In the centuries-old history of Côte-Rôtie - literally "roasted hillside" – Domaine Ogier is one of the newest wine estates. Although the Ogier family has grown grapes in the region for generations, Stephane's father, Michel, began to sell his own wines commercially only about 15 years ago. In that short period, Domaine Ogier has become known among Rhoneophiles, according to the critic Robert M. Parker Jr., as "an unheralded source of profound Côte-Rôtie."
It nonetheless remains a small, family-run operation, with father and son working side-by-side to craft their wines. Stephane, 24, received his education in viticulture and wine making at Beaune in Burgundy and worked in the Rhone and South Africa before returning to the family firm in 1997.
Because of its miniscule production - the family owns just 6.5 hectares of vineyards and only 2.5 hectares (a little over 6 acres) in Côte-Rôtie - Ogier wines, unfortunately, are hard to find.
The noon tasting at Polo Fields Country Club near Ann Arbor was followed by brunch. Riedel of America (www.riedelcrystal.com) helped sponsor the tasting by providing provide more than 1,300 Vinum glasses, allowing all the wines to be poured at once for side-by-side comparison.
Here are my notes on a flight that went from strength to strength, with no real weakness even in such relatively weak vintages as 1992 and 1993. Here are my notes on all the wines tasted:
1998 Côte-Rôtie - Big aromas, bacon and pleasant "barnyard" and open black fruit, stands out from its siblings. Flavors consistent, big and appealing. Invites gulping ... but you really should take the time to savor it.
1998 Côte-Rôtie Belle Hélène - Similar to the regular '98 but more subtle than exuberant. Balanced and elegant, structured Cote-Rotie fruit. Typical of the Belle Hélène bottling, it is very immature and needs significant cellar time.
1997 Côte-Rôtie - Plums with hints of pepper and caramel. Big and peppery flavor, full, tart and tannic. Good potential, needs time.
1996 Côte-Rôtie - Smoke and minerals and distant plummy fruit. Much more generous in flavor than the nose suggests, smoky fruit with a pleasant hint of bacon.
1995 Côte-Rôtie - Perfumed black fruit and fennel, a bit shy. Acidic, tannic, perhaps a bit closed.
1995 Côte-Rôtie Belle Hélène - Perfumed and floral, quite different from the rest. Peppery and plummy, tart and tannic, a very youthful wine that will benefit from time.
1994 Côte-Rôtie - A bit light in color and scent, doesn't give much. More on the palate, smoky dried fruit and snappy acidity in balance.
1993 Côte-Rôtie - Muted scent, delicate dried-cherry fruit. Crisp acidity frames more fresh fruit than the nose suggests.
1992 Côte-Rôtie - Lighter color than most. Plums and pepper aromas. Ripe fruit, lemon-squirt acidity, some tannic astringency.
1991 Côte-Rôtie - Ripe black olives, dried cherries and smoke, a hint of Rhone "bacon fat." Abundant fruit on a sturdy acidic structure. Tannins resolved, fully mature and ready to drink. Perhaps my favorite of the group.
1990 Côte-Rôtie - Slightly hazy. Anise and black plum aromas; tart dried fruit, a bit austere but complex and interesting. It's one that brings me back to try it again.
1989 Côte-Rôtie - Darker than the norm. Light aromas, fennel and dark fruit. Herbal, tart; pleasant but a bit short in the fruit department.
1988 Côte-Rôtie - Some brick color at the edge. Beautiful scent, cherries and distinct bacon. Full fruit, distinct acid.