Francois Merlin, Cote-Rotie, Condreiu, Saint Joesph
Merlin has been recognized by Rhone authority John Livingstone-Learmonth as one of the "top names" in Condrieu. Outside of the local area, the wines largely remain a secret because they are made in such tiny quantities. Turning out four different wines coming from a total of four hectares across the steep, terraced slopes of the Northern Rhone doesn't result in a lot of wine when average yields per hectare are 35 hectoliters (under 150 cases of Cote Rotie produced). After working as the head of viticulture for René Rostaing for nearly 10 years as well as a brief period of cellar work at the legendary Condrieu house of Georges Vernay, Merlin gained a firm understanding of the vineyard land of this area. If you are familiar with the style René Rostaing, it will come as no surprise when enjoying the wines of François Merlin to see that influence handed down. Descriptors like "modern" or "traditional" simply don't work here. Merlin isn't chasing trends. Words like pure, elegant and terroir-expressive are much more fitting when describing these wines. In an effort to fully reveal the terroir as much as possible, François has modified his cellar regime little by little over the years. By doing small scale experimentation, he has slowly moved away from the use of Burgundy barrels when oak is used at all, in favor of larger 300-liter barrels and eventually moving to demi-muids of up to five years as the preferred vessel for maturation. Many of the vines are massale selection and only ambient yeast is used for fermentation.