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Bernard Burgaud Côte-Rôtie 2000

Although Côte-Rôtie is not the last of the appellations of the Northern Rhône, it will be the last to come under my inspection in this short series looking at the region. That is not to say, of course, that there are no other wines of merit in the region beyond the 'big four', the quartet of Hermitage, Cornas, Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. Indeed, when I have visited the region I have made pains to explore beyond the boundaries of this quartet, looking at wines from appellations less exalted but nevertheless very capable of providing an admirable vinous experience. St Joseph, for instance, the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage, and even the often forgotten St Peray.

When travelling and tasting in this latter appellation, renowned for its sparkling wines more than its dry white wines, I once committed the cardinal sin of disturbing the lunch of the Chaboud family, who run one of the leading domaines here. Naturally the reception was frosty, but once Madame Chaboud realised I was serious about tasting the full range of her wines (and indeed purchasing some) she warmed to me a little. I stocked up with one particular cuvée of their sparkling wine, the very first bottle of which I attempted to chill in a small, cool stream, some distance behind Tain l'Hermitage. The gently bubbling brook lay at the bottom of a tall and very steep bank, so tall in fact that standing at the top I was a full six feet above the water, and I had to dangle the bottle on a rope in order to immerse it. When I eventually retrieved the bottle it was covered in tiny freshwater leeches, who were perhaps hungry for what lay within, each one requiring removal before I could get at the capsule and extract the cork. Once opened, I realised that despite its time in the water, the temperature of the wine had hardly shifted. Suffice to say, on reflection, that it was not quite the Hugh Johnsonesque experience I had imagined it might be.

Bernard Burgaud Cote-Rotie 2000Leaving St Peray and turning back to Côte-Rôtie, this appellation lies to the north of both Hermitage and St Peray, a tight clustering of vineyards along precipitous slopes, which run adjacent to the N86 and the Rhône itself. The recent history of the appellation parallels, in many ways, that of nearby Condrieu. It is a region that has seen its fortunes improve significantly in the last few decades, but otherwise until very recently the local vignerons had been just as reliant on growing fruit, particularly apricots, for their income than they had been on the vine. Today the wines are still ranked behind those of Hermitage by many, but nevertheless there is a new prosperity here, the wines sell for higher prices than ever, and thus there is good reason for the young of the region to consider viticulture as a viable career option, hopefully preventing the vineyards and the wines slipping into vinous history. I certainly hope so, as I have experienced many tasty examples over the years, and today's wine, although not of a great vintage, is one such example.

This is the 2000 Côte-Rôtie from Bernard Burgaud, a wine with a dark core bearing a hue of black-tulip, and a vibrant garnet rim. The nose is very open and expressive, with an animal fur and game character most prominent at first, organic and yet perfumed. It is stony, with black flavours, notes of black olives, smoke and smouldering embers in the fire, violet flower petals and black truffle. The palate is very nicely held together on entry, fairly taut, and tightening up even more through the midpalate. Here it shows acidity and structure, extract and grip. It has a lean disposition, compounded by a tart apple-skin note, but this does not dominate the texture and substance of the wine. It has a very well defined finish, which is moderately short at present, but on the whole this is better than I was expecting from the 2000 vintage, and it has very good potential for the cellar. 17+/20 (11/2/08)

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