the British wine trade has been shaken up by further consolidation, this time in the form of BERRY BROS & RUDD, Berry Brothers to most of us, buying RICHARDS & WALFORD, agents based in the potato growing area of Lincolnshire. Roy Richards and Mark Walford were the first British merchants to take an interest in the Rhône after Gerald Asher and Robin Yapp, going back to the early 1970s. They have an impressive number of estates on their books. Berrys have really taken a big view on the potential of the Rhône, even though it is still tiny compared to their Bordeaux trade. They assembled about 25 growers in London at the end of February for their tasting of 2010s.
CORNAS (Cheval Mascot) ALERT: the famous horse, who receives fan mail e-mails here from around the world, runs at Cheltenham in the mighty meeting of the whole year, on Friday 16 March, in the 2 mile handicap chase, the Grand Annual. He will have a young rider taking 5 lbs off his back. He has had a winter break, and we hope he can run well. His odds are around 25/1 at the moment. I recently opened a bottle of 1990 CORNAS A.CLAPE for the VERNAYS and YVES GANGLOFF of CONDRIEU, for JEAN-MICHEL GÉRIN of CÔTE-RÔTIE, and for PIERRE-JEAN VILLA, who makes SAINT-JOSEPH as well. They all found it stunning. ALLEZ CORNAS (VIN et CHEVAL)!!
ENTERED RECENTLY, a round-up of over 165 2010 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS that rate 3 stars or higher. See 2010 SOUTHERN RHÔNE in the left-hand column - click the subtag The Leading Wines. The main tranche is starting to be bottled now, and these are usually high quality, complex, delightful wines; the early bottled wines - within 11 months of the harvest - can be agreeable, but simple. I prefer 2010 to 2009 across the board - it has much better balance and freedom.
VINISUD at MONTPELLIER, celebrating its 10th edition, was a very busy show for me, but for the exhibitors Day 3 was light; the first day, Monday, was full of Cavistes, French wine store owners. The halls became hot on the afternoons of Day 2 and day 3, and on the communal tables where domaines put 1 or 2 bottles of their wines to taste, their stand being elsewhere, about 1 in 25 bothered to provide ice and cold water to keep their whites and rosés in shape: simple rules of the game that people are incredibly lax about.
My star moment was on Day 1, when I arrived before the start. I was happily tasting 2010 RED VENTOUX (a very good vintage there) at 09.20 when approached by a silver-haired man in a blue blazer. What ho, I thought - a cordial welcome in prospect. From a distance, I thought I heard him say that it was not good for the palate to taste before 10.00 in the morning. I replied that I was used to it, so don`t worry about me. But no, he didn`t want me to taste at all. As I was in the Palais de la Mediterranée, it turned out that he was telling me that I could not taste in the Palais - his Palace - (but palais also = palate) before 10.00 o`clock. The wines were all laid out, open, ready. Is this how the French CONTINUE to do business, I ask you?? Lots of people attend from far-flung continents, and are still met with this sort of pedantry. INCROYABLE. I continued to taste and note, nevertheless, insisting that I had come a long way to meet him, and the wines. So there. I tell you, it`s not easy, this tasting lark.
YOU CAN`T CALL IT VIN ON AIR: Another "Only in France" vignette was the Télématin broadcast on 30 January, 2011. On the France 2 channel, this is a very popular programme anchored by the charming, urbane William Leymergie, who in this case was dealing with the show`s food reporter Isabelle Martinet. Her item was on bread, and three types of bread including Speciality Bread, namely one made in Lyon with Beaujolais wine in it. Amid giggles as if they were discussing someone else`s illicit affair, neither person, paid by the State to do the job, could bring themselves to utter the word Vin, Wine. We had "the product of the local vineyard", the "red-coloured liquid" and so on. William tried to say that it was not their fault that they were speaking this way, but it is a deplorable state of affairs all round. Growers I have met in New York in the past have actually said to me how much they enjoy their overseas visits, since "at least there we are not regarded as peddlers of drugs."
I find this INCROYABLE (bis), and I am not alone; the growers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are thoroughly fed up as well, as should be all vignerons. I have subsequently spoken to sources close to the seat of power, literally, and was told that there is the No Alcohol Advertising edict on French TV, but this really takes a large Hovis biscuit, especially since the Boulanger happily spoke about Le Vin de Beaujolais when filmed making the bread.
For this piece of nonsense, see http://telematin.france2.fr/?page=chronique&id_article=34781
2010 VINTAGE: Further confirmation came of the star quality of the 2010 vintage, both North and South, although my main focus was on the Southern Rhône. Notes will be posted on some lovely wines, with STGT qualities, such as the CÔTES DU RHÔNE CLAVIN red from DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE, a vineyard bang next to the Daumens` CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. The cool nights and fresh, even ripening, has really allowed the land to speak in this vintage.
2011 VINTAGE: a first proper look at some 2011s, mostly whites and rosés, shows that this is an easy drinking, restaurant-related year, the wines coming out nicely sunny and supple. Off we go, indeed. The challenge may well be for the top domaines to achieve a proper tannic structure to make the wines interesting and capable of a purposeful second stage of life. The other total pre-requisite was to sort out the vast crop. There will be w.o.w. wines in 2011, and that is helpful, given the big structures of the 2010 and 2009.