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Book Released

late-January 2010

2008 vintage entries: keep using the Search vintage 2008, or look out for the LVT 2008 (Last Vintage Tasted) acronym alongside domaines. Some of the preferred ones have been entered recently. Few wines achieve 4 to 5 star ratings in 2008, but there are plenty around the 3 star mark, which can be good value from regions such as the Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas.

At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a few high-class estates have been brought up to date: Domaine de Beaurenard, Domaine de Cristia, Château Rayas, while the Gigondas-owned Château St Jean of Christian Meffre has been added. Over 30 white 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Papes have also been entered - look out for LVT 2008 wh under the domaines.

A couple of right bank Côtes du Rhône domaines have been entered, both at the village of St Marcel de l`Ardèche, and both run by talented women - the Mas de Libian of Hélène and Catherine Thibon, and the Domaine Coulange of Christelle Coulange, the latter taking the brave and realistic decision to sell off all her 2008 in bulk. 

At Cairanne, a quartet of domaines, two very established, the others new to quite new: the racy fruit and fun of Marcel Richaud, the Belgian-owned debutant Domaine de la Tête Noire - both offer w.o.w. wines - and the Domaine Armand, with sound Rasteau as well as Cairanne. Also the Domaine Catherine Le Goueil, now making just one wine, called simply Cairanne - a robust wine.

At Sablet, the Jean-Marc Autran Domaine de Piaugier, an innovator 20-plus years ago with oak use and a cleaned-up vinification - Sablet (inc good white) and Gigondas on offer from a wide range of cuvées. Also at Sablet, the Domaine de Boissan of Christian Bonfils, a go-go contemporary of Autran: good Sablet, also good, elegant Gigondas, with some very old vintages reviewed.

At Gigondas, the recently started Domaine des Florets of Jérome Boudier, up past the great hostelry of Les Florets - so in the lee of the Dentelles - has been entered, along with the definitely promising Domaine du Grand Bourjassot - very sound wines from Gigondas and Sablet, with at Vinsobres, the steady Domaine Autrand.

In the Côtes du Rhône, the exotic younger brother of Château Rayas, the Château de Fonsalette, had had its 2008s and 2007s reviewed. Also added are two modest domaines - Domaine du Bois des Mèges at Violès, and the keen start-up of Domaine Gris des Bauries at Taulignan, in the southern Drôme. Likewise at the Côtes du Rhône, the easy drinking wines of Domaine de la Berthèthe near the Plan de Dieu. In the Villages at Laudun, the reliable Co-operative the Quatre Chemins de Laudun has been added - good, fruity wines.

On its own, the appellation of Brézème south of Valence, has been included, the home of good Syrah: this I placed in my book The Wines of the Northern Rhône as it is out on a limb, near the mouth of the River Drôme as it nears the mighty Rhône, having passed through what is some spectacular country east of Crest ("Crey"). Jean-Marie Lombard is the main grower, although Eric Texier, the merchant, is also active and productive there.

Also just brought up to date at Hermitage, has been the STGT grower and near-veteran, Bernard Faurie; he also makes Saint-Joseph, and his 2008s and 2009s have been inspected. The complete line-up of wines from Delas - their 2007s in bottle, and some of their leadings 2008s have been fully reviewed: this remains a house with a very high quality given the number of wines they produce. At Crozes-Hermitage, the offbeat duo of René-Jean Dard and François Ribo (Dard & Ribo) have been visited, with their w.o.w. and STGT wines including Crozes, Saint-Joseph and Hermitage. Plenty of 2009 cask samples were also tasted chez eux. The 2008s and 2007s of Yann Chave, much more mainstream, have also been reported on, as have the 2009s, 2008s and 2007s of Luc Tardy at Domaine du Murinais - also a modern, clean as a whistle fruit operator. At Cornas, the full range of wines from Jean-Luc Colombo - his Cornas 10 hectares, Saint Péray 2 hectares and the négociant wines from north and south - have been tasted and entered, including some interesting whites. At Saint-Joseph, the modest local domaine near Chavanay, Domaine Richard, has been revised, while at Côte-Rôtie, some impressive 2006s, 2007s and 2008s have been tasted at the Guigal-owned Domaine de Bonserine.

Happy New Year

January 2010

 a very Happy 2010 to readers and subscribers. We can look forward to some fun drinking in the next two or three years. From the Northern Rhône, there are the free-flowing 2007s, some fine, interesting 2008s from selected domaines, and an excellent bunch of 2009s, jam packed with fruit, that are likely to show well early. The Southern Rhône offers the imposing, bountiful 2007s, some very drinkable 2008s - although these are lower level wines that often fit into the w.o.w. (what one wants) category - and a strong collection of muscled 2009s. Lovers of easy drinking wines, and hoarders and sippers of big beasts are all catered for.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the style of some Southern Rhônes over the next few years. There has always been a gulf between what one might loosely term the typical European palate and the typical North American palate, and this difference has been brought into very sharp focus with the issue of the 2007 vintage at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I have actually witnessed a professional taster, spitting all the while as per usual, physically crumble after going through 30 or 40 of the 2007s at a public event. Is this a good sign? Even in the USA, a lively divergence has opened up between Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine correspondent, and the Sage of Maryland, Robert Parker jr. Finesse or power? Can you indeed offer finesse when the degree exceeds 15°? Are growers copping out when they lament the rise in ripening season temperatures, but also know that this style of wine sells very well in certain markets - so why kick against the trend? I cover this point in the March 2010 issue of Decanter magazine, by the way. 

During January 2010, I will write a piece on "les vins naturels" - those wines made with little or no sulphur during fermentation, raising and bottling. By nature, these should be wines that hover between the two categories of w.o.w. - easy drinking - and STGT - faithful expression of place. I will ponder the merits of these laissez-faire wines from a Rhône standpoint, and also point to side issues that accompany them, such as their stability. Domaines referred to will include Thiérry Allemand (Cornas), Dard & Ribo (Crozes-Hermitage), Domaine Gramenon (Côtes du Rhône) and Jean-Michel Stéphan (Côte-Rôtie).