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New Wines from Francois Villard in the Northern Rhone

New Wines from Francois Villard in the Northern Rhone

New Wines from Francois Villard
"I have a hard time thinking of a northern Rhône producer whose wine has evolved as dramatically and positively over the last two decades than those of François Villard. Upon launching his domaine in 1989, Villard quickly built a reputation for producing assertively perfumed and flavored, opulent, even flamboyant wines, often with plenty of new oak influence, as was the fashion in the region at the time. But over the years his style evolved, especially during the last decade. Today his wines, which are often made with a significant amount of whole clusters and almost always a minimal use of new oak, are distinctly in the elegant camp of northern Rhône wines. That’s not to say that his wines are restrained, a point that he readily acknowledges.  “You can get intensity of flavor without weight, too much ripeness and too much oak,” he told me. “It isn’tas easy and it takes a lot of work in farming, selection and attention in the cellar but it’s worth it. Plus, the wines age better when they are balanced and not monsters.” —Josh Raynolds, Vinous, July 2019.

Just when you thought you had all the Northern Rhone money can buy, new ones keep popping up in this tiny area. Today we have a lineup from a "new" yet brilliant and poised winemaker by the name of Francois Villard.  Today, he’s working with 64 hectares total, of which he owns 40 hectares; making wine from Côte-Rôtie down to Saint Peray, and a little of everything between––four Condrieu, five Saint-Joseph (red and white), three Crozes-Hermitage, a Cornas, and four Vin de France (Marsanne-Roussanne, Viognier, and two Syrah).

Villard farms sustainably and hopes to be certified organic by 2023. He works his soils and uses organic fertilizers and organic treatments for disease as needed. In terms of style, Villard tends to harvest later than his neighbors, optimizing ripeness. He uses whole clusters during vinification as the stems give freshness to the wine. For his Condrieu, he likes to work with botrytis if possible, but he will only wait if the potential alcohol does not get too high, balance being the key. Villard never chaptalizes and will make several passes in the vineyards to wait for the fruit to ripen. He’s using barrels and foudres for aging, some new depending on the cuvée. The whites are bounding with succulent fruit, a rich texture, and have a deft balance. The reds strike a nice harmony between red fruit notes and spicy earth, classic Northern Rhône. 

The list below is the full lineup for the US market. Some I have personally tried and others I rely on notes from my importer friend Michele and others. 
  • 10% off 6, 15% off 12
  • Wines to Arrive in 2 Weeks

2017 Francois Villard Marsanne/Roussanne “Contours de Mairlant” VdF 
Special Newsletter Price: $18.99
85% Marsanne and 15% Roussanne in granite soils from two villages within the Condrieu appellation, Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf and Chavanay. Fermented and aged in 3-5 year-old barrels for 11 months on lees, without racking. Absolutely phenom for the price with special quality of Marsanne and Rousanne really showing well in all it's glory.

2016 Francois Villard Saint Peray “Version”
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne in decomposed granite and clay soil with south east exposure. Average 20 year-old vines. Fermented and aged for 11 months in 3-5 year-old barrels, without racking.

92 Points WS:  "Ripe, offering yellow apple, mirabelle plum, pear and persimmon notes that have a lush edge, staying focused, with honeysuckle and brioche accents on the lengthy finish. Drink now through 2020."

2017 Francois Villard Viognier “Contours de Deponcins” VdF
Special Newsletter Price: $27.99
A young-vine Viognier from two villages known for Condrieu, Saint-Michel-sur-Rhone and Verin. The soil is sandy granite and mica. Fermented and aged in used barrels for 11 months without racking. Shall we dare call this a "baby Condrieu?"

2017 Francois Villard Condrieu “Terrasses du Palat”
Special Newsletter Price: $59.99
93 Points WS: "100% Viognier from Chavanay and Vérin, with decomposed granite and quartz terroir. 25 year-old vines. Low temperature fermentation in barrels with native yeasts. Aged 11 months in 25% new and 75% used oak barrels. “Showy and engaging, with mouthfilling yellow apple, green melon, star fruit and peach flavors bouncing through, while light heather
and almond notes gently line the finish.”

2017 Francois Villard Syrah “L’Appel des Sereines” VdF
Special Newsletter Price: $17.99
A young vine Syrah from several villages Chavanay, Ardoix, Saint-Michel-sur-Rhône, and Verin, all with a decomposed granite soil. Twelve day maceration with 25% whole clusters in open-top wood “tronconique” vats followed by 11 months of aging, half stays in the vat and half is aged in neutral barrels. A peppery and juicy Syrah. One of the best values out there for top notch northern Rhone Syrah with class, style and edge. 

2016 Francois Villard Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Certitude”
Special Newsletter Price: $26.99
From three sites on the Plateau de Chassis in the village of Mercurol. In the shadow of Hermitage, the land opens up here and there are many fruit orchards along- side the vineyards. Away from the famous steep slopes, the terroir is a mix of sandy clay and round river stones (galets roules). 100% whole cluster fermentation, followed by 18 months of aging in 5-6 year old barrels. Lush fruit and gentle tannins.

93 Points Josh Raynolds:  "Dark bright-rimmed ruby. Vibrant aromas of fresh, spice-tinged dark berries and candied flowers develop a suggestion of olive as the wine opens up. Clean and nervy in style, offering energetic black raspberry and bitter cherry flavors and a suave touch of Asian spices. Finishes sweet, gently tannic and very long, leaving a note of violet pastille behind."

2016 Francois Villard Saint-Joseph Rouge “Poivre et Sol” 2016
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
92 Points WS: "Juicy and forward, with a tasty mix of raspberry and blackberry fruit that bounces along, carried by light bramble, blood orange and singed apple wood accents. Shows a grippy edge on the finish. Best from 2020 through 2028. 4,616 cases made."

2016 Francois Villard Côte-Rôtie “Le Gallet Blanc”
Special Newsletter Price: $74.99
100% Syrah from Ampuis and Saint-Cyr, with an “emphasis on the schist areas from the Brune up towards Verenay” (Livingstone-Learmonth, Wines of the N. Rhone.) 88% whole cluster, macerated for 12 days in stainless steel and wood vats. Aged 18 months in 20% new, 80% 2 to 4-year-old oak barrels.

95 Points JS: Black raspberries and savory, stone and mineral notes. Hints of white pepper and dried, roasting herbs. There’s a meaty edge, too. The palate is so focused and precise with really powerful, clear-cut tannins drawing out the plum flavors. Will age well. Try in 2020.

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