for everyone, so tarry not!!!!

The wines are offered during a one week presell period, after which pricing will rise 10-15%.  Upon confirmation, payment due in full via check/cc+%.  The wines are to arrive in late Spring ’18 (early June).

As always, with any questions or interests: rob@downtoearthwines.net



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