Matthieu Barret Petit Ours Brun Côtes du Rhone 2016
Winegrower: Matthieu Barret
Region: Cornas, North Rhone, France
Sulphur: 1 g / hl added when bottled
Available: 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
This stunning Côtes du Rhône "Petit Ours Brun" (little brown bear is Matthieu’s nick name) tastes like a youthful Cornas. The grapes came from a vineyard that Matthieu calls "no man's land" because it lies just between the official boundaries of Cornas and St. Joseph. This wine is 100% Syrah from 45-year-old, low-yielding (18 hectoliters per hectare) vines grown on clay and limestone soils. Oh, and it's certified biodynamic. It was hand harvested, destemmed by hand, fermented and matured in-tank for 9 months then bottled with just a touch of sulphur added, and it was not fined or filtered. It combines the power of the south with the elegance of the north. The taste is cool fruit, earth, blackberries and that indefinable quality that makes Syrah from this part of the Rhone pure magic. It's a young, rich, full-bodied, and bright-talking cousin to Barret's brilliant Domaine du Coulet Cornas, and at $32 eminently affordable. You will be surprised by how fast you empty the first bottle and reach for a second. This is beautiful, sexy Syrah at its best!
Matthieu inherited his domaine in 1998 at the age of 23 from his grandfather. From the beginning he has employed natural, organic practices and by 2002 the domaine received its biodynamic certification. Today, Matthieu makes some of the most distinctive and finest wines in the northern Rhone. If you’re into the points thing, he’s accumulated plenty of high scores from the likes of Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and others. But don’t expect high alcohol, high extraction wines here; granted, Matthieu’s wines have power but they also have grace, freshness and life, which is a combination that’s hard to find. Matthieu makes natural wines that accurately reveal the uniqueness of his different vineyards in an unapologetically fruity style.
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. 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 grams per hectoliter or less, and he fully destems his grapes to ensure they are more drinkable when young. His is a very natural, minimalist approach to winegrowing. But have no illusions, this is not a mixed farm, and there are no goats, sheep or other animals to be found. Matthieu uses gravity to move his grapes and wine in the cellar. During fermentation, which is done with ambient yeasts, 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 through racking.
Today’s Côtes du Rhone Petit Ours 2016 is a seductive ruby plum in the glass. From the outset, there’s a defined blackcurrant, cassis and liquorice intensity to the nose with hints of sweet red apple and earthy beetroot. Still youthful, the palate shows a level of quality that far surpasses most of the Cotes-du-Rhone that is available. There are layers of plum confit, sweet tart black cherry, blueberries and spice nuances. The finish is medium long, vital, saline and tight, and suggests that ageing this wine for another 5 or 6 years might yield something very special indeed. But considering how delicious it is, I certainly wouldn’t find fault if you enjoyed it now. Serve at 16˚ to 17˚ in Burgundy stems to capture the nose, then enjoy with friends while indulging in this delicious rack of lamb.