‘Chante-Alouette.” “Monier de la Sizeranne.” “l’Esquerda.” “Belleruche.” “Occultum Lapidem.” These are just some of the beautiful, thrilling wines from Maison M. Chapoutier, one of the biggest names in the wine world today. There is a story behind each name, explained Nicolas Schoutteten, export director for M. Chapoutier. It was a gloriously sunny day. It was lunchtime. And Mr. Schoutteten just said we/I could taste any wine in the room. I counted 17 bottles. Oh, goody!
But we let him do the choosing, beginning with the Chante-Alouette 2012. There are spittoons, we were reminded. But no way was I spitting out this celebrated Hermitage Blanc from one of the appellation’s greatest producers. Honeyed, nutty, bracing, the wine is not so much powerful as it is rich, the richness woven through an elegant frame. Chante alouette, literally “song of the skylark,” is 100-percent Marsanne, harvested by hand from three different vineyards. The Belleruche Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2013 followed, this one with an apple-y, citrusy freshness and made primarily from Grenache Blanc. Like the Chante-Alouette, the Crozes-Hermitage “La Petite Ruche” Blanc 2013 and the Saint-Joseph “Deschants” Blanc 2013 are mainly Marsanne, all sharing the same floral, honeyed, vibrant character but absolutely distinct from each other.
Our tasting session at the Ayala Museum was a prelude to the wine fair later on in the day, the main activity that was part of the launch of M. Chapoutier in Manila. Not that the Chapoutier name is new to Manila. Local wine enthusiasts know well both the wines and the name behind it.
The “M” in M. Chapoutier runs through Marius, Max, Marc, Michel, Mathilde, Maxime—the names of the family members. Marius is great-grandfather to Michel, whose children are Mathilde and Maxime. Marc is son to Max, who started the winery with Marius back in the 1800s in the Rhone Valley. In the 1990s Michel bought out the winery from his grandfather Marc (who had the majority stake in the winery), as he disagreed with the winemaking practices of his father Max. With Michel as sole owner of the winery, he now had overall control of winemaking from vineyard to bottle. From an annual production of 550,000 bottles, Maison Chapoutier now turns out 7 million bottles from prime vineyards in the Rhone Valley. Aside from expanding his vineyard holdings in the Rhone, Michel has also acquired vineyards in the Languedoc, Alsace, Australia and Portugal.
In the Languedoc, there is “Marius,” the rouge, a blend of Grenache and Syrah; the blanc, Terret-Vermentino. Tournon “Mathilda” Shiraz is made in partnership with the Terlato family in Victoria, Australia. L’Esquerda, Catalan for “the break in the rock,” is a Côtes-du-Rousillon Villages, a Syrah-Grenache-Carignan blend. Wherever the vineyards, the wines reflect their growing environment, the terroir. It is this “sense of place” that is the recurring theme in Chapoutier wines as Michel Chapoutier is known for being a “terroir-ist.”
While this vividness is all the more evident in the Sélection Parcellaires range (small production wines from low-yielding single vineyards), there is no denying that it is there too in the estate wines. Or is it? “Taste what’s in your glass; not what’s in your head,” I remember the drill in wine class. But then again, one can’t overthink the tasting and lose the pleasure of drinking in the process. Just go drink and enjoy, so Nicolas Schoutteten reminded everyone. And so we did. Like children let loose in a playground where, instead of slides and swings, there were selections from the M. Chapoutier holdings in the Rhone Valley, Rousillon and Australia. The tasting cards gave a semblance of order to the tasting, the list of the wines more a guide than the prescribed sequence. But I noticed that the list was book-ended by two Syrahs, the Hermitage “Monier de la Sizeranne” 2011 and the Tournon “Shays Flat Vineyard” Shiraz 2012 Pyrenées from Australia. More likely coincidence than done deliberately, the idea of the same grape producing not the same wine was brought across. And that is what makes wine all the more interesting—when it expresses where it is made. I ended the tasting with another portion of the Chante-Alouette, and walked out into the warmth of a brilliant summer afternoon, with birdsong ringing in my head.
Chapoutier wines are distributed by Premium Wine Exchange: email@example.com; Ground floor, Smith Bell Building, 2294 Chino Roces Extension, Barangay Magallanes, Makati City; (632) 840-5319, (632) 892-9724 (Fax).