It is “winter” here in Houston. I put that in quotes since, as a long-time resident of the Northeast and Midwest, this is not winter. It’s not really even fall since the colors of the trees don’t change and the temperatures are as likely to be in the 70s as they are to dip into the 50s.
Sure, there are days that I now refer to as “chilly” (the morning that I write this, it is a rather nippy 46° outside), but nothing compared to what those poor saps in the Midwest experienced this past week with a boatload of snow and temperatures well down into the section of the thermometer where water solidifies.
I was asked by a friend back east if I missed the snow. Nope. Not even a bit. I thought I would, but as my knees continue to get older, it seems they much prefer to be exposed by wearing shorts than they do bending and moving shovelfuls of ice crystals a foot to the left or right.
While winter in Philadelphia was bad enough, experiencing snow in New York City is far worse. In Philly, the first few hours of a big storm shuts the city down and the fresh blanket of white is beautiful. In New York, though, there is no such respite as few even slow down when the snow starts to fall. Thus, while it usually takes at least a few hours for snow to transform into a blackish-grey slushy mess in Philly, in New York it seems to fall from the sky in that form.
While I do not miss that “phenomenon” in the slightest, I do miss the proximity of the five boroughs since they were only two hours away on the Bolt Bus, and there seems to always be a wine event to be had.
Such was the case almost exactly three years ago when I travelled up Interstate 95 to meet Christophe Bristiel, the export manager for the oldest winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château la Nerthe. As I recounted back then, we hit it off instantly and have remained in touch, fostering a friendship over the last three years.
Our latest get-together occurred this past fall when he again visited Houston and he brought along the latest releases from La Nerthe.
2017 La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Rosé, Côtes-du-Rhône: Retail $17. 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Cinsault. The fruit for this wine actually comes from the Tavel appellation, one of the more prestigious regions for rosé in France. There are restrictions in the appellation regarding the color or hue of the wine, and this wine is considered too light to be a Tavel. Having said that, this is a fairly dark “True Rosé.” Deep pink with bright red berry fruit (strawberry and cherry) on the nose, and the same brilliant and tart fruit on the palate. This is the first vintage of this wine from La Nerthe and it will be a difficult act to follow. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 Prieuré de Montézargues, Tavel: Retail $25. 60% Grenaches blancs et noirs, 20% Syrah, 10% Clairette/Bourboulenc, 10% Cinsault. Although technically apart, the Prieuré de Montézargues is owned by the Richard family, who also own Château la Nerthe. Given the relative proximity of the two estates, there is considerable crossover between the two brands. As mentioned above, this rosé is subject to the rather draconian regulations as to the hue of the wine. Unlike the Les Cassagnes rosé, however, this wine does fall into the allowed spectrum albeit at the absolute lightest allowed color of the continuum. Honestly, I’d be lying if I could distinguish a difference between the two when it comes to color, but I will take Christophe at his word and describe this as a “slightly darker” and “fairly dark” rosé, with a deeper, fuller, richer nose. Still the red berry fruit, but riper. The palate is full-blown richness, though with more subdued acidity. The fruit is the star here, and she is a bit of a diva. One of my favorite rosés. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2015 Château La Nerthe Cuvée des Cadettes Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Retail $150. 50% Grenache Noir, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah. Quite dark in the glass with dark fruit: cassis, plum, anise. On the palate, Whoa. Full-blown whoa. Amazing fruit (the cassis really comes through with a bit of earth and tobacco), impressive acidity, impeccable balance, and a finish that lasts for minutes. I have tasted a few vintages of this wine, and this might just be the best that I have tried. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2015 Château La Nerthe Les Clavelles Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Retail $200. 100% Grenache Noir. This wine has not yet been released, but it is good to know people in high places. Rare for both La Nerthe and Châteauneuf as this is a “non-blend.” Quite simply, this might be the singular most amazing nose of a wine that I have ever experienced. Perfumed, floral, and incredibly fruity, this is a combination of aromas that I have never experienced. I literally sniffed this for close to 15 minutes before I tasted it. The palate is equally, if not more enticing; that same glorious mélange is present on the palate: incredible fruit, several layers of depth, silky tannins (suggesting years of potential cellaring), and a finish that is off the charts. I do not think I have ever given 100 points to a wine, but this is really close. Let me try this wine again in a decade. Please. Outstanding to Extraordinary. 97-99 Points.
2016 Château La Nerthe Les Clavelles Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Retail $200. 100% Grenache Noir. A bit darker both in the glass and on the nose than the 2015, and certainly more shy. After a few swirls in the glass, far darker fruit here, even on the verge of brooding: dark plum, cassis, black pepper, and a touch of anise. Unbelievably rich on the palate, big, bold, but still short of brooding, this wine is more of what one might expect from a top tier Châteauneuf-du-Pape with all the above and a bit of spice. Whoa. Another incredible wine that indicates that this new wine is one to watch–with such variation between vintages, it seems as though this might be a vineyard that is more susceptible to vintage variation than any other with which I am familiar. This is truly amazing. Outstanding to Extraordinary. 96-98 Points. This might surpass the 2105 eventually–I need a case or two to make sure.