Syrah from the Northern Rhone of France is absolutely my favorite kind of red wine in the world. The two greatest villages are Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. Where as the wines of Hermitage are more dense and rich, the wines of Cote-Rotie are much more floral and aromatic. Domaine Bernard Levet is unquestionably one of the greats. We were shocked to have been given an allocation, albeit very *very* pleased.
"Nicole Levet’s grandfather first purchased vineyards in Ampuis in 1936 and began making wine immediately thereafter. Initially, he delivered his Cote Rotie in barrels to the city of St. Etienne where he sold it to bistros and cafes for consumption by the miners of that city. In 1966, Nicole’s father, Marius Chambeyron, began to bottle a small portion of the production of the estate. I first encountered Marius Chambeyron in 1982 as I prospected in the region. He was a proud and somewhat brazen man who, despite the tiny size of his estate, proudly painted his name on the rocks that fronted the terraces of his small swath of vineyards as in the manner of the seigneurs of the appellation like Guigal, Delas and Vidal-Fleury. As we were preparing to begin our commercial relationship, Monsieur Chambeyron took ill and we never had the opportunity to bring his wines to the States.
Fortunately, his daughter, Nicole, and her husband, Bernard Levet, were prepared to continue Chambeyron’s life’s work. It was with the formidable 1983 vintage that Bernard Levet took over the wine production as well as the management of the vineyard with Nicole. This exceptional couple has now been responsible for the development of the domaine, increasing the vineyard holdings and expanding the cellar capacity so that they can now bottle their entire production. Nicole and Bernard have now been joined by their daughter, Agnes, who has inherited the love for vineyard work and obsession with detail that are essential parts of her parents’ character.
The Domaine’s current total production is 12,000 to 15,000 bottles annually and is exclusively of the appellation of Cote Rotie. We can proudly say that we have imported the wines of this domaine since that fabled 1983 vintage, never missing a vintage and eagerly accepting our annual allocation.
The Domaine consists of 3.5 hectares of vineyards, all of which are located within the boundaries of the town of Ampuis and are entitled to the Cote Rotie appellation. The vines are dispersed among six separate parcels:
“Chavaroche” (Cote Brune/southwest exposure/average age 40 years/1.2 hectare)
“Landonne” (Cote Brune/0.33 hectare/entirely old vines)
“Font Jean” (Cote Brune/young vines/0.15 hectare)
“Les Craies” (Cote Blonde/southwest exposure/entirely old vines/0.5 hectare)
“Mollard” (Cote Blonde/southeast exposure/old vines/0.33 hectare)
“Moulin” (situated just below La Turque/young vines/.4 hectare)
The vineyards are all steeply terraced and must be worked and harvested manually. In my entire experience, I have encountered no one who takes better care nor manages a vineyard with the talent of the Levet family.
NOTE: Bernard Levet’s wines are well-structured wines that are built for aging and experience significant improvement with time in bottle. In our opinion, these wines at maturity reflect most effectively the true nature of the terroir of Cote Rotie.
The cuvee that we have imported from the outset (1983 vintage) is from the “Chavaroche” vineyard. As explained above, this wine is aged for thirty to thirty-six months prior to bottling. It is, quite simply, a ferocious wine, unique in its uninhibited expression of the smells and flavors of the appellation. No compromise is brooked here. The result is a wine that is controversial, too “wild” for many but, for us, one of the most elite wines in our personal pantheon. We import annually approximately 2400 bottles (a mix of 750mls and magnums)." -- Neal Rosenthal, Importer