Up Late with Verset’s Ghost

by Dustin Soiseth

It was about 2 a.m. the other night and I was in the kitchen heating up a bottle for my baby girl. There was a half-empty bottle of wine on the counter—the 2012 Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie “La Boisselée”—left over from an earlier tasting and I gave it a swirl while waiting for the water to boil. As I gave this “La Boisselée” the organoleptic once-over my thoughts drifted to the Cornas of Noël Verset, some older bottles of which I have had the good fortune to try. I admit it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, but having never tasted the legendary Côte-Rôties of Marius Gentaz, my fatigued mind couldn’t help but to stray south to Cornas. Even though they are from different vintages and distinct terroirs, these wines are connected in a way that goes beyond simply “Northern Rhône Syrah”.

New Syrah with a nod to the past
© Dustin Soiseth

I was just getting into the wine business when Verset made his last vintage in 2006, and the bottles I’ve tried were simply magical—some of the greatest wines I’ve ever had. They are delicate, ethereal, almost baroque in texture. All the aromas and flavors are there before you, as if held in suspension, and you can ponder them one by one. There’s smoke, charred meat, iron, blood, and mouth-coating but fine-grained tannins. Not quite elegant, not overly rustic, but somewhere in between. Wines that were described as “Burgundian” and actually were.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey jagoff, why are you waxing rhapsodic about unicorn wines that are expensive and impossible to find?” Well, the great thing for me, and for you too if you love this type of wine, is that the young Barruol/Lynch Côte Rôtie I was sniffing in the middle of the night—the one that reminded me of those old Versets—is readily available and costs a lot less than many contemporary Côte Rôties, let alone old Verset. We have a nice selection on our online store or you can give me a call at the shop.

Louis Barruol pulls a barrel sample of Côte Rôtie
© Anthony Lynch

The Barruol in Barruol/Lynch is none other than Louis Barruol, of Château de Saint Cosme in Gigondas. At some point in the not too distant past, Kermit and Louis discovered their mutual love of old-school Northern Rhône Syrah from the old masters like Verset and Marius Gentaz and decided to make some. Simple reverse engineering, right? Louis sources the fruit, working exclusively with Sérine, the ancient clone of Syrah, and ferments it in cement tanks with lots of stems. The élevage is in used oak and the wines do not undergo fining or filtration. Kermit chooses the blends, and Louis offers his expertise as well. There’s smoke, meat, black olives—all that great Northern Rhône Syrah stuff. And the texture is there, too: they have the same savory nuances, the same complexity, and the same fine tannins as those magical old bottles.

The collaboration is now in its eighth vintage and includes multiple Côte Rôtie bottlings, as well as Hermitage blanc and rouge and Crozes-Hermitage. The wines get better and better every year. Working as I do for a company whose portfolio contains, or has contained, so many iconic names, I often wonder who will be next. What wines, readily accessible and reasonably priced now, will be unobtainable in twenty years’ time? I suspect these might. As I had my nose in the glass in the middle of the night, I sensed the continuation of a tradition exemplified by Verset. Bleary-eyed and tired, I felt could see back in time.

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