I will say this flatly: none of you buy enough Northern Rhône wines. Simply put, some of the most thrilling wines in France, and all the world frankly, hail from Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, Hermitage, Condrieu and St. Joseph. Moreover, these collectible and age-worthy wines cost a fraction of top Burgundies and Bordeaux. Sure, Guigal’s La-La’s and Chave’s Hermitage command a pretty penny, but there is a broad swath of incredible wines that are widely available and more than affordable.
Take Christophe Billon, for example. There’s oodles of press dripping with parise for this young upstart’s Domaine, which has been born out of family holdings that once were sold off to the négociants.
Not any more. And the results are stunning. Do not miss these.
2016 Billon Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”
94 pts.: “Brilliant stuff, Billon's 2016 Côte Rôtie Les Elotins is a blend of 97% Syrah and 3% Viognier that spent 22 months in once- and twice-used barrels. Deep, rich, full-bodied, and concentrated, it has more depth and richness than most in this classic, charming vintage. Saturated purple-colored, with terrific notes of cassis, blackberries, scorched earth, violets, and graphite, it hits the palate with a medium to full-bodied mouthfeel, good acidity, and present yet sweet tannins, all of which give it a classic feel. Drink this balanced, layered 2016 any time over the coming 10-15 years.” - Jeb Dunnuck
2016 Billon Côte-Rôtie “Côte Rozier”
94-96 pts.: “Not yet bottled, the 2016 Côte Rôtie La Côte Rozier (97% Syrah and 3% Viognier) sports a saturated purple color as well as rocking notes of crème de cassis, graphite, crushed rocks, and liquid violets. It's rich, full-bodied, powerful, and concentrated, with building tannins and beautiful purity. It's a powerhouse that needs 2-4 years of bottle age and will keep for 2+ decades.” - Jeb Dunnuck
2016 Billon Côte-Rôtie “La Brocarde”
94-96 pts.: “Similarly colored, the purple-hued 2016 Côte Rôtie La Brocarde incorporates 5% Viognier and comes from the La Brocarde lieu-dit and will see 26 months in new barrels. It offers more blue fruits, violets, and liquid rock characteristics, full body, a deep, stacked mid-palate, and building tannins. It's a primordial barrel sample that's going to require 4-5 years of bottle age and keep for 15-20 years.” - Jeb Dunnuck
More about the Wine:
Christophe and his wife Maryline have a lot to be proud of. Their young Domaine - begun in 2000 - has been recognized as one of the leading producers in the appellation. They have the enviable talent of producing large-scaled, sumptuous wines that nonetheless remain true to their Côte-Rôtie roots. John Livingstone-Learmonth - perhaps the leading authority on the Rhône Valley - has a lot to say about Billon and his efforts. All his 2016s got a minimum of 4 stars from the critic and, what’s more, JLL singled out the Côte Rozier in particular as exhibiting what he calls “STGT” or “soil to glass transfer.” Namely, the wine has minerality, so much so, that the individual vineyard has a true identity in the glass.
This is important - keep it mind. Because the Billon style tends toward richness. Jeb Dunnuck describes him thus: “Billon makes a relatively modern, rich, and powerful style of wine that still never loses its Côte Rôtie soul. While the 2016s were mostly tasted from barrel, these are impressive, age-worthy wines.”
Who doesn’t like pleasurable wines that “never lose [their] Côte Rôtie soul”? Answer: no one. One could argue that it is exactly that which made Guigal - rich, large-scaled wines of power and intensity that nonetheless were beautiful articulations of place. Speaking of Guigal, until 2007 Christophe supplemented his Domaine’s production with work for GUigal and Bonserine. Thankfully, today his own efforts are enough to keep him busy!
Billon uses oak judiciously and never exceeds 50%, though these days is usually averaging around 25-30%. The wines are fermented whole cluster, though may be partially destemmed depending on the vintage conditions. When it comes to bottling, the wines are never filtered, and only occasionally lightly fined.
These really are among the leading lights of Côte Rôtie’s next generation. I cannot recommend them enough, especially for the price!