Archive for the ‘Wine Tastings’ Category

Wine Tasting Offer

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Except in the most roundabout way I never use this blog for advertising the Rhône Wine Tours business. I write about things that interest me and hope you find them interesting too. And if you find them interesting enough to want to come to the Rhône Valley, and maybe even bring a bit of work my way, well that’s great. But this time I’m going to make an exception.

That's me talking about Rhone wines.

That’s me talking about Rhone wines.

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy hosting wine tastings, how they’re an opportunity to show off the best of the region’s wines, from Côte-Rôtie in the north to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the south, in a way that’s impossible in a day’s touring because of the distances between the different regions (Lyon and Avignon being 2½ hours apart along a busy autoroute). It’s a simple set-up: I arrive where you’re staying (villa, gîte, bed and breakfast, you name it) with a range of lovely wines, artisan bread, cheeses and charcuterie, glasses, maps, tasting sheets – in fact everything you need to host a tasting – and spend a couple of hours chatting about the Rhône Valley, its wines and winemakers. All you need to do is provide a table and chairs and then sit back and enjoy. I’ve hosted tastings for two people and I’ve done them for forty. Wine buffs are welcome, but you can be an absolute beginner – all you really need is a love of great wine.

Wine photos 036

Doing the important thing – opening bottles. There’s no need to stand on ceremony – t-shirt and shorts are fine.

So here’s the advertising. What I’m offering is a wine tasting that reads like a roll call of the greatest names in Rhône Wine for 200€. And that’s not per person, that’s for groups of two to twelve people. The tasting covers eight wines and is guaranteed to include Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. There’ll even be fizz to start. And get this, once the bottles are open they’re yours to keep. So any wine not used in the tasting you get to enjoy over the rest of your stay.

Do the maths and you’ll see that at current exchange rates 200€ works out at around $215 or £145. Now look at your local wine merchant’s wine shelves and you’ll see that you would struggle to even buy the wines for that amount. You’re basically getting eight delicious wines and my services are a free added bonus.

Here’s the small print: the offer is open to just the first ten groups to book a wine tasting. The price is the same for two people or twelve because the same number of bottles will be opened either way, it’s just that if there are two of you you’ll have more to enjoy afterwards. And if you’re staying nearer Lyon the price will be 230€ – that’s simply because I’ll use more fuel getting to you and will have to pay 25€ in road tolls on the way. That’s as complicated as it gets.

I think that’s a fantastic offer. I hope you agree. To book a tasting simply email me at and mention you saw the deal.



We Do More Than Tours

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Rhône Wine Tours has had a fantastic year so far, and the bookings just keep rolling in (which is why this is my first blog in a long time). But one nagging question remains: why don’t more people want wine tastings?

Preparing for a tasting.

Preparing for a tasting.

I can easily understand that most people contacting us want to visit the vineyards and meet the winemakers that produce the famous wines that they’ve drunk at home. I’d want to do that, too. But while the wine tastings can’t hope to offer the same experience, they have one distinct advantage: when you’re touring you’re restricted to visiting either the northern or the southern vineyards because the distances mean it’s too difficult to do both in one day. But with a wine tasting we can flit about as much as we like, meaning that a white Crozes-Hermitage can be followed by a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a hearty Gigondas can sit happily alongside a tannic Cornas.

Left to Right: The fizz has been opened and there are nine wines left, including whites from Rasteau, St. Peray and Brezeme and reds from Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Cairanne and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Not to mention a bit of sweet Beaumes-de-Venise.

Same venue, different tasting. From right to left: The fizz has been opened and there are nine wines left, with whites from Rasteau, St. Peray and Brezeme and reds from Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Cairanne, Ste. Cecile-les-Vignes and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Not to mention a bit of sweet Beaumes-de-Venise.

In many ways you learn more than you do from touring. That said, the aim isn’t to present a lecture; it’s all about tasting great wines from the Rhône in a relaxed atmosphere and if a bit of info sinks in at the same time, well that’s great. There’s a tasting for everyone, from the enthusiastic wine drinker who knows simply that they like Côtes-du-Rhône all the way through to those of you who know the name of every vineyard in Hermitage.

There is another advantage that tastings have, and one not to be sniffed at – price. The starting price for a tour for two people is 240€, whereas we offer tastings for up to ten people from 120€. That’s as little as 12€ per head for a tasting that could include say Châteauneuf, Gigondas and St. Joseph as well as great Côtes-du-Rhône and CdR Villages. And if you want to taste only the most exclusive wines (although not at 120€, sadly) well we can lay on a tasting of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Châteauneuf  (or just about anything else you fancy) that will please the most demanding of palates. One recent tasting of northern Rhone wines included a comparison of two Condrieu, red and white St. Joseph, red and white Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and St. Péray. Not a bad little line-up.

The theme this time was wines from the Drome. Starting from the left: Clairette-de-Die, Coteaux des Baronnies, Brezeme, Coteaux des Baronnies, two Crozes-Hermitage, Brezeme, two Vinsobres. The interloper, a sweet red Rasteau, was served with Valrhone chocolate, also from the Drome.

The theme this time was wines from the Drome. Starting from the left: Clairette-de-Die, Coteaux des Baronnies, Brezeme, Coteaux des Baronnies, two Crozes-Hermitage, Brezeme, two Vinsobres. The interloper, a sweet red Rasteau (not in shot), was served with Valrhona chocolate, also from the Drome.

We even leave the opened bottles with you. So you’re not just paying for the teeny samples that most tastings supply, you’re getting whole bottles for your money. I did the maths recently on one of the tastings: 130€ had paid for ten different wines, 10 bottles, for an English group and that if those wines, or their nearest available equivalents, had been bought in the UK the cost would have been more than the just-over £100 we were charging. In other words, the group had bought ten lovely wines and my services were essentially a free added bonus.

Ah, you may say, but I don’t have the facilities to run a tasting. That’s why we turn up with everything you need – the wines, obviously; proper tasting glasses; tasting sheets; pens; maps; a decanter and spittoon; even our own corkscrew, just in case (although the thought of a wine drinker not having a corkscrew on hand is, admittedly, a bit remote). And if you want to do a bit of cheese and wine matching, we’ll bring along artisan bread and fromage. And plates, knives and napkins.

Sadly, I have to spit.

Sadly, I have to spit.

The only thing we don’t supply is the space. It doesn’t take a lot – this year we’ve sat around tables under trees, by the sides of pools, in dining rooms, in living rooms – but it probably does require a holiday home or some form of rented accommodation rather than a hotel room.

I would invite you round to my place but that would mean you drinking and driving, which is never a good idea. So hopefully see you soon at yours.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. Maybe if we’d called ourselves Rhône Wine Tastings the take-up might be better. You can read all about our tours and TASTINGS! on our website – – and you can follow us on Facebook, where there are lots of photographs and shorter pieces. Just click on the links.



There’s Wine In Them Thar Hills

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I recently (foolishly?) found myself hosting a bilingual wine tasting for 30+ people in my home town of Nyons. It was July 14, Bastille Day, and the day the Tour de France came through town on the way to that day’s finish line on top of Mont Ventoux. As this year also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Tour, it was all quite a big event (I’m talking about the Tour here, but I believe the tasting almost overshadowed it).

The second biggest event in Nyons on 14 July

The theme for the tasting was the route of that day’s stage of the Tour, which started in the town of Givors before crossing the Rhône and heading south past the town of Crest and on to Ventoux. The idea was that, as far as possible, the wines would come from the towns and villages along the route. Well that caused a bit of a problem from the start: as far as I knew there was no wine made in Givors itself, but happily Condrieu is just a few miles down the road and that gave us an excuse to start with Philippe Verzier’s lovely Viognier 2012.

Philippe Verzier in his cellar. It was his 2012 Viognier that I used for the Big Event.

But if only I’d looked a little harder I would have found a Givors wine right under my nose: Xavier Gérard, Rhône Wine Tours other Condrieu producer, makes wine from the last parcel of vines growing in the town. Or, to be more precise, on the hillside overlooking the town – Montée des Autrichiens. There on the steep, south-facing slope he grows 0.3ha (about three quarters of an acre) of gamay which was passed to him by his grandfather.

In the vineyards with Xavier

As the vineyard isn’t within any existing appellation it is sold as a simple Vin de France, but it could certainly teach many Beaujolais producers, responsible for most of France’s gamay, a lesson or two. Vinified in the northern Rhône style – traditional fermentation and barrel ageing – it is a deeper, more structured wine than almost all Beaujolais (grown on just the other side of Lyon) but it keeps plenty of juicy fruit. The current 2010 vintage is on fine form. It costs 7,80€, but that’s of dubious interest unless you happen to visit Xavier’s estate as all sales are at the cellar door (which, of course, you can visit through Rhône Wine Tours!).

The wine itself – from the last remaining vines in Givors.

You might ask why I hadn’t realised this before. Well, I can only explain that the first time I tasted the wine was a week after the Nyons tasting – production is tiny and Xavier has never been able to show me the wine before. I knew of the theoretical existence of his gamay, but didn’t actually know that the vines were in Givors.

As it happens, it wouldn’t have been the right wine with which to start a tasting – on a hot evening a cool white was much appreciated – but it does show that in France there are little, forgotten islands of winemaking (and often skilled winemaking at that) which keep alive an old heritage that has almost disappeared. If you’re travelling to France and you’re interested in wine, I urge you to seek them out. A bit of internet searching and a willingness to get off the beaten track are often all that’s required.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours where we shamelessly plug our favourite winemakers (but they’re worth it). We also use it as a front for our nefarious money-making (if only) activities, namely wine tours and wine tastings. If you’d like to read more about those, then the Rhône Wine Tours website is the place to go. We’re also on Facebook – like us, pleeeeeeease – and now on Tripadvisor. You won’t get to read any of my writing there, but you will read how fabulous we are.


Ten Green Bottles – Part 2

Monday, November 26th, 2012

So you’re planning to hold a wine tasting. You’ve invited your guests? Check. You’ve bought some stinky cheeses and salty charcuterie? Check. What else? Oh yes, the wine.

In Part 1 of the blog (click on the link if you missed it) I said that you should have a theme to your tasting. That way, the tasting has some structure and you will hopefully learn a bit more. I host tastings for people who have come to the Rhône Valley and who want to taste the local wines, so the basic theme suggests itself. But within that there’s plenty of scope for me to play around: maybe we’ll only look at the wines from the northern Rhône; perhaps we’ll only taste reds; we could concentrate on one particular vintage, even the wines from a single village, and so on.

Wines from Domaine Lombard, Domaine Gérard and Jean-Claude Raspail (see below)

I normally use ten wines for a tasting. Much fewer and the lack of depth means it becomes hard to draw any conclusions other than “I like that”, much more and it gets hard to draw conclusions about anything, even the way home. To give you an idea, here’s the line up from a recent tasting with an explanation of the logic behind my choices:

1 Jean-Claude Raspail Clairette de Die Grande Tradition – it’s always good to start with fizz to get people in the mood. Normally I would make it a dry wine, but the tasting happened to be in the village of Saillans in the Drôme valley where they make a speciality of light, sweet, sparkling muscat-based wines. So it seemed natural to start with one of the best. (Just to avoid confusion, I should mention that although the wine is called Clairette, also the name of a locally grown grape, growers typically only use around 20% of clairette in the blend. There, that’s clear isn’t it?)

Then the following three whites were chosen to show the different flavours of some of the region’s main white grapes:

2 Domaine du Moulin Côtes du Rhône blanc 2011 –  a wine made largely (unlike the fizz) from the clairette grape, which forms a major part of many traditional southern Rhône whites. This is fresh and crisp, perfect as an introduction.

Father and son Vinson - makers of the Domaine du Moulin wines

3 Xavier Gérard Viognier 2011 – this comes from a Condrieu producer who also has a vineyard just outside the boundary of the Condrieu appellation, the home of the viognier grape. A wine carrying the Condrieu name would sadly have blown the budget, but this is the next best thing. This is bigger, richer (and more aromatic) than the Moulin, so comes after it.

Xavier Gérard outside his Condrieu estate,with the vineyards of Côte-Rôtie in the background

4 Domaine Lombard Brézème blanc 2011 – a blend of marsanne, roussanne and a little viognier, all aged in oak. There are plenty of marsanne and roussanne wines made in the Rhône, either as varietal wines or blended together – white Crozes-Hermitage, white St Joseph etc – so there are lots I could have chosen, but this is from an estate just down the road from Saillans. And it’s very good. As the most powerful white it came last. Put the Moulin after it, for example, and although that is a tasty, well-made wine, it would have seemed thin and sharp in comparison. Remember the aim isn’t to prove that one wine is “better” than another – you want to enjoy them all, if possible – rather you’re aiming for a natural progression.

Julien and Emmannuelle Montagnon, the new owners of Domaine Lombard

Most of the reds at this particular tasting were from the southern Rhône and are (it follows) grenache-dominated blends. The one exception was the Crozes-Hermitage, which is from the northern Rhône and (it equally follows) therefore pure syrah. That allowed us to make some general distinctions between northern and southern reds. And by again following a broad progression of lighter to heavier, each one was able to show its own merits:

5 Domaine Beau Mistral Côtes du Rhône rouge 2010 – a really good example of a generic Côtes du Rhône. Lovely in its own right, but it also serves as a good reference point for the more “serious” southern reds that follow. The tasters kept back a little in a separate glass so that they could make side-by-side comparisons.

6 Domaine Betton “Espiègle” Crozes-Hermitage 2010 – the northern interloper. A juicy, fruity example of pure syrah. Espiègle roughly translates as “cheeky”, and that’s what this is. More importantly for my purposes, it tastes totally of northern Rhône syrah and completely different to the other reds here.

Domaine Betton Cuvée Espiègle

7 Domaine La Fourmone “Maître de Chais” Vacqueyras 2007 – a bit weightier than the Crozes, but around the same price and so in theory of a similar standard. Does that theory stand up to tasting? Yes, as it happens. But the extra age of this compared to the previous two allows us to to talk about maturity.

8 Domaine du Terme Gigondas 2009 – a big bruiser from a vintage that itself is hardly on the shy and retiring side. Vacqueyras, the number 7 in our line-up, and Gigondas are two villages only a few kilometres from each other, but their contrasting soils (stony clay/limestone against heavy clay) mean that the wines are quite different. So we can talk about “terroir”.

Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riche, Domaine du Terme

9 Domaine La Boutinière Châteauneuf du Pape 2009 – same vintage and a similar blend to the Gigondas (both are about 80% grenache), but this is clearly different despite the two estates being only twenty minutes drive apart. Thank the terroir again. This is a wine I’ve tasted many times, so I know it will be a fitting finale to the reds.

10 Domaine Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2011 – we’ve come full circle by finishing with a sweet, white muscat. Except this is rich and unctuous and about twice the alcoholic strength of the Clairette de Die. People often say they don’t like sweet wines, but it’s funny how they all seem to like this.

Beaumalric Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (in fact we tasted the 2011)

This is just an example. Here are a few more:

You could try comparing, say, cabernet sauvignon-based wines from around the world – maybe some Napa Valley or Sonoma cab with a Bordeaux red or two from the Médoc (or better still, from a village like Pauillac or St Julien), plus similar wines from Australia, South Africa and Chile. It’s a formula that’s repeatable with lots of grape varieties – for example, pinot noir from Burgundy, Santa Barbara, Otago, Mornington Peninsula etc etc; riesling from the Rhine and Mosel in Germany, Clare and Eden in Australia, Alsace, Austria and Central Europe; chardonnay from just about the whole winemaking world, and so on.

You can take a region like the Loire Valley, which covers many winemaking appellations, to see if, despite their differences, you can spot a common thread. So perhaps you could taste Muscadet, Vouvray and Pouilly-Fumé for the dry whites; Chinon or Saumur-Champigny for cabernet-franc based reds; pinot noir from Sancerre or Menetou-Salon; gamay or malbec (locally called cot) from Touraine, with a local fizz to start and a sweet Anjou chenin blanc to finish.

Where two regions or countries produces similar styles or grow the same grapes, you could compare and contrast. France and Australia or France and New Zealand both work well (or why not NZ v Oz?).

If you’ve got the money and patience to track down the bottles, maybe a “vertical”  tasting of different vintages from the same estate. (This assumes, of course, that the wines were meant to be aged in the first place. Tasting ten vintages of Yellow Tail chardonnay is unlikely to be edifying or indeed pleasant.)

There’s plenty more scope to experiment, but I think you get the picture. After that, all that’s left is to enjoy the tasting. Oh, and clear up afterwards.



Note: This is Rhône Wine Tours blog where we try, unsuccessfully, to send out a regular stream of interesting articles. We’ll leave you to form a judgement about whether it’s the regularity or the interest that well fall down on. If you’d like to see more then there are plenty more blogs and a rather tasty website – – where there are a  more suggestions for tastings and tours (but where I do all the hard work).


Ten Green Bottles

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

You know I’m not normally one to blow my own trumpet. But as well as hosting rather excellent wine tours here in the Rhône valley, I like to think I organise pretty good wine tastings. So I thought I’d give you my tips for holding your own tasting at home.

Find a venue

The easy bit. Basically, as long the room can accommodate the number of guests you plan to invite and their chairs, it will do. But having everyone sitting around a table will make your life easier.

Plenty of room for the tasters and presenter

Invite some guests

You’re going to be opening quite a few bottles and if you want to avoid lots of wastage and/or things getting rowdy, you need to share around the alcohol. Six or seven tasters would be my minimum, ten or a dozen is even better. If there’s only two of you opening ten bottles that’s just a nice (albeit probably very drunken) chat.

Get some food

Plenty of bread is a good idea. It doesn't have to be organic like these loaves.

The food doesn’t need (or even want) to be elaborate, but plenty of good bread is helpful to soak up alcohol and some nice cheeses and charcuterie wouldn’t go amiss. You could try matching wines with their local cheeses, for example sancerre with Crottin de Chavignol goats’ cheese. In fact, pairing sauvignon blanc and goats’ cheese is generally a good idea. And I’m quite partial to Chaource cheese with champagne. Reds with a bit of acicity, such as those from the Loire valley or Italy’s valpolicella, are great with salami/saucisson sec. Blue cheeses and sweeter wines (think port and stilton, roquefort and sauternes) make a delicious ending to a tasting.

Some local cheeses would also be nice. Plastic sheep optional.

Other bits and pieces, some more important than others, include:

Tasting sheets – just a list of the wines with space for taking notes – are helpful, plus pens to go with them;

A map can be useful if you’re tasting wines from a particular region or country;

Water to drink and rinse glasses;

Something to use as a spitoon for those who don’t want to drink or for pouring away unwanted wine. (Elsewhere you may be expected to spit out wine; at home you can do whatever you want. I’m a realist and past experience suggests that most people drink their wine, but you never know. It’s best to be on the safe side.);


Glasses – there’s no need for everyone to have a new glass for each wine but a couple per person is handy, especially if you want to compare two wines side by side. Don’t go for huge buckets. You won’t be pouring large glasses, just enough to give everyone a tasting sample. You should easily get a dozen samples from a bottle and sixteen samples isn’t being stingy. If there’s wine left in the bottle it can always be drunk after the tasting. I use standard ISO tasting glasses as they’re cheap to replace if they break, the right size for the samples and the right tulip shape (tapering inwards towards the top);

This is an ISO glass. In the immediate background is the village of Rasteau, behind that are the hills of the Dentelles.

A “presenter” – with my Rhône valley tastings that’s obviously me. I know the wines, I know the winemakers, I can explain why the wines taste the way they do and put that into context. Along with the wines, it’s what people are paying me for. Now I’m not saying that one of your group should stand up and make a two hour presentation, but if you know a bit about the background to a wine it will help you understand it, maybe even enjoy it more. Perhaps each guest could bring a bottle appropriate to the chosen theme and read up a bit on that one wine. There’s loads of information on the internet. And if you can get a conversation going amongst the group, even better.

You don't have to stand up to present the wines, in fact you don't need a presenter. But a bit of knowledge will help you understand the wines.

It’s not always easy to pitch the tasting at the right level. In any group some people will be a bit more “wine nerdy” than others. If you don’t discuss the wine at all then I think you’re stretching the definition of a tasting, but discussing the finer points of full against partial malo will bore rigid non-winey people. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can guess which side of the fence you’ll fall. Be sensible and try to be inclusive.

Anything else?

Wine and driving don’t mix. Wherever you hold the tasting some people are bound to have to travel. That’s what public transport and taxis are there for.

Make sure the whites are chilled, but not overly so. Ice-cold wines don’t smell or taste of much; you’ll get more out of them if they are cool rather than semi-frozen.

The reds should be served nearer cool room temperature, and certainly not put in front of a radiator to stew. Hot wines reek of alcohol and not much else.

If possible, have a back up for each wine. You never know, you may have a dodgy bottle. And on that subject, a corked wine is not one with bits of cork floating in it (not pleasant, but harmless), it’s one that tends to smell like damp cardboard or moldy old carpets. The other relatively common issue, especially with certain red grapes like syrah and mourvedre (so local to me then) is “reduction”, most easily spotted by a more or less farmyardy/shitty/sulphury smell. Putting the wine into a decanter and letting it breathe will often cure the problem. And if that’s not enough, try dropping a copper coin into the decanter (or your glass for that matter). It can be amazing what a difference it makes.

Young reds may need a bit of air to help soften them and allow their aromas and flavours to develop. This is especially true if the wine has been made with a view to long term keeping. So it’s going to more of an issue with, say, Barolo or posh Bordeaux than a bottle of Jacob’s Creek shiraz. Open up the wines in advance of the tasting and you can make a judgement (and spot any faulty bottles at the same time). If you think the wine seems a bit gruff or uncommunicative leave the cork out or pour it into a decanter. If it seems just right, put the cork back in until it’s ready to be poured.

Which leads us on to…

Choose your wines

Lining up bottles for a tasting

It pays to have a theme to give the tasting some structure. You could just taste a random selection of bottles but you won’t learn as much that way. But taste a selection of, say, sangiovese-based wines from Tuscany and you can compare Brunello with Chianti with Vino Nobile. At worst, you’ll realise that you don’t really like the sangiovese grape, but you might instead start to learn what distinguishes these wines made with the same grape in the same region of Italy.

Most of the line-up , in their right order

In Part 2 I’ll be suggesting some themes for your tastings and giving some advice about their structure. But in the meantime, happy drinking.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours where we talk about French wine and food. But as you might have gathered, we also organise wine tastings and indeed wine tours. If you’d like to know more about either, click on the link to go to the website –

I’d like to thank James and Lorna at Rustic Trails for allowing these photos to be taken. They organise walking tours in and around the beautiful Drôme valley from their base in the lovely village of Saillans. If you would like more information, go to the website –