Archive for the ‘Tasting Notes’ Category

Saint-Péray, Going Its Own Way

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Looking across Rémy Nodin’s vineyard towards the Chateau de Crussol

Saint-Péray is a tiny wine region. And at first sight it looks like the winemakers want to keep it that way: the Rhône valley is known the world over for its red wines, but St Péray persists in only making whites. But unlike the other white-wine-only appellation of Condrieu, which makes the most expensive, most celebrated white wines of the Rhône using its fashionable signature grape, viognier, St Péray sticks to the relatively unknown marsanne and roussanne varieties. So why devote a blog to the least known of all the northern Rhône “cru”?

For a start, there are plenty of great wines available. At times St Péray has been the height of fashion, at other points it has been in the doldrums, barely clinging on to its 1,100 year old winemaking heritage, but now it’s on the rise again – new producers are arriving all the time and the vineyards are expanding. Second, it’s unique in being the one cru making sparkling wine.

Saint-Péray sparkling wine

Rémy Nodin’s St Péray “Extra Brut”

It was sparkling wine that made St Péray wine famous in the first place. Which sounds strange when it’s pretty much a constant that fizz is made in cooler areas where grapes have naturally higher acid levels; Champagne is the obvious example. But Rhône valley and cool climate aren’t words that are often linked. Added to which, marsanne, the winemakers favourite choice for making sparkling St Péray, isn’t known for its acidity.

Early harvesting (starting mid-late August in 2017) helps, but two natural factors also boost acidity in grapes destined for sparkling St Péray. The first is that the valley carrying the Mialan river through St Péray down to the Rhône funnels cool air off the surrounding hills, so the village isn’t as warm as its neighbours. The second is that many of St Péray’s vineyards sit on limestone (although there’s granite and clay too) and the grapes grown there are naturally more acidic. It’s telling that Rémy Nodin, the producer of my favourite sparkling St Péray, has his vineyards just under the ruined Château de Crussol where the limestone is most prevalent.

Fall and Rise

St Péray “méthode traditionelle” (ie champagne-method) sparkling wine was first made in the late 1820s and became such a success that it was exported around Europe. It was drunk by the Russian Tsars and Queen Victoria and was a favourite of the composer Wagner. But despite celebrity patronage, by the mid-1900s its popularity was in severe decline. With winemakers making less wine they needed less land. Vineyards were sold for housing developments, fuelled by the village’s proximity to the town of Valence. From 145 hectares (almost 360 acres) in 1936 when the appellation was created, the vineyard area had shrunk to 56ha by 1971 and just 48ha in 1982. St Péray’s decline seemed inexorable. And then things started to change…

In 1987 Robert Parker Jr. felt able to call St Péray a “dinosaur”, describing the standard of wines as “…no more than adequate…”. But around 1990 quality began to improve, which went hand-in-hand with a tentative increase in vineyard area (1991 – 62 ha). Now one can legitimately say that there has been a winemaking renaissance in the village. The vineyards are continuing to grow – up to 85 ha in 2016 and still climbing, with three winemakers I know planning new vineyards and others no doubt doing the same – while the search for higher quality is being driven by a new generation of local winemakers as well as big name “outsiders” such as Chapoutier and Yves Cuilleron, all of them benefiting from the fact that vineyard land is still relatively affordable. This time around, however, St Péray’s growing reputation rests upon its still wines.

St Péray Now

The original spark for this blog was a three day tour I organised at the end of September 2016 (I know, it’s taken a while!). At my clients’ request the tour concentrated solely on “star” names, famous producers making Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Condrieu and Cornas. But what stood out for me was the consistently high quality of the St Péray that many of them poured. In addition the wines had a recognisable and consistent local identity: although the same grape varieties can be found in St. Joseph and the Hermitages, thanks to its “terroir” the wines from St Péray have a fresher, nervier side to them that marries well with the natural richness of marsanne and roussanne.

Here’s what we tasted on the tour. If you can find them they should all still be drinking well…

Chapoutier‘s St Péray “Hongrie” 2015, named after a sub-region of St. Péray just to the west of the village, was superb – richness combined with citrus-like freshness. A model of minerality and precision.

Alain Voge Saint-Peray “Terres Boisées”

The Alain Voge estate makes three different still St Péray as well as a sparkling version. The sparkling wine isn’t a favourite of mine but the still wines are all excellent – there’s real substance on the palate but the wines’ natural freshness stops fatigue setting in. You can’t go wrong, but out of preference I would take Saint-Péray “Terre Boisée”.

Yves Cuilleron‘s St. Péray “Biousse” 2014 had structure and clarity with the oak ageing beautifully managed.

Pierre Gaillard’s Saint Peray 2015

Pierre Gaillard‘s St Péray has a certain lushness, common to all of his whites. Roussanne gives it its yellow plum fruit and its slightly oily texture, marsanne lends it its patisserie-like flavours. On the tour we tasted the 2014. The 2015 and ’16 are in the same mould, although fuller-bodied.

Since then I’ve been tasting St. Péray whenever I’ve had the chance. Not every wine has been a roaring success, but many of them have been delicious…

When it comes to the few remaining sparkling St Péray producers, Rémy Nodin is the star. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he’s determined to keep the bubbly alive. His St Péray “Extra Brut” is officially non-vintage but always comes from a single harvest and is actually a brut zero. It’s pure marsanne and bone dry but there’s ripe Cox’s apple fruit to balance the chalky minerality. His still wines are also excellent, although the old vine cuvées, “La Beylesse” and “Le Suchard” (80 y.o. vines) have tended to be for lovers of lushly-oaked whites (not the ’15’s though, which are more restrained).

Mika Bourg in his cellar

Cornas-based Mickaël Bourg has very little land in St. Péray and produces just the one still wine. Until 2012 it was based on young vines growing on limestone but then Mika added a plot of 60 year old marsanne growing on granite near the St. Péray/Cornas border. Whether it was the granite influence or the vine age, the St. Péray 2013 showed a major step up in concentration and richness. The ’15 was in a similar vein. The ’16, which Mika prefers, is slightly lighter and fresher.

Jacques Leménicier

Jacques Leménicier is another winemaker whose winery is in Cornas. He makes two St Péray, the “Tradition” (80% marsanne, 20% roussanne) and the oak-aged “Elégance” (90% marsanne, 10% roussanne according to his website, but I was told that the ’15 was a 50/50 blend). The Elégance 2015 is a lovely wine with poise and clarity. Its weight is balanced by fresh acidity, the fruit mixes yellow plum and ripe pear.

Chatting with Johann Michel (right)

The first of Johann Michel‘s two wines is a 50:50 marsanne/roussanne blend. The “Classique” 2016 is soft, round, ripe and instantly appealing. Cuveé M” comes from a tiny plot of young marsanne. Despite the vines’ youth, this is the flagship wine. It’s the soil that makes the difference – this is one of the very few parts of St Péray where you will find the same “galet” stones that you find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The wine is broad, rich and powerful – there’s a solid core to it – but the wines’ minerality stops it tipping over into clumsiness. While some St Péray can be drunk as an aperitif, Cuvée M is a food wine. A fellow winemaker called it a future classic.

Eric Durand

I very much like Eric and Joel Durand‘s St Péray. Both the 2015 and 2016 have been bright, zesty wines with a hint of grapefruit-like bitterness on the finish.

25-ish year old Cyril Milochevitch runs Domaine de la Sarbèche. His St Péray 2014 was bone dry but with a touch of honey on the mineral palate.

Stéphane Robert’s Domaine du Tunnel makes three different St Péray, all still: a pure marsanne, a marsanne/roussanne Cuvée Prestige and, my favourite, a pure roussanne. The St Péray “Roussanne” 2014 was a delight, combining excellent richness, plum/apricot/floral fruit and the freshness characteristic of the year.

Julien Pilon in his cellar

Julien Pilon makes a whole range of stunning white wines, including his St Péray “Les Maisons de Victor”. The 2015 has exquisite balance with the barrel ageing (including a little use of acacia wood) being particularly well-handled.

Domaine du Biguet “Terres Rouilles”

Jean-Louis Thiers is one of the other sparkling wine producers, but my favourite of his is the roussanne-heavy St Péray “Terres Rouilles”.

The added bonus is that in relative terms these wines are still cheap. No northern Rhône wine is a giveaway, but many St. Pérays retail at under 20€ at the winery, putting them in the white St. Joseph/Crozes-Hermitage bracket rather than on a par with Condrieu/Hermitage. Of course they are more expensive on the export markets, but still they are classy wines that are worth seeking out. And you’ll be helping with the revival of a once (and future) great winemaking region.




Shooting Stars

Friday, October 28th, 2016

I recently spent three days touring some of the most famous estates in the northern Rhone Valley with a group that wanted to visit the “star” names. If nothing else, it was a change from visiting my regular producers (and made me appreciate just how good the people I work with really are). But while my group was eulogising about Guigal’s “La Turque” and the like, I was left thinking that the cheaper wines were often just as interesting, and certainly better value for money, if one was willing to look past Parker points and price tags.

Chapoutier in Tain l'Hermitage

Chapoutier in Tain l’Hermitage

We started with Chapoutier. I preferred the whites to the reds, particularly the vibrant Saint Péray “Hongrie” 2015 and the ’15 Hermitage “Chante Alouette” (great minerality underlying its richness and one of the top whites of the week). Neither is cheap but the marsanne-based, super-expensive Hermitage “Le Méal ” 2012 white is much more expensive and, while clearly excellent wine, didn’t give me any more enjoyment. The line-up of reds included another from the “Le Méal” vineyard, the 100% syrah Hermitage “Le Méal” 2012. This costs over 200€ at the winery, but you could walk five minutes to the growers co-operative, Cave de Tain, and buy their almost as good Hermitage “Grand Classique” 2010 for just over 30€. Both have excellent concentration, ripe fruit, great balance. If the Chapoutier has greater finesse, is that worth such a big price difference? (As an aside, David, our guide, was excellent. He’s a winemaker at Chapoutier and his family has its own estate in the Beaujolais region.)

At Paul Jaboulet, Lætitia, who took us up to the chapel on top of the Hermitage hill and introduced the wines, was friendly and full of enthusiasm, possibly more than I was: I thought the flagship Hermitage “La Chapelle” 2007 was just old rather than mature. I know that I like my reds younger than many, but I honestly think it has nowhere to go. The Crozes-Hermitage “Domaine de Thalabert” 2012 (possibly ’13 – I was looking after the group rather than taking notes) held more interest – just as much concentration, more black fruit and more life. As Crozes go, it’s one of the more expensive. Put beside La Chapelle, it’s like a supermarket giveaway. The white Crozes, “Mule Blanche”, was my favourite wine of the tasting – a marsanne and roussanne blend of rare precision and balance for the appellation. The significantly more expensive white Hermitage “Chevalier du Sterimberg” was slightly fuller but what it gained in weight it lost in focus.

Alberic Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Albéric Mazoyer, Domaine Alain Voge

Day 2 started at Domaine Alain Voge. This was a really lovely tasting and I would very happily drink all three of the still St. Pérays we tasted. I give the edge to the pure marsanne “Terre Boisée” 2014 for its balance of power and St. Péray’s characteristic mineral freshness. Of the four reds, Cornas “Vieilles Vignes” 2013 was the most impressive. As domaine owner  Albéric Mazoyer said, it was a cool vintage and the wine has a certain sinewy austerity about it which means that you’ll need to wait to drink it. But boy is it good. The sparkling St. Péray was the one wine that I wasn’t convinced by, going down the bitter almond route rather further than I would have liked. “My” sparkling producer, Rémy Nodin, does a better job of combining bone dryness with apple blossom fruit.

From Voge to Vernay. Every single Domaine Georges Vernay white, from the vin de pays “Pied de Samson” 2015 through to the flagship Condrieu ” Coteau de Vernon” 2014 was delicious. Drink the VdP in the next year for the purity of its fruit and wait a while for the depth of the Vernon. Both are 100% viognier, but while Pied de Samson concentrates on showing off the grape variety (and very skilfully, too) the Vernon demonstrates the best of the Condrieu terroir. It is a wine that is both subtle and powerful. But I wouldn’t spend my own money on the Côte-Rôties, Blond de Seigneur 2014 and Maison Rouge 2013, when they cost 48€ and 85€. The estate’s reds have had great reviews in the French wine press, but they’re a bit too polite, too polished, a bit too haute couture for my taste. I want them to get their hands a bit dirty.

Domaine Georges Vernay

Domaine Georges Vernay (photo taken in 2015)

The day finished at Yves Cuilleron’s estate. As elsewhere, there was an excellent St. Péray, “Biousse” 2015, but the Condrieu “Les Chaillets”, which I normally love, didn’t seem to be on top form. The reds, particularly the Cornas “Village” 2013 and the St. Joseph “Les Serines” 2012, were excellent. Contrary to their reputations, the Cornas was the friendlier of the two, the St. Jo dark and brooding. Raspberry compared to wild plum. Both were preferable to the pricier Côte-Rôtie “Madinière” 2014, which, in common with many ’14s, has a slightly hollow mid-palate. In fact, I would rather drink either the Cornas or the St. Jo than just about any of the C-Rs we tasted over the three days, (although admittedly most were again 2014s).

Day 3 and Guigal. We started with a well-made white St. Jo and then the “regular” Condrieu 2015, which was so overwhelmed by bitter, charred flavours it was actively unpleasant. Frankly, it left me slightly confused about what they were trying to achieve. The white Hermitage “Ex-Voto” 2012 was good, but still I preferred Chapoutier’s white Hermitages, which carry a greater sense of immediacy and life.

The reds started with the Côte-Rôtie “Brune et Blonde” 2010, which has the largest production of any wine from the appellation. That it was better than many of the Côte-Rôties we tasted during the three days is perhaps no surprise given its relative maturity and the fact that 2010 is supposed to be a stand-out vintage; I would have been interested in tasting more wines from the same vintage to make a fairer comparison. (You may argue that a better wine is a better wine regardless of circumstance and, in that case, why not buy it over the others? Except I would say buy Cuilleron’s Cornas or St. Joseph, enjoy a better, or at least more interesting wine and save yourself a pile.) The C-R “Château d’Ampuis” 2011 was significantly more concentrated, richer on the palate, a lot more tannic. It’s a serious wine in need of time.

We finished with the famous “La Turque” from the 2012 vintage. It’s great wine, but given the price of a single bottle – 200+€ in France, $300 plus tax in the US, £200 or thereabouts  in the UK – I think I’m allowed to be hyper-critical. Robert Parker gave it 98/100, but I can honestly say that just from within my own Côte-Rôtie producers I would rather drink Xavier Gérard’s suave, dark-fruited “La Landonne” 2013 or Maxime Gourdain’s lush but structured “Besset” 2013, both from a supposedly lesser vintage. (Interestingly, the biggest French wine guide, Hachette, gave the Besset a better review too. It costs 45€. Let’s be generous to Guigal and say that the Besset is one quarter of the price.) Ignoring people I work with, just in case you think I’m biased, there are several other producers whose wines I would rather drink – the top end of Stéphane Ogier’s range has fantastic precision and depth; Jean-Michel Stéphan’s 2014 (a “difficult” vintage) has more joy, purity and life in its little finger. I could go on. They do run a fascinating tour through the cellars, though.

After lunch we hit Delas Frères. For consistency, I’d say star of the week. The simple white Crozes-Hermitage “Les Launes” was well made, the lushly-textured, richly-fruited single vineyard Condrieu “Clos Boucher” 2014 massively better than the Guigal Condrieu, if not at Vernay standards. In the reds, the Crozes-Hermitage “Domaine des Grands Chemins” 2013 was a wine I’d take any day over Jaboulet’s “La Chapelle” 2007. It has dark fruit, richness, proper concentration. The red Hermitage “Domaine des Tourettes” 2012 isn’t cheap but it’s better, and cheaper, than the Jaboulet and Chapoutier equivalents. At 138€ Hermitage “Les Bessards” 2012 is in another price league again. The wine is dripping with dark fruit; the confidence and skill in the winemaking are obvious. But while it’s a step up from the regular bottle, and was my standout red Hermitage of the week (one of the standout wines full stop) I don’t think I’d pay the extra 90€ given the quality of the “Tourettes”. (By the way, if you plan on visiting Delas, Bruno, our host, was knowledgeable, friendly and speaks fluent English.)

Pierre Gaillard

Pierre Gaillard

We finished the week at Pierre Gaillard‘s estate above the village of Malleval, certainly the prettiest spot of the week. As at Chapoutier, the whites came out on top, especially the 100% roussanne St. Joseph blanc (’14 or ’15 – sorry, it was getting near the end of a long week) with the Condrieu coming in second. Both have lush, opulent textures lent relief by a streak of minerality. I also liked the sweet table wine, “Grapillage”, a 50:50 viognier/roussanne blend which has a great sweet/acid balance.

And with that final wine we set off to Lyon.

It would be unfair to leave you with the impression that any of these star estates is bad: there’s a reason these producers are highly-regarded and in general we drank very good, sometimes even brilliant, wines. In fact, I was so impressed that I finished the week having made arrangements to carry on working with Delas and Gaillard on a more regular basis. But if I’m paying big bucks for a bottle I expect fireworks, possibly even a life-changing experience. At the very least. So it was interesting to me that none of the super-premium wines we tasted offered significantly greater rewards than their cheaper stable-mates (and in some cases, Jaboulet being the most obvious example, I would have deliberately chosen the less expensive wines). And if you’re so rich that value for money is irrelevant and you just want the best (or as someone, depressingly, said to me, “I’ve got enough 94 and 95 point wines at home, I’m looking for 98+”)? Well I think I’ve already made it clear that there are often other wines available that match (at least) the star names without the price tag. In short, these producers are good, but they’re not the be all and end all.

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) .








Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Pick of the Year

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

If there’s one name in Rhône wine that immediately strikes a chord with the public it’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Other wines from the region may be more expensive, but it’s Châteauneuf that the visitors most want to see.

High Street, Chateaueuf-du-Pape

High Street, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. On a busy day.

I’m in the fortunate position of working with four excellent estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape – in alphabetical order, Domaine Galévan, Domaine de la Janasse, Domaine Roger Sabon and Domaine de Saint Siffrein. Janasse and Sabon are the most famous – if you look at Wine Spectator’s list of the best CdP’s, they’re always there – but I’m happy to say that all “my” estates make great wine. (After all, why else would I want to work with them?)

I also taste wines from lots of other producers. And that’s how I know that, sadly, not every bottle with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape label is worthy of the name or its price. In too many cases, you would be better off spending less and buying a top quality Côtes-du-Rhône. But when it’s good, there’s not much that can compare with a CdP, so here’s my pick of what I tasted this year.

Let’s start with the producers I work with. Here are my selections from their ranges:

Domaine Galévan – the white Côtes du Rhône 2013 and red Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011 are amazing value for money, but the two red CdPs and the one white are exceptional.

Coralie Goumarre in the doorway of her cellar at Domaine Galevan.

Coralie Goumarre in the doorway of her cellar at Domaine Galévan.

The Tradition 2012 is dark, inky, rich and voluptuous. Delicious pure fruit. The first time I tasted the Saint-George 2011 my tasting note said “bloody lovely” (excuse my French). 100% old-vine grenache, it has richness, complexity, waves of flavour. The Blanc 2013 has already sold out, but believe me it was fantastic. Hardly traditional – it tastes like a southern Meursault – but great nonetheless.

Just a small part of the Janasse range.

Just a small part of the Janasse range.

Domaine de la Janasse – My vote, if I had the money, would go to the Vieilles Vignes 2012. Deep, dark and dense but lifted by its freshness. Despite its power, it’s remarkably elegant. As I don’t have the money, I buy the Côtes du Rhône Villages Terres d’Argile 2012. It has 25% carignan in the blend (which is always a good thing in my book), beats many a CdP and costs me 15€.

In the cellar with Gibert Sabon

In the cellar with Gilbert Sabon

Domaine Roger Sabon – The fact that this estate is world-famous doesn’t mean the prices are ridiculous – you can buy a bottle of the Olivets CdP for less than 20€ at the cellar door. The cuvée Prestige 2011 and 2012 are twice the price, but for the depth and concentration you get that can hardly be begrudged. But my money goes on the Cuvée Réserve. It falls between the other two in price, but has much of the Prestige’s class. Sweet red fruits, a bit of spice and a lithe, supple palate. (And they make a very good Lirac, too.)

Domaine de Saint Siffrein – my longest standing CdP partner. Saint Siffrein makes one of the best white CdPs I know and two red CdPs that are quite different in style.

Cyril and Patricia Chastan who lead the Siffrein estate.

Cyril and Patricia Chastan who lead the Siffrein estate.

Because of small harvests in 2012 and ’13, the latest vintage of white is the Blanc 2011 (although I’m told that there will be a ’14). It’s a lovely wine that’s still going strong (and, judging from a 2006 I tasted this year, is likely to have plenty of life in it). More traditional than Galévan’s white, it has the subtle fruit and creaminess of grenache blanc.

The red Tradition 2011 got great reviews in the French and English wine press – it’s a soft, up-front wine that you can happily drink now – but I reckon the 2012 is going to be even better. It has more structure and brighter fruit. Wine Advocate called it an “outstanding Provençal effort”.

Terre d’Abel 2009 is the estate’s special cuvée. Its high mourvedre content makes it far more meaty, far more tannic and gives it darker fruit. It also gets slightly high scores from the critics, but I have to admit to a preference for the cheaper, more classic Tradition.

Now for the other estates. I’d be very happy indeed drinking wines from any of them. Again, they’re listed alphabetically:

Domaine du Banneret – The estate only has 3ha (about 7½ acres) of vines and make just 10,000 bottles of a single cuvée, but boy is it good. Whole bunches are used during the fermentation, so stems and all go into the tank.

Tasting Domaine du Banneret's wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Tasting Domaine du Banneret’s wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The Banneret 2011 has an old-fashioned feel (in the best possible sense) with sweet, strawberry-ish grenache fruit. The 2010 is sleeker, more structured, with plenty of spice.

Domaine de la Biscarelle – I tasted two different CdPs here – the Classique 2011 and Les Anglaises 2011. It’s the Anglaises which has really been grabbing the critics’ attention, but the Classique is delicious too.

Christelle and Jerome Grieco, Domaine de la Biscarelle

Christelle and Jérôme Grieco, Domaine de la Biscarelle

Classique 2011 – Aromas of ripe fruit, dark cherry and animal fur (warm dog). Lovely texture – starts off round, soft and then the tannins start to kick in. On the palate there’s raspberry, mulberry and black olive.

Les Anglaises 2011 is in a similar mould but with the volume turned up. More red fruits on the nose. Still young and needs a bit more time.

Château La Nerthe – Very highly rated in France. The 2011 is made in a big, ripe style, mixing plum, clove, pepper and licorice. A real crowd-pleaser.

La Nerthe

La Nerthe

The 2013 white is also going to be good. Stony, mineral, weighty. Broad and long, rather than fat.

Domaine du Pegau – Like Banneret, Pegau likes to use whole bunch fermentation. They also like big old barrels (“foudres”) for ageing. The results can be funky, dare I say a little rustic, but with bags of personality and appeal. Unfortunately I wasn’t taking notes when I tasted the Cuvée Réservée and the Cuvée Laurence in July. So now I can’t even tell you which vintages I tasted. But it’s enough to say that the Réservée must be one of the best value buys in CdP (around 30€ at the cellar door) and the Laurence (about twice the price) is simply great wine.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio – Frankly, the Cuvée Traditionalle 2011 isn’t my favourite vintage of PU, but still it’s very good. Plummy and rich, maybe just a bit too “porty” for my taste. But like the La Nerthe, a crowd-pleaser.

Pierre Usseglio

Pierre Usseglio, white on the left, red on the right

Domaine Vieux Télégraphe – One of the most celebrated names in CdP. The La Crau 2011 didn’t get a great rating when Decanter magazine reviewed 100+ CdP’s from the 2011 vintage, but what does it know? Sweet, ripe fruit but with structure and finesse. Ignoring the producers I work with (I wouldn’t want to spoil a beautiful friendship), the best, classiest CdP I tasted all year. A brilliant balancing act.

The slightly cheaper (or should that be less expensive?) Piedlong 2011 doesn’t hit the same heights, but still it’s excellent, punchy and full of fruit.

The Vieux Télégraphe white 2012 was also a delicious, subtle glass.

The stony vineyard soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The stony vineyard soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

You may be asking where’s Château de Beaucastel in this line up. Well I tasted the 2011 twice this year, once in April and again in July, and despite excellent reviews elsewhere I just can’t get excited by it. In April it was tasted straight after the Banneret wines and, I thought, simply didn’t match up. My tasting note from the day describes it as being a “so what?” wine. In July, it had the misfortune to be tasted on the same day as the Vieux Télégraphe. For me, there’s no contest.

The almost-as-famous Clos des Papes also disappointed. Not that the wine was bad, not by any means, it just didn’t strike me as great. Rich and powerful, certainly, but when I tasted it at the estate I thought the wine lacked freshness (I wonder how long the bottle had been open?).

Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator love both wines, so feel free to ignore me.

Tasting room in the village.

Tasting room in the village.

Every one of the producers listed exports their wine. So if you want to get hold of a bottle or two check out the internet for your nearest supplier – isn’t a bad place to start. Happy hunting and even happier drinking.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. We don’t drink Châteauneuf-du-Pape every day, so when we do it had  better be good. There’s plenty to more to read on the blog, so browse away. There are also more photos and short pieces on the Facebook page. Last but not least – we have to earn a crust, you know – there’s also the website, full of suggestions for wine tours and tastings in the Rhône valley.



Points Mean Prizes

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

We all want to drink great wine. And marking wine out of 100 (or 20, or whatever) certainly makes it easy for consumers to find the “best”. But should we be judging wine in that way and does the pursuit of high-scoring wines mean that we’re missing out on wines that are enjoyable, fun, delicious even?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted when Rhône Wine Tours’ producers get good scores – if nothing else, it helps them sell their wines – but that doesn’t stop me having issues with the system. First off, who says what makes a wine good? A deep colour and massive concentration will earn your red a bucketful of points and yet one of my favourite wines of the last year has been Alain Verset’s Cornas 2008, a lighter wine from a “difficult” vintage that never was opaque purple and is now fading gracefully towards brick red. It does, however, have the advantage of smelling like the contents of a spice rack. (The last time I drank it was alongside an octopus stew flavoured with tomato, orange zest, chilli and fennel. That red with that meal sounds an awful combination. It was fantastic.)

Alain Verset with his Cornas in hand.

Alain Verset with his Cornas in hand.

And “best”? Best for what? Señor X’s Mendoza malbec may be worthy of 95/100 if you believe the critics, but it’s going to swamp a selection of charcuterie chosen for a summer lunch. On the other hand, a leafy cabernet franc from the Loire valley or even Señor X’s bonarda might just be perfect. But the malbec has the higher score, it must be better! So everyone sips the impressive, full-bodied (15%!) malbec vaguely aware that solid food is passing their lips but not really able to taste it. Except to notice that it really doesn’t go with that lemony young goats cheese from the farmers’ market.

Secondly, even if we do all agree what makes a great wine, I simply don’t believe that it’s possible to give a wine a definitive score. Wines change, or at least our reaction to them changes, sometimes from one week to the next. One time a wine can seem headily aromatic, full of fruit, the next, more reserved, less expressive. It may be the surroundings, it may be the weather, it may just be our mood. Whatever the reason, the wine tastes different, yet the score – the result of a single tasting – is set in stone.

Thirdly – sadly, the list goes on – are critics’ tastebuds so highly attuned that they can say that wine X is clearly worthy of 93/100 rather than 94 or 92? (And it takes just a moment on google to see that not all reviewers give the same score to the same wine.) More importantly, as drinkers can we tell the difference? I think the short answer is no. Of course the critics, and most wine lovers, can tell the difference between dud and delicious, and hopefully many stages inbetween. But a 1% difference? We’re not marking a maths paper here where there’s a right and a wrong answer, we’re talking about a subjective opinion on somebody’s hard work.

Problem 4. The points system distorts the market. If a wine gets 90/100 it’s home and dry. A 90-point wine can be easily advertised, easily sold. A wine scoring 89 – and remember what I said about our ability to taste a 1 point difference – sits pathetically on the shelf. So lazy wine merchants gravitate towards selling 90+ wines. That, admittedly, is a problem with merchants who use headline scores as a means of marketing rather than a problem with the concept of scoring wine, but the result is reduced choice for the buyer.  (Of course for the poor, overworked merchant it is so much easier than getting to know their customers, finding out their likes and dislikes and selling them a wine that night actually might suit them.)

5. Distorting the market is one thing, but wines themselves have changed to cater to certain influential critics’ tastes. (Remember winemakers, a higher score makes a wine easier to sell. And at a higher price!) Not all wines are effected, by any means, but there has been a trend, perhaps most noticeable in Bordeaux and Napa, to make red wines “bigger”, as if size was commensurate with quality. Rich, plump fruit, BIG tannins, deep, dark colours and lashings of new oak have rarely resulted in lower scores. And where does that leave Burgundy, which majors on elegance and finesse (or at least it should do), or Beaujolais, which should be a riot of juicy, thirst-quenching fruit?

By all means buy high-scoring wines if your pocket can stretch to it. They’ll almost certainly be good, and hopefully to your taste (not always a given). But be adventurous with your wine buying, discover for yourself what you like, and remember that there are great wines with personality that don’t cost the earth.

Here’s a selection of some of my favourite everyday Rhône reds that all cost around 7€ at the cellar door. Even the winemakers themselves wouldn’t describe them as their best wines – they’re certainly not their most complex, age-worthy or serious – but they are all (in my opinion) delicious. These wines have all the personality you could wish for, but I suspect none would hit 90. And just in case, importer details are listed below.

Gabouillon 2012

Gabouillon 2012

Domaine de Gouye, “Gabouillon” 2012 – 100% unoaked syrah from a producer based in St. Joseph. The Gabouillon vineyard is up above the appellation, on the cooler plateau. Cooler means less alcohol – just 11.5%. But if you think that means weedy you’ve got another think coming. This is the essence of northern Rhône syrah – like blackcurrant leaf mixed with crushed black pepper.

La Cote. In this case the 2011.

La Côte. In this case the 2011.

Domaine Lombard, “La Côte” 2012 – another northern wine. The syrah plus a splash of viognier recipe is well-known in Côte-Rôtie, but those wines are 4-5 (and more) times the price. Pure pleasure in a glass. It doesn’t just slip down, it glides. Blackcurrant meets farmyard in the most agreeable fashion.


Ze Pépé Red Ouaïne 2013

Domaine la Péquélette, “Ze Pépé Red Ouaïne” 2013 – Cédric Guillaume-Corbin makes serious, classic reds in the appellation of Vinsobres. This isn’t one of them. 100% caladoc (a grenache/malbec crossing) that bursts with juicy loganberry fruit. Served cool, it is the nearest thing the estate makes to a rosé. Except it’s red.

Vin de Copains 2013

Vin de Copains 2013

Domaine de Wilfried, ” Vin de Copains” 2013 – each year, Rasteau-based Wilfried and Réjane Pouzoulas select their fruitiest, most gluggable vat of wine and bottle it separately. In 2012, this “Mates Wine” was 100% carignan, the 2013 vintage is pure grenache. A lovely translucent ruby colour and the taste of fresh red summer berries.


Le Guilleret 2013

Aurélien Chatagnier, “Le Guilleret” 2013 – back up north. Aurélien can do grand – he makes Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, after all – but this lovely little number is from a tiny plot of gamay outside any appellation. Red cherry fruit offset by a touch of thirst-quenching acidity makes it a wine you keep coming back to for just one more glass.

You can drink any of these wines as they are, with no need for food, but they’ll all sit happily alongside a plate of sausages, a roast chicken, pasta with puttanesca – and that plate of summer charcuterie.



Where to find the wines in the UK or USA:

Domaine de Gouye – Sadly, you won’t. You’ll have to come to the Rhône.
Domaine Lombard – In the UK, Yapp Bros., who certainly deliver, and who have in fact just announced that they are selling La Côte 2012 for £10. In the USA, Lombard’s importers are Paul M Young Fine Wines in LA and Cellar to Table in NY. They should be able to point you in the direction of a local(ish) retailer.
Domaine La Péquélette – UK-wise, Vine Trail, based in Bristol but they deliver. As far as I’m aware, they only have Cédric’s “posher” wines. In the USA, the same may be true of Vin de Garde in Portland, Oregon.
Domaine de Wilfried – Nothing doing I’m afraid (but you can get the estate’s wine in Paris, Belgium and Denmark if that’s any help).
Aurélien Chatagnier – British readers can try Genesis Wines, Americans get in touch with Paris Wine Company or Fruit of the Vines

Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours. We love high-scoring wines – some of our best friends make them – but delicious comes first. If you’d like to know more about the region’s wine, feel free to browse the blog and take a look at our website – There’s also a Facebook page with lots of short pieces and photos.


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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