Northern Rhône Wines Recently Tasted Part IX: Balthazar, Barge, Billon, Bonnefond, and Clape

As pointed out in my prior review, 2014 is a vintage that posed some problems, but good producers generally were able to handle them. 2015 has received great acclaim. It is a vintage of ripe, rich wines, sometimes a bit low in acidity. So far, I've found the whites more consistent than the reds, although there are some spectacular reds.

Earlier reviews of Northern Rhônes are here, here here,  here herehereherehere, and here 

All wines below are red, except as specifically noted otherwise.




Franck BALTHAZAR

2014 Cornas    Cuvée Casimir Balthazar
This wine is from the southern sector of Cornas, which gives lighter wines, as indeed this is. It’s roughly 4/5 young vines (post-2002) from the La Lègre lieu-dit and 1/5 old vines (planted 1961) from Les Mazards. 40% whole clusters, raised in older 600-liter casks (demi-muids). The wine is medium-weight with dark fruits, violets, and black olives. Not a blockbuster, but very pleasing and good typicity. Drink now and over the next 10-15 years. Balthazar has been in organic cultivation since 2014, although no certification shown on this bottle. 13% stated alcohol.  91/B+

2015 Cornas    Cuvée Casimir Balthazar
 The 2015 of this wine is similarly dominated by dark fruits and violets and is light in weight, although with the density of texture one so often finds in 2015. The wine can be drunk now and should last at least 10-15 years. Lot LCA5 2015/1. 13% stated alcohol.  91/B+



Gilles BARGE
2015 Saint-Joseph   Clos des Martinets
Barge is one of the top producers of Côte-Rôtie in the traditional style. He also has this Saint-Joseph which, unusually for wines from the northern part of that appellation, resembles the wines of Hermitage and the Tournon-centered Saint-Josephs more than it does other wines from the northern part of Saint-Joseph. This wine is dense and concentrated with tons of dark fruit, but it needs 5-10 years in bottle to fully come together. But when ready, it will be a great wine and a great bargain. 12.5% stated alcohol. 92(+)/A



Marilyne et Christophe BILLON

2014 Côte-Rôtie   Les Elotins
This small producer has been garnering some notice, and based on this wine, there is very good promise at the estate. The wine is medium-weight, round, and sensual with typical Côte-Rôtie smoky, spiced red fruits. 13% stated alcohol. Lot 14-03. 89/B



Patrick et Christophe BONNEFOND

2015 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes    Syrah  Sensations du Nord
This wine is rustic and still a little tannic, but it is packed with dark berry Syrah fruit and plenty of depth. I imagine 2-4 years’ cellaring will round off some of the rough edges. Good for grilled and roasted meats as well as cheese. 12.5% stated alcohol. Lot L0416. 87/A-



Domaine A. CLAPE

2014 Vin de France     Le Vin des Amis
This wine is entirely from Syrah vines that average about 40 years of age on soils that include round river stones. Initially, it is quite reduced, so I suggest decanting it a substantial time before serving. The wine is peppery and smoky with mineral dark fruits, bearing a close resemblance to Cornas. The wine is full-bodied and tannic, so substantial dishes are recommended. 12% stated alcohol.  87/A

2013 Cornas     Renaissance
Renaissance is the second wine from Clape, but it always has been excellent Cornas, and this one is no exception. The wine is dense and powerful with medium-weight. It has the dark, earthy fruit of Cornas and quite a bit of tannin. I’d recommend holding it for another five years, at least, before drinking. 13% stated alcohol. Lot L 13.   93/A

2013 Cornas
Here is Clape’s grand vin in 2013. It is dark in fruit and dense with some salinity on the palate. There’s a texture that is smooth but with a certain density — dare I call it graphite (no graphite flavor, though).  The wine is also light on the palate. As always (and I know Clape’s wines going back to 1976), the tannins are present but quite refined. Lot L 15. 13% stated alcohol. 94(+)/A