Winemakers are thoughtful people. Dealing with fickle weather patterns, temperamental fermentation, and the vagaries of bottle aging seems to preclude the damning judgments, prejudices, and generalizations that pervade the rest of the wine world. I was reminded of this by the stark contrast between two recent tastings .
The first was led by a Rutgers professor, also a certified wine judge. Alarm bells went off as he pronounced "I have a 3000-bottle cellar. I never drink Burgundy before 8 years, Bordeaux before 10." He singled me out a couple times for the glass I brought - a stemless Riedel - saying it was "the most ridiculous thing ever made - if I could, I'd break every glass in existence... Not one self-respecting wine professional would ever go near that glass." When asked about Parker's influence, he gave a ludicrous caricature of a man who "prefers the fruit bomb to the balanced wine, 100% of the time." "Believe me," he said, "I've tasted with the man - I know." It was possibly the most pedantic and condescending speech I'd heard since I was in diapers... but enough about that.
The bitter taste left in my mouth by said "professor" was washed neatly away the very next day at a tasting of Domaine La Barroche. Occupying a hilltop spot in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, bordering parcels owned by Chateau Rayas, Domaine La Barroche produces some of the most exquisite, complex, and powerful wines in the Southern Rhone Valley.
I found the winemaker to be a terrific combination of humility and ambition. His respect for tradition is matched by a burning desire to make better and better wines. And yet when he succeeds, he gives most of the credit to terroir. When only 23, Julien Barrot took over Domaine La Barroche, including vineyards which had been farmed by his family in unbroken succession over three centuries. Now 28, he remembers vividly pruning the vines as a child - reluctantly at first, then with growing interest.
The wines that inspire him, apart from the other great Chateauneuf-du-Pape's, are Northern Rhones and the great Burgundies. With his high pyrazine* sensitivity, he often finds Bordeaux wines too green for his taste. In just five or so vintages, he has already produced wines that rival the nearby Chateau Rayas. Truly a rising star of Chateauneuf-du-Pape!
Dom. La Barroche Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2005
Medium ruby in the glass, the Reserve has a beautiful nose of cherry liqueur with a hint of earth and spice. In the mouth it is lusciously medium bodied, with med+ alcohol, medium acid, hints of spice, pepper, wood, and satiny tannins. Finishes with lingering grace. 88-90 points. $45.
Dom. La Barroche Signature 2006
Medium red in the glass, the Signature has a light but breath-stoppingly gorgeous nose of red cherries, faint liquorice, blackberry, and tobacco. Unfortunately I think this bottle was a tiny bit oxidized. In the mouth it was very light, med- body, med+ alcohol, med- acid, reminiscent of an '04 Rayas Pignan I had at Clo. Silky tannins led to a long finish with faint pepper and roasted papad, again similar to the Rayas Pignan, but with more fruit. This wasn't a favorite of my companions, but I liked it. I won't rate it due to the slight oxidation. $59
Dom. La Barroche Fiancée 2006
Dark purple in the glass, the Fiancée initially had an amazing nose of cured meats and dark berries, that eventually seemed over-the hill. Not oxidized, just like it had been left out overnight but hadn't started to turn to acetaldehyde yet. In the mouth it was full-bodied and fleshy with beautiful fruit, medium acid and medium tannins. Something really smelled off about the nose, though, so I won't rate it. $70
*IBMP (2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine) is a compound associated with green grass/bell pepper aromas in sauvignon blanc and Bordeaux varietals. Some tasters' thresholds are on the order of 15 parts per trillion.