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Tasting: Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie Bassenon 2015

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Given my last post was all about the Northern Rhône, it makes sense that the next wine tasted comes from there. I’ve mentioned before that Yves Cuilleron can do no wrong, and this wine is certainly one of my favourites.

Tasted from a magnum, for transparency’s sake.

At the northernmost point of the Northern Rhône sits Côte-Rôtie, one of the most important appellations of the entire Northern Rhône, arguably the most important. Syrah, of course, is king but when it is co-fermented with small amounts of viognier, Côte-Rôtie can really come into its own.

Twenty years ago, the very thought of co-fermenting a red grape with a white grape was seen as maverick by the average Australian wine consumer. However, with the success of wines such as Clonakilla’s Shiraz Viognier from the Canberra District (itself a definitive homage to Côte-Rôtie blends) and the avalanche of SV-blends in the mid-2000s from virtually every major Australian producer, this train of thought has been well and truly confined to the history books.

As with anything, the cream rises to the top and with the avalanche came the inevitable terrible, mass-produced, wines which, thankfully, have been largely removed with the passage of time, leaving some really great wines being produced by local winemakers, the aforementioned Clonakilla very much the top of this particular tree.

But – this is not a tasting note on any Australian wine so back to France we go.

Yves Cuilleron makes some seriously good booze. Seriously good. Bassenon refers to a stream at the foot of the hill that is home to the terrace vineyard that produces this wine. South-facing, 1.5 hectares on Coteau de Semons, granite soils.

90% Syrah, 10% Viognier which, in any other region, might seem high. Australian SV blends have typically been overpowered by the Viognier as young wines when the blend comprises of more than 5%, at least to this palate. That statement couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to this wine, however.

18 months in French oak barriques after fermenting in open, temperature controlled vats for 3 weeks by natural yeasts, with regular cap punching and pumping over. Malolactic fermentation occurring in the oak.

The colour is immediately deep, deep ruby with bright purple tinges around the edges. It’s a three year old Syrah, from a magnum, it’s still playing young.

Decent intensity to the nose of deeper red fruits – plums, berries and hints of cassis at the front, but this did take some time to open up. And open up it did. Florals – mainly purple flowers (lavender, violets), and some cinnamon, spice and dried herbs of thyme and rosemary to complete the picture.

Firmly medium bodied with good alcohol (13% on the label, feels about right) and well balanced acidity, even if pointing towards the high end of the spectrum (call it… medium plus). Blackcurrants, dried herbs, and a smoky/charred wood oak character into those florals on the finish of pretty good length. Firm tannins tie everything together perfectly.

I’ve tasted this wine from a half bottle and a magnum now and whilst both experiences were different, I walked away with the same feeling – this is an awesome example of well made, well structured Côte-Rôtie from an experienced and brilliant producer. No, it’s not cheap (you might get change from AUD140), but sometimes you have to go that next step to experience things that are truly wonderful. This was one of those times.

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