Négociants are wine merchants in France who buy wine in bulk from small producers and then age, blend and bottle the wine under their own names. They may also buy grapes or juice and make the wine from scratch before bottling under their names. Most négociants we are aware of are big traders from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Tardieu-Laurent, run by father-and-son team Michel and Bastien Tardieu, is an négociant with a difference. First of all, they are based in the Rhône Valley. Second, although they make wine in the entire Rhône Valley, from Côte-Rôtie in the north to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south, over 200km apart, they work only with small growers and vines that are over 50 years old.
Bastien Tardieu, a trained winemaker, was recently in town to present his wine over a lovely Italian lunch at Porterhouse. He explained that his father, a civil servant with a passion for wine, is a self-taught winemaker who entered the wine trade in 1996, while he himself only joined the business some 20 years later. Back then, it was already impossible to buy land in the Rhône Valley, so they usually only buy grapes and finished wine. Since they don’t have their own winemaking facility, they supervise the fermentation process at other producers’ cellars if they buy in grapes.
Their objective is to make wine that is expressive of the terroir, so they source only from the best vineyards in the region and buy the best few barrels of wine from each grower. Apart from Condrieu, which they make around 100,000 bottles of per year, all the other 20+ wines they market only have an annual production of around 5,000 bottles each.
Tardieu confessed that a successful négociant can be attributed to 20% winemaking and 80% diplomacy. Tardieu-Laurent maintains strong, long-term relationship with growers and winemakers to ensure they get the best-quality products every year. Thus they still buy in difficult vintages to help out these winemakers and agree to pay higher prices when the demand is high.
We tasted the Tardieu-Laurent Hermitage Blanc 2014, made with 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. Despite the fact that it is already five years old, the wine is still fresh, with a perfume-like bouquet and a savoury, smoky finish. Tardieu remarked that while Hermitage is not a white wine that refreshes the palate, it should be appreciated like a red wine for its texture and structure. The older the wine gets, the younger it tastes because of the slow evolution of the wine in the bottle. We need to wait a few years before the minerality kicks, bringing out its vibrancy.
Hermitage is the smallest appellation in the Rhône Valley (130ha of vineyards) and over 90% of the production is red wine. This means that fewer than 5,000 cases of white Hermitage are produced every year!
The Tardieu-Laurent Côte-Rôtie (Vieilles Vignes) 2009 is equally impressive. Made with 100% Syrah from old vines and 100% whole-bunch fermentation, the wine has attractive black fruits and earthy and spices notes supported by firm tannin. It was perfect with both the beef cheek risotto and lamb rack we tried. A mere 3,000 bottles of it were made.
Southern Rhône’s climate may be more suitable for red wine, but Tardieu showed us a beautiful white wine, Tardieu-Laurent Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (Vieilles Vignes) 2016. It’s a blend of four native grape varieties from old vines – Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc – with expressive stone fruit aromas and a round but not heavy mouthfeel. It was served as an aperitif at the tasting, but it would make for a great food companion and would certainly appeal to those who don’t like the crisp acidity of some white wines.
Tardieu-Laurent wines are available in Hong Kong at Corney & Barrow.
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