1998 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge “Sierra du Sud” Rhone Valley, France.
I was excited when I learned that a friend had acquired a perfectly cellared collection of Rhone wines, and while I couldn’t afford to grab some of the super gems and unicorn wines, I could get some under the radar and frankly some unsellable bottles that by all rights should be long dead, but so far they’ve all proved outstanding, especially this gorgeous and very much alive 1998 Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. This wonderful surprise from the late Philippe Laurent, who was killed in a car accident a year or so after making this wine, and his wife Michèle Aubèry-Laurent, the founders of this small organic family winery that has gained more notoriety in recent years with Michele’s talented son Maxime François Laurent continuing the traditions of the estate and bringing a spotlight to this exceptional estate. Gramenon, based in the northern zone of the southern Rhone around the new hotspot of the region Vinsobres, established in 1979, is not an old property, but the wines are very serious and impeccably made in a very natural style, the quality here was so good that famous importer Kermit Lynch, in Berkeley California took them on and has brought these humble hardworking vignerons no small about of fame and an enthusiast following in America. This 1998 Sierra du Sud was a special 100% Syrah cuvee from a selection of what was then some younger vines set on a complex series of soils with a combination of clay, limestone, along with gravel, galets roulés (large round river stones) and sand, making for deeply flavorful and fabulously textured wine that has not succumbed to age, in fact this Gramenon is fresher and drinking better than some top Chateauneuf du Pape bottlings from the same vintage! This dark garnet hued (with barely a hint of orange on the edges) Sierra du Sud shows a remarkable freshness and lively nature (for its age) and held up all night gaining mouth feel and intriguing floral aromatics as it opened, very impressive. It unfolded with pure layers of blueberry, cassis, dried violets, delicate truffle or wild porcini, a light dusting of chalky stones, peppercorns, licorice and some savory earthiness that doesn’t override the pretty fruit core, but provides a sultry and sensual appeal with just a faint whiff of sous bois or a meaty element and lingering kirsch notes. While warmer and softer in style, especially at this stage of life, this authentic and elegant wine is not far off a Cote-Rotie in class and in drinking pleasure.

The Domaine Gramonon does a vast array of unique bottlings, most are focused around their main grape Grenache, but they also do a couple of single varietal Syrah(s) with this Sierra du Sud being one, labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, similar to Chateau de Saint Cosme, the famous Gigondas producer that has vineyard holdings in Vinsobres too, and who’s basic Cotes du Rhone is also 100% Syrah, as well as Gramenon’s other Syrah Côtes-du-Rhône “Emouvante” which I haven’t yet tried, but will certainly look for. This estate is all about sustainable farming and live a holistic lifestyle, which they have, as Kermit Lynch notes, incorporated into their daily lives by growing their own food and raising their own animals, being in partnership with their land and nature. This area of Rhone is cooler and the wines are more edgy than in the southern zones which allows the Syrah to shine here and making their Grenache wines more distinct and fresh feeling, these conditions and terroir make for long lived wines, even ones that were never purposed for long term aging, like this Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. I have been a fan of Gramenon for just over a decade, after being introduced to the wines by Kermit Lynch and I have always adored this Sierra du Sud bottling, it has been a favorite from the Laurent family, along with their amazing old vine Grenache and the delightful “Il Fait Soif” by Maxime Francois Cotes du Rhone, a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, a wine that is great place to start if you want to get into these wines. Gramenon has been farming using biodynamic practices since 2007 and have always been organic, though they finished certification in 2010 with their vines all being traditionally trained with mostly head training and dry famed with small yields that make for concentrated wines, but with crisp detailing. The winemaking at Gramenon is very old school and the wines are more made in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar with a minimalistic approach and with low SO2 additions, in some cases without any sulphites being added at all, even in their most prized bottlings. The Sierra du Sud was fermented with partial whole cluster and some stem inclusion with native yeasts in concrete vat with a gentle 10 to 12 day maceration before being aged in a combination of tank (cement) and old barriques for just under a year, usually about seven months. This wine, like all the wines at Gramenon was bottled unfined and unfiltered, to preserve its true personality and charm, which it continues even after more than twenty years to near perfection and utter brilliance, great cellaring (a must with low sulfur or natural wines) brings huge rewards.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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