Until that moment it had been a normal winery tour…
We had arrived on time, been warmly greeted at Delas, had gone through an interesting tour of the processing pad, the tanks, and the barrel room. Along the way the winemaker, Jacques Grange, had joined us, and we had ended up in a functional little display room with a wine bar.
Modest, unassuming and understated outside---all belying the remarkable tasting experience we would soon enjoy inside.
Then, everything changed.
Jacques announced, in his quiet and reserved way, that since we had seemed earnest in our desire to truly learn about the wines of the Rhone, he had decided to do the tasting portion a bit differently. Jacques had pulled three different vintages of three of the best of Delas terroirs: Cote Rotie, Hermitage, and Cornas. A triple-triple vertical, as it were, awaited us at the bar. All made by Jacques, who would narrate for us.
Jacques Grange, Winemaker, in the Barrel Maturation Cellar
The wines were:
Côte-Rôtie, Siegneur de Maugiran, Delas Vintage 2005, 2006, 2007
-a blend of Syrah from the Côte Brune (70%) and Côte Blonde (30%).
Hermitage, Marquise de Tourette, Delas. Vintage 2005, 2006, 2007
-From the Domaine de Tourette parcels of l’Ermite, le Sabot, and the famous Les Bessardes.
Cornas, Chante-Perdrix, Delas. Vintage 2005, 2006, 2007
-a Cornas cuvee of 100% Syrah.
At Jacques' suggestion, we tasted from north to south, and from oldest to youngest.
My theory, with which I’ve bored countless people, is that in any good wine you look for three elements of expression: the grape, the place, and the winemaker’s style…and when possible the vintage variations. This was a perfect occasion to practice that theory on----and it worked superbly (he said, modestly).
Each wine clearly showed the difference of terroir—the place---quite openly. The Cote-Rotie was more plummy/blueberry, with black fruits and a distinctive note of black olives showing consistently through. The Hermitage was softer, more elegant, less sumptuously endowed than the Cote-Rotie but more refined. The Cornas was a powerful brute, with robust tannins and a hard, tight core of wild black fruit and intense pepper-spice and earth, but tightly, tightly bound and slow to yield.
The wines were clearly reflective of vintage too. The 2005s were full to bursting with flavor and fruit, silky textured, and fat and luscious in their first ‘coming out’. The 2006s were less exuberant, on a lighter framework, not as effulgent, leaner. The 2007s were more like the 2005s---but not as expressive, not as fat, not as silky, and much leaner, though not stingy as the 2006s were tending. Of the three vintages, I would favor the 2005; but the 2007 was close behind. Only the 2006 lacked the essential focus, and that primarily in the Hermitage; the Cote-Rotie had a smoky element that made it interesting; and the Cornas, though restrained, was still a brute.
But the winemaker style was evident as well. During the tour Jacques had expressed that philosophy, telling us his approach was to intervene as little as possible, to not ‘show his hand heavily’ in the wine, but to allow it to express itself in each instance. He wanted little to no evident and expressive oak in the wine, seeing the oak only as a vessel to allow the wine to age and develop gracefully without ever overwhelming the fruit. He also looked for lower alcohols, lean and racy acidity, and relatively moderate tannins (always expecting more tannic expression in Cornas, as a nature of the place.)
That exactly and precisely sums up the Delas wines. The same reserved and balanced tone Jacques shows in conversation; the same thoughtful, precise, and measured approach he shows in his behavior; the same deliberation without drama---all that is in the wine.
All thanks to Jacques for presenting this stunning expository tasting of the wines of Delas. It was a memorable experience for all.