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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.