the last week of January heralds the issue of proper 2010 Rhône offers from two highly respected sources in Britain, The Wine Society (which is a Members Society on http://www.thewinesociety.com/ and Berry Brothers of London, http://www.bbr.com/ The Wine Society offer, for example, features 180 wines from North and South. These are correctly timed offers, allowing the importers main men to have assesed the wines recently, when they are closer to their final nature than they are back in October and November.
a Happy 2012 to all readers and subscribers. The year beckons the release of the exceptional 2010s, and an emerging picture of the 2011 vintage, which is undoubtedly uneven in quality, implying careful selection on a domaine by domaine basis.
JEAN-JACQUES SABON: The extremely sad news just before Christmas was of the death of Jean-Jacques Sabon, the owner of Domaine Roger Sabon at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Jean-Jacques was an ebullient, witty man with whom I was lucky enough to be a good friend; he attended my 50th birthday party lunch at La Mère Germaine, and was in great form then, as he was at any social event. He was a man of different interests, ranging beyond wine.
After his first bout of cancer a few years ago, Jean-Jacques fought back and developed a skill that he felt he had possessed for some time, without previously giving it full attention: this was his ability to use his hands to magnetise people, to cure them of aches and muscle ailments. Magnetiseur is the term in French, I believe. This was a fascinating ability, and while he had been suffering severely himself, he selflessly took to helping others in pain or distress.
The most extraordinary and compelling Rhône white wine that I have ever drunk was the Roger Sabon 1934 white which I drank with Jean-Jacques and the well-known merchant and ex-vineyard owner Robert Dahm of Domaine de Terre Ferme in the mid-1990s. We lunched at the Sommellerie on the route to Roquemaure, and found the wine oxidised, flat and severe, when we opened it at the start of lunch. After the main course, Jean-Jaques suggested we re-try the wine. What an experience! It was as if the clouds had been chased away, the sun had come out, and all was well with our young and fresh world. Made mainly from Grenache blanc and Clairette, the malo of course completed, this was spectacular - rich and lasting, a storming bottle. Jean-Jacques was delighted, since 1934 had been the year of a family wedding, and several bottles remained in his cellar - we had chosen one with a good high level in the bottle.
Didier Negron, Jean-Jacques` son-in-law, has been running the estate in the past few years, and I send my condolences to Jean-Jacques` widow and to him. Jean-Jacques illuminated my life, and the lives of many others.
MORE ON GIGONDAS BOOK: an early, complete and whimsical review of the book has been posted up on http://www.les5duvin.com/article-les-40-ans-de-gig-et-le-livre-qui-va-avec-95367051.html by Frenchman Michel Smith (despite his surname) who is one of 5 bloggers including Jim Budd, famous for his wine scandal sleuthing (think Campogate) and his knowledge of the Loire Valley. Michel knows the Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon well (has published a good book on the latter). It is in French, for those who comprend la situation, and Michel is very enthusiastic.
GIGONDAS, Its Wines, Its Land, Its People was published in mid-December, 2011. I am pleased. This has been a project that lasted over three years, with several contributors. It is a true close-up of a wine village and community, with sections on the History of Gigondas, on its Geology, on its Domaines and on its Wines. I rate it as the most intimate and detailed portrait of a wine village ever produced, with sumptuous photographs. 500 pages, 1.9 kilos. Like a baby. Click on Gigondas Book in the Left Hand column to order.
MY SECTION: I have written the last named section, covering the vintages from 1959 to 2009. I have been back to my tasting notes from 1973-1974, and been able to compare those impressions with current impressions of the wines nearly 40 years later. It is a genuine archive with the odd personal story thrown in, nothing too stiff in the prose. The book is available in France from the Growers website http://www.gigondas-vin.com/ and for outside France it can be bought through drinkrhone - click on the left-hand tab Gigondas Book. I send the orders on to Gigondas for despatch from there. The book is in both French and English. The price is £35, pounds sterling, inc postage.
CORNAS (Cheval Mascot) alert: the game, gallant Cornas ran in the best 2-mile steeplechase before Christmas at Sandown Park on Saturday 3 December, yes, the best one. He finished an admirable third behind the Irish champion, perhaps his best ever run. His attitude is wonderfully Cornasien - whatever the challenge, he has a go. I know he is applauded by readers, and his recognition continues to exceed that of the Mayor of Cornas. Fittingly, he ran on the middle day of the Marché aux Vins de Cornas, which perhaps aided his propulsion - so many gathered under the one roof, in the one Syrah of the Ardèche cause. Allez Cornas! He will now have a holiday before running in Paris in the spring, early summer. Very fancy.
2010 Northern Rhône notes have been loaded on a wide selection of Cornas, Hermitage red and Côte-Rôtie. See the left-hand tab 2010 Northern Rhône, and once logged in, click on the subtab The Leading Wines. Domaine visits to Marc Sorrel and Bernard Faurie are also featured, under Hermitage. Under Vin de Pays, I suggest a look at the most promising Domaine Les Alexandrins, a Northern sector venture co-run by Marc Sorrel`s son Guillaume. From 2011 they will be offering a Crozes-Hermitage red, but for now their red from 85% Gamay and their Viognier are very good in 2010.
mid November 2011: well, 2010 Northern Rhône is indeed a beauty, as I can testify having tasted 350+ wines recently, with Côte-Rôtie up in the stars, and Cornas (the wine for once, not our noble Cheval Mascot, who came second the other day in a top race at Exeter) delivering superb fruit and quality. A supreme Cornas vintage, so it is, yer honour. The whole area is well off, and the whites from the Marsanne and the Roussanne are superb, rich and food-friendly. Notes to be posted under different domaines. Look for the LVT (last Vintage Tasted) 2010 tag.
In the Southern Rhône, visits to three domaines at Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste 2010s and some 2009s in bottle: Font de Michelle (which includes their very promising Gonnet Selection range, eg Ventoux and Gigondas), Vieux Télégraphe (which includes their Gigondas Les Pallières) and the Bruniers other Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine La Roquète, and the Château de Beaucastel, where the estate wines were tasted, along with the wider range, whose name has changed from Perrin & Fils to Famille Perrin (I note on the internet that there is a silk manufacturer in France called Perrin & Fils, but I bet their silk wasn`t as good as that in the Gigondas Vieilles Vignes 2010).