Anything produced by Gilles Barge is a bonafide Côte-Rôtie collectible that marches alongside the region’s cast of superstars. Why? Because they have it all: centuries of vine-growing on steep, roasted slopes; complete mastery of traditional winemaking; wines that age flawlessly for decades. And, for all that, they don’t even charge you for it. Well, not what they should, anyway. For well under $100 (really, closer to $50), Gilles Barge’s “Cuvée du Plessy” is outrageously under-valued.
Great Côte-Rôtie tastes and feels like it was chiseled from stone and finished with a bramble-fruited sheen. The vineyards cling to terraced hillsides of granite and schist, producing the most exquisitely perfumed examples of Syrah in the world. This is what you get in every bottle of “Cuvée du Plessy.” In other words, if you’re looking to nail down the raw authenticity and breathtaking style of classic Côte-Rôtie, look no further. I’ll dig my heels in even further: A wine of this caliber, from this world-renowned site, instantly becomes one of the finest ‘liquid’ investments you can make. You never have to gamble with a bottle of Gilles Barges, either. They aren’t one of the many “it” producers flooding the market right now—they’re one of “the” producers that will never steer you wrong. My advice? Buy six and pull one from your dark cellar every five years (start in 2020). Your future self will thank you a thousand times over because when soulful, best-in-class Syrah ages, the world sings.
Despite growing grapes since the 1800s, Jules Barge was the first vigneron to ‘domaine-bottle’ his own wine in 1929. Now in the hands of Jules’ grandson, Gilles, this estate is a true Côte-Rôtie original, one of the great keepers of this tiny appellation’s traditions. To my mind, this is one of the most scandalously under-valued collectibles on the market: It contains old-vine Syrah from some of the Côte Blonde’s greatest vineyard sites, including the eponymous lieu-dit itself (more on that below), and captures the essence of Syrah from this region: impossibly perfumed; deeply meaty, smoky, and mineral; balanced and refined. It even has a classic dollop of Viognier blended in to add a floral kick, which is traditional in the region.
Côte-Rôtie is one of the most precious commodities in the world of wine. There are only about 500 acres of vineyards in the entire appellation, making this aromatic, angular northern Rhône Syrah an even rarer find than Grand Cru red Burgundy. Côte-Rôtie is also one of wine’s most dramatic landscapes—vineyards cling to crumbling, rocky slopes with 60% grades and soil must be held in place by hand-laid, rock-wall terraces called cheys. Thanks to a bend in the Rhône River, these slopes nevertheless have a southern exposure, enabling them to capture all-day sun in an otherwise cool climate. With that sun “roasting” (rôtie) the slope (côte), producers such as Gilles Barge create Syrah of unrivaled complexity and elegance, its aromas often pointed up with the addition of a small percentage of the white Viognier (in the case of “Cuvée de Plessy,” it’s 5%).
Within this tiny appellation is a further subdivision based on soil type: the northern section of the zone is known as the Côte Brune (brown slope), where reddish, iron-rich clays over a schist subsoil take on a darker hue. Vineyards to the south, in the Côte Blonde, have a lighter, more yellow-ish cast due to more sand and silt mixed with clay over a base of gneiss (a metamorphic rock derived from granite). Historically, wines of the Côte Blonde were characterized as more perfumed and softly contoured than the darker, more mineral produce of the Côte Brune—but historically, producers blended fruit/wines from vineyards in both subzones to create a single wine called simply “Côte-Rôtie.” In more recent times, of course, single-vineyard expressions of Côte-Rôtie have become some of the most sought-after (and expensive) wines on the planet, and Gilles Barge, who took over the family domaine outright in 1994, has been at the forefront. His “Côte Brune” bottling has become a regional reference point, and today’s wine, “Cuvée du Plessy,” was created to showcase some of the greatest vineyards of the Côte Blonde.
At this wine’s core is very old-vine Syrah from a parcel within the lieu-dit of Côte Blonde itself (there is a single vineyard site named “Côte Blonde,” which lends its name to the broader zone around it, just as there is a single parcel called “Côte Brune” that does the same thing). The vineyard is owned by the du Plessy family, another regional name to know, with whom Gilles (and his father before him) have collaborated since the 1970s. In addition to the extraordinary du Plessy fruit, Gilles also includes source material from prized Côte Blonde sites such as “Lancement” and “Boucharey.”
Vinification and aging of “Cuvée du Plessy” is, as you might have guessed, resolutely traditional: Fermentation on native yeasts, incorporating a significant percentage of whole clusters, is followed by aging in larger, used oak barrels, mostly demi-muids (600-liter capacity). Following, as you’ve probably guessed, the wine is bottled without fining or filtration.
First off, be patient: this wine may be a bit shy at first, but with air, it releases all of its raw, soul-stirring beauty. And if you somehow don’t finish the bottle in one sitting, fear not, as this is one of those wines that’s even better on day two! In the glass, it’s a deep, dense ruby/purple with brilliant ruby highlights on the rim. Stick your nose in the glass and the classic aromatic allure of Côte-Rôtie overflows: boysenberry, huckleberry, crushed blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, currants, grilled meat, wild herbs, smoke, pulverized rocks, olive tapenade, and a touch of exotic spices. Nearly full-bodied and incredibly elegant, its tannins are extremely fine and harmoniously balanced by the vibrant rush of acidity. Layers of dark wild berry fruit and mineral savor keep the wine humming long after the glass has been set down. It unequivocally shows restraint and perfect poise, clear evidence that it has what it takes to age for decades on end. As mentioned, I would advise opening just one bottle now, and revisiting your others every five years. By it’s 10th birthday, this Côte-Rôtie (just like serious Red Burgundy) will be singing. It’s simple: If you’re patient, you’ll be handsomely rewarded. When opening your first bottle, I recommend decanting for at least 60 minutes (multiple hours if you have time) and serving in large Burgundy stems around 60-65 degrees.
Syrah 95%, Viognier 5%
Used French 'Demi-Muids'