vinous highlights of Christmas-New Year came in the form of the 1990 Pol Roger and the 1978 Graves Château La Louvière blanc. 2 bottles of each, in each instance the last 2 bottles of a case bought at issue. The Pol Roger showed yet again just what a fantastic vintage 1990 is for Champagne - full of mousse still, with a honeyed complexity running through the most elegant of palates. Great length. The second bottle showed a fraction more age, with a Comté cheese note on the bouquet. Oh for a magnum, a Jereboam or a daughter born in 1990, not 1991, so I had more of the 1990s.
The Louvière shows my love for white Graves - ever since I was introduced to Château Haut-Brion blanc 1959 during an outdoors luncheon at Beaumanière Restaurant in Les Baux when it was in its finest 3 star pomp in 1973. Wham! Quelle finesse, what lingering scented delights. As a neighbour of Carbonnieux, La Louvière is in good white wine territory that has never really had full appreciation - not a bad thing for the value hounds. The 1978 La Louvière white is still fresh as a daisy, the colour a simple pale yellow, and a wine of remarkable staying power: decanted, it was still going without any concession to dryness or oxidation 24 hours later. The Sauvignon as the 75%+% senior partner showed through most of all, with a murmur of acidity at its heart, the Semillon aiding the finish and its breadth. Wonderful wine - when you open such "aulde friends" that have moved house with you several times and are still doing the business, wine becomes one of the greatest pleasures, and flashbacks to what was going on in the world and your own life come readily and picturesquely to mind. Often it is the unassuming wines, not the grandiose, that cast this spell.
Rhône highlights: from the Rhône, highlights were the still young and shapely 1999 Côte-Rôtie from Patrick Jasmin, the also young and compact 1998 Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf-du-Pape red, and above all, my little chou, my sweet friend, the 1990 Saint-Joseph red from Jean-Louis Grippat, my bon ami whom I bumped into, amid great emotion, at the Cornas Wine Marché in December, Jean-Louis having retired from his life as a vigneron when he sold his domaine and vineyards to Marcel Guigal in 2001. What a long, existential sentence that was - I must have been reading Donleavy in my sleep!
Best Value Wine: please also see Best Value Wines for a tremendous value white Laudun from Marks and Spencer in England, on sale at £4.49. Scroll down to the Southern Rhône section there.
Future visit: the later part of February heralds a visit to the Southern Rhône to taste an extensive series of Côtes du Rhônes and Villages, with the thought that value for money will be ever more important in 2009, and for the paupers in Britain with their battered economy and currency, vital. There is the usual gala set of 2007 Burgundy tastings in London during January, with people keen to see how the whites are performing. Certainly, that is likely to be a Burgundy vintage for the northern European palate, unlike the Southern Rhône, which is packed with sweet Grenache.
Tardieu-Laurent: the masters of oak, based in the pretty Lubéron village of Lourmarin, buy wines from old vine plots and raise them over a couple of years. A tasting of their range was held at their British importers, Corney & Barrow, in December 2008. See Tardieu-Laurent under their entry in the Cornas appellation.
Paul Jaboulet Ainé: added so far in January have been the tasting notes of my December 2008 visit to Paul Jaboulet Ainé. My recent article in the Decanter Magazine of February 2009 took around 9 months to write, since I was so vexed by the style of the wines emerging from the new management regime. I regard Jaboulet, the icon of my youth in the Rhône, as vital to the region`s heritage and well-being. Thus wines that do not come close to local expression are of great concern for the Rhône`s identity.
We are talking about the long view, and of integrity here. Does one let the house buyer purchase the Graded, Listed building, and knock it down? Do we, the consumers, want to drink Me-Too wines, expecting applause when we sagely extol their virtue of holding "the correct amount of blackberry"? Such talk is cheap. The successful campaign to stop the building of an apartment block on the vineyards of Cornas 12 months ago resulted in the Mayor of Cornas losing his seat, the groundswell of fuss from overseas playing a large part in that event, as recounted to me, with due thanks, by the NEW Mayor of Cornas in December, 2008.
Consequently I feel that my position on Jaboulet is important for the region. If all winewriters go round intoning that the new wines are better than the last ones, or that they have pretty fruit, they are only doing at most half their job. Historical context is vital in the most noble vineyards, so I for one am prepared to stand up and be counted on that, after 37 years covering the Rhône.
Other recent additions: also added to the roster of domaines in January and December have been the Domaine de La Guicharde at Massif d`Uchaux, the Domaine de Lucéna at Visan, and the Domaine des Pasquiers at Sablet, along with Domaine de Montvac at Vacqueyras; Domaine Jean David at Séguret - both interesting domaines, the latter STGT, organic wines. 2007s were assessed at Château de Beaucastel, a visit to Domaine Pontifical at Châteauneuf-du-Pape has been entered, and at Cornas, Vincent Paris` first vintage of La Geynale, the 2007 (I am in the group owning that vineyard) and his other young wines were tried, plus a tasting with Jacques Leminicier of his Cornas and Saint-Péray 2007 and 2006. Dec 2008 visits to Guigal, Vidal-Fleury and René Rostaing at Côte-Rôtie, André Perret and Domaine Georges Vernay at Condrieu (and Saint-Joseph) were also logged, as have June 2008 visits to Domaine La Fourmente and Domaine L`Orbieu at Visan.