The name Chapoutier is nearly synonymous with the Rhone Valley. Headquartered in Tain in the Northern Rhone’s Hermitage A.O.C., Maison M. Chapoutier produces a great number of wines from both the Northern Rhone and from the Southern Rhone. From the value-end to the very top wines in the region, Chapoutier is able to do both because it owns its own vineyards as well as having a large “negociant” business where they buy grapes and wine made by other and distribute under their name and auspices. Originally founded in 1808 by the Calvet family, the Chapoutier family acquired it in 1855 and it has remained in family hands ever since.
In the late 1980s Michel Chapoutier and his brother Marc took over management of the company and quality has moved to the highest level ever since. Their top wines have become very expensive as collectors eagerly seek them out, no doubt motivated by the high 90s and even 100 point scores they have received from various members of the wine press.
In the Southern Rhone their top property is in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Barbe Rac is a 10 acre plot of 100% very old vine Grenache, averaging 90 years old. It lies on a hilltop just west of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Much of the planting was done in 1901, meaning these are among the oldest vines in the appellation. The vineyard is covered with Chateauneuf’s famous galets roules or pudding stones that absorb heat during the day and reflect it back on the vines at night. But to Michel Chapoutier, even more important than this is the subsoil. This terrace was formed by retreating ice in the Quaternary age and is made up of red clay and sand.
The Chapoutier Barbe Rac is a Selection Parcellere or single vineyard wine. This vineyard is 100% biodynamically farmed, the alternative form of agriculture that is quite similar to organic farming and utilizes the concepts developed by Rudolf Steiner at the turn of the 20th Century. Barbe Rac is always cropped to a very low yield, just 15 – 20 hectolitres per hectare. Picking usually occurs late in the season to develop a very ripe expression that has become Barbe Rac’s signature. A very strict selection takes place after de-stemming to ensure only the best bunches make it into the fermentation. Vinification takes place in concrete vats lined with expoxy as Chapoutier feels the Grenache is very sensitive to oxidation. Only free-run juice is used, further reducing the final quantity of wine produced. After a three week fermentation, the wine is aged in old vats for 14-16 months and then spends a further six months in bottle before being released from the winery.
The 1990 Barbe Rac launched this cuvee into the vinous history books and remains today as one of the iconic wines of the appellation. Robert Parker has said of the 1990 “This is one of the most awesome red wines I have ever tasted.” Of the 2007 he went on to write that it was reminiscent of the 1990, but this latter wine he scored one point higher. Most of the other major wine reviewers have also commented on how the 2007 was a special vintage of Barbe Rac. As the tasting note below shows, we at AdVINEtures agree…!
Beautiful deep red colour. Big, earthy bouquet of red fruits, spices and licorice. On the first sip we were struck by the sheer size of this wine! There was a wall of black cherry, Kirsch and licorice that was delivered in a full throttle style. Intensely flavoured with still quite discernible tannin and loads of body. The licorice component was quite pronounced at first but this gradually settled down with some air and became more balanced among the cherry liqueur, herbs and other spice notes. The finish was long and infused with black pepper. Still youthful, this is a big, bold, muscular wine just entering maturity. Already complex, it is easy to see this wine continue to develop for at least another decade.
Excellent+ (2013 vintage available at BC Liquor Stores for $115 including tax)