Matthieu Barret - Domaine du Coulet Brise Cailloux 2016
Winegrower: Matthieu Barret – Domaine du Coulet
Region: Cornas, North Rhone, France
Shipping: September 2018
“Matthieu Barret represents the future in Cornas. His Domaine is, in my opinion, the single most exciting new domaine in the appellation today.” James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
Last summer was the first time that we offered this stylish, elegant and delicious wine from Matthieu Barret, who is regarded as the brightest, new star performer from Cornas. It was a brave move on our part; we’d been around for less than a year and our subscriber base wasn’t exactly large, but the response we got was really surprising and we’ve decided to go round two and see if people are still interested. So here goes. This beauty comes from the biodynamically farmed, steeply terraced vineyards of Matthieu Barret, the brilliant young winegrower of Domaine du Coulet. Matthieu inherited the domaine in 1998 from his grandfather who created it after the Second World War and sold his grapes to the likes of Chapoutier and Delas. Today, Matthieu makes some of the most distinctive, finest wines of Cornas and has accumulated plenty of high scores from the likes of Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and others. But don’t expect high alcohol, high extraction wines. Matthieu’s wines have power but they are possessed with grace, freshness and are full of life; a combination that’s hard to find and impossible to beat. Despite its youth, this wine explodes with intoxicating fruit right from the get-go when its aromas hit your nose to when it washes over your palate. This is followed by incredible minerality and a silky texture that leads to a very, very long finish. Today we are pleased to offer Matthieu’s Brise Cailloux 2016 for $65, an incredible value when you consider the 2016 vintage is regarded as one of the best in recent memory and lesser vintages start at around $80, if you can find them.
Where 2015 produced Northern Rhône Syrah of remarkable depth and complexity, 2016 has produced what many growers are describing as the vintage of a generation. Increasingly, extreme growing seasons are making themselves felt across Europe, with hail, frost, and drought causing significant reductions in yields across the continent. Indeed, the Rhône did not escaped unscathed in 2017 in that respect, however 2016, with some minor isolated exceptions, has produced excellent yields as well as quality across the whole Rhône valley. In general, North Rhone reds offer incredibly elegant ripe fruit and approachable structure. Rhône expert John Livingstone Learmonth has described 2016 as ranking amongst the top three vintages he has encountered since he began reviewing the region in the early 1970s. Even at this early stage, growers have been comparing it with such legendary vintages as 2010 and 1990.
What marks the 2016s apart are three key elements. First, the density and opulence of the fruit. This richness is matched by the second defining element, supple, melting tannins. In many cases the 2016s have equally high tannins when compared to the 2015s, but their profile is distinctly different. These are small, sweet and silky where the 2015s had an edge of firmness and structure. The third component is their energy and freshness. The long, late growing season with warm autumn days and cool nights aided the development of phenolic ripeness – silky tannins and rich colours – alongside vibrant acidity and low pH. These three elements result in wines that will develop for years to come but they are also strikingly accessible and enjoyable in their youth.
Cornas is about Syrah growing on steep, east facing, terraced vineyards, many with old vines that are blessed with lots of sunshine. Most people didn’t think too much about Cornas 20 years ago because they were mostly uninspiring wines, but my how things have changed. Today, Matthieu Barret and a couple other young winegrowers in the Appellation (our Franck Balthazar from a previous offer is another) have unleashed a renaissance that has finally come to the world’s attention.
Matthieu makes natural wines that accurately reveal the uniqueness of his different vineyards in an unapologetically fruity style. His wines are far different from those of traditionalists such as Franck Balthazar and represent a new paradigm for minerally Northern Rhône Syrah. Matthieu says "For me Cornas is elegant and fine, not rustic. That 'classic' style of Cornas is dead for me; I don't want rough tannins. I want ripe tannins.”
Matthieu’s focus is on his vineyards: “Great wines are made from great grapes. No vinification, however perfect, can improve on what nature provides. The grape contains the magic and it is up to us not to destroy it. Our vinification is ‘flexible’ to let the wine do as it wishes so that it expresses its terroir and vintage. For the Brise Cailloux, I want fresher, crunchier fruit. The key is to pick just before really big maturity. I want a straighter, brighter wine."
Grown and aged naturally, he protects his wines from becoming funky by the addition of a tiny amount of sulphur at bottling, a mere 2 gms/hl., and he fully destems his grapes to ensure they are more drinkable when young. His is a very natural, minimalist approach to wine growing. But have no illusions, this is not a mixed farm, and there are no farm animals to be found.
Today’s Brise Cailloux 2016 comes from grapes located in 2 vineyards, each are composed of old, degraded granite called ‘gore.’ From the bottom slope of one vineyard comes a fruity component loaded with pastis and plum. The second component comes from the mid-slope of the same vineyard and includes older vines with more minerality and acidity for a bright finish. The last comes from vines in his Arletter vineyard that have a northeast exposure and vines planted in 1956. This provides the power – pure unadulterated blackberry with a sleek, supple feel. The grapes are vinified and aged separately then blended.
Matthieu uses gravity to move his grapes and wine in the cellar. During fermentation he does a single daily punch down of the cap. Pressing is done at low pressure to avoid the extraction of hard tannins and clarification is carried out naturally with the interest of preserving the purity of the fruit. The wine was aged for 18 months – 12 months in old 500 litre barrels, which had contained at least eight vintages and 6 months in ovoid concrete tanks to help preserve freshness. The wine is then bottled unfined and unfiltered with a just a touch of sulphur added. Aging potential is 15 years. Annual production is 400 cases.
The Brise Cailloux 2016 is refined and elegant. It has fresh, rich aromas of cassis and dark fruit. On the palate it is superb, juicy and round, with generous flavours of blackberry, blueberry, violet, lavender and minerals followed by a long, savoury finish. You can enjoy this wine now but give it a few years and WOW, you’ll have a wine of stunning depth and complexity. This wine has the stuffing to handle some serious cellaring – easily 10 to 15 years if you have the patience; but I certainly wouldn’t fault you if you enjoyed it sooner. Decant for an hour or so and serve at 15˚ to 17˚ in Burgundy stems (you really want to capture the nose on this one), then enjoy with friends while indulging in this delicious roasted herbed beef tenderloin.