Domaine Christophe Billon, Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”
Domaine Christophe Billon, Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”

Domaine Christophe Billon, Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”

Northern Rhône, France 2019 (750mL)
Regular price$60.00
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Domaine Christophe Billon, Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”

There’s no question that Côte-Rôtie belongs in the “fine and rare” category. The appellation area is tiny, the number of producers is relatively small, and the sheer heroism it takes to wring a little wine from the region’s incredibly steep, rocky slopes means the resulting product is likely to be expensive.

But here’s the thing: As with Italian Barolo, a savvy lover of Côte-Rôtie wines can still strike gold for well under $100 a bottle. I’m talking age-worthy, profoundly textured, strikingly mineral gold. Up-and-coming Côte-Rôtie Christophe Billon grabbed his proverbial pick-axe and unearthed an absolute gem with this fruit- and soil-saturated Syrah stunner from his choice holdings in the star-studded town of Ampuis. If that village sounds familiar, as it likely does, it’s because it’s the home of the estimable E. Guigal, where Billon long worked before hanging out his own shingle in 2007. Just as I continue to be amazed at what $60 or so will buy you over in Barolo, this Côte-Rôtie is a similarly jaw-dropping value. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I want to drink the great wines of the world. But there’s still only so much I’m willing to pay. Here’s a “platonic ideal” bottle for you (and me). Don’t miss it.

I suppose I could have just written “boutique-production Côte-Rôtie for $60.” What else needs to be said, really? Well, I should also tell you that the wine is a delicious, perfectly calibrated fusion of smoky, peppery meatiness, juicy black cherry and mulberry notes, and complex floral aromas. A blend of 97% Syrah with 3% Viognier, Billon’s “Les Elotins” cuvée comes from four of his estate’s five vineyard parcels in and around Ampuis. These sites showcase the two main soil types that characterize the “roasted slope,” with some rooted in a dark brown (brune) mix of mica schist, and others in the yellowish (blonde) mix of decomposed granite and quartz. Grapes from the brune soils provide body and structure, while those from the blonde are responsible for the wine’s floral notes and fine-grained tannins. 

Started atop a hill in Ampuis in 1991, Domaine Christophe Billon is a relatively young house, but one with deep roots and a promising future. Billon was a winemaker at the legendary Guigal for years before devoting all his attention to his own domaine. Despite this pedigree, Billon is only starting to gain recognition stateside, now that the wines are being consistently imported. Up to this point, only the most hardcore Rhône wine drinkers are likely to have heard of him.

Today, Billon’s son works with him, continuing a tradition that goes back several generations. The estate is known for its very old vines (average age: 40 years), including some plantings that date back to 1942, and that maturity is reflected in the depth and complexity of the Les Elotins bottling. The wine is fermented on ambient yeasts and spends 22 months in older French oak barrels before bottling.

Côte-Rôtie has had a string of great vintages, and 2019 is no exception. This bottle represents the balance of freshness and ripeness that marked that year, thanks to dry conditions and a couple of spring frosts that cut yields. It will reward patience, but neither is it forbidding now—the tannins are firm, for sure, but very fine. In the glass, the wine glows a dark ruby-black with hints of purple at the rim, with tantalizingly complex aromas of blackberries, boysenberries, kirsch liqueur, cocoa powder, black olives, wet violets, roasted meat, and cracked black pepper. It is medium-plus in body and beautifully perfumed, with lots of spice-cake and smoke on the finish, and as it puts on weight over time it promises to be a thick, muscular, powerful Syrah experience. Not heavy: powerful. That’s what distinguished great, age-worthy Côte-Rôtie.

To play to Les Elotins’ strengths, go with a rich, meaty stew—think beef or even venison for the omnivores, or hearty mushrooms and beans for the vegetarians and vegans. Don’t be afraid to include fruity flavors, as this wine also has plenty of fruit, and feel free to chuck in all the umami-rich ingredients you like, from tomatoes to olives to Parmigiano. At the same time, a simple, hearty dish will allow the wine to be the star. Dip down to Southern France for a traditional daube from Provence and join me in celebrating the existence of affordable classics like this. Cheers!

Domaine Christophe Billon, Côte-Rôtie “Les Elotins”




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