Archive for the ‘Wine Fairs’ Category

Tain-ted Love

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Tain l’Hermitage is a small town next to the Rhône river. Even its biggest fans couldn’t say that it’s the most attractive place, and it wouldn’t attract much attention were it not for one thing – the steep vine-covered hill that looks down on it. Because that hill is the home of the world-famous wines of Hermitage; it’s the reason two of the biggest estates in the Rhône Valley, Chapoutier and Paul Jaboulet, make Tain their home. And every year it hosts a four day wine fair for the local producers of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and their neighbouring wine regions.

Tain l'Hermitage in autumn

Tain l’Hermitage in autumn

Last year I went to the fair and somehow managed to taste far more of the neighbours’ wines. This year I was planning to concentrate on Crozes-Hermitage…

As a quick aside, just a brief explanation of the difference between Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage. Both wine regions use the same grape varieties – syrah for the reds, marsanne and (to a lesser extent) roussanne for the whites – but the grapes used to make Hermitage have to come from the 136ha (about 340 acres) of vines planted on the south-facing slope of the hill itself, much of the vineyard soil being made up of decomposed granite. The Crozes-Hermitage wine region surrounds Hermitage and is more than ten times its size. Most of the vines are planted on the flat land south and east of Tain where there’s a right old mix of clay, limestone, sand and stones. The result is two different styles of wines – Hermitage, both white and red, should be powerful, concentrated and capable of ageing for years, potentially even decades; Crozes is more often soft, gentle, fruity, ready for drinking within a year a two. That isn’t a criticism, they’re just two different wines. Crozes can be delicious, but there’s a reason why Hermitage is three and more times the price and any wine merchant who tries to sell Crozes as a bargain Hermitage is pushing his luck (at best).

Anyway, on with the show. Most producers have now released their 2013 reds and it was those I wanted to focus on, but if the youngest red available was 2012 well so be it. And if anything else cropped up I’d see where it led. The estates are listed in the order they were tasted.

Johann Michel

Chatting with Johann Michel (right)

Chatting with Johann Michel (right). What I wouldn’t give to be able to photoshop in more hair and fewer chins (on me, that is)

Johann doesn’t make Crozes-Hermitage, so that was my Crozes-only resolution broken straight away. But in my defense, his Cornas is excellent. The Classique 2013 is floral and cherry-scented. It’s still young but has bags of potential. Cuvée Jana 2013 is a great wine – it’s more intense, more exotic than the Classique, with spice and orange peel.

Domaine des Bruyères

David Reynaud

David Reynaud

David Reynaud makes some great Crozes, but I wasn’t blown away by his Beaumont 2013 – it came across as a bit grainy and charmless with not enough fruit to support the tannins. The Georges Reynaud 2012, on the other hand, is delicious – juicy, mid-weight, mixing cherry liqueur and bramble fruit with something more savoury.

François Merlin

Francois Merlin

Francois Merlin

François doesn’t make Crozes either. Ah well. His Côte-Rôtie 2013 is young and the tannins need time to soften. But there’s promise there – nice syrah fruit with subtle oak support.

Vallée Haute Vallée Basse


Emilie Guironnet

A new venture between four young wine people – Guillaume Sorrel (son of Hermitage producer Marc Sorrel) and Alexandre Caso, who together also run Domaine Les Alexandrins (see below), and Stephane Massonnet and Emilie Guironnet. They don’t own the vineyard land but they do harvest the grapes and make the wine (all 7,000 bottles of it). Emilie told me that the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2013 is unoaked in order to emphasise the syrah fruit. It’s attractive and easy-going but a little reductive at the moment. In other words it smells a bit farmyardy, but that should pass with time and a bit of breathing and underneath it all there’s lots of nice supple brambly fruit. 2012 was their first vintage and that year’s wine leans more towards cranberry and cassis.

Domaine Saint Clair

Denis Basset’s Crozes-Hermitage Etincelle 2012 was still too young. On the nose, the fruit (bramble) was nice and bright but on the palate the tannins still dominated . Leave it for six months or a year to let it soften and round out.

Domaine Lombard

Crozes-Hermitage and Brezeme

Crozes-Hermitage and Brézème

Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon own this excellent estate in the Brézème appellation, but also turn their hand to Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage. Their Crozes-Hermitage 2012 is bright and fruit-forward (no oak). The house style puts purity over weight, so the fruit is clean and precise.

I thought it would be interesting to see how their Brézèmes compare with the Croze. Grande Chêne 2013 is more structured than the Crozes, built around its acidity, which helps lift its raspberry fruit. For me, it’s finer, more chiseled than the Crozes (although I’ll happily drink that too). Eugène de Monicault 2013 is a step-up again. It’s more outgoing, more expressive and has greater weight and depth. Finally, La Tour du Diable 2012 is the flagship Brézème. At 45€ it’s more expensive than their Hermitage, which tells you something, but then it’s beautifully made wine – elegant and long, all dark fruits and flowers, concentrated but not heavy.

Domaine de Chasselvin

Etienne Chomorat

Etienne Chomarat

Etienne Chomarat’s estate was new to me and a nice surprise. His unoaked Crozes-Hermitage, Cuvée du Domaine 2013, has lively blackcurrant fruit with a little touch of dark chocolate. It isn’t complex but it’s perky and does well what it sets out to do. Les Lièvres 2011 had two years of ageing before release and spent some time in barrel. It’s fuller than regular bottling, with attractive chocolate liqueur fruit and a good balance between freshness, fruit and structure.

Etienne has just ½ha (just over an acre) of marsanne and roussanne planted for his Croze-Hermitage Blanc 2013 white. It’s a gentle, unoaked style that feels unforced, very natural. Although it’s dry, there’s a subtle honeyed edge and the scents of hedgerow flowers.

Domaine de Rosiers

Maxime Gourdain

Maxime Gourdain

I first came across Maxime Gourdain’s Côte-Rôtie at last year’s Tain wine fair and wanted to try it again. In fact, this year he had two wines on show: Côte-Rôtie Classique 2012 (syrah with 2% viognier) spends 18 months in new oak barrels. Despite that, the dominant flavours are of loganberry and mulberry. Silky, mid-weight and refined. For the other wine, Cœur du Rose 2012, Maxime selected his favourite barrels of the Classique and bottled them separately (yes, you do get variation between barrels of the same wine). It’s a bit richer and spicier than the Classique, but I can’t honestly say that I would pay the 10€ premium to buy it. I’d be extremely happy if you gave me a bottle, though.

Domaine Melody

Marc Romak

Marc Romak

This estate is only five years old but has already made a splash in the area (and won France’s most cherished wine accolade, A “Coup de Cœur” from the Hachette wine guide). It’s not hard to see why – they’re outstanding wines.

The entry-level Crozes, Friandises 2013, is a riot of fruit – raspberry, strawberry and violets. At just 10,50€ at the cellar door it’s a bargain. The next step up, Premier Regard 2013 is just a few euros more. It’s a more serious style from older vines and half of the wine is aged in barrel. The fruit is darker (black cherry and licorice), although still a little closed, but it has the same seamless flow. Top of the range is Etoile Noire 2013. It’s from the oldest vines and is aged purely in barrel. Despite what I said earlier, this really does start to approach the style of an Hermitage. Concentrated, dark and ripe, although still very young.

Alain Verset

Alain and Madame Verset

Alain and Madame Verset

Alain Verset’s Cornas couldn’t be much more different to the wines of Domaine Melody, but in their own unmistakable way they’re also delicious. Alain was showing two vintages – the Cornas 2011 is softening and has the estate’s trademark dusty, spicy nose – think warm earth, rose petals and incense. The Cornas 2009 is still massive and is showing little sign of maturity. It should still be kept for a year, or better still two.

Gilles Robin

Gilles Robin

Gilles Robin

Another Croze producer with a good reputation. Papillon 2013 has an attractive nose with plenty of fruit and flowers, but for me the grippy tannins don’t suit this fruitier style of Crozes. The Albéric Bouvet 2012 is from older vines planted by Gilles’ grandfather in 1960. It’s a fuller wine with cooked red berries and orange peel. It also has firm tannins, but unlike the Papillon, it’s got the concentration to stay the course while they soften.

André François

André François’ Côte-Rôtie

André’s Gerine Côte-Rôtie 2012 is almost as dusty as Alain Verset’s Cornas and so it’s no surprise that I like it. It has briary, chalky fruit and a real sense of “terroir”.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Emmanuelle Verset on the Paul Jaboulet stand

Emmanuelle Verset on the Paul Jaboulet stand

Paul Jaboulet is one of the great names in Rhône wine, world-famous for its La Chapelle Hermitage, but something’s missing. The last time I tasted the white Crozes-Hermitage, Mule Blanche, it was very good, one of the best white Crozes I’ve tasted in a long time. But the reds leave me cold. It’s not that they’re bad by any means, but they’re all a bit safe, afraid to take any risks. This time I only tasted the basic red Crozes, Les Jalets 2012, and admittedly that comes from purchased grapes not their own vineyards. Yes it’s clean and clearly competently made, but surely it’s not unreasonable to ask for more from such a famous estate? At least it gave me a chance to say hello to Emmanuelle Verset, Alain’s daughter, who has just started working full-time for Jaboulet.

Rémy Nodin

Remy Nodin

Rémy Nodin

I’ve just started working with Rémy, so what would you expect me to say? I admit that it was his sparkling St. Péray that first attracted me to his wines (it’s great!) but this time I restricted myself to his Crozes, Le Mazel 2013. There’s silky, bright black cherry fruit and a lick of acidity gives it a long, clean finish. (Wine Spectator thought it more bramble than cherry, but hey they still liked it.) As a footnote, I visited Rémy at his estate  a few days later and the wine was tasting even better, with a strong floral element that hadn’t been as apparent at Tain.

Domaine de Lucie 

Lucie Fourel (right)

Lucie Fourel (right)

For me, these wines typify what’s good about Crozes-Hermitage. Les Pitchounettes 2013 is the starting point in Lucie Fourel’s organic range. Don’t come looking for grandeur, this is about pure enjoyment – it’s juicy, crunchy, bright and breezy, a mix of cranberry, raspberry and floral notes. St. Jaimes 2012 is at the other end of the scale, using old vine fruit and no de-stemming. It’s complex, dark fruited, with the subtle leafy notes that come from using the stems in the fermentation. Don’t expect either to be star-bright as there’s very little in the way of filtration, but the flavour is spot-on.

Domaine Les Alexandrins

Guillaume Sorrel

Guillaume Sorrel

This estate is associated with the Vallée Haute Vallée Basse business (see above) and there’s a certain family resemblance in the wines. Attirance 2013 comes from 30 year-old vines at the southern end of Crozes, around Pont de l’Isère and Beaumont. It spent 10 months in used oak barrels. It’s an attractive, classy Crozes with a velvet texture. Cuvée Séduction 2013 is from 70 year-old vines growing in stony soil. It’s an unusually dark, refined Crozes with flavours of chocolate liqueur, morello cherry and bay leaf.

Vignobles Verzier Chante-Perdrix

Philippe Verzier

Philippe Verzier

Philippe Verzier’s estate is at the northern end of St. Joseph, or the southern end of Condrieu depending on how you look at it. He makes both (and a little Côte-Rôtie too). His white St. Jo, Granit 2013, is drinking well already. It’s soft, gentle, the oak present but certainly not dominant. The apple blossom and honey nose leads onto ripe apple fruit, soft reinette more than crunchy granny smith. The Condrieu Authentic 2013 is a very pretty wine. It’s certainly not as big as some (Cuilleron etc), it hasn’t got the oily texture of others, but if you like your Condrieu a little more restrained then it should be right up your street. The nose is quietly exotic (peaches and violets) while the palate picks up on the stone fruit, its lack of acidity leaving an impression of sweetness (when in reality it’s dry).

Domaine Habrard

Laurent Habrard

Laurent Habrard

I tasted Laurent Habrard’s Crozes-Hermitage 2012 last year at Tain and liked it. After a year’s ageing I like it more. It’s floral, fruity (cherry, violet, raspberry), mid-weight, a very friendly style. Laurent was also showing his Crozes-Hermitage 2009. Unsurprisingly, given the hotter vintage and extra maturity, it’s quite different. The wine is more concentrated, more structured, the fruit flavours darker, without the floral element. At six years old it’s obviously mature, but very far from over the hill. Laurent thought there may be 2,000 bottles available (it had been held in reserve for a customer and then released) – an enterprising importer should snap it up. Finally, a hop over the Rhône – Laurent’s St. Joseph 2013 is also floral and has an edge of dark chocolate, but it’s lighter, juicier, slightly more grainy with crunchier tannins. Very tasty.

Domaine Betton

Christelle Betton

Christelle Betton

I’d already tasted Christelle Betton’s 2013 reds straight from barrel, but this was the first time I’d tasted the bottled versions. Espiègle 2013 is very much in the same style as the ’11 and ’12 with the same aromatic fruit, although a touch lighter than both. It’s a very pretty wine where flowers form a background to the red cherry fruit and can be drunk with great enjoyment right now. Caprice 2013, on the other hand, would be best left for a while. It’s very good but it’s more closed than the Espiègle, with less fruit showing but more peppery spice and chocolate. It’s a little fuller-bodied, too, although by no means a heavyweight. A few months will let it soften, relax and allow the fruit to come to the fore.

Christelle also makes white Crozes-Hermitage. She had bottled samples of her new white just for wine fair – 2014 is its first vintage and at the moment it has no label and no name. It’s pure unoaked marsanne from 30 year-old vines in the southern sector of Crozes. It has a gently creamy texture with soft acidity and orchard fruit. It’s subtle but certainly not bland. A really nice first effort.

The estate’s classic white Crozes, Crystal 2014, comes from a vineyard on the hill of Hermitage itself but the vines sit just outside the Hermitage boundary. As with the un-named new wine, we were tasting sample bottles, but it’s clear that this wine is broader shouldered, richer. Marsanne makes itself felt through the creamy texture and the ripe, apple tart-like fruit.

Importers and Retailers

Northern Rhône wines are becoming more and more evident on wine merchant shelves and many of the producers listed are available in the the UK and USA. It’s worth looking at for a local supplier, but the website isn’t exhaustive and if you can’t immediately find the wine you’re looking for at your local specialist it may be worthwhile contacting the names below:

Johann Michel – Kysela Pere et Fils in the USA (you’ll need to check with them for local retailers), Balanced Wine Selections; Flint Wines in the UK

Domaine Les Bruyères (David Reynaud) – In the UK, The Winery and Swig. You could also contact Liberty Wines – they import the wine rather than retail it, but they should be able to tell you where you can buy it. In the USA, Regal Wine Imports are based in NJ, but distribute to many States.

François Merlin – USA, Integrity Wines are based in NY and supply lots of NY retailers; Moonlight Wine Company are also in NY and supply the East Coast and California, Cave to Cellar in California; In the UK, Yapp Bros. are selling François’ Condrieu, while Vine Trail have that and a vin de pays viognier.

Vallée Haute Vallée Basse – Nothing for the moment, but the Les Alexandrins wines are in a similar style (see below).

Domaine Lombard – USA, you wait for one importer and then nine(!) come along at once. I don’t have the names of all of them but here are the four I do know: Paul M. Young Fine Wines in California, Casa Bruno in Oregon, Cru Sélections in Washington State and Cellar to Table in New York; UK, Yapp Bros.

Domaine de Chasselvin – USA, Fass Selections; UK, The Sampler

Domaine de Rosiers – USA, Global Wine Company

Domaine Melody – UK, Flint Wines (come on USA, wake up)

Alain Verset – UK, Berry Bros. & Rudd, The Wine Society ; USA, see Melody above.

Gilles Robin – UK, Lea & Sandeman, Enotria also import it and should be able to give you the name of a retailer

André François – Nope, sorry.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné – Oh, just about everywhere. If you can’t find Jaboulet wines you’re not looking hard enough.

Rémy Nodin – USA, Jeff Morgenthal at Gran Fondo Wine Co.

Domaine de Lucie – USA, Wine Traditions, VA ; UK, Caviste.

Domaine Les Alexandrins – USA, JAO Wine Imports and Fass Selections; UK – John Gauntley.

Domaine Verzier – USA, Voix de la Terre on the East Coast, Beaune Imports in California; UK, Christopher Piper Wines.

Laurent Habrard – USA, Return to Terroir, Balanced Wine Selections.

Domaine Betton – UK, Theatre of Wine.

Good luck with your search.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. If you want to meet the winemakers first hand you know where to come. In the meantime, there’s loads more stuff on the blog, on the website and on the Facebook page. Feel free to browse, but ask before you use the photos. Oh, and I lied about the hill of Hermitage being the only interesting thing in Tain – it’s also the home of Valrhona chocolate, which is well worth the detour.











Head for the Hills

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Better late than never, I guess. I visited the Vacqueyras/Beaumes de Venise wine fair in mid-December, the day after my trip to Cornas (you can read that blog here), but what with one thing and another – Christmas, New Year, decorating the house, even a bit of work – it kind of got left behind. My brief write-up follows in all its glory, but first a bit of background.

Looking across the vineyards to the Dentelles de Montmirail, near the village of Lafare.

Looking across the vineyards of Beaumes-de-Venise to the Dentelles de Montmirail

The villages of Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise are just a few kilometres apart and, along with next-door-neighbour Gigondas, form a chain of southern Rhône wine regions (appellations) nestled into the sheltering hills of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Because the three villages are so close, and because it’s common for estates here to have their vineyards spread over a number of plots, it’s not unusual to see winemakers making both Vacqueyras and Gigondas or Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise, or … well you get the idea. (Just a short aside here – when I’m touring with clients I’m often asked how an estate with a winery in the village of, say, Rasteau can be allowed to make Rasteau wine and a wine labelled under the name of its neighbour Cairanne. The reason is that the physical location of the winery is irrelevant, it’s where the vines are growing that counts. So Domaine La Fourmone in Vacqueyras, can sell you wines from its home village as well as Gigondas and BdV.)

Looking towards the Dentelles from the Vacqueyras side. Notice the stony soils.

Looking towards the Dentelles from the Vacqueyras side. Notice the stony soils.

Although white and rosé Vacqueyras exist, about 97% of all the wine made under the name is red. Beaumes-de-Venise is a dry red while Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is a sweet white wine (see my review of those here) – any dry whites or rosés from vineyards within the BdV appellation boundary are sold not under the village name but as Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône Villages, the general catch-all appellations for the region as a whole. Don’t ask why unless you want an explanation that may be longer than the whole of this blog.

So what makes a Vacqueyras red different to a BdV red, or a Gigondas red for that matter, given that all three villages adopt the southern Rhône grape trinity of grenache, syrah and mourvedre (aka GSM). Well if you believe the winemakers, and I do, it’s all about the “terroir”, that magic combination of climate, micro-climate and soil.

Being so close to each other, the three can’t but share the same Mediterranean climate. And while the higher parts of the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation, up in the hills, have a slightly cooler micro-climate, the real difference is the soil. Clearly that doesn’t change precisely at the village boundaries – the shift is more gradual – and equally obviously, within a single region there will be differences in soil composition from one sector to another, even from one plot of vines to another (something gardeners will understand well), but in general Gigondas has more clay, Vacqueyras is stonier with more sand in the mix, while Beaumes-de-Venise has three distinct soil types with limestone being important in the higher vineyards and sand playing a major role around the village itself. The end result is that Gigondas makes the fullest-bodied reds, BdV the lightest. (That’s not to say that heavier is intrinsically better than lighter. And anyway, as 14+% alcohol isn’t uncommon in a red BdV, all things are relative.)

So what about the wines? Around 20 or so Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise producers turned up for this mini wine fair, although my tasting was skewed towards those that had also (against the rules) brought along their Gigondas. Here’s what I thought:

Chateau Redortier

Isabelle and Sabine de Menthon and their Chateau Redortier wines.

Isabelle and Sabine de Menthon and their Chateau Redortier wines.

The estate is high up (500m/1600ft) in the Dentelles near the tiny village of Suzette. The Beaumes de Venise “Tradition” 2011 (60% grenache, 40% syrah) comes from vineyards with clay/limestone soils. Typically 2011 – soft, warm, round – it mixes dark fruit, blood and chocolate and is expertly made. Their Gigondas 2011 comes from a parcel of vines close to the border with BdV, a west-facing slope at the far north of the appellation. The style is similar to the BdV but richer, with black pepper spice, cherry, roast beetroot and frangipane. Beaumes de Venise “Monsieur le Comte” 2010 was left until the end, and for good reason. The grapes were harvested very ripe, the wine is robust, almost black and the fruit leans that way too with lots of bramble and blackcurrant. What’s great is that the wine isn’t just big and burly, there’s some style too.

Mas des Restanques

Mas des Restanques

Jean-Luc Faraud, Mas des Restanques

The first thing to say is how nice it is to see a French estate using modern, clean label design. Believe me, as a former wine merchant I know how important visual appeal is. The wine doesn’t quite live up to it, sadly – fine, ok, yes, but not exciting. The Vacqueyras 2012 is a relatively straightforward chocolate/bramble jelly glugger. The Gigondas 2012 has a 3€ premium, but doesn’t justify the step in price. Very similar in style to the Vacqueyras, with a bit of fruit cake thrown into the mix.

Domaine le Sang des Cailloux

Serge Ferigoule (with the moustache, and what a moustache)

Serge Férigoule (with the moustache, and what a moustache)

In Vacqueyras terms, these wines are expensive (15€-21€ a bottle for the two I tasted). But that’s nothing compared to many other great wines, and, believe me, these wines are exceptional. Azalaïs 2012 (grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre) has concentration with freshness – great balance. The palate is macerated cherry. Cuvée de Lopy 2011 is the old vine blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. It’s in a darker, more bloody style. Tannins are present, but ripe and fine. There’s an impression of sweet fruit, dried orange peel and warm clay.

 Domaine les Semelles de Vent (previously Montagne Vieille)

Yu Yen Galon, Domaine les Semelles de Vent

Yu Yen Galon, Domaine les Semelles de Vent

The change in name occurred in time for the 2012 vintage, so you will see both labels on the market. Vacqueyras Vieilles Vignes 2010 had a dusty, chalky nose, like warm earth on a hot day. Gigondas 2011 is soft, almost sweet, and smells of dark fruits and coffee, but I got no sense of real concentration. The Gigondas 2012 was by far the best of the three, with its ripe fruit intensity. Chocolate and rose petals are followed by black cherry.

Clos des Cazaux

Clos des Cazeaux

Clos des Cazaux

The Vacqueyras 2012 was made in a relatively simple but easy to enjoy style. The syrah vines (60% of blend) are 80 years old – so one could argue that there should be greater concentration – but it’s friendly and easy-going. Gigondas “La Tour Sarrasine” 2011 has the same relaxed style but far more depth. Red fruits with pepper and clove spice. Gigondas “Cuvée Prestige” 2012 is, unusually for a wine from that village, dominated by syrah (60%, plus 40% grenache). It doesn’t taste very traditional either. The vines are up in the hills and give the wine a cool, fresh, almost medicinal nose. Distinctive and really quite classy.

Domaine de la Colline St. Jean

Neither the Vacqueyras “Tradition” 2012 nor the Gigondas 2012 did it for me – both reminded me of fermenting apples.

Domaine la Garrigue

David Bernard, Domaine la Garrigue

David Bernard, Domaine la Garrigue

I think you get more for your money here lower down the range. Vacqueyras “Traditionelle” 2012 is soft, ripe, very tasty. Vacqueyras “Cuvée de l’Hostellerie” 2012 is riper still but the chewy tannins make it harder work. Leave it a year to help soften it. The Gigondas 2013 was lighter but had similarly mouth-drying tannins, which stood out even more due to the relative lack of stuffing. There was, however, a nice touch of violet running through the wine.

Domaine Montvac

Domaine Montvac

Domaine Montvac

Vacqueyras Cuvée Arabesque 2012 is ripe but blurred around the edges and lacks definition. I also find the raspberry fruit one-dimensional. Gigondas Cuvée Adage 2011 is starting to brown a bit at the rim, which surprised me given its relative youth. And it doesn’t hide its alcohol that well either.

Domaine l’Arche des Garances

Claude Pleindoux, L'Arche des Garances

Claude Pleindoux, L’Arche des Garances

Rhône Wine Tours faithful Claude Pleindoux was there, too. I know Claude’s wines well enough not to have had to taste them again, but I did sneak a taste of his delicious Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2013 to finish off the day. Fresh, bright and floral on the nose, it’s sweet and rich on the palate (but not so much that it tastes cloying). If anything with so much sugar and 15% alcohol can be said to be refreshing, this is it. His regular, un-oaked Beaumes de Venise 2013 red would put many of the more famous Gigondas and Vacqueyras to shame, and I have to admit that I prefer it to the oaked version.


It has become relatively easy to find Vacqueyras and, especially, Gigondas in specialist wine merchants, even some supermarkets. If you don’t already know the wines but you like Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape then you should certainly give them a try – you should find a wine that’s a big step up from the one but without the price tag of the other. I find Beaumes-de-Venise reds harder to recommend – production is dominated by the local “Balma Venitia” co-operative that makes a range of resolutely dull wines. But there are some good and very good independent producers worth discovering – Claude Pleindoux’s L’Arche des Garances estate is still very young and doesn’t export as of yet, but Chateau Redortier’s wines are available in the UK and USA. I’d also suggest looking out for Domaine de Cassan (UK and, for some reason, Colorado-only according to wine-searcher) and Domaine de Fenouillet (USA only). Happy hunting.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. The clue’s in the name. As well as the blog and the website – – there’s also a Facebook page where we post snaps and shorter comments. Though we say so ourselves, it’s a damn fine source of independent advice about Rhone wine and food. Apart from the bias towards our winemakers, of course.



Cornas Wine Fair

Friday, December 19th, 2014

December sees a little flurry of wine fairs as the producers gear up for the local Christmas and New Year trade, so a trip up to the Marché aux Vins in Cornas, where some half a dozen Rhône Wine Tours’ winemakers have vineyards, was always going to be on the cards.

First stop was Alain Verset. Alain is the most “traditional” of the Cornas winemakers I work with – there’s no de-stemming of the grapes; he uses open fermentation tanks and a basket press; ageing is in used (if not downright old) barrels and the wines are held for a few years before release to let the resulting naturally high tannins soften and mellow.

Alain Verset

Alain Verset

Alain was showing his Cornas 2012 for the first time. Frankly, I was surprised at how approachable it was, how tasty it is right now. Black cherry on the nose, bright and fruity, with flavours of bramble, black olive and grilled meat. Mid-weight and not at all aggressive, although the young tannnins are still a little dry on the finish. You could drink it now, but it would be worth waiting a year or two. His Cornas 2010, on the other hand, still needs plenty of time. Classic, old-school, strapping Cornas.

Next up was Xavier Gérard‘s stand, where Xavier was busy chatting with another RWT grower, Mika Bourg. Xavier doesn’t actually produce Cornas but had travelled down from Condrieu to show off his wines.

Xavier Gerard

Xavier Gérard

Xavier’s Viognier 2012 is perfect right now. This mini-Condrieu plays up viognier’s peach fruit with unusual clarity and poise. His vrai Condrieu 2012 goes less for fruit and more for the “terroir” – the wine is broader, richer, more mineral (almost volcanic).  Xavier said that he would be officially releasing the ’13 version at his local wine fair in the village of Chavanay the following weekend. But as I had a sneak preview a couple of months ago I can tell you that the Condrieu 2013 is a bigger animal again, with maturity pushed to the max. Lush, I think, is the right word.

Xavier’s St. Joseph “Le Blanchard” 2012 rouge is typical of a well-made wine from the northern sector of the appellation – the vineyard is in Chavanay – with peppery, bright raspberry and cherry fruit, whilst the Côte-Rôtie 2011 is really starting to get into its stride. The vineyards are further north again, but more sheltered, facing south rather than east. No surprise then that it has warmer fruit – damson and licorice – rounder tannins, greater depth. Like the St. Jo wrapped in a fur coat.

On to Matthieu Barret’s Domaine du Coulet. Matthieu is one of the leading younger producers in Cornas and a darling of the organic/biodynamic movement. Along with RWT growers Mika Bourg (that name again) and Johann Michel, Matthieu was recently chosen by the main French wine magazine, RVF, to represent the new guard of Cornas.

Matthieu Barret (right)

Matthieu Barret (right)

Petit Ours Brun 2013 is made “in partnership” with another producer. It’s labelled as a Côtes-du-Rhône but, I understand, comes from vines planted in Cornas. 100% syrah with no oak. A very pure style that really brings out syrah’s blackcurrant/floral fruit. I can drink this sort of wine any time. It’s crunchier, not quite as ripe as the last POB I tasted, the ’11, but the purity is there.

Cornas “Brise Cailloux” 2012 makes me think of Côte-Rôtie. Certainly it’s softness, almost gentleness, have very little in common with Cornas of old. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not is down to you, but there’s no doubting that the wine is expertly made.

Domaine Laurent and Dominique Courbis – The estate is celebrated for its Cornas and St. Joseph, so perversely I tasted the Crozes-Hermitage 2013, which I’m afraid did nothing for me at all. Slightly green and dank.

Onwards and upwards. Tasting with Mickaël (“Mika”) Bourg (that man again) was always going to be a treat. Mika had his St. Péray 2013 on show. (The village of St. Péray is just two miles south of Cornas, but whereas Cornas is only ever red, St. P is always white.) Pure marsanne, it smells of ripe pear and quince with finely judged oak. The wine has fantastic tension from the balance between richness, weight, minerality and acidity. Mika agreed when I suggested it was his best St. Péray yet. Pity I’m not such a fan of the new label, but hey, I’m not drinking that.

Mika Bourg

Mika Bourg

Mika’s Cornas 2012 is still very young. Unlike the ’11, which was open from the start, this is stricter, harder-edged, although the fruit on the nose and palate share the same dark fruit purity. Buy now while you can and put it aside for a couple of years.

Next was one of the grandees of Cornas, the Alain Voge estate. I still remember popping the cork on a bottle of his 1998 Vieilles Vignes at the end of a long day in my former life as a wine merchant. What a wine! The domaine is now run by Albéric Mazoyer.

Alberic Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Albéric Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Going up through the range, the Cornas “Les Chailles” 2012 has concentrated, slightly medicinal dark fruit. The palate is fresh, peppery, linear, direct. It’s as clean as a whistle and very classy. The Cornas Vieilles Vignes 2012 has the same feel but is a step up again in concentration and dark fruit ripeness. A lovely spicy edge. At 70€, the Vieilles Fontaines 2012 is at the top end of Cornas pricing, but is great wine by any standard. It’s deeply coloured, even for a Cornas, and mixes sloe and raspberry fruit with notes of Parma ham.

Louis Sozet wasn't there when I tasted, so here's a photo of his wine.

Louis Sozet wasn’t there when I tasted, so here’s a photo of his wine.

Louis Sozet is another old producer, but a new one on me. He makes just the one wine, but if the vintage I tasted is anything to go by he’s got that down to a fine art. His Cornas 2013 has a precise, bright nose, refinement and elegance. The kirsch-like aromas carry on to the palate. It isn’t big by any means, but it is delicious. The brightness of fruit makes me think of a great St. Joseph rather than old-school brawny Cornas, but that’s no criticism.

Escaping Cornas for a moment, I then tasted the viognier-based wines of François Corompt, who must be about the most publicity-shy grower I’ve ever met. I tasted his wines at the St. Péray wine fair and really liked them, so when I was in the village of Vérin, where François lives, I thought I would look him up. Sadly, his business card/price list doesn’t give a street number, or street name for that matter, but Vérin is very small and I assumed I would see a sign advertising the estate. Forget it! I couldn’t even find a letterbox with his name on it. I explained my difficulty to François, inviting him, or so I thought, to tell me exactly where I could find him. He agreed that he didn’t have a sign but didn’t elaborate, other than to say that he opens his doors less and less to customers (!) and that if I wanted to come to the estate I would need to telephone ahead (no e-mail, no website). Presumably if you call he will give you directions…

Francois Corompt

François Corompt

Anyway, I started with his Côtes-du-Rhône blanc sec 2013. It’s 100% viognier, from vines planted in Condrieu. But whereas the Condrieu itself is from vines on the mid-slope, the vines for the CdR are lower down. It’s made in a fine, almost delicate style, the flavours clear and fresh. The 2012 version is richer, weightier on the palate, but still has a gentle, unhurried air about it. I lean towards the ’12 and put my money where my mouth is by buying a few bottles.

François’ Condrieu 2012 is in the same gentle register, with no apparent oak presence at all, just a slightly old-fashioned (good!) interpretation of viognier from those hillsides. The Condrieu 2013 is more obviously fruity, with ripe pear and a touch of banana. It’s a bit more “zingy”, if one can ever say that of Condrieu. Although I like the ’12 very much, this time I prefer the ’13.

Remy Nodin's St. Peray - take your pick from the sparkling Extra Brut, "La Beylesse" and the "Vieilles Vignes". There is also a regular cuvee.

Rémy Nodin’s St. Péray – take your pick from the sparkling Extra Brut, “La Beylesse” and the “Vieilles Vignes”. There is also a regular cuvée.

Next was another young guy, Rémy Nodin. Let me declare an interest from the start – I’ve just started to work with Rémy. But that doesn’t stop his wines being great – just the opposite, I would hope. He didn’t have his Cornas at the fair (production is tiny), and I’d tasted everything else recently at the estate, but I did have a quick sip of his delicious, chalky St. Péray Extra Brut. Why anyone would spend more to buy a bottom of the range Champagne I can’t imagine.

Two generations of the Clape family. Pierre on the left and Olivier on the right.

Two generations of the Clape family. Pierre on the far left and Olivier on the right.

Back to Cornas. Domaine Auguste Clape is possibly the most famous of all Cornas producers, with a worldwide following, to the extent that you can’t buy wine at the estate (it’s already allocated) and, although they generously turned up and poured wine, you couldn’t buy any at the wine fair either. So I’ll try to explain why I didn’t like the Cornas 2012 more. The nose is ripe, the palate is rich, ripe and long. So from that perspective, it’s impressive. But I detected a whiff of nail varnish remover (interestingly, I later saw that RVF’s otherwise excellent review of the wine mentions acetate, but says that this disappears with breathing). For me, there was also a charcoal-like bitterness on the finish that I didn’t like.

The last stop of my day was at Johann Michel‘s stand. Johann, too, I work with. But believe me when I say that that has no influence over my view that he made the best Cornas I tasted that day.

Johann Michel

Johann Michel

His Cornas 2013 had only just been bottled, but there was no stopping the dark fruit nose that has touches of grilled meat and coffee about it. The palate is similarly dark with excellent richness. His top wine, Cornas “Cuvée Jana” 2013 was my red of the day (Voge’s Vieille Fontaines was very close). There’s great richness on the nose and palate, with red fruits mixing with mandarin (!) and tapenade. It’s fluid, silky, more flamboyant than the regular bottling, but with fantastic balance. And at 35€ at the cellar door, exactly half the price of the Voge, it has to be seen as a relative bargain.

So there’s my little round-up of what’s hot in Cornas. Dig out some at your local wine merchant (stockists/importers are listed below) and then rustle up a hearty, wintry meal to enjoy your wine at its best. And if you’d like to know more about Cornas, here’s a link to my blog about the wine region itself –



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. We may be the unofficial cheerleader for Cornas, but we’re also partial to the rest of the Rhône too, so feel free to browse the blog for other subjects.

If you’d like to see Cornas for yourself (or any other Rhône wine regions, for that matter), just get in touch through or have a look at our website,

UK and USA stockists and importers

In the US, you may have to contact the importer to find out your nearest retail supplier. You could also try

Alain Verset – Not available in the USA, I believe, but you can buy his wine in the UK through the Wine Society and Berry Bros. & Rudd;
Xavier Gérard – UK, Cambridge Wine Merchants; USA, Rosenthal Wine Merchant;
Matthieu Barret/Domaine du Coulet – UK, Dynamic Vines and Oxford Wine Company; USA, Jeff Welburn Selections (their website lists local distributors);
Mickaël Bourg – Wine MC² in New York, not available in the UK;
Alain Voge – Berry Bros. or Goedhuis in the UK; in the USA,  Worldwide Cellars and K&L Wine Merchants are listing Voge;
Louis Sozet – The Winery in London carries his wine;
François Corompt – Cellar door only (if you can find it);
Rémy Nodin – Jeff Morgenthal at Gran Fondo Wine Co in California;
Auguste Clape – Yapp Bros. in the UK, Kermit Lynch in the USA;
Johann Michel – Flint Wines in the UK; Kysela Pere et Fils in the USA (despite the French-sounding name) .








Hip, Hip, Péray

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Once a year the small town of St Péray wakes from its slumber. At the start of September the local winemakers gather for the annual wine fair and then, within days, the grape harvest begins. By mid-October, everything is back to sleepy normality.

St. Péray is a white wine-only appellation making still and sparkling wines from the local marsanne and roussanne grapes, but the wine fair welcomes plenty of winemakers from neighbouring Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph, as well as a few who have travelled from further afield, so there’s no lack of choice if you prefer reds.

This year there were more than 70 producers present and hundreds of different wines. It’s impossible to list them all, so here are a few of my favourites.

Domaine Gérard Courbis

Gérard Courbis

Gérard Courbis

There’s another, better-known estate called simply Domaine Courbis, also making St. Joseph. But I liked Gérard’s chalky, brambly, mid-weight St. Joseph Tradition 2012.

Domaine de Fontavin

Hélène Chouvet

Hélène Chouvet

Hélène Chouvet, based on the outskirts of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, has vineyards there and at Vacqueyras and Gigondas, too. But it was her Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2011 that I particularly enjoyed – rich and sweet, tasting of honey and apricot jam, with a bright, pineapple-like acidity.

Domaine de Rosiers

Maxime Gourdain

Maxime Gourdain

Maxime Gourdain’s Côte-Rôtie Classique 2011 is highly enjoyable and at 30€ good value (sorry, that’s just the way it is when it comes to C-R pricing). Mid-weight, with a subtle richness and flavours of black cherry, hedgerow fruit and a touch of coffee bean. It’s still young though, so a bit of patience is going to be required (and even more so for the 2012).

Rémy Nodin

This is Madame Naudin - Rémy is her husband.

This is Madame Naudin – Rémy is her husband.

Rémy Nodin’s St. Péray Mousseaux Extra Brut is the best St. Péray fizz I have ever tasted. The purity and almost chalky dryness are delicious.

The still St. Péray “La Beylesse” 2012 is 100% marsanne from 30 year old+ vines. 11 months oak ageing has left its mark without masking the crème anglaise and yellow plum fruit.

His Crozes Hermitage “Le Mazet” 2013 and St. Joseph “Guilherand” 2013 were my first chance to taste serious(ish) northern reds from a challenging vintage. Because of cool, wet spring weather, the vines flowered late, the grapes’ development was delayed and harvest didn’t start until October. There was always a chance that the northern reds especially would feel thin and under-ripe. But there was no need to worry, at least if Rémy’s wines are anything to go by – his Crozes is dark, creamy and ripe. Black cherry meets flowers and licorice. The St. Jo, as it should, has more angular tannins and more noticeable acidity, and is a really good example of northern Rhône syrah. The two wines are proper reflections of their different terroirs.

Johann Michel

Johann Michel in his tasting room.

Johann Michel in his tasting room.

Johann’s St. Péray 2013 isn’t as rich as the 2012, but even so the fresh acidity is nicely balanced by classic marsanne creaminess. It’s dry but makes me think of toffee apples (plus a hint of fennel leaf). “Not terrible” was Johann’s joking comment.

Domaine les Serines d’Or

Damien Robelet

Damien Robelet

Jérôme Ogier and Damien Robelet have their vines in Seyssuel, a vineyard area that could be even older than nearby Côte-Rôtie (so let’s say 2,000 years+) but one that has only been resurrected in the last twenty years after almost a century of post-phylloxera abandonment.

Jad’Or 2013 is 100% viognier. Powerful violet aromas come through after initial stone fruit. Oak doesn’t dominate at all, just lends a bit of breadth to the mid-palate. It’s 25€ at the cellar door, but I’d have to say worth it – many Condrieus (what is the plural of Condrieu?) would fall far short of this.

For me, the EncOr cuvée has too much oak ageing to allow the syrah fruit to really sing. Serines d’Or 2010, on the other hand, despite spending 30 months in barrel, can handle it. The style is modern, rich and velvety, with deep, dark fruit, but it certainly still tastes like a northern Rhône red. And better than many Côte-Rôties.

Domaine Lombard

Julien Montagnon and his wines. And me making notes.

Julien Montagnon and his wines. And me making notes.

Interesting to taste the Croze-Hermitage 2012 and Brézème “Eugène de Monicault” 2012 side by side – same vintage, same grape (syrah) and same alcohol level (just 12.5% – hurrah!). C-H is the better known wine region and Julien Montagnon’s is bright, pure and floral. Lovely wine. The Brézème is fuller, richer and more structured. It, too, is excellent. There’s just a one euro difference in price, so it all comes down to personal preference.

Domaine de Gouye

Sylvie Desbos. Not the best photo ever. Sorry Sylvie.

Sylvie Desbos. Not the best photo ever. Sorry Sylvie.

I know these wines well, but that didn’t stop me from stopping by to taste Sylvie and Philippe Desbos’ St. Joseph Blanc 2012. 100% unoaked marsanne, it’s a lovely combination of apple turnover and acacia flower. As sweet as that may sound, it’s absolutely dry.

Domaine Wilfried

Réjane leads the estate with her brother Wilfried, but at the fair she was with her husband.

Réjane Pouzoulas leads the estate with her brother Wilfried, but at the fair she was with her husband.

Again I know Wilfried’s wines, but I don’t get to taste the Rasteau Vin Doux 2003 very often. And what a treat – deliberate oxidation gives the wine its walnut-like character, while there’s plenty of confit orange rind in there too. Like Christmas in a glass, it would be amazing with a piece of Stilton.

Elie Bancel


Elie Bancel

Elie makes just one wine. His Cornas 2012 is very traditional – a bit rustic, slightly grainy with spicy hedgerow fruit. It reminds me of a dusty country lane in summer. It runs against almost everything that modern wine is supposed to be. So I liked it a lot.

Alain Verset

Emmanuelle with two blokes with not much hair - Alain on the left and me on the right.

Emmanuelle with two blokes with not much hair – Alain on the left and me on the right.

Alain’s daughter Emmanuelle had been named St. Péray Wine Queen and was dressed for the occasion while Alain was busy showing off his Cornas 2009 and 2010. In some ways the style is similar to Elie Bancel’s – Alain makes traditional tannic Cornas – but the wines are darker fruited and spicier, more exotic on the nose. Both vintages are still young, so for now I’ll carry on drinking my dwindling stock of ’06, ’07 and ’08. (Yes, I do like his wines).

Jacques Lemenicier

Jacques Lemencier

Jacques Lemencier

For one reason and another I hadn’t managed to meet up with Jacques all year, but we bumped into each other in the café at the wine fair and I did at least get to taste his wines.

St. Péray Cuvée de l’Elégance 2013 was my favourite St. P of the day. It really is elegant, with great balance and expertly judged oak. Creamy with ripe pear fruit and just a hint of bitter almond. Delicious.

Jacques’ Cornas 2012 isn’t the biggest, and in style is as far removed from Elie Bancel’s as possible. Silky, refined, subtly rich with red berry fruit.

Domaine Betton

Christelle and her mum

Christelle Betton and her mum

Christelle Betton’s white Crozes-Hermitage “Crystal” 2013 has a creamy texture and a spicy, mineral finish that reminds me of Hatzidakis’s Santorini whites. Very good, but her Hermitage “Arpège” 2012 is something else again. Stunning wine, with greengage, yellow plum, acacia, toast and smoke. The palate is rich, powerful and structured. You can drink it now with pleasure, but I suspect it’s got a ten year life, and then some. 40€ and worth every penny (or cent).

Domaine J-C Raspail

St Peray 2014 050

Frédéric Raspail

There is no need to analyse Frédéric Raspail’s Clairette-de-Die Tradition too closely. Just enjoy it for what it is – a delicious, smile-inducing sparkling wine that tastes of apples and elderflowers. Fred is the best producer of Clairette there is. End of discussion.

Not all of these producers export their wines to the UK and/or USA (Domaine de Gouye, for example) but many of them do. If you want to find the wines near you I would suggest looking at or googling the producer’s name.

Santé and happy hunting.


Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where I try to give unbiased views about wines I’ve tasted (although enthusiasm often gets in the way of professional distance). If you’d like to see more blogs just browse away. You could also take a peek at the Facebook page, which has lots more photos and a lot less text. You could even contact us to arrange a tour or a wine tasting at


Tasting in Tain – Part 2

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The annual wine fair in Tain l’Hermitage brings out the great and the good of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, as you might expect, but there are lots of hardy souls who make slightly longer journeys to show off their wines. So while Part 1 of this round-up was all about the locals, Part 2 looks at the producers who came from Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie and northern St. Joseph.

The Tain Salon was 30 years old this year

The Tain Salon was 30 years old this year

Most producers were showing off their 2012s, with a few still pushing their 2011s. Although the two vintages have certain similarities, in general the 2011s are more upfront, more obviously fruity, while the 2012s have more structure, more backbone and will need longer to reach their best.

2012 has generally been kind to the whites of the northern Rhône – the best wines have depth and power but aren’t flabby or overblown. This isn’t always an easy balance to strike with naturally low-acid grapes like marsanne and, especially, viognier, where it is possible to have too much of a good thing. My ideal Condrieu certainly has viognier’s expressive, even exotic fruit – apricot, roses, violet, orange blossom – and the suggestion of oak is no bad thing (just not lots of toasty new oak, thank you), but what I’m looking for more than anything is a rich, full palate – creamy rather than buttery – underscored by something mineral, as if you can taste the granite soils in which the vines grow. The marsannes of St. Joseph may not be as exotic, with apple and almond being the typical flavours, but they can be every bit as mineral. And they can age well, too.

The 2012 reds are more patchy than the whites. I have no problem with a St. Jo with a bit of bite, a suggestion that the grapes were only just ripe when they were picked. I love the light, aromatic leafiness of certain northern Rhône syrahs (Domaine de Gouye’s simple Vin de Table  2012 being a perfect 11.7° alcohol example) just as I’m happy to drink big leathery Barossa shiraz, but some of the 2012s I tasted were downright stalky and green. And the higher tannins and less immediate fruit of the ’12s compared to the ’11s accentuate any under-ripeness. Happily, though, there are plenty of delicious reds if you shop around. Côte-Rôtie in particular has produced some great wines, as it should at those prices.

So without further ado, here are the wines from the Lyon end of the northern Rhône.

Domaine Boissonnet

Domaine Boissonet

Domaine Boissonnet

The St. Joseph Blanc 2012 (80% marsanne, 20% roussanne) is hardly shy in its use of oak, but alongside that there’s an attractive yellow plum nose. At the moment, the palate can’t quite match the nose for intensity, but certainly very pleasant drinking. The Condrieu 2012 also has oak, but there’s lots of ripe fruit there too, with flavours of apricot and orange flower water. Not the fullest or richest Condrieu, but the balance is good.

Mad Wines in Seattle and AOC Wines in LA are both listing Boissonnet wines on

Domaine Barou

Domaine Barou

Domaine Barou

The estate covers 10ha (about 25 acres) and has been organic for “about 40 years”. The St. Joseph Rouge 2012, “Un Autre Monde” is on the stalkier end of St. Jo, typical of many of the 2012s from the northern end of the appellation. It mixes raspberry and briar fruit. It’s a style that I find very easy to get on with, but I suspect some people would want a bit more flesh. Given a year to soften, I think it will have wider appeal. The Condrieu 2012 is highly perfumed but lacks a little definition.

Chambers Street Wines in NY has a good range of Barou wines.

Domaine Eliane et Sandrine Bonnefond

Domaine Bonnefond

Domaine Eliane et Sandrine Bonnefond

A tiny 2 hectare (5 acre) estate run by mother and daughter team of Eliane and Sandrine Bonnefond. Their one wine, a Côte-Rôtie 2011, is a blend of 92% syrah, 8% viognier. By any normal standards of wine appreciation, you would have to say that the wine isn’t anywhere near the best in the appellation. For a start it’s rustic, with a nose that mixes a chalky, dusty earthiness with stalky, slightly under-ripe bramble fruit. But it also has an honesty about it, a juicy, tasty country wine-ness I like. The problem is that being a Côte-Rôtie it costs 23€.

Domaine François Merlin

Domaine Francois Merlin

Domaine François Merlin

The St. Joseph Rouge 2012 spent a year in a mixture of demi-muid barrels and smaller barriques. I was left with the impression that the wine had been worked hard to push forward the inky fruit. That said, John Livingstone-Learmonth, the Rhône expert whose opinion is worth taking note of, thinks that this is a laid-back wine that’s easy to appreciate (I paraphrase). Hmmm.

The Côte-Rôtie 2012, 100% syrah, also came across as rather forced. Admittedly, it’s very young and closed up, which never makes tasting a wine easy, but I’m not convinced this will gain finesse or a silky texture with age. It certainly has power, but it isn’t carried lightly.

François Corompt

Francois Corompt

François Corompt

A delight. François Corompt has only 2 ha of vineyard, almost all given over to white grapes. He seems a shy young man (there isn’t even an email address on his business card) and his wines don’t scream for attention either. His Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2012 is pure viognier, from a vineyard outside the Condrieu appellation. It has classic viognier aromas of stone fruit and flowers; it’s fresh, lively, well-balanced (although naturally more delicate than a Condrieu) and has a creamy texture. And all for 9€. The Condrieu 2012 has the same unforced, easy-going style -its richness comes across as natural rather than imposed through cellar manipulation and showy winemaking. It’s less floral than the CdR, but gains in weight and concentration. And at 21€ it’s right at the bottom end of Condrieu pricing.

Both wines are bargains, but sadly I can’t find anybody who stocks his wine. 

Domaine Louis Clerc 

The Condrieu 2011 had weight, texture, aromatics and even a certain freshness, all the things you would look for in a Condrieu. But I was left with a strong sense of “so what?”. I thought the same when I tasted the wine in Lyon last November. It may be me.

Domaine Grangier

Domaine Grangier

Domaine Grangier

Their Condrieu “Les Terraces” 2012 is over-oaked for my taste, but the wine underneath is pretty good. There’s a fine balance of weight and freshness and like all good Condrieu, it’s powerfully aromatic – in this case the wine plays up viognier’s floral side with rose petal and violet. If you like your wines with a full compliment of oak, drink it now, otherwise leave it a few months for the oak to integrate.

The St. Joseph Rouge 2012 was rather overwhelmed by the Condrieu that came before it. There’s briary red fruit, but this is a northern sector St. Jo that’s a bit green around the edges.

Nicolas Badel, Les Grandes Vignes

Domaine Nicolas badel

Domaine Nicolas Badel

I so wanted to like these wines as Monsieur Badel seems such a passionate man, but in the end I just couldn’t give them an unreserved thumbs up. The Condrieu 2012 is a relatively delicate style, floral more than stone fruity with a pleasant creamy texture. But its lack of real depth suggests that the vines are young. His IGP syrah 2012 was very reduced, leaving it smelling like burning tyres. Frankly, it was difficult to see beyond that. The St. Joseph Rouge 2012 has nice juicy blueberry and black cherry fruit in a simple, easy-going style. Despite its supposedly lower status, another IGP syrah, “Intuition 2011” was the best of the lot. It’s modern, with plenty of oak, but has more weight, richness and darker fruit than the St. Jo, as well as a touch of roast coffee on the nose.

Domaine Facchin

The one red wine from Domaine Facchin, an IGP syrah

The one red wine from Domaine Facchin, an IGP syrah

A small estate that grows mainly white grapes.

The Viognier 2011 is quite delicate and doesn’t make a big play of being viognier. Initially, you might even mistake its subtlety for diluteness. But then comes an impression of drinking from a clear, bright mountain stream. There’s lovely purity to the wine.

The Condrieu “Les Grandes Maisons” 2011 comes from a single vineyard of the same name. It’s clearly Condrieu, but again subtlety is the key. The wine is a model of clarity and poise. Sophisticated stuff. Condrieu “Vernon” 2011 comes from one of the appellation’s great vineyards, on a steep south-facing hillside that captures as much sun as possible. In comparison, this is a big, booming wine, fuller and more powerful than the Grandes Maisons. The rich, more obviously oaked palate mixes confit fruits with violets and there’s a profound mineral core. Impressive and delicious. That said, for reasons I find hard to explain, I have a sneaking preference for the Grandes Maisons.

Le Du’s in NY are listing the 2010 vintage of the Grandes Maisons on wine-searcher. It has to be worth a punt.

Domaine André François

Andre Francois

André François

This is a good source for those who like traditional wines with a local feel. There’s a classic Condrieu “Maladiere” 2012, with plenty of richness and apricot fruit. The ripeness and low acidity combine to give a slight suggestion of sweetness in the manner of a plump Alsace pinot gris. Less mineral than the wines from Domaine Facchin, but good. The Côte-Rôtie “Gerine” 2011 really is quite trad., with stony, gravelly raspberry fruit and a whiff of sticking plaster. If you like big, pumped up, oaky C-R’s, look elsewhere. Me, I like it.

Domaine Verzier Chante-Perdrix

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

Philippe Verzier in his cellar.

Philippe Verzier’s St. Joseph Blanc “Granit” 2012 has a lovely balance between weight and freshness, cream and lime zest. The Condrieu “Authentic” 2012 isn’t the fullest, but has plenty of peach and apricot and a sleek mineral undertow. It’s very good, but I still prefer the St. Jo.

Philippe was also showing his first zero-added-sulphur wine – St. Joseph Rouge “Vibration” 2012. He reckoned that it was relatively easy to make an unsulphured wine in 2012 as the grapes were so healthy, but that 2013 will be more difficult. Pure syrah, aged in larger 500 litre barrels, half new, half one year old. Very friendly, very outgoing and very cassis-y, verging towards blackcurrant jam. The rich velvety texture easily absorbs the light tannins. It’s ready to drink now.

Philippe’s wines can be bought in the USA from Voix de la Terre, NY, and The Wine Country, Long Beach, and The Wine Club, Santa Ana, CA. Christopher Piper in Devon sells his wines in the UK.


One day later  I was at the huge, trade-only Vinisud wine fair in Montpellier where I caught up with several more producers from the northern Rhône. It seems only sensible to cover them here.


A brief stop to taste their Condrieu 2011. V-F are unusual in ageing their Condrieu for some time before its release -it was in September 2012 that I bought the remarkably good 2008, four years after the harvest. The relatively adolescent ’11 isn’t at that level right now, but its silky texture and soft fruit have appeal.

Total Wine & More have branches all over the east and west coasts of America and stock a wide range of Vidal-Fleury wines. Majestic and Oddbins sell their more basic wines in the UK.

Christophe Pichon

I’m afraid that in the rush of Vinisud, Christophe Pichon’s Condrieu 2012 didn’t make a strong impression. My minimalist notes say merely “so-so”.

Christophe Blanc

Christophe B certainly liked going into the technical details of his winemaking, some of which I pass on here.

St. Joseph “Brayonnette” 2012 is 80% marsanne, 20% roussanne. About 20% of the barrels are new and there was 30% botrytis on the roussanne. That certainly made it rich, but maybe a bit more tension in the wine wouldn’t have gone amiss. The Condrieu 2012 had 10% botrytis. Half was fermented at low temperatures for freshness, half at higher temperatures for richness. This has a good texture and stone fruit aromatics. It’s not profound, but it’s nicely done.

The red, St. Joseph “Les Chênes” 2012, is 100% syrah, although in some years a little marsanne ends up in the blend. A mixture of de-stemmed grapes and whole bunches (25%). A very easy-going, super-fruity style. Ready to drink now with masses of cherry fruit.

Vinetrail sells Blanc’s wines in the UK.

Christophe Semaska

Yet another Christophe, but the pick of the bunch. The Condrieu 2012 has proper depth, displaying mineral power more than any overt fruit. Good broad palate and rich texture. The St. Joseph 2012 was one of the few I tasted from the northern sector that had real richness and weight too. Spicy, peppery, with plummy dark fruit.

A sea of vines (and their supporting posts) stretch up the hillside at Verenay, Cote-Rotie

A sea of pruned vines (and their supporting posts) stretch up the hillside at Verenay, Côte-Rôtie

Côte-Rôtie “Château de Montlys” 2012 is excellent. My tasting notes say “this is what I’m talking about”, which is hardly literate, but sums it up nicely. 100% syrah. Rich, dense without being forced, smoky, meaty. The weight of fruit easily handles the wine’s structure. Côte-Rôtie “La Fleur de Montlys” 2012 has 10% viognier blended with the syrah. I’d drink it any day of the week (I should be so lucky), but although it has pretty, lifted fruit, it’s shaded by the pure syrah, which is more exciting and animal.

Robeson and Decorum Vintners, both in London, list Semaska’s wines, as do Best Wines Online in Santa Ana, CA.

Domaine Mouton

Jean-Claude Mouton comes across as a careful, considered winemaker. He makes two very good Condrieu – Condrieu “Côte Bonnette” 2012 is aged in a mixture of tanks (30%) and 2-3 year old barrels. It’s a pretty, floral wine with a creamy texture and a certain freshness, almost liveliness. The Condrieu “Côte Châtillon” 2012 is more expressive, a bigger wine that is aged purely in oak barrels, of which some 25% are new. It has lifted stone fruit aromas and a real flow from start to finish – everything is all of a piece. Excellent.

The top of Condrieu's Cote Chatillon vineyard on a misty day

The top of Condrieu’s Côte Châtillon vineyard on a misty day in November. This gives some impression of the slope. Condrieu is far below.

The two Côte-Rôties are also very good, although you get the impression that M. Mouton wishes he had some vines in the Côte-Brune sector to give his elegant wines a bit more oomph. The wines are very much in the lighter Côte-Blonde in style, but he has no need to apologise. The Côte-Rôtie “Classique” 2012 is very pretty, soft, silky and red fruited. The Côte-Rôtie “Maison Rouge” 2012 is more vigourous, more animal, but in a similar vein. The Côte-Rôtie “Classique” 2011, with another year in bottle, has really started to blossom. It can certainly be kept for a few years, but it’s very enjoyable right now.

Berry Brothers sells the Mouton wines in the UK.

And finally, as a point of comparison, a few days later I shared a bottle of Rhône superstar Yves Cuilleron‘s IGP Viognier 2012. This mightn’t be Condrieu, but it could teach many Condrieu producers a few lessons. And it’s a relative bargain, costing about half the price. Green gold colour. Highly aromatic, with violets and cream soda on the nose. Violets again on the slightly oily palate, tangerine too. It all fits together well with no dis-jointed elements. Breadth and length are very good, even exceptional for a simple vin de pays.

Theatre of Wine in London sells the full range of Cuilleron’s affordable varietal wines. The 2012 is available at lots of places in the USA (particularly Conneticut, for some reason) – a quick search will tell you where.

Yves Cuilleron's Viognier 2012

Yves Cuilleron’s Viognier 2012

It would be interesting to put Cuilleron’s wine alongside the viogniers of Facchin or Corompt to see how they compare. Cuilleron would make the biggest splash, but which would you end up drinking? As ever, you pays your money…



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Tasting in Tain – Part 1

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

The annual Tain l’Hermitage wine fair is a chance for the local Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage winemakers to get together in force, but there are plenty of brave interlopers from the other northern Rhône appellations. And me, of course.

The vineyards of Hermitage rise up behind Tain.

The vineyards of Hermitage rise up behind Tain.

Many estates had their newly released 2012 reds on show and, tasting across all the regions both in Tain and at Vinisud (more on that monster tasting in a future blog), it strikes me that although they certainly haven’t got the size or concentration of the ’09s and ’10s, the last two great vintages, they share many similarities with the bright, fruity 2011s, albeit in a chunkier, more tannic form.

The best 2012s are delicious, the flavours clear and pure. The worst are under-ripe, green and stalky, tasting hollow and under-nourished. The same happened in 2011, but the higher tannins in the ’12s only exaggerate any under-ripeness.  As usual, the good winemakers made good wine and the poor winemakers struggle whatever the vintage.

There are a lot of lovely white 2012s already on the market, where the typical Rhône weight and richness meets just enough crisp acidity, and some producers were showing pre-bottling samples of their 2013s, which promise a similar style. The buying public has already discovered viognier, from the Rhône and elsewhere, but St. Péray, white Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph, and Brézème for that matter, show just how good affordable marsanne-based wines can be. (Barely affordable white Hermitage is in another league.) The lighter styles work well drunk by themselves, the fuller, oaked wines are great with food – nothing is better with a buttery roast-chicken.

The tasting notes below only deal with the “southern” estates – Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie and the northern sector of St. Joseph will be covered by Part 2. And there are omissions. In a few hours I could only scratch the surface, so there were plenty of estates whose wines I didn’t get to try. And some famous names like Chave and Graillot weren’t at the fair. So if you don’t see a familiar name, don’t think it’s because I didn’t like the wine.

Finally, I apologise in advance for the quality of the indoor pictures. The light inside the tasting room is dim and yellow, meaning slow shutter speeds and lots of blurred images. Where necessary I’ve cheated with an old photo.

So bearing all that in mind, here’s a far from comprehensive run-down of what’s going to be worth buying (or not) in the order that I tasted them.

Domaine Betton

Christelle Betton

Christelle Betton

I’ll admit right now that I’m biased. I work with Christelle Betton and I love her wines. At this stage, the Crozes-Hermitage “Espiègle” 2012 is a touch more serious, a shade less obviously fruity than the ’11, but that’s only relative – Christelle’s aim is always to play up the fruit and soft tannins in her young-vine cuvée. The 2012 vintage of her old-vine cuvée, Caprice”, is the best I have tasted. Its summer berry fruit is so pure, so vibrant, the wine is a joy to drink.

The white Crozes, “Cristal” 2013, is essentially pure marsanne aged in a mixture of oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. The wine hasn’t been bottled yet, but the sample I tasted mixed flavours of ripe apple and patisserie. Her white Hermitage, Arpège 2011″, gets more barrel ageing – everything, all 600 bottles worth, goes into barrel and stays there longer. Its flavours are similar but in a more concentrated, weightier form. There’s spice from the oak ageing, almond and a mineral streak. Very good now, but it will be even better with some extra ageing.

Christelle Betton’s wines are available at Theatre of Wine in London and should soon be available in the USA. I’ll keep you informed.

Domaine Lombard par Montagnon.

Julien Montagnon (centre)

Julien Montagnon (centre)

Julien Montagnon is the best winemaker in the small appellation of Brézème and I’ve often written about those particular delicious reds and whites (now being made biodynamically). This year though I wanted to concentrate on his new range of Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage.

The Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2012 is 100% marsanne with no oak ageing.  A fresh style with the smell of spring blossom. The palate is clean and bright, tasting of apple compote. The Hermitage Blanc 2012 comes from one of Hermitage’s greatest vineyards, Le Méal. The small amount made was aged in a “demi-muid”, a larger barrel size that allows the wine to breathe but stops the oak from dominating the flavour. This is lovely. The smell is of apple pie (Mr. Kipling’s to be precise, for the British readers) and crème anglaise, the oak more pronounced on the palate than the nose. Great balance. It is intense without being massive.

The Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2012 sees no oak and comes from a mixture of de-stemmed and whole bunches. It has clear, bright, almost crunchy fruit, with the flavours of damsons and sloes. The Hermitage Rouge 2012 is in a similar style, but a real step up (after all, it is roughly 3 times more expensive at the cellar door). Like the white, it is pure Le Méal fruit. As you’d expect, the flavours are riper, more concentrated, than the Crozes red although the alcohol is the same 12.5°. There’s lots of black fruit, especially bramble, and the wine feels alive and vibrant. It’s very impressive, but one to put away for three or four years at least.

Yapp in the UK lists a couple of Domaine Lombard’s 2010 red Brézème wines as well as the 2012 white, one of my favourite wines of last year.

Domaine Habrard

Laurent Habrard

Laurent Habrard

Laurent Habrard’s organic Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2012 is in a softer style than Lombard’s with a touch of chocolate, although it’s still bright and juicy. The St. Joseph Rouge 2012 has higher acidity and tighter tannins. At this stage in its life, it feels a bit grumpy. Come back in six months.

Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice, CA and Le Du’s in New York have the 2009 vintage of the red Crozes-Hermitage and white Hermitage respectively.

Domaine Johann Michel

Johann and Emmanuelle Michel

Johann and Emmanuelle Michel (taken 2013)

Johann’s wines are always worth waiting for, I just wish I didn’t have to wait as long for his emails. His Cornas 2012 is beautifully put together. Young and dark, it has juicy raspberry and plum fruit, a silky texture and great length. Anyone who still thinks Cornas is the rustic cousin of Hermitage or a Côte-Rôtie should think again.

I believe Johann’s wines are available from Flint Wines in the UK (although they’re not listed on the Flint website) and Uncorked in London has Johann’s delicious “Grain Noir” Syrah 2011. Wine Exchange in Orange, CA, Timeless Wines in Winchester, VA and MacArthur Beverages in DC all have a good range of Johann’s wines.

Gilles Bied

This estate has vineyards in the southern sector of St. Joseph and in Hermitage. They were only showing older vintages. The St. Joseph Rouge 2007 was browning in colour and tired out. Very rustic. I didn’t taste the Hermitage 2006, but I hope it was better because there are plenty of talented Crozes winemakers out there who would kill to get their hands on land in Hermitage.

Domaine JC and N Fayolle

JC & N Fayolle

JC & N Fayolle

I tasted here more out of hope than expectation. There are three branches of the Fayolle family in the small village of Gervans, all making Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage. And it seems from repeated tastings that none of them do it terribly well. I only tasted the “La Rochette” Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2011 and I will quote directly from my tasting notes: “Smells stalky and unripe. No – it is stalky and unripe. Disappointing.”

Domaine des Martinelles

This estate is run by another branch of the Fayolle clan. Their more basic Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2012 has an easy-going, simple style with not much to say for itself. The local co-operative does something similar at a lower price. The Hermitage Rouge 2009 was big, dense and dark, but clunky and clumsy. It is still young, but I suspect it will never have any finesse or lift.

Mickaël Bourg

Mika Bourg

Mika Bourg

Mika’s St. Péray 2012 is 100% marsanne aged in a mixture of oak (grapes from very old vines on granite soils) and tank (young vines on limestone). Delicious. The ’12 has greater breadth and spice than the ’11, but keeps its juiciness and minerality. A hint of marsanne’s almond-like bitterness adds complexity and interest. This is the sort of roast chicken wine I was talking about.

A vin de table, “La Démarrante” 2012 comes from young syrah vines within the Cornas appellation. Despite its lowly status, it is, frankly, better than most reds I tasted that day. Fresh and vital, there’s a bit of graininess and ripe raspberry and cherry fruit. And it’s only 8€ (£6.50ish, roughly 10$). An absolute bargain. The vrai Cornas, “Les P’tits Bouts” 2012, had been bottled only days before and Mika was apologising for it being a bit shaken up. Unnecessarily, as it happens. It has certainly closed up between barrel and bottle and it needs a bit of time to relax, but it’s clearly concentrated and powerful without being unduly heavy. I know from tasting a barrel-sample that it’s going to be very good indeed.

Mika’s wines are available in the USA from WineMC². They’re based in New York but deliver. I can’t believe that no-one in the UK has picked up on him.

Cave Babics/Luyton

Michele Luyton

Michele Luyton

I was told that the estate has just over 1ha (2½ acres) in one of Hermitage’s greatest vineyards, Les Bessards (although I read later that the plot is actually at the foot of that slope, which is a slightly different thing).

The Hermitage Blanc 2011 comes from a small patch of limestone. It’s a restrained style with a typical marsanne soft, low acid palate. Pleasant without scaling any heights. The Hermitage Rouge 2011 comes from granite soils. It’s not super-powerful, but it’s decently constructed and preferable to anything from the various Fayolles. There’s some weight and plumpness and dark berry fruit. And the price, 28€ locally, is very reasonable for a red Hermitage.

The St. Joseph 2012 has a warmer, softer feel than St. Jo’s from further north in the appellation. The plump fruit (again) helps cover the tannins.

Lucie Fourel

Lucie Fourel

Lucie Fourel

Lucie’s parents belonged to a local co-operative and Lucie worked at top Côte-Rôtie estate Clusel-Roch before going her own, organic way. This is a very classy range of wines.“Les Pitchounettes” Crozes-Hermitage 2012 comes from younger syrah vines and is aged 50:50 in tank and barrel, in this case larger demi-muids of 5 years+. Masses of juicy red berry/cherry fruit, but no lack of depth.

Three more red Crozes were on show: “L’Insoumise” 2011 spent 18 months in demi-muids. The vines are around 30 years old and the vineyard is stony. It’s fuller than, but similar in style to, Pitchounettes – juicy, spicy, peppery. Les Saviaux 2012 comes from a vineyard covered in round stones (galets roulés) similar to those at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It spends six months in barrels and six months in tanks before being bottled, but here the bunches are fermented whole, with no de-stemming. It’s more closed than Insoumise and needs a year or so before it’ll be ready to drink. Black fruits mix with more medicinal tones (germolene, menthol) before pepper and spice kick in again. Finally, Aux Racines de St. James 2012 is from old vines – average 50 years – planted in sandier soils nearer the river. Again, whole bunches of syrah, stems and all, were fermented and the wine then spent a year in demi-muids before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. You’ll need to wait a little while to get it at its best, but even now the fruit is lovely, with an incredibly more-ish morello cherry character.

Lucie’s wines are available at Vinoteca in London and are worth looking out for. Lucie said that you could also try Carte Blanche Wines in Hampshire. Wine Traditions in Virginia is her USA agent and they ship around the country.

Jacques Lemenicier

Jacques Lemencier

Jacques Lemencier (taken 2013)

I always like Jacques’ whites. The St.Péray Traditionelle 2013 is an unoaked blend of 90% marsanne and 10% roussanne. It has a similar feel to the 2012 – imagine a clear mountain stream (forgive the pretentiousness) and the purity that suggests. The palate mixes frangipane with French apple tart flavours.

Many of Jacques’ Cornas vines are at relatively high altitude, which shows in the house style – his red isn’t the biggest, but it has real elegance. The Cornas 2012 has a bright, cherry and mulberry fruit style and a silky texture. Good length too.

Quaff Fine Wine in Brighton is listing Jacques’ Cornas 2009, a great, fuller-bodied vintage which should be hitting its stride about now.


In short, 2012 is a classic rather than superlative northern Rhône vintage with good, sometimes very good, wines available from all the appellations.

The whites, already generally available, are especially good, particularly the marsanne-based whites of St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage and St. Péray, which can tip over into heaviness in riper years. The reds are more patchy, although on this evidence Cornas seems particularly successful. But stick with the right producers and there are good things everywhere.

In Part 2 we’ll look at Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, as well as the northern end of St. Joseph. In the meantime, happy hunting and santé.


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Colorado Wine – Could It Make It Big?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Apparently, wine is made in every state in America. Some states, like California and Oregon, are world famous for quality wine. Others – Alaska, really? – are surely home to no more than one or two inspired/mad individuals. Between those two extremes there are states like Colorado, where wine has become a recognised part of the agricultural landscape, attracting locals and visitors alike, and where, with a bit of luck, we may start to see truly great wines appearing.

Recently I spent a week in Colorado wine country, including a visit to the Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade, and below are my conclusions. But first, a bit of background…

All the fun of the (wine) fair

All the fun of the (wine) fair. It’s all very laid back.

A Brief History

Wine was first made in Colorado in the 19th century but following Prohibition, which came in 1916, four years ahead of most of America, vines were replaced by peach trees. (Like my home region of the Drôme, where the celebrated Hermitage is made, Colorado has a longstanding reputation for producing great soft fruit. Indeed, it pains me to say it but Palisade may grow the best peaches I’ve ever eaten. So if there’s a link that can be made between growing peaches and grapes, the signs are good for Colorado wine.) The state’s modern winemaking history only goes back 30-odd years and even some of the longer-established wineries like Plum Creek and Carlson Vineyards were only set up in the mid-late ’80s. The Grand Valley region, which includes Palisade, accounts for around 85% of the state’s grape production.

The Case For

In winemaking terms, the state has plenty going for it. First of all, its summers are hot and dry, so there’s the scope for good ripening. In fact, in terms of “degree days” – a broad measure of a region’s suitability for growing grapes – Grand Valley ranks with Napa and parts of Tuscany. The arid climate allows for minimal spraying in the vineyards, which in turn means that Colorado’s wineries have the potential to be as “green” as any out there. Second, Colorado’s high altitude (after all, Denver is the “mile high city”) means that there can be big temperature swings between day and night, preserving acidity and freshness in the wines, especially important in whites but not to be ignored in reds either.

In addition, because the winemakers aren’t burdened by history or French-style appellation laws they’ve been willing to try out a huge range of grape varieties – I tasted everything from varietal blaufrankisch to 100% petit verdot – and there were some great label designs, fun and funky, which would have been largely unthinkable in France. That’s the good news.

Colorado wine country - out the car window towards Palisade

Colorado wine country – looking out the car window towards Palisade

The Case Against

The flip side is that the winters are cold and in extreme cases there can be snow on the ground as late as May and as early as October. So although the “degree days” figures are similar, Grand Valley’s growing season is typically around 180 days, compared to 230 for Napa and Tuscany. Despite the summer heat, that’s still a short time in which to ripen grapes. And by that I don’t just mean sugar ripeness (which will eventually create the alcohol) but proper ripeness of flavour. Even worse from the growers’ point of view, an icy spring can destroy a year’s crop.

To my mind, too many of the “dry” white wines are not dry enough. Admittedly, it’s more of an issue with riesling and gewürztraminer, and I have exactly the same issue with Alsace versions of the same grapes. But, as far as I’m aware, nobody in Alsace is making semi-sweet reds. And I suspect there are very few people making commercial fruit wines or, as I saw in Colorado, sauvignon blanc flavoured with lavender (bloody hell!). The producers would no doubt argue that they’re catering to demand, both from the locals and the many visitors, but it can look like a lack of confidence in their ability to guide their customers, or even to make proper dry table wines. It’s not as if Napa has a sideline in cabernet sauvignon with blueberries. Be brave Colorado winemakers!

Unsurprisingly in such a young wine region with plenty of producers who have learnt as they’ve gone along, there are also signs of “iffy” winemaking, or should that be iffy grape growing translating into dodgy wine? I tasted viogniers from three different producers that had similar bizarre flavours of charcoal/wood ash and burnt toffee (and one was a double gold-winning wine!) Had all three bought grapes from the same source? And I tasted several reds – cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc especially – which were thin and vegetal, and quite a few that had the earthiness of beetroot. One Australian winemaker friend kindly suggested this may be the Colorado “terroir”, but my suspicion is that the growers need to examine their growing methods – all the boring things like crop levels, pruning and trellising that make a big difference in the final wine – and concentrate on red varieties that can live happily with the short growing season. Or perhaps focus on whites?

Tasting at the Winefest

Tasting at the Winefest

This may explain my biggest issue with the reds – oak. Superficially, a veneer of oak can hide deeper faults. And if there are no faults, well oak just makes the wine taste better, doesn’t it? But lighter wines are swamped by too much barrel ageing and fuller wines tend towards the same set of flavours regardless of grape variety. I know lots of people like an oaky red, but with honourable exceptions a lighter hand might have allowed the fruit to shine a bit brighter.

If all this sounds unduly negative, it shouldn’t be taken that way. Because I think that great wine can be made in Colorado I’m judging the wines against world class standards. And while I don’t think any of the wines I tasted are quite there yet, it’s surely just a matter of time. In the meantime, there are certainly some well made, often good value wines I’d recommend. Here’s the proof:

White wines

Hermosa Vineyards Viognier 2009

Kenneth Dunn at Hermosa Vineyards

Kenneth Dunn of Hermosa Vineyards

I would have thought that viognier would work well in Colorado, but of the half-dozen or so I tasted only Hermosa’s had the sort of varietal expression I would expect: texture, richness and stone fruits on the palate. Kenneth Dunn, the winemaker, does like his oak barrels though. I would cut down on the two years (!) in barrel and release the wine a little younger.

Plum Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Plum Creek sauvignon blanc

Plum Creek sauvignon blanc

Looks to New Zealand rather than France. Very zesty, aromatic and fresh. Lots of grapefruit.

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

A blend of sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling. Off-dry and orange blossom-y. Despite my comments about sweeter styles, I liked this a lot. In fact, although Plum Creek’s sauvignon was judged the best white at the show, I had a slight preference for this. It reminded me of certain Argentinian torrontes or the Torres’ wine Esmerelda. Good everyday drinking.

Two Rivers Chardonnay 2010


Two Rivers chardonnay (left)

Two Rivers chardonnay (left)

All the grapes were grown around Palisade and East Orchard Mesa, but the wine came across like a Pouilly-Fuissé. Spiced pear fruit, oak there but not overwhelming. Really quite classy.

Canyon Wind Chardonnay 2012

Canyon Wind chardonnay

Canyon Wind chardonnay

This was aged in stainless steel vats in which American and French oak staves had been immersed; really just a way to get some oak flavour without the cost of barrels. Being a purist, I don’t normally approve, but it worked here. Like the Two Rivers, quite French in style but this time with a bit less oak and a bit more zip – more Macon than Pouilly. Nivea and lime zest aromas. I’d very happily drink this.

Reeder Mesa Gewürztraminer 2012

Two gewurztraminers - Reeder Mesa (left) and Carlson's "Laughing Cat" (right)

Two gewurztraminers – Reeder Mesa (left) and Carlson’s “Laughing Cat” (right)

Very aromatic – rose and orange peel. Sweetness is balanced by crisp acidity (not normally a gewürz strong point) so that the overall balance works. See also their petit verdot in the reds section.

Carlson Vineyards “Laughing Cat” Sweet Gewurztraminer 2012

Also aromatic, if not quite so overt. Very zesty – lime and Rose’s lime cordial. Had a slight prickle on the palate, which helped lift it too. It went very well with a slow cooked pork with peanut sauce dish the students from the local catering college has prepared for the VIP tent. What do you mean? Of course I was in the VIP tent.

Whitewater Hill Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling 2011

Whitewater Hill Late Harvest Riesling

Whitewater Hill Late Harvest Riesling

More Clare Valley than Rhein. Lime zest and petrol on the nose. Palate consistent and true to the grape.

Bookcliff “Friday’s Folly” White

An easy-going, everyday blend of viognier, chardonnay, muscat and riesling. Simple, cheap and fruity, and no worse for that.

Stoney Mesa Pinot Gris 2012

A crisp, clean style. No great complexity, but its slightly tropical fruit (guava, banana) is attractive.

Red Wines

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson 2011

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson

Weirdly, given the difficulties some growers seemed to have ripening relative cool-loving cab franc and pinot noir, there was no problem with this more Mediterranean-inspired blend of syrah (47%), mourvedre (30%), viognier (12%) and cinsault (11%). Although there was too much oak for my taste, the chocolate and cherry fruit, texture and bright colour were attractive. Voted best red in the show.

Alfred Eames Tempranillo 2009

Alfred Eames Tempranillo

Alfred Eames Tempranillo

Ripe and juicy, although the oak flattened the varietal character somewhat.

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot 2010

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot

One of the more serious reds on display. Palate is herbal and tarry to go with its hedgerow fruit. Not Bordeaux exactly, but going that way. I could easily imagine this with nice leg of lamb.

Bonaquisti [d]RED

Bonaquisti d[Red]

Bonaquisti d[Red]

Bonaquisti is an “urban wine company” based in Denver, although the grapes mostly come from Palisade and the surrounding area. Plenty of colour, plenty of fruit – cherry and plums. Supposedly a blend of merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon, but quite Italian in style. One article I read after tasting the wine mentioned that there was a bit of (Califonian? unsaid, but implied) zinfandel in the blend, which wouldn’t surprise me. This was my favourite red at the wine fair.

For now, this list may only be relevant if you’re in Colorado – finding these wines outside the state will be difficult – but don’t say you haven’t been told. There aren’t any truly exceptional wines made in Colorado…yet. But give it time.



Note: This is the blog of Rhone Wine Tours (yeah, we’re a bit off our normal patch in Colorado). If you’d like to see more (or even some) wine, food and Rhône-related stuff you can visit our website – – or, for shorter bits and pieces and lots of photos, go to our Facebook page. We’d be delighted if you “liked” us, although I suspect we won’t be seeing a rush of Colorado winemakers…







Sweets for My Sweet

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

This year the village of Beaumes de Venise has been celebrating 70 years of appellation contrôlée status for its sweet muscat wines. To cap the festivities the roads of the village were closed for the weekend of 10th and 11th August and the winemakers flung open their cellar doors to allcomers. I was there with glass (and notepad, pen and camera) in hand.

A village fête is nothing without an oompah band.

The style of wine – rich, viscous, strong, sweet and headily aromatic – is unique in the Rhône Valley, although similar wines can be found along the French Med. coast in Rivesaltes and Frontignan (and elsewhere), and further afield in places like the Greek island of Samos. In France, they are called Vins Doux Naturels (Naturally Sweet Wines) because all the sweetness comes from sugar that has accumulated naturally in the grapes as they ripen. The alcohol level (15-16º), on the other hand, isn’t so natural. That comes from a splash of grape spirit that gets added to the wine when it is only partially fermented, raising the alcohol level high enough to kill off the yeast that would otherwise convert the remaining sugar into “natural” alcohol. It’s that unconverted sugar that gives the wine its sweetness.

As you might imagine, a lusciously sweet wine of 15.5º alcohol is not to be swigged by the pint. One glass before (if you’re French) or after (anglophones) a meal is probably enough for most people, which means that Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (MBdV) often comes out only when friends or family are visiting. But it’s worth knowing that you can often buy half bottles and that in any case an opened (but re-stoppered) bottle will keep in the fridge for a week or two without losing too much of its freshness.

A vineyard in Beaumes de Venise with the Dentelles in the background.

The French often suggest drinking muscat with melon. I prefer apple and apricot tarts of the French kind, but muscat can very happily be drunk by itself as an alternative to pudding. Lots of producers also recommend pairing muscat with blue cheeses and foie gras (although not together). For me, the style is too obviously fruity and/or floral to work with more savoury food – leave that to the Sauternes. Muscat is hedonistic, yes, but doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) take itself that seriously.

There is also a far younger, separate appellation for dry red BdV, which was given “Cru” status with effect from the 2004 vintage, theoretically putting it on the same level as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage. But with a few honourable exceptions, the wines just don’t justify their promotion from “named” Côtes du Rhône Villages standard. Even at a more local level, it is hard to understand why BdV was promoted ahead of the village of Cairanne, where there any number of good red wines.

Here are my notes on the muscats and (where they warrant it) the reds that I tasted. There are some notable omissions – the BdV growers’ co-operative’s wines haven’t been reviewed despite the fact that it is by far the biggest producer of the muscat and therefore the producer whose wines you are most likely to see outside France. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the co-op is extremely competent and the muscat wines good examples of their type (I still don’t like their reds though). Most of the estates making red BdV but not muscat weren’t at the fête, so haven’t been mentioned. You shouldn’t read anything into their absence.

Domaine Beauvalcinte “Les Trois Amours” BdV Rouge 2010

One of the few “no muscat” estates to turn up. This is a warm, spicy, red fruits and herbs blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, counoise and cinsaut.

Domaine Beauvalcinte red

Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de BdV 2012

Not the most aromatic at the moment – expect it to get more exotic over the next year – but there’s clean, bright grapefruit on the nose and the palate has weight and richness. The flavour spectrum is gewurztraminer-like, with rose petal and plenty of orange peel/confit. A good, clean, non-cloying finish. Excellent muscat. Available in the UK, USA and Australia – follow this link to to find out your local stockist.

Domaine des Bernardins Muscat

Domaine MathiFlo Muscat de BdV 2012

Very pale. Both the nose and the palate share a simple, slightly syrupy sweetness and not much else. Although again the finish is bright and fresh.

Domaine MathiFlo

Domaine de Durban Muscat de BdV 2010

Exotically perfumed and the palate has great balance between rich sweetness and crisp acidity. Very clean cut. Honey and citrus. Very good. Probably my favourite of the day. Available in the UK and at plenty of  USA merchants.

The red is pretty decent, too, without reaching the heights.

Domaine de Durban – one of the best muscats.

Domaine l’Arche des Garances BdV Rouge 2012

The first red that made me sit up and take notice and it remained the best I tasted all day. For once, it was a red with a spark of life and personality – it felt like living wine. It does have a whiff of the farmyard – I suspect there’s a fair bit of syrah here – although it’s not aggressive and it should fade with a bit of ageing. More importantly, this organic red has richness and concentration, with lots of peppery black fruit. I didn’t know this estate at all, but clearly one to watch.

Claude Pleindoux (“Fullsweet” in English). How appropriate.

Domaine l’Arche des Garances Muscat de BdV 2012

It doesn’t stand out in the same way as the red, but the balance of sweetness and acidity, freshness and weight, is good. Nicely aromatic, too. Overall, a real find so it’s a shame I can’t find the estate’s wines on the export market.

Domaine St Roch Muscat de BdV

No mention of a vintage on this one, but the pale colour and floral aromatics make me think it must be a 2012. At the lighter end of the muscat spectrum. Rose, orange flowerand (especially) quince.

Stéphanie with her Domaine St Roch muscat

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” BdV Rouge 2011

The cheapest of 3 red blends on show and the only one I tasted. Hurrah! It tastes like proper red wine. Dark fruit and a bit gamy/meaty/tarry. I would have guessed at some carignan in the blend, but it seems not – just the usual grenache, syrah, mourvedre. Not exactly happy-go-lucky (despite being described as “easy-drinking”), but it is concentrated and only 8€ or so.

A good range at Fenouillet

Domaine de Fenouillet Muscat de BdV 2011

There’s more than one type of muscat at Fenouillet. And the little girl who can hardly see over the counter was pouring – Rhone producers like to keep it in the family.

Straw gold colour. Apricots and mango on the nose. Just slightly too sweet for my taste – I preferred a 2010 I drank recently, which seemed less so – but this is a real crowd-pleaser.

Both reds and muscat are available in America and the UK.

Chateau Saint Sauveur BdV Rouge 2010

The first signs of maturity on the nose. It smells warm and garrigue-y, with the herbal aromas of southern France. Then there’s a wave of ripe grenache red fruit flavours with soft, round tannins. To drink now with pleasure.

St Sauveur muscat, red and rosé

Chateau Saint Sauveur “Cuvée des Moines” Muscat de BdV 2010

A distinctive nose that mixes lemon meringue and something herbal, verveine or lime flower perhaps. On the palate, too, that citrus side comes through, so that the sweetness is balanced by good acidity. My tasting note said “yum”.

According to wine-searcher, Killer Wine Deals in California sells the 2009. They don’t exactly sound like Berry Brothers.

Domaine La Ligière Muscat de BdV 2011

La Ligière muscat

This has a slightly bitter, pithy edge, like taking the white as well as the zest off an orange. Not my cup of tea, but if it sounds like yours you can pick it up in the USA.

Domaine Pierre Rougon (Font Sante) Muscat de BdV 2012

The muscat tasted was the 2012 in the middle. There is also a rather richer 2010 (right) bottled under the Font Sante label.

A fresh, almost delicate style that recalls flowers and ripe melon. Not as rich or sweet as some, but a nice balance for those who prefer a lighter style. Available in the UK and USA.

Domaine Bouletin Muscat de BdV 2011

Floral and easy to enjoy, but fairly one dimensional. Available at Ross Duke in Melbourne.

A busy stand at Bouletin.

Domaine de la Pierre du Coq Muscat de BdV 2012

Domaine de la Pierre du Coq

Nice acidity, but I smell a touch of nail varnish remover which mars an otherwise fresh, clean style.

Other omissions: most notably the excellent muscats of Domaines Beaumalric, but I know those well as I work with the estate, and the co-ops of Gigondas and Vacqueyras (only because I work with family-owned wineries and so concentrate on those at tastings). Beaumalric’s wines you can buy in Australia, UK and USA. I also skipped Domaine Rosemarry’s muscat after not liking their red at all; Domaine Alain Ignace I somehow managed to miss, although others like it; Domaine Richard, simply because it was out of the way and I was fagged out after 3 hours in the hot sun. Not professional, I know, but honest.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours and one of the longer ones at that. There are plenty of other things to read here and lots of much shorter pieces on our Facebook page. There’s also the website itself, where there are winemaker profiles and suggestions for things to do in the region. Please have a look around.








Tasting in Tain – The 2011 vintage in the Northern Rhône

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Recently I was up in Tain l’Hermitage for the local wine fair. As you’d expect, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage producers dominated the hall, but there were plenty of others from St. Joseph, Cornas and St. Péray, all just across the Rhône, as well as a few who had made the slightly longer jouney south from Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie.

The riverfront at Tain l’Hermitage with the Hermitage vineyards rising up behind.

Many estates had their newly released 2011 reds on show and from tasting across the regions it’s obvious that the wines are lighter and less consistent than the big, ripe 2009s and the powerful, structured 2010s. Some of the more “serious” wines – Hermitages and Côte-Rôties especially – aren’t available yet, but I can’t see my general impression changing much.

The best 2011s are delicious, with bright, precise fruit, plenty of charm and some richness. Others seem under-ripe, with a green, herbaceous edge. If I were forced to pick one vintage out of the three it would be 2010, but many 2010s are years from reaching their best and good 2011s will be ready for drinking sooner.

The notes below cover my pick of the fair. There were some estates where I thought all the wines were either poor or just boring – they don’t get a mention. Where the estate has made some things I like but others I don’t, I mention everything. And obviously, if I like everything I say so. Then again, I didn’t taste the wines of every exhibitor so if you can’t see the name of a producer you know it doesn’t always mean that I didn’t like their wine. And some big names, like Jean-Louis Chave and Alain Graillot, were absent.

So bearing all that in mind, here’s a far from comprehensive run-down of what’s going to be worth buying:

Domaine Betton

Tasting at Domaine Betton

The Espiegle Crozes-Hermitage 2011 is a more delicate style than the 2010 but fresh, juicy, lively. Red fruits and pepper spice. With Caprice 2011 the flavours are darker – black fruits, prune and fresh leather – and the palate is chunkier, richer too. In 2011 I have a preference for Caprice, but I’d very happily drink either.

Christelle Betton’s white Crozes, Cristal 2012, is essentially pure marsanne aged half in oak, half in tank.  The wine hasn’t been bottled yet, but the sample I tasted mixed flavours of patisserie, apple crumble, pear and warm spice with a touch of fresh acidity. It should be available in April and will be worth the wait.

Espiegle and Caprice are available at Theatre of Wine in London.

Jean-Pierre Lezin

The Lezins surrounded by their wines

I wasn’t wildly taken by the Lezin Condrieu 2011, feeling that 23€ (locally) is a lot of money for a wine that doesn’t have enough concentration and not much viognier (or indeed Condrieu) character. I had more time for the St. Joseph Blanc 2011, which has a more chiselled, just-ripe pear quality. I’ve noticed before with other producers from around the villages of Limony and Chavanay, down near the southern border of Condrieu, I often have a preference for the much cheaper “St. Jo”. Whether that’s because the Condrieu vines are often younger than those planted in St. Joseph and give less concentrated fruit I don’t know. And I’d have to admit that Yves Cuilleron, who is based in Chavanay, manages pretty well with his Condrieu.

Domaine Lombard

Julien Montagnon told me that his Vin de France, “La Côte 2011“, had already sold out. Which is a pity, as the 90% syrah/10% viognier blend has good meaty raspberry fruit and a mouth-watering palate. And it is, or rather would have been, amazingly cheap – 6,50€ locally.

Domaine Lombard – La Côte and Eugène de Monicault

A pre-bottling sample of Le Grand Chêne Brézème 2011 was less open and immediately flattering than the Côte, but boy was it promising. Blueberry and bramble fruit with a touch of menthol.  Another sample, this time the Eugène de Monicault Brézème 2011, was really closed in on itself. The tannins will need some time to soften but it has denser fruit to support its bigger structure. Unless you’re in for the long haul, take the Grand Chêne.

Julien Montagnon

Yapp sells Lombard wines in the UK. You never know, they may have bought some “La Côte” before it ran out.

Mickaël Bourg

Mickaël Bourg

I’ve only tasted Mickaël’s wines twice and been impressed on both occasions. His white, St.Péray 2011, is 100% marsanne and has a perry-ish (pear cider, if you insist) quality that I find attractive. A nice combination of zippy acidity with some weight.

His Cornas 2011 had only been bottled one week, but didn’t seem to be suffering for it. Briary, earthy and mineral with blackcurrant fruit.  The Cornas 2010 is a bit of a monster. Very dark, very structured, big and robust. It needs a couple of years, at least. At the moment, it tastes like a mix of blackcurrant and crushed rocks.

Cave Gilles

Cave Gilles were delighted to see me.

As you can probably tell from the photo, I didn’t get the warmest welcome at Cave Gilles. Which is fine, as now I don’t have the slightest twinge of regret in saying that the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2010 was already tasting over the hill and the St. Joseph Rouge 2009 was really quite dull. On the other hand, and to show there are no hard feelings, there was a lovely late harvest Viognier 2011, sweet but not cloying, that tastes like apricot tart in a glass.

Bernard Blachon

Bernard Blachon Cornas

M. Blachon’s Cornas 2011 smells of fresh meat and is wiry/sinewy/chewy, take your pick. It needs a couple of years to soften its edges. His Cornas 2010 is fuller but still closed and also needs time. Both are attractive wines in an old-fashioned, rustic sort of way.

Jacques Lemenicier

Jacques Lemenicier

A good range of wines here. The St.Péray Traditionelle 2012 is a blend of 90% marsanne and 10% roussanne that sees no oak at all. This feels very pure – imagine a clear mountain stream (forgive the pretentiousness). The palate is subtly buttery with French apple tart flavours. The Cuvée de l’Elegance 2011 is a 50:50 marsanne/roussanne mix that spent 11 months in barrel. At the moment, the oak is obvious without overwhelming the wine and will calm down in time. Rich and powerful (14° compared to 12.5° for the ’12 Tradition) with the flavour of creme patissière (which I love). Very good.

St. Péray – Cuvée de l’Elégance 2011 and Traditionelle 2012

His Cornas 2011 has been made in a bright, fruity style, accentuating the raspberry flavours over the structure. Tasty.

Garnet Wines in Manhatten appears to stock the 2008 vintage of the oaked St. Péray. It could be worth a try.

Domaine les Alexandrins

Guillame Sorrel and Alexandre Caso made 5,500 bottles of their Attirance Cozes-Hermitage 2011. This has plenty going for it – black fruits (cherry conserve), some weight, a juicy palate and good concentration. But for some reason I found it competent rather than exciting, like an exercise in winemaking-by-numbers. I think that might say more about me than the wine. Or at least I think I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

Le Domaine de Lucie

Lucie Fourel

Lucie Fourel’s parents belonged to a local co-operative and Lucie worked at top Côte-Rôtie estate Clusel-Roch before going her own way. 2011 was only the second vintage for her certified organic estate.

Les Pitchounettes Crozes-Hermitage 2011 comes from younger syrah vines and is aged 50:50 in tank and barrel, in this case larger demi-muids of 5 years+. This is all about juicy red berry fruit. Aux Racines de St. James 2011 is a more serious style where whole bunches of syrah, stems and all, were fermented and the wine then spent a year in demi-muids before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. The fruit is darker but still juicy and fresh.

Les Pitchounette and Aux Racines de St James

Lucie’s wines are available at Vinoteca in London and are worth looking out for.

Domaine Le Bel Endroit is run by Lucie Fourel’s husband, Sébastien Wiedmann. Like Lucie, he farms organically. Unlike her, he isn’t certified. Sébastien also chooses to use no sulphur at all while Lucie uses a very little. Lucie carries out a classic fermentation while Sébastien uses carbonic maceration. You suspect it’s a good idea they have seperate estates.

Sébastien Wiedmann in his SYRAH T-shirt

I’ll say straight away that Sebastien’s St Joseph 2011 is hardly classic, but it is delicious. In some ways the methods used are very traditional – foot treading, no fining, no filtration – but fermentation by carbonic maceration certainly isn’t, at least in this part of the world. The carbon dioxide produced helps protect the wine in the absence of sulphur but it can leave a little prickle of gas in the wine and it does mean the wine is all about fruit. That prickle also means that Sébastien can come perilously close to not being granted the appellation. Anyway, the wine is bursting with strawberry fruit, in fact it tastes like a strawberry mivi. If you like Dard & Ribo’s wines I think you’d get along famously with this.

Sébastien’s wine – there’s just the one – is available at Vinoteca and The Sampler in London.

Domaine du Tunnel

Martin, who works at Domaine du Tunnel. As they say, “Save Water, Drink Wine”

Tunnel was definitely one of the stars of the show. The St. Joseph 2011 has been in bottle 2 or 3 months and has unusual ripeness and weight for the vintage. Martin (pictured) suggested that the Cornas 2011 is already more open than the St. Joseph. I can’t say I agree. It’s certainly bigger and richer, with black fruit, cured meat and violet flavours. But the St Jo has a wilder, more mineral side and I lean slightly that way. You pays your money…

At the moment, I can’t see past the Vin Noir Cornas 2011‘s immense structure. Come back in 5 years maybe. Or buy the St. Joseph at half the price.

Domaine du Tunnel’s wines are available at Wine House, Los Angeles; Artisan Wine Depot, near Palo Alto; Saratoga Wine Exchange, New York and Berry Bros. in London.

Johann Michel

Johann and Mrs. Michel

Johann said that his Cornas 2011 was about elegance, which is true. While it doesn’t have the weight of the ’09 and ’10, it has lovely black cherry fruit and well-handled tannins. Cuvée Jana Cornas 2011 is from steeper vineyards and is darker, more plummy, fuller than the regular bottling. It’s also a bit wild and exciting, always a good thing in my book. It has power without feeling heavy and lumpen. Excellent.

Cornas and Cuvée Jana (centre)

I believe Johann’s wines are/will be available from Flint Wines in the UK (although they’re not listed on the Flint website) and, like Tunnel’s, Artisan Wine Depot and Wine House in California (do they like Cornas, I wonder?). Mad Wine in Seattle and Calvert Woodley in Washington have them too.

Alain Verset

And finally an oddity to show that you shouldn’t worry too much about vintage charts.

Alain Verset and his line-up of Cornas vintages

Alain Verset had four vintages of Cornas available to taste. The Cornas 2010 is slightly rustic and old-fashioned with flavours of bramble, coffee bean and roast meat. With another year under its belt, the Cornas 2009 is more open and aromatic. But these aren’t easy-going, immediate wines and the ’09 still needs time for its tannins to soften. The sample of Cornas 2006 wasn’t, frankly, as good as the bottle I raved about at the St. Péray fair, being less aromatic, less intense. (By the way, this is one of the reasons I hate to see wines being awarded points out of 20 or 100, as if it’s possible to pin a definitive score on something that can change from day-to-day according to mood, food, surroundings, weather even, and that’s before we start talking about personal preferences.)

The last wine Alain poured was his Cornas 2008, which the experts tell us was an average vintage at best. It’s a (relatively) pale brick red and certainly isn’t in the same league as the ’09 and ’10 when it comes to weight and power, but it smells like ripe blackberries that have been picked straight off the bush and mixed with the contents of a spice box. It is silky, soft and delicious.

Alain’s wines are sold by the Wine Society.

So I hope you can see that, yes, 2011 is a lighter vintage in the northern Rhône. And yes, the best 2011s won’t reach the heights of the best ’09s and ’10s. But that doesn’t mean that delicious wines aren’t available and they’ll be drinking beautifully before the earlier vintages get into their stride. Happy hunting.



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Do you know the way to Saint Peray?

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

The sleepy village of St Péray, facing the town of Valence on the opposite bank of the Rhône, wakes up for two things – the grape harvest and its annual wine fair. The marsanne and roussanne grapes are picked around mid-September and are used to make the village’s still and sparkling white wines (there’s no such thing as red St. Péray); the fair is squeezed in at the start of the month, before the rush starts.

One good thing about the fair is that just about all the village’s growers turn up, plus a fair few others from neighbouring Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph, so you can taste just about everyone’s wines in one go. Even better is that it’s far less crowded than the similar fair at Ampuis where the hoards turn out to taste Côte-Rôtie (see previous blogs for my thoughts on that particular nightmare. Or maybe you’ve guessed already?).

With so many wines tasted, I’ll just give you a snapshot. And talking of snapshots, sorry in advance for the photos. The light was horrible and most of them turned out a jaundiced yellow colour.

Domaine Chaboud, St. Péray Cuvée Marsanne 2011 – Lime flower (tilleul) and green plum fruit (slightly sulphurous too). Fresh and relatively light, although there is some cream on the palate and a hint of bitter almond. Not long, but ok. The Cuvée Roussanne is slightly more aromatic, but not much more interesting.

Vignobles Verzier

Vignobles Verzier, Chante Perdrix, St. Joseph Blanc 2011 – Nose is honeyed (marsanne influence?). Palate is mineral and dry. Bright and fresh with some grapefruit. Decent length.

The same producer’s Condrieu “Authentic” 2011 is still a little closed on the nose. Typical viognier fruit, but discreet. Palate is a bit more giving – there’s ripe pear. For now, fairly simple but tasty. True to its grape.

Verzier St. Joseph Rouge “Empreinte” 2010 has a whiff of Elastoplast about it, something slightly medicinal that reminds me of cabernet franc. The palate has lightly grassy red fruits. Fresh, bright, no heaviness. Pleasant drinking.

And Côte-Rôtie “Indiscrète” 2010 has obvious oak and raspberry fruit. Almost Burgundy-like in texture.

Jacques Breyton

Jacques Breyton

Domaine Breyton is an organic producer based in Beaumont-Monteaux, within the Crozes-Hermitage appellation. The Blanc 2011 (70% Marsanne, 30% Roussanne) has a clean, bright, clear nose, but the palate has a touch of bitterness. The Tradition Rouge 2011 is slightly briary, slightly sweaty. Not massive, it goes for fruit on the palate. The “Fût” 2011 got 8 months in oak, 30% new. It is more structured, more closed. The fruit is darker – more brambly. Tradition Rouge 2010 is a bit coarse, but hearty and authentic. The 2009 is fuller again and richer on the palate. But the tannins are high and it feels like the fruit is only just managing to cover them.

Alain Voge’s St. Péray “Harmonie” 2010 is 100% marsanne. There’s a fairly typical marsanne nuttiness and a dash of butterscotch, all mixed with orchard fruit. Decent acidity, too.

Domaine Pierre Finon

Domaine Pierre Finon is in Charnas. His St. Joseph Blanc “Les Jouvencelles” 2011 is a 50:50 marsanne/roussanne blend. It’s still subdued on the nose, but the fruit on the palate is good and there is a chalky, mineral undertow giving the wine a bit of tension. This should be more expressive in 6 months or a year.

The Vin de Pays Viognier 2011 from Finon has strong (if slightly blowsy) aromatics – think old lady’s boudoir, with lots of lavender and violet on the nose and apricot fruit. This is better than I’ve perhaps made it sound. The Condrieu 2010 is (naturally) also 100% viognier. It is made in a more serious style, more steely but less aromatic.

The St. Joseph Rouge “Les Rocailles” 2010 is still a young bright purple. Well structured with blackcurrant and bramble on the palate. This is good. With the St. Joseph “Caprice d’ Héloïse” 2009, the domaine was looking for more extraction, more stuffing. Well, they certainly succeeded in that. Big, rich and powerful.

Domaine Delubac had come all the way from my neck of the woods, Cairanne to be exact. The Cairanne “Les Bruneau” 2010 (I think!) was just showing the first signs of age in its colour. The blend of 50% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvedre and 10% old vine carignan is warm, hearty, delicious. There are fruits of the forest flavours and a full, ripe texture. the “L’Authentique” 2007 was ageing gracefully. The 50:50 blend of grenache and syrah is rich and round, but there is a mineral side. Really well put together.

Alain Verset

Alain Verset had a lovely line up of Cornas. He only makes 6-7,000 bottles a year, so not much to go around. The Cornas 2009 is still dark in colour and tight. There is dense fruit here. Rich and ripe. Impressive, it just needs time. The Cornas 2008 was always going to be overshadowed in the power stakes, but it is better for drinking now. Yes, it was a “difficult” vintage (for which, read horrible) and the wine has some acidity, but it is still lovely. But the star of the show was the Cornas 2006, which came in at only 12.7% alc. There’s a fantastic nose of raspberry liqueur and farmyards (oh, ok – shit). The palate is silky and refined and totally denies Cornas’s reputation for rusticity. On the back of this, my advice would be to buy whatever vintage one can find.

Mickaël Bourg

Mickaël Bourg has just over 1ha (about 2½ acres) of vineyards, so this is small-scale stuff. His St. Péray 2011 is 100% marsanne. The nose shows marsanne’s honeyed side but the palate is bright and clean, mixing lemon curd, cream and greengage fruit with a lively finish. His Vin de Table is a gamay/syrah blend from vines planted in St. Péray. It shows very juicy fruit, more syrah than gamay, and would make excellent autumn drinking on days when the sun is shining and an al fresco lunch is possible (so that’ll be almost every day here). The Cornas 2010 has a dark, brambly fruit nose and high tannins. It needs a bit of time certainly, and it’s not the most refined Cornas, but it’s well constructed and enjoyable. And at 20€, the price is right. The Cornas 2009 is no more open than the ’10. Very concentrated, its big, opaque, dense. Wait 2 or 3 years (at least). A young producer to watch out for.

Catherine Le Goeuil

Catherine Le Goeuil had also made the trip from Cairanne (with her young son, who was keen to practice his English and his selling skills). She farms organically, growing grenache, syrah, mourvedre and carignan. The wines were new to me but have been picked up by the famous US merchant Kermit Lynch. The Cairanne 2010 has lovely round fruit, red berries and cassis. Ripe and full, but soft and gentle, it has a natural sense of balance. Delicious. The generic Côtes du Rhône can’t quite compete with that but it’s well made and very tasty.

Domaine de la Favière showed their Vin de Pays Viognier 2010 (a bit stinky, but decent fruit underneath) and their Condrieu 2010 (which felt like there was some residual sugar, even if none actually existed) but, to me, more interesting was the St. Joseph Blanc 2011. Ripe and aromatic, the one third roussanne, two thirds marsanne blend has a rich yellow plum palate but great freshness. It’s half the price of the Condrieu but, dare I say it, twice the wine.

Patrick Jasmin

Domaine Jasmin showed its Côte-Rôtie 2010. Patrick Jasmin said that the blend of 95% syrah/5% viognier was raised “traditionally” with a 25-28 day fermentation/maceration.  He didn’t seemed the cheeriest of chappies, but the wine was delicious. Refined, elegant but concentrated on the nose, the palate is silky but rather darker than I expected – black fruits, even a touch of mulch and black olive. This feels like living wine with real personality.

And that’s it. I visited more, including “my” producers Christelle Betton and Johann Michel. But their latest releases are covered in the recent blog “Up North – Part 2“, so feel free to click on the link and go there if you want to read about them.

Happy hunting, happier drinking and santé,


Note: This is one of the more wine heavy blogs of Rhône Wine Tours. If you’d like to read more about the wines and winemakers of the region, you can click on the link and go to our website. Heaven forbid, you may even decide you’d like a guided tour or a delicious tasting of some of the wines I’ve been warbling on about.