2018 Domaine Merlin Francois, Cote-Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin Francois of Lauent and Francois Merlin is totally new to me and this beautifully made Cote-Rotie was an excellent discovery and was perfect for celebrating the occasion, which was my 84 year old mother getting her second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine and a moment of great relief, taking a huge weight of stress and concern lifted, so a special bottle was indeed require and this one delivered a welcome and rewarding performance with deep layers of opulent dark fruits and an elegant textural mouth feel. Made in a polished and supple style the Domaine Merlin Francois Cote-Rotie is more Guigal like than say Jamet or Levet in style without the savory edgy thrill of the stemmy whole cluster versions, this is a not criticism, as the world is always a better place with an array of diversity and this wine is well crafted and pleasingly rich in depth with a full bodied palate of blackberry, blueberry, plum and dense fig fruit along with a kiss of smoky sweet cedary wood, anise, violette, mocha and lingering creme de cassis, making it a wine of hedonistic comforts rather than one of peaked excitement and great with meaty/gamey dishes. There is a subtle sense of mineral, spice and earth tucked into the background that adds complexity and reveals the purity of this Syrah and the granite slopes from where it comes from. This family winery is committed to putting the work in, in particular in the vineyard where these wines are really made, with Francois’ wife and younger son Julien also playing roles here. This property has been getting a lot more attention these days, as witnessed by their prestigious scores in Decanter Magazine in recent years, with this 2018, a classic vintage for Cote-Rotie, being a big stand out, and from my own experience with this bottle I can see why easily, this is a well rounded wine that looks set to get even better with age with potential to impress for another decade or more.

A little research has found that Francois Merlin, a self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing and has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, in Crores-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and here in Cote-Rotie as well, to name a few. Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his challenging sites which are set on the regions mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist, looking for exceptionally small yields and the concentration of fruit, which his son Laurent playing a big part in the vineyard, having taken the quality to the next level. In his small cellars, Francois uses, interestingly, Austrian Stockinger 500L demi-muids for the aging of some of his wines, in particular the whites, while employing some Burgundy small barriques as well, with barrels that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks in combination to achieve a studied balance in his Cote-Rotie, while still being seriously luxurious in the glass. He does a very limited Condrieu, (Viognier) which is barrel fermented and aged, that sounds like a must try as well and a wine I certainly will keep an eye out for. For his Cote-Rotie 2018, which is 100% Syrah, Francois and Laurent used all de-stemmed and carefully sorted fruit that saw about 30 days of maceration and primary fermentation with daily punch downs and pumpovers after 10 days before being gently pressed to barrel for aging, which lasted over a year and a half before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. There’s a lot to like and admire here and I am ready to explore more of these Merlin wines, especially after enjoying this Cote-Rotie and its impeccable detailing and savvy pricing, with their Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage next on my wish list!
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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