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early November 2011

the campaign to sell the 2010s is speeding up, as merchants have dollar signs in their eyes, recognising the quality of the vintage. For once, the facts support this. I looked through some 2008 claims for en primeur wines the other day, and one has to say, REALLY! En primeur can be good if you want a good wine in short supply from a stable, good quality vintage, but for easy drinking wines from lesser vintages, paying early and up front when the wine has not even been assembled is a nonsense.  Look at 2010 Northern Rhône, then click its sub tab The Leading Wines, for some summaries on each appellation in this sainted vintage. A big drive on the 2010s will occur this month - many tastings are planned.

Cellar news

mid-October 2011

the cellar news is good from the Valley. At Gigondas, Louis Barruol of  Château Saint Cosmelikens 2011 to 2000 in terms of quality. "I finished harvesting on 1 October, with potentially high degrees bugging me, so it was two weeks early this year," he related. "The physiological maturity was similar to 2001, not bad at all, and the wines have good colour and tannin levels." Louis has been running hither and thither even more than usual, since our collaboration on a book entitled GIGONDAS Its Wines, Its Land, Its People is about to see the light of day next month. This will also appear in French, which has been a lot of hard work for yours truly, vous savez. Close-up details to follow next month.

At Saint-Joseph, Jean Gonon of Domaine Gonon, whose father Pierre has recently died (see Goings-On), told me that they were satisfied, having been worried in early September that, while the grapes seemed ripe, they weren`t actually ripe. "We had 1 mm of rain on 3 September and 4 mm on 5 September, which was decisive, and we picked the white crop from 6-9 September, then paused and did the rest on 21-22 September. The Syrahs were harvested from 12 September. The only Syrah destemming was on the young vines` crop. The whites are 14° -14.2°, and the Syrah is 12.9° -13.9°. Papa died the day after our last vat had been pressed, the next day, which was somehow appropriate after his illness."

Horse News

early October 2011

CORNAS, our Cheval Mascot, finished a highly distinguished second in his race at Enghien, chasing home the local star mare (he is a gelding, so please cast aside any thoughts in that direction). He raced prominently, and just tired after the last fence. It was a typically Cornasien effort, gritty and plucky, and in unknown territory among the Gauls and their fiery punters he held the drapeau high. BIEN FAIT, CORNAS!

Previously: CORNAS emerges from his summer holidays in Devon, the South-West of England, on a bold cross-Channel venture. He races on Friday 7 October, at Enghien, near Paris, in a 2 mile, 3 furlong or 3,800 metres steeplechase worth €100,000. There is a field of nine, and the jumps involve obstacles such as an Earth Wall, a hurdle, an Oxer, an Open Ditch and a sinister-sounding Talus Breton. He was 41/1 a few hours before the race. ALLEZ CORNAS! BONNE CHANCE, CORNAS! You remain better known internationally than the Mayor of Cornas.

Vinifications have been proceeding smoothly, with the last week of September and the first week of October providing a wonderful Indian summer - early mornings at around 10°, then days moving to 27°-29°C at Côte-Rôtie, for instance. From there, Nicole Levet from Domaine Levet told me that they were about to finish the last pressings on 6 October, their fermentations and macerations lasting about three weeks all told. "We harvested in four days between 12 and 16 September," she related; "I noticed that some growers started too soon this year; we had a lost week from 20 to 28 August, when the degree didn`t move at all, while in the two weeks up until 12 September, the gain was 2°. I told our daughter Agnès to be steady, to be patient. It`s also true that domaines are often larger than they were 10 years ago, and feel the need to get the crop in quickly. We can harvest our whole vineyard in around four and a half days, using a regular team of 12 people that include a policeman, a fireman, retired friends and young people not in work." Madame Levet is the daughter of Marius Chambeyron, one of the pillars of Ampuis back in the 1960s and 1970s, and her experience reaches a long way.


late September 2011

the later regions are swinging into action, content with affairs. From Beaumes-de-Venise where they have vineyards at 400 to 500 metres, Etienne de Menthon of Château Redortier, told me: we started on 17 September, as the high heat started to ease, which meant that we were bringing in grapes at 17°-18°C instead of 27°-28°C, so our fermentations started better. A storm of 11 mm (0.45 in) on the night of 17-18 September was also useful. We have had coulure (flowers but no fruit) high up this year, whereas the Grenache has been plentiful down on the plain. We will harvest over 20 days with a team of 14, and expect to finish about 8-10 October."

Good Year

mid-September 2011

Adrien Fabre, who runs two family estates, the Domaine La Florane at the Village of Visan, and the Domaine de l`Echevin at improving Village Saint-Maurice, speaks well of his prospects for 2011. "There are unusual patterns this year, but I am very happy. Our usually late ripening zones at Saint-Maurice and Visan are two weeks earlier than normal, indeed are the first to ripen. Since I have been with my wife Marie-Claire Michel [of Le Vieux Donjon at Châteauneuf-du-Pape], it is the first time that I have a lot of vineyards in advance of her - we are normally two weeks behind, but have had at least half their amount of rain. Draw a line at Tulette, and the vineyards north of that part of the Eygues Valley have had much lower rainfall in June, July and August this year. It is a beau vintage, grosso modo. The Syrah is not very productive after its busy 2010, and was also hit by Mistral at flowering. Tannins are ripe, there are low acidities, and the mix of hot days and cool nights have helped us. I will harvest my Grenache from 20 September - its stems are starting to turn colour and ripen. The Syrah is running at around 13.5°, while it will be another year for high degree Grenache - 14.5°-15°, at least."

Good news from the northern sector of the Southern Rhône, notably at Vinsobres, always a later ripening region. Philippe Chaume of the benchmark Domaine Chaume-Arnaud told me: "it is better than we expected - this is down to the last three weeks of fine weather that has allowed the Grenache to ripen. The Grenache has unusually lagged the other varieties this year, but it has got going thanks to the heat, including I reckon the warm nights, since around 20 August. The cool July meant that ripening has been uneven this year, unlike 2009 and 2010. It is close to 30°C today (15 Sept), and the Mistral has dropped since yesterday. It may be a bit cloudy this weekend, the 17-18 September, but the outlook is good. I will start on my Grenache next week, and my chums are doing roughly the same. So far, the style is well-fruited, and colour extraction in the Syrah and Cinsault I`ve picked so far has been quickly achieved."


second week of September 2011

the bad news of Monday 12 September is that of a morning fire at the nuclear plant of Marcoule in the Gard département, next to the River Cèze and the Rhône Village of Chusclan. One man is missing, another is seriously injured after the fire in a furness burning waste materials including clothing and gloves. The better news is that there has been no leakage of any nuclear or radioactive material. Marcoule is a subsidiary of the French electricity company EDF. The news was released by firemen at the scene. Local growers and families are understandably jittery, but the nature of the accident indicates an industrial problem at the plant rather than anything more widespread.Before 12 September, there has been more evidence that the Rhône will be one of the favoured regions of France's tricky 2011 vintage. From the Northern part of the Valley, the vintage has turned out to be precocious after all at Côte-Rôtie, and the crop is ample. Alice Barge, the wife of Gilles Barge, related that they had started their Condrieu on Monday 5 September, and had picked half of it, but were waiting until next week, commencing 12 September, for the other half. There are signs that the Viognier has ripened in a stop-go manner this year if the siting of the vines has not been full south on noble terroir. "We have harvested our Côte-Rôtie Syrah on the Côtes Brune and Blonde, at good degrees, and we don't think there is much to gain by waiting further," she told me, adding that on Friday 9 September, they were working on their 1990 Syrah at Chavanay, destination their Saint-Joseph Clos des Martinets.

A few days here and there in the date of harvesting will count this year, since ripening has not been uniform. Those growers with a strong will should emerge in good shape, especially given the stable forecast for the period towards the third week of September. Louis Drevon of Domaine de Rosiers at Côte-Rôtie has 27 plots to harvest, all in the northern sector, over his 7.4 hectares. He told me: "I am starting on Saturday 10 September, on the Côte Baudin. [Baudin is a lower slope, on the Brune side, just to the north of Ampuis]. It is quite a big crop, that is attractive and sympathique. I will be picking the Côte Rozier [higher, more schist] three or four days later, which is normal. The potential degree is 12.4° to 12.6°. The ripening is well balanced between the mid and high slopes, also the plateau. 30 people will complete the harvest in six days. Looking ahead for the coming week, the only risk is a storm on Sunday 11 September. A lot of people are harvesting now."

From Condrieu, Paul Amsellem of Domaine Georges Vernay reported that the first weekend of September storm had brought around 50 mm (2 in) of rain, but an accompanying phenomenon. "After the rain a few days before, the grapes did not expand," he recounted; "after the second rain of 4 September, they did. The moon changed from waning to waxing in the period between the two rainfalls, so the grapes took on the water under the waxing moon, and the degree fell as a result. We have therefore stopped harvesting, and because there has been a good 10-day forecast, we are waiting on all fronts, both for the half of our Condrieu not yet harvested, and for all our Syrah, including the vin de pays. It has risen from 23-24°C earlier this week to 28°C today, the 9 September, and there is a light southern breeze that is bringing heat to permit ripening. The week ahead is stable, with temperatures around the 25-26°C mark."

In the Southern Rhône, hrvesting is in full swing at Châteauneuf-du-Pape under stable weather conditions. At Le Vieux Donjon, the high quality 15 hectare domaine, Marie-Josée Michel gave me this realistic rundown: "we harvested our Roussanne last week, and today, 9 September, we picked a little of our Syrah and Cinsault. The rest of the white crop, the Clairette, won't be picked for another ten days, as goes for our main vineyard on Les Pialons, which we would probably harvest the week starting 19 September. We work with 20 people, including 15 cutters, while our permanent staff do the sorting, and we have emptiers (videurs) of the buckets as well keeping an eye on quality. 2011 will be very difficult - the crop is large, and we had hail in May on Les Pialons [N-E of the village] which may turn out to have been helpful by reducing crop. I see enormous fat grapes everywhere this year, and the young vines have a lot of crop - so this year will boil down to a question of management - how you deal with such a harvest. We are in effect on a razor's edge vis-a-vis rain this year - any more and we will be in trouble. What we need is 15-20 days of really super fine weather, but at least we have had a good week of Mistral just now."

Gigondas as usual is later, which helps when the area receives early September rains - less ripe skins are more resistant to degradation. At the Domaine de Pesquier, father Guy and son Mathieu Boutière spoke highly of the year: "there is a lot of Grenache this year, but that issue is arranged if you sort it," remarked Guy. "We have been picking our vin de pays crop at Sablet. We had some Mistral in the last week, with temperatures around 28-30°C, and it looks magnificent." Mathieu added: "the Grenache has been slow ripening this year, prompted I reckon by its large yield. In the last week of August I went round with three colleagues dropping grapes over 10 days, spotting any bunches that were still pink. Houses that do well will be those that have taken the trouble to discard crop. The yield is full, and we have been allowed an increase to 38 hl/ha for 2011. We have no rot fears, and it is very dry now. The early September rains helped to free up the plants after the high heat of August. I expect to start on my most precocious Gigondas at Pallieroudas [low area near the Ouvèze River] next week, the 12 September, especially on the Syrah whose skins are cracking a bit here and there. Vacqueyras will be harvested next week, and Gigondas - the main Grenache - will be the week around 20 September. The old Grenache crop [1930s on Pesquier] has done well - it is homogenous, and will only need a last-minute sorting at harvest time."

Rainfall Troubles

early September 2011

slight unease in the camp now, with rain in the Southern Rhône across the weekend of 3-4 September. From Gigondas, Stéphanie Fumoso, maker of fine wines at Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, voiced a reality in saying, "it is not a simple vintage to vinify this year - it seems to me that fermentations should not last long; we have degrees around 13.8-14.2°, which is OK, but stalks are still green. We had a hard fall of 20 mm (0.8 in) in 90 minutes at tea time yesterday, and it is raining today, Sunday 4 September. We need Mistral to blow behind this. The Syrah is close in maturity to the Grenache this year. No-one has started to harvest at Gigondas, although growers have been picking their white crop at Sablet and Vacqueyrasjust now."

Nearby at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the talented, young Julien Barrot of Domaine La Barroche was in relaxed mode: "we had just 6 mm (0.25 in) on Saturday 3 September, yesterday, and it is raining now. A maximum of 50 mm (2 in) rain will be OK. I will probably attack my ripe Syrah and Cinsault on 7-8 September. The total key this year has been to drop grapes or green harvest, to get rid of a lot of crop - 2011 is a bit like 2000 and 2001 in its volume of grapes. People who have dropped crop will make the best wines this year. After three small crops, you had to keep your head and not go for too much this year. I will be on to my Grenache around mid-September. I note that the Mourvèdre is early this year, not far off ready now."

Across the river from Avignon, the leading Côtes-du-Rhône Château de Montfaucon`s owner Rodolphe de Pins, gave me the following rundown: "I harvested my Viognier early this year - on 19 August, at 13°, which was very good, and then my Marsanne four days later at 12.2° to 12.8°. I have harvested a lot of my red crop, perhaps 60%. There is a lot of fragility in the grapes this year because of the large volume. It`s a fruit year. I observed that a two-speed ripening happened after the very abundant start: the really laden vines lagged behind those that were less charged, the latter around 25-35 hl/ha. There are potentially a few vast yields around - some Co-operatives talk of 100 hl/ha. Mid-August was when I was really worried: we had had humid summer heat, and the Grenache was starting to show signs of rot, but the small wave of high heat around 33-35°C in late August headed that off, and saved the foliage from degradation. We had 4-5 mm (0.2 in) of rain yesterday on 3 September, and 25 mm (1 in) today after a big storm. The outlook is for 26-28°C this week, with an agreeable, not too strong, Mistral wind behind. I will probably resume picking on 6 September, and have been using twice as many people as usual this year, given the conditions."

From the Northern Rhône, Fabrice Gripa was busy in his cellar decanting his white juice from Saint-Joseph and Saint-Péray, and told me: "I started on 1 September on my most precocious plots, including the lieu-dit Saint-Joseph. The Roussanne and the Marsanne are being harvested at Saint-Péray as I speak. As for the Syrah, it has needed a massive amount of dropping crop this year. I will start on it around 8 September - there is the risk of skins being spoilt and degrees rising if I do nothing, even if there could be a gain in concentration. There may have to be some saignée (bleeding juice off the skins) to help density in the vinification."

From Condrieu, Paul Amsellem of Domaine Georges Vernay, reported that their harvest was under way: "our Coteau de Vernon is always very precocious thanks to its due south exposure, and we harvested it at around 14°, very ripe, on Wednesday 31 August. That night we had a big storm, which varied between 40 mm (1.6 in) and 60 mm (2.4 in) across our different vineyards and brought two power cuts, lots of thunder, but no hail here, although there was some at Sarras in the middle of Saint-Joseph. Around us, others have started but stopped for lack of degree, although I know that Château-Grillet have finished their harvest (Grillet changed to Bordeaux owners this year). Our worry as we speak today, 4 September, is storms and possible hail, but the coming week is expected to be very fine. One unusual aspect is how far in advance the Viognier is of the Syrah this year - when our Viognier was at 14°, our Côte-Rôtie and Saint-Joseph Syrah has been at 10-10.5°. One phenomenon is that the Syrah is doing what has happened for the past two years - despite flowering going very well, there are bunches with green grapes in them, that have to be hand picked out on the sorting table."

No Worries

late August 2011

as much of France struggles under rain, notably Burgundy, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a report from Vincent Avril of top estate the Clos des Papes: "it is very healthy, with no advance on normal dates now. It is a year of the viticulteur so far - a lot of work has been necessary in the vineyards, especially when you work organically. We have even had to control the grasses between the rows this year. There was danger of mildew before the veraison (grapes changing colour), which took a lot longer than usual this year - three weeks - and also started very early, around 5 July. Debudding and dropping grapes this year have been vital tasks. We reached 37°C in the third week of August, and that rendered a gain in degree between 0.5° and 1° in the grapes. I should think I will start to harvest my Grenache noir at a minimum of 10-15 September. The wines could be powerful if we want a complete ripeness and a good balance. I rate conditions across the whole appellation as very similar."

From the highly popular, top tier Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Daniel Brunier informed me from the work site of his entirely redone vinification cellar: "if we get Mistral wind (north wind), we can make a very grand vintage; if not, we may lack structure, personality. A month of Mistral would be optimal, in the line of 2007 - one wants a late concentration of the juice. It is quite abundant at around 35 hl/ha, and the crop is healthy. We may pick a bit of Roussanne and Grenache blanc before 5 September, and the Syrah and Grenache noir on that Monday. At Gigondas, for our Pallières, there has been a bit less rain than at Châteauneuf; here at Télégraphe, I reckon we had two falls of 30mm (1.2 in) and 45 mm (1.8 in) in July and one of 15 mm (0.6 in) in early August, the last falling on already wet soils. At Gigondas we have had about 30 mm (1.2 in) less overall. Draining soils have performed well this year owing to those summer rains." Meantime at Domaine de la Janasse, the Sabon family started harvesting their white Côtes-du-Rhône crop on Thursday 25 August.

Laurent Charvin of Domaine Charvin in the northern area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape related that his worries of early August had subsided: "well, we received 30 mm (1.2 in) of rain in early August, on the heels of a cool and quite wet July. But now the harvest is handsome, and very well aired after we did a lot of work in the vineyard. Tests say there is a good level of polyphenols, indicating a healthy level of tannin, helped by the cool nights this year. We had a tiny drop of 1.5 mm yesterday. I would expect to start my Côtes-du-Rhône between 5 and 10 September, and my Châteauneuf between 15 and 20 September. Today (Sat Aug 27) here outside the house, there is Mistral blowing a little, blue sky, lightly white clouds, 32°C in the sun, 27°C in the shade, boom, boom."

Across the river at Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres, part of the Lirac appellation, Bernard Duseigneur, who works biodynamically, and is a leading name there and at Laudun, gave me a good rundown on events. "It`s been an unusual year - what with the early start, then a rare fresh and humid July, despite which we were still two weeks in advance. The 50 mm (2 in) rain we got on 6 August was also not usual - normally we get storms, but this lasted for 12 hours, so really sank into the soil. I am content with the health of the vineyard, and we are now 7 to 10 days ahead. The grapes are expanded, and the vineyards a sea of green. The varieties are ripening in similar cycles - again, it is unusual to have the Mourvèdre being harvested before the Grenache this year, whereas it is usually 2 to 3 weeks behind. The heat of last week was not more than 34°C, but seemed more because of the South wind. We will start on our whites this Monday 29 August, and the Cinsault and Syrah from around 5 September."

At Vacqueyras, Maxime Bernard of Domaine La Garrigue, maker of traditional, oak-free Vacqueyras and Gigondas, told me: "it is very joli for now, plus we have a normal size crop, around 36 hl/ha. Our last rain was at the end of the first week of August, and Vacqueyras as usual is around 8 to 10 days ahead of Gigondas. Last week we got up to 38°C, but the important thing was that the nights were fresh. Our test on the whites on August 25 showed the Grenache blanc ripening well at 12.5° and the Clairette at 12°. We just need this good weather to continue."

In the Northern Rhône, Michel Chapoutier at Hermitage was full of beans: "it is exceeeptional," he enthused. "We have a larger than usual crop, and will be harvesting the Marsanne on Le Méal about 31 August, the south facing vineyard. We have magnificent rain falling now."

The rain of Friday 26 August amounted to about 40 mm (1.6 in), and came with hail across Crozes-Hermitage, but not enough to seriously worry growers. Laurent Habrard stated: "the rain fell rapidly, all mainly over in 15 minutes. The Chassis also received the rain and some hail. I was really worried, as the sky went so dark around 4 in the afternoon that the village lights came on, as if it was 9 or 10 at night. Now we need sun, and north wind. My Hermitage blanc crop is as pretty as it could be - both from quantity and quality. I have received a comparison of 2011 against the previous ten vintages, and it looks very good. The result is that the Syrah has more tannin and less colour than those other vintages. Clearing the vegetation has been vital this year: the last week of July and first week of August, 10 of us did that to reduce the risk of mildew and oidium. But of course the catch for us working organically is that when hail comes you don`t have the protection from the leaves - not ideal. Today, after the rain, it is around 24°C, and there is a North wind coming up. There is a fine week ahead, with perhaps one day of rain or storm weather in mid-week."

Also at Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot told me that after the hail, he is moving to harvest his white crop earlier than he had planned - "we have had to speed up on that after the hail we received on Les Chassis," he said. He added: "I am reducing my aim for a Grand Vintage to a Good Vintage for the Syrah."

Final Preparations

mid-August 2011

into the home straight now. The next two to three weeks will decide the final style of many of the wines after what has been an irregular ripening season. The topsy turvy nature of the year - all early heat, then little heat, now final heat, will lead to wines that are possibly going to be loose in composition, and fresh rather than intense. We will see, though. Everywhere growers report a large crop.

From the Northern Rhône, a variety of reports, mid-August. Jean-Pierre Monier, biodynamic grower in the middle zone of Saint-Joseph above Saint-Désirat, told me: "the vineyard is very healthy, also very abundant, and we have had to drop grapes. Even the young vines` foliage is green, and still active. I may start to pick the Syrah around 10-12 September, which is 12 days ahead of 2010, and the Viognier in very early September. We had 25-30 mm (1 inch) of rain in July, but August has been dry. We are heading for very handsome skins and pulps, and extractions will be belles if that maintains. We hope it will be dry before the harvest."

At Côte-Rôtie, in the northern schist zone, Brigitte Roch of Clusel-Roch was content: "the vineyard looks well, the vines are healthy. We are still in advance by some way. Our Condrieu Viognier is at 12°, and our Syrah on La Viallière is at 10°. The quantity is normal. In August, we had rain every three days or so, which had been the pattern since the middle of July. Since then we have had around 100 mm (4 inches) of rain, and it hasn`t been very hot. Today, 16 August, though, it is HOT, and sunny. Don`t ask me to tell you the exact temperature!" Madame Duclaux, mother of David Duclaux who is on holiday, reported from the southern, gore-granite zone of Côte-Rôtie that they would harvest around 7 to 12 September, and that the grapes had completed their veraison, or changing of colour.

A few kilometres further south, the talented Francois Merlin, who makes both Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, stated: "ripening is going well, and the crop will be ready in early September. Yields are good. We had quite a bit of rain in July and August, but that helped, since we were so much ahead of the usual date - now we will end up 8 to 10 days ahead. We have had a bit less rain at Côte-Rôtie than at Saint-Michel, where I have my Condrieu vineyards."

Robert Niéro, whose domaine is on the up, with son Rémi providing impetus, sees matters "getting better. We have cut back on the three weeks advance of the end of May, and now it is the three weeks to come that can sort things out well after the fresh and damp July. We need sun now, we`ve had enough rain. The volume may well be around 40 hl/ha, a good amount, because the individual grapes are very puffed up. We may start on 5 September. Our last big rain was 50 mm (2 inches) around 25-28 July, but what has been good about August has been the fresh nights, down to 10-12°C. On our Châtillon vineyard last Friday afternoon the 12 August, our Viognier was 10°."

From Cornas and Saint-Péray, Jacques Leminicier was as cheerful and breezy as usual. "You may recall I had hail at Cornas in June, when the grapes were still green, but the budding was large, so that was not too bad. I have a lot of crop at Saint-Péray, and have been dropping grapes at Cornas. We have had a bit too much rain in August, maybe 80 mm (3.2 inches) so far. On 14 August we had a big storm, 30 mm (1.2 inches), that was all over in 10 minutes. Now it is super beau. Saint-Péray is ripening well, and I may even harvest the crop for my Cuvée de l`Elegance wine at the end of August."

Down in the Southern Rhône, there has been more rain than in the North this year. At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Daniel Chaussy of Mas de Boislauzon, a robust, genuine northern sector estate, stated: "it`s not too bad. The summer hasn`t been very hot, we have had two or three rainfalls, but now we need no more rain. On 7 August, there was a fall of 45 mm (1.8 inches) spread across the appellation - that was our last drop. July hasn`t been very hot - 25-28°C against the more usual 30-35°C of recent summers, but now, the 16 August, it is 30°C, and the weather forecasters are announcing fine and hot days for the coming week, going up to 38°C. Until now, the nights have been fresh, around 15-16°C. My Grenache blanc this morning was at 13.2° when I went round the vineyard, so I will pick that soon. The key this year? Drop grapes. In a lot of places, I have cut my crop by half, and even on the old vines I have cut back by 20-25%. It is the first time since I started in 1990 that I have seen so much crop."

Walking around his southern vineyards at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Thiérry Usseglio gave a realistic appraisal: "it`s 35°C today, and now we want good weather, Mistral wind and heat, which is what is expected for the next two weeks. There are lots of bunches on the Grenache, but we have done a lot of debudding and dropping of bunches this year. If we have rain, then rot will become a problem. For now, the vines are good and green, and you can eat the grapes OK, though I have not checked on sucrosity and acidity. This southern area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape has completed its veraison, the colour change of the grapes, whereas it`s only three-quarters done in the northern area. I am confident, but one must be prudent." 

Near Sainte-Cécile, Jean-Marc Espinasse has an interesting organic Côtes-du-Rhône estate, the Domaine Rouge Bleu, whose wines are cool and precise. He reported as follows: "it`s been a strange season this year. We had a cool and wet July, with four falls of around 20-30 mm each (about 1 inch), but that was welcome after the very warm, dry spring. I would say that July was 4-5°C lower than recent years. August has been similar so far, with below regular temperatures, but now it is sunny and hot. We are now only 2 to 3 days ahead of the usual harvest date."


early August 2011

neatly, 1 August signalled a cut-off from the fresh, cool weather that prevailed for much of July in the Rhône. Temperatures have hit 30°C, and the heat is noticeable as much as anything because of its previous absence. The advance, the precocity of the ripening, has been whittled down. This is beneficial, placing acidity levels in better shape, and not allowing an over concentration of the crop. Quantities are better than 2010 and 2009, and for now growers are sanguine about the state of things. When looking at the weather map of France during July, it has been noticeable that the South-East has frequently experienced the warmest, best weather, which is encouraging for the Rhône in national terms.

In the Northern Rhône, Jean-Paul Jamet at Côte-Rôtie stated: "for the moment, things are truly good. The rains that in July amounted to over 100 mm (4 inches) have not hit the health of the vines, and our advance of ripening has come down to 7-10 days from the three weeks previously. The rains have been stormy, but very localised - so Condrieu has had rain, but we not. The falls have often been between 10 mm (0.4 inch) and 20 mm (0.8 inch), which has been very profitable for the soils. I am now maybe looking at harvesting around 18-20 September, as the ripening is now taking its time."

At Saint-Péray, Sandrine Robert of Domaine du Tunnel was in chirpy form: "we are happy; July was not very hot, but we did need the rain that came in several falls. Two or three plots had hail in June, but when the grapes were green, not ripe. The quantity is good, so good that Stéphane is now out dropping grapes. We will start the whites for Saint-Péray in late August, maybe the 28 August, and Cornas is on target for 5-6 September, against the normal 15 September."

At Crozes-Hermitage, Laurent Gomez of Domaine Michelas St Jemms, echoed the previous views when chatting on 2 August: "we are now only 7 to 10 days ahead of 2009, which was such a solar year. July was fresh, so we may now harvest around 10 September. Our last rain was 15 mm (0.6 inch) last week."

Similar satisfaction is apparent in the Southern Rhône. At the Mas de Libian, in the southern Ardèche, Hélène Thibon told me about her Côtes-du-Rhône vineyard: "it is magnificent - we actually have a crop this year, unlike the last three years, when we lost around 30% each vintage. It is handsome, dry, and providing you have worked the soils and not used weedkillers, you will be in good shape. We had good rain in mid-July, and the veraison, when the grapes change colour, was done with days up to 30°C, and nights down to 16-18°C, so quality is very homogenous. The North of the Ardèche will start ahead of us, we are targeting 25 August this year." Her 2010 Khayyam has just been released, a wine I recommend.

Talking about his Lirac Château Boucarut and his Laudun Château Saint-Maurice, Christophe Valat told me: "2011 is pretty, no illnesses, and we are now just one week ahead. The rain in July was really good - we had around 75 mm (3 inches) in two falls in mid-July, and the fear of drought that we had in May has now passed. The Grenache suffered less from coulure (flowers failing to convert into fruit) than in 2010, which is good, but there is less Syrah this year for some reason. The veraison has just ended. I don`t expect to pick my Lirac before the end of the first week of September."

Across the river at Vinsobres, Pascal Jaume of Domaine Jaume commented: "our July rain was around 70 mm (2.8 inches), but it has been spread irregularly. Last week, for instance, the village of Vinsobres received 20 mm (0.8 inch), but the plateau towards Valréas got only 3 mm, and Saint-Maurice just to the west here in the Eygues Valley saw only 5 mm. It was a soft, London-style rain. Grenache is good this year, but Syrah is uneven. We have had to be vigilant about oidium, but mildew has not been a factor. We will have a higher yield than 2009 and 2010."

West of Vinsobres in the full Eygues Valley, alonmg which the Tour de France passed this year amidst much local excitement, Philippe Viret of Domaine Viret at the Village of Saint-Maurice had experienced similar variations with his Grenache and Syrah. On 2 August, he observed that "the Grenache has very fat grapes this year, with a lot of juice in them. The Carignan and the Mourvèdre are very beau, but the Syrah is mixed - yields differ from plot to plot, from soil to soil. We had around 90 mm (3.6 inches) of rain in July, which was also a month of much Mistral wind - not good for the tourists. Although it`s hot today, above 30°C, the light is not bright, there are clouds around. We will start harvesting in early September, which is nearly a normal date."


mid-July 2011

the fears of drought this year are dwindling, much to the relief and happiness of growers. The rain that started to revive in early June has continued into the first half of July. Côte-Rôtie received 35 mm (1.4 inches) on 13 July after a trickle of rain the week before. Gilles Barge reported: "I am looking at early September harvesting - it`s been the same for a month now. We have had to take out excess crop here and there, and the grapes are looking quite full already. They started to turn colour a week ago." Also in the North, Pierre Clape at Cornashad this angle: "we have had 53 mm (2.12 inches) of rain in two falls; one of them, on Sunday 10 July, came with some hail that maybe lost some growers around 5%. The temperature has been very up and down. We had 32-33°C in the first week of July, then it dipped down to 26°C, and the same happened in the second week - a high of 32°C which then fell to a fresh 23°C today, 15 July. - which is good for me to work in, even if not good for holidaymakers. The result is that the vineyard is now well nourished in water."

At Gigondas, Jean-Pierre Meffre of Domaine Saint Gayan, told me: "we had a formidable fall of 42 mm (1.8 inches), a benediction, on the night of 12-13 July. It came exactly when we were waiting for it, especially given the charge of grapes we have this year. It will also accelerate ripening, and there is a good Mistral blowing today (15 July)."


early July 2011

reporting en direct from the Rhône, the growers are content after what for many was a modest month of June. Despite pretty ordinary temperatures, the vineyard has benefited from extrememy helpful rainfall. In the Northern Rhône, around 60 to 70 mm (2.2-2.8 in) has been recorded, with growers such as Louis Drevon and Bernard Burgaud at Côte-Rôtie stating that the quantity is good and the vines healthy, with no hydric stress. "We are still in sight of an early harvest," said Louis Drevon at his Domaine de Rosiers, "perhaps two weeks ahead." His team have been busily doing attachage - tying the vines as they grow higher - with some strong winds rolling down the Valley.

The blip in the June profile came in the last week, with a sudden surge on 27-28 June to 35°C, even 38°C, an intense heat indeed. This was followed by temperatures down in the mid-20s°C, and north winds. By early July the weather is stable - sunny and breezy, the wind too strong at times for outdoor dining, the temperatures not passing 30°C. 

At Gigondas in the Southern Rhône, Louis Barruol of Château Saint Cosme set the scene for his area: "I have never seen such a beautiful flowering as this year. I also do not think the soils are especially dry. At Gigondas our June rainfall reached around 26 mm (1 in), in rather wasteful amounts of about 3 to 5 mm at a time, which does not make much difference. Elsewhere, nearer the Rhône river, they have had more rain, around 60 to 80 mm. We are only about one week ahead, I would estimate."

Wasteful Water

mid June 2011

here have been pockets of rain here and there in the Rhône in the first two weeks of June; Cornas had 50 mm (2 in) in a storm, which, according to Anne Colombo was "a bit wasteful", since a lot of the water rushed away. "We are at least two weeks ahead of usual," she added, saying that "it is still extremely dry in the subsoil, and I have noted growth slowing recently." At Crozes-Hermitage, however, the same rainfall only produced 6 mm (0.2 in) at Gervans and Mercurol in the northern zone there. In the South, there has been hail in the Northern sector of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, on the route to Orange.  "We had some hail at Château Rayas," Emmanuel Reynaud told me, "but the leaves are still hard and green, which helped. The vineyard is very pretty for now, with long, magnificent bunches. Remember that Gobelet (stand-alone vines) also protects the vines more than wire-training."

For a series of new postings, including 2009 Gigondas and a series of domaines across Cairanne, Rasteau, Plan de Dieu and Côtes-du-Rhône, please go to Goings-On in the left-hand column. It is a mixture of known and below the radar domaines.


early June 2011

the theme of an early harvest continues, although growers were delighted by a fall of around one inch of rain (25-28 mm) around Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the third week of May. Crop sizes are large for now, so a balanced, copious vintage now depends on when the rain falls - mid-July and mid-August, with a smattering in June will be ideal - and how much of it falls - not too much at a time. Flowering has gone extremely well this year, both in North and South, and the threat of late frost has passed. Powdery mildew, the curse of the very damp 2008, is not on the scene.

I have just returned from an extraordinary week of dinners with Marcel Guigal and Pierre Perrin of Château de Beaucastel on two atolls on the Maldives, the beautiful low-lying islands south-west of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The tasting notes on the Beaucastel wines have been loaded, and a report on those Beaucastel tastings and dinners has been posted under the subtitle Indian Ocean Beaucastel under Recent Tastings. The wines tasted: Roussanne VV 2009, 2008, Hommage Jacques Perrin 2007, 2001, 2000, Cru de Coudoulet 2003 red, and Beaucastel red 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003, 1998, 1990.


mid May 2011

they`re all talking about it: precocity - precoce, precoce, precoce. A bit like the Spanish romantic ballad Quizás, Quizás, Quizás, that the airline played as I was taking off from Bogotá one stormy day. The vineyards are three weeks ahead of normal dates in their ripening. Marcel Guigal told me in mid-May 2011: "I am a bit anxious, we are so very much in advance. The flowering has already ended at Condrieu, which is earlier than 2003, something I have never seen before. It rained the weekend of 14-15 May, which was helpful. We have more crop than 2003, though, and my Côte-Rôtie vineyards are very belle, very healthy. Our Hermitagevineyards do not look as good, though - they are showing more signs of stress from the drought."

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is also three weeks ahead. Pierre Perrin of Château de Beaucastel remarked that the absence of wind this year had been a boon, in not accelerating the effects of the drought. "We are three weeks early. Flowering has started on the Grenache at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as it did around now in 2003, but has not yet got going at the later ripening soils of Vinsobres. I am not worried for now - there is no blight or illness in the vineyard, so we do not face pressure from that. The budding was good, so yields are normal for now."

At Gigondas, Louis Barruol of Château de Saint Cosme commented in mid-May 2011 that his vines look good, with a 2 to 3 week advance. He added: "it`s quite dry. I think the rains will definitely be a key point this year, because we already know it will be an early ripening vintage. If this combines with dry and hot conditions, we will be in a kind of 2003 trouble. If we have a good spread of rain and mild temperatures through the summer, we`ll be OK."

France is suffering from the drought, with the middle area, notably the Charente, north-east of Bordeaux, affected. A Committee of Drought has been set up, with increasing worry about high food prices. Cattle breeders have had to send part of their prize herds to the abbatoir: in one case, a farmer-breeder said he had just one-quarter of his usual feed supply, and that his fields had no grass. He could not afford the cattle. The State has also allowed the use of Set-Aside land for active agricultural use.

In Sussex, we have had under 15 mm (half an inch, max) of rain in the past 6 weeks. The north and west of England has fared better. But basking sharks first appeared off the west coast of Scotland in March this year, around 6 weeks early, and the Rhône pattern is repeated even at this higher latitude. Prayer mats for rain are in order.


mid May 2011

engine room Southern Rhône entries recently, with the emphasis on some new and exciting domaines. There is much to like about the approach of young growers who are often highly motivated, and I would signal some of these to readers. At Roaix, the most promising Domaine Pique-Basse deserves speacial attention for its Villages wines. At Cairanne, the Clos des Mourres likewise, while under Côtes-du-Rhône, have a look at Domaine Nicolas Croze - not a start-up, but good nonetheless. Under Brézème, see Domaine Helfenbein Charles, a singular journey for this young man who is working the most southerly Northern Côtes-du-Rhône vineyards at Brézème, but also vineyards from the Ardèche across the river.

At Cairanne, prime Domaines Oratoire Saint Martin and Domaine Alary have been visited - also see Denis Alary`s interesting comments about his whites under the latter. From Rasteau, Elodie Balme`s wines of finesse have been tasted, which now include a Roaix. At Vinsobres, the 2009s have been tasted from a range of domaines, led by Domaine de Deurre (STGT qualities), Jaume and Chaume-Arnaud. For the full range, use the Search engine under 2009 Vinsobres.

At Signargues, the quite recent Rhône Village in the west bank Gard département, the accomplished maker of fine wines, the Château Haut-Musiel has been entered, while nearby at Saint-Gervais, the regular leader of the pack, Domaine de Saint-Anne, has been visited. Under Côtes-du-Rhône, I would also point out the regular quality of the Château La Borie, a wine popular in Britain.

From the Northern Rhône, Yves Cuilleron`s range has been updated, from Condrieu on to the reds and the Vins de Pays as well.

Quality tasting

end April 2011

a series of entries that centre on 2009, several from Gigondas, whose freshness contributed importantly to the quality of the 2009s. The authentic Domaine La Roubine, including their good Vacqueyras and Sablet, Pierre Amadieu, Saint-Damien, the extremely regular, STGT leaning Domaine du Pesquier, the always stimulating Château de Saint-Cosme, and the steady Château du Trignon. Added are one established Gigondas Domaine du Pourra, owned by the good doctor Jean-Christian Mayordome, and at Vacqueyras, a bright new grower and his Domaine d`Ouréa - making both Vacqueyras and Gigondas, starting out with the very promising 2010 vintage. Likewise, a recent young merchant based at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Romain Duvernay, has been included. His Northern Rhône selection, notably Hermitage red, has been successful in 2009.

From the Northern Rhône, have a look at François Villard at Condrieu - I note improvement in some of his whites since July 2010, with the malo in some cases taking until the middle of last summer to complete. Also at Hermitage, Maison Nicolas Perrin, the joint-venture between Nicolas Jaboulet and the Perrin family of Beaucastel, and at Côte-Rôtie, the Vins de Vienne - emphasis on their Vins de Pays.

Under the left-hand tab 2009 Northern Rhône, please read about the 2009s in an often overlooked category, that of Côtes-du-Rhône and Vin de Pays reds and whites. These wines have a lot of personality, and frequently represent genuine value for money. In 2009 they are as rich as I have ever known them - a good vintage to buy at prices starting around £11 in GB and rising to dizzier heights when considering the accomplished Seyssuel Syrahs and Viogniers - the likes of Sotanum and Taburnum from Les Vins de Vienne.

mid-April 2011 News: heat, drought are the words so far this year. Precocious conditions in the vineyards. Fear of a late frost builds up as a result. The Decanter World Wine Awards week in London showed that 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Papes have entered a somewhat closed period, not surprisingly. The accessible wines for the moment are the best 2008s from across the Rhône, the simple 2009s and the 2010 red, white and rosés from the Côtes du Rhône and areas such as Ventoux.

CORNAS (cheval) alert: Cornas ran a game and impressive 3rd in his hot race at Sandown Park on April 23, a 2 mile steeplechase. He challenged upsides two fences from home as five of the field jumped in line, but could not quite bridge the gap up the finishing hill. A hardy effort from our Champion, who now departs on his summer holidays. Bonnes vacances, CORNAS!!! Have a dusty roll on us, your international following (I receive encouraging emails from around the world in support of Cornas).


April 2011

I detect a certain fever about 2010 Bordeaux as that ridiculous sales campaign gets set to kick off this month, with the infant "wines" being probably offered at similar dizzy prices to the 2009s. I would certainly never buy a car with just one seat or three wheels, but people do.

I am pushed by editors and "the trade" to publish instant, and big, reviews in a similar way, but will not do that, offering a few judgments here and there. Luckily, many Rhône growers are not yet stampeding to show their wines at these early dates, and pick pocket large sums of cash flow off drinkers (actually it is the merchants who are most to blame, rather than the growers). I note that the Chinese government has bought a Château in Bordeaux, but the fox is in with the chickens after the announcement that they intend to sell the wine en direct - cutting out the middle men layers; they claim that this also guarantees provenance of the wine, which is very true as it happens. Meanwhile my old friend Jancis Robinson is talking or writing about how wrong it is for Châteaux to wait until after the publication of critics` scores (yes, numbers) before issuing their prices. Either the world is now permanently off its rocker, or we are heading for the bursting of a bubble here. 

Looking at the global health of the wine industry, a report by the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV, a helpful acronym), shows that world wine consumption stabilised in 2010 after two years of falls. What particularly caught my eye was the fact that in France households now drink less and better, with an average of half a glass per person - which is three times less than in the 1960s. Three times less: think about that as a cultural turning point. I have long sensed that the generation born around the late 1970s in France went missing on wine - preferring beer and spirits, alcopops, anything other than "boring" wine. The French government with its blanket anti-alcohol approach which most often featured a bottle of wine rather than a bottle of vodka also took an active hand in this fall. Now France leads world consumption with around 29.4 million hectolitres, followed by the USA with 27 million hectolitres.

I have been drinking fine wine recently, but this time I really mean very fine wine - over 200 years` worth of Hermitage La Chapelle, including a Second World War vintage, the 1961, 1978 and 1990, plus other interesting vintages. The venue was Northamptonshire in England, with a story behind nearly every bottle. Reflections on these wines will be posted up later. For now, work continues on writing up 2009s - mainly Saint-Josephs and Southern Rhônes, with 2010 Côtes du Rhônes - red, white and rosé also featured.

Europcar Warning: I am sure that many of you fly to Lyon or Marseille and hire a car if visiting the vineyards. The natural Easyjet partner is Europcar. Well, I use Europcar a lot, but I would have to suggest that the following story will make you hesitate. On my last Rhône visit, my Europcar broke down after a series of small problems with the engine cooling system. It had just 3,500 km on the clock. I was en route to Marseille airport to return home, 45 minutes short of my target.

I missed the flight, waited 7 hours at the airport, paid €165 for a new ticket, and then filled in the box of complaint (or comment) on the Europcar website. The only response from them has been for the English office to send me a Customer Satisfaction Survey! Dig that. Big company versus small consumer - a "let`s just ignore them" policy. The most slippery part of this story is this: the Europcar staff in Marseille have taken a consistent line: this is an affair between me and .. wait for it, FIAT, the car manufacturer, and nothing to do with Europcar. Draw your own conclusions. My next booking has been made - with Avis.


mid-April 2011

visits and tastings have been entered on the following domaines, all seen in March 2011: at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos Saint Jean (lot of sugar in the 2009, so delayed bottling), Domaines Pierre André (longtime organic, very Grenache), Bosquet des Papes (Tradition v good value), Cristia (just bottled now), MarcouxPegau, Saint-Préfert, Pierre Usseglio, Raymond Usseglio. Mostly 2009 reds, some 2010 whites have been tasted. At Gigondas, the very accomplished Domaine La Bouissière- focus on 2009 also.

April 2011: recent domaines that have been brought up to date include the interesting Gigondas Mas des Restanques, where the style is refined and subtle. Two good Côtes du Rhône domaines are on the score sheet as well - the Domaine Coulange, which is making w.o.w. wines and the long-term classic Domaine La Remejeanne, which I have known since the late 1970s. These are both in the Gard département west of Avignon. 2010 Tavel rosés are also being entered - a fresh and agreeable vintage.

Strong Assets

mid-March 2011

the 2010 vintage is an exciting one for the Rhône. The freshness of the wines in both parts of the Valley comes as an extremely handy asset, but the fruit is also complete, so bringing forward the critical word "balance". Recent tasting of hundreds of 2009s and 2010s shows that two vintages of high quality are storming into view, perhaps reminiscent of the 1990-1991 duo in the North. The quality of 2010 in the South, particularly the shining fruit, is well superior to the dilute 1991, however. Rub your hands, batten down the hatches, and prepare to spend and to enjoy. Notes will be posted on these wines in the coming weeks.

Word reaches my ears that Château-Grillet has been sold to Francois Pinault of Château Latour. Given the Grillet connection with Bordeaux-based Denis Dubourdieu, who has been advising on vinification for a little while, this may have some credence. The property and its roughly 3 hectare vineyard have been discreetly on the market for some time as well. One can only hope that the march of Bordeaux advisors does not result in further neutering of white Rhône varieties, as has been witnessed at Paul Jaboulet with the Marsanne (also DD).

In Britain, the economy remains sluggish. The latest poor news is the voluntary receivership of Oddbins, where valiant attempts to revive the quality of the remaining stores has been made by the new management team. Merchants tell me that restaurants are taking longer to pay, as well. Private buyer enthusiasm for 2009s is very strong, though, with one leading London wine merchant selling £1 million of 2009s en primeur. Their sales of 2008 and small appellations remains unsteady. Everyone wants to buy a shiny winner, which results in congestion on the Vinous Superhighway. Hence, a few very small Côtes du Rhône domaines will be entered in the future - there is plenty on offer if you are prepared to look.

Red And White

mid-March 2011

following early March 2011 visits, two eminent domaines at Châteauneuf-du-Pape have been brought up to date: Domaine Monpertuis, where the red wine has STGT tendencies and the white wine is from the school of long-lived white Châteauneuf - the whites tasted back to 1998 and 1992. Also, I had a quick look in at the Château de Beaucastel, where tasting included the 2009 Hommage a Jacques Perrin and some villages 2009s that included Cairanne, along with 2010 grass roots whites. From Côte-Rôtie, 2009 and 2010 René Rostaing. My views on the excellence of the Northern Rhône 2010s have been stated before, and my enthusiasm continues unabated. I also had an agreeable check-up on René`s thickly set, excellent 2005 Côte Blonde.  

March 2011: a couple of organic Côtes du Rhône domaines who sell their wine rather cheaply through Monoprix in France, and might be worth a look, particularly the first-named, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac and Château des Coccinnelles (ladybirds). Also, from the Côtes du Vivarais, the Vignerons Ardechois, who have been around for a long time, and whose quality can be on the mark, especially in generous vintages such as 2009. About 18 red Hermitage 2009s have been entered as well, under each domaine. Use the Search engine to see their rating, starting at 3 stars and up, I suggest.


March 2011

spring is in the air, daffodils and crocuses in my garden, growers enthusing about the last two vintages. It is a great time to be a fan of the Rhône. I highlight the exceptional vintage at Crozes-Hermitage in 2009, so there are wines to knock back with pleasure, or to wait for as they evolve towards complexity appearing on the shelves and on merchants` lists now. This month`s agenda includes visits to small organic domaines in the Rhône, and further extensive tasting of Gigondas and other Southern appellations.

Cheap And Cheerful

March 2011

a couple of organic Côtes du Rhône domaines who sell their wine rather cheaply through Monoprix in France, and might be worth a look, particularly the first-named, Domaine Notre Dame de Cousignac and Château des Coccinnelles (ladybirds). Also, from the Côtes du Vivarais, the Vignerons Ardechois, who have been around for a long time, and whose quality can be on the mark, especially in generous vintages such as 2009. About 18 red Hermitage 2009s have been entered as well, under each domaine. Use the Search engine to see their rating, starting at 3 stars and up, I suggest.


Mid-February 2011

joining Côte-Rôtie in a full 2009 Northern Rhône review is Cornas 2009 - click THE LEADING WINES tab under 2009 Northern Rhône in the Left-Hand column. More Crozes-Hermitage 2009 reds have been reviewed under their specific domaine names - see the LVT 2009 r category. This includes visits to father and son Domaines of Alain and Max Graillot, the latter also known as Domaine des Lises.

A trio of wines from Château Val Joanis in the Lubéron have also been entered. As is often the case, my preference is for the simple wines that are less tarted up with new oak etc.

Upwards Prices

February 2011

the 2009 Rhône primeur campaign is under way in Britain, with prices creeping upwards. The 2009 Burgundy campaign is in full swing as well, so drinkers are being asked to spend, spend, spend. I am buying some Bourgogne rouge 2009 from eminent stables such as Barthod and Jean Grivot, and for £140-150 a case of 12 (pre-duty, in bond), I regard them as good value, with sure-fire enjoyable drinking.

Prices from The Wine Society Rhône offer make interesting reading: I would regard the vin de pays La Rosine from Stéphane Ogier, already highlighted from OW Loeb, at £60 for 6 (in bond) as fair, as are the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine La Boutinière at £63 for 6, or the Coudoulet Côtes du Rhône from Beaucastel at £55 for 6. The Saint-Joseph 2009s start at £60-75 for 6, which is just about OK, but the vin de pays Sotanum from the young vineyard of Seyssuel, however promising it is, exceeds reality at £143 for 6 bottles in bond.

It is one thing to sustain a region`s existence as a source of enjoyable wines that sometimes aspire to excellence, but value has to be held as well, or at the very least, perceived value. Otherwise it is a fleeting asset. The Rhône has known such bubbles and dips before - the first being in the early 1970s, so it needs to be careful. With restaurant mark-ups of often 3 times, people will not buy Côtes du Rhône at £30, nor will restaurant owners list such wines, and suddenly the region starts to become invisible in the company of any amount of New World wines, or Southern European wines.

I am sure these trends will be discussed at the bi-annual Rhône Découvertes event in the Valley in the first week of March. This year, the format has reverted to being mobile rather than based solely in Avignon, and there will be the added surprise of a gathering of all the clans of Châteauneuf-du-Pape for their tasting day, rather than the dreary usual reality of several competing Syndicats who are essentially sworn opponents. It is all to do with politics and egos, rather than who makes the better wine, en plus. Découvertes remains a very useful touchstone for the trade and for the press.

Wide Variety

February 2011

the full, in-depth, super-duper 4,000 word report on 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds is documented under the 2009 Southern Rhône tab. It is a complete explanation of the vintage starting in the spring and draws on many questions and investigations by yours truly. By the way, once you have clicked on that 2009 Southern Rhône tab, please go down one line and click on the Leading Winestitle underneath it; there is no need to re-log in.

Leading Northern Rhône 2009s have been entered from Cornas, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph - wines around the ***(*) or higher category. Look out for the LVT 2009 tab against the domaine name.

I also urge you to catch up with the Vidal-Fleury range of wines, listed under their home appellation of Côte-Rôtie. Owned for decades by Etienne and Marcel Guigal, this largely merchant business is now receiving due investment and attention now that is established in a brand new cellar in the south of the Côte-Rôtie appellation. I have been impressed by both southern and northern Rhônes from them.

As I have been working on a large contribution to a book on Gigondas organised by the Syndicat of Growers, there are some fascinating tasting notes appearing. I am covering the vintages from 1959 to the present day, year by year. Many old bottles have been tracked down, and they frequently surprise through their stability and freshness after thirty-plus years, particularly in the lesser, higher acidity vintages. Readers can use the Search option for vintage notes, or focus on a few domaines whose wines have been found for this exercise - for example, Domaines Moulin de la Gardette, Pesquier, Raspail-Ay, Saint Gayan and Teyssonières

See Veterans Corner for a comparison of two wines from the sainted vintage of 1985, the Gigondas Domaine Raspail-Ay and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. A new domaine at Saint-Joseph, Domaine Christophe Blanc, has been entered, offering a sound 2009 from that excellent vintage, while an overdue listing for the accomplished Domaine Les Aphillantes at Plan de Dieu has been made.

Under Laudun, the Dauvergne-Ranvier merchant business features their very respectable, modern 2009s from Côte-Rôtie and Saint-Joseph. The Côtes du Rhône Domaine de l`Olivier has been posted, as have two suppliers at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the young team at Domaine de la Biscarelle in the north of the appellation, and the established merchant based in the southern area, Les Grandes Serres, which has produced a good, limited quantity 2009 red Châteauneuf.


mid-January 2011

a full report on 2009 Côte-Rôtie has been posted under the Left Hand tab 2009 Northern Rhône. It is a vintage worthy of great respect. 

Fine Additions

early January 2011

a variety of domaines has been added, catching up on admin, as it were. Notably: Domaine La Cabotte at Massif d`Uchaux, always a strong source of good wine. The incomparable Domaine de Sainte-Anne, the only real address at Saint-Gervais in the Gard, right bank area; the traditional and very worthy Domaine Saint-Pierre in the Côtes du Rhône, an estate I have known since the early 1970s, also makers of good Plan de Dieu Villages and Vacqueyras. Other names worth a brief look include, at Vacqueyras, the Domaine de la Brunély, at Sablet, the Domaine de Verquière, at Gigondas, the Domaine de la Tourade, at Lirac the biodynamic Domaine de Mayran and at Saint-Gervais the Domaine Clavel.

From the Northern Rhône, please look at Marc Sorrel from Hermitage for some wonderful 2009 and 2010, as well as at Condrieu, the skilled Francois Merlin with his 2009 and 2010.

Looking Forward

early January 2011

we have lots to look forward to this year, with the issue of the 2009s, some of them showing great flamboyance, and the 2010s taking excellent shape. The 2008 whites are really motoring well, and it would be no crime if some of the Condrieu 2008 were drunk this year as well. 2008 for the reds is certainly not a lost cause, but one notes the reticence of importers to offer these vintage-scarred wines. Vacqueyras 2008, yo! I am also thinking of investigating some of the previously backward 1995s, and drinking more of the 1990s that are just perhaps near the summit from southern Rhône vineyards. Happy New Year, tout le monde, including our cheval mascot Cornas, who goes up 1 year to 9 years old on 1st January, 2011.