Vacqueyras is under the spotlight, with recent vintages 2007, 2008 and 2009 being entered. Look for the LVT 2009, 2008 symbols next to the domaines. Two recently established domaines, the offbeat Roucas Toumba of Eric Bouletin and Domaine Les Ondines of Jérémy Onde, have been entered. Also at Vacqueyras, a traditional domaine, the Domaine Cabassole, and a long-established property where I did the harvest in the early 1970s, Le Clos de Caveau. There are also domaines not based in Vacqueyras who are making good wines: these include, from Gigondas, the Château du Trignon (newly acquired 10 hectare vineyard), Domaine La Bouïssière, Pierre Amadieu and the organic Clos du Joncuas, while from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Domaine de la Charbonnière regularly makes successful Vacqueyras.
Cornas (cheval mascot) alert: Cornas ran fourth in a 13 runner, very competitive handicap steeplechase over 2 miles at Cheltenham on Saturday 11 December, 2010. After his hoof soreness last time out, he ran a very good race, creeping quietly into contention running down the hill to the last two fences, then getting tired (he had a high weight). He is obviously manful enough to handle an 11.40 race start (unlike yours truly). Now we have the Big Freeze, his next outing may be on hold for a while. I hope his trainers, Nick and Jane Williams, who love him dearly, will give him some sort of Christmas treat from their snowbound stables. ALLEZ CORNAS!!
Talking of horse racing, I have been recently running a campaign against a bad idea to impose a new, supposedly Super Duper, whizzo day on English racing, and have set up my second website, http://www.horseracingdeservesbetter.org/. If any of you read the issues and News posted there, and care about horse racing, whose integrity and programme have parallels with the long traditions of wine making, please sign up, and save the sport from a spectacular own-goal. The deadline on this is the second week of January 2011.
The 2009 Rhône en primeur campaign is up and running in Britain, with offers ranging from the 2009 vin de pays La Rosine of Stéphane Ogier at £115 per dozen from OW Loeb http://www.owloeb.com/ - decent value - to the 2009 Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape at £249 from Yapp Brothers http://www.yapp.co.uk/ Please keep watching the LVT tag against domaine names for the Last Vintage Tasted notes on 2009s as they appear.
I cannot start without mention of the snow that has swept Northern and Central Europe. Having been in extreme cold of -15°C in Finland in the last week of November, wandering the streets of Helsinki looking for a wonderful restaurant called Juuri (to be reviewed), I thought that I had had enough of the inclement. Nay, my liege. Now we have 25 cm (10 inches) in Sussex, so we are temporarily jumelé (twinned) with Ampuis, the seat of Côte-Rôtie, which also received a snowfall of 25 cm on the night of November 30-December 1. The growers are busying themselves indoors - Patrick Jasmin wrapping and preparing Christmas present despatches (quite an image), and Pierre Clape trying to get his car in the garage at Cornas. The Southern Rhônehas also been hit, with snow as far south as the nougat capital of Montélimar.
There have been some early launches of the Rhône 2009s in London, with merchants seeking to replicate their gigantic success with the Bordeaux 2009s, whose campaign starts every year at the stitch-up, ridiculous date of April following the harvest. The Burgundy 2009 campaign starts in Britain in January 2011. I have reservations about these campaigns, and always have. Merchants cajole growers into presenting the wines earlier and earlier - and so less and less finished. The pay-off is the merchants` bank balances, as people pay up front for a good that is incomplete and certainly changes (would you buy a car with 3 seats and 1 indicator light?). The other debris from this is the fuelling of superstar vintages that "everyone" wants, and the complete overlooking of any vintage of lesser status.
I made enquiries about a fine 2009 Côte-Rôtie, a case of which was selling for £600-700. I was asked to also purchase 2 cases of the regular cuvée - if I had done that, my bill would have more than doubled to a total £1,500. It was also interesting to hear the comments of a leading Northern Rhône grower, who had been visited by several British wine merchants in November. "All they talk about is China," he told me; "I receive them here to discuss and sell to the British market." The implication is that the faithful buyer in Britain will be ignored as allocations are diverted to the Klondyke market of China - whether that is in the trade agreement between merchant and grower is another matter.