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2017 SOUTHERN RHÔNE CLOSE-UP

2017 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

ROMAIN ROCHE: AN EXCELLENT, VALUE FOR MONEY 2017 CÔTES DU RHÔNE, PARTLY FROM CAIRANNE CRU VINEYARDS, LONG ON CHARACTER

2017 is a vintage marked by harvest loss in the drought conditions, boosted by coulure on the GRENACHE, when flowers failed to convert into fruit. It’s therefore a rather intense year with some rugged tannins on board, but the fruit quality on the attack is often good.

As so often with this enormous category, it pays to stick to domaines which have a good reputation in other appellations, or those which focus entirely on CÔTES DU RHÔNE, and do not work 50 to 100 hectares. Many of the CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE owned CÔTES vineyards do not exceed 10 to 15 hectares, while the domaines that I call specialists – DOMAINE LA RÉMÉJEANNE, MAS DE LIBIAN, DOMAINE GRAMENON, CORINNE DEPEYRE – to name just a few, operate with not much more than 35 hectares.

A smaller, also select grouping takes in good names such as MAS DE POUPERAS, 10 ha at VAISON-LA-ROMAINE, the longtime organic LA ROCHE BUISSIÈRE, 12 ha high up at FAUCON and the also organic 12 hectare DOMAINE DE SERVANS at TULETTE.

Losses on the harvest were high, with MICHÈLE AUBÉRY-LAURENT of the original organic DOMAINE GRAMENON telling me: “I lost 50% of my SYRAH, and 30% of my old vine GRENACHE. The young wines were OK, just down 10%.” GRAMENON is at MONTBRISON-SUR-LEZ in the low DRÔME, vineyards at height, 300 metres, clay with limestone, so capable of humidity retention in a dry summer.

Across the RHÔNE RIVER in the SOUTHERN ARDÈCHE, HÉLÈNE THIBON of the biodynamic MAS DE LIBIAN gave this summary of the year: “we lost about 40-45% of the crop from coulure on the GRENACHE. There was little malic acid this year – it was too sunny for that. The harvest was precocious – we started on 18 August, ending at midday on 3 September. 10 days later the vines showed very strong signs of stress, and life became more complicated for those growers who waited to harvest – that is, those who harvested on a normal date – those wines would have been in the 2003 style of jam and alcohol.”

By harvesting early, we did achieve fruit, balance, with alcohol. 2017 is a year of experience – the understanding of the maturity in the vineyard, and knowing which day to pick on. I am stunned by the year and how it has emerged: we were fearful because it was very hot, very dry and one could expect very high degree, strongly tannic wines. The last rain before early November was 30 mm (1.2 in) on 11 May.”

As someone who scours the SOUTHERN RHÔNE for sources to assemble their remarkable nearly 2 million bottle CÔTES DU RHÔNE blend, PHILIPPE GUIGAL is uniquely placed to summarise the vintage, telling me: “as a négociant, you had to go for quality of matter this year, to allow us to properly raise the wines. There was a difference between those who picked before the harvest time rains in September and after the rains – the latter group were better off. Quality in 2017 depended more on the propriétaire of the vineyard or domaine over the appellation. There were five months and 20 days without rain, then on 5 November there was 50 mm [2 in].”

2017 is a table wine vintage due to the strength of the drought, meaning tight packing in the leading wines. There is also a strong group of running fruit wines that carry commendable freshness – the sign of well tended vineyards. As usual, go for domaines that are reputed in their prime appellation – CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, RASTEAU, CAIRANNE, VINSOBRES or TAVEL, for example, or the handful of already mentioned top CÔTES DU RHÔNE sources.

LEADING 2017 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

****(*) Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet 2031-33 10/19 sensuous, stylish, classy 
**** Clos des Mourres Novice   2024-25  02/19  robust, cool, interest, character 
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Quartz 2031-33  10/18  gourmand, flowing, juice, class 
**** Le Clos du Caillou La Réserve  2033-35  10/18  robust, smooth, superior CdRh 
**** Domaine des Favards Carino Mio  2025-26  03/19  gd body, spine, fresh, flowing 
**** Domaine de la Girardière Le Plan 2025-26 03/19 good grass roots wine, spiced, kick
**** Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse   2027-28  02/18  crunchy, fresh, character  
**** Dom Gramenon Sierra du Sud  2025-26  02/18  good depth, length, potential 
**** Famille Perrin Nature   2026-27  10/18  ample, silky, sunny 
**** Dom La Péquélette Carton Rouge  2026-27  03/19  vibrant fruit, clarity, character 
**** Domaine Richaud Les Buisserons  2028-30  02/19  juicy, running, lot here 
**** Domaine Romain Roche 2026-27 03/19 v tasty, thorough, character, V
**** Domaine du Trapadis   2024-25  02/20  entertaining, fresh, orchestrated 
**** Dom de la Vieille Julienne Clavin   2035-37  02/20  bright, cool, high interest, STGT 
**** Le Mas de Libian Khayyâm  2024-25  02/18  upfront, tasty, balance, heart 
***(*)  Le Clos du Caillou Nature   2021-22  10/19  clear, savoury, nicely unadorned 
***(*)  Domaine Alary La Gerbaude   2027-28  11/18  fleshy, solid, plenty, la table 
***(*) Dom Berthet-Rayne André Muses 2025-26 03/19 gd engagement, genuine, la table
***(*)  Dom André Brunel Sommelongue   2025-26  05/19  tight, genuine, liberal spice  
***(*)  Domaine Charvin   2035-36  05/19  savoury, sparky, grounded, character 
***(*)  Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange   2025-26  10/19  sturdy gras, wide, local 
***(*)  Domaine de Ferrand Mistral   2026-28  10/19  firm, structured, inky 
***(*)  Dom Galet des Papes Petit Galet  2025-26  10/19  authentic, garrigue, gourmand 
***(*)  Domaine de la Graveirette     2025-26  02/20  active, gd strength, persistence 
***(*)  Dom Gramenon Poignée Raisins   2022 02/28 aromatic, en finesse, lovely 
***(*) Domaine Les Hautes Cances 2027-28 08/20 smooth, grounded, implicit strength
***(*)  Dom de la Mordorée Dame Rousse   2025-27  11/18  butty, knit, grounded 
***(*)  Famille Perrin Réserve   2025-26  10/18  open richness, musky, cool 
***(*)  Domaine Rabasse Charavin Laure   2024  03/19  aromatic, gd flavour, texture  
***(*)  Domaine Saladin Paul   2027-28  02/20  fruit swirl attack, Southern  
***(*)  Dom Raymond Usseglio Le Claux   2027-28  10/19  swinging fruit, salted, garrigue 
***(*)  Domaine Vallot   2024  02/20  aromatic fruit, entertaining 
***(*)  Le Mas de Libian Bout d’Zan    2023-24  02/20  quiet concentration, fresh  
***(*)  Le Mas de Libian La Calade   2026-27  02/18  rumbustious depth, vigour   
***  Chât Terre Forte Rouge!   2022-23  02/18  cool, concentrated fruit, la table 
***  Clos de Caillou Bouquet Garrigues   2029-31  10/18  grippy intensity, good heart 
***  Le Clos du Caillou Le Caillou   2021-22  10/18  fat content, juicy, easy, 1st bottling
*** Domaine Grand Nicolet 2024-25 03/19 soaked fruits, hearty, la table
*** E Guigal 2029-31 03/21 meaty, peppery, 2017 chewiness
***  Montirius La Muse Papilles   2024  02/19  red fruit, nerve, agreeable 
*** Domaine du Moulin 2023-24 03/19 immediately juicy, bit dry tannins
***  Domaine Richaud Terre de Galets   2028-30  02/19  full, fuelled, some cool  
***  Vignobles & Cie Château de Farel   2022  06/20  red fruits, cosy drinking 
***  Vignobles & Cie Chât des Séraphin   2021  06/20  sweet fruit, peppery 
**(*)  Domaine de l’Harmas Harmonie   2022  10/19  simple clarity, power toppy 
**(*)  Domaine La Mereuille   2028-29  10/19  thick content, power, hard tannins 
**(*)  Domaine Saladin Loï   2023  02/20  not full enough 


2017 CAIRANNE REDS

RICHAUD: A TOP NAME NOT ONLY AT CAIRANNE, BUT ACROSS THE WIDER SOUTHERN RHÔNE

I tasted most of the CAIRANNE 2017s in March, 2019, on the spot. I had tasted a few the previous autumn, which happened to be when I was going through the 2017s of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE and GIGONDAS. Of those two appellations, I preferred GIGONDAS, which I felt had handled the drought and high sun better than CHÂTEAUNEUF, with the high vineyards at GIGONDAS outperforming the low-lying vineyards there.

Such a view appeared coherent for GIGONDAS: the cooler, more gradual ripening of the high lands on the one hand, while vineyards on the plain also struggled with some coulure [loss of harvest from flowers not converting into fruit], and balance was therefore questionable. To handle the vintage well, one needed a light touch in the cellar, with clever use of CINSAULT and MOURVÈDRE, both lower degree, provided the MOURVÈDRE was correctly planted in clay soils and would bring freshness and structure to its wines.

CAIRANNE IS EXCELLENT VALUE ALONGSIDE CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, GIGONDAS

When approaching CAIRANNE, which has only a few higher up vineyards, in early March, 2019, I had a modest expectation, therefore. However, as I went along, I warmed to the wines, and take the view that they can often represent excellent value alongside their two illustrious neighbours. There is a typical CAIRANNE elegance, a smoothness of texture, with freshness and balance pretty good as a whole.

HIGH QUALITY DOMAINES

It helps, of course, if there are two world-class domaines in the mix – the ALARY family, who come in the form of DOMAINE ALARY, where DENIS has been joined by his young and very enthusiastic son JEAN-ETIENNE, and the ORATOIRE SAINT MARTIN, where brothers FRÉDÉRIC and FRANÇOIS ALARY have taken the wines to a high platform of finesse over the past few years.  

There is also a strong phalanx of skilled winemakers and crafters, with high profile names such as MARCEL RICHAUD, and CORINNE COUTURIER at DOMAINE RABASSE CHARAVIN, and the always full of character, thoroughly genuine wines of DOMAINE LES HAUTES CANCES, whose integrity of approach puts me in mind of my much lamented old chum AUGUSTE CLAPE at CORNAS. None of these wines is especially expensive, either.

GOOD CHOICE FOR THE CONSUMER

I have always said and written that, as an appellation, CAIRANNE has so much more going for it than the likes of VACQUEYRAS, BEAUMES-DE-VENISE and VINSOBRES, thanks to the range of around 25 good domaines to choose from. The aforementioned appellations can only rustle up a handful of first-rate domaines, so are bedevilled by a lack of breadth in their reach and a lack of depth in their quality.

PERILOUS CHALLENGES TO CRU STATUS, A LONG RUNNING SORE

The longest running saga of my 45 years career in the RHÔNE finally terminated in late 2018, when CAIRANNE’s elevation to CRU status was finally confirmed, with no legal challenge to that accepted by the highest courts of the land. There had been objectors to this for several years, led by three owners who resented the fact of the exclusion of some of their vineyards from being allowed to produce CAIRANNE; the revision of the appellation boundaries that accompanied the promotion to CRU meant a few hectares were sacrificed, their soils and location deemed to be of insufficient quality to be acceptable in the future.

The battlefield strayed dangerously into the field of rights of mankind/womankind, and the fact that it reached PARIS, rather than staying as a local matter, was a major concern, with the practicalities of agriculture and viticulture capable of being subsumed under other more rigidly jurisdictional headings.

The lands in question were generally low-lying areas close to the PLAN DE DIEU. The total surface area being hassled over amounted to a maximum of around 12 hectares, over which the whole edifice of some 850 hectares risked being brought down to CÔTES DU RHÔNE level in the case of a ruling against CAIRANNE. That would have triggered a catastrophic loss of value for the asset of the vineyards, for the wines and family incomes, and certain ruin for some domaines.

FORTITUDE OF DENIS ALARY

The man at the centre of the defence of the CRU measures, which included forbidding machine harvesting, and the protection of natural wooded areas alongside the vineyards, was PRESIDENT of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, DENIS ALARY. The machine harvesting had a long-term motive – allowing it would have encouraged people to rip out stand alone, GOBELET-trained GRENACHE vines, which are the heartbeat of the place’s heritage. Their shape and size wouldn’t have been suitable for machine harvesting, so their replacements would have been wire-trained clones.

DENIS had to run his domaine, but also spend inordinate hours in front of lawyers and bureaucrats, as well as vignerons, in arguing that no specific rights were infringed in these decisions. He was, of course, putting the case on behalf of the collective good, and it was notable that a similar challenge flared up in PIC SAINT-LOUP, time-wise after CAIRANNE. Hence the test case, the trial frontunner, was CAIRANNE: if their case were rejected, the whole French appellation system was there to be picked off by malcontents.

It was therefore excellent to witness the solidarity of the vast majority of the growers when I visited in March, 2019. As CORINNE COUTURIER put it, “it drew us all even more closely together than before, with spontaneous celebrations, drinks, barbecues and general relief.”

LOW YIELDS IN 2017, COULURE

With the excellent 2016 the first on general release as CAIRANNE CRU, 2017 is important to help to consolidate the reputation of the village as a quality venue. This has been achieved, even though yields were low, some vineyards severely hit by the coulure on the GRENACHE [flowers not converting into fruit]. For instance, chez DOMAINE ALARY, there is no JEAN DE VERDE 2017, with a paltry 8 hectolitres taken from the 2.5 hectare vineyard.  

JEAN-PHILIPPE BOUCHET of CLOS DES MOURRES works organically, and also includes a decent amount of stems in his red wine vinifications. His CAIRANNE vineyard is at 250 metres on gravel, clay-limestone soils in a leading spot, near the COL DU DÉBAT, north of the village. He commented: “coulure accounted for half the crop. There was a lack of rain, but that wasn’t the main problem at all. On our vineyards at VAISON-LA-ROMAINE, there was less coulure, but hail instead! Our loss there was 20%. It’s a joli vintage.”

ALEXANDRA BERTHET-RAYNE has joined her father ANDRÉ, with 2017 her first vintage on the domaine: “we lost 35%, though in 2018 it was 60%, even worse,” she related.

RAIN IN SOUTH OF CAIRANNE, NOT NORTH

The theme of a hot, dry summer was the same as for all the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, although there were instances of very localised rainfall, with the south of CAIRANNE receiving a rainfall of 50 mm (2 in) at the end of August, but the northern sector remaining dry.

MANY GROWERS SPEAK OF FRESHNESS

A recurring comment from the growers was the freshness, an unexpected bonus given the profile of the ripening season. FRÉDÉRIC ALARY, whom I regard as a bit of a brainbox on matters vinous, told me about his experiences at ORATOIRE SAINT MARTIN: “I like the small years; 2017 had less GRENACHE than usual with a lot of coulure, so that suits me stylistically. It’s fresh, with less alcohol than usual, aided by more MOURVÈDRE.

When the GRENACHE suffers coulure, the MOURVÈDRE doesn’t, and does well on the clay soils on the S/S-W facing slopes which is where I would plant MOURVÈDRE. Fresh nights help it, so there’s better acidity than on the GRENACHE, and a floral aspect, as well. It’s too hot for the SYRAH here, the sun burning its aromas, unless it’s planted on N facing sites.

2017 has a lot of elegance, is quite floral, very balanced, a lot better than 2015, a vintage with which I have trouble. 2014 was on a lot acidity, was floral, while 2015 was very solar, very tannic – I’m not a fan. My three favourite recent vintages are 2013, 2008 and 2017 – I love the freshness. The 2008 and 2013 are drinking very well now.”

FINESSE, FRUIT

In pursuit of finesse, the DOMAINE ALARY were careful in their vinification this year, with DENIS telling me: “we did no cap punching, and only small, five-minute pumping overs because we sought finesse.” His son JEAN-ÉTIENNE added: “we were fearful that the wines would be too rich, with dry tannins, but they emerged as very balanced, on finesse and fruit, and there’s freshness. 2017 is less solar and rich than 2016.”

NOT A SOLAR YEAR LIKE 2009

ROMAIN ROCHE has two large blocks in his 20 ha of CAIRANNE, 12 ha on the stony sand-red clay-limestone of LES GARRIGUES (S-E, connects to the PLAN DE DIEU), and a very interesting 6 ha on the dense grey clay soils of LES COMBES to the N-E of the village, a vineyard capable of handling the drought, therefore – neighbours there are LAURENT BRUSSET and MARCEL RICHAUD. He reported: “the wines don’t resemble what happened in the vineyards. It was a very, very hot summer, with our clay soils showing big crevasses, but the wines weren’t generally overdone, and hold joli fruit. I expected a solar year like 2009, but there isn’t a jam or compote presence in them, indeed there’s interesting freshness. 2009 was more cooked.”

TWO DIFFERENT TAKES ON 2017, NOTE SIZE OF VIGNERONS IN QUESTION

One can sometimes judge a vigneron’s angle from taking a look at them. Hence the robust countryman, feet firmly on the ground ALAIN BOISSON, who works 3.9 hectares on CROS DE ROMET (W, stony clay, concentrated wine style, also M RICHAUD) and 2.1 hectares on LES SABLIÈRES (thick sand in the S-W of the appellation, elegant wine style and LES BAYES (S-E, also M RICHAUD, sand at the top of the slopes, fine style), favours full-bodied wines. His comment on 2017 was: “it’s quite a fresh year, has foundation. I’m not a great fan of it, since I find it lacks some richness, maturity.”

The contrast with LOÏC MASSART of LES CHEMINS DE SÈVE is marked: LOÏC is wiry, would tip the scales at several weights lower in a boxing tournament, and, until 2014, was an industrial engineer. He now has 9 hectares of CAIRANNE across a variety of sites - LES CHEMINS DE PARTIDE (stony), LE THOR (lime-siliceous), VITALIS and LE SERPENT (both clay-limestone), working them organically.  For him, “2017 is very good, very concentrated, very rich and complex aromatically. The drought reduced the crop and concentrated it.”

The undoubted doyenne of CAIRANNE is the redoubtable CORINNE COUTURIER of DOMAINE RABASSE CHARAVIN, whose 17 hectares are mainly on clay with limestone slopes, to the E of the village, like the two main ALARY family vineyards. “2017 is very balanced, holds freshness, has a gourmand side to it, fruit, good density, interesting aromas,” she told me, adding “we started the harvest – whites and SYRAH – on 4 September, a day after 2018. Our yield was a respectable 30 hl/ha.”

THE BEST LOCATIONS AT CAIRANNE - EAST AND NORTH

The best locations at CAIRANNE are those to the East of the village, with the Northern sites also good – the COL DU DÉBAT [split by the road to ST ROMAN, the west part galet stones on top of compacted sand/safre, less stony in the east part], notably. The prime vineyard in my view is SAINT-MARTIN, East of the village, gold dust in the land there, with a winning slope, stony limestone, yellow above blue clay soils, and the origin of ORATOIRE SAINT-MARTIN’s fine wines such as RÉSERVE DES SEIGNEURS. I remember walking around on this slope in April, 2015, and seeing a young plantation that hadn’t been pruned, showing signs of neglect: it turned out that it belonged to a CO-OPERATEUR who hadn’t been paid by the CAVE [like most of them], and who had lost motivation as a result – a tragedy.

For vineyards such as SAINT-MARTIN and LES DOUYES (white clay, 40% active limestone), there is a necessary complement, namely that of the grower handling the harvest with care in the cellar, and not chasing scale. Providing that is the case, these vineyards give wines of silky finesse, and should be sought out by discerning RHÔNE lovers: they are undoubtedly undervalued, and also live very well.

SAVOURY, SUAVE STYLE OF CAIRANNE IN 2017

This year, there are a good number of **** and above wines, with enjoyable drinking part of their appeal. For these, there is well presented fruit, and they come in a savoury, suave style that one expects of CAIRANNE. I also like the fact that, in contrast to certainly some of the CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2017s, there wasn’t a sense of headiness. Remember that these are wines at least half the price of their illustrious neighbour, the broad range running from around €8.70 and €20, all taxes included.

OAK NOT ON THE AGENDA AT CAIRANNE

THE ORATOIRE SAINT MARTIN FOUDRES

Another feature of CAIRANNE these days is the absence of oak, which had been chased in the R PARKER-influenced 1990s, along with the inevitable extraction of those stand still years. The tale of ORATOIRE SAINT MARTIN is interesting, as FRÉDÉRIC ALARY explained to me: “oak is more and more rare, with just three or four domaines using obvious oak – BOUTINOT, for example, for an export market.

I had 200 casks in the time around 1990-95; we bought casks from DANY with MARCEL RICHAUD and JÉRÔME BRESSY – long heat [chauffe] casks that marked the wines. Then we moved on to ex DOMAINE DE LA ROMANÉE-CONTI [DRC] casks, the 228-litres of BURGUNDY, then from there on to demi-muids, the larger 600-litres, for less oak imprint. Now since 2006 we have been with large barrels – foudres – which polish the tannins, which is very good for us since I have a lot of MOURVÈDRE. The casks before them enlarged the wines, but the foudres, whose size has moved from 34 hl and 22 hl down to include 12 hl now, lengthened the wines, which is what I want, not wide wines. So finally I have come back to what my grandpa, whom you knew, did.”

SOME LIMITED WINES, NOT MANY

Among the lesser wines in 2017, there are those that are a bit limited, without the joyous generosity and flair of 2016, which isn’t really surprising. The *** CHÂTEAU LE PLAISIR was a rare example of a wine that showed excess dry vintage strength. There are also very few gloopy wines, with freshness and balance usually pretty good, although I would exclude the DOMAINE DE CRÉMONE PREMIER VIOLON from that comment.

To taste a good range of CAIRANNE 2017s – 42- and only find four wines at *** or less, is testament to the quality of the vintage here. Two ***** wines that are both STGT – the BERTHET-RAYNE VIEILLES VIGNES and the ROMAIN ROCHE LA BOUSQUETTE – is another badge of honour.

TWO 5 STAR WINES, BOTH STGT

ANDRÉ BERTHET-RAYNE

The heart of the BERTHET-RAYNE VIEILLES VIGNES is 1950s-1960s GRENACHE (60%) and 1940s CARIGNAN (15-20%) from clay-limestone soils on LES BEAUCHIÈRES and LES DOUYES; it’s an organic wine, fermented with wild yeast, and concrete vat raised, no trace of oak.

ROMAIN ROCHE

For the BOUSQUETTE, the heart beats with 85% GRENACHE planted in the decade of the 1900s; its companion is old CARIGNAN. ROMAIN ROCHE raises the GRENACHE in concrete, with the CARIGNAN in 5-year and older 228-litre and 600-litre casks – again, no oak influence to speak of, and the virtues of two of the region’s staples, the GRENACHE and the CARIGNAN, on the dance card. Note there isn’t much or any SYRAH at all (yes, it completes the trio of varieties on the BERTHET RAYNE) - a variety that struggles in these hot summers, and should never have been so widely planted, unless it were in high, N facing sites.

I fully recommend readers who are used to drinking on the SOUTHERN RHÔNE Superhighway of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE and GIGONDAS, to stray into CAIRANNE. Raise a glass to DENIS ALARY. You have been told.

LEADING 2017 CAIRANNE REDS

***** Dom A Berthet-Rayne Vieilles Vignes 2031-33 03/19 suave, floral, interest, STGT
***** Domaine Roche La Bousquette 2034-36 03/19 savoury, plump, impressive, STGT
****(*) Domaine Alary L’Estévenas 2037-39 03/19 beguiling, rocking, fine, sustained
**** Clos des Mourres Origines 2028-30 02/20 ripe strength, wholesome, STGT
**** Domaine Alary La Brunote 2036-38 03/19 tasty, good spine, spiced
**** Domaine Alary Tradition 2031-33 03/19 accessible, sympa, racy, gd vibe
**** Dom des Amadieu Garrigues   2033-35 03/19 manly, tenacious, fulfilling, genuine 
**** Bastide St Dominique Les 2 Arbres 2034-36 03/19 savoury, gourmand, quality fruit 
**** Boutinot Les Six   2034-36 03/19 engaging, muscled, genuine 
**** Domaine Brusset Les Chabriles   2033-35 03/19 wholesome, tasty, spice, elegance 
**** Domaine Brusset Les Travers   2032-34 03/19 floral, serene, Cairanne silk 
**** Camille Cayran La Réserve   2031-33 03/19 enjoyable fruit, free, curvy 
**** Camille Cayran Sans Souffre 2027-29 03/19 good strength, character 
**** Les Chemins de Sève Apanage   2033-35 03/19 provocative, suave, bundles of life 
**** Les Grandes Serres Carius    2030-32 03/19 free roll, savoury, silken 
**** Gabriel Meffre Grande Réserve   2033-35 03/19 wholesome, engaging, classic structure 
**** Dom de l’Oratoire St Martin Les Douyes   2032-35 03/19 expressive, stylish 
**** l’Oratoire St Martin Réserve des Seigneurs  2033-35 03/19 ripe, savoury, aromatic, fat 
**** Famille Perrin Peyre Blanche   2031-33 10/18 enjoyable, shapely, rounded 
***(*) Pierre Amadieu les Hautes Rives  2030-32 03/19 Grenache flavour, nicely robust 
***(*) Domaine Beau Mistral Les Garrigues 2032-34 03/19 true flow, gentle caress 
***(*) Domaine Brunely    2029-31 03/19 spiced, pretty authentic 
***(*) Boutinot Sans Artifice   2027-28 03/19 solid, local, sealed content 
***(*) Brotte Domaine Grosset   2031-33 03/19 sweet, fleshy, power, genuine  
***(*) Camille Cayran Les Voconces   2032-33 03/19 spiced, garrigue, has drive 
***(*) Chemins de Sève Métamorphose   2032-34 03/19 liberal spicing, compact 
***(*) Domaine Clos Romane   2031-33 03/19 direct, energy, can amplify 
***(*) Domaine Cros de Romet   2028-30 03/19 genuine, detail, floral, clarity 
***(*) Dom des Escaravailles La Boutine   2031-33 03/19 tight, concentrated, garrigue 
***(*) Dom Les Grands Bois Maximilien 2032-34 03/19 dense, well filled, powerful  
***(*) Dom Hautes Cances Col du Débat 2031-33 09/20 oily, sealed, good heart
***(*) Dom Hautes Cances Vieilles Vignes 2032-34 02/20 good attack, forceful, baked close
***(*) Domaine Martin   2031-33 03/19 honest, spiced, no frills 
***(*) Dom Philippe Plantevin La Daurelle   2030-32 03/19 raw, grilled, wild, provokes 
***(*) Domaine de la Présidente   2027-29 03/19 sweet, comfy, supple tannin 
***(*) Domaine Rabasse Charavin   2035-37 03/19 ground force, robust, punchy 
***(*) Domaine Romain Roche 2032-34 03/19 deep, continuous, spicy, power
***(*) Domaine de la Tête Noire   2033-35 03/19 smooth flow, oily, persists 
***(*) Domaine du Trapadis Les Garrigues   2026-27 03/19 clear, naked, tender, trim
*** Château Le Plaisir 2029-31 03/19 dry vintage strength, steady 
*** Coteaux des Travers Terra Rosea   2032-34 03/19 spiced, oaked, time needed 
*** Dom de Crémone Premier Violon   2033-35 03/19 soaked ripeness, lightly floral 
*** Dom Les Hautes Cances Tradition 2029-31 09/20 full, sturdy, local vigour, bit dry
**(*) Arnoux Secret de Terroir  2026-27 03/19 simple, straightforward 


2017 GIGONDAS REDS

ALTITUDE: A KEY COMPONENT FOR THE 2017 VINTAGE AT GIGONDAS, WITH MORE HARVEST AND BETTER FRESHNESS IN THE WINES THAN LOWER DOWN ON THE PLAIN

The sun and the drought penetrated GIGONDAS’ defences in 2017, so it’s an atypical vintage. Quality is pretty high, all things considered, but the cool stamp of this late ripening vineyard is often absent from the wines, replaced by a textural coating and suave richness. Pockets of clarity peek through here and there, with a good number of **** and above wines to choose from.

The vintage imprint was relatively more pronounced at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE in 2017, and one of the success stories of the year can be found at CAIRANNE, whose report will follow this. Value for money is high at CAIRANNE, with some GIGONDAS wines suitably priced, as well.

Coming in the shadow of the exceptional 2016, 2017 was always going to struggle to match that peerless year. The abundance of 2016 was also a fine memory for the growers, whose yields were often down around 25%, with flowering a cause for concern in the low-lying areas, the mountain vineyards, later to ripen, better off.

DRY WINTER, LOW WATER RESERVES

The year commenced with a dry winter, so water reserves were limited. As LOUIS BARRUOL of CHÂTEAU SAINT COSME explained to me on 15 August, 2017: “the 2016-17 winter was dry – there was very little rain, it wasn’t very cold – in other words, exactly what we don’t need. Spring was quite normal, with a bit of rain and temperate days. But the dry and warm winter meant a deficit in the water table. We haven’t made up this deficit, and now the outcome for the vintage is governed by rain – when it falls, and how much.

FLOWERING MUCH BETTER HIGH UP

Flowering ran over two weeks as usual, but this year the garrigue, low level vineyards, were hit by very poor flowering, the high, mountain areas much better – the reverse of 2016. With it being so dry, there hasn’t been blight from black rot, mildew or oïdium.

The veraison [grapes turning colour] was very slow because of the drought this year, which has slowed everything down. Some of my SYRAH started to turn on 20 July, whereas some GRENACHE is changing colour now, the middle of August. I suspect ripening this year will be heterogeneous across the appellation.”

DROUGHT PRESSURE

Rainfall was a rare event, with PIERRE AMADIEU recounting: “we had 20 mm (0.8 in) in two falls in May, then nothing in June, July, with 5 mm in the first week of August, and 5 mm at the end of September. Our yield on GRAND ROMANE [their high-up vineyard] was the same as 2016 – 19-21 hl/ha, due to coulure. The drought didn’t make the grapes lose weight in 2016, as it did in 2017.”

ALL GROWERS SUFFERED HARVEST LOSSES

Other growers spoke of their shortfalls, ANNE-MARIE GAUDIN of DOMAINE DU TERME relating: “we lost 30% if judged by the vats, but 50% if judged by the juice – I have empty vats this year, the combination of coulure and drought the reason. Like 2013 it was cool weather at flowering – I lost 30% then. The aromas and the colours are good, and it’s not high degree like 2003. The CLAIRETTE had good juice this year.”

DAMIEN BURLE also suffered from coulure on his best vines, telling me: “I lost 15% at most in some places, with coulure on the old GRENACHE. Our high vineyard on LES FOUILLES gave more in 2017 than 2016 because it flowered later, and missed the coulure. There were a lot of grapillons – bare bunches, but people harvested all they could because there was so little.”

THIÉRRY FARAVEL of DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE works vineyards at VACQUEYRAS and BEAUMES-DE-VENISE, so gave this perspective on three different appellations with dissimilar ripening profiles: “well, unlike other areas, we didn’t suffer from hail or frost. January was clement, with near spring-like conditions, pruning in shirt sleeves, with a small snap of cold, around zero to -1°C, in early February. June was very hot, with the high temperatures a month ahead of usual. We had two rainfalls of 15 mm (0.6 in) and 20 mm around 20-25 June. There was a little hail on the GARRIGUES plateau around SANTA DUC and PESQUIER. Late July into early August was dry, hot, with nights that were fresh. Generally, the vines were a lot more green than in 2016, even though it was very dry."

RAINFALL NOT WIDESPREAD, WAS LOCALISED

"There was a rainfall of 30-35 mm (1.2-1.4 in) before the harvest at GIGONDAS, but VACQUEYRAS only received 4-5 mm at the same time, CAIRANNE nothing, LAFARE [BEAUMES-DE-VENISE] got 25 mm – that was on 4 September, 2017," he continued. "The rain served to expand the grapes, and cleaned the dust off the leaves. The vines didn’t get much benefit – the rain merely served as a shower for them, rather than a bath. Our GIGONDAS yield was around 32 hl/ha against 36 hl/ha in 2016. Anywhere with clay soils had a good crop, with attractive grapes. The GARRIGUE soil vines had smaller grapes than those high up.” Year in, year out, the DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE GIGONDAS TRADITION wine is authentic, robust and good VALUE.

Another pillat of consistency, with very long-lived wine, is DOMINIQUE AY of DOMAINE RASPAIL-AY: “there isn’t a great amount of crop, unlike 2014, 2015 and 2016 – that’s due to coulure during flowering. There are no blights. We had some storms in July, when temperatures ran between 28° to 35°C, with a slight dip towards the end of the month. August heated up once more. Drought depended on the soils, and the age of the vines – old vines with their deep roots were OK, but vines under 10 years’ old were more drought affected. Some plots gave zero crop, others fared better. I noticed that, even with the drought, signs of yellowing leaves didn’t come through very much.”

DÉLPHINE FARAUD, one of the trio of sisters at the always good quality DOMAINE DU CAYRON, pointed to the problem of the cold wind on their harvest when telling me: “we didn’t have a big crop on BOIS DE MONGE [towards the RIVER OUVÈZE] – that was hurt by cold MISTRAL and coulure during flowering. The coulure this year was more on the lower, garrigue levels than higher up – the opposite of 2016. Strong MISTRAL - around 90 km per hour – concentrated the grapes in the later summer.”

Most of LAURENT DANIEL’s vineyards at LA BASTIDE SAINT VINCENT are in low-lying areas, so he took a considerable hit this year, reporting: “we had a decent crop in the mountain area, but lower down was bad – we lost 50% at VACQUEYRAS, 40-45% at VIOLÈS, and 40% on the PLAN DE DIEU. The only rain between the end of June and November was 20 mm at the end of August at VIOLÈS; there was 15-20 mm at VACQUEYRAS the same day.”

2016 A VINTAGE OF BETTER BALANCE [NO SURPRISE]

As the wines started to emerge, growers expressed contentment with them, having sometimes taken measures to handle the harvest carefully. STÉPHANIE FUMOSO favours elegance in her wines at the DOMAINE DU GOUR DE CHAULÉ, and gave this summary: “it’s very joli, but not as balanced as 2016, which had exceptional balance on all levels. We pruned some vines in early April, and found they gave three times more crop against the vines pruned in January. Overall, we lost 20-25%. The colour is very belle, and fermentations were easy. The skins were very thick, and there was some astringency; I was fearing a hard vintage, but that’s not the case.”

HARD WINES DID NOT MATERIALISE

YVES GRAS, the maestro of DOMAINE SANTA DUC, has moved to much lighter touch wines in the past few vintages. He gave this appraisal of 2017: “it was a very complicated year. The yield was low, minus 30%, but the quality surprising. We expected hard to rustic wines, but they are elegant, with a belle quality of fruit – they are beaus. They aren’t massive as might have been expected. Acidities and pH levels are magnificent. Across the appellation quality is up and down. We had the luck to receive 40 mm (1.6 in) of rain the week before the harvest. There was no rain at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE that time, with RASTEAU and VIOLÈS 25 mm (1 in).”

DANIEL BRUNIER of LES PALLIÈRES, a vineyard where elegance has reigned since I first knew it in the early 1970s, was another grower pleased to avoid tough wines this year, telling me: “there’s a big difference between GIGONDAS and CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. GIGONDAS didn’t have the same problem of coulure at flowering time as CHÂTEAUNEUF, so yield was normal. There is intensity in the vintage, with aromas and finesse, harmony. I expected the wines to be a lot more severe, even hard. The important factor was that freshness wasn’t lost. The only variety slightly affected by the drought, via yellow leaves, was the young SYRAH.”

LOUIS BARRUOL at CHÂTEAU SAINT COSME ended up with harvest losses, but a good impression of the vintage. He related: “I lost 20%, while the appellation lost 25%. There was little even no crop on the plateau, while it was better around the village. The high zones had a good crop since they were late flowering, and escaped the coulure, as did BEAUMES-DE-VENISE and SÉGURET.

It’s a very beau year, a bit less massive than 2015 and 2016; the wines have a lot of fruit, precision, finesse, a large colour. It’s a very joli year, a touch more narrow than the real sun years. I did a little more work on the marc and some cap punching because the wine had more foundation than I expected when harvesting. It may be a bit like 1988 [a drought year], but is more charming than that vintage.”

2016 MORE ELEGANT, 2017 VERY FULL

PIERRE AMADIEU felt that there was some connection to 2016, with the comment: “2017 is a bit like 2016 with less acidity. There’s very little malic acidity this year.” For his part, DAMIEN BURLE, who works on a much smaller scale, observed: “we did a 27 day vinification, while the degree is a bit lower than 2016 at 15° to 15.3°. It will be a joli, not exceptional vintage. The balance is good.”

Other grower comments were positive, with CÉSAR PERRIN of FAMILLE PERRIN, whose CLOS DES TOURELLES is a gem of a vineyard, observing: “2017 is very full, though 2016 is more elegant.” DANY CHASTAN has been organic since many decades, following in the footsteps of her father FERNAND at CLOS DU JONCUAS; she told me: “it’s not solar like 2003; I am optimistic and confident,” while veteran BERNARD CHAUVET of DOMAINE DU GRAPILLON D’OR was also satisfied, stating: “we were down 15-20%. There’s very good colour, beaus tannins – it’s a good vintage.”

ACHIEVING BALANCE MERITS APPLAUSE IN 2017

Beyond the growers’ words and statements, I would posset that it was a triumph to achieve balance this year, working around the vintage’s natural extremity, indeed channelling that feature productively. So it’s hats off for wines such as the ****(*) TARDIEU-LAURENT VIEILLES VIGNES – deep, thoroughly grounded, striking notes of iron, blood, STGT wine, and the ****(*) PIERRE AMADIEU ROMANE MACHOTTE, generous in mid-palate, likeable energy, sparkling fruit on board.

Also, the **** MAS DES FLAUZIÈRES GRANDE RÉSERVE – a bit high octane on the nose, but a wine with size, vigour, as well as the **** DOMAINE LE CLOS DES CAZAUX TOUR SARRASINE - energy in the tannins that bring their own momentum, the **** DOMAINE DU POURRA LA RÉSERVE - vigorous GRENACHE on nose and palate, an unbridled, stimulating wine, the **** DOMAINE DES BOSQUETS - Well charged, lithe, sinewed, a vigorous glass of GIGONDAS in time.

STRONG VINTAGE IMPRINT IN SOME WINES, SO FAT DEPTH

The high sun quota often meant fat wines, rather than the more usual cool structures: here the vintage effect was definitely on top, meaning that stylistically you have to enjoy the overt fullness of such a vintage if you are buying these wines.

In this category fell wines such as the **** DOMAINE FONTAVIN COMBE SAUVAGE – a gourmand, expansive affair [av. vineyard age over 55 years], but also fortunately carrying iodine, cool notes, perhaps from the 350 metres altitude of their COMBE SAUVAGE vineyard. Then there was the **** DOMAINE DE L’ESPIGOUETTE - smooth, coated, wine from the low lying, warm vineyards of PESQUIER and LES BLÂCHES, and the ***(*) LAVAU merchant wine – a sunny, punchy, ground force affair.

Gutsy wines were also on display, examples being the **** DOMAINE PALON - strength, close to its warm lands, a touch wild, and the **** RHONÉA DOMAINE CAROBELLE - slightly high octane, content, rocky tannins. Both need time to come together, but will present a robust, hearty drink in time.

SOME WINES NOT EASY TO DRINK

Then there were wines which were so packed in that they were definitely not easy to drink: the ***(*) BONPAS GRAND PRIEUR was chewy, charged, a sipping rather than free drinking wine, and the ***(*) DOMAINE DE BOISSAN VIEILLES VIGNES – bold, sunswept, with baked tannins, sipping status.

Other wines that I felt were unbalanced by the vintage included the *** CHÂTEAU LA CROIX DES PINS LES DESSOUS DES DENTELLES – dry-toned tannins, degree toppy given the level of ripeness; the gloopy *** DOMAINE LES SIBU - creamy, sweet wine. The *** DOMAINE LA BASTIDE ST VINCENT was an example of the sunny oppression of the vintage, markedly sweet, soaked and musky, and not easy to drain back wine…, while the *** DOMAINE DES BOSQUETS LA COLLINE – toffee from its oak, adding to the liqueur, ponderous, weighty, soaked couch, and lastly, the *** CHÂTEAU SAINT COSME LE CLAUX - soaked, fleshy, close to liqueur, not easy to drink much of it.

LACK OF TANNIC RIPENESS A PROBLEM IN SOME CASES

Two old chestnut problems occurred here and there: I feel the winemaking across the region has improved to such an extent that poor tannic ripeness shouldn’t be much of an issue anymore, but 2017 revealed flaws in this regard: the ** MAS DES FLAUZIÈRES FOUR DANUGA, *** VIGNOBLES & CIE LES SOURCES DE MONTMIRAIL and their **(*) CLOS DU BOIS DE MENGE, and the **(*) DOMAINE CÉCILE CHASSAGNE - demanding, dry tannins - and the *** DOMAINE DES FONTNOBLES – vintage marked, tannins could have been a nudge riper, and the *** ARNOUX NOBLES TERRASSES, rather lean, lithe, tannins not as ripe as they could be.

NOT A YEAR TO CHASE EXTRACTION

Extraction was the other old chestnut. 2017 was emphatically not a year to go pushing the harvest, given the thick skins and low levels of juice; if the grower panicked at seeing the expected degree rising, and harvested before the tannins were fully ripe, and then chased the grapes in the cellar – wham! Not a good result.

In this category was the *** DOMAINE DES FLORETS LES FLORETS – tannins stretched. The ***(*) CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL LA COMBE SAUVAGE just about got away with it, being chewy, grounded, almost on extraction, the tannins rugged, rather like a 2013.

RHONÉA: IMPROVEMENT [AT LAST]

Among individual producers, the large scale RHONÉA – the blend of the CAVE DE VACQUEYRAS and the CAVE DE BEAUMES-DE-VENISE - showed continued progress via two domaine wines – the already mentioned **** DOMAINE CAROBELLE, a wine with STGT leanings, and the ***(*) DOMAINE DES CAPES - good quality fruit, clear wine.

High degree – standing out on the wines, rather than on the label - was rarely a concern, although the ***(*) FONT SARADE LES PIGIÈRES held a semblance of it – 15° on the label tells its story, hearty and genuine, but on kirsch more than pure fruit.

ARTICULATE, ELEGANT WINES CAN BE FOUND

At another extreme, there were cuvées that garnered elegance - articulate wines with grace – including the ****(*) PERRIN L'ARGNÉE VIEILLES VIGNES - cool, elegant, good pedigree, the ****(*) DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE HOMMAGE À GABRIEL MEFFRE - another pedigree wine - and the **** DOMAINE LES SEMELLES DU VENT CLOS DU GARDE, a wine with a friendly floral, rose-hip influence: this is always a domaine on purity and detail, really artisan wines.

The **** BOUTINOT DOMAINE HAUTE MARONE trod a BURGUNDIAN path more than a PROVENÇAL trail, being discreetly stylish and clear-cut, while the **** PIERRE AMADIEU LE PAS DE L’AIGLE, aided by the altitude, came with the cool features of GIGONDAS, promising, elegant, aromatic. Altitude allowed suave content here and at another PIERRE AMADIEU, the ****(*) ROMANE MACHOTTE [vineyards at 260 to 300 metres], a wine with energy, and the ****(*) CHÂTEAU REDORTIER – free wheeling, entertaining, long and fresh, derived from vineyards at 450-500 metres on ROMANE.

A TRIO NOT TO BE MISSED, ESPECIALLY AS THEY ARE TRADITION WINES

There is a trio of racing certainty wines this year that offer an exceptional Price-Quality ratio. These are frequently the wines that I prefer over the domaines' more expensive cuvées. They are the ****(*) DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE, the ****(*) MOULIN DE LA GARDETTE TRADITION, and the ****(*) DOMAINE SAINT GAYAN ORIGINE.

GOOD QUALITY MERCHANT WINES

One sign of a good vintage is the performance of the NÉGOCIANT or merchant houses, who buy wine on the slightly open market, although many now hold long-term agreements, and have input in the running of the vineyards in question. The NORTHERN RHÔNE houses were on good form, via the ****(*) DELAS LES REINAGES, **** M CHAPOUTIER, and **** VIDAL-FLEURY. From the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, the hand picked wine of TARDIEU-LAURENT VIEILLES VIGNES was ****(*).

BUYERS: TARGET WINES FROM ALTITUDE

Be ready for wines that are fat, fleshy, overt in 2017. As simple a rule as I can give is to zoom in on wines made from high altitude vineyards. Time will aid their development, and bring a little more structure. The vintage is a shade more interesting than CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2017, but requires quite careful selection, the natural habitat for them being autumn-wintertime drinking when they are at least eight years’ old. Decanting will certainly help. Expect a longevity running at least up to the doorstep of 2040.

LEADING 2017 GIGONDAS REDS

***** Perrin Domaine du Clos des Tourelles 2044-46 10/19 strength, complexity, pedigree
****(*) Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte 2041-43 10/18 generous, energy, has stature
****(*) Château Redortier 2040-42 10/18 free fruit, long, fresh
****(*) Château de Saint Cosme Le Poste 2039-41 10/18 wide, brimming, energy, character
****(*) Delas Les Reinages 2042-44 10/18 dimension, ruggedly honest
****(*) Domaine La Bouïssière 2039-41 10/18 spice, character, fresh, fun
****(*) Dom Brusset Secrets de Montmirail 2042-44 10/18 gourmand, stylish, long, true
****(*) Domaine de Longue Toque 2039-41 10/18 shiny, stylish, quiet class
****(*) Dom Longue Toque Hommage G Meffre 2039-41 10/18 supple gras, pedigree, elegant
****(*) Moulin de la Gardette Tradition 2036-38 10/18 smooth, savoury, oily, fine
****(*) Perrin L’Argnée Vieilles Vignes 2040-43 10/19 class, precision, finesse, STGT 
****(*) Domaine Saint Gayan Origine 2039-41 10/18 vigour, succulent, character, length
****(*) Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes 2042-44 10/18 deep, thorough, striking, character, STGT
**** Pierre Amadieu Le Pas de l’Aigle   2040-42 10/18 savoury, elegant, aromatic, promise 
**** Louis Bernard   2039-41 10/18 thick juice, robust, trad  
**** Boutinot Domaine La Haute Marone   2038-40 10/18 style, restraint, good fruit 
**** M Chapoutier   2039-41 10/18 muskily aromatic, butty, tight 
**** Château Mont-Redon Réserve   2040-41 10/18 close-knit, local colour  
**** Château de Montmirail Beauchamp   2037-39 10/18 cool, grippy, genuine 
**** Château de Montmirail Saint Maurice   2038-40 10/18 local, sleek, juicy, authentic 
**** Le Clos des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine 2040-43 10/18 good Gren, spice, energy 
**** Clos du Joncuas   2039-41 10/18 fruit flair, character, cool 
**** Dom de Boissan Sélection de Victor  2040-43 10/18 heart, tenacious fruit, long 
**** Domaine des Bosquets   2037-39 10/18 charge, vigour, salt, rockiness 
**** Dom des Bosquets Le Lieu Dit ...   2037-38 10/18 interesting, tasty fruit, polished 100G 
**** Dom des Bosquets Le Plateau …   2039-41 10/18 firm, flair, abundance, silken 100Mourv 
**** Dom Brusset Les Hauts de Montmirail   2040-42 10/18 well juiced, dark, spiced 
**** Dom Brusset Trad Le Gd Montmirail 2036-38 10/18 good fruit; stylish, suave 
**** Domaine Burle Les Pallieroudas   2036-37 10/18 fleshy bounty, genuine, STGT
**** Domaine de Cabasse Jucunditas   2039-41 10/18 good fruit, full, thorough 
**** Domaine des Espiers Les Grames   2036-38 10/18 stylish content, floating clarity 
**** Domaine de l’Espigouette 2033-35 10/18 smooth, coated, tannin depth 
**** La Ferme du Mont Jugunda   2037-39 10/18 vivid, stimulating, local 
**** Domaine de Font Sane Tradition   2038-40 10/18 dark surge, scale, sipping wine
**** Dom Font Sane Terrasses Dentelles 2036-38 10/18 ample, charged, punchy, grounded 
**** Dom de Fontavin Combe Sauvage   2038-41 10/18 sunny weight, expansive, detail
**** Dom du Gour de Chaulé Tradition   2037-39 10/18 fuelled, thorough, has authority 
**** Dom du Grand Bourjassot Cécile   2037-39 10/18 suave richness, full, fat  
**** Domaine du Grapillon d’Or 1806   2037-39 10/18 broad, rolling, gains depth  
**** Dom N Dame des Pallières Bois des Mourres 2038-40 10/18 solid heart, defined, garrigue 
**** Dom N Dame des Pallières Les Mourres 2037-39 10/18 vintage size. firm vigour, spiced
**** Ogier Héritages   2040-42 10/18 concentration, style, sparky drive 
**** Domaine Les Pallières Les Racines 2039-42 10/19 packed, vigorous, crisp, time 
**** Domaine Palon   2038-40 10/18 crisp fruit, good depth 
**** Domaine des Pasquiers   2038-40 10/18 free fruits, crisp tannins 
**** Domaine Le Péage   2038-41 10/18 soaked fruits, good saltiness 
**** Domaine du Pesquier   2038-41 10/18 comfy Gren, authentic, STGT  
**** Domaine du Pourra La Réserve   2042-44 10/18 good heart, thorough, vigour 
**** Domaine Raspail-Ay     2037-39 10/18 lusty, aromatic, power, interest 
**** Domaine La Roubine   2037-39 10/18 rounded, smooth, good length 
**** Domaine Saint Gayan Fontmaria    2038-40 10/18 rolling matter, good tannins 
**** Dom Saint Gayan In Nomine Patris cask version 2040-42 10/18 thorough, persistent, complete  
**** Dom les Semelles du Vent Clos du Garde  2038-41 10/18 style, grace, florality
**** Domaine La Soumade   2036-38 10/18 peppery, smooth fruit, restrained 
**** Dom du Terme Black Label/Réserve   2037-39 10/18 charge, vigour, high octane 
**** Dom du Terme White Label/Tradition   2038-40 10/18 smooth, rich, plush, aromatic
**** Domaine Les Teyssonnières   2040-42 10/18 stylish gras, free, garrigue  
**** Domaine Tourbillon Vieilles Vignes   2035-37 10/18 roasted, high octane, gourmand 
**** Mas des Flauzières Gde Réserve   2040-43 10/18 size, vigour, driving content 
**** Mas des Flauzières Terra Rosso   2038-40 10/18 bold, oaked, stylish, raw 
**** Rhonéa Domaine Carobelle   2039-41 10/18 character, guts, sparky tannins, STGT
**** Rhonéa Les Pierres du Vallat   2036-37 10/18 rich, swell, clear, long 
**** Vidal-Fleury   2037-38 10/18 gourmand, fat, fleshy, rolling  
***(*) Pierre Amadieu Dom Grande Romane 2038-40 10/18 vigour, weight, thick, challenging 
***(*) Dom du Bois des Mèges Pierre Celeste  2035-37 10/18 sound fruit flow, cool 
***(*) Dom de Boissan Vieilles Vignes 2036-38 10/18 bold, baked, sunswept, chewy 
***(*) Bonpas Grand Prieur   2038-41 10/18 southern strength, chewy, sip
***(*) Dom La Bouïssière La Font de Tonin 2039-42 10/18 copious, spiced, dense, thorough 
***(*) Brotte La Marasque   2037-39 10/18 weighty, robust, thorough, time 
***(*) La Cave de Gigondas signature   2036-38 10/18 coated, kirsch, time to fuse 
***(*) Chât La Croix des Pins Le Parpaillon   2037-39 10/18 musky, sunshine, chewy tannins 
***(*) Chât de Montmirail Combe Sauvage   2037-39 10/18 thick juice, rugged tannins 
***(*) Chât de Saint Cosme Hominis Fides    2038-41 10/18 assertive, tenacious, kirsch, oak 
***(*) Château la Thébaïde   2032-33 10/18 aromatic fruit, authentic  
***(*) Domaine Le Clos de Caveau   2036-38 10/18 chewy, honest, firm, time  
***(*) Le Clos des Cazaux Prestige     2039-41 10/18 go-go, raw, upbeat fruit 
***(*) Dom des Bosquets Les Routes …    2035-38 10/18 100Syr aromatic liqueur, smooth, oaked 
***(*) Domaine de la Daysse     2037-39 10/18 sustained juice, genuine, dry end 
***(*) La Font de Notre Dame Le Mas   2036-38 10/18 gracious gras, spiced, rocky 
***(*) Font Sarade Les Pigières   2032-34 10/18 hearty, genuine, highish degree  
***(*) Grandes Serres La Combe des Marchands   2036-38 10/18 good heart, rich, spiced 
***(*) Domaine Longue Toque Les 3 Yeux   2036-38 10/18 straightforward, smooth texture 
***(*) Domaine d’Ouréa   2030-32 10/18 fleshy, enjoyable, immediate  
***(*) Domaine Pailllère & Pied-Gû   2036-38 10/18 wavy, rolling, sunny, open 
***(*) Dom Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable   2038-40 10/19 grain, spine, cool; power question 
***(*) Dom Saint Gayan In Nomine Patris jar version 2037-39 10/18 purity, implicit power, spirit 
***(*) Lavau  2038-40 10/18 sunny, punchy, genuine, fuelled 
***(*) Marrenon Les Belles Echappées  2030-32 10/18 soft, attractive, smooth, kind  
***(*) Mas des Restanques   2033-34 10/18 spicy, chewy, genuine 
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Laurus    2037-39 10/18 rocky content, mineral, cool  
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Sainte Catherine   2036-38 10/18 sturdy, thorough, dark, refusenik 
***(*) Montirius Terre des Aînés   2038-40 10/18 lithe, vegetal, time to fuse 
***(*) Moulin de la Gardette Ventabren   2037-39 10/18 chunky, concentrated, thick, sip 
***(*) Ogier Antoine Ogier Dentellis     2039-40 10/18 vigorous, full, prolonged, pushy 
***(*) Famille Perrin La Gille   2035-37 10/18 grilling, spice, reserved, time 
***(*) Rhonéa Domaine des Capes 2032-34 10/18 free fruit, spicing, clear  
***(*) Rhonéa Le Pas de Montmirail   2033-35 10/18 wavy fruit, crisp tannins 
***(*) Rhonéa Terroir Daronton   2037-39 10/18 opulent, savoury, smooth 
*** Arnoux Nobles Terrasses     2030-31 10/18 dark, smoky, lithe, bit lean 
*** Cave de Gigondas Le Seigneur du Raveil 2035-37 10/18 v spicy, free, raw, assertive 
*** Ch La Croix des Pins les Dessous des Dentelles 2037-38 10/18 spiced, cool, high degree 
*** Château de Saint Cosme Tradition  2035-37 10/18 gourmand, dense, rugged tannins 
*** Château de Saint Cosme Le Claux    2035-37 10/18 aromatic, ripe, fleshy, sipping 
*** Domaine La Bastide St Vincent   2036-38 10/18 soaked fruits, sunswept, sweet 
*** Domaine des Bosquets La Colline …   2038-39 10/18 ponderous, toffee-oak, weighty
*** Ferraton Les Murailles   2025-26 02/19 soft n’easy, simple  
*** Dom des Florets Les Florets  2031-32 10/18 sinew, spice, upright, extraction 
*** Domaine des Fontnobles    2033-35 10/18 black fruits, tannins outside  
*** Dom La Fourmone le Fauquet   2028-30 10/18 limited fruit, regular, simple 
*** Domaine Les Goubert   2030-32 10/18 fat, sweet, orb shape, oak 
*** Domaine Les Goubert Florence   2032-34 10/18 musky, soaked, sipping, clunky 
*** Domaine du Grapillon d’Or Excellence   2035-37 10/18 easy flow, polished, simple
*** E Guigal 2036-38 05/21 succulent, smooth, stylised, plain
*** Montirius Confidentiel   2037-39 10/18 upright, naked, pared back 
*** Ravoire Olivier Ravoire   2034-36 10/18 oppressive sweetness, fat, gummy 
*** Domaine Les Sibu   2032-34 10/18 sweet, fleshy, savoury, gloopy 
*** Bertrand Stehelin   2033-35 10/18 loose content, dryish tannin
*** Domaine de La Tourade   2036-38 10/18 thick, static, spiced, vegetal 
*** Vignobles & Cie Sources de Montmirail 2029-30 10/18 butty content, needs to fuse  
**(*) Arnoux Seigneur de Lauris V Vignes   2034-35 10/18 breeze, menthol, piercing tannins 
**(*) Maison Bouachon Duc de Montfort   2030-32 10/18 cut, cool, lack of ripeness 
**(*) Domaine Burle Les Fouilles 2025-27 02/20 wild, stewed, rubbery tannins, tired
**(*) Domaine Cécile Chassagne   2030-32 10/18 broad, fuelled, exerted, dry 
**(*) Domaine de Piaugier    2035-37 10/18 brisk content, rasping tar 
**(*) Vignobles & Cie Clos du Bois de Menge 2027-28 10/18 simple fruit, dry notes 
** Mas des Flauzières Four Danuga   2027-28 10/18 sweet; gummy tannins, dry  


2017 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

BLANDINE MAYARD OF DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES: "ROUNDED AND FRESH 2017 WHITES"

Drought and a packet load of sun should have made 2017 a complicated vintage for CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE BLANC, but it is testimony to improved commitment from the growers and raised standards of vineyard and cellar work that 2017 has produced some highly appealing wines.

As I tasted through them, my early thought that they might be heady, unbalanced and rather wonky fell back, and some of them really please through their balance and their detail. There is also a combination of wines built around stylish pedigree, with others that are southern, glycerol-fuelled, and genuine contenders for robust dishes à table. So buyers can enjoy themselves according to their preferred stylistic leaning.

SURPRISING QUALITY NEXT TO RECENT VINTAGES

I took a look at ratings over the last four vintages, sensing that this might show a surprise, and lo and behold, it did. The 2016 vintage was so supremely good on all levels, obviously for the reds, but also for the whites due to the superb harvest quality and the balance tuned into the finest of registers: hence that was the likely front runner, probably by some margin.

2014 was a fresh year, so good poise could be achieved in those whites, while 2015 was a tricky year for ripening, and one built on concentration. Perhaps 2014 would be ahead of 2015, 2017 between the pair of them in third place. I took the quality threshhold as 4 stars and up in each vintage, to discover what percentage of the wines were of that standard.

Here is what I found

RESPECTIVE VINTAGE QUALITY 2017 TO 2014

  2017 2016 2015 2014
5 STAR 01 03 02 03
4.5 STAR 10 11 09 09
4 STAR 36 39 31 26
3.5 STAR 30 37 34 31
3 STAR 06 11 18 12
2.5 STAR 01   02 04
2 STAR 01 02   01
TOTAL 85 103 96 86
4*+% 55 51 46 44
STGT 03 05 05 03

This was a welcome surprise, since I am not especially enamoured with the red vintage at CHÂTEAUNEUF in 2017. I would indeed steer readers towards the 2017 wines of **** and above.

I then looked at consistency over these past four vintages, with an entry point of **** stars for each vintage, although some with ***(*) were included when there was also a ****(*) vintage in the group. The biggest names naturally dominate this collection, but there are some unsung heroes as well, the 2017 vintage the first shown:

CONSISTENT WHITE CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE QUALITY 2017 TO 2014

  2017 2016 2015 2014 TOTAL
CHÂTEAU RAYAS 5 5 5 5 20
CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL VIEILLES VIGNES 4.5 5 5 5 19.5
CLOS DES PAPES 5 4.5 4 4.5 18
CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL CLASSIC WHITE 4.5 4.5 4 4 18
DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE LA CRAU 4 5 4.5 4.5 18
DOMAINE DES SÉNÉCHAUX 4 5 4 4 17
ALBIN JACUMIN, LA BÉGUDE DES PAPES 4.5 3.5 4 4 16
DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE 4 3 4.5 4.5 16
DOMAINE DU PEGAÜ A TEMPO 4.5 4 3.5 4 16
DOMAINE DU PEGAÜ CUVÉE RESERVÉE 4.5 NOT TASTED 5 5 13.5 (3)
DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE 4 4 3.5 4 15.5
DOMAINE DU GRAND TINEL 4 4 4 3.5 15.5
DOMAINE ANDRÉ MATHIEU 4 4 3.5 4 15.5
DOMAINE L’ABBÉ DÎNE 4 3.5 4 3.5

15

LOW YIELDS IN 2017

2017 yields were poor, with numerous tales of shortfall in the harvest. 25% was often a level of loss. DOMAINE LA MILLIÈRE was reduced to 1,580 bottles from a minimum of 2,300; DOMAINE DU GRAND TINEL fell to 5,500 from 7,000 bottles; CHÂTEAU DES FINES ROCHES was down from 20,000 to 15,000 bottles, DOMAINE DU PÈRE CABOCHE at 6,000 instead of 10,000 bottles, DOMAINE JULIETTE AVRIL 1,866 from 6,000 bottles.

With their 2018 harvest in shreds, do not expect to find much BEAUCASTEL BLANC on the open market in 2017 and 2018, CÉSAR PERRIN telling me: 2017 is a classic year – there was no coulure on the GRENACHE BLANC [unlike many]and ROUSSANNE. The ROUSSANNE VIEILLES VIGNES yield was 12-13 hl/ha, while the classic yield was 22 hl/ha.”

HARVEST IN THIRD WEEK OF AUGUST, EARLIER THAN EVER

Harvest dates for the whites become more and more precocious, THOMAS MAGNI, who is working well at DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI, informing me: “we were the first in the appellation to harvest this year, the ROUSSANNE, on 21 August.” The risk of saturation with the ROUSSANNE is high, overripeness needing to be watched for. That may have been a desirable goal in the grim years of sucrosity, but no more.

GROWERS HAPPY WITH 2017

Growers expressed their contentment with the vintage as a rule. Big NICOLAS BOIRON of BOSQUET DES PAPES: “the whites are sympas, the fermentations went well.” ALEXANDRE FAVIER, the talented chief of DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE: “the 2017 whites are very good, as rich as 2016, with balance, too. In terms of richness, it’s in line with 2015 and 2016. The crop for the ROUSSANNE, CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and BOURBOULENC was about normal, but the GRENACHE BLANC was hit. We started their harvest on 23 August.”

Two of the younger generation were also happy. BLANDINE MAYARD, whose work at DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES is impressive, their VIEILLES VIGNES RED a really good VALUE wine, stated: “the whites can keep a bit, have a belle roundness, and a fresh, citrus side.” From DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE, LAËTITIA GRADASSI, the niece of SERGE GRADASSI, commented: “the whites are quite fresh, with yield low, notably on the GRENACHE BLANC due to coulure.”

THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET has recently stepped down from the Presidency of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, and he told me: “the aromas were a bit slow to come through. Our crop was 28 hl/ha, against a usual 35 hl/ha. Degree was higher than usual, too - 14°, which is rare, against a usual 13.5°.”

LACK OF GRENACHE BLANC = ADAPTED BLENDS

Blends had to be adapted around the loss of GRENACHE BLANC. I note, for example, that the ***(*) MAS SAINT-LOUIS’ GRENACHE BLANC dropped from 80% to 50% this year, the ROUSSANNE rising from 20% to 50% as a result. Usually you can swim in the wonderful oily luxury of the late 1970s GRENACHE from the sandy, galet stone soils of the South-Eastern sector towards SORGUES, but this year the one caveat came in the form of a slightly bitter intensity on the close, as if the sun’s rays have breached the defences there.

Another domaine, this time up in the northern sector, the recently organic LA FAGOTIÈRE, had to raise its level of ROUSSANNE. Their white is usually 50% ROUSSANNE, 45% GRENACHE BLANC, 5% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and PICPOUL BLANC. The ***(*) 2017 moved to 65% ROUSSANNE, 30% GRENACHE BLANC, from the coulure on the GRENACHE, and quantity fell from 3,000 to just 900 bottles.

FRESHNESS VIA INCREASED USE OF BOURBOULENC

Equally, measures certainly had to be taken this year to work on freshness in the blend. The CLOS DE L’ORATOIRE DES PAPES – owner of the most iconic RHÔNE LABEL - increased their BOURBOULENC content – 10% in 2015, often 5%, while in in 2017 it stood at 25%. The BOURBOULENC is a little low on character in my book [unless old vines, low yields - see DOMAINE JEAN DAVID at SÉGURET pre-2015], but brings nerve and acidity, so OGIER [the parent company of CLOS DE L’ORATOIRE] were targeting freshness to defend the wine against the hot sun’s assertive ripening.

GRACE, DETAIL, SUBTLETY: A BIG ACHIEVEMENT IN 2017

Given the conditions of the summer season, it was a great achievement for ALBIN JACUMIN [LA BÉGUDE DES PAPES] and LAURENT BRECHET of CHÂTEAU DE VAUDIEU to come up with wines of grace, poise, detail and even subtlety – both ****(*). The flip side came at DOMAINE PAUL AUTARD - a *** wine that fell into the trap of excess power unbalancing the whole entity.

MEAT N'POTATOES ARE GOOD FOR LA TABLE

Beyond the Finesse school of whites, lies what I might term the Meat n’Potatoes school. These good, authentic full-bodied wines are certainly best suited to la table over drinking solo. Prominent showings for these came in the form of ****(*) CHÂTEAU FORTIA, ****(*) and STGT DOMAINE MOULIN-TACUSSEL, ****(*) DOMAINE DU PEGAÜ  CUVÉE RÉSERVEÉ, and the **** CHÂTEAU SIMIAN LE TRAVERSIER and **** DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE.

There is still a split between what the growers call the TRADITION wines and the PRESTIGE wines for red and white at CHÂTEAUNEUF. When I taste blind the wines I do not encounter on my visits, they are served in those two divisions. I frequently do not see an exponential rise in quality accompanying the exponential rise in price.

Throw in some later harvesting, a good dollop or two of oak, and you have a goodly part of the PRESTIGE formula. There is an increase in vine age, granted, but one has to be extremely wary about not sacrificing balance if set along this luxury product path.

GOOD VALUE WINES

Wines from the TRADITION group that will represent decent value in 2017 include the ****(*) CHÂTEAU DES FINES ROCHES (€22), ****(*) CHÂTEAU FORTIA (€20), ****(*) ALBIN JACUMIN LA BÉGUDES DES PAPES (€23), ****(*) DOMAINE MOULIN TACUSSEL (€26), **** CHÂTEAU SIMIAN LE TRAVERSIER (€23.20), **** CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET (€26), **** DOMAINE L’ABBÉ DÎNE (€25.50), **** DOMAINE JULIETTE AVRIL (€20), **** DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE (€23), **** DOMAINE ANDRÉ MATHIEU (€20).

On the following, my sense is that they are usually value if the quality is present, but prices were not communicated to me: **** CHÂTEAU FARGUEIROL, **** DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE, **** DOMAINE DU GRAND TINEL, **** DOMAINE DE SAINT-PAUL, **** DOMAINE RAYMOND USSEGLIO.

If looking at the PRESTIGE wines, two with tangy-bitter finishes in 2017 were CHÂTEAU SIXTINE (€31) and the DOMAINE ANDRÉ MATHIEU VIN DI FELIBRE BLANC (€34), which I found disappointing. The former is 95% ROUSSANNE, its power syndrome capable of being handled by a dish of monkish, for example. The latter, 100% CLAIRETTE, is a tenacious wine, its pushy close also likely to be dealt with by rich dishes. I feel that pressing in 2017 had to be feather light to avoid potential notes of bitterness.

2017 therefore rates as a generally very good vintage for CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE BLANC. If buying the Finesse wines, a life of 10 to 12 years can be envisaged. For the Meat n’Potatoes, robust group, one can look towards 15 years or more.

LEADING 2017 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

***** Château Rayas 2050-52 10/18 silk, tenacity, vintage strength
***** Clos des Papes 2039-41 10/18 fruit essence, character, STGT
****(*) Château de Beaucastel 2036-39 10/18 stylish, bright, long, southern
****(*) Chât de Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes 2041-43 10/18 big, rich, vivid, concentrated
****(*) Chateau des Fines Roches 2026-28 10/18 grace, lift, classy, balanced, V
****(*) Château Fortia 2033-35 10/18 ace trad, broad, rolling, V
****(*) Château Mont-Redon 2033-35 10/18 good depth, fresh, textured
****(*) Château de Vaudieu 2031-33 10/18 stylish, subtle, serene, detailed
****(*) Albin Jacumin La Bégude Papes 2025-26 10/18 sophisticated, graceful, stylish, V
****(*) Domaine Moulin-Tacussel 2032-34 10/18 savoury, prolonged, oily, STGT, V
****(*) Dom du Pegaü A Tempo 2033-35 10/18 character, rich, excellent core
****(*) Dom du Pegaü Cuvée Réservée 2030-32 10/18 trad, grounded, glycerol, character
**** Château Fargueirol   2028-30 10/18 clear, bouncy, salted, interesting 
**** Château Jas de Bressy   2024-26 10/18 generous, complete, full grapiness 
**** Château de Nalys   2034-36 03/19 harmonious, detailed, good flow 
**** Château La Nerthe   2025-26 10/18 salty, sparky, good flow 
**** Château Simian Le Traversier 2030-33 10/18 rolling gras, genuine, sunny 
**** Chât de Vaudieu Clos Belvedère 2030-32 10/18 ripe, stylish; elegant richness  
**** Clos du Mont-Olivet   2029-31 10/18 spiced fruits, fine, juicy  
**** Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes   2027-29 10/18 salted, good life, character 
**** Domaine L’Abbé Dîne   2030-32 10/18 bonny gras, garrigue, fuelled  
**** Domaine Pierre André 2035-37 02/19 solid gras, tight, grounded 
**** Domaine Juliette Avril   2028-29 10/18 suave, cool, grapey, expressive
**** Dom de Beaurenard Boisrenard 2031-33 10/18 rolling, savoury, spice, drive 
**** Domaine Chante Cigale   2029-31 10/18 fine concentration, good delivery  
**** Domaine Chante Cigale Extrait  2030-32 10/18 firm, grapey, solid, can provoke 
**** M Chapoutier La Bernardine   2029-31 10/18 salty, nutty, fresh, carbo gas 
**** Domaine de la Charbonnière    2027-28 10/18 wavy fruit, style, precision  
**** Domaine Charvin 2032-34 05/19 fine fruit, steel, off piste nature
**** Dom Clef St Thomas La Clef St T 2028-30 10/18 gentle flow, purity, rounded 
**** Domaine Jérome Gradassi 2034-36 10/19 stylish pedigree, character, refined
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel   2026-27 10/18 grounded strength, lusty depth
**** Domaine de la Janasse   2032-34 10/18 fleshy, vigorous, drive, garrigue 
**** Dom Julien Masquin Montplaisir 2024-25 10/18 smooth, fat, tasty appeal 
**** Domaine André Mathieu   2027-29 10/18 enjoyable gras, stylish, STGT  
**** Dom Pères Eglise Calice St Pierre  2028-29 10/18 beefy, thorough, likeable abandon
**** Dom Roger Sabon Renaissance   2026-28 10/18 pleasingly soft, medium weight 
**** Domaine de Saint-Paul   2028-30 10/18 smooth content, fat, good length 
**** Domaine Saint Préfert   2027-29 10/18 nutty, grapey, interest, intrigue 
**** Domaine des Sénéchaux 2035-37 10/19 stylish, interesting, very precise
**** Domaine Raymond Usseglio   2027-29 03/18 floral, ample, clear, traditional
**** Dom R Usseglio Pure Roussanne 2026-28 03/18 dense, rich, sauced foods avec
**** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau 2037-39 10/18 long, weighted, glycerol texture   
**** Mas de Boislauzon     2027-29 10/18 sunny, controlled, genuine length 
**** Ogier Héritages   2030-32 10/18 fluid, savoury, stylish, balanced 
**** Ogier La Reine Jeanne   2029-30 10/18 well defined, refined, spicy  
**** Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes 2031-33 10/18 oily, generous, good energy 
***(*) Brotte Les Hauts de Barville    2026-27 10/18 graceful, good flow, safe 
***(*) Les Cailloux 2034-35 05/19 knit, thickness, layered, table 
***(*) Château Gigognan Clos du Roi 2026-27 10/18 rich, grounded, butty strength 
***(*) Château Sixtine   2031-33 10/18 savoury, ripe, quiet authority 
***(*) Clos du Caillou Les Safres   2029-30 10/18 doughty richness, power, spice 
***(*) Clos La Roquète   2033-35 10/18 elegant, southern heart, STGT  
***(*) Clos Saint Jean 2033-35 05/19 solid gras, bit on the power
***(*) Clos Saint Michel   2026-28 10/18 scaled, broad, thorough  
***(*) Domaine de Beaurenard   2026-27 10/18 traditional, comfy, fleshy 
***(*) Domaine Bosquet des Papes   2029-31 10/18 cool, chewy, rugged, local 
***(*) Domaine Condorcet   2022-23 10/18 suave, enjoyable, long, la table 
***(*) Domaine Duseigneur Catarina   2029-31 10/18 creamy, needs rich foods 
***(*) Dom Grand Veneur La Fontaine   2029-31 11/18 fleshy content, la table  
***(*) E Guigal   2028-30 03/19 appealing, enjoyable, restrained 
***(*) Domaine Lou Dévet Poésies Marie 2025-26 03/18 good Clair-Grenache, body, table 
***(*) La Durbane 2028-30 06/20 robust, firm, sweet oaking
***(*) Domaine La Fagotière 2026-28 10/18 likeable fruit, smooth texture 
***(*) Domaine Galet des Papes Ju Blan 2030-32 10/18 sturdy, compact, trad, grounded 
***(*) Dom Georges-Lombrière Thaïs  2030-32 10/18 firm, nutty, concerted, manly 
***(*) Domaine Giuliani Flora   2027-28 10/18 unctuous, wholesome, grapey 
***(*) Domaine Patrice Magni Roussanne 2033-34 10/19 broad, weighted, firm gras
***(*) Dom André Mathieu Vin di Felibre   2030-32 10/18 rich, firm, muscled, nutty 
***(*) Domaine La Millière V Vignes  2026-27 10/18 shapely, elegant richness 
***(*) Chât Nalys Stes Pierres de Nalys  2028-30 03/19 refined, cosy texture, apero 
***(*) Domaine L’Or de Line   2025-27 10/18 rich, sturdy, static, firm  
***(*) Domaine du Père Caboche   2023-24 10/18 stylish, textured content, enjoyable 
***(*) Domaine de la Présidente   2027-28 10/18 vintage fullness, firm fruit 
***(*) Famille Perrin Les Sinards   2030-32 10/18 full, sturdy, spiced, oaked  
***(*) Domaine de la Solitude   2031-33 10/18 sturdy, tangy, rich, oaked 
***(*) Domaine de la Solitude Barberini   2034-36 10/18 cellar-led, sticky, fat-oak   
***(*) Lucien Gabriel Barrot La Sousto   2027-28 10/18 sturdy, smooth, southern body 
***(*) Le Vieux Donjon 2033-35 05/19 solid depth, graceful delivery
***(*) Mas Saint-Louis     2030-32 10/18 rich, wholesome, non conformist 
*** Chât La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir 2026-27 10/18 medium weight, loose  
*** Domaine Paul Autard   2027-28 10/18 weight, power, coated, balance?
*** Domaine Berthet-Rayne   2024-26 10/18 yeoman wine, plain, degree 
*** Domaine Comte de Lauze    2024-25 10/18 gentle, serene, fair richness 
*** Le Jas des Papes   2025-26 10/18 butty, grounded, bit bitter 
*** Domaine Roger Perrin   2025-26 10/18 savoury, oily, full, buttery 
*** Ravoire Olivier Ravoire   2026-28 10/18 firm, compact, dumb, table  
** Domaine de Saint Siffrein   2023-24 10/18 light, green, uneven acidity 

 

2017 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

MID-OCTOBER 2017, AND HEALTHY VINES AT CHÂTEAU RAYAS, DESPITE THE DROUGHT

2017 is a tricky vintage at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, the wines tricky to make in a balanced manner, and tricky to judge in the glass. It’s not a vintage that carries close precedents, nor is it one to which I warmed spontaneously. I would judge it good in parts, a Curate’s Egg, thus.

The ripening season was complicated, and the gulf between 2016 and 2017 for the heart of any good CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE – the old vine GRENACHE – was considerable. 2016’s GRENACHE, especially the old vines, was marvellous, rich and balanced, long and impressive, with a pretty large harvest, to boot, whereas in 2017 the old vines suffered from poor flowering, then delayed ripeness, all the while their skins thickening up under the drought conditions.

Deep, moisture-retentive soils, soils that had been worked and varieties such as the MOURVÈDRE growing in such soils were some of the keys to quality this year, since blockages in the ripening of the GRENACHE occurred, the polyphenols [tannins, essentially] particularly stubborn to come good. It’s rare for the MOURVÈDRE to not be the last variety harvested, but it was often picked before the GRENACHE in 2017.

There is an irregular profile to the vintage, therefore, even before the wines are placed on the serving table. Given what happened in the vineyard, it’s no surprise that the wines are a mixed bag. Balance is the chief victim of the vineyard’s awkward year, while blends will be unusual in their lower than normal GRENACHE content. 2013 was another vintage with loss of GRENACHE from coulure, but there is a little more fat in the 2017s than in the more rugged 2013s.

HIGH PROFILE NAMES IN PRAISE OF 2017

Given these cautions, there are, nevertheless, very high profile growers such as EMMANUEL REYNAUD at CHÂTEAU RAYAS and VINCENT AVRIL at CLOS DES PAPES who are all over 2017 as a very good, extra-ordinary vintage. Among other remarks, EMMANUEL REYNAUD stated: “2017 is a vintage you only make once in your life. It’s particular, original.” VINCENT AVRIL came up with: “2017 will be a Great Vintage, une GRANDE ANNÉE.”

The year started with a yo-yo effect led by a very cold January, then followed by an unusually warm February and more warmth in late March, then a burst of cold – 3.7°C reported - on 20 April.

2017’s real challenges commenced at flowering time in late May. The talented ALEXANDRE FAVIER of DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE reasoned: “the coulure came in May for me, and I found that the later ripening zones had a better flowering. As we did in 2013, we lost 50% of the harvest.”

GROWERS MOVING TO LATER PRUNING

Coulure – flowers not converting into fruit – was the first robber of harvest this year, prompting growers to re-consider when they perform their pruning. THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET: “if you pruned later this year – March - you were better off than if you pruned early. We lost around 50%, with the GRENACHE very, very badly hit, especially the old vines. The coulure was greater this year than in 2010 and 2013. The SYRAH didn’t give a big crop after a poor budding, but the MOURVÈDRE was OK. The young vines yield was a normal size rather than their usual abundance.”

OLD VINE GRENACHE HIT, UNLIKE 2016

In a similar position was NICOLAS BOIRON of BOSQUET DES PAPES, who highlighted the severe loss of old vine GRENACHE: “we lost 40-50%, both on our CÔTES DU RHÔNE and on CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE due to coulure. The MOURVÈDRE yield was correct, but the SYRAH was less than 2015 (down 30%). The GRENACHE was down 50%, and some old vine plots of that gave only 6 hl/ha. Colour is very good, the wines are jolis, and there are belles acidities. The year started a bit like 2003 – very hot, very dry.”

The loss of old vine GRENACHE was a critical factor this year, in my view. Whatever the “Too Cool for School” brigade of zappy young journalists may write and say, the GRENACHE remains the heatbeat of CHÂTEAUNEUF, whatever its degree. What it requires is a suitable date of harvesting, the judgment based on the fruit and phenolic ripeness, not governed by just looking at the degree, and going “Ooh La La.”

E REYNAUD: GENUINE FRUIT RIPENESS NEEDED, MEANING YOU HAVE TO WAIT

I discussed this at some length with EMMANUEL REYNAUD of CHÂTEAU RAYAS, who commented: “we lost 50% of the crop from coulure. The drought has been worse for the trees than the vines. The degree didn’t rise much after 15 August either, but the harvest was unbalanced at that stage. By that date, people had crop at 15.5°, but the grapes weren’t ripe, really. I wouldn’t have picked then.

You have to remember also that many 16° wines at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE are destemmed – unlike our wine at 16° here - which is then followed by too much extraction because of the destemming.

I tasted the grapes in September, and decided to wait; while it doesn’t rain, I will wait. The big challenge, and essential thing, is to find the balance of the fruit – you have to wait for that. If you pick too soon, the fruit has sugar, but not the length of the fruit. The big question in 2017 was the date of harvest. People carry the fear of high degree, and end up harvesting grapes that are unbalanced at 15°, whereas at 16° they can be balanced.”

EMMANUEL's view was backed up by a similar discussion I had with someone who comes from the opposite spectrum, a man who until the age of 34 was an autoroute patrolman. Once he met his wife CHRISTELLE, love melted his heart, and he became a vigneron in 2009 with DOMAINE DE LA BISCARELLE in the NORTH-WEST of the appellation, near CHARVIN and VIEILLE JULIENNE. Cue JÉRÔME GRIECO: I saw people harvesting on 20 August this year, saying it’s 15° - but there was nothing like ripeness at that stage. It’s crazy that people harvest so early, going by the degree rather than by proper ripeness. They destem, and think it will be OK – but they’re harvesting green stems, not yellow, ripe ones."

2017 WAS HOT! FACT!

Statistically, 2017 was the second hottest vintage of the past 20 years, exceeded only by 2003, with 37.6°C early in the summer, on 23 June, and 40.5°C on 4 August two notable high points. On rainfall, there was a tiny 17 mm (0.68 in) aggregated for the months of July, August and September – against 70 mm (2.8 in, and well-timed) for 2016 in the same three months. The growing season’s rain total ended up at 185 mm (7.4 in) against a normal 360 mm.

LATE JUNE HAIL WENT EAST

A further setback for some came on 28 June, when a hail storm travelled from LA NERTHE, stopping just before CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL. It took in SORGUES, BÉDARRIDES, a little of COURTHÉZON south, hitting sites such as BOIS DAUPHIN and LA CRAU. That rain delivered 25 mm (1 inch). Three rainfalls since then until the end of October amounted to a mere 8 mm (0.3 in).

The year was governed by lack of harvest for all growers. JEAN-PAUL DAUMEN of the biodynamic DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE told me: “well, there wasn’t enough crop to fill the vat! Post-harvest, I tasted and found it was very good. I feared an excess of concentration, but there is balance, the wine is rich. I lost 50% across all my appellations; some plots lost 70% due to the enormous coulure on the GRENACHE – the cold came at the worst possible moment in May, 2017.”

V AVRIL: 2017 A GRANDE ANNÉE

VINCENT AVRIL of CLOS DES PAPES also works organically, and recounted: “our yield is only around 14 hl/ha this year. I love the MOURVÈDRE, but it needs clay, not sand. In 2017, the sand based MOURVÈDRE wouldn’t have ripened, from a lack of humidity. As it was, our 2017 MOURVÈDRE was splendid – it now accounts for 30% of the red wine.

2017 will be a Great Vintage, une Grande Année,” he continued. “For us, it wasn’t dry, with the vines not suffering from having to deal with a large crop, which was lucky. There was a lot of Mistral wind during the season. Since 1 January, 2017 there has been 236 mm (9.5 in) of rain at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE until today, the end of October, 2017 – the annual average is 650 mm (26 in).”

MOURVÈDRE A SUCCESS

Also observing the relative success of the MOURVÈDRE this year, JULIEN BARROT, the go-go owner of DOMAINE LA BARROCHE told me: “of course there was a lot of coulure on the GRENACHE, meaning we lost 40% of it. The yield on the MOURVÈDRE was good, as was the CLAIRETTE [2016 the first vintage for his white, by the way], while the SYRAH was normal, but suffered from inconsistent ripening across its plots. Overall, my yield came out at 23 hl/ha.”

“Quality is good,” he continued, “there are no false tastes, no rot or spoilt harvest. I made the bet of harvesting early – I have deep soils so there was no blockage in ripening from drought, the pips were brown and ripe since mid-August. The stems weren’t fully ripe, but we destemmed 80%, starting on 29 August, ending on 20 September.

2017 THE COMPLETE ANTITHESIS OF 2003

It’s a drought vintage with concentrated tannins. The surprise in 2017 was that the wines were fresh in a very dry year, the complete antithesis of 2003, with no dried fruits flavours. A major problem around the appellation in 2017 was the blockage of ripening in the vineyards – if you had that, you were condemned to wait for another month or so. I escaped such blockages.”

ALEXANDRE FAVIER of DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE was a grower who experienced the stubborn ripening of the GRENACHE, stating: “we ended with the GRENACHE this year, which is unusual, on 23 September. By mid-October there were zones with no leaves, notably those whose soils hadn’t been worked – the sight was similar to early November.

BUMPY GRENACHE RIPENING

Young THOMAS MAGNI of DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI also had blockages on his GRENACHE: “the SYRAH and MOURVÈDRE seem better than the GRENACHE,” he reported. “We paused the harvest to achieve the phenolic ripening on the GRENACHE, which we finished on 27 September. We actually harvested the MOURVÈDRE before the GRENACHE, because the latter’s ripening was blocked. We lost 30% of our GRENACHE NOIR and 20% of our GRENACHE BLANC. Ripening was very mixed in the same quarter, yields also. We also had a very low yield in 2013 (a bitter year), whereas 2017 has matter.”

The younger generation has certainly not witnessed such an extreme vintage in their short careers, and their comments focused on crop loss and the subsequent concentration of the wines. PAUL POMEL has just taken over the reins from his mother at the traditional styled CHÂTEAU DU MOURRE DU TENDRE. He related: “it’s a very beau vintage. Conditions were extremely dry, and we lost 25%-35%, due to coulure in part, more so due to drought. From the end of June until November there was very little rain.

By early September, the bunches were drying out, the grapes concentrating, which gave a super good colour. Vinifications were similar to 2016 – high degree, a lot of sugar, both went well. The tannins are still on the dry side, but the fruit is coming along now in October 2018, the wines still very closed, but with lots of aromas. They need two to three years to get together.”

LAËTITIA GRADASSI is the niece of SERGE GRADASSI, newly appointed PRESIDENT of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, the Growers’ Union that has finally got together to be the sole entity at CHÂTEAUNEUF – outside the domaines with their own ID and bottles – BEAUCASTEL, VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE and others.

HEALTHY CROP, BUT ONLY HALF

Referring to the family DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE, she remarked: “it was a difficult year – we lost 50%, probably 30% from coulure at flowering, 20% from the drought. What crop we had was healthy, ripe. Everything ripened at the same time, which was challenging, and unusual. It was complicated, and we ended up selling 60% in bulk, so it was tricky to satisfy demand.

The wines are very concentrated, have a lot of colour – the old GRENACHE similar in depth of colour to the SYRAH, which is unusual. Vinifications were very jolis, while acidities were good, better than 2018.”

BLANDINE MAYARD, often sighted on her tractor at the improving DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES, summarised 2017 thus: “we lost 40% to 50%. The wines have a belle freshness, are fine, and the vintage stands up to inspection coming as it does after 2016. Vinifications went well – the concrete was very good for them, avoiding blockages.”

Another jeune dynamique is VÉRONIQUE MARET of DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE, who was happy with the vintage, stating: “it’s a very, very good vintage, with open wines, pronounced fruit on the bouquet; it’s unlike the other big coulure vintage of 2013. Our yield was 18 hl/ha, against 25 hl/ha in 2018.”

From the Southern zone towards SORGUES, ISABEL FERRANDO of DOMAINE SAINT-PRÉFERT was another enthusiast: “I adore 2017 – it’s less excessive than 2016, which is a bit “too much” for me,” she said. “2017 is more subtle, nuanced. It was quite simple to work. My yield, however, was only 15 hl/ha, with 18 hl/ha in 2018.”

BEAUCASTEL PRAISE FOR MOURVÈDRE IN 2017

CÉSAR PERRIN, son of FRANÇOIS at CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL is now making the wine there [he has had a Burgundian education]. He also referenced 2016 in comparison, and praised the MOURVÈDRE: “there was big coulure on the GRENACHE – we lost 50% to 60%. Our yield was 22 hl/ha. Once again, the force of SYRAH and MOURVÈDRE helped us to make a good vintage. It’s full, with the luck of having the MOURVÈDRE to bring complexity. 2017 can be drunk young, but also keep; 2016 isn’t drinking well now, similar to 2007, it’s “too much” for now.”

VINEYARD AND CELLAR CHANGES AT BEAUCASTEL

CÉSAR also spoke of an adapted policies both in the vineyard and in the cellar. “We only pruned the GRENACHE on fruit days, no longer pruning on flower days – otherwise there would have been a lot more coulure. In 2017, we also assembled the varieties just after harvesting, unlike 2016 and 2015, when we assembled after a year’s raising. Our blend this year is obviously different – 35% MOURVÈDRE, 25% GRENACHE, 15% SYRAH, 10% COUNOISE, and 15% the other varieties, red and white.”

RALPH GARCIN, recently installed at CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE, with, for me, the challenge of turning the ship around towards wines with greater personality than before, gave this insight: “we included 10% whole bunches this year to soak up the alcohol, and to give the impression of aromatic freshness. Our old vines actually were more hit by coulure than the young ones. We were down 33% in relation to 2016.”

1989 DROUGHT RECALLED IN 2017

In terms of drought, FRÉDÉRIC BRUNIER of DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE referenced 1989: “2017 is similar to 1989 in the lack of rain – they are two record years,” he commented. “I am agreeably surprised, since the wines don’t show the drought in them, are round enough.

I have a good impression of 2018, so it’s been a belle series of vintages from 2015 to 2018. The fruit is joli, and there is a pleasure side to the wines, also a fresh angle – they’re not heavy. All in all, I am satisfied.” His nephew EDOUARD BRUNIER added: “we lost half the harvest – otherwise the vintage would have been very complicated vis-à-vis quality of the harvest.” This view was echoed by JEAN-PAUL VERSINO of DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN who observed: “luckily, the low yield allowed ripening this year – it would have been very tricky to achieve that had the crop been a full one.”

Knocking around the bottom level of yields were two important domaines this year, not far apart as the crow flies. MICHEL LANÇON of DOMAINE DE LA SOLITUDE said: “2017 is good, rich, but we only harvested 18 hl/ha.” PHILIPPE GUIGAL stated: “at DOMAINE DE NALYS, our first full vintage, we had a yield of 20 hl/ha. The GRENACHE held a good colour, and the wines are serious.”

THICK SKINS NEEDED TENDER HANDLING

There are occasional issues with the tannins this year – dry conditions not naturally lending themselves to a textured feel, so I wasn’t surprised to hear THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET saying: “the wines have concentration, good colour, degree; the grapes were handsome. We had to assemble just to fill up the vats this year. The skins were very thick, rather hard, and it was tricky to press certain grapes – they weren’t all crushed during the vinification.”

FRÉDÉRIC NICOLET of Southern sector DOMAINE CHANTE PERDRIX also referenced the skins, telling me: “the SYRAH had a good colour, magnificent it was. There were thick skins on the GRENACHE, so we waited for their harvest, which was down 30% to 40%. The coulure led to rather loose bunches. The Northern sector had a bit more rain than us.”

LARGE DROPS IN NUMBER OF BOTTLES: KNOCK ON FOR CAPITAL SPENDING

Looking across the bottle numbers this year, here are some examples of the harvest shortfall in that form: CHANTE PERDRIX was only 20,000 bottles, down from a minimum of 35,000 usually. Benchmark, traditional DOMAINE DU GRAND TINEL stood at 36,400, down from 60,000 bottles minimum usually. CHÂTEAU DES FINES ROCHES was down from 150,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles, while DOMAINE PAUL AUTARD fell from 25,000 minimum to just 15,000 bottles. At the CELLIER DES PRINCES CO-OPÉRATIVE’s DOMAINE DES ESCONDUDES, the amount of wine slumped from 40,000 to 19,000 bottles. All of this implies that capital projects – new equipment, new buildings, investment in vineyard and cellar – will have been delayed or cancelled for the time being for at least some of the Domaines at CHÂTEAUNEUF.

YOU CAN ONLY WORK WITH WHAT NATURE GAVE YOU

You can only work with what Nature gave you is a refrain I would summon for 2017. “Deep”, “concentrated”, “dense” and “intense” are recurring adjectives this year. You can chomp on many of the wines, not that they often lend themselves to free drinking. However, I do not compare 2017 to 2003, which was more heady, with winemaking both much improved and more measured since then, extractions generally more hands-off. More control of tannins has come along since those early 2000s vintages, too.

BEWARE STEWED FRUIT AROMAS

There can be much beef, meat stock in the bouquets, which are broad. In terms of the fruit style, there can be a lot of stewing in the fruit aromas, which is generally on the inferior wines, examples being the **(*) DOMAINE DE SAINT PAUL [usually very reliable], MOURIESSE VINUM TOUR D’AMBRE and CLOS SAINT MICHEL TRADITION.

There are wines that need time, that are on the back foot. Degree vis à vis the level of content is an issue. I regard it very much as a vintage to wait for – given the high density and degree, it’s a 2021-23 wait rather than anything earlier. An example is the **** 2017 DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE, a wine of southern oiliness and local typicity, even if the vintage was well on top; this I consider should be left until 2022-23 so it can be less challenging.

LOWER DEGREE WINES FREEDOM

I noted a difference in the freedom of the wines at 14° to 14.5° compared to those of 15° to 15.5°, with their obvious body mass. We are not dealing with a balanced vintage here, and growers have clearly had to be on top of their game to produce the nearest they can get to balance in the wines.

One grower who was happy with the way things turned out from this point of view was JEAN-PAUL VERSINO of DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN, who told me: “given the low yield, I was pleased that we didn’t have the 2003 phenomenon - and to some extent that of 2016 – of drought stress leading to very concentrated grapes. My CLASSIC wine is 14.2°, for instance, the FÉLIX 14.5°. I place 2017 between 2015 and 2016. It’s less classic than 2015 – 2015 is a more animal, grounded vintage – and less on the fruit than 2016 – there’s a fruit explosion in 2016.”

LOW BUVABILITÉ, BUT SOME SUCCESSES

The French term “buvabilité” is one of the more clumsy descriptors within the refinement of Gallic expression. It is in relatively short supply this year, another setback in my book. Among the lower degree successes was the **** LA SOUSTO, the small production wine that was started commercially by PIERRE BARROT about five years ago. PIERRE is the brother of ROBERT BARROT of CHÂTEAU DES FINES ROCHES, the father of AMÉLIE and GAËLLE. The red wine had been previously bottled for the family above all; his mother likes to drink it when it is 20 years old!

The spread of plots for LA SOUSTO was of immense benefit this year – vineyards running from sandy to stony soils from the South-West to the East to the North and North-West. This is noticeably less charged than many on the attack, and so flows with relative freedom, on springy fruit. The finish is darkened by some tannin, a firm statement of depth there. This can come together well, a wine that shows local ID. The aftertaste carries menthol, helping the desire for another glass. Ah, drinkability – a rare commodity this year.

VINTAGE MOSTLY ON TOP OF TERROIR FOR NOW, THOUGH SOME STGT WINES

For now, the vintage is on top, access to terroir blocked by that, hence not a lot of STGTs. The ****(*) DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE has its own life force, and conveys a sense of place, for example, but the vintage prevails over that – another wine to leave until around 2022, thus. Singing a good, true tune and STGT were the **** PORTE ROUGE, with other STGT wines in the form of the **** CHÂTEAU JAS DE BRESSY [pretty forceful], the **** LA CELESTIÈRE [en finesse] and the **** DOMAINE LA MILLIÈRE [well charged, a wine of passion].

BALANCED WINES – NOTA BENE

Wines that held sound to good balance were the following – this is as good an indicator of quality as any this year:

****(*) CHÂTEAU BEAUCHÊNE GRANDE RÉSERVE

****(*) CHÂTEAU DE VAUDIEU

****(*) CLOS SAINT-MICHEL CUVÉE SPÉCIALE GRAND VIN

****(*) DOMAINE DE BEAURENARD BOISRENARD

****(*) GUILLAUME GONNET LA MUSE

**** BROTTE LES HAUTS DE BARVILLE

**** LA CELESTIÈRE LA CROZE

**** LES GRANDES SERRES DOMAINE SAINT PATRICE VIEILLES VIGNES

EXTREME VINTAGE EFFECT IN SOME WINES

Texture plays a prominent role this year, given the mild nature of the tannins, the typical silk of old vines wine from CHÂTEAUNEUF on the go. However, there can be slippage from the tightrope of balance and pleasure through the extreme vintage effect. Examples of this appeared on some so-called PRESTIGE wines – the low quantity, high price brigade. These were wines that showed the vintage effect almost more on the nose than the palate.

The DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE LA REINE DES BOIS I rated as **** wine, the nose weighty, immobile, while the palate managed gourmandise, and some fragrant, firmly juiced content. The **** MORDORÉE DAME VOYAGEUSE bouquet also gave prune and date associations, indicative of the strength of the sun. The ***(*) DOMAINE ANDRÉ MATHIEU L’ÉPHÉMÈRE [100% SYRAH, its first vintage], a veritable blitzkrieg of accents, held a bouquet that was blockbuster in style, with eau de vie strength: not my cup of tea, although some will like that. As an example of the parched vintage I found the *** DOMAINE BOSQUET DES PAPES CHANTE LE MERLE demanding, close to the Too Much gauge. Only small sipping was on the agenda with this, since it wasn’t well balanced, and carried some extraction.

SIPPING WINES: CAVE [LATIN]

Also on the flip side, I would send a definite note of caution attached to wines where the word “sipping” appears in despatches. Another fault line stemming from any dry summer is the risk of dry tannins – extraction must be performed with great care, and this year examples of wines with that question mark over the finish included the *** DOMAINE OLIVIER HILLAIRE, the *** ARNOUX VIEUX CLOCHER, with a risk of dryness on the ***(*) DOMAINE LA BOUTINIÈRE.

BUMPY PALATES

There can be a lack of organised definition, with wines that weren’t as one along the palate: it’s necessary to be alert for tannins that aren’t fully ripe or fully integrated this year, while there are wines where the attack is rich, and you think, “oh good oh”, then the rest of the wine is delivered in different, unlinked portions. This bumpy ride may stem from uneven ripening across vineyards and varieties. There are also some wines aren’t that profound - 2016 is a marked contrast on that front.

Rather than continue with my knit-picking, I think it’s worth stating a couple of final observations. The first “live” vintage under one year old that I tasted at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE was 1972. I cannot think of many vintages where such precise selection of wines on a wine by wine basis – not even a domaine by domaine basis – has been necessary as in 2017.

In those early days, vintages were more often poor than marvellous, and there was a lot less wine produced in estate bottles. Much of the bad stuff was dumped into so-called NUITS SAINT-GEORGES “BURGUNDY” for places such as BRITAIN. There was therefore a natural falling out of the bad stuff, unless you bought rock bottom priced CHÂTEAUNEUF at your local wine store or supermarket [no hypermarkets, no on-line then].

Second, I become naturally attached to nearly all the vintages I have experienced, since I have been with them most steps of the way. It’s fascinating, even compelling, how they turn out, the more so if you can recall the growing season and conditions that the growers had to deal with.

At present, my heart isn’t really in the 2017 vintage; there are some extremely good wines, but it doesn’t come forward as the awkward squad – 1981 – that eventually blossomed magnificently, or the pinched regime – 1996 – which just needed time to absorb its high acidity, and so many others of that ilk. Perhaps time will soften my stance, and it will gradually creep into my affections.

Over to you, dear readers. Choose with care.

LEADING 2017 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

****** Chât de Beaucastel Hommage J Perrin 2048-50 10/18 scale, silk, mighty length
****** Château Rayas 2056-58 10/18 might, fragrance, elegance, long
***** Château de Beaucastel 2042-44 10/18 size, persistence, energy, length
***** Château Rayas Pignan 2050-52 10/18 refined, silken, power, v long
***** Domaine Roger Sabon Prestige 2043-45 10/18 slinky, aromatic, a serenade
***** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau 2045-47 10/19 generous heart, garrigue, energy
****(*) Bastide St Dominique Les Hesperides 2042-44 10/18 full, decisive, tight, garrigue
****(*) Fréderic & Daniel Brunier Piedlong 2040-43 10/19 rich, inner density, velvet, long 
****(*) Château Beauchêne Grande Réserve 2040-42 10/18 charm, style, balance, tasty
****(*) Château Cabrières 2044-46 10/18 rich, spiced, wide, very long
****(*) Château Fortia Cuvée du Baron 2042-45 10/18 intensity, long, genuine, character
****(*) Château de Vaudieu 2042-44 10/18 gracious, serene, balance, class
****(*) Château de Vaudieu Val de Dieu 2043-45 10/18 suave, flowing, shapely, serene
****(*) Le Clos du Caillou La Réserve 2041-43 10/19 sustained fruit, iron, Mourvèdre role 
****(*) Clos des Papes 2048-50  10/19 sealed, suave, then dash, charge 
****(*) Clos Saint Michel Grand Vin 2040-43 10/18 genuine, silken, balance, long
****(*) Domaine Juliette Avril Maxence 2038-40 10/18 weighty, layered, profound
****(*) Domaine du Banneret 2049-51 10/19 dark, smoky, aromatic, class, complexity  
****(*) Domaine La Barroche Pure 2040-43 11/18 generous, gourmand, flowing, fine
****(*) Dom de Beaurenard Boisrenard 2042-44 02/20 life, aromatic, upholstery, great fruit
****(*) Dom Berthet-Rayne Elixir des Papes 2040-43 10/18 rich, thorough, very long
****(*) Domaine Chante Cigale 2044-46 10/18 engaging, tasty, life force
****(*) Dom la Charbonnière Vieilles Vignes 2039-42 10/18 rich, bulky, primal vigour, sipping
****(*) Domaine Charvin 2045-47 05/19 thorough heart, velvet and iron
****(*) Domaine de Cristia Tradition
2042-44 10/18 concentrated, full, satisfying, long
****(*) Delas Haute Pierre   2039-41 10/18 expressive, drive, special buzz 
****(*) Domaine Isabel Ferrando Colombis 2040-42 10/18 style, elegance, lift, well together
****(*) Dom du Galet des Papes Vieilles Vignes 2042-44 10/19 serene texture, flow; lovely style
****(*) Domaine Giraud   2042-45 10/18 savoury Gren, nourishing, tasty 
****(*) Guillaume Gonnet Bel Ami   2041-43 10/18 smooth, flowing, authentic, successful 
****(*) Guillaume Gonnet La Muse   2040-42 10/18 charming, fluid, polished, fresh 
****(*) Alain Jaume Gd Veneur Le Miocène   2043-45 10/18 pure fruit, shape, potential  
****(*) Lavau  2038-40 10/18 traditional, solid, vigour, bold fruit 
****(*) Domaine de Saint Paul L’Insolite   2039-42 10/18 rich, stylish, juicy, pleasure 
****(*) Dom de la Vieille Julienne Les Hauts-lieux 2045-47 02/20 solid depth, gd structure, garrigue
**** La Bastide Saint Dominique     2040-42 10/18 gourmand, tasty, open, authentic 
**** Bastide St Dominique Secrets Pignan  2039-41 10/18 vigour, length, aromatic, genuine 
**** Brotte Domaine Barville 2038-41 10/18 genuine, supple, easy, restrained
**** Brotte Les Hauts de Barville   2038-40 10/18 tasty heart, balance, finesse  
**** La Celestière La Croze   2040-42 10/18 stylish, rolling, genuine, balanced
**** Le Cellier des Princes    2036-39 10/18 savoury, southern, tasty, wholesome 
**** Chapelle St Théodoric Le Grand Pin 2040-42 10/18 gourmand rush, long, smooth 
**** Chapelle St Théodoric La Guigasse   2042-44 10/18 robust, spiced, long, character 
**** Chât Beauchêne Hommage Odette Bernard  2039-41 10/18 dense, concerted, bold 
**** Château des Fines Roches 2040-42 10/18 unpretentious, spine, length, time 
**** Ch des Fines Roches Fines Roches  2041-43 10/18 fluid richness, with detail  
**** Château Fortia Réserve   2040-42 10/18 smooth, juicy, Big Wine 
**** Château Jas de Bressy   2040-43 10/18 natural ground force, STGT, sip 
**** Château Fargueirol   2042-44 10/18 genuine, local, good drive 
**** Château Mont-Redon   2041-43 10/18 wide, butty, full, compact 
**** Château Sixtine   2039-42 10/18 genuine, savoury, rich, rolling
**** Château de Vaudieu L’Avenue     2039-41 10/18 good juicing, will fuse 
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Quartz 2042-44 10/19 inner strength, flourishing finish
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Safres 2039-42 10/19 clear fruit, definition, STGT 
**** Clos Saint Michel Coteau Brûlé   2043-45 10/18 authentic, together, nicely bold 
**** Clos Saint Michel H to H  2041-43 10/18 knit, sturdy, gd concentration 
**** Clos Saint Jean 2038-40 05/19 solid depth, savoury, fluid, STGT
**** Clos Saint Jean La Combe des Fous 2046-48 05/19 most savoury, good restraint
**** Domaine l’Abbé Dîne   2037-39 10/18 solid, thorough, glass filler 
**** Domaine Pierre André 2044-47 02/20 gd attack, butty tannin, potential
**** Domaine Paul Autard   2041-43 10/18 wavy, muscle, vigour, drive 
**** Domaine Juliette Avril   2039-41 10/18 tasty, cool, friendly, garrigue
**** Domaine La Barroche Signature   2040-42 11/18 rolling gras, good style  
**** Domaine Berthet-Rayne   2039-41 10/18 sturdy, embracing, long, charged
**** Domaine de la Biscarelle 2042-44 05/19 good heart, structure; full, rolling
**** Dom de la Biscarelle Les Anglaises 2043-45 05/19 robust, garrigue, sparked tannins
**** Domaine Bois de Boursan   2041-43 10/18 full, robust, charged, long 
**** Le Bois Pointu   2040-42 11/18 joli depth, flow, character 
**** La Celestière Tradition  2041-43 10/18 genuine, en finesse, STGT  
**** M Chapoutier Pie VI   2042-44 10/18 gracious, then charge, power 
**** Domaine de la Charbonnière   2040-42 10/18 silk texture, generous, sustained 
**** Dom Charbonnière Htes Brusquières   2041-43 10/18 rich, sunny, filled, strength 
**** Dom Charbonnière Mourre des Perdrix 2039-41 10/18 plush, mulled, full, sipping  
**** Dom Clef St Thomas Clef St Thomas  2038-40 10/18 oily texture, big, lusty 
**** Dom Comte Christophe Courten Spéciale 2042-44 07/20 wholesome, complete, sure length
**** Domaine La Consonnière   2039-41 10/18 smooth, seamless, gentle, potential 
**** Domaine de Cristia Vieilles Vignes   2039-41 10/18 whole hearted, long, character 
**** La Durbane 2036-38 06/20 cosy fruit, elegant, savoury, calm
**** Domaine Duseigneur Catarina   2038-40 10/18 inky, spice, drive, true Gren 
**** Domaine La Fagotière 2040-43 10/18 thick, coherent, spice, garrigue 
**** Ferraton Père & Fils Le Parvis 2037-39 02/19 gd fruit density, floral, finesse
**** Domaine du Galet des Papes Tradition 2036-38 10/19 serene appeal, stylish fruit, silky
**** Domaine Jérôme Gradassi 2037-39 10/19 tannic style, energy, v persistent
**** Gdes Serres Dom St Patrice V Vignes 2036-39 10/18 flowing, rolling, balanced, vivid 
**** Grandes Serres La Cour des Papes   2038-40 10/18 savoury, smooth, gourmand, long 
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel Hérès   2042-44 10/18 spiced, thick, firmly fuelled 
**** Dom Olivier Hillaire Petits Pieds Armand  2039-42 10/18 gushing, manly, thorough charge
**** Domaine Olivier Hillaire Les Terrasses   2038-40 10/18 gourmand, intense, nourishing 
**** Domaine Albin Jacumin   2041-43 10/18 intense content, broad, grounded 
**** Dom Albin Jacumin A Aime     2043-45 10/18 heart, drive, length 
**** Domaine de la Janasse   2042-45 10/18 assertive, southern oiliness, local 
**** Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin   2041-44 10/18 broad, willing, heart, truth 
**** Dom de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes   2041-43 10/18 sturdy, replete, upholstered, stylish 
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine     2040-42 10/18 supple, sustained, coated, long 
**** Dom Julien Masquin Si … rare   2042-44 10/18 savoury, tasty heart, fluid gras 
**** Domaine André Mathieu   2042-45 10/18 authentic, deep, grounded 
**** Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2039-41 10/18 graceful richness, promising 
**** Gabriel Meffre Saint Théodoric   2040-42 10/18 weighty, intense, wide 
**** Domaine La Mereuille Tradition 2042-44 10/19 tearaway, Wild Horses, character
**** Domaine La Millière Vieilles Vignes  2043-45 10/18 well charged, passion, STGT 
**** Dom de la Mordorée Dame Voyageuse  2042-44 10/18 generous, ample, true Gren, long 
**** Dom de la Mordorée Reine des Bois  2041-43 10/18 glistening content, smooth pleasure 
**** Domaine de Panisse Noble Revelation 2040-42 10/18 gliding fruit, full, oaked 
**** Dom Père Caboche Création d’Emilie  2037-39 10/18 crisp, intricate, breezy, smoky 
**** Dom Père Caboche Elisabeth Chambellan  2040-42 10/18 impressive appeal, sturdy, solid 
**** Domaine Pères de l’Eglise Héritage   2041-43 10/18 compact, layered, smooth, garrigue 
**** Domaine Roger Perrin   2043-45 10/18 lusty, rolling, spiced, chewy 
**** Dom de Pignan Coralie & Floriane   2040-43 10/18 thorough, complete, compact, solid  
**** Domaine Porte Rouge   2042-45 10/18 genuine, appealing, provocative. STGT
**** Ravoire et Fils Olivier Ravoire   2042-44 10/18 deep, broad, floral, fluid  
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Les Olivets   2042-45 10/18 ground force, silken, sensuous 
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Réserve   2041-43 10/18 tasty, savoury, stylish length 
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Secret Sabon    2039-41 10/18 wavy, gourmand, charm, pleasure 
**** Saint Cosme   2043-45 10/18 wide, prolonged, buzzy vigour 
**** Domaine de Saint Siffrein   2041-43 10/18 savoury charge, solid, genuine 
**** Domaine Saint Préfert Charles Giraud   2039-41 10/18 liberal juice, character, strength 
**** Domaine Serguier Révélation 2038-40 10/19 good filling, careful juice release
**** Lucien Gabriel Barrot La Sousto   2041-43 10/18 springy fruit, local, clear 
**** Mas Saint Louis   2042-45 10/18 savoury, thorough, local pedigree 
**** Tardieu-Laurent   2039-42 10/18 unhurried, local, floral, character 
**** Tardieu-Laurent Cuvée Spéciale   2039-41 10/18 bulky, square, raw, time 
**** Domaine Tourbillon Vieilles Vignes   2037-39 10/18 dark, savoury, good potential 
**** Domaine Pierre Usseglio Mon Aïeul   2042-45 10/18 baked, sturdy, muscle, local force 
**** Domaine Raymond Usseglio  2039-42 10/19 peppery, live, grounded, gd heart
**** Dom Raymond Usseglio La Part des Anges 2047-49 10/19 ripe, dark, plentiful, much sun
**** Dom Vieille Julienne Les Trois Sources 2044-46 02/20 sturdy, nicely fluid, cool tenor
**** Dom de la Vieille Julienne Réservé 2049-51 02/20 thick flow, grounded, plenty of drive
**** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme 2038-40 10/19 v aromatic, fruit-filled, entertaining
**** Vignobles Mayard Dom du Père Pape 2040-42 11/18 butty, close-knit, thorough  
***(*) Louis Bernard   2040-42 10/18 smoky, has life, unpretentious 
***(*) Le Cellier des Princes La Blason du Prince  2036-38 10/18 low-key, sensible, early  
***(*) Les Cailloux 2044-46 05/19 juice early, then drier, has iron
***(*) Chât Beauchêne Vignobles Serrière   2039-41 10/18 traditional, locked in, time 
***(*) Château Fargueirol Cuvée Antonin   2040-43 10/18 juicy, thick, heart, punch 
***(*) Château Gigognan Clos du Roi 2040-42 10/18 firmly juiced, spiced, sipping  
***(*) Château Maucoil Privilège   2040-42 10/18 well juiced, drive, length 
***(*) Château de Vaudieu Amiral G   2040-43 10/18 scaled, thorough, powerful 
***(*) Clos du Mont-Olivet    2039-41 10/18 enjoyable gras, spice, power, spirit
***(*) Clos Saint Jean Deus ex Machina 2046-48 05/19 accentuated muscle, soaked, sipping
***(*) Clos Saint Michel Grand Clos   2041-43 10/18 sinew, robust, foot on pedal 
***(*) Clos Saint Michel Cuvée Réservée   2040-42 10/18 manly, exerted, intrinsic power 
***(*) Cuvée des Sommeliers 2029-31 10/19 aromatic, juiced fruit, accessible
***(*) Domaine Paul Autard La Côte Ronde  2039-42 10/18 savoury, length, oaked 
***(*) Domaine Paul Autard Juline   2037-39 10/18 trim content, straightforward 
***(*) Domaine de Beaurenard 2041-43 02/20 sturdy, thorough, unformed, gd tannin
***(*) Dom Bois de Boursan Cuvée Félix   2039-41 10/18 open fruit, grounded, chewy 
***(*) Domaine Bosquet des Papes   2040-42 10/18 inner strength, power, sound 
***(*) Bosquet des Papes Gloire Grand Père   2039-42 11/18 unformed, rocky, vegetal, time 
***(*) Maison Bouachon Dédication 2036-38 10/18 quiet content, outside loop 
***(*) Domaine La Boutinière Tradition 2039-41 10/18 comfortable fruit, hands-off  
***(*) Dom La Boutinière Grande Réserve   2040-42 10/18 savoury, thorough, liqueur-like 
***(*) La Celestière Les Domaines   2039-41 10/18 wavy content, unpretentious, local 
***(*) Dom Chante Cigale Vieilles Vignes   2042-45 10/18 smooth, modern, polished, sip
***(*) Domaine Chante-Perdrix   2042-44 10/18 ground force, robust, sleek 
***(*) M Chapoutier La Bernardine   2039-42 10/18 spiced heart, local, authentic 
***(*) Dom Comte Christophe Courten Cygne 2040-42 07/20 intrinsic strength, bounty, large
***(*) Dom Comte Christophe Courten Tradition 2039-41 07/20 solid, sealed, floral, dense, time
***(*) Domaine de Cristia Renaissance   2040-42 10/18 tasty fruit, oak-tar
***(*) Domaine de Ferrand 2039-41 10/19 fibre, tannic punch, cool, time
***(*) Domaine Font de Michelle   2040-42 10/18 traditional, raw, local truth 
***(*) Dom de Fontavin David et Goliath  2039-41 10/18 weighted, dense, profound, sip
***(*) Domaine Georges-Lombrière Marie   2039-40 10/18 layered content, spark, sweetness 
***(*) Dom Giraud Les Grenaches de Pierre   2038-40 10/18 ripe, rich, full, fleshy 
***(*) Guillaume Gonnet Hommage Maryline 2035-37 10/18 sweet, aromatic, easy, simplicity 
***(*) Domaine du Grand Tinel   2040-42 10/18 dense, smooth, long, sipping   
***(*) Dom du Grand Tinel Alexis Establet   2040-42 10/18 stewed fruits, time to focus   
***(*) Domaine de l'Harmas Caprice de Mathys 2037-39 10/19 clear fruit, harmony, late intensity
***(*) Le Jas des Papes   2035-37 10/18 restrained, tangy, some style 
***(*) Domaine Patrice Magni Sensation 2038-40 10/19 suave, openly juiced, bit heavy
***(*) Domaine des Maravilhas Espirito     2038-40 10/18 simple, succulent, safe, polished 
***(*) Domaine Julien Masquin Montplaisir   2039-41 10/18 rich, soaked, savoury, big 
***(*) Domaine André Mathieu L’éphémère   2040-43 10/18 sturdy, obvious, gloopy, rich 
***(*) Domaine Moulin-Tacussel   2039-41 10/18 gras style, chunky, time 
***(*) Ogier Puits Neufs   2035-37 10/18 sweet cocktail, likeable, on the go 
***(*) Domaine de la Palud   2037-39 10/18 raw, unrefined, savoury appeal 
***(*) Domaine du Père Caboche 2037-39 10/18 smooth, charged, floral, savoury
***(*) Dom des Pères de l’Eglise Calice St P 2038-40 10/18 genuine, garrigue essence, chewy end
***(*) Famille Perrin Les Sinards 2033-35 10/18 safe, supple, agreeable
***(*) Domaine Saint-Préfert Classique 2039-41 10/18 neat fruit, power, character
***(*) Dom Saint Préfert Auguste Favier   2038-40 11/18

gourmand, silky, end crunch

***(*) Domaine Serguier 2035-37 10/19

enjoyable, unforced, natural, naked

***(*) Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils 2040-42 10/18 shiny, tasty, sweet, sipping 
***(*) Mas de Boislauzon   2037-39 10/18 degree-content?? full, sustained 
***(*) Mas Grange Blanche Font Bessounes  2036-38 10/18 pleasing curvy shape 
***(*) Christophe Semaska Calixte II 2036-38 12/19 robust; dense fruit, thick tannins 
***(*) Le Serre des Mourres   2038-39 10/18 trad, aromatic, spiced, honest   
***(*) Dom Raymond Usseglio Cuvée Impériale 2044-46 10/19 v concentrated, oily, penetrating
***(*) Vidal-Fleury 2040-42 11/20 heart, thickness; firm tannins, time
***(*) Le Vieux Donjon 2038-40 05/19 close-knit, chunky, power
***(*) Vignobles Mayard Clos du Calvaire   2035-37 11/18 open book, savoury, fat 
***(*) Vignobles Mayard Crau de Ma Mère   2041-43 11/18 high octane, wild tannins 
*** Arnoux Seigneur de Lauris   2037-39 10/18 upright, dark, much oaking  
*** Arnoux Le Vieux Clocher   2038-40 10/18 med weight, spiced, bit dry   
*** Bosquet des Papes Chante le Merle   2042-44 10/18 robust, meaty, obvious, sipping
*** Maison Bouachon La Tiare du Pape   2037-39 10/18 aromatic floral, sugary outcrops 
*** Cellier des Princes Dom Les Escondudes   2036-38 10/18 fair weight, spiced, drift end 
*** Cellier des Princes Hauts des Coteaux 2038-40 10/18 charged, compressed, eau de vie 
*** Château Fortia Tradition   2039-41 10/18 spiced, strength, loose, chewy 
*** Château de Manissy Trinité   2037-39 10/18

succulent, floral, disorderly, baked

*** Château Maucoil   2036-38 10/18 cool fruit, strong oak 
*** Château Mont Thabor   2036-38 10/18 aromatic, smooth, sipping wine 
*** Château Simian Le Traversier   2039-41 10/18 limited flow, rugged now 
*** Le Clos du Caillou Le Caillou 2037-39 10/19 "high" fruits, rugged, unmade, dry end
*** Clos Saint Antonin 2042-44 10/18 concentrated, savoury, oily, strong
*** Dom Berthet-Rayne Fût de Chêne   2037-38 10/18 some juice, dry tannin, time 
*** Domaine du Bois de Saint Jean   2030-32 10/18 Safe Operator, supple, easy 
*** Dom Clef St Thomas Pierre Troupel   2036-38 10/18 gentle, aromatic, bit plain 
*** Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange  2038-40 10/19 naked, intense, baked, wild
*** Domaine Olivier Hillaire   2035-37 10/18 enjoyable attack, dry close  
*** Alain Jaume Gd Veneur Les Origines   2037-39 10/18 smoky, dark, pushy, dryness 
*** Alain Jaume Gd Veneur Vieilles Vignes 2037-39 10/18 grainy, cool, vegetal, angular
*** Domaone Patrice Magni Le Pressoir 2040-42 10/19 suave, grounded, very firm oak
*** Domaine Julien Masquin Mémora   2036-38 10/18 spiced, butty, tarry, spirity  
*** Domaine La Millière La Bessade   2037-39 10/18 sound weight, dry finish 
*** Domaine des Sénéchaux 2039-41 10/19 stylish fruit, demanding tannins
**(*) Ch Simian Gdes Grenachières d’Hippolyte   2037-39 10/18 liqueur, plush, not together 
**(*) Clos Saint Michel Tradition   2040-42 10/18 stewed, disorganised, unready 
**(*) Domaine Giraud Les Gallimardes   2035-38 10/18 assertive, compressed, spiced, dry 
**(*) Domaine de l'Harmas 2030-32 10/19 nose OK, but dry tannins, degree issue
**(*) Dom Panisse Confidence Vigneronne 2036-38 10/18 disorderly, loose fruit 
**(*) Domaine Roger Perrin Galets de la Berthaude  2034-36 10/18 kirsch, stretched, marked degree 
**(*) Domaine de Pignan 2028-30 10/18 straightforward, lacks depth  
**(*) Domaine de Saint Paul   2036-38 10/18 compact, trad, bit stringy 
**(*) Domaine des Saumades   2027-29 10/18 medium weight, loose 
**(*) Domaine de Villeneuve Vieilles Vignes  2035-37 10/18 loosely assembled, unsure balance
**(*) Mouriesse Vinum Tour d’Ambre   2037-39 10/18 stewed fruits, dry finish 
** Dom Roger Perrin Réserve des Vieilles Vignes   2035-37 10/18 uneven, unbalanced, work to do 


 

 

RODOLPHE DE PINS OF CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON IN HIS AMAZING GALET STONE STREWN OLD CLAIRETTE VINEYARD ON LA JENSATTE AT ST GENIÈS DE COMOLAS. THE VINES DATE FROM THE 1850s TO THE 1870s

2017 LIRAC WHITES

A long time ago, meaning decades, taking us back to the 1980s, I would enthuse in articles and in my books about the white wines of LIRAC. In the third edition of THE WINES OF THE RHÔNE [Faber, 1992], I wrote: “LIRAC whites are the quiet heroes of this appellation. Crisp and fruity when young, they always possess enough weigh to be interesting shortly after bottling, or if allowed to age for a couple of years.

Bottled between February and April, white LIRAC is now the best value white wine in the Southern Rhône. When young it is very pale, only just off-white, and its bouquet is full of fresh fruit aromas: greengages, limes and even grapefruit spring to mind. The palate is most impressive, since underneath the young fruit there is a quietly imposing fullness and very good clean length. This southern weight is what saves white LIRAC from being just another fresh and zesty low-temperature fermented white wine. Well-balanced vintages like 1986 and 1989 will live on for nearer ten years.”

In the early 1980s, LIRAC WHITE formed under 3% of all LIRAC; by 1989, about 7% had become white wine [these were also years that saw a slide in ROSÉ sales]. These days, LIRAC is 87% RED, 10% WHITE, 3% ROSÉ from its 770 hectares – 763 hectares in 1989, so very little change in surface area.

APPELLATION LIRAC = FOUR VILLAGES TOGETHER

There are four villages, or communes, that comprise the appellation on the right bank of the RHÔNELIRAC, of course, ROQUEMAURE, SAINT-LAURENT-DES-ARBRES and SAINT-GENIÈS-DE-COMOLAS. They form an approximate circle, with LIRAC in the South-West, ROQUEMAURE in the East, SAINT-LAURENT in the West, and ST GENIÈS in the North.

Closest to the RIVER RHÔNE, and just across from CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, stands ROQUEMAURE, where HANNIBAL forded the river when taking his army and elephants by the back route into ITALY to surprise the ROMANS. When his army was wavering about the crossing of the ALPS, HANNIBAL is said to have harangued them in a famous speech that spoke of their exploit of “taming the violence of the mighty RHÔNE.”

THE WHITE VARIETIES

Across these four communes there are two groups of vine varieties, those I would term the STURDY SOUTH and the FRAGRANT NORTH. The Southerners are the traditional varieties of these parts, the GRENACHE BLANC and the CLAIRETTE BLANCHE, sometimes ROSE. The Northerners are the more recently introduced ROUSSANNE and VIOGNIER. Occasional outliers are the Southern pair of BOURBOULENC and PICPOUL BLANC, both of which contribute acidity and freshness to the equation, the BOURBOULENC often bringing an additional resolute firmness to the blend.

ROQUEMAURE WHITES

The 1960s exodus of French settlers from ALGERIA and TUNISIA brought to ROQUEMAURE families that had operated estates of anywhere between 300 and 1,000 hectares. They de-forested the plateau at ROQUEMAURE, which became a good source for reds and some whites, sourced from the masses of galet stones that covered clay-limestone undersoils. Elsewhere at ROQUEMAURE, soils can be more based on fractured limestone with clay-sand subsoils.

From ROQUEMAURE, the CHÂTEAU D’AQUÉRIA of TAVEL makes their always en finesse white wine from crumbled limestone soils. Their wine in 2017 was 40% GRENACHE BLANC, 25% BOURBOULENC, 16% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE, with a neat, not overbearing completion of 12% ROUSSANNE and 7% VIOGNIER, not enough of the last-named to overrun the blend. AQUÉRIA also make a sizeable 20,000 bottles a year, so have reach in their distribution, the white aiding cash flow in the process, given that TAVEL is not always an easy sell.

The 14-hectare biodynamic DOMAINE DES CARABINIERS is also situated at ROQUEMAURE, their white a wine of integrity, a good tight offering based on a blend of the sturdy South and the fragrant North – a 50% GRENACHE BLANC base – topped up by 25% ROUSSANNE and 25% VIOGNIER [introduced in 2013 for more aroma]. Their vineyards reflect the mixed soils of this part of the RHÔNE VALLEY, the shifting of ocean levels in the past, coming from sand-topped, galet stone and clay subsoils on the COTEAU DE CLARY, the crop harvested at night time. Their 4,000 to 5,000 bottle level is more the norm for LIRAC WHITEs across the appellation.

THE CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE CONNECTION

Two other notable names, both owned by CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE families, also derive their WHITE LIRAC from ROQUEMAURECHÂTEAU DE MONT-REDON and CHÂTEAU DE LA GARDINE. The former’s vineyard is the old ANTOINE VERDA [the main man at LIRAC in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s] CANTEGRIL with galet stone, clay-limestone soils, and a blend of that varies between 45-60% CLAIRETTE (early 1980s), 25-40% GRENACHE BLANC, 0-20% ROUSSANNE and 0-10% VIOGNIER. Their modern, perky style WHITE is lightly oaked, and its production has recently risen from 10,000 to 25,000 bottles.

The BRUNEL family-owned CHÂTEAU SAINT-ROCH WHITE has also been partly oaked since the late-2000s, and is comprised of 50% GRENACHE BLANC, 30% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE, 10% ROUSSANNE and 10% VIOGNIER, the last named introduced since the late 2000s. Their vines, average age 30 years, grow on limestone-slight clay soils, and their production runs between 10,000 and 20,000 bottles.

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE DOMAINES HANDLE OAK WELL

MONT-REDON and GARDINE are two of the foremost names for CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITEs, the latter especially elegant, and at LIRAC, their expertise with oak comes through loud and clear in their well-judged, stylish wines.

MANY LIRAC BLANCS COME FROM DIFFERENT COMMUNES, DIFFERENT SOILS

It’s not unusual for whites from LIRAC to be taken from different communes. The exceptionally reliable DOMAINE MABY is based at TAVEL, but their main LIRAC BLANC is in part from sandy soils on LES COUDOULIÈRES at SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES, and galet stone covered soils on LA PLANE at LIRAC. SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES is the village with the sandiest soils of the appellation.

RICHARD MABY feels the galet stones are the best soils for the WHITE, observing: “you read that the galet stones give too much alcohol, and the wines are too rounded, but there’s a decent amount of minerality in the subsoils, so you can arrive at a balance in the wine. We grow the GRENACHE BLANC and the PICPOUL on the galets, the VIOGNIER and the CLAIRETTE on the sand. The galet soils don’t suffer from drought, but the sandy soils do. I find that my VIOGNIER in the sand ripens later than if it were grown on galet stone soils, by the way. When harvesting, the normal sequence is GRENACHE BLANC first, then VIOGNIER, PICPOUL, and lastly CLAIRETTE."

“I also question which varieties are best suited to current hot conditions,” continues RICHARD MABY, “and when I think I want a more aromatic blend, I look at ROUSSANNE and MARSANNE, for instance. But then you have to take into account their ability to handle really hot conditions, and you come back to the GRENACHE BLANC and the CLAIRETTE, the staple varieties of the region."

The good-bodied MABY LA FERMADE LIRAC BLANC is a wine I often buy, since it is good VALUE, and can evolve nicely over several years, suiting a good range of dishes. It is now 43-60% CLAIRETTE (1984), 25-39% GRENACHE BLANC (1980), 15-18% PICPOUL (1979) and 0-10% VIOGNIER. RICHARD admits that he doesn’t always include the VIOGNIER – “I put it in in some vintages when I lack fruit, such as in 2015,” he says. At 28,000 to 40,000 bottles, it is the highest quantity LIRAC BLANC.

The VIGNERONS DE TAVEL LES HAUTS D’ACANTALYS is also taken from two communes, LIRAC and ROQUEMAURE. It is based on traditional SOUTHERN RHÔNE varieties, namely 50-58% GRENACHE BLANC (late 1980s), 0-45% BOURBOULENC, 5-30% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE (late 1980s), with the two recent plantings of 0-10% VIOGNIER (2010s) and 0-10% ROUSSANNE (2010s). It is now all oak raised, the 2017 holding firm gras richness with fresh edging.

TWO TOP LIRAC BLANCs FROM CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON

Two of the very best LIRAC BLANCs come from the imposing CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON that dates back to the eleventh century, and towers over the RHÔNE just north of ROQUEMAURE. This is now a serious 60-hectare property.

The LIRAC COMTESSE MADELEINE is another wine taken from two different communes and two different soils. In this case it is 60% from chipped limestone with clay and sand soils at ROQUEMAURE, with MARSANNE and PICPOUL grown there, and 40% from galet stone covered soils at SAINT GENIÈS DE COMOLAS, where RODOLPHE DE PINS grows GRENACHE BLANC and CLAIRETTE. This always bears stylish richness, with the 2016 delightfully mineral, aided by the 40% MARSANNE, and the 2017 suavely coated, aromatic and naturally grapey. RODOLPHE recommends this be drunk with Bouillabaisse, guinea fowl prepared in honey or tiger prawn risotto with saffron.

THE WONDER OF 1870S-1890s CLAIRETTE BLANCHE & ROSE

The real jewel of WHITE LIRAC, however, comes in the shape of the 0.75 hectare of ancient CLAIRETTE on the plot called locally LA JENSATTE, the lieu-dit PEYGUEROL, at ST GENIÈS DE COMOLAS. This is the most extraordinary sight, a vineyard of noble veterans dating from the 1870s to the 1890s on a plateau that starts with galet stones above red clay and sand, and ends lower down on more purely sandy subsoils. It is about 85% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and 14% CLAIRETTE ROSE, with odd plants of BOURBOULENC and GRENACHE BLANC scattered here and there.

There is something about the feel of wine taken from old vines, instantly identifiable. This is silk that cannot be achieved by cellar techniques or methods; the noble sève or sap runs with an effortless caress along the palate, has a feathery tone, the most meditative effect produced. This wine is called VIN DE MADAME LA COMTESSE DE MONTFAUCON, and runs between 1,400 and 2,500 bottles. RODOLPHE bought the 7-hectare vineyard that includes this gem in 2012, and has established this wine as a top notcher since then. From 2012 until 2014 it was sold as CÔTES DU RHÔNE, and LIRAC since then. An export price of €14 makes it one of the GREAT VALUE purchases from the RHÔNE.

TUCKED AWAY VINEYARDS, UNLIKE BIG EXPANSE VAUCLUSE VINEYARDS

If you burrow into the byeways of the LIRAC vineyard, you find yourself lost in a series of enclaves west of the village, tracks with pine and garrigue scrub next to them, enclosed little plots of vines, each one with its own story to tell; this is far removed from the Big Country horizons of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE or VACQUEYRAS across the river, two appellations with a natural bursting of sun in the wines.

LIRAC: SAND AND FRESHNESS

RODOLPHE is PRESIDENT of the GROWERS SYNDICAT of LIRAC, and regards LIRAC WHITE as holding cards that nearby appellations don’t necessarily possess. “There is more sand at LIRAC than at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, even though the soils can be similar,” he says. “If you take a domaine such as LA LORENTINE [biodynamic, 8 hectares, owned by DOMAINE DE MARCOUX at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE], their vineyard is on limestone with red clay, sand and galet stones topping, but stands in a fresh valley at SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES. This source of natural freshness is, of course, important, both for the red and for the whites.

THE VILLAGE OF LIRAC, ITS PROTECTIVE RIDGE IN THE BACKGROUND

There is a twin protection against the heat of the setting sun from the presence of the FOREST of SAINT LAURENT and from the ridge that runs along from TAVEL to LIRAC to SAINT LAURENT and across to SAINT VICTOR LA COSTE [part of the LAUDUN appellation], so there are fresh spots along that pathway. At LIRAC, the SAINTE BAUME promontory [a sacred chapel on top of a little cliff] also is a fresh spot [MAS ISABELLE has vines there, with trees all around], which makes it another good place for white wine.”

LIRAC is another village with split soil profiles. Below the ancient chapel of SAINTE BAUME, the soils are stony, limestone, providers of finesse, whereas on the extension of the VALLONGUE plateau from TAVEL next door, the soils are galet stone covered, resembling those of the celebrated LA CRAU at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE.

PICPOUL

RODOLPHE is careful with his use of VIOGNIER, which I term the potential bandit in any blend, and is planting more PICPOUL – “for freshness; it’s a late ripener, gives a good yield, and brings acidity, whereas the VIOGNIER can lapse into jam and heaviness.”

CLAIRETTE

He is also a partisan of CLAIRETTE – “it is gourmand, silken, and its freshness derives from a little tang of bitter and salinity rather than from acidity – indeed, its analysis never shows much acidity.” I am completely in tune with his sentiments on these three varieties.

PLATEAU DES CHÊNES HIGH QUALITY

Another LIRAC BLANC of considerable note, and only recently started, is that of PLATEAU DES CHÊNES, the vineyard bought by the BRECHET family of CHÂTEAU DE VAUDIEU at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE in late 2011, a 25-hectare estate started in the 1960s by a PIED NOIR family from ALGERIA. The white is in limited supply, between 1,800 and 3,000 bottles, composed of 42% CLAIRETTE, 24% ROUSSANNE, 18% VIOGNIER and 16% GRENACHE BLANC. Its early 1990s vineyard at SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES is sandy, but has the advantage of being closely lined with forest that provides shade and a welcome freshness.  

The vinification and raising has evolved from mainly steel vat for the first two vintages to all oak - two to four year old 600-litre oak casks; given the 42% combined between ROUSSANNE and VIOGNIER, there is often a soft, creamy aspect to this, and, once again, the deft handling of oak by long established CHÂTEAUNEUF families is apparent - the 2016 and 2017 vintages stepping up a gear from earlier years, the 2016 stylish, served with dance and vivid expression, the 2017 elegant, balanced, refined, a good companion for dishes such as POULET DE BRESSE [BRESSE chicken, the King] or sea bass in fennel.

Another example of the ROUSSANNE and VIOGNIER together – not something I feel happy about in principle, preferring them to supplement the GRENACHE BLANC and/or CLAIRETTE - comes in the shape of the recently re-invigorated CHÂTEAU BOUCARUT at ROQUEMAURE, whose 1,000 bottle 2017 CUVÉE LUCAS, made from sandy, stony soils, 75% ROUSSANNE, 25% VIOGNIER dating from the early 2000s, is a rounded, supple wine, its bouquet showing much charm, as might be expected. Those two varieties in a sun-filled vintage such as 2017 can only combine for what is a low acidity feel in the end wine.

The DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-EPINE LIRAC BLANC is based on mid-1960s GRENACHE BLANC, but the remainder is 30% ROUSSANNE and 20% VIOGNIER, the last two planted in the mid-1990s. This, too, held a low acidity feel in 2017, though its orderly richness held well through to the finish, resulting in a genuine wine. This organic wine runs between 12,000 and 21,000 bottles, so is of some consequence.

VINTAGE OPINIONS: 2016 OVER 2017

Grower opinion on the last two completed vintages lands in favour of 2016 over 2017. RICHARD MABY: “2017 is a beau vintage, but I prefer 2016 and 2018. The balance is good in 2017. The wines were closed to start with, but since July-August 2018 have developed their bouquets. 2018 will be exceptional, mind – its perfumes light up the cellar.”

RODOLPHE DE PINS prefers 2016 as well; “2016 is a very GRANDE ANNÉE for the WHITEs. The 2017s are very good, but are a bit hot, are ripe, gourmand, and come with less freshness and acidity than 2016. The 2017s were on sucrosity at first, but now after a year, have sorted themselves out, are gourmand and agreeable, which shows that even in an extreme vintage such as 2017, the WHITE LIRACs can perform well.”

2017 ARE SHOWING VERY WELL NOW

From my point of view, I feel that the progress made in bottle by the 2017s has not been fully taken into account by the growers, and I am glad that I tasted the wines during the late summer of 2018, when they have shown particularly well. 2016 is also very good, of course, but the 2017s deserve attention.

I would therefore encourage readers to look out for LIRAC BLANC; the wines have authenticity and style, and are absolutely capable of accompanying a good dinner, their price often around half of that of a CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE BLANC, making them a good deal on the PRICE-QUALITY front.

LEADING 2017 LIRAC WHITES

****(*) Ch de Montfaucon Vin Mme la Comtesse 2029-30 09/18 fine caress, silken, stylish, V
****(*) Château Saint-Roch 2023 10/18 tasty, silken, stylish, w.o.w., V
****(*) Plateau des Chênes 2025-27 10/18 pedigree fruit, style, elegant
**** Ch de Montfaucon Comtesse Madeleine 2024-25 09/18 suave, gentle, aromatic, grapey
**** Château Saint-Roch Confidentielle 2028-29 10/18 solid, suave, sealed, oaked
**** Domaine des Carabiniers 2024-26 09/18 honest, good weight, length
**** Domaine Corne-Loup 2024-25 09/18 sturdy, firm, heart, length
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine 2022 09/18 fat core, genuine, long
**** Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2028-29 09/18 gracious, silken, heart, oak
**** Domaine Maby La Fermade 2023-24 09/18 fluid gras, full, sparky
**** Dom de la Mordorée Reine des Bois 2026-28 09/18 assertive, freighted, replete
**** Mas Isabelle Blanc Roc 2025-26 09/18 stylish gras, restraint, gentle
***(*) Château d’Aquéria   2022 09/18 stylish, suave, fluent, mild 
***(*) Château Boucarut Lucas 2021 09/18 supple, round, fat, joli
***(*) Château de Bouchassy Magnolia  2023-24 09/18 tight, nutty, upright 
***(*) Château Mont-Redon   2022-23 09/18 soft content, modernista, buzzy 
***(*) Domaine Castel Oualou   2021 09/18 tasty exotic fruits 
***(*) Domaine des Maravilhas Pradau  2025-26 09/18 tight Bourboulenc, firm, nutty 
***(*) Ogier Lou Caminé   2021 09/18 soft, rounded, serene
***(*) Rocca Maura   2020-21 09/18 medium weight, well made 
***(*) Les Vignerons de Tavel hauts Acantalys  2021 09/18 fresh, vivid; sturdy inner 
*** Domaine La Lôyane Diane  2026-27 09/18 grounded, nutty, sealed, dumb 


 

A TRIO OF FULL-BODIED, TRADITIONAL, WELL-MADE 2017 TAVELS

2017 TAVEL

2017 is a very good vintage at TAVEL, and if growers were true to the origins of the vineyard and their appellation’s history, they have delivered properly good dining wines, with bags of flavour and gustos of strength for even the richest dishes.

TAVEL SHOULD BE FAR APART FROM PROVENCE ROSÉ

The divergence between TAVEL and the often marketing-led onslaught of PROVENCE ROSÉ has vexed owners at TAVEL for years now – understandably, if they want to sell their wines without fuss, at a good price. They have certainly given the impression of swimming against the tide, although I urge them to stay true, and be more savvy in their presentation of the wines, emphasizing just how appropriate they are for garlic-based dishes, the Mediterranean basin, Asiatic cuisine, taking all of those in their stride. Even details such as showing the wines on tasting stands overseas with tapenade to hand - Provençal touches - since these are not drink solo wines if delivered with genuine TAVEL qualities.

EARLY HARVEST AFTER VERY DRY, HOT SUMMER

The harvest was taken in extremely early after the long and very dry summer. SÉVÉRINE LEMOINE of DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE told me: “we started our harvest early, on 21 August, for the crop for our TAVEL. The volume was even smaller than I expected, and attention to working with individual plots and the tactics in the cellar were required this year. The different varieties were all in good health, while there was only a bit of mildew, a few stains here and there. The GRENACHE lacked juice because of the coulure, while the SYRAH was more correct, more juicy, and the CINSAULT evolved well.”

LARGE GRENACHE LOSSES

RICHARD MABY of DOMAINE MABY explained how he saw his harvest: “the grapes came in looking good, but the bunches were small because of the dry weather, and, of course, there was terrible coulure [flowers not converting into fruit] on the GRENACHE, where we lost 50% - worse than in 2013. The coulure depended on when we pruned. In some places we lost 80% of the bunches, and some bunches had just one grape on them on LES VESTIDES. Around me growers were anxious for the economic impact of a small harvest, which is 30% less than 2016 across the board.

The summer was very, very dry, and what has been a bit strange is that, while the grapes didn’t grown much in size, the vines’ vegetation held a good green colour, and the process of photosynthesis still worked. There was no real blockage of ripening, even though our last rain was around only 20 mm (0.8 in) in July. The degree on the GRENACHE by 21 August was 13.5° to 14°. The skins were thick for rosé, and there were a lot of anthiocanes this year. In the second half of August, we had days at 35°C, but the night fall to 17°C – a lot of variation.”

LATE AUGUST COOL NIGHTS A DEFINITE HELP

The night time freshness in the second half of August may well have played a role in drawing the wines back from being too dense and jammy, and allowing some welcome threads of freshness. The result was wines with style in the best examples – the four ****(*) pointing the way.

GUILLAUM DEMOULIN makes elegant, notably pure TAVEL at CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL, his 2017 a **** STGT wine. He related: “2017 is joli, though there was very little GRENACHE, due to coulure [flowers not converting into fruit]. In the south on our sandy soils, the vines are deeply rooted, so we weren’t overly hit by the drought, but on the plateau – LES VESTIDES and VALLONGUE – it was complicated because of the dry conditions; the grapes were very small there. The CLAIRETTE and the SYRAH were both attractive, with a normal yield on them, thank goodness. It is a sympa vintage, though with a risk of high degree. We started our harvest on 22 August.”

ESSENTIAL TO ADAPT APPROACH

ANTHONY TAYLOR from GABRIEL MEFFRE spoke about adapting to the conditions: “because of the very high heat at harvest time, we had a delicate job on our hands in the cellars, with the necessity of cooling the grapes once they passed 20°C on arrival at the cellar door, so we could preserve all the aromatic potential and the freshness in the wine.” Their 2017 SAINT-FERRÉOL was a wholesome **** wine.

PASCAL LAFOND of the organic, high quality DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-EPINE gave this view: “it’s an interesting vintage, a small crop; we were down 45% across all our appellations. Ripeness was good. There was of course dry weather, but because there weren’t a lot of bunches, the vines didn’t suffer unduly. SYRAH dominates in 2017, so it’s a different style from 2016, and has more “tannin”.

CLAIRETTE BLANCHE A VERY USEFUL CARD TO PLAY

With vintages becoming hotter and earlier, I feel there is room for growers to change their blends for the better, with the CLAIRETTE BLANCHE an overlooked contributor. Historically, it is one of the staple varieties of the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, being a late ripener, giving glycerol-laden, textured wines, often dumb on the nose at first, but ageing well, and also resisting high heat in the vineyard. It performs well in the sandy soils of the southern area, which takes in AQUÉRIA, MANISSY, TRINQUEVEDEL and PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES among the main names.

I note that it is rare for merchants to include CLAIRETTE in the blends that they purchase – perhaps up to 10%, but often zero. A healthy dollop of 15% or more CLAIRETTE BLANCHE is a good solution; CINSAULT is low degree, which is good, but can become jammy in the very hot years.

LES VIGNERONS DE TAVEL, the CO-OPERATIVE, has several TAVELs on offer, some, such as LES LAUZERAIES from the chipped limestone soils of LES VESTIDES, and the TRÉSOR DES SABLES from the sandy soils of the South of the appellation, being zone-specific wines. The LAUZERAIES is up to 11% CLAIRETTE, the SABLES 5% CLAIRETTE only.

15% TO 20% CLAIRETTE A GOOD MOVE

A level of 15% to 20% CLAIRETTE strikes me as a good move. Here are Domaines with at least 15% CLAIRETTE, noting that the BROTTE LES ÉGLANTIERS – in some years no CLAIRETTE, at most 15% - is a merchant wine:

DOMAINE CLAIRETTE PROPORTION 2017 QUALITY OBSERVATION
BROTTE LES ÉGLANTIERS 15% CLAIRETTE max ***(*) merchant
CHÂTEAU D’AQUÉRIA 20% CLAIRETTE **** sandy soils
CHÂTEAU DE MANISSY CUVÉE DES LYS 30% CLAIRETTE ***(*) quite sandy
CHÂTEAU DE MANISSY TRINITÉ 15% CLAIRETTE ****(*) quite sandy
CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL AUTREMENT 30% CLAIRETTE *** their early wine
CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL 15% CLAIRETTE **** sandy
DOMAINE DES CARABINIERS 15% CLAIRETTE ***(*) biodynamic
DOM DE LA MORDORÉE LA REINE DES BOIS 15% CLAIRETTE **** sand, + clay

ALWAYS ELEGANT TAVEL ESTATES

Of those not mentioned above, the PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES, vineyards 80% sandy, varies its CLAIRETTE from 8% to 15%, by the way. It is in the group of elegant TAVELS year in, year out, along with AQUÉRIA, TRINQUEVEDEL, MONTÉZARGUES and some of the MANISSY cuvées, notably TRINITÉ in 2017.

ALWAYS DEEP-SEATED TAVELS

For regular access to the busty depth and prolonged palates of traditional, well-made TAVEL, I would point to the often STGT DOMAINE MOULIN-LA-VIGUERIE of GAËL PETIT, DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE LA REINE DES BOIS (fuller, more depth than their LA DAME ROUSSE), and the CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE under its new owner [since 2015] CHRISTIAN LATOUCHE – both the classic CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE and LA MAGNANERIE. All these can be cellared and drunk at three to six years’ old.

The DOMAINE AMIDO’s CUVÉE LES GOURMANDINES is another nicely full TAVEL, though with a shorter drinking window, while ERIC PFFIFERLING’s DOMAINE DE L’ANGLORE with its zero SO2 approach, also gives a genuine table wine capable of showing over four or five years. 

2017 TAVEL: A DINING VINTAGE

Across the board, there is compact, sometimes thick juice present in the wines, which hold good stuffing, length, and flair in their fruit. There is some high degree noted on aftertastes here and there. Most emphatically, these are table wines, and, quite rightly, set TAVEL well apart from the light, floating, often neutral [and over-priced, got to pay for all the packaging and promotion] PROVENCE ROSÉs.

LEADING 2017 TAVEL ROSÉS

****(*) Chât La Genestière La Magnanerie  2021 09/18 silken run, refined, long
****(*) Château de Manissy Trinité    2020 07/18 shapely, appealing, pure, class 
****(*) Domaine Amido Gourmandines   2020 08/18 abundant, upbeat, striking length 
****(*) Moulin La Viguerie Falaises Braise  2021-22 09/18 stylish continuity, expressive, STGT 
**** Château d’Aquéria   2020 07/18 tasty, elegant, fresh, w.o.w. 
**** Château La Genestière  2021 09/18 structured, genuine, full flavour 
**** Chât de Manissy 100 by Manissy  2020-21 07/18 soft gourmandise, long, engaging 
**** Château de Trinquevedel 2020-21 09/18 v precise, fine, refreshing, STGT 
**** Domaine de L'Anglore blue label 2025-26 05/19 grounded, long, thorough, complex
**** Domaine Corne-Loup  2020 07/18 bustling flavour, clear, true 
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine  2020-21 07/18 thick juice, tasty, solid 
**** Domaine Maby Prima Donna  2020-21 08/18 broad, bright, great length 
**** Dom de la Mordorée Reine des Bois  2021 07/18 soft, juicy, persistent 
**** Domaine Pelaquié   mid-19 08/18 cosy gras, detail, w.o.w. 
**** Gabriel Meffre Saint-Ferréol   2021 07/18 impressive depth, vivid fruit  
**** Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes  2021 07/18 manly, intricate, fresh, interest 
**** Vignerons de Tavel Cuvée Royale   mid-20 07/18 neat gras, genuine, stylish 
**** Vignobles & Cie Rés Chastelles  2020 07/18 solid, tight, genuine, long 
***(*) Brotte Les Eglantiers   2020 09/18 attractive body, genuine, relaxed 
***(*) Château de Manissy Cuvée des Lys   mid-19 07/18 soft, pliant, careful, friendly 
***(*) Château de Ségriès  mid-19 07/18 attractive, easy, juicy 
***(*) Domaine des Carabiniers  2020 09/18 tasty, charming, good shape 
***(*) Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Esprit  late-19 07/18 red fruited; zero SO2 
***(*) Domaine Maby La Forcadière   2020 08/18 decent, easy to drink 
***(*) Dom de la Mordorée Dame Rousse  early-20 07/18 tasty, trim, instant, power 
***(*) Grandes Serres Rose d’Aimée  2020 06/18 beau gras, juiced length 
***(*) Prieuré de Montézargues  2020 08/18 very clean, clear, vivacious 
***(*) Vignerons de Tavel les Lauzeraies  2020 07/18 dance, vivacity, reined-in 
*** M Chapoutier Beaurevoir  late-19 09/18 red-fruited, round, fluid 
*** Chât de Trinquevedel AutremenTavel  2019 09/18 savoury, squeezy, innocuous 
*** Domaine Amido Les Amandines  mid-19 08/18 fleshy, steady gras, correct 
*** Lavau  2019 09/18 wavy gras, soft, “OK” 
*** Domaine des Muretins   late-19 07/18 sweet, succulent, bit simple 
*** Ogier Étamines   2020 07/18 solid, grounded, vigourous 
*** Rocca Maura Cuvée Laurent   early-19 09/18 easy, supple, medium weight 
*** Vignerons Tavel Trésor des Sables  late-19 07/18 smooth flow, fine, light 
*** Vignobles & Cie Les Combelles  2020 07/18 close wrapping, red fruits