I last met Michel Tardieu in 2000, when I visited his original cellars, squeezed into the ancient walls of the castle of Lourmarin in Provence. Since then, Michel and his former partner, Dominique Laurent of Burgundy, have gone their separate ways, and Michel has moved the operation to a much more practical cellar in the town. He continues to make some of the Rhônes most elegant and profound wines, buying fruit from growers he has worked with for a decade.Michel is an éleveur, whose job is to select, mature and bottle wines. Each February, the barrels of wine that Michel has selected from his growers reach Lourmarin, to be aged in a regime that is totally perfectionist.
All Syrah is aged in new oak, all Grenache in one-year-old casks. The duration of the élevage will vary from 18 to 24 months, depending on the appellation. Wines are bottled by hand, without filtration.
Despite the use of plenty of new oak, I find these wines to have great finesse and energy about them. The fruit is all from very old vines of at least 40 years or so, with much of it 80 years old more more. There is natural concentration without over-extraction, which results in powerful yet balanced wines with real poise. These wines are available from Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh, and see wine-searcher for other stockists.
Côtes du Rhône Guy Louis Blanc 2004
A very crisp, elegant lemon and crunchy pear fruit on the nose, in this blend of 70% Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Fermented in 50% new oak, the rest is older oak. The Marsanne comes from northern Rhône. Michel makes the assemblage from separate parcels. The palate has a similar tightness and crispness as the St Peray, with terrific zest and brightness allied to an almost tropical fruit that starts to emerge with Acacia honey delicacy. 6000 bottles. Cracking little wine this, with a bit of bottle age on it. £12.99.
St Peray Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2005
A Marsanne and Roussanne blend, this has a very clean, crisp, fresh appeal, with white fruits and delicate summery character. Any wood is very delicately handled (though it is in fact, matured in all new oak). On the palate this has a pure minerality, glistening on the mid palate with refined, fine balance and acidity. It just hints at a fruit sweetness beneath the layered minerality. This was served rather cold, and as it warmed more there was a much more exuberant, ripe quality coming through. 100 year old Roussanne, 40 year old Marsanne. £13.00
15 months in new Alliers and Troncais oak, following barrique fermentation. Beautifully limpid, pure, essence of ripe pear and oatmeal, with some small notes of white flowers and subtle spice. There is oak here, adding a subtle vanilla and hint of ginger. On the palate there is huge, brooding power, with a massive background of alcohol and textural weight. The fruit is concentrated and powerful, with real intensity and grip, and a shimmering core of white fruit and mineral acidity. 30000 bottles. £27.00
Côtes du Rhône Guy Louis Rouge 2004
A 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah. The Grenache comes from 70-year-old vines in Rasteau, the Syrah from Cairanne, aged in new oak (though some older oak for Grenache). Grapes are sourced from four different growers. Nicely vegetal, with plenty of earthy, perhaps slightly green notes. There’s a nuttiness, and a cedary, mineral quality. There is lovely brightness and clarity here again, with quite high levels of acidity and tight, fine tannins. Very fine black fruit and a savoury, juicy character. £12.99
Cornas Coteaux 2005
This wine is made from 50-year-old vines from the slopes of Cornas, with elevage in all new oak for two years. Big, rich blackberry nose, with a plummy depth of fruit and a certain meatiness. The weight and density of the wine is immediately apparent. Rich, fine, tobacco and fudge-like oak comes through in support. The palate has a lovely stripe of tannin that all the weighty rich fruit hangs from: tight and svelte at the core, it has lovely presence even though still very young. £24.00
Cornas Viellies Vignes 1999
Michel describes this as ‘A more traditional wine,’ than the Cornas Coteaux, made 100% with stems (unlike the Coteaux 2005 in this tasting) from a really old Syrah clone and 80-year-old vines. Really meaty, gamy, animal nose with some minerality and good plummy fruit. Delicious palate, with a lovely life and savoury balance, and a great deal of grippy, leather and cedary background. Gorgeous balance and finesse here, though unfortunately Michel’s source for this fruit has disappeared, as the farmer he bought from has sold up and retired. Out of stock at raeburn, but see wine-searcher. Around £50.
This is big, plush and forward, with rich raspberry and ripe plum fruit, a solid, chocolaty oak quality, and plenty of openess and charm. The palate is powerful with a peppery and spicy bite, lots of rich blackberry and raspberry fruit and a linear tannic structure, with a supple, serious stripe of tannin and integrated acidity. Doesn’t strike me as being amazingly complex perhaps, but concentrated and really delicious. Around £50 – £60, see wine-searcher for other stockists
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Speciale 2004
Michel’s model for this wine is the great, traditional wines of Rayas, etc which use 100% Grenache, which he describes as the ‘natural’ grape of this hot area. Michel regards this as a reference wine, with all stems included in the fermentation and no new oak. It does spend 24 months in older barrels, and the vines come from one specific parcel of 80-year-old vines. This is a big, dense, brooding wine, with a tight, muscular structure and all sorts of meaty and gamy notes. The palate has a very tight, muscular character, with game and earth, and silky black fruits. It is soft, with no obvious extraction, just a wonderfully long, pure, intense finish. 10,000 bottles were made. £33.00