The True Face of Crozes Hermitage: Stéphane Rousset

The True Face of Crozes Hermitage: Stéphane Rousset

Bonjour d’une étoile montante qui montre la vraie visage de Crozes Hermitage,
It has been a bit more than a year since I offered Stéphane Rousset’s off-the-charts substantial and delicious N Rhone wines. Whereas most of you hadn’t yet had a chance to taste his hillside grown Crozes Hermitage wines, now that the 2015s have come and gone, I have only had an unending string of expletive laden affirmations that the buzz is more than justified: it doesn’t get better than this for the money….
When I dropped in to visit with he and Isabelle in November, they were both very happy with the both the 2016 wines now approaching bottling, as well as their continued rise in the marketplace. A few other US importers have gotten on board, and more and more wine lovers are talking about the name Rousset……how very validating and exciting to see one’s work come to such fruition!!
Having already tasted many of the 2016 tank samples last year, as well as having tasted other 2016s in Côte Rôtie, I knew that I was in for a treat of classical proportion, more precise and a bit more moderate that the tremendous and solar 2015 wines. In addition to being mightily impressed with some of the embryonic 2017 samples (especially the white wines!), the 2016 Crozes red wines had me beaming ear to ear, as they encapsulate my platonic ideal of N Rhone Syrah classicism. To not mince words, I once again posit the 2016 Crozes Hermitage rouge and 2016 Crozes Hermitage les Picaudières as stunning and time-capsule worthy examples that are as good as it gets, case buy no brainers that any red wine lover (nonetheless for seasoned N Rhone afficionados) will wish they had gone even bigger on. The inimitable qualities of power without weight, of crystal clean fruit, full phenolic maturity (tannin) with moderate natural alcohol, proper animating acidity, classic N Rhone savory tones, and ever rising florals are found in the two Crozes reds, big time…..go deep and thank me later!!!!
What follows is the original intro-to-the-estate text from last year’s offering, as well as the offering for the 2016 wines and lingering bits of in stock 2015s. Many many of you heeded my call last year and were duly rewarded. Trust me once again when I say that the 2016s are equally knockouts that classicists will perhaps prefer to the solar density of the 2015s. Both vintages are outstanding, likely to go down as rivaling the 1990/1991 combination as one of the best one-two vintage combinations in history….seriously……and so…..

The word is out and then some: Stéphane Rousset is a N Rhone star on the rise. Now that the 2015 N Rhone wines are being covered by the press and slowly trickling into the marketplace, you will see a growing feeding frenzy, à la ’15 German and Burgundy wines. I had already tooted the “back up the truck” horn six months ago, with many of you taking my heed and jumping on board. Now that Stéphane’s 2015/2014 wines are about to hit port, arriving to me in Delaware in roughly two-three weeks, I am certain that what little remains available from that massive mound of goodness will be gobbled up by the first folks who get to taste just why I flipped my top last year. These are the single greatest Northern Rhone values I have (and perhaps will ever) been able to offer…..recognizing what a tremendous opportunity this is, I asked Isabelle and Stéphane if I can refill while there are still stocks back at the winery. Isabelle told me to go for it, with an additional wine offered this time, the freshly bottled Crozes Hermitage blanc ’16. Whether you missed it the first time around, or just want to add to your incoming stash, this is not an opportunity to miss. And so………
Today’s introduction is yet another crazy exciting one… is too short not to go for the goods!!! I first became aware of the work of Stéphane Rousset of Erôme during one of my regular visits with the Gonon brothers of Saint Joseph fame when asking them about who are some “up-and-coming” houses whose work they respect. That endorsement alone was enough to pique my interest. Then, just a few months later, the good folks at Chambers Street in NY became the first to import his wines, and have done very well with them, finally giving his work a US audience. The buzz indeed has resonated within the Northern Rhone geek community, as the value quotient here is pretty much off the charts for some seriously old vine material, entirely destemmed, aged in large 400L demi-muid, yielding a style that is at once very precise and serious, yet fairly accessible and jam packed with substance…..
The Rousset’s are 10 generations deep in their history as fruit farmers (not just grapes…) in the most prestigious and serious terroirs of Crozes Hermitage. Only 10% of the appellation Crozes Hermitage is on steeper hillside land, with the Rousset’s holdings virtually entirely on these steeper slopes made of varying amounts of decomposed granite, lime rich loam, sand, and iron rich clay. They have 4.5 hectares of red planted in and around Erôme, with some very old vine Marsanne there as well; nearly 2 hectares of red in the sandy/clay/granite high elevation vineyards of Méjeans; a wee .5 hectare parcel neighboring the Gonon’s in Saint Joseph’s steep terraced Mont Chaud sector in Tournon. Their flagship vineyard, if there had to be one, would have to be their one hectare in the private woodsy retreat named les Picaudières, long esteemed as perhaps the finest site in all of Crozes Hermitage; John Livingstone-Learmonth, perhaps the most prolific writer on the Northern Rhône valley, has often cited the noteworthy nobility of this place and its wines. This site came into their family in 1996 (acquired from Raymond Roure), roughly at the beginning of Stéphane’s career as a young vigneron. Pictured above is Stéphane standing in the young vines portion of the site; the picture does not do justice to the sense of steepness, especially in the 90+ year old vine terraced section below me, the photo taker. A steep and cool little valley pocket, entirely surrounded by woods, with a stunning view to the south of the unfolding Rhône valley and its vineyards, this place has a special sensibility and then some; it is no mystery to me why the wine is so damn good…..
A bit over two weeks ago, Stéphane and I spent the afternoon walking the vineyards as the sun set, getting to know his parcels and one another, then proceeding to taste together in his brand new winery. Let me cut to the chase and say that 2015 will be the vintage that BLOWS UP his reputation, big time; this guy is a rising star whose reputation is about to explode….The 2015s are absolutely stunning stunning wines of precision and fullness, as complete and compelling of Northern Rhône syrah as I could ever dream of being able to offer at such prices. The timing could not be better, Stéphane at a certain apogée in his career, settled into the new winery, with a vintage that is certainly one of the finest vintages of the last 50 years in its marriage of power and finesse. We tasted through every component part of the 2015s, as well as the understated and very elegant 2014s out of bottle, and folks, let me tell you: these are craaaaaazzzzzyyy good. I will go into more detail on a cuvée by cuvée basis in the MENU portion of the program.
After we finished up at the winery, we cozied up to the dinner table, his two children, ages 5 and 7 buzzing about just before bedtime, the walls of their kitchen completely covered in their prolific artwork; no, not pictures taped to the wall, on the walls themselves…..his wife Isabelle had patiently waited for us boys to finish up our hard work in the winery. ;0 As we dined down home style, we discussed their family history, the evolving face of industrial grade apricot farming in the area (read: way underripe, overcropped, and nasty), the role and local perception of the big Rhône négociants like Guigal (to whom he has sold and continues to sell fruit), and effortlessly we carried on and on. My takeaway is that these are my kind of salt-of-the-Earth, down home, good folks, whose work I am delighted to be able to present to you…..this authenticity and feeling (yes French people say feeling, with a French accent…) will not be lost on you!!! and sooo away we go!


2016 Crozes Hermitage blanc – Their Crozes blanc, although it doesn’t say as much, is from 80+ year old vines in Erôme, planted mostly on white loam (completely decomposed limestone rich clay and sand). Stéphane once again did not do malolactic on this wine, preferring to keep the freshness and cut to counterbalance Marsanne’s rich textured fruit. Aged 60% in tank (again, to keep it on the freshy fresh), 40% in barrel. It presents classical Marsanne aromas of tropical florals, then leading to a richly textured palate presence that has great lift and sense of lingering perfume. When I came back to this an hour or so later, the baby fat had toned down a bit, and sense of tension/mineral cut became more present; indeed, there is terrific depth of material here, with oxygenation helping it to unfold. For the money, a silly silly good value. Stéphane is really honing in bringing more dynamism and freshness with his white wine production in the four vintages that I have witnessed. This one displays that evolution wonderfully well, as well as the cool precision of 2016 at its best.

2016 Crozes Hermitage rouge – Just like the 2015 rendition, this one is a back-up-the-truck, holy-shit kind of a wine, right on par with the 2015 as the single best value I have ever proposed in Northern Rhône syrah. In its sappy dark red fruit allied to effortless bright levity, full of subtle savory/olive/herb/floral notes, weighing in at 12.5%-13% alcohol, each and every component of this that I tasted had my eyes bugging out of my head with OMFG. Everything is here, from fruit, to floral, to mineral, to meaty/savory. One needn’t only buy the “big guns” to get exceptionally good Northern Rhone wine of precision, fullness, and finesse. The 2016 vintage is (once again) just plain that good. Buy a 6pk or a case (or a few cases), and thank me later for the single greatest every day Northern Rhône value you will ever encounter in your lifetime. You can continue to quote me on that. I didn’t buy enough of the 2015 last year. I will not make a similar mistake this year….A little * awarded here.

2016 Crozes Hermitage les Picaudières – This is what I would dub the flagship bottling of the estate, from the steep and secluded oasis known as les Picaudières. In 2016, it is once again a knockout success in precision, poise, and muscly 100+ year old vine depth, representing the very best of the finessed and moderate 2016 vintage. This could serve as an exhibit A of Northern Rhone Syrah classicism, and I have every confidence that this will be a long lived and tremendous bottle to follow. Its commanding palate presence is built on its other-than-fruit stuffing, the old vine substance is undeniably driving the show. This is, alongside the 2015, as good as it gets. I posit that the combo of 2015 and 2016 will be looked upon simliarly to the legendary 1990/1991 combination. Do not pass this up…..BRAVO STÉPHANE! A little * awarded here.

2016 Saint Joseph – The Saint Joseph, from a tiny steep parcel next to one of the Gonon’s parcels on the Tournon hillside, is always riper in black fruits and sexy sexy relative to the structured and cooler Picaudières. In 2016, this riper quality is even more marked, with the fruit tone bordering on overripeness relative to the classicism of the Picaudières. Stéphane said that he knew it the moment they began picking, that the fruit was a shade riper than he would prefer ideally. This nitpick aside, I am certain that lovers of fuller bodied sex appeal will flock to this wine for its density and hedonistic appeal, if it is not as structured, dynamic, and classically balanced like the Picaudières. For more immediate appeal and partnering with grilled fare and other such big flavors, this will prove to be a crowd pleasing sexy time kind of wine. On the world stage, this offers silly good value.


I am delighted and honored to continue to present the Rousset family legacy, authentic Northern Rhone wines and people at their best. People like Stéphane and Isabelle deserve every bit of recognition and success that comes to them. These 2016s will continue the upwards esteem of the estate, as the two Crozes red wines are quite simply as good as it gets!!!!!……



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