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2018 NORTHERN RHÔNE CLOSE-UP

1. SAINT-JOSEPH RED

2. SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

3. SAINT-PÉRAY

4. CORNAS

5. CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

6. CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

7. HERMITAGE WHITE

8. HERMITAGE RED

9. CÔTE-RÔTIE

10. CONDRIEU

11. VIN DE PAYS, VIN FRANCE, CÔTES DU RHÔNE

1. 2018 SAINT-JOSEPH RED

SYLVAIN GAUTHIER OF DOMAINE DES PIERRES SÈCHES WITH HIS PA CLAUDE, A FAMILY FROM LORRAINE; HIS VINEYARDS ARE IN THE GROWING MIDDLE SECTOR OF SAINT-JOSEPH, NOTABLY SARRAS AND OZON

SAINT-JOSEPH is the NORTHERN RHÔNE appellation that is the least easy to summarize neatly. Its straggly nature and cluster of communes, some of them obscure, means that a single snapshot does not suffice. While granite is the soil theme by and large, there are different sorts of hill, plain and plateau vines, and differing sun and wind exposures to take into account.

In facts alone, there are 430 producers of grapes, 100 domaines and 30 négociants-merchants involved across the 1,330 hectares.

It is, however, an appellation that affords a young start-up grower at least the chance of a first foot on the ladder, with small plots of vines to rent, or small patches of ground to clear and plant, with lands that abut SAINT-JOSEPH available for IGP vines, be they COLLINES RHODANIENNES or the less used DE L’ARDÈCHE.

SAINT-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: A VILLAGE OF LOCAL ORAL TRADITION

Hence there are discoveries and new names coming on stream, and a declaration of the fabric of French country life that doesn’t exist across the River in CROZES-HERMITAGE. SAINT-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS has always interested me, since I ascended the hill of SAINTE-ÉPINE in the early 1970s in search of ERNEST and his son RAYMOND TROLLAT [now 87 years’ old], with HENRI MINODIER to visit en route, and a word of mouth, oral tradition, with families such as MICHELAS, FOGIER and FARGE all chipping in with their self-taught versions of the local red wine – wine intended above all for drinking with friends, much of it in the cellar from the cask.

SAINT-JEAN is where the most unassuming SÉBASTIEN BLACHON plies his skills in keeping the tradition of natural country wines alive, where CHRISTOPHE CURTAT has his 0.6 hectare of rented 1900-05 SYRAH for his ARDÈCHE SYRAH, where MAXIME GRAILLOT comes for his EQUIS SAINT-JOSEPH, taken from the vineyards of PHILIPPE DESBOS of DOMAINE DE GOUYE.

GRANITE OF SAINT JEAN DIFFERS FROM TOURNON

The particularity of SAINT-JEAN is that its granite differs from that of TOURNON immediately to the South – the rock is more decomposed, while the site is windy and cooler than neighbouring lieux-dits, bringing a cool tone to the red fruits and a fibre to the young tannins. SAINTE-ÉPINE is in fact the extension of LES BESSARDS on the West end of the HERMITAGE hill – the RHÔNE funnelled its way through these two hills having flowed behind the HERMITAGE hill millions of years ago.

JEAN GONON and his brother PIERRE work with vineyards in both communes, notably some of the TROLLAT vines on AUBERT at ST-JEAN. JEAN distinguishes the granite as follows: “the SAINT-JEAN granite is composed of very small particles, and isn’t as rich as the TOURNON soil. The TOURNON granite contains some mica and has larger grains, as well as some clay – it’s less degraded.”

Wines from these locations dine at the top table; the communes date from the first appellation decree in 1956, and their vineyards are mostly in the hands of long-time polyculture, or, more rarely, viticultural families – the former names such as FARGE, BLACHON, COURBIS of MAUVES – or CHAVE, CHAPOUTIER in the latter case.

MIDDLE SECTOR OF APPELLATION EXPANSION

Where there is now expansion from much more of a standing start is in the middle region of SAINT-JOSEPH, starting with the area just north of the 1956 limit, which was VION. VION itself has been growing in vineyards recently, with JEAN-FRANÇOIS JACOUTON a good name, the first vigneron to be based there, his ***(*) 2018 PIERRES D’ISSERAND from VION rich, fulsome and a little floral, while his ****(*) CHEMIN DE SAINT-ÉPINE, from the top of the vineyard there, was a stimulating accumulation of detail - graceful, balanced and stylish.

The middle stretch brings in SÉCHERAS, ARRAS, OZON, ARDOIX and SARRAS. Before the warming of the planet, SARRAS was considered the county line for crickets – their northernmost limit. Now they are chirping away around CHAVANAY. Here there are reclaimed terraces landscaped into the hills, shiny new wooden stakes lined up on slopes, young [nearly all clone] SYRAH in town.

CHRISTOPHE CURTAT works 3.1 hectares at ARRAS and SARRAS, the oldest SYRAH dating from the 1960s at ARRAS, the rest late 1980s-early 1990s. SYLVAIN GAUTHIER, talented and unshowy on his DOMAINE DES PIERRE SÈCHES, works over four hectares at SARRAS (includes 0.5 ha of 1960s SYRAH) and OZON, where he has been planting in the early to mid-2010, both SYRAH and ROUSSANNE.  

CHANGES OF STATUS FOR EX CO-OPERATIVE START-UPS

The other outlet for growth, at least change of status, is the route out of the region’s two CAVE CO-OPÉRATIVES, TAIN and SAINT-DÉSIRAT. The former brings in BASTIEN JOLIVET, whose roughly eight hectares of vineyards are mainly at SAINT-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS, while the latter involves two recent start-ups, FRANÇOIS GRENIER and DOMAINE LOUIS CHOMEL. BASTIEN worked for more than four years chez STÉPHANE MONTEZ of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET, and that experience may have led him to favour a thorough style in 2017 and 2018 for his ***(*) L’INSTINCT ST JO REDs in both vintages. He has been using increasing amounts of whole bunches, up to 50%, and that has been rendering the end palates firm, grippy, clamped.

FRANÇOIS GRENIER

FRANÇOIS GRENIER took over the old OPEL garage beside the D86 in the hamlet of CHAMPAGNE – yes, that is its name, ever since time began. He is a hearty bear of a man, has installed the latest ovoid concrete vat fermenters and an array of stainless steel, and is going for it. His singularity is that he works 91 plots across a large surface area – 19 hectares of ST JO, 18 of them SYRAH in the communes of SAINT-DÉSIRAT, ANDANCE, CHAMPAGNE and SAINT-ÉTIENNE-DE-VALOUX.

His story is that his parents, polyculteurs, dropped out of the vineyard end of their family holdings for 20 years from the end of the 1980s. FRANÇOIS roared back to recommence vineyards as the only family activity, from 2003 to 2014 delivering his harvest to the CAVE SAINT-DÉSIRAT, just as his parents and grandparents had done.

He has been making his own wine since then; these are unfussy, down the line wines, the regular cuvée of ST JO RED, called DOMAINE, already at 40,000 bottles, with the potential to rise to 60,000. It’s a genuine, local SAINT-JOSEPH which can be drunk early, and is suited to country dishes. As FRANÇOIS expresses, “I like blended wines, vins d’assemblage; my SAINT-JOSEPH comes from four communes with different soils, so a blend of them makes what is previously heterogeneous become homogenous.”

The other three “superior” ST JO reds are more oak-bound, and OK if that is your thing – they are plot selected, and can fuse their oak if left. The IGP ARDÈCHE SYRAH from all four communes was a coated, exuberant ***(*) wine in 2019, while the whites are led by a 90% ROUSSANNE SAINT-JOSEPH, ****, very digestible and nicely detailed in 2019, a sound CONDRIEU from LIMONY – under 1,500 bottles, and a VIOGNIER (high on degree in 2019) and ROUSSANNE, well controlled in 2019.

DOMAINE LOUIS CHOMEL

Scale is also the surprise with DOMAINE LOUIS CHOMEL; grandson SAMUEL also has a large hangar premises above and west of SAINT-DÉSIRAT. The domaine is named after his grandfather, still going strong, who planted the first family vines in the 1970s. They left the CAVE SAINT-DÉSIRAT in 2014, and work 12 hectares of SYRAH and two hectares of MARSANNE, ROUSSANNE for their SAINT-JOSEPH, and six hectares of IGP.

A full 10 hectares are on one site, the windswept LA TALONDIÈRE in the commune of SAINT-DÉSIRAT, at 350 metres on sanded granite soils. These are efficient wines, a little low on soul. SAMUEL, born in 1992, gives the impression of a man in a hurry. The classic ST JO RED, 18,000 bottles strong, is much preferred to the more exerted, more oaked DAME DE COEUR special cuvée, which succumbs to the old trap of using lovely old vines fruit, in this case 1960s SYRAH, and not letting it whistle its own tune.

The wine is sold mainly in the region, RHÔNE-ALPES, with vineyard visits, concerts, open cellar days, a cabin in the vineyards for tasting, and an old railway tunnel on the CÔTE DIANE at SAINT-DÉSIRAT to animate its promotion. How these arrangements will function as a model post-virus will be subject to question: on-line sales direct from the domaine may be the route taken, as it might be for a lot of small domaines who have never wanted to compete with their caviste clients in the past, nor have wanted to hire people to dispatch orders one by one.

With such a varied cast of sources and participants, it is little surprise that throwing a blanket judgment over any SAINT-JOSEPH vintage is a tenuous enterprise. Instead, it’s best to take into account the perspectives of some of the players as a starting point. By sector – SOUTH (the 1956 six communes), the MIDDLE and the NORTH, the last two brought into the appellation in 1969.

2018 ACROSS THE SOUTHERN SECTOR

Effects of heat leading to small grapes with thick skins and dense, fat matter was commented on, along with an increasing resort to the use of stems to leaven the degree and intensity of the wines. Degrees were regarded as high. Yields suffered on land with little top soil, and granite close to the surface.

FRANÇOIS RIBOTOURNON, ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS, VION: “there were only a few touches of mildew. The lack of water lead to small grapes and thick skins on them on the hillside vines, a lack of juice, notably for our SAINT-JOSEPH. The high vineyard harvest got very dry, so we destemmed a bit on those, such as PITROU. The last time we mostly destemmed was 2014 after the drosophile fruit fly attacks. We were better off at LARNAGE for our CROZES-HERMITAGE thanks to the red clay and kaolin soils there, which held better moisture.”

FABRICE GRIPAMAUVES, TOURNON: “there is super grosse, thick matter this year; they are fat wines, very rich. You have to handle them with care to avoid deviation. We lost 30% on the red and 25% on the white.”

LAURENT COMBIER, DOMAINE COMBIER - TOURNON, ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: “the granite, very stony soils were a bit of a problem due to the lack of rain, so yields from them were low, under 20 hl/ha, zones where there’s not much top soil. Degrees are high.”

SÉBASTIEN BLACHONST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: “2015 was the year of the century, but 2016 held better balance, and 2018 is ahead because the fruit is both fresh and ripe. It’s a year when you could play with the stems, not take anything bitter from them. It was easy to harvest – you were able to refine the date of ripening.” SÉBASTIEN included 20% of the stems in his SAINT-JOSEPH ALBAN this year – it includes 1930 SYRAH and 1950 SYRAH from SAINT-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS.

LAURENT COURBIS, DOMAINE COURBISCHÂTEAUBOURG: “the reds have very soft tannins, are well fruited, give an impression of sweetness.”

MIKAEL DESESTRET, DOMAINE DE LA CÔTE SAINTE-ÉPINEST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: “2018 is very fine, and agreeable as young wine, with no late astringency. I thought you could drink it immediately after its vinification – it was so ready and open.”

PIERRE GONONMAUVES, TOURNON, ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: “we have never seen two such good years as 2019 and 2019 consecutively – years with full yields and the highest quality, so we have much luck. The 2019 tannins are perhaps more fine than 2018’s.”

JÉRÔME COURSODONMAUVES, TOURNON, ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS: “we had a normal yield in 2018, unlike 2017 which was down 25%. 2018 is another joli year. However, the degree ran between 14.5° and 16°; with so much sugar, the fermentations were a challenge. We were helped a little by 20-25 mm (08-1 in) of fine rain, not a storm, on 9 and 13 August, and, before that, our big saviour was the rainy spring.”

JEAN-CLAUDE MARSANNE - MAUVES, TOURNON: “I had vats at 15°, but they taste OK, are robust, have a belle balance, taste well already.”

FABRICE GRIPA, DOMAINE GRIPA: “I have the impression 2018 and 2019 are comparable with 1998 and 1999. 2018 is less tannic than 1998, and 2019 is a bit more powered than 1999.”

2018 ACROSS THE MIDDLE SECTOR

Backing off excess intervention in the cellar here, an approachable year without great tannic structure, the word Gourmand used.

SYLVAIN GAUTHIER, DOMAINE DES PIERRE SÈCHESSARRAS, OZON, VION: “2018 is a very ripe year; I harvested the whites early enough to avoid heaviness in them. The SYRAH was 14° to 15° - no red is truly sweet. I favoured pumping overs above all during vinification; the wines are quite gourmand, a bit like 2016 with a fruited, digestible style.”

PAUL ESTÈVE, DOMAINE DES MIQUETTESSÉCHERAS, VION, no oak, no SO2, and buried amphora use, taken from a visit to GEORGIA: “there was a low budding this year. The exaggeration from the heat is worse than 2015 – the wines don’t have the same firm tannic structure as 2015. 2018 is more approachable, cooked, round. It’s very belle, but probably too solar, too on the alcohol, 15° to 16° - it has matter, though balance also.” His wife CHRYSTELLE adding: “it’s good, but closed, needs opening up, has a ferrous side to it.”

CHRISTOPHE CURTATARRAS, SARRAS, VION: “I try, always have, to work with some stems. The granite brings energy and binding, and that touch of smokiness, not vegetal, is what I really like if I include around 30% of the stems in the ST JO NOMADE.”

2018 ACROSS THE NORTHERN SECTOR

The saving grace of summer storms offset the worst of the high heat. Light touch necessary on the vinification. Gourmandise in the wines. 2019 has better structure.

JEAN DELOBRE, LA FERME DES SEPT LUNES - PEYRAUD, SAINT-DÉSIRAT: “we had two very welcome rainfalls in the high summer, the first 35 mm (2.2 in) in the third week of July, the second of 20 mm (0.8 in) on 15 August, when elsewhere there were falls of 50-60 mm (2-2.2 in). If we hadn’t had the 100+ mm (4 in) of rain leading into June – which provoked all the mildew in the South – then we would have been in big trouble given the searing heat that followed. The later harvested crop was a bit excessive.

They are reds built on power, hyper solar; there is some balance, acidities are variable. Having said that, 2017 seemed powerful at first, but now, by spring 2020, they have become well founded. My yield was lower than 2017 and 2015. The SYRAH lacked juice, suffered from a bit of mildew.”

JEAN-PIERRE MONIER, DOMAINE MONIERSAINT-DÉSIRAT: “2018 was a hot year, so has more depth and tannin than recent years. There are comparisons with 2003, though 2003 was different in having both a spring and summer drought that went very deep. In 2018 a few summer storms saved us from the worst of the drought. The accumulated temperatures in 2018 are higher than 2003, and are a record. The degree was 13.5° in 2003, while 2018 was 14° to 14.5° - there were ripening blockages in 2018. The 2018 pHs are high, so it may not keep – 2017 has better balance.”

GUILLAUME BOISSONNETSERRIÈRES, SAINT-DÉSIRAT: “our yield was normal. The reds are gourmand, but don’t have the typicity of NORTHERN RHÔNE SYRAH. They are a pleasure to drink when young. 2019 is more fine, has better balance, better longevity.”

ANTHONY VALLETSERRIÈRES: “we have had a lot of luck in the NORTHERN RHÔNE, with 2018 a grandiose year, one with Sudiste/Southern tendencies, open and drinkable young, even with my greater use of stems – they are sublime in their youth. I find that the wines of my neighbours are also showing well now in the spring of 2020.”

FRANÇOIS GRENIER - SAINT-DÉSIRAT: “2018 is a vintage of black fruits, very ripe fruits, and also very, very ripe tannins. There’s a bit of licorice, an appealing note of bitter on the finish.”

SAMUEL CHOMEL, DOMAINE LOUIS CHOMET - SAINT-DÉSIRAT: “it’s a sunny, keeping vintage with belle complexity, the fruit well ripe.”

LIONEL FAURY - CHAVANAY: “it was important not to extract too much this year – you had to do an infusion. I increased the whole bunch level to absorb the degree and the sugars. There was a general lack of phenolic ripening [tannins/skins/pips] – we had a situation of a 14.5° to 15° degree without real phenolic ripeness. In the past we would have 12.5° and phenolic ripeness. At least the tannins have refined with a year in cask.”

FAST HARVESTING IMPERATIVE IN 2018

When casting an eye over the whole of the appellation, the date and speed of harvest were off the scale important in 2018. Heat at harvest time caused ructions. The CAVE SAINT-DÉSIRAT has no large scale cooling equipment for the harvest, so started to not accept crop in the afternoons, which wasn’t popular, especially given the 0.5° rise in alcohol per day. 2018 is a troubled vintage in parts, with some domaines suffering from that problem.

EASY TO HAVE VERY SUN-FILLED WINES, COOLER, LATER SITES BETTER OFF

Two wines that summed up the vintage came from FERRATON PÈRE & FILS. Their *** LIEU-DIT SAINT-JOSEPH (a sheltered vineyard, sanded granite, TOURNON) ripened two weeks ahead of their **** BONNEVEAU (300-350 metres, hard granite, S facing, TOURNON), pretty much as usual. The former was very vintage marked, toppy, the latter had a cool tenor on the nose, sustained richness and granite spark on the palate.

ACCESS TO DIFFERENT COMMUNES VERY HELPFUL

Meanwhile, the benefits of access to diverse sites paid off, bringing artistry in blending and selection to the fore – in other words, options that didn’t exist if you relied on one fully heated site, with nowhere to run. In that respect, the ***(*) FERRATON LA SOURCE, much cheaper than the previous two wines, and a blend of all sorts of sites up and down the appellation – CHAVANAY, SERRIÈRES, SAINT-PIERRE-DE-BOEUF, ARRAS, MAUVES - was an “easier” wine to make, and it achieved all important free drinking as a result.

DELAS IN TOP FORM

DELAS, owned by CHAMPAGNE ROEDERER, have just opened smashing new tasting and visiting premises on the site of the old PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ residence in TAIN, very much twenty-first century. Their facilities and resources fully paid off in 2018, with the delivery of a trio of really sharply defined wines all on a good register, like a well cut 1960s group, say THE SHADOWS, with access to the iron of the slopes, even in this very hot year. Bravo, le granit!

LES CHALLEYS (80,000 bottles) is their entry level ST JO, designed for soonish drinking: ****, refined fruit, calm tannins, threads of mineral running deftly though it. Like the FERRATON LA SOURCE (30,000 bottles), it is a combination of Northern and Southern sector vineyards. The ****(*) 2018 FRANÇOIS DE TOURNON, a blend of MAUVES, TOURNON, ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS and VION, flows well, gathers a crowd of juicy gras and 2018 sun rays depth towards the finish, and is set to be handsome in time.

Their trump card is the ever stylish Seigneur SAINTE-ÉPINE, drawn from 1930s SYRAH. Always the ultimate Cool Operator, the ***** 2018 was very well defined, bearing stylish content, much iron, good nerve, great length – the whole package, an STGT wine of the highest quality.

WINES OF ELEGANCE WERE POSSIBLE

In the context of this hot vintage, it was an achievement to produce wines with elegance and poise. Step forward JEAN-FRANÇOIS JACOUTON with his ****(*) CHEMIN DE SAINTE-ÉPINE, which shows what can be done with a calm low intervention approach.

In similar vein, ANTHONY VALLET at SERRIÈRES was double handed with his youngish vines [average 25 years] cuvée MÉRIBETS a **** wine on bright, pinpoint fruit, neat sweetness and polished tannins, the oaking not overdone. The clay element in his granite soils helped its balance, while his ****(*) MULETIERS, from 1965-1970s SYRAH up at 300 metres, has recently moved from 20% stems’ inclusion to 60-70%, as well as being raised in the larger format of 600-litres’ casks, or demi-muids. These measures have contributed to a classy, refined wine with sizzling fruit, its juice most appealing and lasting, the oak handled with a light touch.

EXCESS CELLAR EFFORT ENDED IN TEARS

However, away from such BURGUNDIAN traits, lay a fault line in 2018 in the form of the inability of enough domaines to take a softly softly approach to their vinification. This resulted in rather cooked wines, with poor finishes. The **(*) CAVE SAINT-DÉSIRAT SEPTENTRIO was an example of a heavy wine bearing sweet oak and extraction – a wine that comes pounding at your door – pas pour moi. It was also disappointing to find the **(*) ALÉOFANE, whose NATACHA CHAVE has a great skill with her CROZES BLANC, to be dilute and extracted – perhaps one led the other – then ending with a chewy, dry finish, already bottled in November, 2019.

TWO WINTERS OF RAISING, POR FAVOUR, GENTE

If you couple a big scale vintage with ambitious winemaking, it’s pretty certain that some of these wines require raising beyond a short year – the classic two winters rule applies at the very least. Rather like the ALÉOFANE, which is now past the point of no return, there was the example of the DOMAINE COURSODON LA SENSONNE. This has always been their most overtly oaked cuvée, and, while there is both spine and length in their **** 2018, its elements would have had an easier, more complete fusion had they been given another nine months or so of raising.

BAN ON HIGH VINEYARDS AFTER 2021 VINTAGE, DIRECTIVE ON ROUND-UP ALSO

Looking ahead, there is a crunch coming for growers at SAINT-JOSEPH with vineyards above 350 metres – the last vintage allowed as ST JO is 2021, after which they will revert to IGP or the lower yielding CÔTES DU RHONE status. There is also the directive on the use of glyphosate, notably Round Up, meaning that rampant spraying of chemical herbicides will be outlawed in FRANCE, the date set for the present as 1 JANUARY, 2021, and 1 JANUARY, 2023 if you have an exemption [as many hillside vignerons will claim]. For growers working on hillsides where the fear of erosion is a constant, tilled terraces will bring increased costs and potential landslides.

EXCESS HILLSIDE PLANTING IF YOU WANTED TO BE ORGANIC ALL ALONG

Strategic errors have contributed to this relative impasse, according to JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE, for whom SAINT-JOSEPH is really the family’s most personal vineyard, going right back to their 1481 roots in the ARDÈCHE.

“People planted too much on the hillsides, not thinking about how feasible they were to work,” he comments. “You can’t go half way working a hillside – it has to be all the way. Growers round here [names a couple of domaines] should have planted less on hillsides, and then they could have done their organic practices on the plateau and on the low ground. The cost of working a hillside might be around €15 per bottle – then you have to sell at €20 or more, which wouldn’t work for the small growers.”

Coupled with reduced sales from the virus pandemic, the horizon for SAINT-JOSEPH is a little uncertain; it may be that in the future, the amount of IGP wines in the region increases, and SAINT-JOSEPH becomes a four tier appellation – cheap versions for large supermarkets, then a group of interesting, fairly priced IGP wines made all around it or even within it, then middle priced, hand made wines from small domaines, and fourthly elite, expensive versions from globally famous names.

For now, 2018 is a vintage that offers lots of options for lovers of NORTHERN RHÔNE SYRAH off the granite, but I would recommend leaving some cash reserves for the flamboyant 2019 vintage, where August rainfall particularly favoured the area from ST-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS northwards.

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH RED 2018s

***** Delas Saint-Epine  2042-44  11/19  style, classy, defined, gt length. STGT 
****(*) Sébastien Blachon Margiriat 2031-33 12/19 terroir, sève, sap marriage, lovely
****(*) Domaine Jean-Louis Chave 2044-46  12/19 good mix elegance, spark
****(*) Domaine J-Louis Chave Clos Florentin 2045-47 12/19 v elegant, savoury, Pinote
****(*) M Chapoutier Le Clos  2036-38  11/19  refined content, floral, complexity 
****(*) Emmanuel Darnaud La Dardouille  2037-39  11/19  sweet, rolling, full, vivid, ex B Faurie 
****(*) Delas Francois de Tournon  2038-40  11/19  flowing, juicy gras, iron, handsome 
****(*) Domaine Gonon  2043-45  12/19  character, thick, tasty, energy giver 
****(*) J-F Jacouton Chemin de Sainte-Epine  2035-37  11/19  grace, balance, pure, singing 
****(*) Domaine des Lises equis  2039-41  02/20  classy gras, a little gem 
****(*) André Perret Les Grisières  2036-38  12/19  wide, dense, style, structure 
****(*) Domaine des Remizières  2034-36  11/19  rich, fluid, appealing, max allure 
****(*) Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit  2040-42  11/19  weight, vigour, terroir, time 
****(*) Domaine Vallet Muletiers  2031-33  11/19  notable gourmandise, classy, refined 
**** Louis Bernard  2032-34  11/19  tasty, pure, well orchestrated 
**** Sébastien Blachon Alban  2026-27  12/19  much juice, fresh, long, character 
**** Domaine Boissonnet Bélive  2031-33  02/20  fleshy, fluid, with spine 
**** Graeme & Julie Bott  2029-31  12/19  crisp, authentic, good iron 
**** Cave de Tain Arras  2037-39  11/19  enjoyable content, style, abundance 
**** Cave de Tain Vin Biologique  2036-38  11/19  much bounty, fine, mineral 
**** Cave de Tain Tournon  2040-42  11/19  suave, all together, firm juice 
**** Laurent Combier Cap Nord  2031-33  11/19  floral, flashy, verve, shape 
**** Dom de la Côte-St Épine l’élegance  2037-38  12/19  ripe fruit, floral; character 
**** Domaine Courbis Les Royes  2031-33  12/19  swell, racy, floral, clear 
**** Domaine Coursodon L’Olivaie  2035-37  11/19  deep fruit, concentration, entertaining 
**** Domaine Coursodon La Sensonne  2039-41  11/19  elegant richness, oak, spine 
**** Yves Cuilleron Les Serines  2037-39  11/19  good body, fresh, elegant 
**** Domaine Christophe Curtat Nomade 2028-30 12/19 gracious, aromatic, shapely
**** Dard & Ribo Cuvée Pitrou  2032-34  11/18  thick gras, smoky, long
**** Delas Les Challeys  2030-32  11/19  fine, mineral, clear, modern 
**** Domaine Durand Lautaret  2034-36  11/19  gourmand, weighty, solid 
**** Guy Farge terroir de granit  2032-34  11/19  suave content, finesse, rounded 
**** Lionel Faury La Gloriette  2031-33  11/19  gourmand, rolling, lots of juice 
**** Ferraton Père & Fils Bonneveau  2037-39  12/19  good richness, flow, wholesome 
**** Domaine Alain Graillot  2037-39  02/20  structured, steely, iron strength 
**** Domaine de l’Iserand Lou Taïssou  2028-30  02/19  strength, energy, rocks well
**** Dom de l’Iserand les sabots de Coppi  2025-26  02/20  energy, aromatic, tasty, pleasure 
**** Luyton-Fleury Les Cerisiers  2028-30  11/19  frank, good juice, vigour 
**** Gabriel Meffre Saint-Etienne  2030-32  11/19  savoury, ripe, wide, extended 
**** Domaine des Miquettes Madloba  2027-28  02/20  energy, iron, character, zero SO2 
**** Domaine Monier Les Serves  2033-35  02/20  iron, flinty, stimulating, character 
**** Stéphane Montez/Monteillet Papy 2041-43 02/20 pure, authority, stylish fruit, potential
**** Vincent Paris Les Côtes  2030-32  11/19  expressive, detail, calm, cool 
**** André Perret  2034-36 12/19  length, style, engaging fruit 
**** Domaine des Pierres Sèches  2026-27  02/20  racy fruit, Southern tone 
**** Domaine des Pierres Sèches Aubert  2035-37  02/20  typical mineral, floral, long 
**** David Reynaud 350 m  2028-30  11/19  juiced richness, perfume, easy 
**** Dom Romaneux-Déstezet Clos Cessieux  2033-35  02/19  iron, floral, handsome, true 
**** Dom Romaneux-Déstezet Ste Epine  2034-36  02/19  generous, quiet strength 
**** Cave Saint-Désirat Côte-Diane  2033-35  11/19  fleshy, rich, exuberant, long, V 
**** Domaine du Tunnel  2029-31  12/19  suave richness, weight but w.o.w. 
**** Domaine Vallet Méribets  2031-33  11/19  bright fruit, style, iron, spine 
**** Vidal Fleury  2029-31  11/19  squeezy gras, natural, unforced 
***(*) Alléno & Chapoutier Couronne Chabot  2031-33  11/19  soft, easy, perfumed, plush 
***(*) Matthieu Barret  2025-26  12/19  svelte, modern, munchy tannins 
***(*) Christophe Blanc Les Chênes  2026-27  02/20  crisp fruit, direct, bright 
***(*) Domaine Boissonnet Emisphère  2028-29  02/20  liberal juice, soft, natural 
***(*) Maison Bouachon Roquebrussane  2029-31  11/19  immediate, busy, ripe tannins, grills 
***(*) Domaine du Chêne  2030-32  11/19  soaked, rolling, thick, mature 
***(*) Domaine Combier  2025-27  11/19  immediate, exuberant, sweet, floral 
***(*) Domaine Courbis  2026-26  12/19  swish, immediate, up tempo, modern 
***(*) Domaine Coursodon Paradis St Pierre  2036-38  11/19  rich, immediate, savoury, oaked 
***(*) Domaine Coursodon Silice  2035-37  11/19  2018 ripeness, solid tannins 
***(*) Dard & Ribo  2036-38  11/19  bold, Southern, vintage strength 
***(*) François Dumas  2029-31  02/20  salted, solar, time 
***(*) Domaine Durand Les Coteaux  2032-34  11/19  supple, gourmand, musky, natural 
***(*) Lionel Faury Hedonism  2025-26  11/19  easy fruit, fine texture, correct 
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils Paradis  2036-38  12/19  thick, raw, assertive, crunched 
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils  La Source  2027-29  12/19  juicy fruit, free drinking 
***(*) François Grenier Domaine  2023-24  12/19  generous, natural, genuine 
***(*) Domaine Gripa 2031-33 12/19 aromatic, live, ripe, raw thrust
***(*) Laurent Habrard Sainte-Epine  2026-27  11/19  wavy fruits, floral, homely 
***(*) Domaine des Hauts Châssis …?  2032-34  02/20  skating fruit, concentration 
***(*) J-François Jacouton Pierres d’Iserand  2034-36  11/19  rich, fulsome, soaked, floral 
***(*) Domaine Jolivet L’Instinct  2035-37  11/19  wide, thorough, thick, sustained 
***(*) Domaine Lionnet Terre Neuve 2027-28 12/19 mineral feel, spinal, w.o.w. 
***(*) Erwan Masse 2026-27 06/20 nicely reserved, tight tannin, genuine
***(*) François Merlin  2027-28  12/19  supple, rolling, active 
***(*) François Merlin Les Grands Ducs  2035-37  12/19  sleek fruit, lissom, structure 
***(*) Johann Michel  2028-29  12/19  plump, aromatic, savoury 
***(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Sainte-Epine  2029-31  11/19  entertaining, smooth, stylish, v likeable 
***(*) Domaine des Miquettes  2028-30  02/20  direct, upright, authority, zero SO2 
***(*) Domaine Monier-Perréol Tradition 2026-28  02/20  mild fruit, tang, reach, regular 
***(*) Domaine Mucyn Les Salamandres  2032-34  11/19  firm content, broad, oaked 
***(*) Ogier Baligant  2031-33  11/19  robust, packed, firm tannins 
***(*) Domaine Perréol Châtelet  2033-34  02/20  rich, savoury; munchy tannins 
***(*) Julien Pilon rue des Poissonniers  2029-30  12/19   fruit strength, vibrant, wild 
***(*) Cave de Tain Grand Classique  2029-31  11/19  rich, plentiful, sweet, Southern 
***(*) Cave de Tain La Triboulette  2024-25  11/19  cosy roundness, fresh tannins 
***(*) Alain Voge Les Côtes  2030-32  11/19  smooth content ripe tannin, oak 
***  Domaine Louis Chomel Tolondière  2029-31  02/20  coated, inky, dense, solid 
***  Domaine Courbis La Cotte Sud  2032-34  12/19  weighty, charged, fleshy 
*** Yves Cuilleron Cavanos  2030-32  11/19  cool fruit, keen clarity, bit exerted 
***  J Denuzière  2027-28  12/19  thick, oaked, correct 
***  Ferraton Lieu-dit St Joseph  2035-37  12/19  thick content, toppy, vintage marked 
***  Gabriel Meffre Laurus 2029-30  11/19  supple richness, perfumed, limited 
***  Anthony Paret Les Larmes du Père  2031-33  02/20  direct, pared back, chewy 
***  Maison Christophe Pichon  2027-28  12/19  ripe, sucrosity, liqueur-like 
***  Benoît Roseau La Ribaude  2024-25  02/20  fluid sweetness, smooth; dark end 
***  Domaine Saint Clair les abîmes enfer  2030-32  02/20  Southern, sweet, comfy, subdued 
*** Cave Saint-Désirat  2030-31  11/19  direct, chewy tannin, extraction 
***  Vignerons Ardechois Val des Ollivets  2024-25  11/19  savoury, fleshy, sweet, upfront
**(*) Aléofane  2027-28  11/19  grounded, dilute, extracted, chewy 
**(*)  Gilles Flacher Les Reines  2026-27  11/19  sweet fruits, fuzzy tannins 
**(*)  Gilles Flacher Terra Louis  2032-34  11/19  firm, cellar-led, stiff, oak 
**(*)  Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne  2027-28  12/19  red fruits, but dry end 
**(*) Anthony Paret Les Pieds Dendés  2024  02/20  mainstream, lacks gras 
**(*)  Benoît Roseau Patagone  2027-28  02/20  expressive fruit, dry finish 
**(*)  Cave St Desirat Septentrio  2029-31  11/19  sweet, savoury, heavy, extracted 

 

2. 2018 SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

FRÉDÉRIC BOISSONNET HAS BEEN JOINED BY HIS SON GUILLAUME ON THE FAMILY DOMAINE AT THE JOUSTING CAPITAL OF THE RHÔNE, SERRIÈRES. THEIR 2018 SAINT-JOSEPH EMISPHÈRE BLANC IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF A NATURAL COUNTRY WINE

2018 is a good vintage for SAINT-JOSEPH BLANC, but it is undoubtedly sun-filled, with balance that therefore comes under scrutiny. The best wines carry their ripe content well thanks to underlying freshness, and are built to last – a good ten years, and double that for majestic wines such as the ***** GONON LES OLIVIERS and the always impressive ****(*) CHAPOUTIER LES GRANITS, both founded on old vines and benefitting from their deep roots.

PIERRE GONON is the vineyard activist chez GONON, and he gave me his views on the freshness in their 2018: “it was very hot during the harvest; we harvested only in the morning, and our LES OLIVIERS has come through freshly.

The vineyard for the white on LES OLIVIERS is mostly East facing loess, but the roots are deep, so it doesn’t fear drought conditions – it gives freshness from both soils and exposure. The smaller part, which also has SYRAH on it, is South facing on LES OLIVIERS, with galet stone covered sand-clay above a granite couch. Working the soils encourages freshness, salinity – not the acidity as such.”

20% of LES OLIVIERS is ROUSSANNE, which is a sensible proportion if the grower wants to contribute extra finesse and floral tones to his or her wine. However, managing young ROUSSANNE - under 15 years’ old – is now a challenge in these very hot summers, since its degree can rocket, and excess amounts of fat can be ladled into the blend.

The OLIVIERS ROUSSANNE dates from 1974, so its profile is suitable to secure a balanced blend. However, elsewhere there are examples where ROUSSANNE with shallow roots really suffers from the drought, bringing a very ripe, high degree, unctuous weight to the wines. They thus slip from enjoyable, passe par tout drinking into sipping territory.

A recent starter is FRANÇOIS GRENIER, whose cellar is in CHAMPAGNE, one of the lesser known SAINT-JOSEPH communes north of SAINT-DÉSIRAT. His one hectare of white is 80% ROUSSANNE, planted in 2008-09, on a mixture of loess soils and sanded granite soils on two sites at SAINT-DÉSIRAT. He told me: “I have a lot of ROUSSANNE, so there’s a lot of peach, ground nuts in the wine. The freshness is very good, given it’s 14.8°.”

I chatted about the ROUSSANNE with two growers from the southern sector, JOËL DURAND from CHÂTEAUBOURG and SÉBASTIEN BLACHON from ST JEAN-DE-MUZOLS. JOËL observed: “the ROUSSANNE is very complicated; it’s very aromatic, gives big aromas – a lot more than the MARSANNE, but yields aren’t consistent, and we don’t know why.” SÉBASTIEN agreed.

Someone who has always had a sure hand with his whites is CHRISTOPHE CURTAT, who started with one hectare in 2005 – his father was a cereal, maize producer in the ISÈRE, near LYON Airport. His vineyards are middle to southern sector, around ARRAS, SARRAS and VION, where he lives. His **** SOUS L’AMANDIER90% ROUSSANNE – was well managed in 2018. The ROUSSANNE is mostly around 26 years old on average, with a little planted in the early 2010s, and is ably supplemented by 10% 1973 MARSANNE. He allows almost a year of mainly used oak raising, and lets the malolactic fermentation run its course.

This style of SAINT-JOSEPH – derived from the length of raising, the use of no more than 15-20% new oak, the completion of the malo - is what works best in allowing a genuine “country” wine to emerge, suited to local dishes rather than necessarily haute, fiddlededee, heavily fingered cuisine.

As a side note, SAINT-PÉRAY has always held a higher percentage of ROUSSANNE, sometimes called ROUSSETTE in my youth, than SAINT-JOSEPH. 20% of the SAINT-PÉRAY vineyard was planted with it in the early 1970s, SAINT-JOSEPH much less. Somehow, the accepted truth became that the MARSANNE was too clumsy, too neutral, and needed a helping hand – hence the advance of the ROUSSANNE among the cool school.

Now it is the MARSANNE that is being harvested at reasonable levels of degree. JÉRÔME COURSODON from MAUVES related: “the whites were much lower degree this year than the reds, at 13.5°, and are good, quite fresh.” Just down the road at CHÂTEAUBOURG, LAURENT COURBIS told me: “we lost 20% of the crop, more than the SYRAH (5%). The wines are fruited, have good acidity, freshness. We harvested only in the mornings – the afternoons were too hot.”

I wondered how 2018 stacked up alongside vintages since 2015, and discovered that it has the lowest **** and higher proportion of wines, albeit from the largest sample.

COMPARISON SAINT-JO BLANC 2015-2018

    5 STAR 4.5 STAR 4 STAR 3.5 STAR 3 STAR 2.5 STAR TOTAL %4 STAR+
2018   01 03 14 22 12 03 55 33 
                   
2017     03 11 15 07   36 38 
                   
2016     03 11 15 09   38 37 
                   
2015   02 05 21 17 06   51 55 
                   

My image of the year is perhaps more favourable than that, but it’s probably best to focus on the **** and above, with selected ***(*) wines that suit your taste – be it for a rich, rolling, thickly styled white such as the ***(*) YVES GANGLOFF, destined only for la table and white meat dishes, say – or for the natural, soft, floral style, as epitomised by the hand crafted, just a few hundred bottles ***(*) SÉBASTIEN BLACHON ISALINE or the ***(*) DOMAINE BOISSONNET EMISPHERE.

The BLACHON, 70% MARSANNE (mainly 2009, 10% 1903), 30% ROUSSANNE (1993) on sanded granite, loess soils at SAINT-JEAN-DE-MUZOLS, has a swift preparation, and is raised in 10-year casks for three months, the malo blocked. It’s one to buy if you live locally or regionally.

The BOISSONNET - over 6,000 bottles, so more attainable - is 80% MARSANNE (mainly early 1990s), 20% ROUSSANNE (also early 1990s) mostly on gore, clay soils on LES ROUASSES above their home village of SERRIÈRES. The charming FRÉDÉRIC has been joined by his son GUILLAUME, with new and young oak eased back since the mid-2010s. They allow the malo, and bottle after eight to nine months.

2018 therefore sees lots of fat in the wines, the best distinguished by achieving stylish, sometimes discreet length, and detail in the content. There are also some Rock n’ Roll, flashy wines in the here and now, which can be enjoyed in a large glass with rich sauced dishes – for these it’s best to benefit from their early exuberance.

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE 2018s

***** Domaine Gonon Les Oliviers  2039-41  12/19  style, texture, Grand Vin 
****(*) M Chapoutier Les Granits  2037-39  11/19  elegant, rich, rolling, saline 
****(*) Dom Coursodon Le Paradis St Pierre  2030-32  11/19  length, coolness, grip, expander 
****(*) Domaine Vallet Méribets  2029-30  11/19  grounded, thorough, wholesome 
**** M Chapoutier Les Granilites  2027-28  11/19  rich, vivid, full, good spine 
**** Aurélien Chatagnier  2027-28  11/19  robust, fat, voluptuous, fun 
**** Domaine du Chêne  2028-29  11/19  grapey, well furnished, stylish 
**** Pierre & Jérôme Coursodon Silice  2028-29  11/19  well poised, defined, fresh 
**** Christophe Curtat sous l’amandier  2023-24  12/19  creamy, spine, detail, tang 
**** Dard & Ribo  2029-30  11/19  wide, luscious, well filled 
**** Dard & Ribo Cuvée Pitrou  2035-37  11/19  rumbustious, long, substantial 
**** Domaine Durand  2030-32  11/19  richly fuelled, good length 
**** Ferme des Sept Lunes lune rousse  2023  02/20  refinement, good detail, joli 
**** Ferraton Les Oliviers  2026-27  12/19  stylish gras, floral, finesse 
**** Domaine Gripa Le Berceau  2029-31  11/19  rich, thorough, sunswept, harmony 
**** Gabriel Meffre Saint-Etienne  2025-26  11/19  generous, suave, satisfying 
**** Domaine Mucyn Les Carats  2028-30  11/19  sturdy, dense, stylish, structure 
**** Vidal-Fleury  2028-29  11/19  rich, entwined, style, length 
***(*) Sébastien Blachon Isaline  2022  12/19  natural, soft, floral, v joli 
***(*) Dom Boissonnet Emisphère  2022-23  02/20  soft, textured, country vin 
***(*) Graeme & Julie Bott  2023-24  12/19  cosy roundness, fresh, nuanced 
***(*) Cave de Tain Terre d’Ivoire  2023  11/19  easy gras, lip smacking 
***(*) M Chapoutier Deschants  2027-29  11/19  sound gras, grip, tang 
***(*) Louis Chèze Ro-Rée  2024-25  12/19  rich, soft fruit, good heart 
***(*) Domaine Courbis Les Royes  2026-27  12/19  stewed fruits, floral, sound gras 
***(*) Yves Cuilleron Lyseras  2024-25  11/19  fresh strength, good table vin 
***(*) Guy Farge vania   2025-26  11/19  rich, fat, plump, sized 
***(*) Lionel Faury  2025  11/19  tangy, direct, very drinkable 
***(*) Gilles Flacher Cuvée Loess  2029-30  11/19  sturdy, hefty, grounded, long 
***(*) Yves Gangloff  2023-24  12/19  suave, rich, rolling, thick 
***(*) Domaine Bernard Gripa  2027-29  11/19  fine, assured length, sound grip 
***(*) E Guigal  2025-26  12/19  comfortable gras, buttery, calm 
***(*) E Guigal Lieu-Dit St Joseph  2030-32  12/19  sturdy richness, solid, Southern 
***(*) Domaine Jolivet Clef de Sol  2023-24  11/19  fat gras, fleshy, flashy 
***(*) Stéphane Montez Gd-Duc Monteillet  2025-26  11/19  solid heart, rich, long 
***(*) André Perret  2023-24  12/19  suave richness, easy depth 
***(*) Maison Christophe Pichon  2023-24  12/19  supple, fleshy, gourmand 
***(*) Domaine des Pierres Sèches  2024  02/20  gentle, textured, joli, charming 
***(*) Julien Pilon Dimanche à lima  2027-28  12/19  weight, serious, grounded 
*** Alléno & Chapoutier Couronne Chabot  2027-28  11/19  compote style fruit, workmanlike 
*** Christophe Blanc Brayonnette  2023  02/20  firm, sturdy, la table 
*** Cave de Tain Grand Classique  2022-23  11/19  gently live, fresh finish 
*** Cave Julien Cécillon Victoria  2029-31 12/19 bracing, tight, very New Wave
*** Jean-Louis Chave Circa  2025-26  12/19  fat gras, very sunny, oaked 
*** Domaine Louis Chomel Lucie  2024  02/20  compact gras, genuine 
*** Domaine Courbis  2023  12/19  supple, soft, neat, light 
*** Delas les Challeys  2028-29  11/19  close-knit, spicing, low-key 
*** Paul Jaboulet Aîné Le Grand Pompée  2022  12/19  light, easy New Wave 
*** Domaine Lionnet Pierre Blanche  2026-27  12/19  tight, fresh, spinal, grippy 
*** Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne  2023  12/19  sympa floral note, soft 
*** Anthony Paret Les Lames du Père  2024  02/20  generous fruit, oak, table wine 
*** Julien Pilon lieu-dit Boissey  2022-23  12/19  fat texture, bit tame 
**(*) Ferraton Père & Fils La Source  2026-27  12/19  firm, buttery, functional 
**(*) J-François Jacouton Souvenirs d’André  2024-25  11/19  compact, oaked, firm, cellar-led 
**(*) Cave Saint-Désirat Cuvée Amendine  2024-25  11/19  grippy, uneven delivery, drift 
         


3. 2018 SAINT-PÉRAY

JULIEN PILON: HIS 2018 LES MAISONS DE VICTOR SAINT-PÉRAY IS FRESH, STYLISH, STGT WINE. IT IS RAISED IN CASKS WITH ACACIA ENDS AND OAK SIDES

What a great vintage is 2018 for SAINT-PÉRAY! Full-on enthusiasm is the order of the day. The wines are full of life and verve, properties that match the inherent fullness of the vintage extremely neatly, so off we go into delights of table wines suited to an array of dishes, from the modern to the traditional.

One of the appellation’s two titans, STÉPHANE ROBERT [the other is FABRICE GRIPA] of DOMAINE DU TUNNEL took me through the year as he saw it: “it’s been a super year, and it wasn’t too much of a late vintage. August and September were exceptional, with no blockage of ripening. 50 mm (2 in) of rain at the start of August helped the ripening to continue, and not to be blocked. The yields are good, near the maximum allowed. You had to act fast on the harvest – the date of it in 2017, 2018 and 2019. I harvested at the end of August in 2018, and on 4 September in 2019.

2018 is quite a solar year - it has minerality that’s the force of the appellation. The ROUSSANNE is especially fresh, has good balance, better than the MARSANNE.” Yup, that minerality, the granite qui parle.

LATE AUGUST HARVESTING: EARLY

Like STÉPHANE ROBERT, JOHANN MICHEL was another to harvest at the end of August: “I harvested my crop at the end of August, extremely early,” he recounted. “My SAINT-PÉRAY from LES PETITES BLÂCHES produced three instead of six casks this year.”

LOSS OF HARVEST

Another to suffer from loss of crop was young CYRIL COURVOISIER who was faced with a troika of problems: “I only made 1,200 bottles, down from 1,800 bottles – I was hit by hail, drought and mildew.”

RAIN RESERVES, WITH THAT AUGUST TOP-UP

JEAN-LOUIS THIERS, now 61 and starting to wind down with no successor in sight, makes very consistent quality SAINT-PÉRAY. “2018 is a good year,” he told me; “there was a lot of rain in May-June, then the weather was beau, including at harvest time. The wines are well balanced.” JEAN-LOUIS is one of the few vignerons to also make a MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE SAINT-PÉRAY - very respectable it is.

Fermentations were not always straightforward. OLIVIER CLAPE recounted: “the malos completed before the sugars, so there was a risk of Volatile Acidity. They stopped fermenting in December, which continued a re-start in the spring of 2019.”

SAINT-PÉRAY: A SMALL VINEYARD SUDDENLY EXPANDING

During my career, SAINT-PÉRAY has been steadily locked into the range of a small appellation, one faced with the constant threat of housing development spilling over from VALENCE across the River. The vineyard covered 56 hectares in the early 1970s, then slipped as one leading name chaotically took to the bottle – he made very good wine – and an air of fusty neglect hung over the place. There was also too much adherence to the sparkling version of the wine, which was extremely hard to sell.

Hence by 1982, the area was down to a spindly 48 hectares. These were all clustered around the village, except for the westerly outcrop under the CRUSSOL limestone cliff – JEAN-LOUIS THIERS and GUY DARONA [a GRIPA cousin, vineyards now with them] country.

THE ONLY OUTSIDERS USED TO BE GROWERS FROM NEXT DOOR CORNAS

By 2004, it was still stuck at 61 hectares. Then, presto – YVES CUILLERON and “cool” growers from elsewhere in the NORTHERN RHÔNE, beyond the classic source of near neighbours at CORNAS, spotted the opportunities of relatively cheap vineyards and more wine to sell. The late 1990s had witnessed the advance of big name enterprises – CHAPOUTIER, PAUL JABOULET AÎNE, JEAN-LUC COLOMBO, the CAVE DE TAIN among them – pushing the still wine with media campaigns. CHAPOUTIER and JABOULET were vineyard buyers, as well, COLOMBO to a lesser extent.

Much of the new planting occurred on the road out of SAINT-PÉRAY into the foothills leading to LAMASTRE, at whose HOTEL DU MIDI the rightly celebrated food writer ELIZABETH DAVID – the muse for ALICE WATERS at CHEZ PANISSE - would lunch in the 1950s.

VINEYARDS ARE GETTING HIGHER

This meant vineyards at increasing levels of altitude, and involved clearing scrub, trees, often the very spiky acacia and green oaks. It meant a gradual expansion; in 2005, for instance, four hectares were then due for clearance and planting – not all owned by the same person, and not all immediately planted.

Now, however, the genie is out of the bottle. Whereas CORNAS is a tightly run appellation with ANNE COLOMBO the PRESIDENT of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, SAINT-PÉRAY’s PRESIDENT is BENOÎT NODIN, the brother of the good producer RÉMY NODIN. The family used to be CO-OPÉRATEURS at the CAVE DE TAIN until around 2004.

I do not know BENOÎT personally, since he is more of a fruit and vegetable producer, his business at SAINT-PÉRAY called LE FRUITIER. He has some vines, and sells their harvest. There is no wine in bottle. Hence he is not an ideal person to stand up to the vineyard-hungry battalions of the likes of CHAPOUTIER, who beat down the SYNDICAT door each year with ever increasing demands for more and instant vineyard planting rights.

SAINT-PÉRAY’s vineyard is now about 100 hectares, growing by eight to nine hectares per annum, a change of nearly 10% each year. That is a lot in a rush. It will jeopardise quality due to the tilt towards young vines, and the failure to phase their grapes in gradually. One will only need a cool growing season bringing its impact on vines grown at 400 to 500 metres to see that this particular Emperor has no clothes.

For now, the trio of hot summers 2017 to 2019 has allowed this vineyard to perform well, one of the beneficiaries being LAURE COLOMBO; she planted four hectares around her farm at 500 metres in 2014 and 2015, 70% ROUSSANNE and 30% MARSANNE. Her comment on 2018 was an interesting “I need phenolic ripeness on the ROUSSANNE, so I have to wait for the harvest. Being a vineyard at altitude helps that.”

HONGRIE: LIKE REYNARDS AT CORNAS, A TOP LIEU-DIT

For the specifics of 2018, I come back to the trusted terroirs, one of which most certainly is HONGRIE. It faces South-East, and is bisected by the road winding up to SAINT-ROMAIN-DE LERPS. Its upper soil is based on gore, rotted granite, while the mid and lower soils hold more white-yellow clay that is quite fine, with a little limestone. That clay’s ability to retain moisture is vital in the dry summers, while the rich soil with carbonates in it makes it suited to the MARSANNE.

As with REYNARDS at CORNAS, there are subsets of HONGRIE that count, too – one being LA CÔTE, where STÉPHAN CHABOUD works some 1903 MARSANNE, and ALAIN VOGE has 1930s MARSANNE which composes his markedly oaked FLEUR DE CRUSSOL cuvée. I will be keeping an eye on CHABOUD’s wines which have served much disappointment over recent decades, having been one of the top names in the 1970s when I started out.

STÉPHAN is a country boy who would much rather stick to his vines than have to vinify and sell their wine. It is therefore good news that he was joined just before the 2019 harvest by CHARLÈNE CELLIER, the ex-oenologue of PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ [never a place for great continuity in jobs]; she is from SAINT-PÉRAY, and herself owns a few vines. Her husband is the caviste at DELAS. CHARLÈNE is taking care of vinifications, and expect quality to rise.

Two of the top 2018s, both ****(*), come from HONGRIE – the CHAPOUTIER HONGRIE and the ALAIN VOGE ONGRIE. Both are pure MARSANNE, both vineyards date from the 1970s. There has been change, too, at VOGE, since the retirement of ALBÉRIC MAZOYER in the summer of 2018, the reins taken by LIONEL FRAISSE. LIONEL I have known for some years, and my first impression of his influence is a tightening up of the whites, with better balance and purity across the range of three SAINT-PÉRAYs, the ONGRIE to the fore.

2018 certainly carries the weight of the vintage, but the wines are well sculpted, and include freshness, with, for once, a good use of carbonic gas as a freshening agent. The lengths are all good - firm, cool, decisive finishes abound - and there is clean delivery of fruit and content. It is a most successful vintage, one that is a real pleasure to drink and enjoy.

LEADING SAINT-PÉRAY 2018s

****(*) M Chapoutier Lieu-dit Hongrie 2028-30  11/19  verve, energy, good prompts 
****(*) Laurent & Céline Fayolle Montis  2026-27  11/19  trimly full, cool, STGT 
****(*) Dom Bernard Gripa Les Figuiers  2027-28  11/19  expressive, verve, fresh, engaging 
****(*) Julien Pilon les maisons de victor  2025-26  12/19  silky gras, style, fresh, STGT 
****(*) Domaine du Tunnel Prestige  2025  12/19  elegant, persistent, suave gras 
****(*) Alain Voge Ongrie  2029-31  11/19  refined, complex, top notch St P 
**** Mickaël Bourg  2026-27  12/19  classic Marsanne firmness, character 
**** J-Luc Colombo La Belle de Mai 2024-25 12/19 stylish gras, persistent
**** Yves Cuilleron La Biousse  2024-25  11/19  clear fruit, grip, shapely 
**** Domaine Durand  2029-30  11/19  rich, instant, length, clarity 
**** Guy Farge Grain de Silex  2024-25  11/19  grapey, obvious, inner intensity 
**** Ferraton Père & Fils Le Mialan  2025-26  12/19  warm, sunny, cool close 
**** Domaine Bernard Gripa Les Pins  2026-27  11/19  doughty, full length, plenty 
**** Rémy Nodin Classique  2026-27  11/19  direct, squeezy gras, cool 
**** Domaine du Tunnel Roussanne  2024-25  12/19  inner strength, saline, good life 
**** Alain Voge Harmonie  2026-27  11/19  rich, pleasing, long, verve 
**** Cave de Tain Fleur de Roc  2024-25  11/19  refined, tender gras, New Wave 
***(*) Cave de Tain Grand Classique  2022-23  11/19  trim, detail, gentle, w.o.w. 
***(*) M Chapoutier Les Tanneurs  2026-27  11/19  solid, spine, tight filling 
***(*) Domaine Clape 2025-26 12/19 rich, firm, trad, some freshness 
***(*) Cyril Courvoisier Rochette  2025-26  12/19  firm, solid, freshness, time 
***(*) Dom des Hauts Châssis Les Calcaires  2024-25  02/20  open, soft; firm close 
***(*) Jacques Lemenicier Elegance  2023  12/19  aromatic, charming, supple, joli 
***(*) Domaine de Lorient  2023  12/19  expansive, thorough, also refined 
***(*) Johann Michel Les Petites  2022-23  12/19  cosy gras, gentle, floral 
***(*) Rémy Nodin La Beylesse  2028-29  11/19  rich, ripe, hefty, weighty 
***(*) Jean-Louis Thiers, Dom du Biguet  2022  12/19  fine, calm, quiet style 
***(*) Domaine du Tunnel Marsanne  2023-24  12/19  tender, serene, floral, tuneful 
***(*) Alain Voge Fleur de Crussol  2026-27  11/19  quite rich, instant, compact 
*** Anne-S Pic & M Chapoutier Les Payrolles 2027-28  11/19  streamlined, direct, carbo gas 
*** Domaine Courbis Le Tram  2023-24  12/19  swish, modern, efficient, stretched 
*** Pascal & C Jamet Greenette  2022  12/19  fine acidity, compact, OK . . 
*** Luyton-Fleury La Source   2025-26 11/19  butty, bit dour, table
**(*) Domaine Chaboud Roussanne  2021-22  12/19  stewed flavour, disorganised 
         

 

4. 2018 CORNAS

JACQUES LEMENICIER HAS BEEN BUOYED BY THE ARRIVAL ON HIS DOMAINE OF HIS NEPHEW DAVID LAURIER; HE ALSO REPORTS SALES IN THE SPRING OF 2020 AT A STANDSTILL DUE TO THE CORONAVIRUS

A year such as 2018 was an outlier in my first 30 years covering the RHÔNE, but no more. It is a vintage of sun and generosity with links to years such as 2009, 2015 and 2017 in the past, and 2019 in the future. More and more the balance of these hot vintages is determined by what rainfall occurs in the last two months of the growing season – can stress be avoided, can blockages of ripening be avoided?

CORNAS is an early vineyard, buttressed as it is from the North Wind, LA BISE, by the limestone outcrops of CHÂTEAUBOURG. The RHÔNE and its immediate cooling influences are away from the central vineyards such as REYNARDS and LA SABAROTTE, two of the titans, which means that a nucleus of leading names – CLAPE, ALLEMAND, GUILLAUME GILLES, FRANCK BALTHAZAR – are frequently harvesting in late August nowadays. They are often the first to press the “go” button.

As THIÉRRY ALLEMAND remarked to me recently: “I want to revert to wines of 13.5°, harvesting earlier, instead of the 14° to 14.5° wines that are coming along these days.”

The CORNAS location contrasts with that of MAUVES just up the road, or the southern vineyards of TOURNON, two of the central communes of the SAINT-JOSEPH appellation when it was first formed in 1956 – before the addition of the Northern sector based around CHAVANAY. These southern ST JO wines are often overtly based on thick red fruits flavours akin to strawberry jam or paste, whereas CORNAS asserts its superior terroir with glints of iron, and powdered finesse in its tannins.

2018: EXTREMELY GOOD, CLOSE TO 2019

2018 comes through as an extremely good vintage at CORNAS, one that isn’t far off 2019 in quality – whereas I would place 2019 CÔTE-ROTIE as clear of 2018 there, levels of August rainfall being the deciding factor between the two vintages around AMPUIS.

THE SAVING GRACE OF RAIN UNTIL MID-JUNE

What seemed like a poor, vexatious start to the year actually turned out to be a saving grace in 2018. The wet weather that provoked so much mildew in the SOUTHERN RHÔNE came when the vineyards at CORNAS were less advanced, while LA BISE turned up after the rain to clean the vegetation when the MISTRAL down South failed to appear. Reserves of moisture in the subsoils rode to the appellation’s rescue in the second half of the growing season.

As GUILLAUME GILLES explained: “complicated work was involved in 2018, similar to 2016. There was rain until early June, then drought. Ripening advanced very fast at the end, with high heat between 20 and 30 August. I started the harvest on 4 September. My yield was 20% down, 28 hl/ha instead of 35 hl/ha.”

LA BISE, THE NORTH WIND’S IMPORTANT ROLE

OLIVIER CLAPE referenced the wind effect, telling me: “we were all saved at the beginning of June by the North Wind and dry weather. That staved off the mildew. The CORNAS holds better acidity than the CÔTES DU RHÔNE and the VIN DE FRANCE SYRAHs. Some sugars lasted until July 2019, the youngest vines from the early 2000s on PATOU, for instance - wine for the CORNAS RENAISSANCE; we aren’t equipped for cool working. Hot grapes were harvested, and killed the wild yeasts.”

FRANCK BALATHAZAR also emphasized the helpful reserves of rain, stating: “there was a lot of rain from May until 12-13 June, then not one drop. It helped that it was rainy in 2018 until then. The vines were less stressed in 2018 than 2017 and 2019, so 2018 is a fresher year. It’s a vintage that gives more terroir than 2017 and 2019. I find 2018 is more floral than 2017, has structure since it’s a hot year, a yield of over 25 hl/ha. The problem with these years such as 2017 and 2018 is the months of drought. Worked soils aid the yeasts.”

WORKING OF SOILS A SERIOUS AID IN HOT YEARS

JOHANN MICHEL referred to the impact of his working his vineyard soils when giving an appraisal of the year - his wines are definitely on the up. “We started to work the soils around 2015, and have lower yields. This has brought more fresh, more clear aromas, the vineyard is less stressed, and there is a gain in finesse, elegance. We do two to three vineyard workings – March, July, one in November.

“I like 2018 well,” he continued; “the tannins are quite supple, there is attractive fruit and a belle complexity. It’s a bit like 2016 with more depth. We lost 40% of the harvest – mildew mainly, then drought effect. The degree runs between 14.2° and 14.5°. 2017 is on alcohol, is tannic, without the exuberance of 2015.” 2018 was the first vintage when JOHANN included 20% of stems in his classic CORNAS cuvée – “they brought balance to the wine”.

MORE WHOLE BUNCH FERMENTATION

JACQUES LEMENICIER was another vigneron moving back towards the custom of stems inclusion this year, explaining: “I used 80% of the stems this year, deliberately to reduce the degree by 1° or so. There is a joli power, puissance, with sucrosity, and despite the drought, the wine is quite balanced, and will keep as well, along the lines of 2005. It’s fruited, quite hot. It’s very good now after a year or more, will close, then will take a very long time to re-open. My harvest was 30 hl/ha, sound. 2019 is a little fresher.”

Small actions accumulate into a wider effect, so vineyard soil working – OLIVIER CLAPE has also stepped this up recently – and judicial inclusion of stems start to contribute to better quality fruit and, above all, balance, in hot recent vintages. There is no mass production at CORNAS, so, provided the grower is well motivated, and has a sound financial footing, more hours invested can result pretty directly in better wines. If necessary, vineyard work can be conducted at times that do not suit large scale operations – such as the weekend.

Someone with whom I have a financial-personal interest is VINCENT PARIS, who works the roughly 0.9 hectare on GENALE that is owned by a few enthusiasts from FRANCE, BRITAIN and NORWAY, including yours truly. His harvest date has been similar in 2017 and 2018 – late in the third week of the month.

2018 IS HIGH DEGREE, 2019 ALSO

VINCENT does not work his soils, and one of the consequences of this date is the degree in his wines. As he told me: “it’s a vintage on over-ripeness, 14° to 14.5° for all my wines. I started the harvest on 19 September, and went rapidly, all done in 10 days. The wines were closed at first.”

GENALE is such a marvellous terroir, a South facing slope with a vineyard based on 1920s SYRAH-SERINE, that it can better handle the impact of heat-drought than many lieux-dits at CORNAS. The 2018 LA GEYNALE shows that primacy, being a ripe wine, but one with inner complexity.

LAURE COLOMBO is gently making her way with her own domaine called DOMAINE DE LORIENT. LORIENT is a secluded, wooded spot at 500 metres above SAINT-PÉRAY, the 4 hectares of ROUSSANNE and MARSANNE planted around her farm house there.

Her CORNAS comes from EYGAS, a vineyard rented from her parents, and the style is for amiable drinking, a fleshy tone, early accessibility, with no new oak in play. She called the vintage thus: “2018 is an attractive, chouette year, even with the heat; it was helped by the cool weather and rain up till the middle of June, which meant that the vineyard bore the heat better than it did in 2019. 2018 is better balanced than 2019.”

THIÉRRY ALLEMAND is aware that 2019 is going to catch many headlines, and his personal style contrasts with the VERY BIG VINTAGES. As he told me: “I started my harvest on 3 September, and achieved a yield of 27 hl/ha across my 5 hectares.

2018 is rather fine, rounded, not a gross wine like 2015, which was a dream year, when you could put the grapes in a vat, go fishing for three weeks, return, and have made wine. This year you did have to watch the malos that went off very early, and there was quite a lot of sugar to deal with. There’s perhaps a connection to 2000 and 2004 this year.

The degree is 14° to 14.5°, 0.5° less than 2019. 2019 is comparable to 2005, 2009. The press will announce it’s a great vintage because it’s big in scale. It’s 0.5° higher in degree, nearly 15°, and its Volatile Acidity is higher, too, than 2018.”

2018 IS SOLAR, CONCENTRATED

JOËL DURAND, who with brother ERIC favours well-fruited, upfront wines both at CORNAS and SAINT-JOSEPH, spoke of comparisons with 2017 and adjustments that are actually favourable to the growers’ cause, when giving this opinion: “2018 is in the line of 2017, for example, very solar, despite which our CORNAS has lots of ripe fruit, with freshness. It’s very concentrated, very rich, proves that CORNAS can offer a palette of varied fruits.

Climate change for us in the NORTHERN RHÔNE has meant that we have optimum ripening, which we didn’t have before. There isn’t the jam effect of SYRAH from the SOUTHERN RHÔNE. There is alcohol, but you don’t feel it. If that’s what you need for a true equilibrium, so be it. The freshness allied to a good dish is what it’s about in order to be well drinkable.”

His neighbour at CHÂTEAUBOURG, LAURENT COURBIS of DOMAINE COURBIS is another enthusiast for 2018. Their family jewel is LA SABAROTTE, the old NOËL VERSET vineyard that was split between their dad MAURICE and AUGUSTE CLAPE: “2018 is a Grande Année for CORNAS; they are full, black wines with a kindness of tannins that are very well founded. They aren’t too alcoholic, have good balance in the style of 2010, are robust. They are quite open now, even the CHAMPELROSE, which has always tasted well, has an abundance of fruit.”

Bar their holding on the southernmost lieu-dit of COMBE, which runs along the border with SAINT-PÉRAY beside the D86, the organic since 2007 DOMAINE LIONNET’s vineyards are near the village or north of it. Their approach has always been low intervention, resulting in wines with a genuine CORNAS character, and the ability to gradually unfurl over time. Son-in-law LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE is keen, active and intelligent, and has been cranking up quality while also diversifying into SAINT-JOSEPH for a RED and a WHITE.

HIGHER YIELD THAN 2017

LUDOVIC gave this appraisal: “2018 is a good, joli vintage, the degree 14° - so it was a hot year, but the acidity is correct, the balance beau. The yield of 33 hl/ha is correct. It more resembles 2016 than 2017 – the length and persistence, whereas in 2017 we lost 40%, so it’s beefy, rounded as a year. 2018 is still a more massive year than 2017, with a serious base to the wine.”

There are youngsters at CORNAS these days, two of whom are showing worthy promise. EMMANUELLE VERSET is the daughter of ALAIN, and is lucky enough to work with high grade central-Southern sites, CHAMPELROSE, MAZARDS, GENALE on REYNARDS, and LES CÔTES - a total of 2 hectares, with another 0.5 hectare to plant. She has tightened up the work in the cellar, and the wines are now clearer and better fruited than a decade or more ago.

She regards 2018 as follows: “2018 is a beau vintage, concentrated, with low levels of acidity – so the whole bunches helped. The yeasts had to work hard to help the vinification. We kept all the harvest to bottle. For the first time, we made two cuvées, the classic and another from CHAMPELROSE and GENALE, which we are calling SIGNATURE VERSET.”

CYRIL COURVOISIER is a buzzy, smiling enthusiast whom I met several years ago. He has no inherited land, and has worked left and right, including giving tasting courses in TOURNON, to get himself under way. He now has 0.3 hectare of organically worked young vines split between CHAILLOT and LES CÔTES. “The wine is very open already, very clear and frank,” he told me. “It was hot, dry, but the wines performed well, especially on LES CÔTES – there is balance, freshness, and they aren’t too ripe.”

MORE TERROIR TO COME THROUGH OVER TIME

Despite all the early oomph and weight in the 2018s at CORNAS, I reckon it is a vintage that can stand the test of time over a good 25 years. Indeed, I would expect the latent notes of terroir to augment as the years pass, and for the vintage to be well regarded by enthusiasts as they conduct their retrospective dinners in a couple of decades’ time.

TEN WINES FROM 2009 TASTED IN CORNAS, DECEMBER 2019

I make reference to another solar year, namely 2009 – one of the first - in this review, so it was interesting to conduct a look back on it at the age of 10 in December, 2019, in CORNAS. What struck me was that if time stood still then, the impression of CORNAS would be one of a few top domaines, a decent enough middle grouping, with some stragglers – a vision rather far removed from the 2020 reality of high prices, high vogue, high expectations among the literati, glitterati and hipsters of modern wine drinking.

2009, THE GROWING SEASON

First of all, 2009 was a year of high heat in summer, but it was also well seasoned by rainfall – 900 mm (36 in) from January to September. 2019 January to September was 300 mm (12 in), by contrast. So there were helpful reserves in the subsoils in 2009.

At the time, I wrote: The story of the vintage is not complicated. In early August, VINCENT PARIS recounted: "the season started very well - it was quite dry, with rain when it was needed - for example, when the grapes were forming in April and May, including at night. Flowering was ten days ahead of normal - around 20-25 May, and happened very quickly and well."

"Since June there has been less rain, and virtually none since the start of July," he continued. "It is now very dry, and we have had to cut back some of the crop. Anyone who hasn’t cut back crop will have double the quantity this year. Rain would be welcome now - once a week in the night would be ideal! We had 5mm (0.2 inch) last night, 2 August, and it has fallen from the 30s°C to 23°C today. The forecast is for the heat to resume back to around 32° from 6 August."

In early July there was extreme heat up to 37°C [looking back, that was a clear indicator of what was to come in the 2010s - in 2009, it was very rare]. Growers reported their young vines to be suffering a little. This turned into reality, with FRANCK BALTHAZAR achieving just 26 hl/ha from his young vines, and 35 hl/ha from his mature, old SYRAH that dates back to 1914. Fears at the time were also for rather hard tannins as a result of the lack of rain.

The other issue became one of high degree, which in recent years has marked some CORNAS with notes of acetate. JACQUES LEMENICIER told me: "there was a danger on the most precocious sites of high degree in the wines if you wanted ripe tannins. I finished SAINT-PIERRE [high up] on 7 October, a week ahead of 2008." That is not as far ahead as one might have expected, actually. Note that JACQUES has been given impetus by the arrival of his nephew DAVID on the domaine, but in the spring of 2020 has found sales badly hit by the coronavirus shutdown.

Everyone was happy with the state of the crop at harvest time. Young JOHANN MICHEL: "the 2009 crop was hyper healthy - the colour was deep, and the wines are fresh, which is not what I expected." PIERRE CLAPE remarked: "2009 is marked by the heat, so the grapes started to crack and become overripe. 2010 has a more bit more acidity."

MODERN CORNAS IN THE ASCENDANCY

I continued: “The modern school of CORNAS is definitely in the ascendancy. This will please my old friend JANCIS ROBINSON, who could not stand CORNAS around ten-plus years ago, and who wrote a scathing article to that effect in the FINANCIAL TIMES. The traditional school believes that a good CORNAS should carry demonstrable, almost gritty tannins, before achieving a measured flow when eight-plus years’ old. Note the word "measured", rather than flamboyant or showy - these are wines of the granite-laced ARDÈCHE hills and vales, after all.

Domaines such as DURAND and COURBIS are standard bearers for this newly accessible CORNAS, making wines with dash and pedigree. CLAPE and BALTHAZAR remain the old school legionnaires, with VOGE sitting roughly in between. Some Young Turks such as GUILLAUME GILLES (whole bunches) and JÉRÔME DESPESSE (tiny production) are modern, but have a sense of place in their wines.

The modern CORNAS can be drunk around four years’ old - indeed readers will be tempted to try their 2009s around mid-2012 onwards, I would surmise. For a burst of instant juiciness from the SYRAH, they will be rewarded, but would miss out on later shimmies of mystery and variety as the wines move to expressing a more definite sense of place.

I would recommend buying of this vintage of CORNAS, with little hesitation. However, a note of caution for the arch purists: this is not the sort of vintage that got you into drinking CORNAS. The wild beast is more domesticated this year, and there can be a lack of spine in some of the wines. I would not envisage this being a vintage to lay down for ages, nor to expect life much past 15 to 18 years. Modern winemaking is definitely shortening drinking horizons, even in the ARDÈCHE.

WHOLE BUNCH, NO NEW OAK EMERGED ON TOP, 10 YEARS ON

The first impression was that the decade since the harvest had been kind to only one of the two schools cited above, the traditional. The modern wines had rather fallen apart, as was predicted. Thus a lack of freshness – wines that were stewed, brothy and funky was a feature of the tasting. The feel that oak was in excess, leading to a sweetening of the wines was also conveyed.

There were two clear leaders, both ***** and both STGT – the GUILLAUME GILLES, up from **** and the DOMAINE CLAPE, up from ****(*) when last tasted. It was noteworthy that GUILLAUME was working his soils back in 2009, unlike most. Both domaines were, and still are, practitioners of whole bunch fermentation, and their wines held better structure than the others. Neither domaine works with new oak, another core difference. These two delivered what I term true CORNAS with a proper structure and interesting longevity.

MODERN SCHOOL LESS IMPRESSIVE

Against them, as it were, came the forces of modernism, with destemming and an upping in the employment of new oak, which for a long while was the preserve of JEAN-LUC COLOMBO, his BORDEAUX bottle also setting him apart. Distance from the terroir was so created. 2009 was the first year DUMIEN SERRETTE destemmed the whole harvest, and their 2009 PATOU (the southerly, hot lieu-dit] was very disappointing – dry on the finish, strict tannins, after **** in May, 2016.

From the modern school, there were four wines – COLOMBO’s LES RUCHETS, DURAND’s EMPREINTES, DOMAINE COURBIS’ CHAMPELROSE and DOMAINE DU TUNNEL’s VIN NOIR. Of these the best were the **** magnum of COURBIS CHAMPELROSE and the **** magnum of TUNNEL VIN NOIR, the bottle size an aid, I would surmise.

The COURBIS had been a ***(*) wine when tasted in November, 2010. It showed sun of the vintage, but that wasn’t in excess. The bouquet, like several, was into funky, on the turn zones. The TUNNEL I had not tasted before: it held savoury content, was a bit more SYRAH wine than CORNAS, but held up in the mid-palate, not the case with all.

The DURAND I had given ***** - hands up – regarding it as excellent, modern CORNAS, one with polished finesse when tasted pre-bottling. At ten years’, I found it good on the attack, bearing nice pockets of alert fruit, but the stewed finish was a put-off, the fruit not extending as far as I would have liked, a ***(*) wine. Somehow, it summed up the edgy side of modernisation at CORNAS – the destemming and brewing of the harvest at highish temperatures in the cellar, giving an instant hit result, but not necessarily the structure for an accomplished second phase. It can live on, but maybe it was best to go for it around five years’ old.

NEW OAK STILL PROMINENT

The COLOMBO LES RUCHETS I had considered as a **** wine when tasted from cask in June, 2011. Here the problem was a lack of local ID – no real surprise – but once more, the fruit didn’t persist far enough to convince. There was a sheen of polish, the finish fading, oak still on the premises – all rather dull, really, a *** wine.

Of the rest, a good effort came from the CAVE DE TAIN’s superior cuvée called ARÈNES SAUVAGES, which contains 1950s SYRAH; it was all new oak raised. It had retained its ***(*) rating from November 2011. This time the bouquet was a wild, Rock n’Roll affair, and the palate was cool, to its credit. The fruit could have travelled further, and there was still oak on show.

A disappointment came in the shape of the VOGE LES VIEILLES VIGNES; in November, 2010, from cask, I had considered it well-balanced and bearing very good, persistent fruit, a ***** wine. This time around, in bottle, the content was soft, supple, and a hint of iron, clarity, a ***(*) wine. But it came across as middle of the road, with oak and its caramel sweetness on the close. Excess oaking was a factor, in my view, in its rather droopy statement. It will live for another 14+ years, so perhaps another dose of ageing will help it.

Lastly, the DOMAINE MICHELAS SAINT JEMMS TERRES D’ARCE, a **** wine from cask when tasted in November, 2010. It is taken from 1960s SYRAH on the warm lieu-dit of LES CÔTES, raised in half new oak, half 1-year oak. I regarded it as polished, modern, with some local virtues, but this wine in bottle smacked of one that had been harvested too early – it was clipped, frank, but stiff, a *** wine.

Looking at the leaders today – ALLEMAND, CLAPE, GILLES, BALTHAZAR – they all work with whole bunches, none uses new oak. Enough said.

Presenting 2018 in the context of recent vintages, here is a comparison from 2015 to 2018 inclusive:


CORNAS RATINGS 2015 TO 2018

    6 STAR 5 STAR 4.5 STAR 4 STAR 3.5 STAR 3 STAR 2.5 STAR 2 STAR 1.5 STAR TOTAL % 4.5+ % 4+
2018   01   13 19 08 08 01      50 28 66
                           
2017     01 09 16 16 10 02 01 01 56 18 46
                           
2016     01 10 21 23 08 05 02   68 16 47
                           
2015   02 13 08 19 10 02       54 42 78
                           

If I had one additional comment on the above table, it is that I would love to have a decent selection of top 2016s in my cellar; their freshness lends itself to the profile of really classy drinking over time, nicely loose-limbed CORNAS that would deliver spark and pleasure. 2016 is a vintage that will gain and reward over time, while others, such as 2017, may become more stuck in their groove.

In terms of overall health of the appellation, I would say that CORNAS is in pretty good shape. One fissure is the planting high up on the old meadow lands, referred to previously, so that there are two forms of CORNAS now, the vineyards that you can largely see from the village, and those out of sight. The former the real goods, the latter an appendage. In hot years the high areas on CHABAN and EYRIEUX perform OK, in cool, late years such as 2016, they are heavily exposed for their acidity and low degree fruit.

In 2018, a preponderance of these wines took up the places down the batting order: the *** GUILLAUME GILLES RIEUX (even GUILLAUME), the *** DOMAINE PHILIPPE & VINCENT JABOULET, the *** DOMAINE MUCYN AQUILON and the *** CHRISTOPHE PICHON ALLÉGORIE – all examples of a two-speed CORNAS.

In terms of vineyard expansion, the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS is well led by ANNE COLOMBO. With merchants, notably CHAPOUTIER, charging at a target of mass, immediate planting rights – pushing for 30 to 40 hectares in one single year - it was good to hear that the 2019 level was for two hectares split between 40 applicants – an area of 0.05 hectare each, democracy at its best. This is unlike the situation in SAINT-PÉRAY, which will be discussed on its 2018 review.

LEADING CORNAS 2018s

****** Thiérry Allemand Reynard  2055-57  12/19  top class, long, fulfilling 
****(*) Thiérry Allemand Chaillot  2045-47  12/19  balance, entertaining, elegant 
****(*) Franck Balthazar sans soufre  2030-33  12/19  lovely purity, fine, high interest 
****(*) Cave de Tain Arènes Sauvages  2042-45  11/19  muscular drive, suave, dark 
****(*) Domaine Clape  2053-55  12/19  solid, long, intrigue, time 
****(*) Domaine Courbis La Sabarotte  2043-45  12/19  noble sève, class, generosity 
****(*) Domaine Durand Empreintes  2043-45  11/19  structured, genuine, long, potential 
****(*) Guy Farge Harmonie  2041-43  11/19  sun, generosity, Cornas iron
****(*) Ferraton Les Eygats  2042-44  12/19  cool, ferrous, vintage, terroir, altitude 
****(*) Johann Michel Cuvée Jana   2041-43  12/19  suave gras, fine, very belle
****(*) Vincent Paris La Geynale    2040-42  11/19  ripe, scented, inner complexity 
****(*) Les Remizières  2043-45  11/19  enjoyable, intense, structure, gainer 
****(*) David Reynaud Rebelle  2040-42  11/19  vigorous, convincing, rich, sparky 
****(*) Alain Voge Les Vieilles Vignes  2044-46  11/19  generous, good style, long, cool 
**** Franck Balthazar Chaillot  2043-45  12/19  cool fruit, structure, firm 
**** Domaine Clape Renaissance  2047-49  12/19  racy fruit, dark, crunchy 
**** J-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets  2037-39 12/19 stylish gras, mineral, grip
**** J-Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées  2034-36  12/19  sleek, racy; good fruit purity 
**** Domaine Courbis Les Eygats 2041-43 12/19  fruit brio, authentic in time 
**** Dumien Serrette Patou  2039-41  11/19  generous, plentiful, detail, enjoyable 
**** Domaine Durand Confidence  2042-44  11/19  trim, polished, smooth, Burgundian 
**** Domaine Durand Prémices  2040-42  11/19  rich, open, rolling, good drive 
**** Ferraton Père & Fils Patou  2039-42  12/19  juicy, plentiful, energy, polished 
**** Guillaume Gilles  2042-44  12/19  expressive, iron, Burgundian, time 
**** Jacques Lemenicier 2041-43 12/19 squeezy/vintage; Cornas integrity 
**** Domaine des Lises equis  2042-45  02/20  bright, complete, engaging, true
**** Domaine de Lorient  2035-37  12/19  expressive, good go, fun 
**** Johann Michel  2040-42  12/19  rich, modern, vibrant, fresh end 
**** Rémy Nodin Les Eygas  2039-41  11/19  fruit style, finesse, purity 
**** Vincent Paris Granit 60  2039-41  11/19  expressive, fluid gras, good spine 
**** Julien Pilon élégance du Caillou  2042-44  12/19  thorough, fine, proper Cornas 
**** Domaine du Tunnel Pur Noir  2039-42  12/19  pedigree, polish, silky feel 
**** Vidal-Fleury  2040-42  11/19  concentrated, sure frame, fresh 
***(*) Cave de Tain Grand Classique  2038-41  11/19  substantial, chunky, well juiced 
***(*) Delas Chante Perdrix  2040-42  11/19  dark intensity, assertion, time 
***(*) Jérôme Despesse  2030-32  12/19  mulled, aromatic, charm, early style 
***(*) Ferraton Les Grands Mûriers  2037-39  12/19  roasted, vigorous, touch mineral
***(*) Vincent Paris Granit 30  2033-35  11/19  well juiced, instant, w.o.w. 
***(*) Domaine du Tunnel   2035-37  12/19  elegant fruit, nice ensemble
***(*) Domaine du Tunnel Vin Noir  2040-42  12/19  refined, spotless, clean 
***(*) Alain Voge Les Vieilles Fontaines 2040-42 11/19 neo-modern, fresh, efficient 
*** J-Luc Colombo La Louvée 2034-36 12/19 ripe, then dry, oak, technical 
*** Domaine Courbis Champelrose  2033-35  12/19  supple, bit floral, mainstream 
*** Cyril Courvoisier Les Côtes  2032-33  12/19  liqueur fruit, munchy tannin 
*** Guillaume Gilles Rieux  2032-34  12/19  easy flow, light, perfumed 
*** Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet 2034-36 11/19 ripe, mature, straightforward 
*** Domaine Mucyn Aquilon  2030-32  11/19  cosy richness, plump, simple 
*** Christophe Pichon Allégorie  2031-33  12/19  dense, ripe, thick 
*** Alain Voge Les Chaillés  2039-41  11/19  crisp, clipped, acetate, time 
**(*)  Bernard Blachon  2033-34  12/19  tannic sinew, crunched 

 

5. 2018 CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

CHRISTELLE BETTON WITH HER TWO COUSIN WHITE WINES, THE CROZES-HERMITAGE CIRCÉ AND THE HERMITAGE ARPÈGE. THE CROZES USED TO BE CALLED CRYSTAL UNTIL MAISON ROEDERER SENT A LETTER

These hot vintages are bringing out the glycerol engine rooms of the whites from the Southern stretches of the NORTHERN RHÔNE VALLEY; we are into table friendly wines, and when old vine MARSANNE is involved, there are treats to be had. New oak isn’t essential, just a gentle raising over a few months, the malo completed.

Lees stirring, the Burgundian interloper, has been gladly cut back, and recent vintages are showing a confident hand as growers adapt to the hot weather challenges. Harvest timing is more finely tuned now, and demand keeps on growing – the growers have every interest in taking great care with their whites, no more the poor relation of the SYRAHs.

Carbonic gas use is on the rise, which can mean that some wines carry an overt perlant presence; I have written before that I find this a distraction. It is used for reasons of freshness, and for lowering the application of sulphur dioxide, SO2. The large maisons such as CHAPOUTIER and DELAS were leading practitioners of this, but smaller domaines are also joining in nowadays.

HELPFUL INTERVAL BETWEEN WHITE & SYRAH HARVEST

2018 harvest dates were precocious, really so: LUCIE FAUREL of the organic DOMAINE LES 4 VENTS told me: “there was a lack of acidity, and we harvested the whites the 22 August, the SYRAH 4 September.” This interval gives the whites a clear run in the cellar, maximum attention.

YANN CHAVE commented: “I harvested the white crop a full 10 days before the SYRAH – usually it’s five days. The ROUSSANNE didn’t get too alcoholic, though the MARSANNE can. My degree was 13.2°, which is sound, aided by the high yield of 50 hl/ha, the maximum. Hence it’s better balanced than I thought it would be.”

LAURENT FAYOLLE of FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE at GERVANS, makes whites that are always stylish. He also underlined the importance of the harvest date, telling me: “the summer was very hot and dry, but there were regular bits of rain, so the vines didn’t suffer from dehydration stress. Balance was therefore maintained. The harvest date was important because the crop was particularly precocious. The wines give white fruits rather than floral notes, are quite rich, with riper fruit than 2017. They are bit less fresh and lower acidity than 2017.”

LAURENT COMBIER of the organic DOMAINE COMBIER was pleased with his 2018 whites, telling me: "they are fresh, harmonious, super easy to drink. We harvested quite early, at the end of August."

GLYCEROL AIDS LONGEVITY

2018 shows the continuation of much improved winemaking on the CROZES whites; levels of richness are mostly under control, flabbiness and excess fat avoided, with the glycerol setting up more extended longevity than in the past. Around 10 years ago, CROZES BLANC was avowedly a frisky, aperitif style by preference, but I note some rattling good full-bodied offerings in 2018 – the three ****(*) wines being prime examples.

TOP THREE IN 2018

ALÉOFANE is the domaine of NATACHA CHAVE, the sister of YANN; she has a sure touch with her CROZES BLANC – the 2014 ****, the 2015 ****(*), the 2016 ***(*), the 2017 **** and now a ****(*) wine in 2018. This achievement is all the greater given that she is working with young vines, not much more than 10 years’ old, half MARSANNE, half ROUSSANNE. They benefit from growing on quite drought resistant stone-covered clay soils on LES HAUTS CHASSIS at LA ROCHE DE GLUN. Year in, year out, I would place her CROZES BLANC ahead of her CROZES ROUGE.

CHRISTELLE BETTON is another sure-footed maker of BLANC. She has the treat of handling 12 rows of MARSANNE on L’HOMME at HERMITAGE, a vineyard whose 13th row is CROZES-HERMITAGE, so high on pedigree. The early 1980s MARSANNE grows on loess, clay-limestone soils at LARNAGE, and her 2018 CIRCÉ is indeed a mini-HERMITAGE BLANC.

OLIVIER DUMAINE is another resident of LARNAGE, his vineyards on the cool, white, loose soils there. His two 2018 CROZES REDs were off target – No Rating for the classic, ** for the tough OPORA; however, his CROIX DE VERRE BLANC 2018, made from 1955-1970 MARSANNE, is full, convincing and stylish. This cuvée has been ***(*) or **** back to 2008 for every vintage tasted in that period, so is a sure bet, and a regular good companion à table.

2018 THE BEST OF THE LAST THREE VINTAGES

I have the feeling that 2018 is a little ahead of 2017, and 2016, for that matter. LAURENT FAYOLLE of FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE certainly prefers 2018, stating: “the 2018 whites hold better balance than the 2017s – I prefer them – they are fresher, and have better balance.”

Statistically, here are the finding of the last three vintages of CROZES BLANC

    4.5 STAR 4 STAR 3.5 STAR 3 STAR 2.5 STAR TOTAL 4+%
2018   3 18 20 4 2 47 45
                 
2017   4 10 24 6 1 45 31.1
                 
2016   0 12 15 5 1 33 36.4

2018 stacks up well, therefore, and should you find neglected bottles on wine lists, it’s worth stepping in.

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE 2018s

****(*) Aléofane  2025-26  11/19  striking generosity, broad, balanced  
****(*) Christelle Betton Circé   2029-31  02/20  rich, serious, sustained, mini Herm  
****(*) Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre   2027-29  11/19  convincing, stylish, wide, fleshy  
**** Yann Chave   2025-26  11/19  charming, authentic, tender, cool 
**** Domaine du Colombier Gaby   2033-35  11/19  glycerol, trad, broad, ample 
**** Domaine Combier Clos des Grives    2029-31  11/19  suave, refined, plump, long 
**** Dard & Ribo Cuvée K   2035-37  11/19  character, mineral, firm, STGT 
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix   2026-27  11/19  authentic, trad, enjoyably full 
**** Ferraton Le Grand Courtil   2033-35  12/19  fat, sturdy, depth, glycerol  
**** E Guigal   2024-25  12/19  serene, clear, pleasing, quite fat 
**** Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2027-29  11/19  suave texture, wide, thorough 
**** Domaine des Lises Les Pends   2026-27  02/20  tasty, stylish, good juice 
**** Domaine Mucyn Les Charmeuses   2029-31  11/19  fat, rolling, pleasing, clear 
**** Domaine Pradelle   2028-30  11/19  grounded, wholesome, generous, long 
**** A Pradelle Courbis   2027-28  11/19  style, refinement, neat, tangy 
**** Dom Les 4 Vents Les Pitchounettes  2030-32  11/19  broad mass, scaled, insistent  
**** Domaine Les 4 Vents La Rage   2023-24  11/19  fluid, floral, delicate, w.o.w. 
**** Domaine des Remizières Christophe   2031-33  11/19  rich, bounty, serene texture 
**** David Reynaud Aux Bêtises d'Eloise   2030-32  11/19  dense juice, solid length 
**** Domaine Rousset Marsanne V Vignes  2028-30  02/20  stylish gras, shapely, beau 
**** Marc Sorrel   2033-35  11/18  rich, vibrant, sure fire bet  
***(*) Maison Les Alexandrins   2022  12/18  stylish, joli, clear, easy 
***(*) Domaine Belle Les Terres Blanches   2028-30  11/19  silken texture, elegant content 
***(*) Christelle Betton elixir   2025  02/20  sure gras, trad, character 
***(*) Cave de Tain Les Hauts d’Eole   2025-26  11/19  rounded gras, suave texture 
***(*) Jean-Louis Chave Sélection Sybèle   2023  12/19  stylish, gentle, tender 
***(*) Dom Defrance Notes Blanches  2022-23  11/19  supple gras, honeyed, rounded 
***(*) Domaine du Colombier   2027-28  11/19  solid, thick texture, table 
***(*) Domaine des Combat   2024-25  11/19  well furnished, good grip 
***(*) Domaine Combier   2024-25  11/19  coated, rich, Southern, table 
***(*) Delas Les Launes   2027-29  11/19  suave gras, fine acidity 
***(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Sens 2024 11/19 lucid, tangy, fresh, drinks well
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils La Matinière   2025-26  12/19  fresh, clear cut, engaging 
***(*) Domaine Alain Graillot    2026  02/20  rich, squeezy, Southern, table 
***(*) Domaine Gaylord Machon la fille...  2026-27  11/19  compact, ripe Rouss, energy 
***(*) Domaine Melody Chaos Blanc    2025-26  11/19  wide, plump, scaled, seasoned 
***(*) Julien Pilon on the Rhône again   2024-25  12/19  rich, rather copious, good grip 
***(*) Domaine Rousset   2024  02/20  supple, charming, comfy, immediate 
***(*) Domaine Saint Clair un matin . .   2023  02/20  springy, sunny, fine gras 
***(*) Les Terriens   2024  02/20  elegant, poised, table, oaking 
***(*) Vidal-Fleury   2024-25  11/19  shapely richness, trim; cool end 
*** Cave de Tain Grand Classique    2022  11/19  gentle wave, tangy, safe  
*** J-C & Nicolas Fayolle La Rochette   2029-31  11/19  compact richness, high fruit, table 
*** Domaine Melody L’Exception   2024-25  11/19  simple richness, buttery, quiet 
*** Domaine des Remizières Particulière   2027-29  11/19  trad, mainstream, tangy, dour
**(*) Domaine Breyton   2021  12/19  light, skimmy, soft, facile 
**(*) Clairmont Coeur de Clairmont     11/19  clipped, mainstream, low interest 

 

6. 2018 CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

PRUNED SHOOTS MULCHING ON THE WEST END OF LES PICAUDIÈRES AT GERVANS, ON THE BORDER WITH ERÔME. THE ROUSSET VINEYARD IS FURTHER TO THE EAST, INSET FROM THE MAIN WINDY RHÔNE CORRIDOR

1968 was a busy year in FRANCE. In MAY, students took to the streets and threw together barricades to complain, well, about almost everything, with violence and weed smoking high on the agenda. PARIS was the centre, but the anti-establishment movement ran around the country. In the same month, MONIQUE CHAVE gave birth to JEAN-LOUIS in MAUVES.

On a personal note, I left school [skool in the writing of NIGEL MOLESWORTH] on July 20, passed my driving test, and boarded the S.S. ARAGON at TILBURY docks east of LONDON on 7 September, disembarking three weeks later in MONTEVIDEOURUGUAY.

At CROZES-HERMITAGE1968 was the year the dam at LA ROCHE DE GLUN was built. This brought an immediate impact on the East side of the RHÔNE and its flat LES CHASSIS plain nearby. Irrigation became practicable, and, with fruit prices high, and wine prices low, there was a surge towards the planting of fruit trees such as apricot and peach.

On the West side of the RHÔNE, there was no plain, only a brief stretch of land bisected by the N86 road linking TOURNON and SAINT-PÉRAY, before the rise of the outlying ARDÈCHE granite hills at GLUN. The agricultural impact there was minimal.

MEMORIES OF 1968: FRUIT THE GAME, NOT THE VINE

ROLAND FAUGIER, father of FRANCK of DOMAINE DES HAUTS CHASSIS, born in 1933, recalled this time: “the dam across the Rhône was built here in 1968, which meant that irrigation started - that encouraged a lot of fruit development, especially peach, also apricot. That meant that vines were planted further away, where there were no wells or irrigation. You would earn two to three times more from the fruit than the vine in those days.”

When FRANCK returned to the domaine in 1998, there were 8 hectares of fruit, but by 2014 the FAUGIERs had ceased to work with fruit, citing poor prices, variable crops – 2014 was the year of the drosophile Suzuki fruit fly attacks, a complete disaster.

As I drive around the CROZES-HERMITAGE appellation, I see further signs of fruit trees disappearing. The scramble now is to plant vines, the SYRAH above all.

GOODBYE TO APRICOTS, THE END OF A 50 YEAR CYCLE

CHRISTELLE BETTON, for example, has planted 0.88 hectare in SYRAH and MARSANNE VIN DE PAYS at LARNAGE, on clay soils that used to hold apricot trees. FRANÇOIS RIBO commented to me: “people are ripping out their apricot trees more and more; the BERGERON apricot needs white soils, loess, and fears high heat.” 2017, 2018 and 2019 were all too hot, therefore.

Hence a 50 year cycle is drawing to a close, so the wine had better be good, to justify all the economic eggs being in that basket. Well, 2018 is a rollercoaster vintage for CROZES – there are wide variations in quality, the best extremely good, the worst suffering from lack of balance, hard tannins and problems in the cellar work.

VERY FAST RIPENING A BIG CHALLENGE

Growers now speak of a trend of ripening accelerating in the most explosive fashion, and doing so across terroirs that can differ markedly – flat lands against hills, alluvial soils against loess or granite. Any lack of precision with the crop or poor timing with its harvesting are royally punished now, the danger being cooked wines and high Volatile Acidity.

An example of this was given by young VALENTIN BELLE of the very good DOMAINE BELLE at LARNAGE: “in early September, we checked the SYRAH vines on LES CHASSIS, and they were 13°; we preferred to wait until they were 13.5°. When we came to harvest them four days later, they were at 14.5°, the same on the hillside vines, everything ripening extra fast at the same time, all over the place.

By the time we had finished harvesting, there was SYRAH at 15°. Usually, you harvest LES CHASSIS, then move on to the hills at LARNAGE, by which time they are ready. We did at least have cold rooms [from their old fruit activities] for the grapes, and would vinify them the next day.”

FAST GAIN IN DEGREE IN ONE WEEK

The sudden gain in degree was confirmed by SEBASTIEN GIRARD of the biodynamic DOMAINE DE LA VILLE ROUGE: “there was a big gap between those who harvested in the first week of September and the second week of September, since there was a 2° rise in degree in that one week. Our highest is 13° to 13.2°. The very high heat burnt the malic acids, so the Total Acidity was very low, which was complicated for the whites.”

FRANÇOIS RIBO gave an appraisal that featured a similar scenario: “in vintages such as 2018, you have to harvest very rapidly because of the risk of too much gain in ripeness – but you can only harvest in the mornings, otherwise it’s too hot, even though you need to go quickly, and the yeasts find it difficult to do their work, with a lot of sugar to transform.” He and RENÉ-JEAN DARD work with wild yeasts, which over the previously more mild growing seasons has meant that some cuvées are still ticking over in the New Year: “vinifications were complicated, such as striving to finish the sugars on the whites; the reds took time, also.”

“There were only a few touches of mildew,” FRANÇOIS continued; “the lack of water led to small grapes and thick skins on them on the hillside vines, a lack of juice, notably for our SAINT-JOSEPH. We were better off at LARNAGE for our CROZES-HERMITAGE thanks to the red clay and kaolin soils there, which held better moisture. The duo also work with stems, no change there. As FRANÇOIS remarks, “the stems don’t scare us – they bring a lot of freshness, tension. All you have to do with them is work softly in the cellar.”

MAXIME GRAILLOT of DOMAINE DES LISES and his dad’s DOMAINE ALAIN GRAILLOT works organically at LES CHÊNES VERTS, and observed: “the degree rose very fast around 8-9 September - in three to four days it rose to 13.5°, and this year we have 14° at most in some vats. Acidities aren’t high; the pH was 3.9, on the limit. It was very, very dry and very hot in August and September. We had done treatments in May and early June, early on, so avoided mildew.”

MAXIME added that “the crop was magnificent from our 2003 SYRAH vineyard at LARNAGE this year, so we are making a separate wine from it for the first time, even though I’m not a great fan of plot-specific wines. Its yield was 20 hl, instead of 25 hl.” This is a solid **** performer in its first vintage, a wine with more fibre than the LES CHASSIS wines.

He also spoke of the 100-day rule that in some years still applies, stating: “if you take the 100-day rule from flowering to harvesting, 2018 was on time, with flowering on the last weekend in May – suddenly flowers appeared in four days after a cold spell in early May. This year we harvested the white crop in August once more. Between 1985 when dad arrived and 2008, we never once harvested in August, but since then we have harvested in August in 2009, 2011 [a year that was precocious early on and all through the season], 2015, 2017 and 2018.”

LOCAL VARIATIONS

ALEXANDRE CASO is one of the triumvirate [with NICOLAS JABOULET and MARC PERRIN] who make up the DOMAINE LES ALEXANDRINS and their merchant business MAISON LES ALEXANDRINS. His previous full-time business was the hiring out of viticultural equipment and services, and he runs the ALEXANDRINS vineyards operation. “Ripening happened very fast,” he noted. “PONT DE L’ISÈRE and BEAUMONT-MONTEUX reached ripeness, and concentrated - that spurred on by a lack of harvest. MERCUROL didn’t have that, since there was a mid-August storm with 15 mm (0.6 in). The same day there was only 3-4 mm at BEAUMONT-MONTEUX and PONT DE L’ISÈRE.

The harvest at MERCUROL had been starting to block, the grape skins cracking, but the rain expanded them again, while some fresh nights were also very helpful. The final range is 13.5° to 14.5°, with Volatile Acidity quite high, and sugars slow to finish. I regard 2018 as a year when you had to be a technician in the vineyards right through to the harvest. But now you also have to be a technician in the cellar as well – the task to finish fermentations, meaning we had to be in the cellar at the weekend in December, which is normally a time when you can relax a little.”

EXTREME HEAT AT HARVEST TIME

DENIS BASSET of the 15.5 hectare DOMAINE SAINT CLAIR at BEAUMONT-MONTEUX, on the plain, has been converting to organic since 2017. He spoke to me about his adaptations: “harvesting has to be very fast in these hot years, so I have a large team to complete everything in two weeks. Since 2018 I use a harvest machine from 5 until 8 in the morning instead of hand harvesting because it’s so much quicker, and earlier in the day. I hand harvest the whites, the slope and part of the old vines.

You have to be reactive now, especially as young and old vines now ripen at the same time. It was a hot vintage, with a loss of 10% at 40 hl/ha, the degree reasonable at 13.5°. I manage my degree, so I didn’t have blocked vinifications in 2018, unlike some domaines. I prefer 2018 to 2017 which was a bit more hard than 2018, 2017 demanding patient cellaring.”

LAURENT COMBIER of the long-term organic DOMAINE COMBIER, based at PONT DE L’ISÈRE, worked along the same lines as DENIS BASSET, explaining: “the spring was wet, but we avoided mildew. It was then very fine weather into September, the harvest quality belle. It was very hot in September, an indicator of climate change in our faces. You had to anticipate certain things, to avoid excess alcohol and ripeness.

We cut harvesting from 20 days to 15 days in 2018, enlarging the team deliberately given the possible gain of 1° per day in that high heat. There is some Northern freshness in the wines – of course, you sense a hot year, very immediate, with charm in the open style wines.”

FRANCK FAUGIER of DOMAINE DES HAUTS CHÂSSIS also spoke of the high heat at harvest time: “we had to halt the harvest at 13.00 hours every day because of the heat, which meant the grapes were 30°C. That meant we got in just five hours picking each day.”

The challenge for growers in such circumstances is to control fermentations, and any absence of cooling equipment makes life extremely complicated. It’s all very well being a sort of lyrical troubadour working from a garage, but reality has a habit of nipping you in the buttocks in such extreme circumstances, especially if you work on a hot, flat plain. In the northern sector of the appellation, around SERVESERÔME and GERVANS, there is the twin benefit of altitude, and North Wind, the granite also suited to restraint on the SYRAH.

UNLIKE SOUTHERN RHÔNE, MILDEW LARGELY AVOIDED

For a long view of the vintage, I had my usual chat with YANN CHAVE, a lucid thinker and commentator, who told me: “2018 wasn’t as precocious as 2017; from 1 May to 10 June it was very hot, with intense rains when they arrived. I called it Asian weather – it was hot, too. These rains bounced off the soil, and didn’t enter far into the ground. There was a growing threat of mildew, but on 10 June the rains stopped – had the rain been two weeks later, we would have been cooked. There was a 4-5% mildew for us, like others.

July was very hot, August was hyper hot, with very hot nights, more so on that front than 2017 – 25°C at night over three weeks. As for September, we waited for rains that never came, and that month served to concentrate the harvest. Over my 22 years of harvest since 1996, it was too hot to work in the afternoons, a bit like 2003 in that respect. I had vats at 14° to 14.5°, up to 15°. I had SYRAH young vines up to 15° - a six-year old vineyard giving 15.2° - that is a problem.”

HIGH YIELD = FAVOURABLE DILUTION

“The reds are on low acidity, with a lot of tannin – but ripe tannin,” he continued. “As a sideline, 2003’s yield was 20-25 hl/ha because of frost in April. 2018 was 40-45 hl/ha – that volume served as a good dilution, which helped. My yield was 45 hl/ha [CROZES is allowed a max of 50 hl/ha], so didn’t have the overripe aromas we had in 2003. There’s no denying it is a Sudiste-Southern year, though.

I destemmed all my 2017, but this year I included one-third of the stems for greater freshness. These drought vintages bring vegetal aspects, while there is a risk of excess extraction if you are vinifying high degree young vine harvest - you have to go very carefully.”

STÉPHANE ROUSSET from the very good DOMAINE ROUSSET at ERÔME also spoke about proceeding carefully with the vinification of his classic cuvée, made from younger vines than his top terroir wine LES PICAUDIÈRES, one of my favourite hillsides in the whole RHÔNE VALLEY: “2018 is more concentrated than 2019. As for degree, LES PICAUDIÈRES was nearly 15°, against a better 14.4° in 2019. 2018 is a full year, and has less balanced fruit than 2019. I reduced the vinification of my classic CROZES red to 20 days to keep it in check, but extended the PICAUDIÈRES to 30 days, including some stems in it for freshness.”

THE WIND SHE DID BLOW

Another top name from the Northern sector, in the village just south of ERÔMEGERVANS, is LAURENT FAYOLLE of FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE, whose grandfather JULES I knew in the early 1970s. He commented: “rain in May-June allowed some reserves of moisture. There was a touch of helpful rain in mid-August, but we needed early September rain, which never came: the result was concentration prompted by a lot of South wind that didn't come with humidity as it usually does. The juice evaporated, and the degree rose. The concentration was most accentuated on the granite soils, worse than vineyards on clay, while HERMITAGE with deeper soils did OK." 

HIGH TANNIN LEVELS

"The harvest was one week later than 2017," he continued. "The SYRAH gave trouble since the polyphenols weren’t ripe, and ripening was slow. It was necessary to harvest between 8 and 18 September. We were all done by 20 September. The 2018 reds are very profound, carry high polyphenol or tannin indices, hold a lot of richness. You had to conduct notably fine macerations in the cellar to avoid over massive wines. My yield was 40-45 hl/ha, with 50 hl/ha allowed.” His CLOS LES CORNIRETS, from 1940s SYRAH (an ex RAYMOND ROURE vineyard, RR the great uncle of STÉPHANE ROUSSET), is one of the top performers in 2018 – a wine of cool poise in a hot vintage. I even bought some.

ONE WORD: SOLAR

CHRISTELLE BETTON’s cellar stands beside the N7 road, near the old PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ offices. She told me: “2018 fermentations took a very long time on the SYRAH, into 2019. The vintage is solar – one word will do. My first vintage was 2003, that very hot year; 2018’s weather had a real impact on the wines, too much.”

HIGH DEGREES, SOUTHERN STYLING

GAYLORD MACHON is a promising young grower with 8.5 hectares in the southern sector commune of BEAUMONT-MONTEUX, not far from the westerly flowing ISÈRE RIVER. He described 2018 as “a very high heat year with high degrees – but since they are wines of consequence, and solid as well, you don’t notice the degree, which was 14.5°. Some 2018s hadn’t completed their fermentations by December, 2018. My yield was 35 hl/ha, from a maximum allowed of 50 hl/ha, on the young vines for GHANY. On the older vines for LHONY, the yield was 40 hl/ha.”

LUCIE FAUREL of the organic DOMAINE LES 4 VENTS likes to make wines with racy fruit. She told me: “it’s a very SOUTHERN RHÔNE vintage; the VIEILLES VIGNES did better, had attractive balance, and we could keep the stems on the SAINT JAIMES [late 1960s SYRAH, from MERCUROL] and LES 4 VENTS reds. It was more complicated for LES PITCHOUNETTES [on LES CHASSISMERCUROL] because of the younger vines for that – their stems weren’t so good. It was 35°C during the harvest; we don’t have temperature control in the cellar, only a cold chamber. We had rain in the spring, which was the best we could do for moisture.”

PERSONAL STRUGGLES, BUT THE SHOW MUST GO ON

On a personal level, it was a topsy turvy year for the valiant FLORENT VIALE of the excellent DOMAINE DU COLOMBIER, which is situated on the outskirts of TAIN: “2018 has been some year,” he stated, “with my father being overtaken by aggressive cancer in September, and my 22 year old son AXEL saying he was through with IT and wanted to come and work on the domaine.

Our working machine for the vineyards broke down; so that meant working with packs on our backs; I tried to hire a horse, but it was taken by the usual customers. The result was that some plots suffered from the drought; from one plot I decided to make a VIN DOUX NATUREL with the crop, and render it as a homage to my Papa GABY. It actually gave me something to concentrate on, with it involving calls to friends for advice and so on, so I was grateful for that.”

2018 ALONGSIDE 2017

Two contrasting views on 2018 against 2017 came from the Northern sector, with MARC SORREL, whose vines are at LARNAGE, telling me: “2018 is a bit ahead of 2017 – it has more matter, length, a lot of fruit.” Whereas, PASCAL FAYOLLE of DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES at GERVANS was the other way round: “2017 is a beau vintage, helped by a good late ripening season - you could wait, since it was dry. It was less extreme on that front than 2018, so 2017 has good balance, better than 2018, and the polyphenolic ripeness also beat 2018.” His neighbour LAURENT FAYOLLE remarked: "I would expect longevity to be a bit less than 2017, given the solar style and lowish acidity of 2018.”

2018: CHOOSE **** AND UP

2018 is an excellent vintage – if you choose carefully. That means discarding at least half the wines. Of the 95 tasted between November 2019 and February 2020, I would consider buying the **** wines (32) and the ****(*) wines (six). That’s a percentage of **** and up of 40%.

In 2017, there were two ***** wines, five ****(*) wines, and 29 **** wines, out of 101 wines in total, or 35.6%. That is not to discard the ***(*) options, with uncomplicated ease of drinking being a card in their favour.

There are stylistic variations aplenty this year, so wines with balance are very much the most favoured, those that allow a sense of shape, have good length and definition, and finish freshly. There is no doubt that as a general rule, the Northern sector of villages with their little extra altitude emerge ahead of those on the hotter plain lands.

2018 AN EASIER YEAR FOR SAINT-JOSEPH THAN CROZES, GRANITE SOILS HELPING

Such a hot year really marks the difference between the granite SYRAH from SAINT-JOSEPH across the RHÔNE and the SYRAH from the hot plain lands of CROZES, with the former wines bearing some cut, mineral snap, the CROZES tending to be weighed down at times by the ripeness from what are essentially rich soils.

FOLLOW THE OLD VINES TRAIL

Old vines played a role, as well – two of the ****(*) wines come from low lying vineyards, notably the hedged CLOS DES GRIVES of long-time organic DOMAINE COMBIER, where LAURENT has been spurred on by the arrival of his son JULIEN a couple of years ago. It is planted with 82% 1952 SYRAH18% 1958-60 SYRAH, and the 2018 is stately wine with agreeable cool fruit and well-fitting oak.

The DOMAINE DU COLOMBIER CUVÉE GABY is also centred on old SYRAH1970s and older, from TAIN and MERCUROL. Both wines receive 30% new oak, which was professionally handled; I found that some 2018s certainly needed oak, which worked well in helping to frame them, and stop them from falling over – a good thing, provided the oak quality is high, and skilfully administered.

THICK WINES, TOO MUCH

There are big, even enormous colours throughout, with swell, up front bouquets. There can be piles of fruit on palate. The 2018 ripeness here at CROZES-HERMITAGE is more extreme than almost any vintage I can recollect, including 2003, since starting in 1973. The wines are also not necessarily to drink young, because of all the blitzkrieg of soaking and mass when young. These would have been New World wines ten years ago, straight from AUSTRALIA, for example.

A couple of examples of this: one came from DAVID REYNAUD of DOMAINE LES BRUYÈRES who is skilled, and has been en biodynamie for years now. His *** BEAUMONT, young vine Cuvée, is made from purchased organic harvest, outside sources, therefore. This was thick, lush, sipping wine. By contrast, his **** old vine LES CROIX, which includes 1950s SYRAH, was an engaging wine of character, the bearer of cool, bright fruit.

A newcomer formerly with the CAVE DE TAIN, the 20-hectare DOMAINE DES COMBAT, was another gloopy 2018, a **(*) wine which was soaked and powerful, drinking it rather like wading through thick ground. Father PIERRE was on the administration of the CAVE DE TAIN, and with his son NICOLAS left the CAVE in 2017. Their vineyards include the excellent COTEAU DES PENDS at MERCUROL, which was ravaged by hail in June, 2019.

Other wines that were low on charm included *** EMMANUEL DARNAUD MISE EN BOUCHE, the latter showing signs of extraction, while the ** OLIVIER DUMAINE OPORA was tough, exerted, dour.

IT WAS A TESTING YEAR

It’s no surprise that here and there, high degree comes forward, for example with the DOMAINE MICHELAS SAINT JEMMS SIGNATURE, a 15° wine - not frisky, free drinking CROZES at all. Indeed, the clear challenge this year has been the retention of any freshness that can be mustered. With sweetness in content, and occasional dryness in the tannins, and occasional dodgy balance, 2018 was clearly a testing year for growers.

AH, CHARM

Three wines outside this loop were the most pleasing **** STGT DOMAINE MUCYN LES ENTRECOEURS, from a domaine that has always favoured refinement. It bore iron freshness and floral touches. The M CHAPOUTIER LES MEYSONNIERS, organic wine of a much larger quantity than the MUCYN, was also a most charming **** wine, holding a silken quality, understated harmony, a wine with a Burgundian leaning. And the **** organic DOMAINE COMBIER was also a **** of perfume, detail and pedigree fruit.

In terms of drinking dates, a lot of wines this year actually need a couple of years to settle in order to integrate and to fuse, some having firm finishes that require resolution. The other reason to leave some of the wines is to actually allow them time to loosen, to move away from their youthful, over-imposing thickness. I would expect the best to show well over a good 15 years.

CROZES IS SKATING ON RATHER THIN ICE

When bringing my thoughts together on CROZES-HERMITAGE, I have the slight sense that it is an appellation that is skating on slightly thin ice, bailed out by sun-filled vintages which camouflage some of the underlying creases in its fabric. For years, it has been the only NORTHERN RHÔNE appellation that does not disqualify the use of wood chips in the wines. I have written about this before, but give this reminder to new readers.

2019 also saw a second potential Trojan Horse development; after the violent mid-June hail, growers were allowed for the first time - “exceptionally” is the usual word in these circumstances – to irrigate. Previously that had only been allowed on young vines. Give the modest vineyards a dependency on irrigation, and we are into boring, dull, mass produced jug wine in time, CENTRAL COAST CALIFORNIAMARK II.

This at a time when one hectare of CROZES now goes for around €150,000 – against a hectare of COTES DU RHONE at €30,000, and a hectare of CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE somewhere between €450,000 and €600,000 [pre Coronavirus]. CROZES used to be a serviceable entry point for young people starting up – not any more, with the likes of CHAPOUTIER inflating the market out of their reach.

I leave the last word to JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE, he of the MAY 1968 birth: “the price of bulk CROZES-HERMITAGE wine is now too high, which is why I have gone back to purchasing harvest for my SYBÈLE WHITE and my SYLÈNE RED CROZES wines.”

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE RED 2018s

****(*) Alleno & Chapoutier Guer Van  2036-38 11/19 vigour, crescendo, great granite
****(*) Domaine du Colombier Gaby  2034-36 11/19 inky, well fuelled, vigour
****(*) Domaine Combier Clos des Grives   2032-34 11/19 lissom, stately, style, persistence
****(*) Dard & Ribo Les Pins  2040-42 11/19 mini Hermitage, stylish, STGT
****(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Clos les Cornirets 2035-37 11/19 modern, polished, stylish, cool poise
****(*) Dom Phil & V Jaboulet Nouvelère  2034-36 11/19 sleek oiliness, copious, real depth
**** Cave de Tain Les Hauts du Fief  2037-39 11/19 ample, free giving, Southern
**** M Chapoutier Les Meysonniers  2031-33 11/19 kind energy, fine, calm 
**** Yann Chave  2029-31 11/19 beefy charge, broad, plenty  
**** Yann Chave Le Rouvre  2033-35 11/19 stylish, bright fruit, pedigree
**** Dom des Clairmonts Jardin Zen   2033-35  11/19  gd fruit build, robust length 
**** Domaine du Colombier    2032-34  11/19  dash, quality, genuine, firm 
**** Domaine Combier   2027-28  11/19  perfumed, detail, pedigree fruit 
**** Domaine Combier Cap Nord   2032-34  11/19  suave content, complete, long 
**** Laurent Combier   2029-30  11/19  gourmand, easy, abundant, w.o.w. 
**** Emmanuel  Darnaud Les Trois Chênes  2032-34  11/19  wavy, engaging, clear, stylish 
**** Delas Le Clos   2033-35  11/19  liberal fruit, mineral, balance  
**** Equis equinoxe   2025  02/20  live, w.o.w., zero SO2 
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix   2032-34  11/19  serious, immediate, well grounded 
**** J-C & Nicolas Fayolle La Rochette    2030-32  11/19  genuine, stylish, unforced, long 
****  J-C & N Fayolle La Grande Seguine   2034-36  11/19  thick, thorough, bold, persists 
****  Ferraton Le Grand Courtil   2035-37  12/19  intense fruit, firm structure 
****  Domaine Alain Graillot    2033-35  02/20  good spine, rock n’roll avec  
****  Domaine Alain Graillot La Guiraude   2040-42  02/20  wholesome, thorough, fluid, expressive 
****  Domaine Alain Graillot Larnage   2039-41  02/20  intense, compact, good frame  
****  Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2032-34  11/19  savoury, stewed, long, persistent 
****  Domaine Gaylord Machon Lhony   2031-33  11/19  well filled, swell fruit, strength 
****  Gabriel Meffre Saint-Pierre   2033-35  11/19  stylish, fine, cool, oaked 
****  Domaine Melody Etoile Noire  2032-34  11/19  tasty, elegant, good style 
****  Domaine Melody Premier Regard    2030-32  11/19  stylish, promise, aromatic sweetness 
****  Michelas St Jemms La Chasselière    2030-32  11/19  generous, harmony, engaging, South 
****  Domaine Mucyn Les Entrecoeurs   2031-32  11/19  mineral fruits, gd heartbeat, STGT 
**** Dom du Murinais Vieilles Vignes 2027-28 09/20 savoury, refined, structured, stylish
****  Rémy Nodin Le Mazel   2030-31  11/19  liberal fruit, inky, genuine 
****  Domaine Les 4 Vents Saint Jaimes  2028-30  11/19  generous, live, iron-violets 
****  Domaine des Remizières Particulière   2035-37  11/19  charged content, solid, inner energy 
****  David Reynaud Les Croix   2032-34  11/19  cool fruit, engaging, character  
****  Domaine Rousset Les Picaudières   2039-42  02/20  serious pedigree, broad, v long 
****  Marc Sorrel   2034-36  11/18  expressive, very tasty, pleaser 
***(*)  Maison Les Alexandrins   2025-26  12/18  tasty, wavy, aromatic 
***(*)  Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles   2031-33  11/19  youthful vigour, cool, oak 
***(*)  Christelle Betton Caprice 2026-27  02/20  supple, immediate, juicy roll 
***(*)  Cave de Tain Gervans Vitrine   2034-36  11/19  munchy, fat, time to clarify 
***(*)  Cave de Tain Mouvement Perpetuel   2022-23  12/18  rolling richness, with detail, zero SO2
***(*)  Cave de Tain Virgit   2033-35  11/19  smoke, definition, rocky, character 
***(*)  Clairmont Coeur de Clairmont   2029-30  11/19  suave, smooth, open, comfortable 
***(*)  Clairmont Dom St-Clément Horizon  2027-28  11/19  soft, spherical, open, fluid 
***(*)  Domaine Courbis Au Beau Séjour   2025-26  12/19  fluid, juicy appeal. bistrots 
***(*) Dard & Ribo 2030-32 11/19 immediate fruit, supple
***(*)  Emmanuel Darnaud Au fil du Temps   2032-34  11/19  full; liberal juice, oak 
***(*)  Delas Domaine des Grands Chemins   2033-35  11/19  oak fencing, large cocktail 
***(*)  Delas Les Launes   2025-26  11/19  savoury, fluid, ripe, latent power 
***(*)  Laurent & Céline Fayolle Sens   2031-33  11/19  sweet, Southern, pumped, sipping 
***(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Pichères  2033-35  12/19  dark mass, linear, oak 
***(*)  Laurent Habrard Grand Classique  2031-33  11/19  full, grounded, savoury, overtly ripe 
***(*)  Dom des Hauts Chassis Les Châssis   2029-31  02/20  supple flow, suave, airborne 
***(*)  Dom des Hauts Châssis Esquisse   2026  02/20  springy, floral, STGTw.o.w. 
***(*)  Dom des Hauts Châssis Les Galets   2029-31  02/20  authentic, soaked fruits, oak 
***(*) Jacques Lemenicier 2027-29 12/19 thick juice, structure, depth, la table
***(*)  Domaine des Lises   2025-26  02/20 

round, plump, floral

***(*)  Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2032-34  11/19  well juiced, oak, time  
***(*)  Dom Michelas St Jemms Signature    2031-33  11/19  comfy, fat content, scented 
***(*) Domaine du Murinais Les Amandiers 2023-24 09/20 enjoyable, savoury, smooth, intense
***(*)  Dom Pradelle Les Hirondelles   2030-32  11/19  butty, filled, Southern, Big 
***(*)  Dom Les 4 Vents Les Pitchounettes   2024-25  11/19  bouncy, live, enjoyable 
***(*)  Domaine les 4 Vents Les 4 Vents   2029-31  11/19  streamlined, tight, fruit verve 
***(*)  Ravoire Olivier Ravoire   2031-33  11/19  effusive content, cool tone, oak 
***(*)  Domaine des Remizières Christophe  2034-36  11/19  wide, robust, fat, large, oak 
***(*)  David Reynaud Georges   2029-30  11/19  open, trim, attractive 
***(*)  Domaine Rousset   2029-31  02/20  inner strength, ripeness, richness 
***(*)  Dom Saint Clair fleur enchantée   2028-29  02/20  supple gras, joli, plump 
***(*)  Vidal-Fleury   2032-34  11/19  ripe, rich, fleshy, oaking 
***(*)  Dom de la Ville Rouge Inspiration  2026-27  11/19  cool fruit, vegetal, fine 
***(*)  Dom de la Ville Rouge Terre d’Eclat  2031-33  11/19  drive, length, rocky moments 
***  Domaine Les Alexandrins   2025-26  11/19  style in fruit, bit brief 
*** Matthieu Barret Et la bannière . . . 2023-24 12/19 soft, ripe, in the instant
***  Louis Bernard   2028-29  11/19  meaty, forceful, ample, copious 
***  Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott   2027-28  12/19  sunny fruits, cool, bit stiff 
***  Cave de Tain Grand Classique   2023-24  11/19  mulled fruits, safe, steady 
***  Cave de Tain La Négociale   2033-35  11/19  layered, dense, dryish tannins 
***  Cave de Tain La Triboulette   2022  11/19  soft, squeezy, sound weight 
***  Jean-Louis Chave Sélection Sylène   2026-27  12/19  plump, long, smoky, but lactic 
***  Emmanuel Darnaud Mise en Bouche  2030-31  11/19  wide, vigorous, Southern, extraction 
***  Ferraton Père & Fils Calendes   2032-34  12/19  firm fruit, breezy, oaking 
***  Ferraton Père & Fils La Matinière   2029-30  12/19  direct, modern, clipped, efficient 
***  Jean-François Jacouton   2023-24  11/19  scented, supple, tender 
***  Dom Gaylord Machon Cuvée Ghany  2029-31  11/19  sweet, inky, exerted 
***  Ogier Les Paillanches   2027-28  11/19  copious, thorough, grounded 
***  A Pradelle Courbis   2028-30  11/19  red fruit, cutting tannins   
***  David Reynaud Beaumont   2029-31  11/19  copious, fat, lush, sipping 
***  Domaine Saint Clair étincelle   2022 02/20  soft, approachable, straightforward   
**(*)  Aleofane  2025-26  11/19  loose, vegetal, wiry 
**(*)  Cave de Tain Vin Biologique   2025-26  11/19  dark, smoky, too ripe
**(*)  Domaine des Combat   2030-31  11/19  copious, thick, sip only 
**(*)  Luyton-Fleury Terre du Sud   2028-30  11/19  dark fruits, unsculpted, dry notes 
**  Christelle Betton Espiègle   2023-24  02/20  high fruit, uneven balance 
**  Olivier Dumaine Opora   2030-31  11/19  firm, tough content, exerted 
**  Domaine Melody Friandise    2022-23  11/19  instant, fragile, on the edge 
**  Domane Pradelle   2027-28  11/19  firm, clipped, rasping end 
N R  Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre     11/19  stewed, dry, downhome 
         

 

7. 2018 HERMITAGE WHITE

My first visit to any domaine in the RHÔNE in June 1973 was to CHAPOUTIER in TAIN L’HERMITAGEMAX, the father of MICHEL and his brother MARC, received me, flew the Union Jack flag in my honour, took me around the vineyard, then settled me down in a large leather armchair in the spartan boardroom. I noticed a bottle with a blurred label that read 1760 HERMITAGE on the cabinet, remarked on it, and was told by MAX the following story:

A HISTORIC BOTTLE OF WHITE HERMITAGE

“This bottle of HERMITAGE was drunk by my father in 1964. There are two other undrunk bottles of this wine, but they are no longer in our cellars. They were a present to the SIZERANNE family after we had bought a leading HERMITAGE vineyard from them, and contain VIN DE PAILLE: “straw wine”, as you might call it, was a white HERMITAGE made from overripe, late-picked grapes.

After the harvest the grapes would be separated, one by one, and laid out to dehydrate on large straw mats. This had the effect of shrivelling them into virtual raisins, and they would then be pressed to extract what little sugary juice they still contained. After an orthodox white wine vinification, the resultant VIN DE PAILLE would be extremely rich and full-bodied and would have an alcohol strength of around 17°. When my father drank this bottle the wine was in an impeccable state, although there was of course some ullage.”

MY INTRODUCTION TO HERMITAGE, VIA THE BLANC

While I was processing this flood of information, MAX reached for a bottle of HERMITAGE BLANC, which turned out to be a CHANTE-ALOUETTE 1961. This was rich and mighty, with a vivid display of the powers of the Hill in its sun-filled veins. WELCOME TO HERMITAGE, Jeune Homme.

As if that was not enough, there was then another dop sound, and up came a CHANTE ALOUETTE 1947. Wow! Older than me – this was really something. I was into WINELIFEHISTORYPHILOSOPHYHERMITAGETHE RHÔNE in that single moment.

VIN DE PAILLE THESE DAYS

Nowadays VIN DE PAILLE is most often offered by the CAVE DE TAIN, with a little from CHAPOUTIER. The CAVE’s most recent vintage – not yet released – is the 2017. There was none in 2016, but the 2015 was a ***** wine, with around 800 to 900 50 cl bottles in any given year. It is all very old MARSANNE [half 1880s, 1890s, half 1950s from LA CROIX in the East of the appellation], and requires 2 kg of grapes to make a 50 cl bottle.

2018: COMPLETE, BALANCED, AHEAD OF 2017

I have always considered HERMITAGE BLANC as one of the gems of the wine world, and 2018 brings that into sunny view. The deep-seated strength of the sun-filled year lies well inset in the whites from the majestic Hill. It is a great vintage, more filled and complete than 2017, the balance better, too.

JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE spoke to me about the vintage, and, as is his wont, expanded the chat into wider waters, stating: “it was indispensable to harvest the 2018 white crop early – with colours ranging from pale yellow to dark brown – and very quickly. 2018 holds greater freshness than 2017, both in white and red.

The spring in 2018 was poor, wet, with treatments against mildew needed. Then we went straight into a hot summer – June and July were very beau, and by the end of July, the vineyard needed rain. Along came the miracle of a belle rain of 30 mm (1.2 in) in mid-August, and the vineyard avoided suffering from drought, and ripening was boosted.

After that, it became extremely hot, and the vines were once more under pressure; 10 mm (0.4 in) in early September resolved that, and released the vines from their blockage. On the white harvest, I don’t seek phenolic ripeness – it’s more the alcohol and acidity ripeness that counts.”

LOW MALIC ACIDITY

MARC SORREL gave this take: “there was low malic acidity this year, burnt off by the high heat. My ROCOULES is 15.2° - like 2003, and was harvested on 4 September. It’s a good year for HERMITAGE BLANC, more classic than the extreme 2017.” MARC’s last vintage of ROCOULES [its oldest MARSANNE dates from 1928, the 1930s] was stylish, tightly woven, a wine that would gradually declare its inner strength. The one sign of the degree was a touch of late glow; life expectancy into the mid-2040s.

The lack of malic was confirmed by DAMIEN BRISSET of FERRATON PÈRE & FILS, who informed me: “we blocked the malo on LE REVERDY this year.” REVERDY is not far off half 1960s ROUSSANNE from BEAUME, and the **** 2018 bore refined content, with pockets of freshness, iron towards the finish. It was around 14.5° in degree; life towards the 2040s.

XAVIER FROUIN, oenologue at the CAVE DE TAIN felt that 2018 had got away with it in terms of power, telling me: “the 2018 white harvest was a bit larger than the SYRAH’s. It’s a ripe year, but has flattering balance, with correct to sometimes good terroir expression. There is a certain opulence in the 2018 HERMITAGE BLANC, which isn’t too unbalanced by the alcohol – the degree was 14° to 14.5° this year.”

GLYCEROL THE MOTOR FOR ITS LONGEVITY

2018 HERMITAGE BLANC absolutely affirms the natural habitat of what is a Southern wine, based as it is around glycerol, the motor for its longevity rather than any flim-flam from acidity. What is impressive is the articulation of terroir from the finishes, which are compact, supplemented by notes of freshness. Only a Grand Terroir could deliver that, and avoid baking, excess.

I would recommend that HERMITAGE BLANC 2018, and 2019, for that matter, sees its way into your cellars. For those, who have had a wedding or a birth in those vintages, all the more reason to buy, and be treated in 10, 20 or 21 years’ time.

LEADING 2018 HERMITAGE WHITES

****** M Chapoutier L’Ermite  2043-45 11/19 much silk, class, balance
***** M Chapoutier Le Méal  2044-46 11/19 punchy, grounded, much heart
***** Domaine Jean-Louis Chave  2048-51 12/19 great finesse, elegance, length 
***** Marc Sorrel Les Rocoules  2043-46 11/18 stylish, silken, inner strength
****(*) M Chapoutier Chante Alouette  2041-43 11/19 exuberant Marsanne, copious, fresh
****(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Dionnières  2036-38 11/19 stylish, suave, floral delicacy
****(*) Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet  2040-42 11/19 rich, thorough, long, traditional
****(*) Julien Pilon prisme  2039-41 12/19 coated, full, long, fresh 
****(*) Marc Sorrel   2040-43  11/18  balance, detail, classic trad Herm 
**** Cave de Tain Au Coeur des Siècles   2039-42  11/19  coated, typical, cosy, together 
****  M Chapoutier de l’Orée   2036-38  11/19  stylish fruit, tangy, restraint  
****  Delas Domaine des Tourettes   2037-39  11/19  stylish gras, structure, handsome 
****  Bernard Faurie  2039-41 12/19 fleshy, rich, style, grace 
****  Ferraton Père & Fils Le Reverdy   2038-40  12/19  refined content, iron, good triggers 
****  JMB Sorrel Le Vignon   2040-42  12/18  rich, deep, length, good body 
***(*)  Cave de Tain Grand Classique   2037-39  11/19  rolling gras, glycerol, oak 
***(*)  J-C & N Fayolle Les Dionnières   2034-36  11/19  solid gras, tight, cussed 
***(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Miaux   2034-36  12/19  close-knit, fine freshness 
***(*)  Laurent Habrard   2035-37  11/19  obvious richness, strength, bit clumsy 
***(*)  Maison Les Alexandrins   2032-34  11/19  Roussanne fineness, New Wave  
***  Gabriel Meffre Laurus    2036-38  11/19  dark, dogged, carbonic gas 
         

 

8. 2018 HERMITAGE RED

BERNARD FAURIE DISCUSSING HIS 2018 & 2019 VINTAGES

2015 marked what could be termed as the start of the hot years for HERMITAGE – these had been sporadic before, notably 1990, 2003 - 2009, years with long, hot, high heat summers. Now we have 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019, four out of the last five.

Consequences have been led by the advent of very high degree SYRAH, the need to take snap decisions on commencing the harvest, then to harvest at great speed, then to suppress the risk of Volatile Acidity during vinifications of potentially over heated grapes. Any shortfall in facilities or close attention to the vineyard-cellar process is now punished.

THE TOP CLIMATS OF HERMITAGE: HOW THEY ARE FARING IN THESE HOT VINTAGES

These vintages encourage what GEORGE SAINTSBURY termed the “manly” side of HERMITAGE. The heart of HERMITAGE is formed by three top lieux-dits, which are termed locally and historically as climats. Of them, LE MÉAL is angled on a Southerly exposure, is a veritable suntrap, and acts as a foundation, the ticking motor of richness, for any long-lived HERMITAGE: business as usual there, largely.

LES BESSARDS

LES BESSARDS, the granite face of the north part of the hill, has had its traditional iron-ferrous mineral clench compromised to some extent, with degrees in excess of 15°, and a smoothing out of its smoky cut. It has always been a picture perfect counterpoint to MÉAL, the BESSARDS bringing spine, MÉAL the flesh to any top notch HERMITAGE cuvée.

According to JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE, “the pH on BESSARDS hovers around the 6.8 to 7 mark, almost neutral, which invests the wine with breed and grain.” The MÉAL pH is 8.5, with a greater and benign alkaline influence – which for JEAN-LOUIS provides one of the most simple arguments in favour of blending the wine from the different climats.

THE GRANITE IMPORTANCE FOR AGEING

For JEAN-LOUIS, “the granite is what assures good ageing for HERMITAGE – it is the main factor: no granite, no long life.” Hence the marriage of BESSARDS and MÉAL is destined to be felicitous, even in these hot vintages. I call to the witness stand the BERNARD FAURIE 2018 and 2019 BESSARDS-MÉAL cuvées, both ****** wines.

L'HERMITE

The third big name climat [lieu-dit] L’HERMITE is such a mix of soil influences – loess [mainly bearing white varieties], stony Alpine residues, granite that is both firm and crumbling – that it is relatively less overtly changed by the recent hot summers. It has always provided elegance, nuance, fineness, purity of fruit, excellent aromatics, too, complexity that stimulates both palate and mind. Back to JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE: “L’HERMITE’s red wines always carry freshness and spice; in some vintages, there can be a lot of maturity, but still a sound acidity. Its tannins are usually quite tight and vivacious.”

LES GREFFIEUX

The fourth climat in batting order is LES GREFFIEUX, which runs below LE MÉAL, and which at its West end touches LES BESSARDS, with granite-influenced soils there, as witnessed by BERNARD FAURIE regarding his “GREFFIEUX” there more as BESSARDS, from which comes his 100% MARSANNE HERMITAGE BLANC.

Being lower down, GREFFIEUX has collected glacier residues, stones, and also contains clay, allowing resistance to high heat. There are also pockets of limestone. After the extraordinarily hot summer of 2003, JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE found that the clay part of GREFFIEUX gave better fruit quality than L’HERMITE that year. “It’s what I call a maturity climat,” he states.

In BERNARD FAURIE’s words, “I find GREFFIEUX refines the solid BESSARDS SYRAHGREFFIEUX gives finesse, fruit, elegance, but not so much length.” I always associate GREFFIEUX with a silken texture, a suave feel of flowing elegance – it’s homely more than magisterial.

THE IMPORTANCE OF TERROIR AND ITS ABILITY TO EXPRESS

It's worth setting out these details of the hub of HERMITAGE, since they are the underlying reference points in extreme vintages; without them, we might as well be taking about varietal wine based on a grape called the SYRAH. When I am tasting HERMITAGE, my antennae are permanently and alertly fixed on seeing how truly terroir has been expressed in any of the wines. And, yes, there is much to marvel at when one finds truth within a wine whose grapes have been assaulted by endless days of high heat.

TIMELY RAINFALL IS VITAL

During the ripening season, the timing of the occasional rainfall becomes critical in times of drought, so that there isn’t a blockage in the ripening process. An easy rule of thumb is mid-July and mid-August, possible early September, too. Any coolness during nights at such times, allowing the vines to switch off or tone down, is also beneficial.

A 2018 SUMMARY FROM MARC SORREL

In this respect, 2018 was pretty well served. MARC SORREL gave this summary of his last vintage before retirement: “the summer changed around completely. Until mid-June there was rain. Mildew started, primarily on the leaves. Then it became very hot, but we had the luck of well-timed rain. We had 30 mm (1.2 in) on 14 July, then two rainfalls of 20-30 mm (0.8-1.2 in) each time, on 9 and 13 August. It had been 34° C to 36°C in August before the 13th. Droplets of gold fell in that 30 mm storm on 13 August. It was quite a strong storm through the day, and was so welcome because the vines had been starting to suffer.”

MARC continued: “a comparison of the dates between 2018 and 2017 is close enough. Flowering was very precocious in both years, with 2017 perhaps a bit before 2018. 2018 had more rain overall than 2017. In 2018, May and June were rainy, but then it stopped, and it was summery from mid-June onwards. Like 2017, 2018 was very hot. I started the harvest on 3 September, 2017 and on 3 September, 2018, for the white crop.”

“We did all the white harvest on 3 and 4 September, the SYRAH from 8-10 September, when it was very hot. Everyone harvested very quickly this year. I started the day’s work at 7 in the morning, and stopped at 1 pm. The afternoons were 35°C – you couldn’t work in those conditions.”

On the wines, MARC commented: “2018 has power, matter, length and elegance, the elegance superior to 2015’s in my view. I am very happy to end on this great vintage. It is less on power than 2017 because there was more crop, though it has similarities – the length, and the fact that you don’t feel the tannins, along with lowish acidity, which was corrected. I prefer 2017 and 2018 to 2015 – the tannins are more ripe, have better class.”

His brother JEAN-MICHEL SORREL added: “records were broken for the level of anthocyanins and polyphenols this year – there was an extremely high tannic index.”

THE LARGE HARVEST HELPED TO CONTROL DEGREE

Another grower to mention the role played by the large harvest was BERNARD FAURIE, who stated: “the abundance of harvest saved 2018, both red and white, and that helped to control the degree. We harvested five days ahead of 2019. My 2018 BESSARDS-MÉAL is good, balanced. MÉAL brings its nobility, and enlarges and improves the wine. It’s 14.5° - nowadays you can make balanced wine at 14.5°; before it was 13.5° for balance. Nature adapts, the yeasts have adapted, and the wines can handle 14.5° without destabilising.”

DAMIEN BRISSET is in charge of vineyard and winemaking at FERRATON PÈRE & FILS, and he told me: “our 2018 pHs are 3.9 to 4.0 – indicating low acidity - but our wines are fresh, not over solar. We harvested one week before 2019. The harvest ripened at a similar time across the board in 2018, which meant speed of harvesting was important. 2018 is a mix of 2016 and 2017 – the freshness of 2016 and the foundation of 2017.”

2018 IS VERY GOOD

As we are dealing with a vintage that pushes the limits of ripeness and concentration, I would say that 2018 has emerged well. I immediately think of BORDEAUX in ancient times eagerly buying up as much HERMITAGE as they could find to add stuffing to more miserable vintages there – 1822, for example when the BORDELAIS wines were mediocre, and so HERMITAGE was enlisted thanks to “excellent, abundant, grands vins” at HERMITAGE, the result being that 1822 BORDEAUX became “good, though the reds were a little hard.” [ref: Macker cellar book for HERMITAGE, Cocks & Feret for BORDEAUX in The Wines of the Northern Rhône by JL-L].

As you travel away from the height of the hill towards the Southern/Eastern end at LARNAGE, the more alluvial soils become suitable for vine and fruit, apricots notably. These are not the high pedigree sources for HERMITAGE, and the wines, while well filled, lack the stature of the top climats.

SOME CELLAR CHALLENGES

In 2018 I noticed that one or two wines, notably the *** JEAN-CLAUDE & NICOLAS FAYOLLE LES DIONNIÈRES (1965-1970 SYRAH), and, for now, the *** PHILIPPE & VINCENT JABOULET (1983 SYRAH, LES DIOGNIÈRES also) were both showing cellar challenges, tasted pre-bottling, admittedly – extraction, a sense of lees, Volatile, for example. It suggested that this was not a straightforward, on roller skates, vintage to vinify unless you were on your A game.

LESSER CLIMATS DID WELL IN 2018

However, the fact that wines such as the ****(*) DOMAINE DU COLOMBIER, drawn from three middle to Eastern climats, namely BEAUMELES DIOGNIÈRES and TORRAS ET LES GRAVENNES, came with gusto and drive, lots of length from a vigorous attack and a density that was well controlled, showed that 2018 could be democratic in its favours.

Also from BEAUME, which forms 85% to 90% of the wine, the rest from PÉLÉAT, comes YANN CHAVE’s HERMITAGE, another ****(*) wine in 2018. The word BEAUME means grotto in old French, and its climat is situated directly to the East of L’HERMITELE MÉAL and LES GRIFFIEUX, separated from them by the stream of BEAUMES.

It is marked by clay-sandstone soils, with a marked presence of what the locals term poudingue, alluvial deposits from the Alps. It gives jam style dark, black fruit, has a roasted style, a wine of some density in an average year. In 2018, it stepped up a gear, delivering what I termed manly HERMITAGE when tasting it blind, an intense and thorough wine.  

Another such example from the lower pedigree terroirs was the ****(*) DOMAINE DES REMIZIÈRES CUVÉE ÉMILIE. This has always been an out of the loop offering, since it is rare to have a HERMITAGE founded 75% on LES GRANDES VIGNES, also termed GROS DES VIGNES, which is a really brittle rock granite climat placed in the commune of CROZES-HERMITAGE, not TAIN, and very windswept - the North Wind, called LA BISE (kiss) comes thundering down the Valley corridor onto it and its neighbour VAROGNE. It is late ripening, high up and above and to one side of L’HERMITE and LES BESSARDS, and gives black-fruited, crunchy wine, with DELAS and PAUL JABOULET AINÉ also having vines on it.

The DESMEURE family makes their ÉMILIE with a top-up of 25% SYRAH (1935-1940) that is unusual in being planted on the alluvial soils of the more famous white vine climat of LES ROCOULES. This cuvée has always been raised in new oak, a house policy over the decades for many of their reds, with frequent excess. Tasted blind, the 2018’s form suggested granite in the soils via a determined second half that gave real drive, iron and firm, thrusting tannins. Here, then, lesser terroirs had delivered well, with accuracy from LES GRANDES VIGNES.

2018 will stand the test of time, although, as a low acidity vintage, there may be some wines that lose their structure over time. The fact that rain fell at prized moments stands in favour of the wines, with 2019 also aided by around 20-30 mm (0.8-1.2 in) of rain after mid-August. The nightmare scenario for the future is a replication of the very hot 2018 summer, the high degree and a lack of such rain: then the wines would be truly Mediterranean and unbalanced.

Cellaring should be relatively patient with the best 2018s, allowing until 2023 or 2024 for the top wines. It is not a complicated vintage due to the overt sun in the glass, so there aren’t awkward angles to be ironed out – as was the case in 2013 (firm tannins), or in 2015 with its overtly robust tannins. It will certainly live well in the 2040s.

LEADING 2018 HERMITAGE REDS

****** Bernard Faurie Bessards-Le Méal   2052-54  12/18 spectacular truth, classic, very long 
****** Bernard Faurie Le Méal   2058-61  12/19  BF personal drink; pedigree, STGT 
****** Marc Sorrel Le Gréal   2053-56  11/18  silky, long, wholesome, sensuous 
*****  M Chapoutier Les Greffieux   2047-49  11/19  very elegant, mystery, pleasure 
*****  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave   2055-58  12/19  terroir, elegance, structure, long 
*****  Delas Les Bessards   2048-51 11/19  pedigree fruit, polished, oaked 
****(*)  Yann Chave   2045-48  11/19  intense, manly, grounded, persistent 
****(*)  M Chapoutier L’Ermite   2050-52  11/19  compact gras, style, finesse 
****(*)  M Chapoutier Le Méal   2049-51  11/19  active fruit, glides, tight  
****(*)  Domaine du Colombier   2043-45  11/19  seamless, gusto, drive, gd shape 
****(*)  Dard & Ribo   2041-43  11/18  dense fruit, vigour, complete 
****(*)  Delas Domaine des Tourettes  2045-47  11/19  elegant, gourmand, cool, plump 
****(*)  Bernard Faurie Les Bessards   2054-56  12/19  inky, fleshy, fat, iron, violets 
****(*)  Bernard Faurie Greffieux-Méal-Bessards  2050-53  12/19  richness, freshness, voluptuous  
****(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Le Méal   2046-48  12/19  thorough, firm, sparked length
****(*) Domaine des Remizières Émilie  2048-50 11/19 bold, close-knit, real drive, iron
****  Louis Bernard   2042-44  11/19  stylish fruit. spherical, tuneful 
**** Cave de Tain Gambert de Loche 2043-45 11/19 generous, layered, immediate
****  Bernard Faurie Greffieux-Bessards   2043-46  12/18  aromatic, rich, stylish 
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Dionnières 2040-42 11/19 pleasing texture, fruit detail, typical
****  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Dionnières   2043-45  12/19  grace, silk, good orchestration 
****  Domaine Alain Graillot    2042-44  02/20  pedigree gras, stylish, peppery 
****  JMB Sorrel Le Vignon   2041-43  12/18  savoury, structured, good drive 
****  Marc Sorrel   2042-44  11/18  plump, tasty, sweet, glamour
***(*) Cave de Tain Grand Classique 2037-39 11/19 easy fruit, trim, bit mainstream
***(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Miaux   2039-41  12/19  solid, grounded, thick juice 
***(*)  Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2039-41  11/19  fat, obvious, sweet, sipping  
***  J-Claude & N Fayolle Les Dionnières    2039-41  11/19  rounded, squeezy, but dry late on   
***  Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet    2036-38  11/19  soaked fruits, low-key  

 

9. 2018 CÔTE-RÔTIE

CHRISTOPHE SEMASKA OF CHÂTEAU DE MONTLYS, WITH SON CLÉMENT, NEWLY ARRIVED ON THE DOMAINE

Vintage or Terroir? 2018 is finely poised between the two at COTE-RÔTIE, the weather charts with their record of high and sustained heat pushing one’s instincts towards the former. It is certainly true that there are some sunswept wines this year, but I feel that the most noble locations or those with the most stallion-like qualities – firm mica-schist, for example, on CÔTE ROZIER or LES GRANDES PLACES in the northern sector - have delivered wines with glimpses of terroir in them even at this early stage.

2018 can therefore stand the test of time, a very good vintage that will reward patience, even if the young wines show plenty of immediate fruit. Expect them to come together well, and to edge towards more complete local ID as time goes by.

FLAMBOYANT, TOP DRAWER 2019 VINTAGE TO FOLLOW

At this juncture it’s also worth adding that the flamboyant, top drawer 2019 will hove to soon, a vintage that will immediately capture the imagination, aided by the most marvellous timing and quantity of rainfall in August, 2019. It’s a knock-out, so perhaps 2018 will rather recede into the background, perhaps a little unfairly.

Looking at 2018 in the context of the decades during which I have known CÔTE-RÔTIE, 2018 is a vintage of high degree and pronounced ripeness. There is no escaping the fact that we are up 2.5° compared with the 1970s, 2° with the 1980s, probably 1.5° compared with the 1990s, 2000s. The other startling feature is just how quickly the sugars in the grapes concentrate and the degree in the SYRAH now rises – in this sector in the past, that was the preserve of the VIOGNIER.

HIGH DEGREE VINTAGE

Growers referred to these new phenomena when I discussed the year with them. FRANÇOIS MERLIN recounted: “2018 and 2019 are both high degree years for the SYRAH. When I started 25 years ago, they were 11.5° to 12°. Now they are 14.5°.”

RENÉ ROSTAING gave this observation: “we started the 2018 harvest on 3 September, the SYRAH at 13°, the temperature 35°C. That high heat meant a 2° gain per week on the alcohol – by 10 September, the SYRAH was 15° on a lot of the slope vineyards. We harvested everything in just 10 days, as in 2019.”

Measures such as daybreak harvesting, larger teams of pickers, the use of cool chambers are now all part of the annual scenario. This is before any of the challenges raised by trying to vinify hot to the touch, extremely ripe grapes; the risks of Volatile Acidity ratchet up considerably.

LIONEL FAURY looked at the ripening season as a whole, telling me: “until 10 June, we had a lot of fresh weather, with rain, then it became very hot. [This was the period when parts of the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, notably CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, were being ravaged by mildew]. There were high sugars at the end, and we harvested in very high heat as well – it was 30°C on 15 September, something I have never experienced before.

CELLAR RISKS, INCLUDING VOLATILE ACIDITY

Life was quite easy in the vineyard, but complicated in the cellar, the work requiring a lot of vigilance and surveillance – there was a definite risk of Volatile Acidity. It’s a bit of a fragile year. Everybody started with a good primary matter, but there are greater differences after vinifications, with faults here and there,” he concluded. The feeling of a vintage on a knife edge comes through from these comments, indicating that the eventual quality has turned out better than anticipated.

CHRISTOPHE SEMASKA of CHÂTEAU DE MONTLYS is in the northernmost commune of SAINT-CYR, schist soils, cool inclinations, River breeze influences. He has been buoyed by the arrival on the domaine of his son CLÉMENT, and quality is inching up every year. He gave this take on the year: “there was a spike of high heat [canicule] of 40°C at the end of June which blocked ripening, that blockage lasting one month. The River Rhône brought the freshness that maintained the foliage, and we also didn’t drop any leaves, unlike some. On 25 July, we had a small rain of 5-10 mm (0.2-0.4 in) that allowed us to treat the vines, after that rain, the foliage could handle the treatment. What saved the day was the rain of 90 mm (3.6 in) in August, and 3-4 mm during September, so things advanced slowly.

NECESSARY TO WAIT FOR PHENOLIC RIPENESS

There were people harvesting at 13.5°, but the phenolic ripeness wasn’t there, so we waited until 14.5°. but the stems had to be ripe, not be green. We started on 7 September, ending on 20 September. That compared with 19 September in 2019, ending on 30 September. It was hot, 30°C at midday, so we had to stop, and people spent the afternoons preparing and cleaning the cellar.

There was over-ripeness that gave an insight into the future with climate warming. You can’t bring in harvest at 30°C when you want it to be at 10°C in the cellar. Now we have to pick in five days – all, everything, which means a team of 30, harvesting all across the vineyards. We harvested some SYRAH at 16.4° [think about that, crazy] this year on MONTLYS, but I succeeded in finishing their sugars during fermentation!”

BERNARD LEVET has seen many vintages, and is now nearing elder statesman status. He related: “2018 is very good – the crop was very ripe, but there’s isn’t excess. There’s freshness, unlike 2003. The degree is 14.5° to 15°. There was a large budding, but the drought reduced the yield to a normal level of 41.5 hl/ha (we were allowed 44 hl/ha). We harvested between 9 and 12 September, two weeks ahead of 2016. The crop wasn’t balanced at first.”

RESTRAINT IN THE CELLAR

Care had to be taken in the cellar, and XAVIER GÉRARD, full of life and vigour after the construction of his new, spacious cellar, told me: “flowering went well, and my yield was 39 hl/ha, as it was in 2017. 44 hl/ha was permitted this year. I took care with the vinification – I did no cap punching because there was so much ripeness. I did one daily pumping over.”

LARGE HARVEST A BIG HELP

The size of the harvest - a large crop for most – played a role in extending the wines on the palate, according to STÉPHANE MONTEZ of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET – he is making wines of real flair these days: “without a good sized harvest, it would have been very tricky. In fact, it was thanks to the high quantity that we made quality because of the strength of the wines. Take the IGP LES HAUTS DU MONTEILLET SYRAH – it was 12.5° in 2016, 14.5° in 2018.”

A YEAR OF CONCENTRATION

A word that re-occurred with the growers this year was “concentration.” MAXIME GOURDAIN of the underestimated DOMAINE DE ROSIERS gave this report in February 2020: “we had a full harvest in 2018, everything ripe and in good condition. The degree ran between 13.5° and 14°, against 14° to 14.5° in 2019. Despite the volume, there is a concentration in the wines, with a pretty good balance. We’ll see in the next six months.”

STÉPHANE OGIER held a similar view“2018 is a solar year, but has charm. I thought it would have a lot of tannic concentration, but the tannins are elegant, silky, with a lot of freshness. They are generous, concentrated, dense wines, but also have a facile side. It is more solar than 2019, though.” Indeed, the vivid exuberance of 2019 is what will really catch the attention of tasters when that vintage first falls under the spotlight.

COMPARISONS WITH 2017

Comparisons with neighbouring vintages were made, in the first instance 2017, which I consider as a good, firm, sturdy vintage here, pretty successful overall. Certainly, it is one that JEAN-PAUL JAMET “loves”. BERNARD BURGAUD felt that: “2018 is more muscled, similar overall to 2017, the degree 14° across our different plots,” while PATRICK JASMIN reckoned: “2018 is more complex aromatically than 2017.”

Moving on to 2019, which I already rate as superior to 2018 and 2017, I agreed with newly established New Zealander GRAEME BOTT when he remarked: “it’s a hearty, very rich vintage. 2019 is almost a bit more juicy than 2018.”

CÉDRIC PARPETTE is soon to be joined by his two sons; he makes two cuvées from the northern sector, and informed me that he had actually lost crop in 2018: “the lower yield of 30 hl/ha concentrated the 2018,” he stated. “It fits between 2017 and 2019 in quality – it has more matter than 2019, is more wired than 2019, with more freshness than 2019. It’s a year to keep and wait.”

ADAPTATION OF SOILS TO HOT SUMMERS

Looking back at previous top notch years, KÉVIN GARON of the very good DOMAINE GARON spoke of the adaptation of soils“the BLONDE is ever more refined in these hot years,” he commented; “the BLONDE soils are getting prepared now since the first hot year of 2015. 2018 has more fine tannin than 2015 – it is less solar, and will keep. 2015 is magnificent. There was also more tannin in 2010 than in 2018, with good acidity in that vintage.”

Referring to his LES ROCHINSKÉVIN spoke about how out on a loop of its own was 2018 - this is taken from a mix of 1980s and 1999 SYRAH on South facing schist soils, with iron and clay and a soil pH of 5.5. “I’ve never vinified a ROCHINS like the 2018 – it’s complex, the pH is 3.5 – perfect, meaning longevity, the Total Acidity is 4, 4.5 or so, and the tannins will also help it to age.”

My inspection of 2018 CÔTE-RÔTIE is formed around some wines served blind in a tasting room in the last week of November, 2019, and more wines derived from the much more interesting, painstaking visits to cellars in December, 2019 and February, 2020. The former gives one the global view on a vintage, the latter introduces the all important element of detail and gradual piecing together of the jigsaw puzzle that is every new vintage.

DIFFERENT SOILS, DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO HIGH HEAT

Coming forward in 2018 are streams of sun in the wines, meaning that many are full of obvious fruit, gourmandise, packing. JEAN-MICHEL STÉPHAN, organic, zero SO2 practitioner at the hamlet of TUPIN, made an interesting observation on the impact of the heat on two different sites, telling me: “BASSENON adapted better to 2018 than TUPIN, which is excellent in fresh vintages; the stones and quartz on TUPIN give a more solar effect than the sand of BASSENON.” I rated his COTEAUX DE TUPIN ****, his COTEAUX DE BASSENON ****(*), the former savoury, the latter complex.

It’s worth noting that the alcohol is not obvious from one wine to the next when blind tasting through a series due to the richness in them, but its effect creeps up on you as you move towards 20 or so. These are not wines for sudden, convivial occasions, more for planned dinners, and rich dishes.

Bouquets are upfront, with a good variety of aromas, including some of the usual floral airs, while palate length is often well secure. I reckon the northern sector has fared best overall, since those wines have more iron, cut in them than the more perfumato southern ones, their structure and clarity better as a result.

2018 is therefore a vintage of some extremity, but one that is capable of settling down over time, with more pronounced terroir implications to come. It should age well, the best wines in the 25+ year category. The longer you wait, the more the wines will show integrity. They will be impressive rather than charming. Be patient, therefore.

LEADING CÔTE-RÔTIE 2018s

****** Dom J-P & C Jamet Côte Brune  2054-56 12/19 manly, wild, much character, STGT
***** Dom Christophe Billlon La Brocarde 2048-50 11/19 stylish, expressive, iron, spine
***** Domaine B Chambeyron Lancement  2045-47 11/19 concentrated, gusto, sparky fruit 
***** Clusel Roch Les Grandes Places 2050-52 11/19 plentiful, funnelled iron, STGT
***** Domaine Garon Les Rochins 2049-51 12/19 electric fruit, manly, muscled
***** Domaine Rostaing Côte Blonde  2052-55 12/19 probing depth, intricate, promising
***** Domane J-P & C Jamet  2049-51 12/19 sure depth, spinal, has fire
****(*) Dom Christophe Billlon Côte Rozier 2047-49 11/19 thick juice, vigour, STGT
****(*) Dom Christophe Billlon Les Elotins  2040-42 11/19 refined, stylish, pure, good life
****(*) Patrick & Chr Bonnefond Côte Rozier 2046-48 11/19 harmony, complexity, glides, iron
****(*) Bernard Burgaud  2046-48 12/19 serious, long, thorough, good life
****(*) Domaine Clusel Roch La Viallière  2046-48 11/19 rich, sun-filled, complex
****(*) Yves Cuilleron Bonnivières   2042-44  11/19  chunky, grounded, iron thrust  
****(*) Delas Seigneur de Maugiron   2041-43  11/19  scented, succulent, iron, mineral 
****(*)  Domaine Garon Lancement   2049-51  12/19  dorsal, shapely, firm, much iron 
****(*)  Domaine Garon Les Triotes   2048-51  12/19  Blonde accuracy, finesse, long, V 
****(*)  Stéphane Montez Les Grandes Places   2050-52  02/20 bouncy, well filled, energy 
****(*)  Stéphane Pichat Les Grandes Places   2047-49  02/20  interesting, challenging, firm, long 
****(*)  Domaine Rostaing Côte Brune   2053-55  12/19 Southern, savoury, ripe, thorough 
****(*)  Domaine Rostaing La Landonne   2050-52  12/19  firm depth, terroir, definition 
****(*)  C Semaska La Fleur de Montlys   2043-45  12/19  gd flow, iron, nerve, Burgundian 
****(*)  Christophe Semaska Lancement   2045-47  12/19  muscle, style, lucid, perfumed 
****(*)  Jean-Michel Stéphan Ctx de Bassenon  2041-43  12/19  complex, vigour, high interest 
****(*)  Maison Les Alexandrins   2042-44  11/19  ample juice, vigour, engaging 
****  P & Christophe Bonnefond Les Rochains  2044-46  11/19  clear fruit, tempo, fresh 
****  Domaine B Chambeyron Chavaroche   2043-45  11/19  solid, authentic, rugged, time 
****  M Chapoutier Neve   2043-45  11/19  good fruit stream, life, naked 
****  Martin Clerc Coteaux de Tupin   2039-41  11/19  polished fruit, genuine, deep 
**** Domaine Clusel Roch Champon 2044-46 02/20 spine, mineral, comfortable gras
****  Dpmaine Clusel Roch Les Schistes   2040-42  11/19  shapely, jolly, silken, free 
****  Yves Cuilleron Madinière   2040-42  11/19  precise, juicy, good detail 
****  Domaine Degache Frères   2040-42  11/19  compact, concentrated, iron, character 
****  Degache Frères Maisons Blanches   2042-44  11/19  firm, sealed, sure length  
****  Delas La Landonne   2045-47  11/19  expressive, supple, copious, fleshy  
****  Ben & David Duclaux Coteau de Tupin   2047-49  02/20  grounded, solar, muscular, spinal 
****  Ben & David Duclaux Maison Rouge 2046-48 02/20 upright, truthful, precise, energy
**** Lionel Faury Emporium 2037-39 11/19 gentle waves, v refined, classy
****  Ferraton Montmain   2043-45  12/19  manly, compact, reserved, time  
****  Domaine Garon La Sybarine   2036-39  12/19  alert, stylish, fun, soft touch 
****  Domaine Jasmin La Giroflarie   2047-49  12/19  dark, thorough, flow, length  
****  François Merllin   2039-41  12/19  naked, quiet class, elegance
****  S Montez/Monteillet Fortis   2044-46  02/20  style, generosity, dark, fragrant  
****  Stéphane Pichat Champon’s   2042-45  02/20  sun depth, steady strength 
****  Julien Pilon laporchette   2041-43  12/19  pure juice, iron, good rigour 
****  Ravoire & Fils Olivier Ravoire   2039-41  11/19  tasty fruit, channelled, oaked 
**** Domaine de Rosiers Besset 2049-51 02/20 sturdy, fuelled, drive, oily depth
**** Domaine de Rosiers Coeur de Rose 2045-47 02/20 thorough, good heart, structure
****  Domaine Rostaing Ampodium   2045-47  12/19  sweet concentration, firm length 
****  C Semaska Château de Montlys  2042-44  12/19  harmony, shape, joli iron  
****  Christophe Semaska L’Elixir d’Ariane  2054-56  12/19  S Rhône concentration, strength 
****  Jean-Michel Stéphan Coteaux de Tupin  2044-46  12/19  savoury, close packing, iron 
****  Jean-Michel Stéphan La So’Brune   2041-43  12/19  close padding, soaked, pulse 
**** Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet Terrasses 2043-45 11/19 stylish juice, gd tannin run, authentic
***(*) Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott 2039-41 12/19 firm, compact, iron, clear, crunched
***(*)  Domaine B Chambeyon L’Angeline   2033-35  11/19  perfume, easy gras, instant  
***(*)  Dom B Chambeyron La Chavarine   2036-38  11/19  soft fruit, supple tannin 
***(*)  Martin Clerc Collet   2037-39  11/19  country wine, time to refine 
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Bassenon  2042-44  11/19  mineral, freshness, style, soft   
***(*)  Benjamin & David Duclaux La Germine   2044-46  02/20  naked, careful gras, buzzy end  
***(*) Lionel Faury Reviniscence 2033-35 11/19 juicy, cool, food style, unfussy
***(*)  Ferraton L’Eglantine   2035-37  12/19  comfortable fruit, accessible, correct   
***(*)  Domaine Jasmin Oléa   2043-45  12/19  fruit refinement, dense, oaked 
***(*)  Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2037-39  11/19  plenty fruit verve, sweet 
***(*)  S Montez/Monteillet Bons-Arrêts   2044-46  02/20  tender flow, purity, calm 
***(*)  Rémi Niéro Eminence   2037-39  11/19  succulence, iron-iodine, supple 
***(*)  Ogier La Serine  2036-38  11/19  succulent, gourmand, verve, round 
***(*)  Cédric Parpette Le Plomb   2038-40  12/19  thick fruit, grounded, interesting 
***(*)  Stéphane Pichat Löss   2029-31  02/20  racy fruit, crisp, naked 
***(*) Christophe Pichon Promesse 2037-39 12/19 dark, insistent, floral, mild notes
***(*)  Jean-Michel Stéphan Les Binardes   2027-29  12/19  lush sucrosity, floral, vintage 
***  Dom Clos de la Bonnette Prenelle   2033-35  12/19  wiry, cool, pared back 
***  Benjamin & David Duclaux La Chana   2031-33  02/20  cooked sweetness, iron notes 
***  Cédric Parpette Montmain   2037-39  12/19  honest country wine, strength 

 

10. 2018 CONDRIEU

A CHAMPION CONDRIEU IN 2018: THE CHRISTINE VERNAY COTEAU DE VERNON, PICTURED ON THE VERNON HILLSIDE

The profile of the year – notably the high, prolonged heat – led me to believe that 2018 would be a dodgy vintage for CONDRIEU. 2017, with its drought, had brought wines that were often heady, robust and low on charm. I placed it far behind 2016 across the board.

2018: ADAPTATIONS, THE VINE

However, two factors have evolved in 2018, to the benefit of the wines. First, I feel that the vines have started to adapt to prolonged heat and dry periods. The vine is the most robust and worthy plant one can imagine, and I am constantly in awe of what reserves of natural vigour it can tap into. I look at the plants in my garden when there is extreme weather – dry or wet, very hot or very cold – and they can be dealt severe setbacks. Not so, vitis vinifera.

The VIOGNIER is capricious, but apart from the usual risks of coulure (flowers not converting into fruit) and oïdium, the problems it bears are often to do with the tail end of its ripening period, when there can be a very swift build-up of sugars, degradation of skins and a consequent pick-up in degree and risk of rot on bunches.

MAXIME GOURDAIN of DOMAINE DE ROSIERS is well switched on, and he spoke about this challenge: “a bunch of VIOGNIER can include golden coloured grapes, cooked or shrivelled grapes and underripe grapes, all in the same bunch. It’s tricky to take a reading before deciding on the date of harvest. Our 2018 yield was a full one, though, but the degree is creeping up over time.”

Talking about 2019, for instance, FRANÇOIS MERLIN told me: “2019 is a year of high degree; the VIOGNIER was at 14° when we first harvested, and at 17° by the time we finished. The rain in August meant things accelerated over just three days.” What the high heat vintages are doing are emphasizing an issue that has always encircled the VIOGNIER, even since my early days in the 1970s.

2018: ADAPTATIONS, THE PEOPLE

Now we come to the humans in the equation. I also feel that they are beginning to adapt to the challenges of the high heat summers. Canopy management is better handled now, with more detail in the vineyards as to whether leaves should be cut back or not. Obviously, high heat means keep the canopy, and corral the naturally rambling foliage of the VIOGNIER so that bunches aren’t burnt.

Harvesting is also more alert, and growers are now on guard for the trouble of extremely rapid take-up of degree; the best are employing larger teams to harvest at speed, and also realise that cramped cellar conditions will obstruct a fast intake of harvest. Growers such as the talented XAVIER GÉRARD has just built a spacious new fully temperature controlled cellar next to the N86 in CONDRIEU, a far cry from the olde worlde but extremely cramped charm of his natural temperature cellar under the family home on the hill of CHÂTILLON.

Nowadays, if growers don’t have a cooling system, they had better get one, or a chambre froide – a cold room – at the very least, so that grapes enter the press at temperatures under 16°-20°C for starters.

GROWERS' ACTIVE WORK TO SECURE FRESHNESS

In terms of cellar work, further adjustments are being made. Back to FRANÇOIS MERLIN: “to work on freshness, I now use 500-litre casks – to avoid the sugared side of the wine from smaller casks – do no lees stirring, and work under nitrogen and carbonic gas so the wine is inert when we are working with it. We also clean the casks by steam, very boiling steam since with pH levels rising there’s a danger of Brett.”

XAVIER GÉRARD is a vigneron I much respect, someone who quests. We discussed his approach for the new paradigm of high heat: “I did two harvests, one early for acidity, the second for maturity. I worked to not make it overripe – for the last five years I have wanted more freshness. The last one-third of the press is fermented apart – it gives a more bitter note, so I add a bit of that, especially given low acidity in the vintage. I do not acidify. 2018 is 14° to 14.5°. 2019 has naturally higher acidity than 2018.”

2018 has therefore emerged as a good vintage for CONDRIEU, comfortably ahead of 2017. It is a vintage with plenty of body, so is often suited to la table, but there is also a stream of freshness that makes the wine enjoyable, not heavy.

2018: A LARGE, EVEN FULL-UP HARVEST

One of the top men, ANDRÉ PERRET, gave me his rundown on events: “I have never had such a large harvest as 2018 since I started in 1983 – 40 hl/ha, with exceptional quality. The spring was rainy, but we didn’t suffer from mildew.

The summer was dry, and it was very hot at harvest time – so you had to be really well equipped with a cooling system. Those without that were in trouble on the reds. We had vats of Syrah at 29°C in the evening when you put the grapes in them. That meant it was tough on those just starting out, those who rented a venue and so on.”

Another now discarded rule that applied somewhere in the middle of my career has been the one that stated that low yields were essential for high quality. It was a broad blanket statement, anyway – how do you judge 30 hl/ha from a flat vineyard on the plain at a density of 4,000 plants per hectare, against a hillside plantation of 8,000 plants per hectare? And what about young vines and old vines – the latter naturally abundant, especially if irrigated, the latter usually lower yielding?

HARVEST SIZE AIDED QUALITY

So in 2018, quality was aided by the size of the harvest, which served to restrain some of the high degree and borderline intensity in the wines. Another talented grower in his little hamlet of RIBAUDY up the hill above CHAVANAYLIONEL FAURY, explained: “it’s a very surprising year, one that came with a good yield, a full up crop for many, which acted as a counterpoint to the heat of the summer. As a result, degrees ran between 13.5° and 14°, with good juice in the grapes.”

This was confirmed by my buddy STÉPHANE MONTEZ of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET, whose wines are on a hot streak at present. He explained: “2018 was a full harvest – very important. The balance is different; thanks to the generosity of the crop, the wines didn’t rise high in degree, so are under 15°.”

YVES CUILLERON also took this line, observing: “it’s a solar, quite rich year, but what helped was the large harvest of VIOGNIER – the opposite of 2019 – so we avoided wines that were too high on degree.”

JEAN-PAUL JAMET started to make CONDRIEU in 2015, with vines on the CÔTE CHÂTILLON above CONDRIEU. He told me: “our 14.5° is very low for the vintage because most of the wine comes from CÔTE CHÂTILLON, which is East facing and fresh, at 300 metres. The other side of CHÂTILLON faces South-West, above the town of CONDRIEU, and is hotter.”

ALTITUDE HELPS

Altitude certainly plays a role now in the balancing of vintages, which would be in favour of such domaines as the organic CLOS DE LA BONNETTE, up high past the CHÂTEAU DU ROZAY, and their neighbours the MOUTON family – vineyards at comfortably over 300 metres for the pair of them.

ANTHONY PARET, the Master of SAINT-PIERRE-DE-BOEUF, keeps a low profile, but his CONDRIEUs are good and consistent – solid, never overdone. He spoke of his two cuvées: “my 2018 CÉPS DU NEBADON [from MALLEVALCHAVANAY] has a lot of richness, is on volume, lacks a bit of late freshness, shows apricot, jam flavours. 2017 is a bit more mineral than 2018. I find 2018 more difficult to manage than 2017 – open a bottle of 2017, and it’s enjoyable right away, but with 2018, it isn’t easy to know what to marry it with à table.”

As for our VOLAN [1980 VIOGNIER], its typical date of harvest is 20 September, one of our earliest, since it’s on terraces and is full South facing. The VIOGNIER there can gain 1° in two days, 3° in one week.” With its schist, blue-grey clay soils at altitude at MALLEVAL, I rate his LYS DE VOLAN very highly – a vineyard that stamps its ID on its robust, intricately knit wines; GUIGAL’s holding there, 1996 VIOGNIER, forms one-quarter of his special LA DORIANE cuvée. VOLAN was where the PARETs had their former association with French film star GÉRARD DEPARDIEU – “impossible to manage, changeable” – by the way.

MARTIN CLERC is overseeing improvement on the family domaine; he is a cousin of the organic grower at TUPINJEAN-MICHEL STÉPHANMARTIN gave me his view on the past two vintages: “2017 is a fresher year than 2018, which is low on freshness. The degree in both vintages is 14° to 14.5°. There’s perhaps more fruit, stone fruit on 2018 than 2017.”

To give as objective a view as possible on the recent years, here is a table on the vintages 2016, 2017 and 2018. In my mind, I rate them 2016, then 2018, then 2017. Here are the findings, which show 2018 in a very respectable light:

COMPARISON OF CONDRIEU 2016, 2017, 2018

  2016   2017   2018
5 STARS         1
4.5 STARS 9   1   6
4 STARS 17   15   27
3.5 STARS 20   30   25
3 STARS 8   8   10
2.5 STARS 1   4    
2 STARS     1    
           
TOTAL 55   59   69
           
4+ STARS % 47   27   49

In terms of style, there are different approaches being undertaken, always have been. There are some aperitif style wines, among them the DEGACHE FRÈRES LE BOIS LOMBARD, the CONDRIEU of AURÉLIEN CHATAGNIER, who started out with virtually not even a farthing of investment, his cellar totally rugged, also the en finesse DOMAINE CHAMBEYRON VERNON, a domaine on the rise under son MATTHIEU.

Most have been successful in not being too New Wave, and being balanced and flowing all through, with no tail off or drift. I was agreeably surprised by the fineness of many of the wines, having expected excess, gloopy stuff. Balance is good in the leaders, with floral touches, and good length. The modernista school, leaning towards New Wave – early harvesting, low contact time on the lees, hustling into bottle, malo blocked - can actually work better in very hot years than in the cool ones, a counterpoint provided.

2018 CONDRIEU is therefore a vintage to be interested in. At this very early stage, I rate its balance potentially better than 2019, which is a vintage marked by high degree and a lot of intensity.

LEADING CONDRIEU 2018s

***** Dom Georges Vernay Coteau de Vernon  2035-37 12/19 old vine sève, grace, depth
****(*) Xavier Gérard Côte Châtillon 2027-28 12/19 v refined, suave, iron, STGT
****(*) Gabriel Meffre Laurus 2027-29 11/19 rich, furnished, savoury, genuine
****(*) Stéphane Montez Candice Doux 2036-38 11/19 rich, tasty, structure, length
****(*) André Perret Chanson  2030-32 12/19 stylish gras, interest, promise
****(*) André Perret Chéry  2029-31 12/19 shapely, pinpoint, detail, mineral
****(*) Dom G Vernay Les Chaillées de l'Enfer 2028-30 12/19 stylish, v elegant, suave flow
**** P & C Bonnefond Côte Châtillon  2025-26 11/19 smooth fruits, fine, floral
**** Domaine Bernard Chambeyron Vernon  2022-23 11/19 refined, caressing, charm, style
**** M Chapoutier Invitare   2026-27 11/19 neat, engaging, floral, coherent
**** Domaine du Chêne  2026-27 11/19 stylish gras, clear fruit
**** Louis Chèze Brèze 2026-27 12/19 rich, pleasing, quiet complexity
**** Clos de la  Bonnette Légende Bonnetta 2029-31 11/19 wide, robust, substance, authority
**** Clos de la Bonnette Roches d’Arbuel 2026-27 11/19 compact gras, bright, v long
**** Delas La Galopine  2026-27 11/19 rich, firm, rounded, table
**** Guy Farge Grain d’émotion 2025-26 11/19 solid, durable, natural, abundant
**** Lionel Faury La Berne 2026-27 11/19 pinpoint gras, ace purity
**** Yves Gangloff   2026-27  12/19  encased gras, full, spiced  
****  Xavier Gérard L’Arbuel   2026-27  12/19  serious, grounded, elegant, firm 
****  X Gérard Côte Châtillon late harvest  2044-46  12/19  charming gras, silken, intense 
****  Dom Roland Grangier Les Terrasses   2022-23  11/19  rich, rolling, fleshy, long 
****  E Guigal La Doriane   2032-34  12/19  swell, coated, size, refinement 
****  François Merlin Les Terroirs   2023-24  11/19  articulate, charm, detail, fresh 
****  Stéphane Montez Chanson   2027-29  11/19  muscular, intense, gusto, personality 
**** Stéphane Montez Monteillet La Grillette  2038-40 02/20 tasty, savoury, salted, balance
****  Rémi Niéro Chéry 2027-28  11/19  grounded, vintage density, long 
****  Stéphane Ogier La Combe de Malleval  2024  12/19  aromatic, fleshy, bright, elegant
****  Anthony Paret Lys de Volan   2031-33  02/20  good direction, mineral, long 
****  André Perret   2025-26  12/19  firm, fillled, long, fresh 
****  Domaine Christophe Pichon Caresse  2025-26  12/19  ripe, rich, floral, joli 
****  Domaine de Rosiers   2024-25  02/20  stylish gras, natural, beau 
****  Domaine Rostaing La Bonnette  2030-31 12/19 spiced, mineral, gd strength  
****  Maison Les Alexandrins   2024-25  11/19  restraint, purity, balance, length 
****  Les Terriens   2025  02/20  citrus clarity, gentle, fine 
***(*)  Cave Saint-Désirat   2023-24  11/19  elegant, New Wave  
***(*)  Christophe Billon Les Matisses  2024-25  11/19  chunky, plentiful, spice, glow 
***(*) Domaine Boissonnet  2024 02/20 genuine, soft, calm, cosy
***(*)  Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott   2025-26  12/19  stylish, upright, cool, salted 
***(*)  Aurélien Chatagnier   2022-23  11/19  fine, compact, trim, apero 
***(*)  Martin Clerc Côte Bellay   2028-30  11/19  dense, concentrated, punchy, table 
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron La Petite Côte   2024  11/19  fine, easy, clear, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Degache Frères Le Bois Lombard   2024-25  11/19  nice lining, easy depth 
***(*)  Delas Clos Boucher   2022-23  11/19  neat, floral, restrained, New Wave 
***(*)  Benjamin & David Duclaux Les Caillets  2022-23  02/20  fat, nice restraint, elegance 
***(*)  François Dumas  2025  02/20  textured, supple, unforced, sympa 
***(*)  Lionel Faury   2024-25  11/19  sleek, streamlined, New Wave  
***(*)  Gilles Flacher Les Rouelles    2026-27  11/19  dense, broad, sunswept, sipping 
***(*)  E Guigal   2028-30  12/19  uptempo, firm, some power 
***(*)  J-P & Corinne Jamet Vernillon   2024  12/19  fleshy, low acidity, table wine 
***(*)  François Merlin Jeanraude   2024-25  11/19  stylish, compact, sunshine wine 
***(*)  Stéphane Montez Les Grandes Chaillées  2025-26  11/19  thick, vigorous, ground strength 
***(*)  Rémi Niéro Les Ravines   2023-24  11/19  tender, elegant, articulate, appealing 
***(*) Cédric Parpette Piaton  2022-23 12/19 supple gras, honest, natural
***(*)  Stéphane Pichat La Caille   2025  02/20  musky, fragrant, agreeable 
***(*)  Julien Pilon lône   2026-27  12/19  finely mineral, ripe cladding 
***(*)  Christophe Semaska Lys d’Or  2024 12/19 fresh, rich, tender 
***(*)  Antony Vallet Rouelle-Midi    2026-27  11/19  muscular, compressed, sturdy richness 
***(*)  Dom Grge Vernay Terrasses de l'Empire   2024-25  12/19  buttery, floral, some elegance 
***(*)  GAEC Gisele Vernay Vernon   2022 12/19 easy, fat, gd texture, calm 
***  Dom Emmanuel Barou Imagine   2022  12/19  peachy, round, low-key 
***  Louis Bernard Grande Réserve   2024-25  11/19  fat, static richness, table 
*** Cave Christophe Blanc Les Vallins 2024 02/20 doughty, sunswept, solid richness
***  Louis Chèze Pagus Luminis   2024-25  12/19  obvious depth, weight, sipping 
***  Ferraton Les Mandouls   2023-24  12/19  aromatic, a steady do 
***  Domaine Garon La Vieille Maison   2022  12/19  easy gras, soft texture 
***  François Grenier   2024  02/20  sunswept, manly, power, toppy 
***  Rémi Niéro Coeur de Roncharde   2027-28  11/19 close-knit, muscular, dour 
***  Rémi Niéro Héritage   2023-24  11/19  savoury, squeezy, oak, ponderous 
***  Anthony Paret Les Céps du Nébadon   2025-26  02/20  ample, plush, savoury, table 
**(*) François Corompt 2022 12/19 sweet notes, bitter, drift at end

 

11. 2018 VIN DE PAYS, VIN DE FRANCE, CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE REDS, WHITES

SIMON GASTREIN OF HAMEAU TOUCHE BOEUF [L] WITH GUILLAUME CLUSEL, WHO MAKES EXCELLENT, W.O.W. COTEAUX DU LYONNAIS, WHEN THERE IS A HARVEST 

Every year, one of my most important, and interesting, tasks is to track down as many VIN DE PAYS or VIN DE FRANCE (less regulated than VIN DE PAYSREDS and WHITES as I can. They are  often fascinating, from shrouded, sometimes forgotten plots, and can tell a story of LA FRANCE PROFONDE's back history. They are also such good VALUE, and represent a spectrum where hand made virtues often shine through. If you want to drink unpretentious country wines, this is the place to come. Hence there will be producer names that are new to readers in the listings below.

A START-UP NAME AS AN EXAMPLE OF THE DIFFICULTY OF SETTING UP

They come in different shapes and sizes; let us take SIMON GASTREIN, whom I met in December, 2019. He is a new boy on the block, having started in 2016 after being, first, a chef near LYON (his parents are restaurateurs in LYON), then a vineyard worker chez ANDRÉ PERRET for seven years, which included planting VIOGNIER on the marvellous CLOS CHANSON just north of CHAVANAY. His domaine name is HAMEAU TOUCHE BOEUF, after the little hamlet on the plateau where he lives.

In the NORTHERN RHÔNE, it's extremely tough for youngsters trying to live the dream these days. If they start as a CO-OPERATEUR, and leave the CAVE DE TAIN (recent: DOMAINE COMBAT) or the CAVE SAINT-DÉSIRAT (recent: FRANÇOIS GRENIER), they already have land and vineyards. Costs to come are cellars and equipment, which is doable.

LAND PRICES OUT OF REACH OF MOST NOW

The big hit comes when you are trying to buy land, what with the likes of CHAPOUTIER pushing for expanded vineyards so they can clear and plant, or just snap up vineyards already in existence, whose owner wants to retire.

CANNY GUIGAL APPROACH – GO SOUTH, WHERE THERE ARE ROLLING HECTARES

The GUIGAL attention has shifted South to CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE in the past three years, with the purchase of DOMAINE DE NALYS and its 50+ hectares, and two more deals involving the good terroir/poor wine LES CLEFS D’OR and an eight hectare lot in the east of the appellation. The GUIGAL positioning is astute – this gives them access to large volumes of wine, rather than a patchwork hectare here or there in the NORTHERN RHÔNE with a limited number of bottles.

SIMON GASTREIN: COBBLING TOGETHER A PORTFOLIO, HIGH AND LOW

For someone like SIMON GASTREIN, it’s a question of contacts, renting, being prepared to go high up on the plateau, or low down beside the River, and assembling bit by bit what he can. He is now up to five hectares, and from 2020 may be signing on a plot of 0.06 hectare, a mere postage stamp, of SAINT-JOSEPH at CHARNAS - at least that will set him on the full appellation path. In the meantime, he motors to SWITZERLAND to offer tastings, is plugged into SWEDEN, and the USA, his bottle total now up from 1,000 in 2016 to 20,000 in 2018.

GRAEME & JULIE BOTT, TOO

Another recent start-up comes in the form of GRAEME and JULIE BOTT, he a NEW ZEALANDER who worked for several years as cellar master chez STÉPHANE OGIER, she in sales-marketing there. They started in 2016 with purchased harvest, a borrowed garage, and 3,000 bottles. They have bought at SEYSSUEL, near VIENNE, for example, and having some family funds, have acquired small plots – 0.16 hectare at SÉMONS, for instance - at CÔTE-RÔTIE.

EVEN FOR ESTABLISHED GROWERS, IT’S OFTEN A QUESTION OF LUCK

Even for established growers, tracking down rewarding and interesting plots for VIN DE PAYS can be down to good fortune. CHRISTOPHE CURTAT works 0.6 hectare of SYRAH planted in 1900-05 on a site called MONERONE at 250-260 metres at SAINT JEAN DE MUZOLS.

He told me its story: “It was 2012, when I received a visit from a grandpa one day. It turned out that he has this small vineyard which had been declassified from SAINT-JOSEPH around 1991. The man renting it, a member of the CAVE CO-OPERATIVE DE SAINT-DÉSIRAT, couldn’t be bothered to trail down from SARRAS to work it, and the Papy didn’t know what to do. A client of mine happened to attend a family lunch with the Papy, and told him that he knew a keen vigneron who would look after it properly – so he came to see me. It’s South facing, on beautiful granite, and makes my IGP ARDÈCHE SYRAH.”

THE REDOUBTABLE ANGENIOL SISTERS AND THEIR 100 YEAR VINEYARD

Another wine with an interesting back story from the FRANCE of yesteryear was the one-off 2018 VIN DE FRANCE WHITE from ANDRÉ PERRET. This was composed of VIOGNIERMARSANNEROUSSANNE and JACQUÈRE (called LA CUGNETTE locally).

“They are all interplanted on a 100-year old foot of the slope 0.2 hectare vineyard here at VERLIEU,” recounted ANDRÉ. “Exceptionally, it was worked by two ladies, the ANGENIOL sisters, who were 94 and 92 years old in 2019 – and I mean worked – they looked after the vineyard into their nineties! That meant that they had known this venerable vineyard almost all thier lives. Around the time of the SECOND WORLD WAR, a CHAMPAGNISÉ VIOGNIER was made from it, but sadly the vineyard is now to be built on with housing, so this is the first, and the last, wine from it for me.”

PETIT MANSENG AND VIOGNIER STRIKE A GOOD NOTE ENSEMBLE

VIN DE FRANCE WHITE that explores frontiers is the DAHU made by SIMON FORGUE in the JURANÇON and JULIEN PILON at CONDRIEU. As JULIEN explains: “SIMON uses 600-litre casks for his PETIT MANSENG, and I use 500-litre casks for my VIOGNIER. The PETIT MANSENG grows on clay-sand soils, my VIOGNIER is on the sanded granite of the plateau here. It's a 50-50 mix. The PETIT MANSENG brings acidity, the VIOGNIER the aromatics. We blend them in late JUNE, with around 2,500 bottles made now.” This is a successful marriage of opposites, with good, fine length, a bonny wine, €16 at the cellars.

IGP WITH A NOBLE HELPING HAND FROM THE CAVE DE TAIN

For enterprise, I salute the CAVE DE TAIN, which in 2017 launched a new VIN DE FRANCE RED, titled KING OF THE NORTH. This is off piste due to the various sources used: its SYRAH base is 70% IGP COLLINES RHODANIENNES from the sandy [good asparagus land] soils East of TAIN at TRIORS and SAINT DONAT SUR L’HERBASSE [home of the good Hotel-Restaurant CHARTRON]. Yields of 45-50 hl/ha apply.

That is topped up with more illustrious appellations - namely 25% CROZES-HERMITAGE4% CORNAS and 1% HERMITAGE. The CROZES is the first SYRAH harvest from there, and only bears the free run wine, is vinified without addition of SO2, steel vat raised. The CORNAS is a plot selection wine from low lying vines, hand harvested, some whole bunch inclusion, and 400-litre cask raised, while the HERMITAGE is from the Eastern site of LA CROIX, and chosen for its rather thick fruit, raised in used 228-litre casks for 12 months. The 2018 was full, pleasing, with above average content for a VIN DE PAYS.

VINS NATURES HAVE INSTANT DEMAND

Newcomers with conventional wines differ from the many start-ups in the VIN NATURE movement, where the basic formula is to get hold of four to five hectares, in the knowledge that the word of mouth circuit across FRANCE, and cities in JAPANUSA and EUROPE will hoover up the bottled wine, which is sold within around nine months of harvest. Taking a hands-off, but not VIN NATURE, approach, means sales are slower to come along, even though the BOTTS are very active on social media and the internet.

CLASSIC COLLINES RHODANIENNES BIG NAME SOURCES

The other classic source of VINS DE PAYS is vineyards standing next to the high profile appellations, notably CÔTE-RÔTIECONDRIEU and SAINT-JOSEPH. In this instance, the well-tended vines will often be 30 years or so old, their wine polished and genuine, since the domaines are classy – think GEORGES VERNAYJEAN-PAUL JAMETANDRÉ PERRET, RENÉ ROSTAING. The COLLINES RHODANIENNES category is the prime example of this, with granite soils in the mix more often than not.

SEYSSUEL

The new kid in town since the late 1990s or so has been SEYSSUEL, where the schist declares its presence strongly in the wines from this East side of the RHÔNE. The wines from there are tremendous as a rule, the SYRAH probably a better performer than the VIOGNIER. The SYRAHs from here can also live very well indeed, 15 years not a bother.

There are now around 55 hectares of SEYSSUEL planted, and 20-odd producers. Plans to enlarge the vineyard are being fought by local eco-warriors on the grounds of retaining bio-diversity. The growers’ response is that these terraces held vineyards back in ROMAN times, and it is a return to that use.

Currently SEYSSUEL is VIN DE PAYS DES COLLINES RHODANIENNES; a dossier for it to ascend to CÔTES DU RHÔNE has been a long time in the making. The names who grow there are high profile – YVES CUILLERON being one of the first, the VINS DE VIENNE bringing in PIERRE GAILLARD and FRANÇOIS VILLARD as well, with LOUIS CHÈZESTÉPHANE OGIERJULIEN PILON and ANTHONY PARET also involved.

THE 2018 VINTAGE

The 2018 vintage delivered lots of immediate fruit, so is of high interest for a racy display, and youthful drinking by and large. You only have to look at the amount of w.o.w. wines to perceive this – versatile wines à table, ideal in bistrots, too. So enamoured was I of the all too rare organic CLOS DE LA BONNETTE VIEILLES VIGNES SYRAH that I bought several cases for my daughter MARINA’s postponed, eventual 2021 wedding. €10 export is the deal, a price that is interesting if you can drive there and bring the wine back yourself.

WHITE VINS DE PAYS

On the whites, the VIOGNIER comes to the fore, notably in the northern sector of SAINT-JOSEPH and near CONDRIEU, while further South around TOURNON, blends involving MARSANNE and ROUSSANNE are more the order of the day. Most vinifications and raising are in used 228-litre oak casks, the malo often completed. These usually have enough body to go beyond the aperitif, and to accompany starter dishes, tapas, for example.

STRONG ADVICE: BUY

I recommend close perusal of these wines for buying purposes. I will be tasting more during my brief stay in the NORTHERN RHÔNE in February, 2020. You should also take a look at the 2017 list, with some recently tasted wines still on sale from there.

LEADING VIN DE PAYS, VIN DE FRANCE, CÔTES-DU-RHÔNE 2018s

  2018 REDS      
****(*)  Dom Jamet J-P & Corinne CdRh Equivoque Syr 2040-42  12/19  detail, energy, character 
****  Sébastien Blachon VdFr Nom de Bleu Syrah  2022-23  12/19  natural, unforced, beau 
****  Domaine Clape CdRhne Syrah 2035-38  12/19  firm, concentrated, serious 
**** Yves Cuilleron Coll Rh Syrah Les Candives 2023 11/19 zesty, drinkable, gd fruit, w.o.w.
****  Yves Cuilleron Seyssuel Ripa Sinistra   2033-35  11/19  stylish, modern, juice, iron 
****  Dom Christophe Curtat Ardèche Syrah  2022  12/19  elegant, live fruit, w.o.w. 
****  Dom Clos de la Bonnette Coll Rh Syrah VV  2024-25  12/19  style, character, clarity, V 
**** François Dumas VdFr Gamay 2024-25 02/20 aromatic, fresh, long, a gem
****  Dom Garon Coll Rh Seyssuel Jardins Rome  2028-29  12/19  serene, singing, detail, flow 
**** Domaine Gonon Ardèche Syrah Les Îles Feray 2035-37 12/19 bright, concentrated, character 
****  Domaine Gripa VdFr Cerise  2025-26  12/19  exuberant, serious depth, gt V 
****  J-P & Corinne Jamet Coll Rh Syrah   2031-33  12/19  thick, floral, good iron  
****  Dom Julien Pilon Coll Rh Seyssuel frontière  2035-37  12/19  juicy, channelled, inky, serious  
****  Dom Romaneux-Déstezet VdFr Syrah   2022-23  02/19  bright fruit, pure, finesse  
****  Domaine Rostaing Coll Rh Lézardes Syrah   2032-34  12/19  rocking fruit, approaches C Rôtie 
**** Dom G Vernay Coll Rh Syrah Ste Agathe 2025-26 12/19 vibrant fruit, fragrant, intense
***(*)  Cave de Tain VdFr King of North Syrah  2025-26  11/19  broad, plentiful, full, pleasing  
***(*) Matthieu Barret CdRhne No Wine's Land Syrah 2023 02/20 juicy, aromatic, laid back, solo
***(*)  Dom G & Julie Bott VdFr First Flight Syrah 2026-27  12/19  clear fruit, free, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Domaine Clape VdFr Vin des Amis   2027-28  12/19  gourmand, full fruit, salted 
***(*)  Guillaume Clusel Ctx Lyonnais Traboules   2020  02/19  instant, bright fruit, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Coll Rh Signé   2022  11/19  linear, crisp, spiced, quaffing 
***(*)  Domaine Durand Ardèche Syrah   2024  12/19  abundant, tight, plenty 
***(*)  Bernard Faurie VdFR Cuvée du Papi   2028-30  12/19  lovely fruit, gd core, oak, V 
***(*)  La Ferme des Sept Lunes VdFr Syrah  2022  02/19  comfy, rounded, joli, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Dom Garon Coll Rh Syrah Gdes Parcelles   2024-25  12/19  savoury, peppery, genuine 
***(*)  Xavier Gérard VdFr Les Autrichiens Gamay  2022  12/19  firm, good life, upbeat 
***(*) Guillaume Gilles VdFr Gamay Vallée du Doux 2023-24 12/19 tangy fruit, clear, well founded
***(*) Guillaume Gilles CdRh Les Peyrouses 2036-39 12/19 density, vigour, robust, firm
***(*)  Hameau Touche Boeuf Coll Rh L’Enclume  2023-24  12/19  live fruit, genuine, unforced 
***(*)  Domaine de l’Iserand VdFr Alliance   2021  02/19  refined fruit, purity, w.o.w. 
***(*) Domaine de l’Iserand VdFr Syrah   2022-23  02/19  tasty, aromatic, sun-filled 
***(*) Erwan Masse VdFr Robe Rouge Syrah 2022 06/20 soft, supple, perfumed
***(*)  André Perret Coll Rh Merlot-Syrah   2024-25  12/19  coated, long, good proportion 
***(*)  Dom Romaneux-Déstezet VdFr Souteronne Gamay  2022  02/19  tender fruit, serene, charm 
***(*) Benoît Roseau Coll Rh Syrah rosé 2022 02/20 agreeable depth, interesting
***(*)  Christophe Semaska Coteaux Vienne Syrah   2025-26  12/19  charming, aromatic, gentle 
***(*)  Jean-Michel Stéphan VdFr Syrah  2027-29  02/19  racy fruit, energy, engaging 
***(*) Eric Texier CdRhône Brézème 2031-33 02/20 naked, fresh, drive; fruit purity
***(*) Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet CdRhône L'Enclave 2033-35 11/19 secure fruit, iron, floral, integrity
*** Matthieu Barret CfRhne Petit Ours Syrah 2022 12/19 stewed fruits, fleshy, easy
***  Matthieu Barret IGP Ardèche Black Flag Syrah   2024  12/19  open, floral charm 
***  Cave de Tain Coll Rh 1ere Note Syrah   2022  11/19  gentle fruit, squeezy feel 
*** Domaine Louis Chomel IGP Ardèche Insolite 2022 02/20 soft, aromatic, some freshness
*** Domaine Courbis Coll Rh L'Aube 2027-29 12/19 warm vintage, not ensemble
***  Jean-Claude Marsanne IGP Ardèche   2022  12/19  mild fruit, round 
***  François Merlin Coll Rh Syrah   2025-26  12/19  floral, genuine, chewy, bit strict 
*** Domaine des Miquettes VdFr Syrah 2025 02/20 immediate, black fruit depth
***  André Perret Coll Rh Syrah   2024  12/19  grainy content, bit raw 
***  Dom Julien Pilon VdFr Syrah autre rive  2022-23  12/19 direct, peppery, bit bumpy
*** Domaine de Rosiers Coll Rh Syrah 2023 02/20 supple gras, floral, cosy texture
*** Les Terriens Coll Rh bien à vous Syrah 2025 02/20 genuine, mixed fruits, length OK
*** Eric Texier Côtes d Rhône St Julien Chat fou 2023-24 02/20 gently aromatic, ephemeral
*** Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet Coll Rh Valine Syrah 2026-27 11/19 mixed fruit, iron, unformed
**(*)  Cave de Tain Col Rh Syrah Viognier   2021  11/19  soft, easy, round 
**(*) Dom Louis Chomel IGP Ardèche Gamay rosé 06-21 02/20 taut start, soft middle-late
**(*) François Dumas VdFr Syrah 2026-27 02/20 full, sun, iron, but raw, time
**(*)  Ferme des Sept Lunes VdFr Glou   2021  02/19  clear fruit, light, bit pinched 
**(*) Ferraton Coll Rh Syrah 2024-25 12/19 soaked fruits, spice, short
**(*) Sylvain Gauthier IGP Ardèche Syrah 2022 02/20 gras, crisp, fruit backs off
**(*) J-P & Corinne Jamet CdRh Syrah  2031-33 12/19 dark fruit, dry tannins
** Sylvain Gauthier VdFr Pur Ju Gamay/Syrah 2022 02/20 standard, limited, dry end
  2018 WHITES       
**** J-Luc Colombo Mediterranée Clairette 2025-26 12/19 springy, persistent, rich finish
**** Sylvain Gauthier VdFr Viognier 2022 02/20 soft, elegant, stylish, detail
****  Hameau Touche Boeuf Coll Rh L’Effrontée   2023  12/19  character, interest, floral, firm 
**** S Montez/Monteillet Coll Rh Le Petit Viognier 2024 02/20 bonny gras, tender, fine texture
**** S Montez Coll Rh Les Hauts du Monteillet 2023-24 02/20 filled, generous, suave gras
****  André Perret Coll Rh Marsanne   2022  12/19  vintage fat, trim acidity 
****  Julien Pilon VdFr Marsanne bruit des vagues   2023  12/19  deep, fleshy, v good 
****  Julien Pilon VdFr Viognier limonadier   2022  12/19  savoury, tasty richness, gratifying 
***(*) David Bautin VdFr Mouss'Car Muscat 2022 02/20 squeezy, good old vine sap
***(*) David Bautin VdFr P'tit Blanc Sage & Tranquille 2022 02/20 grpaey Muscat, vinous Clairette
***(*)  Domaine Graeme & Julie Bott VdFr Viognier   2023-24  12/19  savoury gras, crisp, modern 
***(*)  Guillaume Clusel Ctx Lyonnais Traboules   2020  02/19  joli, instant, good detail 
***(*)  Dom Christophe Curtat VdFr Viognier   2022  12/19  agreeable content, compact gras 
***(*) François Dumas Coll Rh Marsanne-Roussanne 2025 02/20 hand made, charm, character 
***(*) Ferme des Sept Lunes VdFr Vio/Rouss 04-22 02/20 sunny nose, linear palate, joli
***(*) Ferraton Coll Rh Viognier 2021 12/19 tropical fruit burst, exuberant
***(*)  Simon Forgue & Julien Pilon VdFr Dahu   2022-23  12/19  grapey, aromatic, solid quality  
***(*) Yves Gangloff VdFr Viognier 2023  12/19 

soft, giving, sound gras

***(*)  Xavier Gérard Coll Rh Viognier   2022  12/19  supple, joli, sound depth  
***(*) J-P & Corinne Jamet CdRh  2023 12/19 cosy gras, soft, savoury
***(*)  Domaine Jasmin Coll Rh Viognier   2021  12/19  compact, ample, buttery 
***(*) Erwan Masse VdFr Marsanne 2021 06/20 honeyed, lip smack, fine acidity 
***(*) S Montez/Monteillet Coll Rh Blanc d'en face 2022 02/20 live nose, rich, expressive
***(*)  Stéphane Ogier Coll Rh Viognier    2022  12/19  appealing, plump, easy 
***(*) Anthony Paret Seyssuel Vionnae 2025-26 02/20 facile gras, buttery-floral
***(*)  André Perret Coll Rh Viognier   2022  12/19  pear fruit, grapey, round 
***(*)  André Perret VdFr (a one-off, vineyard built on) 2024-25  12/19  firm, well founded, 100 yr vines 
***(*)  Julien Pilon Coll Rh Seyssuel Viognier frontière   2026-27  12/19  savoury, refined gras, gunflint 
***(*) David Reynaud Coll Rh Petites Bêtises Mar/Rous 2022 02/20 salted,aromatic, long, w.o.w. 
***(*) David Reynaud Coll Rh Viognier 2021 02/20 snug, stylish, lucid, floral
***(*) Benoît Roseau Coll Rh Autour de Pigeonnier 2022 02/20 softly aromatic, neat gras
***(*)  Dom Romaneux-Déstezet VdFr   2025-26  02/19  good fruits, smoky, pliant  
***(*)  Domaine Rostaing Coll Rh Lézardes Viognier   2023-24  12/19  full, firm, thick, glycerol 
***(*)  Christophe Semaska CdRh Vénus blanche   2022  12/19  cosy richness, suave, floral 
***(*) Dom Georges Vernay Coll Rh Viognier 2022 12/19 steady fruits, neat, grip
***  Cave Christophe Blanc Coll Rh Marsanne   2021  12/19  mild gras, drinks well 
*** Domaine Boissonnet Coll Rh Viognier 2022 02/20 fat, round, natural, steady
***  Cave de Tain Coll Rh Marsanne Viognier   2021  11/19  agreeable, quiet style 
***  Louis Chèze VSIG 50 Cinquante   2022  12/19  stewed fruits, lightly cool 
***  Louis Chèze VSIG Ni Vu mais Connu   2022  12/19  soft, floral, nice length 
*** Domaine Louis Chomel IGP Ardèche Viognier 2022 02/20 sound gras, nice drink, table
*** François Corompt CdRh end 21 12/19 plump. fat
***  Dom Garon Coll Rh Viognier Gdes Parcelles   2021  12/19  soft, fleshy, bit obvious 
*** Dom Jean-Claude Marsanne Ardèche Viognier  2021 12/19 neat fruit, rounded, textured
*** Erwan Masse VdFr l'Invitation Viognier 2021 06/20 understated, coherent, table
*** Les Terriens Coll Rh Au-delà Viognier 2022 02/20 gourmand, tasty, comfy
***  Alain & Emmanuelle Verset VdFr Viognier   2021  12/19  effusive nose, easy palate 
*** Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet CdRh w 2024 11/19 discreet richness, plump, rustic
**(*) Domaine de Bréseyme CdRh Brézème 2022 12/18 supple, 2018 strength, uneven
**(*)  Domaine Comurbis Ardèche Viognier 2021  12/19  white fruits, but jumbled 
**(*) Dom des Miquettes VdFr Madloba Mars-Vio 2024-25 02/20 close wrapping, dry, v Nature
**(*) Les Terriens Coll Rh bien à vous Roussanne 2021 02/20 suave, fat, buttery, static
** Matthieu Barret Côtes du Rhône Brise cailloux 2022 02/20 dried fruits, fir, oxidative