a few hundred 2007 Northern Rhône reds and whites were tasted in early December, and there are certainly wines of some pedigree around in this vintage, which is less flashy than the Southern Rhône. Notes to be posted over the coming weeks. In both North and South, the 2008s I have tasted have been OK, as they say . . direct fruit, and more in the glass than the doomsayers (at least those who deem any poor year in Bordeaux equals a poor year everywhere else in France) have been muttering.
There was a foot of snow on 11 December, it lying for some days at 300 metres on the plateau above Côte-Rôtie: that made for very cold, dank cellars and nutters trying to overtake me on snow-bound roads. Water reserves in the Northern Rhône are now back to normal, the first time in several years, so perhaps 2009 starts out on a well-balanced footing. The Southern Rhône is still short by I would estimate around 20-30% of its "normal" water reserves.
Pricing is going to be a hot topic in 2009. With a good vintage in 2007 and a dodgy year in 2008, one would think that the growers will go all out with prices as high as the market will take on the 2007s. But we have an enormous slowdown, and galloping unemployment. Will 2008s be a lot cheaper? Well, they should be, but then the crop is down by at least 30%. So lowering prices on a greatly reduced crop is not easy to do, especially if the bank is breathing down your neck. Some high profile merchants have gone long on buying up large stocks of 2007 Côtes du Rhône reds, with a view to buying up very little of the 2008s, and hoping for a good vintage in 2009 to keep supply of that wine going.
In Britain, with its particularly enfeebled economy, the added bugbear is the weakness of sterling, collapsing against the Euro as I write. Duty increases from November only add to the gloom. This is the pragmatic Celtic-Anglo Saxon way of hitting merchants, as opposed to the Gallic one of banning internet comment on drinks and generally making people feel bad about working in the wine trade or growing vines.
Our cheval mascot, Cornas, raced twice in November, which was once too often, and "he was quiet when saddled" on the second occasion, despite his owner claiming he was a hardy New Zealand-bred. He finished 7th in that race at Ascot, by the way. Maybe Auguste Clape should feed him some oats and tell him to get a grip. His next destination is to jump larger obstacles after a rest over Christmas. Maybe some Yuletide Syrah in the bran mash . .?
Plans for the vineyard visit will be firming up in the next 2 months. The target date is likely to be towards the end of May 2009. Happy Christmas to readers in the meantime.
Cornas kicks off the Northern Rhône village wine festivities. that occur every December. This is when the local growers have a chance to sell their recent wines to their nearby public, and a frequent sight is that of septuagenarians wheeling their diable trolleys ("diable" because of the two handles that stick out) laden with cases to people`s cars. I first attended the Cornas Marché aux Vins in 1973, when it was called the Festival of the Syrah and the Roussette. Those were long days, with post-midnight assembly in the cellar of Auguste Clape. I shall be back there again this year for the 2008 version, and then a series of 2007 tastings and domaine visits across all the Northern appellations.
The Cornas Fair is followed a week later by the Chavanay Wine Fair, with more of the Saint-Joseph, Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu vignerons present, that little bit nearer their homes.
2008 in the Southern Rhône has fared reasonably well: fruit without great stuffing around it has shown up at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. But the fruit is clear. Meanwhile, the 2007s there boom along, with bags of fruit and abundant sweet appeal. Some wines are facile, and lack tannic structure - these are not the wines of a Great Year. The best domaines seem to have that all-important tannin, are very good indeed, and can live well. 2007 notes will be fed in from mid-December, after my visit to the Northern Rhône that starts in this first week of December.
The cheval mascot, Cornas, has run twice since the last news was posted - 5th at Ascot, then 8th at Newbury, both in hot handicap hurdle races over 2 miles. I am a shade poorer after these two sorties, and have not yet heard from Nick Brookes of Vine Trail about the inside story. This month`s Allez Cornas! award therefore goes to the village before its Marché aux Vins.
I repeat the advice to see the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 whites, listed under the sidebar 2006 Southern Rhône, and also to keep in touch with the STGT and w.o.w. categories - the latter invariably points to good value wines. Added recently has been the Perrin et Fils collection of Southern Rhône wines - an extremly strong line-up - and these are listed under Perrin et Fils in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.