A lively crowd of mainly Claret lovers invited me to show a range of wines from the Southern Rhone! I told them: next time, South-West France. At least it's closer to the style of wines they enjoy. I find it rare that I "get" Bordeaux at all; maybe it's just that I can afford decent wines from the Rhone and SWF but the really good Bordeaux tends to be out of my league. That said, a recent bottle of Teyssier's 2005 was rather enjoyable - maybe it's not that typical! As this was the first wine of the evening, everyone had a full glass; no-one complained.
First up was Domaine des Anges' 2007 "L'Archange" Blanc, a monovarietal - and, therefore, technically illegal - wine from the renamed Ventoux. Still very youthful and fresh with citrus on the nose and palate. Some liquorice and almond and the merest whiff of oak. It really needs another couple of years or more to flesh out; it noticeably improved as the glass drained. Perhaps it should be less chilled to allow its character to show fully. I can understand that anyone unfamiliar with Roussanne could find it difficult to know what to make of this wine; you have to know how Roussanne develops to appreciate where this is going. For the Claret crowd, this is best explained by comparing it with Semillon which can have a light fragrance in youth, developing its waxiness as it ages.
A wine that is not remotely shy, Domaine des Coteaux des Travers' 2007 "Cuvee Marine" is far more intense with the Roussanne aromas and flavours, well matched by the Viognier with Grenache and Marsanne in supporting roles (in fact, all four varieties make up 25% each of the blend). Quite a sweet palate with a lingering, dry finish. My sort of white!
Enough of the whites then; on to Domaine des Anges' 2006 Rouge, chosen as a good for current drinking, typical, high quality, fruit-driven wine that shouldn't offend anyone - except for the chap who announced that he enjoyed the Xavier Rouge (next up) almost as much as he disliked this! I questioned why he had come to a Rhone tasting if he disliked the region's wines so much. He didn't really have an answer but spent the rest of the tasting moving around the room talking to other people rather than focusing on the wines (I should explain: this sort of tasting is quite formal like a lecture only with wine). I found the wine faultless within its context and would be happy drinking this with most food or on its own, as would most other consumers I know. I find it bizarre that anyone would have a problem with any good wines from this region although there is no doubt that strong prejudices exist, even in the world of wine (the Bordeaux/Burgundy divide for starters).
Xavier Vignon's "Rouge" seemed very slightly oxidised on the nose but I think it was just the bottle I tried (interestingly, this was also the bottle the chap who didn't like the DDA tasted from) but the palate was fresh: rich with red/black fruit and very big.
I had to show them something from the 2007 vintage, given how good it was in the Southern Rhone (or so I thought before I remembered most of them don't know anything about the region apart from what I tell them and show them every couple of years) so I thought Laurent Brusset's Gigondas "Le Grand Montmirail" would be a good bet, especially given how well it had gone down in Canterbury earlier in the year (but they know how to enjoy the wines from this part of the world). Chewy, as you would expect from a young wine, with wonderful dark fruits - black cherries and blackberries and quite a bit of liquorice. I won't open any for drinking at home for a couple of years but it's heading for glory.
The next few wines were all from 2005, another great vintage so not fully mature but showing quite well nonetheless. First, Mourchon's "Grande Reserve". Walter McKinlay's estate is undoubtedly the leader in Seguret, one of the most delightful of the region's medieval villages. One of the tasters was interested enough to observe that Michael Broadbent had written up the 2006 in Decanter this month so I was rather buoyed up by this. I found it had quite a meaty Syrah component and chewy tannins (a chunk of cheese took the edge off this) which surprisingly dominated the Grenache-based wine at this time.
Rarely have I ventured into Lirac before: the geography and architecture on the right bank is less appealing than the main CDR Villages area of the Vaucluse departement. Grand Veneur's "Clos des Sixte" is worth making an exception: at present, it is not unlike the Mourchon although less obviously chewy. The hint of Mourvedre (15%), though, will shine through more and more with time. A very good wine at a fair (by which I mean favourable to the consumer) price.
The first bottle of Raymond Usseglio's Chateauneuf-du-Pape was, unfortunately, corked (one out of 32 bottles opened tonight - still too many in my view). The others were in good condition and revealed a gorgeous Chateauneuf, one of the defining characteristics being its superb mouthfeel. I didn't actually taste it last night as there were only two bottles to be shared between around 35 tasters but I have opened one today instead and am enjoying every sip of it!
The wine society's Chairman - very much a Claret man - told me recently that the reason he didn't go for the Rhone wines was because he doesn't like Syrah. Of course, all the above reds are Grenache-based but have some Syrah mixed in. I had a choice - to include Mourchon's "Family Reserve" or Ussglio's "Imperiale" or some other pure Grenache wine (the Usseglio does have around 2% Cinsault but who's counting?) - or, I thought, go to the Northern Rhone instead (my brief was Rhone wines - I generally stick to the south). Instead, I opted for Domaine de la Charite's "Ombres", a mere CDR which I haven't tasted for a while so was slightly nervous about. It was fantastic: that perfect synthesis of Rhone Syrah and cool climate Oz Shiraz. Lovely sweet black fruit carrying on and on. Sometimes I think Christophe Coste makes too many cuvees (he probably does) but when I taste a wine like this, I can't fault him for doing so.
To round off, the Chairman and I discussed a vin doux naturel, one of the region's local specialities from either Beaumes-de-Venise (Muscat) or Rasteau, these being from the Grenache grape in various guises: Rouge, Dore or Rancio. I had included Bressy-Masson's Rancio the last time so thought it only fair to show the Rasteau Rouge from Domaine des Coteaux des Travers this time. The Chairman was happy when I told him this was a Southern Rhone take on Port. More evolved than last time I tasted this, it is beginning to take on some of the figiness that will make this so enticing in another year or two.
Overall, I was very pleased with the selection - it was only a shame that so few of the members can divorce themselves from the preconception that Bordeaux is best. Perhaps some of these wines will sow a seed of doubt in their minds. I hope so.