Archive for the ‘Wine Fairs’ Category

Postcards from Vinsobres

Monday, April 9th, 2012

“Vin Sobre ou Sobre Vin, Prenez le Sobrement” (“Sober Wine or Wine of Sobriety, Drink it Soberly”)

Monseigneur de Suarès, Bishop of Vaison-la-Romaine, 1633

Hmmm, well… I think my friends would tell you that Rhone Wine Tours take the good Bishop’s advice to heart each and every day. He was referring to the wines of Vinsobres, the small, hilltop village to the south of the Drôme departement and thus to the north of the Côtes du Rhône region. Along with those of Beaumes de Venise, its red wines were granted their own appellation contrôlée in 2005, backdated to the 2004 vintage. (Rasteau followed shortly after in 2009 – all three are covered by our Cru Crew tour). So the wines went from being called “Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres” to simply “Vinsobres”, which may be easier on the eye on a label but possibly doesn’t do much for brand recognition on the shelves of your local wine merchant.

The lower vineyard slopes of Vinsobres, below the village


Anyway, Vinsobres held its annual agricultural fair recently – it’s easy to forget that growing vines is still farming – and alongside the tractor displays and olive grading machinery there was a small salon devoted to the wines of the village. There were some absences, most notably Domaines Chaume-Arnaud, Constant-Duquesnoy and Coriançon, but next to the co-operative there were stands for some half dozen independent domaines. Here’s a rundown in order of tasting on the day.

Domaine Jaume

Richard Jaume


Along with Chaume-Arnaud, the standard bearers for the appellation. La Friande 2010 white (Côtes du Rhône Villages as the Vinsobres appellation was only granted to the reds – go figure) is a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. Fresh and lively with nice yellow plum fruit, but the alcohol felt a little warm and the wine didn’t seem quite resolved (yet?). Altitude 420 2009 red Vinsobres, on the other hand, is very good stuff indeed: a nose of blood, cinders and red fruit and a compact palate of black cherry and graphite. Delicious now, but better in another six months/year. Jaume’s wines are sold by the Wine Society in the UK and are available in the USA and New Zealand – see Wine Searcher for stockists.

Domaine La Péquélette

Cedric Guillaume-Corbin


In many ways the star of the show. Cédric Guillaume-Corbin has a small biodynamic estate that produces reds only. 2008 isn’t reckoned to be a good vintage in the southern Rhône, but Cuvée Emile 2008 (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan) didn’t need any allowances made for it. Dark colour, meaty/pruney nose. Freshness on the palate (typical Vinsobres) combined with dark fruits and coffee. Les Muses 2009 (80% Syrah, 20% Grenache) is more animal – meaty, shitty, bloody. Oh, and some cassis, if you insist on fruit too. It has concentration and personality. Very good. Not sold outside France, I believe, but I’m sure he’d welcome some enterprising importer/agent approaching him.

Vigneron-Paysan and biodynamic


Domaine l’Ancienne Ecole

Anna Thorburn


Based up on the plateau above the village on the way to Valréas. I’d like to like these wines more as Anna Thorburn, who runs the estate, is charming. But all three wines I tasted – Côtes du Rhône rouge 2009, Vinsobres 2009 and La Dame Anglaise 2009 (as Vinsobres 2009 plus oak) were correct rather than exciting. In conversion to organic status.

Domaine de Deurre

At one time it looked like Hubert Valayer’s organic estate might be the next big thing in these parts, but it doesn’t seem to have quite worked out. The Vinsobres 2009 (70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre) was paler than some with a nose of spicy red fruit, germolene and blood and a little dusty earth. On the plus side, it was unforced and unhurried, didn’t taste manipulated. But hardly a paragon of concentration. “Les Rabasses” 2009 (30% 40 year old Mourvèdre, 70% 50 year old Grenache) was a fair bit darker and deeper. The tannin level was higher but the tannins were ripe. Duerre’s wines are available at Gordon’s Fine Wines, Waltham (MA) and Lincoln Fine Wines, Venice (CA).

Hubert Valayer

Domaine Autrand

Oh dear. I tasted both a red Côtes du Rhône 2010 (an “individual” nose of Lidl Spanish-style chorizo) and a Syrah-dominated Vinsobres 2009. I wasn’t convinced by the cleanliness of either.

Domaine du Moulin

The Vinsons - like father like son


Denis Vinson makes a speciality of his whites. I drink his straight Côtes du Rhône fairly frequently, but his Côtes du Rhône Villages Blanc 2011 (50% Viognier, 50% Clairette) is a step up. White peach and flowers, yellow plums. Really well put together. The Vinsobres Vieilles Vignes 2010 (70% Grenache, 30% Syrah) is certainly light on its feet, very Vinsobres. But its cruchy, almost cranberry fruit left me a bit cold. I expect more from a V.V. cuvée. Charles Joseph 2009 (50% Grenache, 50% Syrah) is more concentrated, more of a whole, with plenty of coffee and smoked meats on the palate. This is what the V.V. should be like.

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud wasn’t at the fair, but as I was at the estate (certified biodynamic since 2009) not long after, here are some tasting notes for their wines. I admit I’m biased – Rhône Wine Tours works with Chaume-Arnaud for the good reason that I think it is the outstanding estate of the appellation. The Marsalan 2010 vin de pays is made from the Grenache x Cabenet Sauvignon crossing of that name. Simple but juicy with red berry fruits on the palate and a saline, oyster shell whiff about it. Attractive. The Côtes du Rhône 2009 is plain lovely. Juicy again, digestible, with bright cherry fruit. The epitome of CdR from the Drôme. The CdR Villages St Maurice 2007 is drinking beautifully now, in fact it seemed better than a bottle I had only a month or so ago. An 80/20 blend of Grenache  and Carignan, that strangely reminded me of Cabernet Franc (it was the whiff of germolene that did it). The first bottle of Vinsobres 2009 had been open too long, but a second was packed with bramble and raspberry fruit without straying at all into jaminess. Concentrated but supple. I bought some. The “La Cadene” Vinsobres 2009 is tauter, more serious, needs a bit of time. The “La Cadene” Blanc 2010 was even better than the sample I tasted at Vinisud. It had the feel of the purest, cool spring water – which isn’t to say it’s dilute – and its Viognier component is handled brilliantly, giving a subtle muskiness rather than the full on apricot jam that some offer up. I bought some of this too. And if you’re into biodynamics, you may be interested to know that the tasting wasn’t even on a “fruit” day. So who knows how gushy my tasting notes could have been.

So, a quick round up of Vinsobres. I’m not sure that one can draw too many conclusions from such a small sample. Maybe that Chaume-Arnaud and Jaume are the best estates – I don’t think the absentees would have made any difference to that conclusion – with Péquélette there or thereabouts. And from tasting those three, one could suggest that a typical, good Vinsobres red is concentrated but has a cooler, less heavyweight style than Gigondas or Rasteau, the fruit a bit more chiselled. And perhaps one could reasonably ask why the Vinsobres appellation doesn’t apply to the whites when the average quality (based on an even smaller sample) seems at least as high. But that’s a question for another day.




Vinisud ramblings

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Well better late than never, I suppose. You can blame my recent house move – I’ve had a paint brush in my hand far more often than a laptop.

Those of you who read my blog (thanks, both of you) will know I’m not keen on going to wine fairs. But I have to make exceptions, and Vinisud is one of the them – a huge, trade-only gathering of the great and the good of southern French wine held every other year in the cavernous halls of Montpellier’s expo centre.

The Rhône contingent was out in force and I tasted my way around as many of the independent producers as I could fit into a day (Vinisud lasts three days, but I think I might have topped myself at the thought of going back for a second).What follows is a brief run-down of my highlights. I hate giving wine points, so don’t expect scores out of hundred, twenty or whatever as it’s not my style. Just rest assured that if it’s listed here then I liked it. And if it isn’t… well you get the picture.

Domaine Jean David, Seguret

Funky labels and great wine at Jean David

A new estate for me; I can’t imagine why I hadn’t come across the wines before. For me, a real star making wines in a style that’s pure, precise but never forced. The wines just seemed very comfortable in their own skins. The tank-sample of Blanc de Blancs 2011 (50% Roussanne, 50% Bourboulenc) was subtle but attractive. Great texture and balance. The Roussanne 2011 had the same unhurried, restrained feel but was more floral. The Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2011 (again from tank) was bright, fresh, digestible. Simple and easy-going (both meant as compliments), in short, delicious. The more serious Seguret 2010 needs time.

Domaine La Fourmone, Gigondas

La Fourmone’s wines are a reference point for Gigondas and Vacqueyras. I’ve bought at the estate in the past, but tasting again reminded me of their quality. Trésor du Poète Vacqueyras 2009 mixes southern warmth with a silky texture and macerated cherry fruit. My notes say I loved Petit Montmirail Gigondas 2009, but as the domaine doesn’t make a wine of that name it must have been Cuvée Fauquet Gigondas 2009 (70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre) which comes from the Petit Montmirail vineyard. This  is darker toned, mixing smoked meat and tarry black fruit. Despite the blend, there is a Carignan feel to the wine. Finishes with spice. Cigaloun Gigondas 2009 is more exotic with sandalwood and cinammon on the nose. Lovely, but leave it a year.

Marie-Therese Combe of La Fourmone

I am biased, as we may do some work together in the future. Then again, isn’t that just putting my money where my mouth is (or should that be the other way round?).

Domaine Grapillon d’Or, Gigondas

Another great Gigondas estate – there’s real strength in depth in the village at the moment. Their Tradition 2009 is one of those rare wines that make me smile every time I drink it, which has been three times in the couple of months. The 2010 (80% Grenache, 20% Syrah) doesn’t have quite the same effect, but it’s packed with red fruit and spice. The Excellence 2010 (60% G, 40% S) is a rare case of an estate’s top wine not spending time in oak barrels when others cuvées do, the aim being to highlight the Gigondas fruit/terroir. Very old vines give it huge length, black pepper spice and sweet red fruits.

Domaine du Terme, Gigondas

Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riche.

Another new estate for me. Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riché is making excellent Gigondas and Vacqueyras . The Tradition Gigondas 2009 (80%G, 20% S) spends 6 months in foudres (large oak barrels that give very little oak flavour but allow the wine to gently breathe) and the rest of its ageing in tank. Needs a little air to get it going, but then comes in with a (15%) bang. Dense and structured. Another producer to be added to the Rhône Wine Tours rosta.

Domaine La Roche Buissiere, Faucon

Laurence Joly of La Roche Buissiere. Great organic wines from Faucon.

I first discovered La Roche Buissiere in 2007 and bought lots of their delicious 2006 Petit Jo as my everyday red. I have to admit I wasn’t keen on the wines I tasted on my last visit to the estate in September 2010 – there seemed to be a lot of rogue yeasty flavours floating around, like some of the sulphur-free, “natural” wines. But the wines I tasted at Vinisud were right back on form. The Petit Jo 2010 is simple but has lots of lovely mulberry fruit. Gaïa 2010 (90% S, 10% G) is one of the most nothern-like southern Rhône wines I know. It’s closed at the moment, but sleek and pure with dark damson fruit. Delicious.

Domaine David Reynaud, Crozes-Hermitage

Very classy Crozes. Les Bruyeres 2010 has a deep, saturated colour and brambly/pruney/gamey fruit. Concentrated but not overwrought. Won’t be cheap compared to some of the Crozes wines coming out of the local co-operatives, but then it’s like chalk and cheese.

David Reynaud's hair may be short, but not as short as mine.

Domaine Beaumalric, Beaumes-de-Venise

A lovely Muscat 2011, mixing elderflower and lemon curd aromatics and balancing its richness and sweetness with bright acidity. The Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge 2010 is soft, ripe, plummy and very enjoyable. L’Extrait 2007 (50% G, 50% S) is straight down the line lovely – masses of ripe mulberry and cassis fruit. A hearty southern wine that’s perfect for drinking now. (Yet) another to join the Rhône Wine Tours ranks on the back of Vinisud.

Mr Begouaussel looks fascinated as I taste his wine.

Then there were the producers that Rhône Wine Tours already works with. You would expect me to say I like their wines, and of course I do. So here were my favourites from each winemaker who was at Vinisud.

Domaine Betton, Crozes-Hermitage

Christelle Betton showing off her Crozes-Hermitage and, very kindly, my business card. If you can't quite read it, it says go to

I’m a sucker for these wines. On the day, it was the Espiegle 2010 red that I prefered. Black fruits on the nose with more black fruit and coffee on the palate. Taut and still young. Having said that, I’d happily tuck into a bottle right now. Christelle Betton’s wines have definition and a sense of place that are sadly missing from lots of Croze.

Domaine Johann Michel, St Péray

Johann was showing off his new 2010 Cornases (Corni?). Stunning. At the moment I’d go for the Tradition over the prestige Cuvée Jana. The Tradition smells of graphite, mulberry and shit. This is a very good thing. Very concentrated, very young and utterly fantastic. The Jana is more open, or at least more extrovert, with a floral, red fruit side.

About to taste with Johann Michel.

Mas Poupéras, Vaison-la-Romaine

As much as I love the Funambule 2009, Patrice Chevalier’s La Part du Rêve 2007 is a beautiful Grenache-dominated wine made from yields of 7hl/ha (in other words, tiny). It seems to have opened a little since I last tasted it in October but, frankly, God knows how long it will keep going.

Patrice Chevalier opening yet another bottle

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Vinsobres

Valérie, Philippe and Thibaud were all there. La Cadène Blanc 2010 is going to be a suitable replacement for the 2009 that I’ve been drinking as my “treating myself a bit” white. A lovely balance between richness and freshness, it’s aromatic and ripe.

Valerie Chaume-Arnaud

Domaine Beau Mistral, Rasteau

Emilie from Beau Mistral

The Vieilles Vignes Rasteau Rouge 2010 is still young, as you can tell from its bright purple colour, but it’s powerful and concentrated without being top-heavy or rustic and has a fine silky palate. “Lots of stuff” as my tasting notes so helpfully put it.

And that’s it for my pick of Vinisud 2012. If I’d been any slower, I could have tied it in with the next one in 2014.



We do it so you don’t have to

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

There’s nothing nicer than going to visit winemakers, tasting their wines and talking to them about their winemaking philosophy. Sharing experiences, sharing wines: it’s why I do what I do.

Trade tastings are nothing like this. For a start, they’re often packed, so everyone has to fight to get near the wines. Talking to the winemakers is almost an impossibility. And when you can get to a spittoon – you didn’t think you would get to drink did you? – it’s often full and has a nasty habit of spitting back at you (not nice and surely not hygienic?). And by the time you have tasted anything up to 100 wines, maybe even more, you have wine-stained fingers, purple teeth and gums and, despite the spitting, the feeling that you have a hangover coming on. So why do it? Well, in the end there’s no better, no quicker way to compare wines from different winemakers and, hopefully, sniff out new talent.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the “Marché aux Vins” at Ampuis. It’s open to the public but sees a good turn out of trade buyers – this year the American contingent was out in force, but I bumped into a couple of former London contacts – as it’s the main shop window for the producers of Côte-Rôtie, many of whom also make Condrieu and/or St. Joseph. All potentially excellent wines, you’d have to agree. So it shouldn’t be a hardship tasting there…

What hit me as I walked in was the heat given off, even on a cold day, by hundreds of people crammed into a “salle des fêtes” seemingly designed for rather fewer of them. (Let it be said, should anybody from the Marché’s legal team ever read this, I’m sure no fire/safety regulations were broken.) And then the stench of alcohol, like someone had deliberately and liberally doused the floors with wine and left it to dry. Not the most auspicious start.

Because of the body heat, the first few white wines I tasted were all so warm they smelt of little more than alcohol, unless it was cheese instead. The flavours were fuzzy and indistinct. Now, I would normally expect to taste whites at a slightly warmer temperature than I drink them, but this was ridiculous. A few ice buckets might not have been a bad idea. The wines did get better as the day went on, but the heat stayed unbearable throughout.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a dig at Ampuis – it could happen anywhere – and there were nice wines there. Lots of them. (In particular, I discovered the wines of Domaine Pichat: Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu made in a very modern style with lots of new oak. Totally different to the wines of Xavier Gérard who is “our” producer but great examples of their type.) But I don’t think many people would argue that these are the sort of surroundings that bring out the best in a wine. For the public, I can see the theoretical attraction of paying 8€ for a souvenir glass and as much as you can drink, but I’ve been to enough trade tastings to know their charms can pall. Frankly, if I didn’t have, to I wouldn’t bother going.

Of course there has to be a plug for my business attached, but it’s a serious point: don’t let me stop you going to wine fairs (personally I’d stick to the smaller ones), but if you want to enjoy any wine at its best, drink it with friends alongside the right food or drink it where it was made, with the winemaker, when people like me have been able to sort the wheat from the chaff for you.

Vinisud here I come!