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Well Run


our mascot horse performed exceptionally in the 2 mile handicap at Cheltenham, the Grand Annual. Quietly ridden, he crept fom midfield of the 21 runners in steady rain that had softened the ground. By the top of the hill, with 3 fences left, he had moved forward to 6th. As they approached the last fence there was a group of 4 horses in contention, with Cornas carrying the most weight of those in the running. Just in the last 50 yards, on the soft ground, did our mascot horse`s stamina peter out, and he finished fourth, beaten about 5 lengths at odds of 16/1. Those who backed him each way will have made a profit. Quite a run. It was a tough assignment, but he did not shirk it. ALLEZ CORNAS!!

New Season Fever

March 2010

steady, boys and girls. I feel 2009 fever is mounting, before we have even had the chance to sup or savour some of the 2008s. Do not write off 2008 - just be extremely careful about what you buy. It is not a vintage where en primeur should really play any role: wines offered from November 2009 were in no way fully completed, and 2008 is a year where the grower`s judgment about what to discard - grapes and wine - and what to blend was paramount. That blend - or assemblage - is the last crucial step in the process of eking out quality in a weather-affected vintage such as 2008, and until it has been performed, and the wine tucked away in bottle, we are effectively in the dark. This comment applies just as much to a Côtes du Rhône Villages name as it does to Jean-Louis Chave and his red and white Hermitage 2008, by the way. 

That is why I have tried to post up simple wines which are finished, and which do reflect authentic local styles. The whites can be great, and the unfussy reds delightful. Areas that have done well include Gigondas in the South, Cornas in the North. Gigondas as a later ripening region particulalry is favoured in a vintage such as 2008, as it was in 2002, when the rains fell and fell in early September. Keep looking for the LVT 2008 tag against domaines, indicating the tasting of their 2008s already.

This month sees the start of more tastings and dinners, as wine merchants emerge from their igloos, and the singing of the birds portends warmer days. It is also the month of the super-charged Cheltenham horse racing festival, which may feature our Cheval Mascot, the mighty Cornas, running in the last race of the 26, the Grand Annual Chase handicap over 2 miles. News on him will be posted for his aficionados. Meanwhile, I have to fend off greedy French growers, all of whom will claim that I had an annual bet against France in the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament - so far France have won all 3 of their matches. Fortunately, I backed them so to do before it started, so have wriggled out of a tight corner and can continue to sup the odd good bottle.

Young And Fresh

early March 2010

a report on Les Vins Naturels has been added under Recent Tastings. It focuses on the domaines of Dard & Ribo at Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Gramenon in the southern Côtes du Rhône, and Jean-Michel Stéphan at Côte-Rôtie.These are low intervention growers, who work purely organically, down to little or no use of sulphur dioxide during fermentation and raising.

A few Southern Rhône domaines recently added: in the Côtes du Rhône, two prime organic estates, mother and son: Domaine Gramenon, and the new domaine of Michèle Aubéry-Laurent`s son, Maxime, under the title Maxime-François Laurent. At Rasteau, the Domaine de Beaurenard - the Rasteau offshoot of the Coulons` accomplished Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate, and at Ventoux, a promising, well above average quality property, the Domaine Champ Long, who are cousins of the Bernard family who run the Domaine La Garrigue at Vacqueyras and the delightful Hotel Les Florets at Gigondas. 

During February a lot of 2007 and 2008 tasting notes on Gigondas have been added - the 2007s now mostly in bottle, and the 2008s out of the vat. Domaines now present at Gigondas are Notre Dame des Pallières, where quality is rising, the Mas des Flauzières, where quality is also on the rise after excessive extraction in the early 2000s, the also improved Domaine de la Mavette - more body in the wines than 10 years ago - and the small start-up the Mas des Restanques, whose owners are ex-Co-operateurs. Good marks for the class of Gigondas!

At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, two recent newcomers have also been put up: Albin Jacumin and Domaine La Destinée. Albin is part of the soap opera saga - think the 1980s TV programme Dallas, perhaps - surrounding the Château de Cabrières, where lawsuits are flying over inheritance after the divorce of the Arnaud parents. His old 10 hectare Domaine was called La Bégude des Papes. He will become a grower of importance by 2011, with over 20 hectares in total due to come his way - providing the lawyers do not slow the whole thing down. More simply, but interestingly, Domaine La Destinée`s owner Jean-Pierre Folliet came to wine via being a Professor of Tasting, and has a wine shop as well. His wine is good and traditional.

Around the Côtes du Rhône Villages, there are some new names. Set on the Plan de Dieu, the Château La Courançonne has always been good supplier of white and red Séguret, with the Villages wine of Plan de Dieu now stated on the label. Under Côtes du Rhône, in the lower part of the Drôme département, a new domaine, the Clos des Cîmes, first vintage 2007, has been entered - two young people, both oenologues, but one with viticulture in her family, an ex-Co-operatrice. Also under Côtes du Rhône, very near Avignon, the Domaine Saint-Pierre d`Escarvaillac, owned by the Requin family since 1889, has been posted.

Across the river, at Laudun, the Château de Marjolet is a recent name for Laudun red, while the Château de Montfaucon is a very good source of Côtes du Rhône, especially the more full-bodied wine. Also in the Gard, in the accomplished village of Domazan, the Domaine des Romarins has been added, with authentic, robust wines as their trademark. Another start-up in the right bank Gard département is La Gramière, makers of Vin de Table from Côtes du Rhône vineyards, with a US involvement. In the southern Ardèche, the high quality Vin de Pays estate Domaine du Grangeon has been added, with good value wines.

All on its own, for the eclectic, the well-off, the curious: the 2005 Château-Grillet was solemnly tasted over 2 days, to assess  and enjoy and appraise this little piece of history, whose style is changing.