LVT 2018 r 2017 wh A prime STGT domaine. Bernard Faurie makes traditional red Hermitage from top quality sites such as Méal, Les Bessards and Les Greffieux - it is unhurried winemaking, the wines are natural, and take time to meld and blossom. The Bessards-Méal, involving two of the Big Three climats (L'Hermite the third) can be ***** wine, as it was in 2013 and 2015, and even ******, as it was in 2018, when it offered spectacular truth. The Hermitage Méal red is capable of hitting true heights (eg 2001). It is very classy. In 2015 Bernard introduced a Bessards red, the second bottling of which was a ****** wine, Grand Vin indeed. Its 2016 was ****(*), as was its very large scaled 2018, so it is one to note, even though only two demi-muid casks are made, a total of 1,450 bottles.
Until the transfer of his Saint-Joseph vineyards to his son-in-law Emmanuel Darnaud, based at Crozes-Hermitage, those were trusty local wines possessing the understated, nicely crisp red fruit of the area. The Vieilles Vignes Saint-Joseph red holds more tannin and can live for 8-12 years.
Over the years, the whites from Hermitage and Saint-Joseph have been variable - they could hit the mark, but also miss it. The recent white Hermitage (2016, 2015, 600-700 bottles) has been a tight, close-knit **** affair, reflective of its rocky origins. Bernard's last Saint-Joseph white was the 2012, his last Hermitage on the previous scale of production the 2012; thereafter he has worked less of his Hermitage vineyard, with son-in-law Emmanuel Darnaud due to take up some of it.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh The Cave de Tain holds an enormous influence on the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage area because of its widespread holdings - ie 70% of all Crozes comes from here. The wines are made in the modern way, with all the latest techniques - not surprising, given the size. The top Hermitage reds have made definite progress from 2005 onwards, with the Epsilon a very welcome newcomer since 2004. Hermitage Gambert de Loche, the other top red wine, has been an accomplished, steady performer in recent years, ****(*) in both 2015 and 2016. The white Hermitage is very sound and can absorb its oak as time passes, gaining complexity as it ages over 10 years or more. The occasional Hermitage white Vin de Paille, last two vintages 2015 and 2011, is a real treat, made from grapes dried on straw mats - a very long-lived, complex wine that recalls Hermitage of yore.
The range of Crozes-Hermitage reds has been sparked up by various wines from the northern, granite, zone and the southern, alluvial plains zone - some are called GN, after the village of Gervans, and BM, after the village of Beaumont-Monteux, or LA, after Laarnage. They were first made in 2011, somewhat in response to a suggestion of mine. The Saviaux wine, from La Roche de Glun in the south of the appellation, was good and true in both 2016 and 2017. Since 2015 there has also been a zero added SO2 wine Crozes red called Mouvement Perpetuel.
A similar policy has been applied to Saint-Joseph, where in 2018, there were red wines from Arras and Tournon, for example, both authentic.
Cornas is also creeping under the radar, with improved wines in recent years – there are now two cuvées there, The top one, Arenes Sauvagess, was a striking ****(*) wine in the sun-filled vintage of 2018. 2018 marked the inclusion of stems in a few of the wines - the Cornas classic taking 12% stems, for instance. There has been definite, steady progress on the whites, including Crozes, Saint-Joseph and Saint-Péray; after a dip in 2015, when they were skimpy, the 2016s improved again, perhaps thanks to later harvesting; this progress has generally been maintained.
The introduction in 2014 of an optical sorting unit when the crop is brought in has been a definite step forward for quality.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh 2012 rosé Old family firm owned for some years by Champagne Deutz, part of the Roederer empire. Quality turned upwards from 1998 across all wines; in the early 2010s the search for overt elegance was taken far enough to raise questions about the true depth of the wines, as if catering for a more international audience that doesn't know the Rhône. This has been most noticeable on the whites.
However, 2018 saw some excellent reds, with high quality fruit, perhaps a boost from their spanking new cellars in the old Paul Jaboulet residence in Tain itself. The outlook is therefore good leading into the 2020s.
The leading Hermitages are usually very good. The Hermitage Les Bessards red is an STGT wine, and shows genuine class, while the Hermitage Domaine des Tourettes red was a true, dark ****(*) wine in 2016. Reliability plus some character appear in the main St-Josephs and Crozes reds. The most interesting Saint-Joseph red is always the site-specific Saint-Epine, which was a ****(*) wine in 2015, and a ***** wine in 2018: it takes time to fuse its rocky features. Among the three Crozes reds, the 2015 Domaine des Grands Chemins was a complex ***** wine when tasted pre-bottling, while Le Clos red was ****(*) and the Les Launes 2015 (in bottle) a **** w.o.w. wine - a worthy tiercé for Team Delas.
There is sound Côtes du Rhône red as well, while from the full south, the 2016 Grignan-les-Adhémar red was a **** STGT wine, full of juice. The Gigondas Les Reinages red, which hasn't been a notable performer over the years [same source as their Châteauneuf-du-Pape red], suddenly burst out of Alcatraz with a ruggedly honest ****(*) wine in 2017.
LVT 2017 r 2017 wh An STGT domaine that produces supremely elegant wines with superb pedigree from the core of the Hermitage hill. Grand finesse and world class quality here. The reds can live for decades - around 30 years and occasionally even longer. They have softened up in recent vintages and drink from an earlier date than they used to. The Chaves make wonderful whites, their richness profound and captivating. They show particularly well from around six to seven years old, and benefit from that cellar age.
There are also handy Saint-Joseph reds that are fruited and stylish. They have gained body and grip as their vineyard has moved past 20 years old. From 2015 there has been a 3,000 bottle Saint-Joseph Clos Florentin red, based on 100 year old Syrah on the Clos de l'Arbalestrier which the Chaves bought in 2009. The J-L Chave Sélection range of Hermitage (Farconnet red, Blanche white), Saint-Joseph (Offerus red, Circa white) and Côtes du Rhône (Mon Coeur) are designed to be easy drinking, fun wines.
LVT 2017 r 2017 wh 2016 rosé Since 2006 this domaine has been wholly owned by Chapoutier, although the vinification is in separate premises, whose installations were all updated and modernised in the early 2010s. It is a domaine that worked in conjunction with Chapoutier since 1998, half of the venture selling single vineyard wines, half selling merchant wines. The Ferraton family has vineyards at Hermitage on the easterly sites like Diognières, but also prime 1960s Syrah on Le Méal. The domaine vineyards are mainly cultivated biodynamically. Winemaking methods have been eased off since the arrival of the oenologue Damien Bresset in 2008, a good thing, and the wines are now more interesting and more refined, and generally underestimated. Oaking has been cut back, too.
The Les Oliviers white from St-Joseph needs four years to settle its oak but is a rich, gourmand wine in shape and consistent in quality. There are now three Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph reds - Paradis, Saint-Joseph and Bonneveau, all of which are good and admirably true to their terroir, with the 2016 St Jo Lieu-Dit Bonneveau a ****(*) STGT wine, and the 2016 St Paradis a **** STGT wine; since 2012, their existence has robbed the regular Saint-Joseph La Source red of its heart, however. Since 2015 there has been a good Tavel rosé called Les Lauses.
From the big 2015 vintage, it is worth noting the Hermitage reds - Le Méal a classy STGT ****** wine, the Dionnières an inky Pinot-esque *****, and the Les Miaux an authentic, STGT **** wine. In 2016 both Le Méal a ***** STGT again, and Dionnières a ****(*) velvet wine, were convincing performers.
Ferraton have also moved into Cornas in recent years, now offering three, a classic, pretty basic, fruited blend called Les Grands Muriers, and two plot-specific wines, Les Eygats from the north of the appellation, and Patou from the south. The 2017 Patou was a ****(*) STGT wine
By the early 1980s Henri Sorrel was bottling two-thirds of his production, having started to bottle in 1970. Previously the crop was sold to the local négoce trade. “I want to bottle all our wine since I cannot keep up with demand,” he told me in 1982. He was the Notary in Tain, but confessed that wine had always held more interest for him than legal documents. The vineyard was bought by Henri’s father in 1920. An automatic press was exchanged for the horizontal press in 1980. Traditionally styled, really full-bodied Hermitage that exemplified the gorgeous ripeness of Le Méal in his top wine of the same name.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh Traditional wines that are not easy to find because of the limited supply and the fact that some of the production is shared between the three brothers, none of whom works on the domaine. The basis for the wine is Les Plantiers (aka Le Vignon), at the foot of Les Bessards, next to the railway line. There is more destemming than chez their brother Marc Sorrel, aiming for a supple style. In 2017 they left the stems on, given the completely trouble-free harvest. The white is made from Marsanne that none of the brothers saw planted, and used to grow in every other row with pear and peach trees in between, also on Les Plantiers.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh 2018 rosé 2016 Muscat VDN The big name at Hermitage, with a large vineyard spread on the hill and also in vineyards across the northern Rhône as well. There is biodynamic working of most of the vineyards. Chapoutier were the first wine estate to put Braille on its labels. Full-bodied wines are the house style, with deep red or black fruit flavours. The special red Ermitage wines are big extraction, full-on wines that take time to settle. They are also very expensive. Recently, they have been showing a sense of place. The 2015s capture this etraordinary vintage well, brimming with content but also largely fresh. Of the 2018 Hermitage reds, a year of high sun, I enjoyed the balance of Les Greffieux [always a stylish climat] a ***** wine.
The white Hermitages are all from the Marsanne grape, and are deliciously warm and generous, although I note a dreaded New Wave presence in the 2015s - where "tension" is favoured over richness, the result being wines that are dumb and taut, made to be modern and steely. They live often for 20 years or more and are standard bearers for Marsanne northern Rhône whites. Ermitage L'Ermite blanc an STGT wine [a fabulous ****** in 2016, also in 2018, a Rolls Royce wine]. The Hermitage Chante Alouette white is always good, and needs to be left for six or seven years after its early flourish.
There is very reliable red Crozes-Hermitage, that is good value for money. The other reds are solid. The expensive Les Granits white from St-Joseph is a very fully flavoured, traditional wine that is a treat with provincial French cuisine [****(*) in 2016 and in 2018]. The Condrieu Coteau de Chery is finding its stride now [less full-on oaking], the 2016 a ****(*) wine of great finesse. It is soaringly expensive.Michel has been pushing hard for increased plantation rights - up to 10% od the current surface area in a single year - at Saint-Péray. This pressure on land prices is making life difficult for young growers. His Hongrie Saint-Péray respects its high quality lieu-dit, the 2018 a ****(*) wine with verve and energy.
In the South, there are big, sometimes plush Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds that accentuate the local Grenache grape - ripe, warm flavours. The 2015s showed a move towards more tight features, less leaning towards the plush sucrosity. There are also vineyards in Roussillon, Alsace, joint ventures in Australia and the south of France; the approach looks outside the Rhône.
Michel's empire extends to the Hotel Fac & Spera (Deed & Hope, the family motto) in Tain l'Hermitage, and the good quality Ferraton Père & Fils vineyard owner and merchant across the N7 road. His daughter Mathilde also offers a three colour range of Southern Duché d’Uzès wines, which are well fruited. There are vineyards in Australia, Portugal and Alsace as well.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh Officially formed in August 2009, this is a merchant collaboration between Nicolas Jaboulet, who left the family firm of Paul Jaboulet Ainé in early 2009, and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. From the 2016 vinmtage onwards the name has been Maison Les Alexandrins, with Nicolas Perrin the majority shareholder in the Domaine des Alexandrins of Guillaume Sorrel [son of Marc Sorrel] and Alexandre Caso, whose main business built up since the early 2000s has been the provision of viticultural and vineyard services across the Rhône and Beaujolais.
It is a mixture of purchased wines, with some purchased crop, and, more recently, crop from their own vineyard of 1.5 hectares in the south of Crozes-Hermitage. Vineyard ownershoip and closer control of the process is the trend. The style sought is one of easy drinking wines. The reds drink smoothly, the whites are authentic, and have more character than the reds. The Saint-Joseph red has improved since 2012, while the Cornas is starting to show local qualities. The 2015 Côte-Rôtie took a step forward, is high on charm, a ***** wine pre-bottling, while the 2018 was a very laudable ****(*) pre-bottling.
The Alexandrins consists of 4.5 hectares of St Joseph, 4.8 hectares of Crozes-Hermitage (Conflans & Beaumont-Monteux) and 6 hectares of vin de pays, which includes Gamay, Syrah, Viognier, Tannat. With the 1.5 hectares rented on Les Saviaux, there are now 6.3 hectares of Crozes under the Maison Les Alexandrins care. From 2017 a vinification cellar is due to be ready in Tain, on the old Dard & Ribo location.
LVT 2018 r 2018 wh One of the few small domaines with vineyards in plum, central sites at Hermitage. Generally traditional outlook. Attempts have been made since the late 1990s to work the vineyards more naturally. Winemaking has become more consistent. The red Hermitage Le Gréal can be very good indeed, a true child of the hill, and is indeed mighty in vintages such as 2010, 2015, 2017, and 2018 - the last two crackerjack wines.
The Hermitage Les Rocoules white is an STGT wine. The white Crozes-Hermitage is a cracker, made from 1945 vines, and the epitomy of traditional white Rhône from the happy marriage of Marsanne and Roussanne. This, too is STGT, and has been excellent in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Marc retired on 31 December, 2018, his son Guillaume taking over, with the succession all sorted out between him and his sister.
LVT 2016 r 2017 wh After a little over ten years, the picture is becoming clearer here. The Frey family are concentrating their investment and efforts on their vineyards. In 2009 the 45-hectare Domaine de Thalabert at Crozes-Hermitage became officially organic, while in 2016 their vineyards at Saint-Joseph (7.5 ha), Cornas (6.1 ha), Côte-Rôtie (2.7 ha) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (12 ha) followed suit. There is no doubt that the vineyards are better looked after now than they were in the dying embers of the Jaboulet family's tenure.
Winemaking is less Bordeaux-centric now as well. There is a better appeciation of the jewel in the 22.5 hectare Hermitage crown, namely of the merits of Le Méal, so the 2012 vintage of La Chapelle red was more markedly southern (as in Rhône), rather than western (as in Bordeaux): a full and ripe, rumbustious wine. The northern whites, it has to be said, remain disappointing. I find the crop is harvested too early to achieve a proper glycerol foundation. The reds are a mixed bag.
Founded in 1834, this was the Benchmark House when I started in the Rhône in 1973. The 1980s saw respectable wines, but the mantle slipped markedly in the 1990s. The culmination of two sides of the family holding different objectives in life was the sale in late 2005/early 2006 to Jean-Jacques Frey, a Swiss financier. Monsieur Frey already owns Château La Lagune in the Médoc - it had been a trailblazer in the 1970s but needed investment - which it has received in abundance. Monsieur Frey also owns the vineyards of Champagne Ayala and has a share in Champagne Billecart-Salmon. His daughter Caroline is a trained oenologue and has been making the wine at La Lagune. She supervises the winemaking there. The late Denis Dubordieu, the champion of white Bordeaux, was the original overall advisor.
The southern Rhônes from Ventoux and usually Vacqueyras have held up their quality, while in 2007 the new owners bought the Domaine de Terre Ferme in the south-east of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and a lot of time and money has been spent re-invigorating its 12 hectares of vineyards. In the northern Rhône it is best to consider each wine on its own merits. I am currently refused entry to taste chez Jaboulet since the father (whom I have never met) is displeased with me, but that situation may be easing.
The latest big scale project for Caroline is the seven hectares at Aloxe Corton, 23 plots, 11 appellations, bought in 2015. She spends quite a lot of time in her small Swiss vineyard.