Archive for the ‘Tasting Notes’ Category

Another week, another trip to Lyon

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

involving hideous parking problems (3 hours to find a parking space!), an idiot opening his car door on me as I drove past and a self-inflicted bang on the head. At least there are some compensations, good wine being chief among them.

Christelle Betton

Christelle Betton

Christelle Betton let us taste her newly fermenting red and white Crozes-Hermitage, as well as her lovely 2011 reds, Espiègle and Caprice. Christelle ferments the grapes from her various plots separately and even at this stage it’s easy to spot the difference between the wines from, say, Les Chassis and Sept Chemins, young vines and old vines. Christelle was shattered after three weeks with three hours sleep a night, but charm itself.

Alain and Emmanuelle Verset

Alain and Emmanuelle Verset

Alain Verset showed us how he draws the wine off the bottom of his tanks of Cornas every day during fermentation and pumps it back over the top to help extract colour and flavour. And so we could see the result, he then poured us glasses of every finished vintage from 2006 to 2010. The ripe 2009 and structured ’10 are still very young, the spicy ’06 and funky ’07 ready to drink. The most pleasant surprise, however, is the ’08, which Alain serves last. In the language of winemakers, 2008 was a “difficult” vintage (for which read “horrible”), cool with lots of rain. But despite that, Alain’s ’08 is a wine I’d very happily drink very often. Yes it’s lighter than the rest, but it smells like the contents of a spice rack (clove, cinnamon, star anise) and would be perfect with roast pheasant (maybe lightly rubbed with a little pimenton, for you foodies out there).

Mika outside his cellar

Mika outside his cellar

Mickaël Bourg handed us a barrel sample of his 2012 St. Péray. By the time of writing it should be in bottle and will be worth looking out for if you’re in the region (sadly he doesn’t export). Mika recently took over a plot of very old marsanne vines growing on granite in the northern sector of the appellation and they have added richness and structure to round out the liveliness of the wine from his vines grown on limestone. He’s rightly very pleased with the result.

We finished with a glass of his delicious 2011 Cornas. It’s a totally different style to Alain’s, darker with more fruit (especially blackcurrant). It’s one of wine’s fascinations that two winemakers, growing the same grape variety – syrah – in a wine region only a few kilometres long and wide, using similarly Heath Robinson facilities, can fashion such contrasting wines.

Seb in the cellar at Domaine de Lucie

Seb in the cellar at Domaine de Lucie

Non-interventionist rebel Sébastien Wiedmann explained the difficulties of doing as little as possible when making wine, drawing pictures to illustrate the whole thing, and expounded on his love of old plots of hybrid vines (naughty boy, Seb, but strictly for home consumption) before letting us taste his red St. Joseph 2011 and Lucie Fourel’s range of Crozes-Hermitage. Lucie makes a pure roussanne white and three different reds, of which the Saint-Jaimes 2011 was my pick. I should explain the Seb and Lucie are partners, in the living together sense, if not when it comes to winemaking.

Lucie Fourel's Aux Racines de Saint-Jaimes 2011

Lucie Fourel’s Aux Racines de Saint-Jaimes 2011

There were also visits to two of the Rhône’s big guns: Vidal-Fleury, who put on a great tour of their hi-tech winery before a comprehensive tasting of their range, and Yves Cuilleron, producer of damn fine Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu. Of course I picked up a couple of things; well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Vidal-Fleurie's Brune et Blonde Cote-Rotie 2009

Vidal-Fleurie’s Brune et Blonde Côte-Rôtie 2009

Yves Cuileron's Les Chaillets Condrieu 2011

Yves Cuileron’s Les Chaillets Condrieu 2011

And for light relief and super-tasty everyday drinking, I came home to Alexandre Liotaud’s Rieu Frais syrah rosé 2012 (an excellent cure for stress and bumps on the head) and Julien Montagnon’s Domaine Lombard La Côte 2011 (an equally excellent accompaniment to a roast guinea fowl and an episode of Morse on YouTube).

Alexandre Liotaud

Alexandre Liotaud

Domaine Lombard La Cote

Domaine Lombard La Côte

Thanks to them all for helping me forget the less glamourous side of the job.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where I write about wine, food and the hazards of driving in Lyon. There’s plenty more on the website – www.RhoneWineTours – and lots of shorter pieces, photo albums and the like on our Facebook page.

For those of you who can’t make it to the Rhône valley, Christelle’s red Crozes and her white Hermitage are available at Theatre of Wine in London and the Hermitage should soon be in New York; Fields Morris and Verdin import Alain Verset’s Cornas, which should mean that you can get it at Berry Brothers (again in London); Seb and Lucie’s wines are – or at least were – sold by Vinoteca (guess where) and Lucie’s wines are imported into the USA by Wine Traditions; Vidal-Fleury’s tasty Côtes-du-Rhône is available at Majestic in the UK, check for US suppliers; Yves Cuilleron’s wines can be found at many independent merchants of taste and discernment – Theatre of Wine certainly stocks his great value vin de pays viognier, roussanne and marsanne, as well as some of his more expensive bottles. Again, a quick scan of should bring up a supplier near you.


Colorado Wine – Could It Make It Big?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

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

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

All the fun of the (wine) fair

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

A Brief History

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

The Case For

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

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

Colorado wine country - out the car window towards Palisade

Colorado wine country – looking out the car window towards Palisade

The Case Against

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

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

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

Tasting at the Winefest

Tasting at the Winefest

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

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

White wines

Hermosa Vineyards Viognier 2009

Kenneth Dunn at Hermosa Vineyards

Kenneth Dunn of Hermosa Vineyards

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

Plum Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Plum Creek sauvignon blanc

Plum Creek sauvignon blanc

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

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

Plum Creek Palisade Festival

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

Two Rivers Chardonnay 2010


Two Rivers chardonnay (left)

Two Rivers chardonnay (left)

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

Canyon Wind Chardonnay 2012

Canyon Wind chardonnay

Canyon Wind chardonnay

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

Reeder Mesa Gewürztraminer 2012

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

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

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

Carlson Vineyards “Laughing Cat” Sweet Gewurztraminer 2012

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

Whitewater Hill Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling 2011

Whitewater Hill Late Harvest Riesling

Whitewater Hill Late Harvest Riesling

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

Bookcliff “Friday’s Folly” White

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

Stoney Mesa Pinot Gris 2012

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

Red Wines

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson 2011

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson

Turquoise Mesa Colorado Crimson

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

Alfred Eames Tempranillo 2009

Alfred Eames Tempranillo

Alfred Eames Tempranillo

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

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot 2010

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot

Reeder Mesa Petit Verdot

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

Bonaquisti [d]RED

Bonaquisti d[Red]

Bonaquisti d[Red]

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

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



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







Sweets for My Sweet

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

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

A village fête is nothing without an oompah band.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Beauvalcinte “Les Trois Amours” BdV Rouge 2010

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

Domaine Beauvalcinte red

Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de BdV 2012

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

Domaine des Bernardins Muscat

Domaine MathiFlo Muscat de BdV 2012

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

Domaine MathiFlo

Domaine de Durban Muscat de BdV 2010

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

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

Domaine de Durban – one of the best muscats.

Domaine l’Arche des Garances BdV Rouge 2012

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

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

Domaine l’Arche des Garances Muscat de BdV 2012

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

Domaine St Roch Muscat de BdV

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

Stéphanie with her Domaine St Roch muscat

Domaine de Fenouillet “Terres Blanches” BdV Rouge 2011

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

A good range at Fenouillet

Domaine de Fenouillet Muscat de BdV 2011

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

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

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

Chateau Saint Sauveur BdV Rouge 2010

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

St Sauveur muscat, red and rosé

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

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

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

Domaine La Ligière Muscat de BdV 2011

La Ligière muscat

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

Domaine Pierre Rougon (Font Sante) Muscat de BdV 2012

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

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

Domaine Bouletin Muscat de BdV 2011

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

A busy stand at Bouletin.

Domaine de la Pierre du Coq Muscat de BdV 2012

Domaine de la Pierre du Coq

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

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



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








Tasting in Tain – The 2011 vintage in the Northern Rhône

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domaine Betton

Tasting at Domaine Betton

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

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

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

Jean-Pierre Lezin

The Lezins surrounded by their wines

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

Domaine Lombard

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

Domaine Lombard – La Côte and Eugène de Monicault

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

Julien Montagnon

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

Mickaël Bourg

Mickaël Bourg

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

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

Cave Gilles

Cave Gilles were delighted to see me.

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

Bernard Blachon

Bernard Blachon Cornas

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

Jacques Lemenicier

Jacques Lemenicier

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

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

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

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

Domaine les Alexandrins

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

Le Domaine de Lucie

Lucie Fourel

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

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

Les Pitchounette and Aux Racines de St James

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

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

Sébastien Wiedmann in his SYRAH T-shirt

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

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

Domaine du Tunnel

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

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

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

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

Johann Michel

Johann and Mrs. Michel

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

Cornas and Cuvée Jana (centre)

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

Alain Verset

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

Alain Verset and his line-up of Cornas vintages

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

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

Alain’s wines are sold by the Wine Society.

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



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Brézème – The Wine that Time (Almost) Forgot

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

This is the story of a small wine region with a long history, a rocky past and a bright future.

I first drank a wine from Brézème maybe 7 or 8 years ago. It was made by a winemaker called Jean-Marie Lombard and I bought it because I’d been intrigued by the story of how he’d almost single-handedly saved this small wine region at the bottom of the northern Rhône. The wine, I think it may have been Jean-Marie’s Vin de Pays syrah, was pretty good.

Jean-Marie Lombard. Admittedly not the most flattering of shots.

In 2007, I went looking for Jean-Marie’s estate. The address seemed a bit vague, but I knew the domaine was near the small town of Livron and I assumed I’d easily spot it  – after all, I was used to visiting Rhône vineyards and seeing large signs on the side of the road advertising the vineyard owner’s wares. The only problem was that once I got to Livron I couldn’t find any vineyards, never mind Jean-Marie’s. I drove up the hill into the old town, I got blank stares when I asked for directions in the railway station, I couldn’t even find any Brézème wine in a local convenience store.

A Brézème vineyard on the slope of the ridge overlooking the Drôme river. It took some tracking down.

I finally found a vineyard or two when I took a small country road towards Allex, the next village along the Drôme valley. That didn’t really help, however, as there were no indications of who owned the vines or where I might be able to taste the wine. By this stage I’d given up hope of finding the Lombard estate, but I knew that a certain Château La Rolière also made Brézème wine. And as there seemed to be a large house with grounds in the distance, I set of in that direction. Men working near the house didn’t know anything about Brézème, but after coming this far that wasn’t going to be enough to stop me. On the other hand, the large “Private Property – Keep Out” signs weren’t the invitation I’d been looking for. I accepted defeat.

Four years later, I finally made it to Domaine Lombard. (It’s probably worth mentioning, in case you think I’m a bit dim, that out in the wilds of France addresses frequently don’t use road names or house numbers. Postcodes, which in the UK can pin your address down to within a few homes, often cover whole towns.) Jean-Marie poured the wine and explained a bit of the history of Brézème. It seems that up until the 1800s, the region had extensive vineyards and that merchants could sell the wine at a higher price than that of Crozes-Hermitage or St. Joseph. In fact, of all the local wines, prices were second only to Hermitage itself. But then in the late 1800s/early 1900s a series of disasters struck – mildew arrived; the phylloxera louse killed 95% of the vines; and finally the first world war took the men and animals that tended the vineyards off to the battlefields. Many never came back.

The main wine regions of the Rhône valley. Brézème is in the middle where the Drôme river meets the Rhône.

The Drôme valley had always been an extensive fruit-growing area – cherries and apricots in particular – and many farmers found it easier to give up grape growing for the easier returns of stone fruit. Viticulture continued – Brézème was granted its own, unique appellation contrôlée, “Côtes du Rhône Brézème”, in 1943 – but by the early 1970s, when Jean-Marie took over the running of the family estate from his father, there was around 1ha (2½ acres) of vineyard shared between the Lombards, who owned ¼ha, and one other grower.

Jean-Marie didn’t let that put him off. He planted more vines and slowly the estate grew. In the late 1970s the world-famous Hermitage winemaker Gérard Chave tasted Jean-Marie’s wine and pronounced it good. From then on Jean-Marie didn’t look back. In French wine circles he became “Mr Brézème”, raising the profile of the region as a whole and so encouraging other hardy growers to set up. By 2012 Brézème’s vineyards covered around 33ha (including some vin de pays vineyards) of which roughly a quarter belonged to the Lombard estate. A massive growth, undoubtedly, but still there are a few English wine estates which on their own are larger than the combined Brézème vineyards.

Emmanuelle and Julien Montagnon, the new owners of Domaine Lombard

And now for a new chapter begins. Jean-Marie retired in September 2012, but the estate (still called Domaine Lombard) is now in the expert hands of Julien and Emmanuelle Montagnon, who previously had their own estate in Roussillon and are great winemakers in their own right (I know, I’ve tasted their wine). Julien was originally from around Livron and wanted to return to his home region, so the fit was perfect.

Julien made the 2011 vintage alongside Jean-Marie so knows the house style inside out. He reckons that any changes he and Emmanuelle make now they’re in sole charge will be gradual and subtle – maybe a move to organic farming, which they practiced in Roussillon, and a slight lowering of yields. I think they’re worthy guardians.

Here are some brief tasting notes from a recent visit:

Viognier 2011, Vin de Pays de la Drôme

Lombard Viognier 2011

A more understated style than some, but true viognier flavour. Juicy, ripe pear fruit.

Brézème blanc 2011

Marsanne, viognier and a little roussanne. Cream and orchard fruits. Yellow plum. Richness on the palate. Delicious.

Brézème “Castrum Liberonis” blanc 2009

100% marsanne. Honeyed nose. Palate is dry, rich, ripe but mineral underneath. Spent 2 years in barrel. Powerful and full.

Brézème “Castrum Liberonis” blanc 2010

Tasted from tank. This had spent one year in barrel, one in tank. The overall style and concentration were similar to the ’09, but cutting back the oak ageing had given this the edge on freshness and purity.

Brézème “Grand Chêne” rouge 2010

100% syrah and definitely northern Rhône in style. Around 10 months in older oak barrels. Quite farmyardy but lovely red fruit too.

Brézème “Eugène de Monicault” rouge 2010

Lombard “Eugène de Monicault”

This spends two months longer in barrel than the regular bottling. Not a hint of farmyard on this one. My notes say “Delicious! Bright, ripe but delineated and pure”.

Brézème “Castrum Liberonis” rouge 2009

More muscle, more sinew, more mineral but less fruit showing. Concentrated and structured. Iron fist in a velvet glove.

If you would like to taste wine with Julien at the estate contact Rhône Wine Tours.

Other producers

Apart from Domaine Lombard, there’s a handful of independent producers, one negociant and a co-operative. Of those, I’ve tasted the wine of one other independent and the co-operative:

Luc Pouchoulin Brézème Blanc 2009

Last tasted September 2011. 90% roussanne, 10% viognier. Talc-like aromas that make the wine seem slightly confected. My notes said “tart’s boudoir”, which isn’t a huge compliment.

Luc Pouchoulin “Cuvée Tradition” Brézème Rouge 2009

Last tasted September 2011. A high-acid, peppery syrah that, for me, shows too much herbaceous character. Which was a bit of a surprise given the vintage.

Cave de la Valdaine Brézème Rouge 2010

Cave de la Valdaine’s “regular” Brézème. There’s an oak aged cuvée too.

If I had to make comparisons with other northern Rhône districts, I’d say that the Lombard wines resemble Cornas and St.Péray, whereas the Valdaine wine is similar to a simple, easy-going Crozes-Hermitage cuvée. Aromas of blueberry, bramble and white pepper with flavours of cherry, cola-cubes (does that age me?) and more pepper. Supple and juicy, rather than concentrated. Nothing complicated, but enjoyable enough.

Éric Texier is the negociant. I’ve not tasted his wine, but there’s a very good piece by Jamie Goode (Wine Anorak) which rates them very highly. It also says that although Texier is a negociant, buying grapes from growers as far apart as Macon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape to make wine under his own name, his Brézème actually comes from vineyards he owns, including a plot 60+ years old.


If you want to taste the Lombard wine in the UK – and you should – you will need to get in touch with Yapp Brothers, which has some of the best northern Rhône producers in its line-up – Chave, Vernay, Clape, to name but a few – as well as more affordable bottles.

As far as I can tell, you won’t find the Lombard wines in  the USA. But Éric Texier’s wines are available at numerous specialist wine merchants. My advise is to go to wine searcher, type in Brezeme (you don’t need the accents), pop in your state name and see who comes up. But special mention must go to Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City which sells not only Texier’s wines but also the Brézème of Charles Helfenbein, one of the other independents. Two Brézèmes is surely a sign of either deep passion or madness.

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The Other Rhône – Vins Genevois

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Not all the wine regions on the banks of the Rhône are French. The river actually starts in the Valais region of Switzerland (where Mike and John Favre produce their superb “St Pierre” petite arvine) before flowing into Lac Leman and then popping out the other side in Geneva. From there it flows for a few short kilometres through the vineyards of the city’s suburbs before crossing the Swiss/French border into Savoie.

I’ve been drinking a lot of Genevan wine lately, which is surprising when you consider that I’m surrounded by vineyards where I live in the Côtes du Rhône. It’s true that Genevan wines have something different about them, not least a handful of unusual grape varieties, but that in itself wouldn’t be enough. My biggest discovery has been their overall quality.

The Vineyards of Geneva

Travelling north west from Geneva’s city centre (marked in yellow above) you hit the airport, literally right on the border, but go in any other direction and you’ll find vineyards. Some of the main wine producing communes/villages (red dots) are shown , but there are plenty of others and all within a few minutes drive.

The vineyards at Landecy. The point at which the slope of vines stops and the field begins is the Switzerland/ France border.

White wine

As far as white grapes are concerned, Chasselas is quantitive king. It’s importance has shrunk over the last 15 years, but it still makes up around 30% of the total grape harvest, black grapes included. If only its quality merited such large scale planting. I’m sure there is great Genevan chasselas, I just haven’t tasted it yet. All of  them have been perfectly drinkable – I’ve never had one that was actively unpleasant – but, being kind, you’d have to say that a forceful personality was not their strong point.  Being less kind, you could say they tend towards the bland end of the spectrum, like a Swiss version of cheap pinot grigio.

Domaine de Paradis Chasselas from Satigny. Believe me, I’m not picking on this one in particular…


…or this one. Le Clos de Céligny Chasselas.

The other main white grapes are a more interesting mix largely influenced by neighbouring eastern France – chardonnay, pinots blanc and gris, aligoté, sauvignon blanc, gewürztraminer and viognier are all grown. At one time, the vineyard area given over to (German) müller-thurgau was second only to chasselas, but thankfully (it’s not much better) it has slipped back to around 5th place.

Red wine

Gamay dominates Genevan red wine with 60% of the total production. Pinot noir is second and the traditional Bordeaux grapes – cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and merlot – are all in the top ten. But third and fourth spots are taken by Swiss-only grapes, Gamaret and Garanoir, both crossings of gamay (there it is again) and reichensteiner developed specially for the Swiss climate.

Gamay, gamaret and garanoir, aged at least partly in barrel, make up main constituent parts of a style of red called “Esprit de Genève”, which is intended to be a standard bearer for the canton’s wines. No matter who makes an “Esprit” wine, and there were 15 producers who made a 2010 vintage, they all use a similar front label so that there’s consistent branding.

The Esprit de Genève 2010 of Cave de Sézenove. With my nice Ikea rug as the background.

One of the things I’ve found interesting is that many of the reds have a distinct family relationship, at least in terms of structure and texture if not flavour, with certain syrahs from the northern Rhône, despite the cooler climate, the different “terroir” – mostly glacial deposits compared to largely granite – and, obviously, the different grapes. I’m not saying that there are Swiss Côte-Rôties, but you can draw comparisons with some of the softer, less weighty St Josephs and Croze-Hermitages.

Here are some selected tasting notes, hopefully representative but by no means exhaustive.

Domaine des Curiades, Lully

Curiades is run by brothers Jacques and Christophe Dupraz and  is the most consistently good of the producers I have tasted. My one slight issue would be their love of oak, but that’s my prejudice. The wines aren’t unbalanced by too much oak, but I think they’d be just as good, and maybe a bit less “international”, with a bit less. The Coteau de Lully vineyards dominate an impressive hillside position.

Two of Curiade’s wines – the Viognier 2010 and the Marquis de Coudrée 2011

Esprit de Genève 2010

60% gamay, 40% gamaret, all oak aged. Still a young, rich purple colour. It mixes flavours of black forest gateau and black cherry compote with something more medicinal (Germolone to be exact). Soft, ripe and mid-weight.

Marquis de Coudrée 2011

Smelling this immediately made me think of cabernet franc, which in fact only makes up around 15% of the blend. There’s 80% merlot and the balance is cabernet sauvignon. There’s germolene (again) but with juicy raspberries and kirsch.

Viognier 2010

An extremely classy viognier that plays to the floral – parma violet and lavender – side of the grape. Richness without heaviness. It hasn’t got the opulence of the 2009, but I’ve had Condrieu that isn’t as good.

Cave de Sézenove, Sézenove

Claude and Jacques Bocquet-Thonnay’s winery is in Sézenove. But like Domaine des Curiades, their 6.5ha of vineyards are on Lully’s south east-facing slopes, great for exposure to the sun and protection from cold winds.

Esprit de Genève 2010

50% gamay, 20% merlot, plus 20% gamaret and 10% garanoir, both oak aged. This isn’t as dense as the Curiades’ “Esprit”, more cru Beaujolais than Rhône syrah, and the oak is less pronounced. It mixes brambles, blueberry and a slight leafiness with plenty of white pepper spice. Juicy and refreshing. Perfect with a plate of charcuterie.

Cave de Genève, Satigny

Although the Cave is in Satigny, the forty plus members of this co-operative are spread over more than twenty villages, between them growing 27 different grape varieties.

Infini and Rue des Belles-Filles by Cave de Geneve

Rue des Belles-Filles Cabernet Franc 2011

Feels a bit like a sulky teenager. Leave it another six months to a year, by which time is should have become softer and a bit more outgoing. For what it’s worth, at the moment there are aromas of black friuts – cherry, blackcurrant – cinammon and wet clay. It’s structure is more Friuli cab franc than Loire. There’s also some bitterness on the finish, an almost saline/campari/charcoal element, which I suspect some people will like more than me.

Infini 2010

Also on the young side – a deep purple blend of oak aged cabernet sauvignon and garanoir. The nose recalls black fruits, smoke, firesides, licorice, leaf tea (lapsang?), dark cellars. That and the somewhat stern palate (another year should help) make the wine seem closer to Piemonte than anything from Bordeaux or Napa.

Christian Guyot, Bernex

Christian’s vines are spread across Lully, Laconnex and Soral. He makes the Genevan red wine I have enjoyed more than any other – Trois Helvètes 2009 – but I’ll tell you now it wasn’t the most consistent wine. Of the six bottles I’ve drunk over as many months, a couple were massively “reduced” and stinky. The smell largely disappeared with a bit of breathing or a copper coin, but never went completely. As a lover of northern Rhône syrah, Burgundy pinot noir and Bandol, I don’t have a problem with a bit of animal funkiness but others who drank it with me were more concerned. The other four bottles were full of personality and juicy fruit. Trois Helvètes is a diolinoir, garanoir, galotta blend. But if I tell you that diolinoir was created by crossing pinot noir and rouge de diolly and that galotta is a gamay/ancelotta cross, I suspect you won’t be greatly enlightened.

The current vintage is the 2010, which I haven’t tasted. But Christian’s was voted the best 2010 Esprit de Genève, so that should promise well for the TH. He also grows tempranillo, the Rioja grape. You’ve got to admire his climactic optimism.

Domaine du Centaure, Dardagny

Claude Ramu’s estate covers 18ha on a gentle slope in Dardagny. In addition to the usual suspects, he grows Cabernet Dorsa (a cab sauv/dornfelder cross), Findling, Kerner and Scheurebe, so leans more towards German varieties than some of his collegues.

Les Eliades Scheurebe 2010

Les Eliades Scheurebe 2010

A bright, zesty, intensely grapefruity, off-dry scheurebe; its crisp acidity would make it ideal as an aperitif. I drank it in Geneva with a (very good) selection of sushi and it was just the ticket.


Now here’s the problem, or actually two. First, not a single wine I’ve mentioned in this blog appears to be sold in America and only the (Valais) petite arvine of the Favre brothers and the chasselas of Domaine du Paradis (pictured but not really reviewed) can be bought in the UK. Second, the pricing can sometimes be a bit “ambitious”, to say the least. Genevan producers have a captive, wealthy market on their doorstep that will drink all they produce at almost any price. Unless you’re a particularly farsighted winemaker, there’s not much incentive to lower your prices to be able to compete on foreign markets. But here are some people who can maybe help:


Online UK wine merchant Nick Dobson sells the wines of Abeilles d’Or and Domaine du Paradis, both based in Geneva. So if you fancy something specifically Genevois, he’s your man. Theatre of Wine and Bottle Apostle both sell that lovely petite arvine in London. And the Favres’ UK agent, For the Love of Wine, will undoubtedly be willing to tell you wherelse you can buy that and any other wines on their extensive Swiss list. Click on their names to go to their websites.


Swiss Cellars in Wisconsin has one Genevan wine (hurrah!) as well as numerous wines from the Favres (but not that wine) and from other regions. Their wines are available in selected states. Weimax Wines and Spirits in California has a decent range of (non-Genevan) Swiss wines.

Despite the difficulty in getting hold of Swiss wine, and despite their “high end” prices, I urge you to give them a go. They have more than curiosity value on their side.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours where I discuss wine, food and the Rhône Valley. But rarely all at once, and sometimes not at all if something else takes my fancy. There is plenty of Rhône wine related stuff on our website – – and you don’t even have to book a tour or wine tasting to read it. But we won’t say no if you do.

The Other Rhône

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Think of the Rhône’s vineyards and you think of Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Hermitage, maybe Ventoux or Nîmes. But there are other wine regions bordering the river that are less well known, and not all of them are even in France.

Coteaux des Baronnies

The village of Sainte Jalle. Home of Domaine du Rieu Frais.

The Rieu Frais vineyards at the end of August

Almost in my back yard (if I had one), there are the vineyards of the Baronnies hills. The hills form the north eastern boundary of the Côtes du Rhône region and, unsurprisingly, the vineyards are at a higher altitude than their CdR neighbours. Heat-loving varieties like grenache and mourvedre can struggle for ripeness with the slightly cooler temperatures, but white grapes and “Bordeaux” reds thrive, allowing winemakers like Jean-Yves and Alexandre Liotaud at Domaine du Rieu Frais to produce great chardonnay and, especially, viognier and brilliant reds from cabernet sauvignon (the 2007 is delicious right now) and merlot. And the scenery around their home village of Ste. Jalle is stunning.

Alexandre Liotaud

Domaine du Rieu Frais Viognier 2010, IGP Coteaux des Baronnies

Rich and powerful, with the full range of viognier apricot/peach fruit. There’s still a welcome thread of acidity that comes from having vineyards at around 600m (a little under 2000 ft). I don’t know a viognier that gives you more for your money – around 7,60€ locally.

The barrel cellar at Rieu Frais

I can’t find anything available in the USA from the Baronnies hills. In the UK, Waitrose sells a grenache-based Coteaux des Baronnies red for £6.29, but that appears to be it in terms of what’s available. I can’t speak for the UK wine, but I know the maker, Cellier des Dauphins, and the Baronnies red they sell under their own name here in France is fairly dull stuff. Any feedback from UK readers would be welcome.

I seem to remember that The Winery in London’s Maida Vale used to sell the wines from Domaine La Rosière, run by a different branch of the Liotaud family. And I recently saw the Winery’s van parked outside the Baronnies-producing Roche Buissiere estate in the village of Faucon (they make a superb, 90% syrah CdR called Gaïa too). I can’t see any mention of either on The Winery’s website, but if you’re in the area it’s a nice shop to visit in any case with a great German wine range.


The tower that dominates the town of Crest in the Drôme valley.

Further north, in the Drôme valley, are the Clairette-de-Die vineyards. Producers there grow muscat and clairette grapes to make a light, 7-8% alcohol, frothy, aromatic sweet wine. (Despite the wine’s name, the clairette grape, if it is included at all, only makes up a minor part of the finished blend) . I think, and lots agree, ex-Bollinger man Frédéric Raspail at Domaine J-C Raspail is the best winemaker.

Around here, you can pick up a bottle of decent supermarket own-label Clairette for around 5€. But Fred’s wine isn’t much more expensive and it’s worth spending the extra.

Domaine Jean-Claude Raspail Clairette-de-Die Tradition n.v.

I don’t care what you think you think about sweet wines, good Clairette-de-Die is a revelation. It smells like elderflowers and makes a refreshing restorative at any time of day. However, it’s the intensity and balance of Fred’s wines that set them apart. Is it connected to the fact that he is one of the last producers to turn the maturing wine by hand? The best thing with cake. And tarts. And puddings. Around 8€ locally.

The "pupitres" or racks used for riddling the Raspail Clairette-de-Die by hand

And as if to prove a point - Frédéric Raspail turning bottles. Sorry the quality isn't great - it was pretty dark down in the cellars.

Lucky Californians can buy Fred’s Clairette-de-Die at Woodland Hills Wine in Los Angeles ($15.99 exc. tax) and Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits in SF ($18 exc. tax). Elsewhere in America it tends to be the Clairette made by the more-than-competent Jaillance co-operative that you come across when you can find any at all, although K&L and Solano Cellars (both CA) and Yapp in the UK sell Achard-Vincent‘s very good wine (the English translation on Achard-Vincent’s website isn’t quite so tip-top). And talking of more obscure Rhône wines, Yapp also sells rather delicious Brézemes of Domaine Lombard. More on those soon…

You can visit both the Liotauds and Frédéric Raspail through Rhône Wine Toursclick for the link. Both are certified organic, by the way.

Coteaux du Lyonnais

Skipping past the Vivarais region in the Ardèche (basically CdR in a lighter style), its equally easy to miss Lyon’s own vineyards, the Coteaux du Lyonnais. Driving north along the A7 to Lyon, you might think that the vines stop at the steep slopes of Ampuis (Côte-Rôtie). But further back from the river and the autoroute, starting in the gently rolling hills around Givors and sweeping around the western flank of Lyon, there are growers nuturing black grapes, except here it’s gamay not syrah. A lot of the wine is, frankly, pretty mediocre sub-Beaujolais, but there are some good producers and I want to mention one in particular.

Guillaume Clusel's Cuvée Galet

When I visited Domaine Clusel-Roch last autumn I tasted (and bought – ye gods, the price!) the supremely stylish Côte-Rôties of Brigitte Roch and Gilbert Clusel. But Brigitte also poured two cuvées of red Coteaux du Lyonnais made by her son, Guillaume. These are gamays made from low, concentrated yields (as little as 20hl/ha – or about half that of a serious claret) with plenty of skin maceration and traditional long fermentations. In other words, proper wine. Not big, not brawny, but taut, sinewy, mineral and, more to the point, delicious.

Guillaume Clusel “Traboules” 2010, Coteaux du Lyonnais

Traboules comes from two specific vineyards – Rochipel and Coutois – in the village of Millery, where the soils are formed of glacial debris. It is 100% gamay, but you’d be forgiven for thinking Rhône syrah rather than northern neighbour Beaujolais. Red fruits (cherry) and a slight floral touch. At around 7,50€ it’s a steal.

Guillaume Clusel “Galet” 2010, Coteaux du Lyonnais

Galet comes from older vines in the La Petite Gallée vineyard, also in Millery, and spends a year in previously used oak barrels. Côte-Rôtie methods are used with a month-long maceration/fermentation, “remontage” and “pigeage” (ways of mixing the grape skins with the fermenting juice to extract more colour, weight, tannins etc). All this shows in extra flesh and richness (it’s still sinewy though) and black, not red, fruit flavours. It’s just 12€ locally, but less than 2,000 bottles were made so stocks are tight.

"Remontage" - taking the fermeneting wine from under the cap of grape skins and pumping it over the top. This photo, by the way, was taken at Domaine Beau Mistral in Rasteau.

US readers are relatively fortunate: The Wine Exchange in Orange, CA and Blackwell’s in San Francisco are currently selling Traboules, Slope Cellars in Brooklyn has Galet.

You can buy Clusel-Roch’s Côte-Rôties and Condrieu at various upmarket London wine merchants but not, as far as I can tell, the Lyonnais.

Onwards and upwards (at least topographically)

But the Rhône doesn’t end in Lyon either. From there,  the river flows through the sub-alpine vineyards of Savoie. (They really need a blog of their own, but in passing I’d suggest you look out for the Chignin-Bergeron made by André & Michel Quenard as its one of the loveliest expressions of roussanne that I know.) Finally, the Rhône crosses the Swiss border in the suburbs of Geneva.

Having recently come back from Geneva and having drunk probably more Genevois (Genevan?) wine than anybody who doesn’t live there (and quite a few who do) I hope I’m qualified enough to pass on my thoughts. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but until one comes along I suppose I’ll do. That, however, is for Part 2.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where I write far too much about food and wine subjects that frequently interest only me (chatus grape anyone?). If that hasn’t put you off already, you can read more by going to our website, If you have any suggestions for future blogs, please get in touch.

Ten Green Bottles – Part 2

Monday, November 26th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julien and Emmannuelle Montagnon, the new owners of Domaine Lombard

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

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

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

Domaine Betton Cuvée Espiègle

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

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

Anne-Marie Gaudin-Riche, Domaine du Terme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Do you know the way to Saint Peray?

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

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

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

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

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

Vignobles Verzier

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

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

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

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

Jacques Breyton

Jacques Breyton

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

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

Domaine Pierre Finon

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

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

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

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

Alain Verset

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

Mickaël Bourg

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

Catherine Le Goeuil

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

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

Patrick Jasmin

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

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

Happy hunting, happier drinking and santé,


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

Up North – Part 2

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Previously on Up North: when we last met our intrepid travelers – click here if you missed Part 1 – they had enjoyed lunch in Tournon and were heading south, which is where we join them…

Johann Michel outside his cave

(Note: like most of the photos, this was taken in winter. Nobody would be mad enough to wear a scarf and jacket in a Rhône summer.)

The first stop of the afternoon was at Johann Michel’s estate outside the large village/small town of St. Péray. Johann has recently got himself a UK importer – Flint Wines – although he doesn’t seem to appear on their website yet, and has been available in America for a while through Kysela.

Johann only makes four wines, and even then not all of them are available year round. Only 2,000 bottles of the white St. Péray are made each year and it’s so rare we’ve never before managed to be in the same place at the same time. The blend is 50:50 marsanne and roussanne and, at 11€ at the estate door, it’s an absolute steal. The aromas of white flowers and honey lead onto a dry palate with lemon curd and brioche flavours.

We then went onto the red wines from his Cornas vineyards (Cornas and St. Péray are a matter of minutes apart), but not just tasting from the bottle. First Johann wanted us to taste from the barrels that contain the constituent parts that will eventually be blended to form the “Tradition” 2011, and then the same with the flagship Cuvée Jana. It was fascinating to taste and compare the wines at this stage in their development.

In the cave at Domaine Johann Michel

The first barrel sample was “Pied des Coteaux”. This wine was made with grapes harvested from flatter vineyards at the bottom of the slopes. It felt closed up, a bit compressed, but was relatively supple with fruits of the forest flavours.

Cornas vineyards on a grey September day - a gentle incline followed by full slopes

The 2011 Coteaux (hillside) wine that was resting in a 2 year old barrel was more deeply coloured, denser, with higher (but ripe) tannins. The same Coteaux wine that had been stored in a 5 year old barrel was, my notes tell me, simply “lovely”. Both were more than good, but there was a noticeable difference and that came solely from the age of the barrel.

At that, my ability to keep up with Johann disappeared. I know we tasted the flagship “Cuvée Jana” 2011 from barrel, and I seem to remember thinking it was a bit stricter than the Tradition, but I have no notes to confirm that.

Then onto the bottles – the 2010 Tradition is made from 100% syrah,  60% of the blend came from the hillside “coteaux” vineyards, the remaining 40% from “pied des coteaux”. Powerful and full, with a strong black fruit element and a tight core. Give it a few years.

The Cuvée Jana is 100% hillside fruit using whole bunches, so stems and all go into the fermentation tanks. The fruit is even richer but there is a more tannic backbone. This needs even more time. At the moment, there is the same dark fruit as the Tradition but with added flavours of macerated cherry, dark chocolate, a bit of black olive. What’s nice about it (among many other things) is that it still has a lick of cleansing acidity to lift the flavours.

Finally, when we thought there could be no more to taste, onto the Tradition 2007 which is coming into its own now, mellowing and softening, with cherry-like fruit.

What a great tasting with a warm, welcoming man who was as generous with his time as his wine.

The hill of Hermitage as seen from Tournon. The town of Tain sits at the foot of the hill.

Finally, across the river to La Roche de Glun, just south of Tain and the hill of Hermitage, at the southern end of the Crozes-Hermitage appellation. Christelle Betton was up to her eyes (almost literally) sorting Domaine Betton’s apricot harvest when we arrived so it was good of her to be so generous with her time – the “good half hour” she said she could spare became nearer 1½ hours.

Betton Père et Fille

Christelle filled us in on the estate’s history (they have been bottling independently for less than ten years) and poured the white “Cristel” Crozes-Hermitage 2011. This is essentially pure marsanne, although as unproductive vines are replaced roussanne is being planted, which will add another aromatic dimension to an already very tasty wine. Freshly opened its flavours revolve around ripe orchard fruit, but with a bit of air it becomes more exotic: a bottle opened at home developed subtle aromas of rose petals and dried orange.

Only two barrels (600 bottles) are made each year from the estate’s tiny holding on the hill at Hermitage (L’Homme vineyard). The 2010 white is dense and powerful, the firmest white of the day, with a sneaking feeling of tannins lurking in the background. This is not an opulent wine in the manner of a Condrieu viognier from a little further north, but it is intense, feeling like there is a solid core of muscle. The flavours lean towards stone fruit with a touch of tilleul, citrus and honey, although the wine is bone dry. Not a wine to be sipped as an aperitif, but to be enjoyed with food – think white meats, seafood possibly, in creamy sauces. At 30ish€ it isn’t cheap, but it is a bargain. You taste this and realise that so many wines are hollow and vapid in comparison. Christelle admitted that she spent the first few vintages changing the working methods each year to discover what worked best with the particular terroir – nice to see an enquiring mind – but it seems to me that with the 2010 she has hit on the right recipe.

Espiègle. Thanks to the Bettons for this photo.

Then the two cuvées of red, Espiègle and Caprice. Espiègle 2010 Crozes-Hermitage is from younger vines and is unashamedly about the fruit. It is uncomplicated and delicious. It put a smile on my face just tasting it. Drink it cool.

Caprice is the fuller-bodied, richer product of older vines. The fruit flavours are darker (more cassis) but the wine still has a certain freshness and digestibility. It isn’t, thankfully, another one of those soft, vaguely soupy Crozes. It is undoubtedly the more “impressive” of the reds and naturally a little more expensive (still only 13€) and I can fully understand why anyone might go for it in preference. I bought the Espiègle, because a wine that can make you smile has to be a good thing.

For reasons I can’t explain, Christelle hasn’t got an importer in either the UK or America. If you’d like to taste the wines, therefore, you will have to come to the Rhône or pester your local wine merchant/shipper to buy some of Domaine Betton’s wine.

With the tasting finished we left Christelle to her apricots and headed back to Lyon. With a car full of wine, naturally.

Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where we ramble on about food and wine and the food and wine of the Rhône in particular. If you would like to read more about both, there’s plenty more information on our website – You can even book tours and wine tastings there, and maybe help us make a bit of money. If you have any comments, or any suggestions for future blogs, please get in touch. I read everything that gets sent, even if only to laugh at how bad the spam is.