Occasionally it happens simultaneously, as it was at a luncheon last week at the Capital Grille with a young, but passionate and knowledgeable beyond his years, Bastien Tardieu, of the Rhone Valley’s Tardieu-Laurent.
Bastien, along with his father (the founder), sister and mother, are members of that new generation of Rhone Valley winemakers that have been setting a new standard for quality from this region. It wasn’t that long ago that the majority of wines coming from the Rhone were at best rustic curiosities. Sure there a handful of exceptions like premium producers, Beaucastel, Guigal, Chapoutier, to name just a few. But most were producing high-yielding village wines destined for the local markets. Way ahead of his time, Bastien’s father Michel, a former Pastry Chef, established himself as far back as the early ’90’s as the ultimate minimal interventionalist.
Not a whole lot has changed in that time. The Tardieu’s do not own a single vineyard! In fact, they do not even ferment their own wines. There may be others who take this very unusual approach to winemaking, but I don’t know of any.
What Tardieu-Laurent (they’ve retained the name, but have since split with former partner, Burgundy’s Dominque Laurent) – do extraordinarily well, is source from the very best vineyards while overseeing the fermentation process on the growers property. The wine is then racked into the Tardieu’s barrels and transported back to their domaine where they blend to their own strict specifications. Their sources are so secretive, that they’ve never revealed the name of the vignerons their wines come from, although speculation runs high of long-term associations with the very best of old-vine Rhone vineyards.
Over lunch, we tasted through five of the Tardieu wines, all from Southern Rhone where the grenache grape dominates. Beginning with the value-packed 2009 Les Bec Fins, 60% grenache, 40% syrah, from the Cotes du Rhone, it is a great bargain from one of the best Rhone vintages on record.
Four more wines followed from well-known appellations including a Rasteau (less than 200 cases produced), a truffle-scented Vacqueyras, the concentrated Chateauneuf du Pape where grapes were sourced from the famed La Crau, and my hands-down favorite of the flight, the highly-perfumed Gigondas. CDP gets much of the attention of Rhone wines and often with good reason, but it is the smaller, less known appellations that are capturing the attention of fans of the Rhone Valley.
As I said earlier, many of the appellations outside of Chateauneuf rarely focused on quality, instead over-producing for the sake of quantity. Not so with the younger generation of vintners in the outlying regions and certainly not true with the father-and-son Tardieu’s. Michel and Bastien have produced one of – if not – the best Gigondas I’ve ever tasted! Grenache-based, but the small percentage of Mouvedre and Cinsualt folded into the final blend ameliorates the typical rustic nature of wines from Gigondas, resulting in a more elegant version than I’ve tasted in the past.
The wines I tasted from Tardieu-Laurent were all delicious and well worth seeking out – especially the Gigondas!
To learn more more about the Tardieu family and their wines, visit their website: http://www.tardieu-laurent.fr/