A dazzling array of blossoms surrounded visitors to the Rhône in mid-March, great in their colourful abundance. To my untutored eye, they seemed more copious than usual, which may be thanks to the large amount of winter rain. This has established water levels back to balance, for the first time in seven years or so. There is talk among the oldtimers - "les anciens" - in the Valley that 2009 is going to be a very hot year, something I have also heard from similar muses here in Britain. If that is the case, and the water reserves are high, then 2009 starts promisingly. I have a hopeful hunch about this vintage, I must say.
By the fourth week of March, the Viognier vines in the Northern Rhône had started to weep, while a chat with Philippe Bravay of Domaine de Ferrand at Châteauneuf-du-Pape was revealing. Having clambered off his tractor after working his soils, he voiced his concern that there could be spring frosts this year: "there is a lot of snow still on the Alps, and even the tops of the Ardèche hills have snow that I can see from here. If we were to have a cool, clear night with a full moon, for instance, and no wind, we could have an April frost. I know I shouldn`t worry, but there it is. Our young vines have started to wake up, but the older vines haven`t moved yet," he added.
Recent additions to the Northern Rhône feature three new domaines of good quality each one: the saucily-named SCEA La Tache at Saint-Joseph, Christophe Curtat at Saint-Joseph - both in the prime southern zone of that straggling appellation - and at Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Saint Clair, of Denis Basset. Please also keep checking the STGT and w.o.w. categories as tasting notes on 2007 are being fed in. Notice that Crozes 2007 from good domaines looks like delivering really friendly fruit, classic for w.o.w. However, there are a lot of got-up wines as well from Crozes. Look up the Domaine des Lises at Crozes-Hermitage as well - Big Max, the son of Alain and Elisabeth Graillot, is doing very well there, including being fascinated by Cornas, and check out the rock solid qualities of the Domaine Durand at Saint-Joseph (and Cornas), and the Domaine Belle at Crozes-Hermitage (and Hermitage).
Northern Rhône entries from Chapoutier and their offshoot Ferraton (both under Hermitage appellation), Marc Sorrel from Hermitage, and Alain Graillot at Crozes-Hermitage, with a look at his 2008s. 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Papes from Château Cabrières, Clos Saint-Jean, Château Maucoil, Château Mont-Redon (inc their Lirac), Domaine Pierre André, Domaine de Ferrand, Vignobles Mayard, Domaine de la Millière, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Mas de Boislauzon, with the Domaine de Villeneuve and at Vacqueyras, the Château des Tours piloted by Emmanuel Reynaud of Château Rayas entered up, and a good 2007 Villages from Domaine de Saint-Siffrein at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
There is also a brand new venture involving Michel Chapoutier in the form of Pierre-Henri Morel, one of his lieutenants at Tain, who in June 20008 bought the old Domaine Jean Marchand at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
For lovers of STGT wines, see the now entered up Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, also from there the Domaine Lou Devet and Clos Saint Michel. At Gigondas, the Domaines Santa Duc and La Roubine have hit the airwaves.
From the talked about 2007 vintage at Châteauneuf-du-Pape a set of leading domaines have been entered for their reds and whites: most recently, Domaine La Barroche, Bois de Boursan, du Caillou, Les Clefs d`Or, Girard de Boucou, Pegau, Porte Rouge, Saint Paul (part of Grand Tinel), 3 Cellier (half of the old Saint-Benoit), along with La Bastide Saint-Dominique, Berthet-Rayne, Cristia, Fontavin, Mathieu, Mereuille, Pères de l`Eglise, Puy Rolland, La Fagotière, Olivier Hillaire, Nalys plus Mordorée and Lafond Roc-Epine from Tavel, along with Châteaux Fines Roches, Font du Loup, Jas de Bressy (owned by Fines Roches), Mont Thabor, Vaudieu, the Clos du Mont-Olivet, Domaines La Boutinière, Chante Cigale, Chante-Perdrix, de la Côte de l'Ange, Giraud, Grand Tinel, Marcoux, Pierre Usseglio, Vieux Télégraphe.
Previously Châteaux Beaucastel, Fortia, Gardine, La Nerthe, Rayas, Domaines Beaurenard, Bosquet des Papes, Charbonnière, Janasse, Raymond Usseglio, Les Cailloux, Clos des Brusquières, Clos des Papes, Cuvée du Vatican, Eddie Feraud, Le Vieux Donjon. Fairly priced domaines in the form of Domaine de la Guicharde at Massif d`Uchaux, Domaine de Lucéna at Visan and Domaine des Pasquiers at Sablet are also worth a view.
Please see Best Value Wines for a tremendous value white Laudun 2007 from Marks and Spencer in England, on sale at £4.49. Scroll down to the Southern Rhône section there. The season of sales in wine is upon us in a big way, and I must emphasize that these discounted wines have all been purchased at Euro rates between 20% and 30% more favourable than they are now for British importers. There could be some very severe price rises from mid-2009 onwards as new stock arrives. so now is the time to find a corner of your home for some bottles to get you through the year.
LAY & WHEELER (GB) BOUGHT BY MAJESTIC WINES
Lay & Wheeler, based in Colchester (a good spot for oysters), Essex, in the south-east of England, were one of the leading family importing firms when I started in wine in the 1970s. The Wheeler family were active and visible, and their wines were carefully selected, with small domaines of character present. Their Rhône exposure was above average, with Clos des Papes and Beaucastel on the roster back in those days. Gradually, however, they lost that sense of focus and became just another rather "international" company, and the sense of their sniffing out interesting producers declined. They opened a large cellar facility in the Midlands, and informed me that for rather a lot of money I could view my stock of a few cases on line 24/7. Exit my wine from their care, with my friend and colleague Jancis Robinson taking them to task on her website. Well, there you go.
Majestic are the mainly southern England, stock market-listed company that took over a lot of empty cinemas in their early days, to allow display of the boxes and also car parking. They were active traders in one-off lots of wine including excess stocks of Bordeaux from the Swedish monopoly that they cleverly re-imported. Purchases from them are strictly by the case, not the bottle. From Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they import a very good, traditional wine in the form of Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils, a large part in magnums.
MONDAY 6 APRIL, 2009 - RHÔNE DINNER AT LE CAFÉ ANGLAIS, LONDON
I will be singing away about the Rhône, with wines, some of them nicely mature, from Vine Trail. Northern and Southern Rhône will be presented. The Café Anglais is Rowley Leigh's fun, quality restaurant in West London - maybe I should be uppity and call it Notting Hill. Rowley has the cookery, recipe column in Saturday`s Financial Times, and is someone I have known for a little while now. He has shown perspicacity in writing about traditional dishes, less high profile cuts of meat and other squeeze-friendly options recently in the Pink`Un. He is also a Rhône lover de fondation, no recent jumping on its 2007 bandwagon. Donc, he knows what dishes to present. You have been warned. The cost is £70 a head.
8 PORCHESTER GARDENS, LONDON W2 4DB, +44(0)207 221 1415 email@example.com
Page link on the dinner http://www.lecafeanglais.co.uk/newsletter.asp ?