Inky, Dark, Spicy - Syrah at its Best !

Monday, January 9, 2017 10:56 AM

Not to belabor the obvious, but it's cold outside. And it gets dark earlier too. This signals the time of year when Syrah calls out to me the loudest - I hear you Syrah, loud and clear! A robust, full-flavored Syrah paired with a slow braised one-pot dish; now that's sounds good to me. As I look around the store, searching for that Syrah to satiate my craving, my eyes naturally fall onto our limited, but stellar selection of Northern Rhones. Of the two producers TWH directly imports, Domaine Belle is the most established. When I came to work for TWH in the late 90's, Belle was a relative newcomer on the Rhone scene and a true darling of Robert Parker who was a great advocate for this French region, propelling fervent enthusiasm for Syrah. In the 1997 revised edition of "Wines of the Rhone Valley", Parker concludes his review of Belle by writing it was "one of the bright, shining stars of Crozes-Hermitage, and this is an estate to follow". In my opinion, he was absolutely right. So what has Domaine Belle been up to in the two decades since Parker wrote that statement? They've been consistently making outstanding wines that fly under the radar!

Philippe Belle is at the helm, having taken over from his father Albert who retired in 2003. Fortunately for Domaine Belle fans, Philippe has sons who are being groomed to work in the family business. On his trip to France this past November, David paid a visit to Belle where he tasted recent and upcoming vintages. There he met with Philippe and his son, Valentin, who is currently studying enology at Montpellier. David sent a photo of father and son to me (I'm always hounding him to take more pics on his trips!) as well as a photo of the 2015 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre, which he captioned "one of the darkest wines I've ever seen". The 2015 Roche Pierre won't be available any time soon, but we do have the gorgeous 2012 in stock now. And though we bid adieu to our 39th Anniversary Sale, we will offer the 2012 Roche Pierre at discount for this email - regularly $36.99 per bottle, on sale for $27.95 per bottle!

Roche Pierre is a single-vineyard with vines upwards of 70 years old grown on granitic soil. These are special vines and Belle only bottles this wine in special vintages (otherwise it goes into Cuvee Louis Belle). We have the '12 in stock, and they made '13 and '15, but no '11 or '14. It is a wine that showcases the full spectrum of Syrah's appeal, from the inky color to the dark, black fruit to the spicy, smoky notes. The texture is rich with firm tannins. Less than 300 cases of this single-vineyard Crozes-Hermitage are produced. Jeb Dunnuck who has taken over reviewing Rhone wines for Parker had this to say about the 2012 Roche Pierre:

"I was blown away by the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre and it showed even better from bottle than barrel, which is always a good sign. Aged two years in 40% new French oak, it's certainly one of the top wines of this appellation. Cassis, toasted spice, leather, beautiful minerality and classic minerality are all present in this full-bodied, focused, pure and age-worthy Crozes Hermitage. There's no shortage of tannin here, so give it a year or three, it will have 10-15 years of longevity." 94 points #216 Dec. 2014

This weekend I will be celebrating a milestone baby girl is turning 13! A teenager. It doesn't seem possible. Her birthday lands on Old Calendar Christmas Eve (Happy Birthday to MTP as well!), so we'll first celebrate with a traditional Russian lenten meal with family then host a rip-roaring sleepover party with her BFFs the next evening. Call me crazy, but I love hearing all the girl chatter and laughter filling up the house. It warms my heart. Happy Birthday to Sascha, my sweet girl...many blessed years! And Happy New Year to all of you! - Anya Balistreri

Here we are on the precipice of Memorial Day Weekend!Chances are, the likelihood of any of us being around a barbecue grill is greatly increased this weekend as statistics show that approximately 60% of US households barbecue over this period. Bring it on! We just love grilling. I just received a phone call from my longtime barbecue maven friend telling me about a brisket that has been on the grill since this morning. Hmmm, what was it that Oscar Wilde said about temptation? It actually seems rather appropriate, now that I think about it, because it was10 years ago this weekend that I was invited over in similar circumstances. I wasn’t yet well versed with our entire inventory back then, so when I consulted pairing wizard and TWH alum Ben about what to bring, hestrongly advised that I grab some northern Rhône Syrah and all would be fine. How right he was! I made a reference to this wonderful revelation in a post last year, and will never forget it. Smoky barbecued something or other? Northern Rhône Syrah. Simple. Genius.
We’ve been well versed with the wines from Domaine Belle since the 1990’s. For years their wines have graced our bins, and we happily represented the brand for their former importer. A few years ago, we became the importer! You’ve probably heard us go on about Belle’s Les Pierrelles cuvée before. It’s a great wine for a great price.The Cuvée Louis Belle is a fancier, more serious offering. It sees some time in French oak barrel, 15% of it new, which frames the vibrant yet smoky purple fruit delightfully. This wine means business. We can say with a degree of conviction that finding a Syrah of this quality for less than $30 is an immense challenge, if it’s even possible at all! Again, as we mentioned in an email last week, it is our responsibility to provide our customers with the best wines for the best prices, because what matters most to us is your pleasure.
You can certainlytake our word for it, thatthis Crozes-Hermitage out-drinks it’s price point by a mile, but here’sThe Wine Advocate’s Rhône expert, Jeb Dunnuck’s take,“Even better than the Les Pierrelles, the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Cuvee Louis Belle (aged 18 months in 15% new French oak) has full-bodied, concentrated aromas and flavors of black raspberry, crème de cassis, toasted spice and sweet oak. Fabulously rich, structured and balanced, with building, sweet tannin, it will have a decade of longevity. 92 points.


This family owned Crozes Hermitage-based estate seems to fly under the radar, yet they’re a terrific source of beautiful reds and whites from the north.”

Whatever you may be doing, we wish you a happy and safe long weekend. May these precursory days to summer treat you well, and may you continue to taste great wines when the occasions to do so present themselves. –Peter Zavialoff

2013 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles

Monday, February 22, 2016 10:47 PM

Lasting Friendships And
Northern Rhône Syrah
I started my wine retail career with little knowledge but with great enthusiasm. I had a passable grasp of California winesthanks to open-minded parents who allowed small tastes at dinner and to summers spent in Sonoma County where I witnessed the changing agricultural landscape; from apple and prune orchards to vineyards. At the store where I worked, one of my colleagues, near in age to me, was well on his way to absorbing all things related to French wines. He enrolled in as many wine courses as he could afford at UC Berkeley Extension. It was a course on the Rhône Valley that sparked the most infectious passionin him. After each class, he’d go over with me what he learned and what was tasted. He even began bringing extra hand-outs for me to take home and read, henceforth began my discovery of Rhône wines.
If it’s red and from Southern Rhône, the wine can be a blend. But, if it’s red and from Northern Rhône, then the wine must be Syrah. This was my first lesson learned. When I came to work for TWH, the selection of Rhône wines was much larger and more comprehensive than at my previous employment. It was time to dive in further.Domaine Belle, which then was known as Domaine Albert Belle, represented value and quality for Northern Rhône Syrah, though it was at that time still a young enterprise. In 1990 after breaking away from the Tain growers’ cooperative, Albert and Philippe Belle, father and son,began domaine-bottling their wine. In a book titled Rhone Renaissance published in 1995, author Remington Norman wrote that Belle was “a domaine to watch”. Nearly three decades later, with Albert retired, Philippe is running the domaine and his son Guillaume is being groomed to join the family business. Over the years, the domaine has expanded its vineyard holdings and upgraded their winery facility. All this was accomplished by hard work and consistently making excellent wine. Robert Parker recently wrote that Belle “has long been one of my favorite estates since I first tasted their wines”. I too have a soft-spot for this domaine, especially the Crozes-HermitageLes Pierrelles.
Les Pierrelles is often introduced as their “entry-level” wine, but that is a bit misleading. Les Pierrelles uses grapes grown on small, rounded galets (stones) on top of red clay soils. These vineyards are located in the communes of Pont d’Isère and Mercurol. The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented with indigenous yeast and then aged in barrel for 14 months in older barrels of 2-5 years of age. Typically it is juicy, has nice tannin integration and fragrant aromatics.
The 2013 Les Pierrelles is really terrific. Pouring it into a glass unleashes aromas of boysenberries, black currant and tangy pomegranate. The first sips are swathed in fruit. Then with aeration, the white pepper and meaty notes emerge. Despite the succulent, sweet flavor of the fruit, the wine lies fresh and lively on the palate. It is a harmonious and pleasurable wine.
There was a lot of discussion as to whether this wine is more feminine or big-scaled. The 2013 Les Pierrellesdelivers on big flavors, and yet it finishes elegant and gentle on the palate, so it’s both really. As I savored and evaluated what was in my glass (which I mistakenly, but conveniently had over-poured into, and of course Pete took notice of – thanks!?!) I pondered over who might enjoy a wine like this and instantly my old friend who taught me so much about Rhône wines (see above) popped into my head – Mike A. Some of you probably remember him too, as he also worked at TWH when it was located on Bryant Street. I shared my observation with David. Wine is a curious thing as it can conjure up so many feelings and memories and good friends. -Anya Balistreri

The Northern Rhône, to be exact. One of myfavorite pairing memories from my early days here at TWH was when I was invited to some friends’ house after work for “something that has beenon the smoker for hours.”With little first hand experience of tasting the wide selection of red wines on our shelves, I consulted our pal Ben, andhe put a 5 year old bottle of Northern Rhône Syrah in my hands. “It’s gotstructure and ample fruit, but this Syrah hasa smoky-meaty quality that will work perfect with your dinner.” The words are seared in my memory becausethe pairing was perfect. So perfect that my friends loaded up on the wine because their smoker and grill were used pretty often. That wine is long gone,but in the world of 5 year old (okay, 4.5 years) Northern Rhône Syrah, we’ve got a pretty dang good deal!


Crozes-Hermitage surrounds the tiny, and much more expensive appellation of Hermitage on the east bank of theRhône River just north of the commune of Valence. Syrah is the red grape of the region, and many of the winesfrom this part of the world have a distinct smoky-meaty-gamey nuance to them. That was certainly the case with the wine I mentioned in the above paragraph. Tonight’s wine has it as well, but there’s more!
One of the wines in the August 2015 Dirty Dozen is the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles. Due to the budget of our monthly sampler, we could only include a half bottle in the DD, but as Anya advised me,“Our Dirty Dozen customers deserve a treat like Crozes-Hermitage!” A treat it is. The best way that I can describe it is that it’s a red wine that can do it all. It’s got enough fruit and balance to be enjoyed on its own, and now that it’s spent some time in bottle, it has the complexity to be enjoyed with your victuals.
The Wine Advocate’s Rhône specialist, Jeb Dunnuck had this to say about the 2011 Domaine Belle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles:

“Starting off the 2011s and another delicious, classically constructed effort from this producer, the 2011 Crozes Hermitage Les Pierrelles exhibits ample blackberry, pepper, underbrush and textbook northern Rhone meatiness to go with a medium-bodied, fruit forward and nicely textured profile on the palate. Despite the up-front feel here, it firms up nicely on the finish and should have a gradual evolution. This was a rock solid lineup from this tiny, family owned estate. 89 points”

Being August, I’ve made a point of hitting the farmers’ market each Sunday. The assortment of summer’s bounty is fantastic, with sights and smells that only come this time of year. Speaking of smells, I’ve had to wash a lot of clothes lately, mostly because I’ve been standing around a lot of smoking barbecues. I don’t necessarily want to do more laundry on my day off tomorrow, but if I have to, I have to. That’s the good thing about taking home a bottle of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pierrelles: The barbecue is optional. – Peter Zavialoff
Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about smoked meats, grilling, the northern Rhône, Bordeaux, or English Football:

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