back from the Rhône, back, just, without sleeping the night in a snow drift near Brighton, from Helsinki, the first 2008 tasting notes are being gradually fed in. It is a vintage that needs micro-investigation - what the French term "le travail de fourmi (the work of an ant). No blanket statements can be made. Each domaine must be judged separately. Under Saint-Joseph, notes on the whites of Domaine Bernard and Fabrice Gripa should be looked at. Under Hermitage, the 2008s of Marc Sorrel, and his 2007s, all of which are now bottled, are also reviewed. Also under Hermitage, the new venture Nicolas Jaboulet, Perrin Frères has been added, a merchant business that started in August, 2009, and released its first wines in November, 2009. Under Cornas, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 (in cask) of Thiérry Allemand have been tasted in December chez the enfant terrible.
Under Condrieu, the Domaine Georges Vernay range was tasted, including a 1976 Coteau de Vernon, which is also covered under Recent Tastings under the title 1979 & 1976 Georges Vernay. And the Domaine Faury has been updated, their whites from 2009 and 2008, their reds from 2008 and 2007. At Côte-Rôtie, the organic, sometimes no sulphur child Jean-Michel Stéphan and his range of 2007s, 2008s, 2009s have been entered. Jean-Michel is a rare example of carbonic maceration use, his inspiration being the late Jules Chauvet of justified past Beaujolais fame. Also the highly promising Christophe Billon`s 2007s, 2008s and 2009s have been reviewed, as have the 2009s, 2008s and 2007s of another young Turk, Stéphane Pichat, and the traditional Domaine Gallet.
Cornas (cheval mascot) alert: the mighty Cornas WON by 13 LENGTHS (13 longueurs pour ses fans les vignerons) in his 2mile, 1.5 furlong steeplechase for younger horses on Dec 17 at Exeter. He was actually joint favourite at odds of 11/10 and eased round, jumping accurately, and won without being fussed by his rivals. His sore hoof (the first four letters of his name, actually) had been attended to, and he prevailed in style. I vaguely cheered him on from minus 15 Centigrade in Finland while discussing the merits or otherwise of the Finnish economy, (unemployment rising in 2010), while the race was run, without my usual bottle of 1991 Clape Cornas to hand. Probably just as well. ALLEZ, CORNAS! His fan club grows all the while, and I took the opportunity of informing the Mayor at the December Cornas Wine Market that his foreign ambassador had 4 legs, and a much higher profile than him. He took it in good part.
DOMAINE FLORENTIN BOUGHT BY DOMAINE JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE
Officially signed and sealed at the end of July, 2009, the Saint-Joseph Domaine Florentin has been bought by Jean-Louis Chave - both families resident in the little Ardèche village of Mauves. This was a private deal, with the Florentin family approaching Monsieur Chave. The transfer comprises the fabled 4 hectares of Le Clos, 1 hectare of vines near its boundary stream on the Coteau La Carrière, a hectare on the hillside sub-site of La Tête de l`Aigle on Les Côtes at Mauves, and two to three unplanted hectares on the Mauves hillside. La Tête de l`Aigle site is being re-planted or cleared, and shows great promise for the future.
Recovering from pneumonia, Jean-Louis Chave stated: "it is a place that has always made me dream - it has been there since the sixteenth century, and is the one property like that at Mauves and in the region. There is just the one owner, the vines are on granite, and it is not there by chance - it is south-facing, keeps the sun very late in the day, and has its own little garden. The objective is to make a wine of singularity, individuality, one that has its own origins. It was our good fortune that it was never on the market."
The Clos was for many years called Clos de l`Arbalestrier, until a Swiss wine merchant challenged the use of its name in 2001. The estate was bought by Dr Emile Florentin in 1956, and his children had juggled working it alongside their own activities such as the practice of homeopathy. The vineyard`s Syrah averages around 50 years, while the 1 hectare of Roussanne and Marsanne averages towards 30 years` old.
Practices here included the use of a horse to work the vineyard, with minimal spraying and intervention - all encouraging for Jean-Louis Chave. In the cellar, the style was to leave the wines a very long time in old oak - with oxidative tendencies as a result. "I will make a separate Saint-Joseph with this under the name Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, just as I will with the vineyard I planted at Lemps on the granite hill there," says Jean-Louis. "I expect a wine of finesse, one that is very, very fine."
Jean-Louis worked the vineyard from January 2009, starting with its pruning, so the 2009 wine will be an authentic addition to the Chave stable: a Syrah of some pedigree awaits, therefore, with the bonus of a refined white Saint-Joseph as well.
back from the Rhône, the first 2008 tasting notes are being gradually fed in. It is a vintage that needs micro-investigation - what the French term "le travail de fourmi (the work of an ant). No blanket statements can be made. Each domaine must be judged separately. Under Saint-Joseph, notes on the whites of Domaine Bernard and Fabrice Gripa should be looked at. Under Hermitage, the 2008s of Marc Sorrel, and his 2007s, all of which are now bottled, are also reviewed. Also under Hermitage, the new venture Nicolas Jaboulet, Perrin Frères has been added, a merchant business that started in August, 2009, and released its first wines in November, 2009. Under Cornas, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 (in cask) of Thiérry Allemand have been tasted in December chez the enfant terrible. mid-November 2009: starting to be fed in are STGT and w.o.w. wines tasted in the Rhône this month, along with the first 2009s, notably the whites. Look for any STGT wine with 11/09 as the tasting date. The vins de pays 2008s are shaping into very good value, easy drinking wines - there are some under the w.o.w. bracket, and right good they are, too. Domaines visited and written up so far are at Condrieu, the two Frankies - François Merlin, and François Villard, along with the nicely local, STGT-leaning Marie & Pierre Benetière.
One of my first ever visits to Condrieu in June, 1973, was to Pierre`s brother who was then a négociant in the regional wines, and thus one of the few people dealing in finished wine in bottles at the time. My domestic drinking in Aix-en-Provence was the starred litre bottle, plastic top, Ventoux red and rosé from the Cave de Beaumes-de-Venise, about 80 centimes a pop if I remember rightly. Bottles with corks were for big hitters.
At Côte-Rôtie, René Rostaing and the brothers Bonnefond, Patrick & Christophe have also been revised. At Saint-Joseph, neighbours Emmanuel Barou, Pierre Finon and Pascal Marthouret, the first two successful with vins de pays and Finon especially with his whites, the last-named in the w.o.w. camp. Also Louis Chèze, up on the plateau at Limony, whose domaine has almost become an empire since he started in the 1980s, and Domaine du Chêne at Chavanay. At Séguret, the ever reliable, good quality Domaine de Cabasse, also a hotel in the summer months, has been added, as has a small but active enterprise at Ventoux, at the village of Le Barroux, St Jean du Barroux. (Mass in the church there is spoken in Latin). At Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, a young man with a small vineyard, Hervé Bessac, is a new entry, as is the large 70+hectare Côtes du Rhône estate at Suze-la-Rousse, Château La Borie, provider of well-fruited wines. Another good domaine with clearly-fruited wines is Domaine Marie-Blanche at Signargues, one of the recent Côtes du Rhône Villages.
More field visits are now in progress.
NEWLY PUBLISHED: THE FINEST WINES OF CHAMPAGNE, Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards is an old friend, but there are good reasons for including a review of his new book here. Elegant prose is one - "coaxing dancing vitality from the grapes" when pressing - is one. Another is the precision of the writing across 100 domaines, houses and growers, their stories woven into reflections of how a certain wine tasted in its youth as compared to today. The stories are personal, and so is the style of writing - it would be a Cuvée Tradition if it were a Rhône wine. Many growers I have actually never heard of - the emphasis is particularly on the next generation of small growers able to make and sell their own hand-made wines, a signal force for the better in Champagne. There are photographs of each person behind the House or domaine, as well as well-taken vineyard and village views by Jon Wyand, a wine photo journalist of many years standing. It costs precisely £20, the price of a simple bottle of Champagne, and takes its firm place in the Best Value category of wine books.
The Finest Wines of Champagne, Michael Edwards, Fine Wine Editions, Aurum Press Limited, http://www.aurumpress.co.uk/ ISBN 978 1 84513 4860 £20
THE FANTASY WORLD OF JEAN-LUC COLOMBO
Jean-Luc Colombo, always a self-styled enfant terrible, shook up the rural burghers of Cornas when hitting the scene in the 1980s, and trumpeted a change for the better. Bordeaux casks, new oak, marketing gimmicks were all part of the package. Recently, it has been his wife Anne who has stoically stuck to the task of making his Rhône wines, from both vineyard and merchant grapes. Jean-Luc is not often in Cornas these days.
Now Jean-Luc has taken a journey in his mind that exceeds what most people would describe as lucid, or fair. His involvement in the Côte Bleue, a small area just west of Marseille, has been extolled on his website as follows: "a domaine with a micro-climate that produces surprising wines." He named the trio of red, rosé and white Les Pins Couchés, and said that he would be fighting to get this area its own appellation. The winemaker in its literature was named as Jean-Luc Colombo, the wine was a Coteaux d`Aix-en-Provence with the subtitle of Côte Bleue. Recently, the title had shifted to Rosé de Côte Bleue.
EXCEPT . . . . There never was any wine from this domaine, and Jean-Luc has been up before the beak, and found wanting. In his defence, he stated that he had dreamt of a domaine like this for a long time, and had decided to create it after the death of his mother in 1995. "I bought plots in 1992, but it is true that I had not launched the exploitation," he told the Tribunal, according to reports in Le Dauphiné Liberé. His hectares at Sausset-les-Pins never actually produced any wine. Instead, he bought wine from different cellars in the Coteaux d`Aix-en-Provence. Over the time in question, 2004 to 2007, that represented 80,000 bottles or turnover of €776,000.
Two fines of €2,000 for him and €15,000 for his business were levied, with his lawyer stating that "he did this above all for love. It was a wink to his origins."
Côte Bleue becomes Côte Fantôme. No further comment.