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Righteous Syrah from Hallowed Ground in the Northern Rhône

Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage 2015
Special Price: $210/6-pack (~$35/bottle)

A great winemaker is first and foremost a fruit farmer. So perhaps it is no surprise that Maurice Combier has channeled his knowledge of organic fruit farming to produce pure and elegant wines with his son Laurent. It was in the early 1960s that Maurice purchased property in Pont de l’Isère – about a 10 minute drive south from the slopes of Hermitage – for the purpose of growing peaches and apricots, as well as grapes for the local cooperative in Tain l’Hermitage. A decade later, while most of the farming world was reveling in newly discovered synthetic fertilizers, Maurice was pioneering organic cultivation. At the time organics were practically unheard of and soon locals gave him the moniker “Maurice le Fou” or Crazy Maurice.

After Maurice’s first son Laurent dove into the study of viticulture and agriculture in Orange, and completed apprenticeships in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Domaine d’Ott in Provence, the two decided to set off on their own in 1989. They established their own fruit brand called Combier, whose organic peaches and apricots are available throughout much of France, and also began producing wine from vineyards surrounding their house. Over the years, Laurent expanded the cellar, eventually constructing an underground chai where the wines are vinified and matured. Today, Laurent is fully in charge and the Combier domaine comprises close to 50 acres of vines in some of Northern Rhône’s top climats. Apparently not one for a quiet life, Laurent also has a 32 acre project in Priorat, Spain.

There is nothing short of fervent frothing when it comes to the 2015 vintage in Northern Rhône. According to most everyone concerned the weather was perfection: sunshine, rain, wind, and cool nights all fell upon the landscape exactly when required. In general the 2015 Northern Rhône wines have flawless balance, with the top wines likely developing into classics after decades of cellaring.

The fruit for the Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage comes from parcels in and around Pont de l’Isère. The parcels reflect much of the terroir of Crozes-Hermitage, with sites composed of sandy soil with some granite, a site covered in small, round stones, and another site that is predominantly silt. Fruit is harvested by hand and yields are low. The wine matures for 12 months in barrels that have previously seen two or three wines.  Minimal sulphur is added and filtering is gentle.

The first whiff of a glass is that telltale Northern Rhône Syrah scent of red meat and flowers. It’s a voluptuous set of aromatics over more nuanced shades of tarragon and sun-warmed terracotta. With time the scent of ripe berry fruits emerge. A sip is pure, spiced loganberry that slowly uncoils to a lengthy finish of light roast espresso. For an intoxicating patio dinner pairing fire up the (lump charcoal) grill and throw on the kebabs.


Domaine Combier “Clos des Grives” (Crozes-Hermitage 2015)
Special Price: ~$67/bottle

“Clos des Grives” is the top cuvée from Domaine Combier. The “Clos” is a single parcel enclosed by a hedge that is located just east of the domaine’s cellars and neighbors the property of legendary winemaker Alain Graillot. Over eleven acres, rich with red clay, chalk, and alluvial stones, are planted to Syrah vines that were planted over 60 years ago. Yields are shockingly small, less even than what is allowed in Burgundy’s Grands Crus. Maturation takes place in oak barrels, generally with about 25% of the barrels being new. Minimal sulphur is added and filtering is gentle.

Consider the previous tasting note for the Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage, plug it into an amplifier, and then turn it up to eleven. Throw some dark chocolate on the finish. That is “Clos des Grives.” A glass is jammed with elegant, concentrated fruit and spicy, animal classicism. From nose to tail a sip is dense and filled with energy. We expect this wine to flesh out even more, both aromatically and on the palate, with cellar development. Pair with well-marbled red meat, simply prepared and seasoned.

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Posted on 2018.03.28 in France, Saturday Sips Wines, Northern Rhone


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