Domaine Louis Chèze: Delicious wines with vitality from the northern Rhône Valley

Maison Louis Chèze is a young wine producer in the northern Rhône Valley who makes excellent wines with a lot of varietal character. Drinking his wines when they are young is not a sacrilege or weak point. On the contrary. They are delicious. BKWine’s Britt reports from a meeting with Alexandre Poinard.

Often everyone is so focused on the ageing potential of wines so that I find it quite refreshing with wine producers who think, and say, that their wines should be drunk young. It actually happens fairly often in France. The French like the fresh fruit in a young wine. Rightly so! For instance Alexandre Poinard, sales manager at Maison Louis Chèze in the northern Rhone Valley. He wants to stress the youthful charm of the estate’s Côte Rôtie wines.

“The schist in our Côte Rôtie vineyards gives smooth tannins and gentle fruit whereas granite gives more minerality. We want to keep the fruity style in these wines, a style that can and should be drunk young.”

Terrassed vineyards in Cote Rotie

Terrassed vineyards in Cote Rotie, copyright BKWine Photography

Louis Cheze founded his estate in 1978 in Limony, a small town on the west side of the river Rhone. The beginning was modest. He started with one hectare in Saint Joseph. Limony is just a few kilometres south of the exclusive vineyards in Ampuis and Condrieu. Soon Louis Cheze had expanded his business with vineyards in both Condrieu and Côte Rôtie.

He has taught himself wine making from scratch. He learnt and received advice from friendly neighbours such as George Vernay in Condrieu and Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas. Now the Maison Louis Cheze produces 16-17 different wines, both whites and reds, from 30 hectares.

The wines are very good and typical for their grapes and their origin. The red wines have a powerful syrah character in a concentrated and aromatic style. Many of them can of course be aged. But even the appellation wines are very drinkable young. The tannins are not overwhelming. The wines are never over extracted. The bestseller is Ro Rée Saint Joseph with 16,000 bottles produced every year.

“Ro- Rée means old oak in our traditional Ardèche language,” says Alexandre. “For us it is very important to choose the right oak barrels for our wines. We work with ten different coopers for the 700 barrels that we have in our cellar.”

A small part of the production is white wines. The white Ro-Rée Saint Joseph Blanc is made with 60% marsanne and 40% roussanne. The wine is fermented in small oak barrels and it stays there for the malolactic fermentation and around 10 months of ageing. Batonnage, stirring the lees to give some fatness to the wine, is made regularly. A small portion of the barrels are new.

“With marsanne it is important to keep the freshness and the minerality,” says Alexandre. “We harvest early, at seven in the morning, while it is still cool outside and then we press the grapes slowly and carefully. How much new oak we use varies from year to year. The must decides. Heavy must needs new oak. But the oak should never dominate the fruit flavours. We want to keep the natural fruit aromas.”

Vineyards in Condrieu, Rhone

Vineyards in Condrieu, Rhone, copyright BKWine Photography

The winery makes two different Condrieus called Pagus Luminis and Brèze. These are two small vineyards where the Viognier grapes grow on steep, hardworking slopes. The yield is no more than 25 hectolitres per hectare.

Condrieu is admittedly a small district with just over 100 hectares but there are distinct differences, says Alexandre. “Both Pagus Luminis and Brèze come from the southern part of the appellation where the wines have a particularly fine fruit whereas the wines from the north part are above all floral.”

Louis Chèze wines

Some tasting notes :

Maison Louis Cheze Ro Rée Saint Joseph Blanc 2012

Very pleasant and mellow with long flavours of ripe grapes and apricots and a little honey. (around 18 euro)

Maison Louis Cheze Pagus Luminis Condrieu 2012

Peaches and apricots on the nose. Quite soft, some fatness, and quite floral and very fruity on the palate. Fine, balanced oak character. The taste is long and persistent. (around 25 euro)

Vineyards in Condrieu, Rhone

Vineyards in Condrieu, Rhone, copyright BKWine Photography

Maison Louis Cheze Ro Rée Saint Joseph 2012

Generous fruit, dark berries, good and typical syrah aromas of black pepper, violets, smoked charcuterie. An excellent wine that is already very pleasant to drink thanks to the soft tannins. Great value for money. (around 14 euro, and 151 SEK at Systembolaget in Sweden)

Maison Louis Cheze Ro Rée Saint Joseph 2011

Also here you have very typical syrah aromas. A really classic example of syrah actually. Good structure with both freshness and tannins. Beautiful food wine at a very good price. (around 14 euro, and 151 SEK at Systembolaget)

Maison Louis Cheze Ro- Rée Saint Joseph 2010

The 2010 vintage gave a lot of concentration and an intense aroma of dark berries and spices. A pure syrah-style with elegance and good length.

Maison Louis Cheze Ro Rée Saint Joseph 2009

The aromas are like the ones from 2010 but the wine has become a bit more rounded and has gained a certain maturity.

Vineyard in Cote Rotie, Rhone

Vineyard in Cote Rotie, Rhone, copyright BKWine Photography

Maison Louis Cheze Belle Demoiselle Côte Rôtie 2011

On the nose you have extraordinary smoky aromas. It is almost like a single malt whisky. The taste is fresh and powerful with great body and concentration. This wine has been 18 months in oak but it has no problems staying balanced. (~ 35 euro, 349 SEK at Systembolaget in Sweden)

Maison Louis Cheze Belle Demoiselle Côte Rôtie 2009

Interesting comparison with 2011. Two years older and here we have left the youthful style and have instead complexity and a more subdued grape style. Delicious.

The Swedish importer Wine World had arranged this tasting with Alexandre Poinard and the wines of Maison Louis Cheze at Restaurant Djuret in the Old Town in Stockholm at the end of November. The restaurant served us a delicious lunch that went very well with the wines.

The northern Rhone Valley offers both a spectacular landscape and some of the best wines in France. Experience all this yourself on a wine tour to the Rhone Valley with BKWine.

The wine travel professionals. Travel to the world’s wine regions with the wine experts and the specialist on wine tours.

Vineyard in Cote Rotie, Rhone

Vineyard in Cote Rotie, Rhone, copyright BKWine Photography

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