Franck Balthazar Croses-Hermitage AOC 2016
Winegrower: Franck Balthazar
Region: Croses-Hermitage, North Rhone, France
Grape: 100% Syrah
Available: June 2018
“Franck Balthazar has emerged as one of the most consistent, top-notch winemakers, and not just in Cornas, but in the entire Rhône Valley. Winemaking here is very traditional, utilizing whole clusters and only 10% to 15% new oak just to maintain the usual rotation of wood, not for aroma or flavour. Balthazar's wines have proven to be excellent cellar candidates even though they show a highly seductive character in their youth."
- Josh Raynolds - Vinous Media
At most vineyards the horse and plow vanished long before VCRs and dial-up modems, but not at the estate of Franck Balthazar. Famed for his old-school methods he is one of the region’s top traditional winegrowers and is sought out by collectors and enthusiasts the world over. And if you’ve received our emails over the past year you will recognize his name from our previous offer for his top Cuvée Cornas Chaillot (we will offer more of his wines later this year.) Today, from the northern Rhone, an area known for expensive wines, we offer his exceptional Croses-Hermitage for a steal. This wine comes from a stellar vintage; 2016 follows 2015 as another exceptional year for the region. Still very young, purplish with a beautiful nose and great balance, this wine is almost a sin to taste. It is fleshy, rich and elegant, and possesses all of the elements you would expect from an exceptional wine from the northern Rhone. Make no mistake; this is not your average Croses-Hermitage, and there is no way to confuse this wine as coming from anywhere else, or for that matter, any winegrower other than Franck Balthazar. This wine sells for upwards of $50 in the United States and is not available elsewhere in Canada. Only 125 cases were produced and our small allotment is sure to sell out quickly considering we’re able to price it at $39.50. This wine represents an incredible QPR and is our way of saying Happy New Year!
Croses-Hermitage dates back to the 1700s when wines were first exported from Larnage to England via Bordeaux. Known as vin de Mure after the most powerful family in the village, by the 1800s the wines became the most expensive in the North Rhone along with Hermitage and Cote Rotie. Officially an appellation since 1937, Croses-Hermitage is located on the opposite side of the hill of Hermitage and consists of 11 communes of which, Mercurol is one, and this is the vineyard that grew today’s wine. The appellation, at 1,032 hectares, is the second largest in the Northern Rhone, and does not have uniform terroirs. This partly explains why the quality of wines can vary greatly from one winegrower to another. The very best wines are grown on hillside locations with isolated outcrops of granite and limestone. Today’s offer is just such a wine.
Franck Balthazar left an engineering career in 2002 and returned to his roots in Cornas to take up the traditional farming and wine making methods of his forefathers. Sixteen years later he’s making some of the most expressive and rigorously traditional wines in the Rhone Valley using methods little changed from those of his grandfather.
Franck is so dedicated to his domaine and the traditional ways of his ancestors that he plows his vineyards with a horse, an arduous task considering the steep slopes involved. His approach in the cellar is just as ‘old school.’ By fermenting each parcel separately, Franck is able to best demonstrate the expressive terroir of his vineyards. In the cellar as in the vineyard he’s a one-man show: he ferments the grapes with stems intact using indigenous yeasts with some pumping over and light pipeage. The wines are aged in neutral demi-muid (600 litre) barrels for ten to eighteen months depending on the cuvée before being bottled without fining or filtration and with minimal sulphur.
Today’s offer, Franck Balthazar’s Croses-Hermitage 2016, is cut from the same cloth as his outstanding wines from Cornas; it’s an impeccable example of purity, character and sense of place, and is a distinct cut above most other wines from the appellation. It was grown in a vineyard planted 37 years ago. Farming is organic verging on biodynamic and all work is by hand. In the cellar the wine was macerated for 15 days and kept in barrels for 10 months. Purple in the glass with vibrant cherry and black currents on the nose, this follows through onto the palate along with spice and smoke overtones. This is a rich, elegant and balanced wine with fine tannins and a beautiful, long finish. It is excellent now but will be better yet in a year or two, and it’ll be at its best after another five to eight years. Decant an hour before serving at 16˚ in Burgundy stems and enjoy with this mouth-wateringly delicious baked venison. Happy New Year!