2009 Olivier Ravoire Plan De Dieu | AC Côtes Du Rhône Villages
Who would have thought, after all his pontificating about how great his vision in wine is, that it'd be the Chapoutier bottle that was just piss poor?! I'm disappointed. It's all the self-righteousness coming back to bite him in the ass, because this bottle is a caricature of itself. Read the feature piece about him in the latest issue of Decanter magazine, where he rails against pretty much everyone who doesn't practice his brand of winemaking. The guy is clearly a genius, and his Hermitage wines are fabulous (with prices to match), but come on, there's no need to further yourself by bashing others. That's just poor form, and a Frenchman should know better.
I love, love, love the Rhône Valley. When I was just a young fella at 18 years of age (God, it seems so long ago), and still feeling my way around the wines of France, these were the first red wines that got me excited. Value priced, yes, but what was so interesting was how much the wines seemed to offer. Fruit and earthiness, structure and richness, all at once. Amazing! At once masculine and brawny, the kind of wines that can teach you more with one sniff, one sip, than entire chapters of some wine books. Syrah and grenache, in the hands of these vignerons, turned into absolute jewels. As I continued exploring France and then Spain and Germany, I drank less of these wines. There's renewed interest now, particularly in the wines of the south Rhône, but it's never about trends, yes? The wines that are getting the scores, as always, stick to the template of the crass American palate - all overripe, macerated fruit, bombarded with the most atrocious levels of new oak. That's not wine. And it certainly isn't what the Rhône Valley is.
These wines are precious. Their heritage, their history . . . we're losing a treasure if the traditionalists lose out to score-chasing traitors. I'm far from the fanatic who insists that the old ways are always better (not true, especially in matters of cellar hygiene and viticulture), but this fashion of forsaking traditions in favour of economic drivers has got to stop or we will lose these wines. Consumers have little power to exert this idea that what matters is authenticity in wine; making a wine that simply tastes good is utterly meaningless. The responsibility, on the retail side, lies with importers and retailers and writers, who first have to educate the public about what constitutes authenticity in that particular wine region, and prove to producers that people respond to what is true, not to what is aesthetically attractive (but substance-less).
I was disappointed in the Chapoutier. A tragically muddled, cheapened wine with little to tell. The Olivier Ravoire, however, brought me back to why I first fell in love with these wines. Brusque, yes, but with the most amazing depth and perfume with time. Broad shouldered and dignified; but is it strong enough to hold back the forces (of business models and trends) which threatens its survival?