Friday, 31 December 2010

NYE - a round up of the last ten days in the Vaucluse

What a place to spend Christmas and New Year in! We came with friends who have returned to London for New Year and the only disappointment has been the lack of snow on Mont Ventoux on Christmas Day. Never mind; a delicious capon and all the trimmings that all four adults demanded from their own childhoods made up for this. The weather has been reasonably kind too - whereas it is barely above freezing at home, we have seen temperatures of up to 17 degrees (although it was minus seven on the mountain so, perhaps, not such a bad thing there was no snow).

The wines I have tasted from 2009 have been exceptionally good. I don't remember 2007 being any better. Critics who have suggested this is, perhaps, only a four star vintage compared with the 2007's five stars may be right of course. I can only judge it by what has passed my lips and, given the quality of the estates I have been fortunate enough to befriend over the years, I won't be passing these up either personally or professionally.

A few highlights from the last week or so (estates are listed alphabetically; see individual blog entries):

Domaine des Anges, Ventoux 2009 "Seraphim" is an exciting new wine from Ciaran Rooney and his 2010 Viognier is going to be lovely this summer.

Domaine Bressy-Masson, CDR 2009 punches well above its weight (but wait a couple of years and Paul-Emile will sky-rocket).

Domaine Brusset, CDRV Cairanne 2009 "Les Chabriles" continues to be a perennial favourite (but the CDR is a superb bargain) and, of course, the Gigondas should sell themselves.

Domaine de la Charite: Christophe Coste's Chateau Capucine Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2009 is a star in the making but I was extremely impressed with some really fabulous 2008s and the excellent 2007 "Les Ombres" Syrah.

Domaine des Coteaux des Travers, Rasteau 2009 "Prestige" and Cairanne were both irresistible.

Domaine de Cristia's old vine Grenache CDR is packed with potential and as for the Chateauneufs...

Domaine Grand Veneur, Lirac 2009 "Clos des Sixte" (all the red wines, really, and the old vine Roussanne)

Domaine de Mourchon's Grande Reserve (in two or three years time) should be as good as the 2007.

Raymond Usseglio's 2009 Part des Anges is simply stunning, one of my wines of the vintage, but the Imperiale is rather special too (and the regular Chateauneuf and Cotes du Rhone are rather good too!)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Domaine Bressy-Masson - the end of a long, hard week!

My final professional stop of the trip, Domaine Bressy-Masson is one of the superstar estates in Rasteau (the others are Soumade and Coteaux des Travers). Marie-France Masson is handing over the winemaking to her son, Paul-Emile but still likes to welcome visitors. Not many wines to taste today as only one Rasteau made in 2008 (Souco d'Or) and too little Gloire in 2009 to be worth tempting me with apparently (a shame as this is one of my favourite Rasteau wines).

We started with a wine I have rarely considered properly. A CDR at more or less the same price as Christophe Coste's excellent Domaine de la Charite would be, at best, duplication in most vintages. However, Marie-France's 2009 Cotes du Rhone, a blend of 70% Grenache with 20% Carignan and 10% Syrah and no oak has a strong, fruity nose, good body and structure with a long finish. More Rasteau than CDR and very full for the appellation. This will be a lovely wine to enjoy over the next three or four years.

The 2008 CDR Village Rasteau "Souco D'Or" is a good achievement for the vintage. As there was no "Paul-Emile", this includes all the old vine grapes normally destined for that wine and, as such, is probably the best "Souco" I have tasted. 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre with 12 months in oak. Spicy/peppery with some oak evident but pretty fruit. A little lacking in the mid-palate, perhaps, but decent enough depth and length. One to drink soon-ish. In Burgundy terms, if "Paul-Emile" is like a Grand Cru (as it often is), this is a decent Villages.

Inevitably, the 2009 Rasteau "Paul-Emile" is head and shoulders above the "Souco". Made from the grapes of the same 90-year-old vine Grenache (60%), Syrah (30%) and Mourvedre (10%) as much of the older wine, this was only bottled on 15th October after its elevage en foudre. Very closed now but the red cherry fruit can't be prevented from coming through on the nose and (massive) palate which has lots of body and matter. Excellent potential, when the spicy tannins resolve themselves, and a long finish. Hold for two or three years at least.

We finished with a quick round-off of the VDNs, first the regular Rasteau VDN from 100% Grenache, a rose wine which is all honeyed/stoned fruits with just a hint of oxidation and quite complex, very much like Robert Charavin's "Dore". The Rasteau Rancio VDN is in a different class with its deliberate oxidative style and oak ageing. Rich, very complex and fascinating. Rather like just about every wine that has been put before me over the last week or so.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Domaine de la Charite and Chateau Capucine

Christophe Coste was barely 20 when we first met. He had recently taken over his grandfather's estate, Domaine de la Charite, in Saze, to the west of Avignon where he made some good wines from the Cotes du Rhone and Villages appellations. Now, his village, Signargues, has been promoted to a named village, he is president of the sydicate, he is married to Sandrine with whom he has two young daughters and he now makes a dozen or so wines including one from a recently acquired hectare of old-vine Grenache in the Gallimardes sector of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Not a bad decade!

If all that isn't enough, Christophe made the only wines outside Chateauneuf in 2008 which I can honestly say I would be happy to stack my own cellar with. His 2008 CDR Villages Signargues "Bastien" is packed with kirsch and garrigues, very full with great texture and length. A superb wine for the difficult vintage.

Even better, the 2008 CDR Villages Signargues "Cayenne" is more or less the same with a lovely, gentle veneer of oakiness. Excellent balance without any of the hint of bitterness which some other wines of the vintage have displayed.

We discussed why his wines were so much better than most others. Christophe joked that it was his winemaking and, of course, that has much to do with it. The weather was, perhaps, a little kinder to him than to producers in the eastern Vaucluse (Signargues is in the Gard) but Christophe has acquired various bits of kit including top of the range sorting tables which can pick out only the very ripest of grapes. A shrewd investment for vintages such as this.

The one wine he has still from 2007 was always going to be a winner. I have a case at home already and was pleased to taste it again at the estate to see how it is developing. Now drinkable (although with much further to go), the 2007 Cotes du Rhone "Ombres" is Christophe's way of putting top Northern Rhone Syrah or good, cool-climate New World Syrah in its place. Elegant and long with lots of black fruit, a whiff of mint and wrapped in a little new oak, this is simply gorgeous.

Finally, we tasted the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Chateau Capucine named after Christophe's oldest daughter. This is going to be an excellent wine and, with Christophe's skills, an estate to follow. He is clearly going for the prestige end of the market quality wise but, knowing Christophe, it will be priced extremely competitively (around £220 per dozen in bond). At first tasting, this pure Grenache wine is quite tannic with rich cherry fruit but, warming it up in the glass a little reveals all sorts of nuances including liquorice, garrigue herbs and spices but, as with all great wines, it is the texture that is the key to its quality. The oak used is second hand so imparts little if any flavour but assists in the textural development. Give it a couple of years to develop further and enjoy it over the next five years although it will, no doubt, go on much longer. A star is born!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Back in Rasteau: Domaine des Coteaux des Travers

Robert Charavin of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers is one of the people I have been working with since I started up and we have got to know each other quite well in that time with only one thing getting in the way: his non-existent English/my lousy French. This time, I met with his new assistant Lucie who does speak English (although she charmingly pronounces grapes as "grap").

Two big developments: first, Rasteau is now a Cru alongside Gigondas, Chateauneuf etc so it no longer needs to include Cotes du Rhone Villages on the labels. An interesting development because (a) Cairanne still can't do this even though it has a longer history of top tier wineries (apparently it has missed the boat and won't be able to apply now for a couple of years) and (b) there will, inevitably, be some confusion with the vins doux naturels which are also simply AOC Rasteau. The sensible thing will be for VDN producers to mark this clearly on the bottles but, as I undestand it, there is no compulsion to do this (I hope I am wrong and, if not, that the authorities will soon bring this in).

I knew Robert was going over to organic viticulture (the estate will be fully Ecocert from 2010) but Lucie told me he is following biodynamic principles, not something commonly found in this region. He has only recently started with this so we will see what impact it has on the wines.

For now, we had to make do with the 2009 vintage, so not too much of a disappointment then. Beginning with the generally excellent white, the 2009 Rasteau Blanc "Marine", a blend of equal parts Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier which sees a little oak in the upbringing of the Roussanne. The nose has a pugency about it which is probably from the recent bottling because the flavours on the palate are lovely: all honeysuckle, apricots etc, everything you would want from a blend dominated (in terms of the flavours) by Viognier and Roussanne, the region's two star white grapes. The mouthfeel is superb, quite fat but with decent acidity. All in all, another strong performance from this wine.

The 2009 CDR Villages Cairanne has very pure, spicy (peppery) fruit with lots of cherry and raspberry character (60% Grenache with 30% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah), well rounded with excellent balance. One to start drinking now despite the high Mourvedre content!

It seems I usually have a strong preference for either the Cairanne or Rasteau (in 2008 the Rasteau was very good, the Cairanne not) because I found the 2009 Rasteau a little hard and short on the finish. Essentially a good wine which will probably come together well (I had similar concerns about the 2007 two years ago; now it is drinking extremely well), it has a rich, deep nose and rounder, less peppery fruit than the Cairanne although it seems to be a bigger wine. Give it a couple of years and it will probably be every bit as good.

The last of the reds is the 2009 Rasteau "Prestige" which is very full with an intense, sweet, rich nose of red berry fruits and a hint of oak. The attack is gorgeous, full of sweet, spicy cherry fruit, very concentrated with excellent balance and a long, long finish. Drinkable now, it seems, although I would leave it to develop a couple of years or so. I still have recollections of the 2005 which at only four years had developed into a magnificent wine. Sadly, my recent  cataloguing of my own cellar has revealed not a single bottle of this - I'll just have to wait for the 2007 and, now, 2009!

We finished off with the VDNs, three of them now with a 2009 Rasteau VDN Blanc a recent addition. Not as interesting, perhaps, as the other VDNs but probably more commercial. Very sweet, quite citrus. A good dessert wine with lots of possible food pairings: Lucie suggested tarte tatin which felt like a good match.

The 2008 Rasteau VDN Dore tastes of caramelised sultanas. Quite full and sweet, almost rancio in style but not quite: that is not a style Robert wants to achieve clearly. Complex, interesting and probably impossible to sell in the UK market!

The 2009 Rasteau VDN Rouge is, like its 2007 counterpart, very young still but with good potential to develop into a Rhone version of an aged tawny port. Will be good.

After a break, Domaine de Cristia

Arriving at Domaine de Cristia this afternoon, Dominique called to say she had a stinking cold and would not be able to see me which was a great shame as meeting up with her is one of the highlights of my visits. Baptiste was there though and his cousin Emmanuel (which gave me an opportunity to speak French even though it became apparent he spoke very good English). Not many wines from 2009 to taste as virtually everything has been sold now and the 2010s are mostly still fermenting. However, there were wines to taste and what wines!

We began with the 2009 Cotes du Rhone Vielles Vignes "Les Garrigues", a big brother to the Vieilles Vignes VDP Grenache I enthused about last Easter. This also is pure Grenache from a new vineyard (for Cristia; it is planted with 50-year-old vines) so, whereas the rest of the Cristia production is now certified organic, this wine has just started the conversion process. Bottled in September, it has a youthful nose with some oak evident but less than the VDP wine. The palate is sweet with some of the oak creeping in alongside the spicy, cherry and garrigue flavours. Some tannin is noticeable but the mouthfeel is quite creamy and fairly full and the finish long. Young but filled with potential. A great value wine.

Then came the Chateauneufs - wow! The 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge has a classic Cristia nose and palate, quite chewy at present with excellent Grenache (over 90% of the blend), big and rich, sweet fruit and no evident oak (I don't think this wine sees any oak). Very full, long, classic. Give it a couple years and drink it over the next five to eight.

2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Renaissance" was presented next (60% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre from very old vines, 100+ years). The nose is quite oaky and there is gorgeous rich, sweet peppery fruit intertwined with Asian spices and some animal notes (the Mourvedre) and the toasty oak. Pretty close to perfection, the wine needs three or four years for those Mourvedre tannins to melt and the oak to give way to the fruit. Very long. Baptiste said he had intended this to be the power house of the vintage and the Vieilles Vignes to be more feminine but, in the end, things turned out the other way. However, as always, I enjoyed the complexity of the Renaissance blend.

Finally, the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Vieilles Vignes", 100% Grenache from 85-year-old vines planted at the Cristia lieu-dit which is adjacent to Rayas. Despite all the new oak thrown at this cuvee, it is barely noticeable because of the fullness of the sweet, pure Grenache fruit. Very rich and full-bodied with considerable weight and perfectly rounded for drinking over the course of the decade (although, if recent tastings of earlier vintages are anything to go by, expect it to close down at around five years for a couple of years or so).

Most years I have a strong preference for the Renaissance over the Vieilles Vignes. This year it's too close to call.

Baptiste then brought out another barrel sample, this time the very young 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge from grapes harvested exactly three months earlier. Packed with fruit and remarkably similar to the 2009, this is clearly going to be another good year at Cristia with superb balance although quantities are down 25%.

On leaving, Baptiste gave me some 2006 Chateauneuf "Vieilles Vignes" in magnum - looking forward to Christmas now!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Domaine de Mourchon: 2008 and 2009

To round off the day, I went up the hill to visit Walter McKinlay at Domaine de Mourchon. The 2009s are not being bottled until March or April but we went down to the cave after tasting the wines that are in the bottle. Beginning with the 2008 CDRV Seguret Tradition, this is fresh on the palate with good depth of fruit. No Grande Reserve was made this year so the grapes that would normally be used in this cuvee were downgraded to the Tradition (and some of the grapes that usually go into that wine went into a Cotes du Rhone). A good bistro wine.

Perhaps not the usual order but we then tasted the 2008 Cotes du Rhone which I have had in stock for about a year now. This has really come on. It is quite mineral and fresh and has spicy Syrah/Grenache fruit. A good quaffing wine for a very fair price and comparitively low alcohol (12%) for the region.

As I mentioned earlier, no Grande Reserve was made in 2008 but the estate has perservered with the Family Reserve wines debuted in 2006. The barrel-aged 2008 CDRV Seguret "Family Reserve" Syrah has a classic Syrah nose of toasty black fruit which follows through on the palate combined with a pleasant freshness. A wine that can only be made from low yields in a vintage like this.

The 2008 CDRV Seguret "Family Reserve" Grenache is more unsettled at present with a more woody but less toasty nose and palate although it does open up well after a minute in the glass.  Both these wines were produced from 60-year-old vines harvested at 15 hl/ha and fermented in open barrels, a technique that seems to be gaining in popularity (I came across this quite a lot in SW France in the summer, notably at Chateau du Cedre for the GC cuvee and Domaine Rotier for L'Ame).

Inevitably, the younger vintage provided more excitement. The 2009 CDRV Seguret "Tradition" is around 2/3 Grenache, 25% Syrah with Carignan making up the balance. It is a spicy, young wine that needs a couple of years to develop its big, black cherry character.

The 2009 CDRV Seguret "Grande Reserve" is, typically, excellent with a good ten years in it. It is rich and sweet fruited - cherry liqueur, blackberries etc - and very long. Surely one of the better wines outside Chateauneuf and Gigondas?

Day one, third visit: Laurent Brusset

Laurent was in the cellars when I arrived at Domaine Brusset's Cairanne home but he soon emerged smiling: pleased with his 2009s, hopeful for his 2010s too. We skipped the whites (the Viognier is sold out in any case) which we tasted together at Easter. As always, these are very good but, as with most estates outside Chateauneuf, it is the reds that shine.

His 2009 Cotes du Rhone "Laurent B" is probably the most hedonistic example of this wine I have encountered. Pure, simple enjoyment: the wine has a sweet Grenache nose which follows through to the palate which is spicy, slightly smokey, deep fruited but medium bodied and not overly tannic. One to enjoy in the near term.

A step up to Cairanne: 2009 CDR Villages Cairanne "Les Travers" seemed slightly muted on the nose compared with the CDR but I have enjoyed several bottles of this at home so know this is not really the case. The palate is silkier with more refined tannins but lots of peppery spice and garrigue herbs with red/black fruits. On this tasting, I would leave it a year or two to come round but previous bottles have been enjoyed. Perhaps it has closed up a little. An excuse to crack open another bottle when I get home.

A long-standing favourite of ours is the prestige Cairanne - we first came across this with the 1997 vintage which was excellent here. No surprises that the 2009 CDR Villages Cairanne "Les Chabriles" is the best so far then. More blackberry Syrah character on the nose and palate and some of the oak (from the Syrah's upbringing) comes through. Plenty going on here - best in another two or three years and over the following five years or so.

Of course, the Brusset's are best known for their Gigondas wines. The first cuvee, sometimes referred to as "Tradition" is 2009 Gigondas "Le Grand Montmirail" (LGM), a blend of 70% Grenache with Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah, partly aged (around a quarter) in barrels, the rest in cement. This is refined, elegant, long and complex with massive potential. Bottled in July so it has had some time to settle down and develop in the bottle. A very enjoyable Gigondas and worthy successor to the ever-popular 2007.

The star of the show is, however, the 2009 Gigondas "Les Hauts de Montmirail" (HDM). 50% Grenache, the rest Syrah and Mourvedre in equal parts with these last two aged in a mixture of new and used barrels. More used than in the old days if tasting is anything to go by (I recall a tasting with Daniel Brusset several years ago where he leaped from one barrel to another demonstrating the effect of different woods and different toasts on the wine; recent cuvees have, perhaps, been better and certainly more accessible for the lower use of new oak). A big wine, certainly, but fresh and characterful. Interestingly, Laurent had another bottle which had been open for eight days which showed some of the wine's potential evolution and remarkably little oxidation. A big and long future for this wine.

Next stop: Raymond Usseglio

Actually, it is Raymond's son, Stef, whom I see these days on my visits to Domaine Raymond Usseglio, in my experience the best of the Usseglio estates in Chateauneuf today (Raymond's father, Francis, built up the estate after his arrival from Piedmont in the thirties; he had three sons each of whom has an estate bearing his name). Winemaker here for the last decade, Stef has lifted the estate into the top tier of Chateauneuf and is a perennial favourite of consumers who, like me, don't always want blockbuster wines. That isn't to say his wines are light; rather they are elegant and stylish. His "Cuvee Imperiale" is one of the more Burgundian wines I have tasted from the appellation with seamless, pure fruit that is pure hedonism without knocking your head off!

Stef's 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, made from Grenache, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc, is very correct with good flavours of fruit and flowers and with fresh acidity. A nice wine but not in the same league as his 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "Rousanne Pur" aged in a mix of new and used barrels. I obviously have a thing for these old-vine, barrel-aged Roussannes because I can't get enough of a wine like this. It is exquisite now and, from experience (the 2005 has turned a corner into a magnificent bottle), will age exceptionally well over the next few years. The wine is all honeysuckle and melon with some garrigue and spice notes with an exquisite waxy texture. Very long.

We tasted the 2009 Cotes du Rhone, the only wine in the portfolio not a Chateauneuf. This is a GSM blend from sandy soils just outside the appellation and, as with others can be said to represent one of the region's great bargains even at around a tenner a bottle in the UK. Now it has good Grenache red/black fruit and Provencal herbs, evolving well if a little short on the finish at present but it is very much its more prestigious counterpart's little brother and, if past vintages are anything to go on, will develop into a wine far better than many other Chateauneufs in time.

The 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is the same blend as in recent years (a dollop of Counoise has crept in which gives the wine a real lift) and has the classic Usseglio nose of herbs and cherry liqueur, a lovely mouthfeel which is not overdone and lashings of red/black fruit (sorry, I have been reading Famour Five books to my younger children). The tannins are fine and well balanced and the wine is clearly going to develop well over the decade and, perhaps, beyond.

As indicated above, the prestige cuvee has long been a favourite and the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Imperiale is no exception. Made almost entirely from Grenache planted at La Crau in 1902, with just a dash of other varieties (principally Cinsault, Counoise and Muscardin) to add seasoning, this is more intense on the nose with deeper, richer, blacker fruit. It has more body too, balanced tannins and acidity and a structure to age well (the 2001, tasted recently, is still very youthful).

I enjoyed the 2007 debut of a Mourvedre-based wine produced by Stef but, if anything, find the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Part des Anges even better at this stage. This is exceptionally ripe Mourvedre (which forms 70% of the wine along with 20% Grenache and 10% Syrah): intense black fruit and whiffs of new oak which follows through to the palate. It will undoubtedly need time although I have enjoyed a bottle of the 2007 after 3-4 hours in a jug to soften the tannins. Exceptional.

2009 tastings in Chateauneuf - first stop: Grand Veneur

Day one proper of my from-the-bottle tastings in the Southern Rhone this season. With mixed reviews - is the 2009 excellent as my earlier impressions have suggested or merely extremely good as Parker has suggested - what will today bring? To be fair, I am not giving the region an even covering: in Chateauneuf I will be visiting Domaines Grand Veneur and Raymond Usseglio, Domaine Brusset in Cairanne and Domaine de Mourchon in Seguret. All, arguably, among the very best and certainly most consistent in these villages.

First stop, I met Christophe Jaume at Domaine Grand Veneur. Christophe is very tall, young and smiles a lot (he's the one in the middle of the photograph). He speaks excellent English so, whilst this visit didn't provide me with much opportunity to practise my French, at least I understood all the subtle nuances of the vintage! After we had said our hellos, we began with the tasting, starting with the whites in the relative warmth of the tasting room.

2010 CDR Blanc: a blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Clairette, bottled only three days before. In any case, it is fresh, flowery with some apricot character. Quite light and pretty on the palate and fresh acidity. An easy, pleasant drink. This was followed by the 2010 CDR Viognier which has an extremely youthful, almost musky nose with overtures of New Zealand Sauvignon (Christophe agreed with this suggestion). On the palate, this gives way to sweet Viognier fruit, quite full with some fat and good body. Nonetheless the wine is fresh with good length.

2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is a relatively light (these days) wine at 14% ABV. A blend of Roussanne and Clairette, it has deeper, richer fruit on the nose than the CDRs and more body but with a well balanced palate of fat and acidity. No oak used, even for the Roussanne so plenty of primary fruit characters coming to the fore, notably pineapple with hints of grapefruit and honey and soft flower aromas. Certainly a far more serious wine than the earlier ones but, as so often is the case, I think standard cuvees of white CDP don't offer the best value for money.

Far superior, and worth every penny, is the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "La Fontaine", a pure Roussanne wine aged in demi-muids. This has a powerful Roussanne nose (lots of citrus, honeysuckle, apricot etc) with some oak showing through and hints of the liquorice that will eventually come (anyone who has tried the fabulous 2002 vintage of this wine will know what I mean - 2002 was by no means a bad year for whites!). The nose carries through to the palate which is rich with the oak lending texture but not flavour. A very long wine to drink now or through the next six years in Christophe's view although my recent experience of the 2002 suggests longer, perhaps. Interestingly, we tasted the 2008 after this which is a much less forthright but fresher, more mineral wine. Apparently some prefer it - I can see why but for me the 2009 would win hands down every time.

After this, we tasted the 2009 Cotes du Rhone Reserve Rouge, a young, slightly hot wine which is decent enough but, I suspect, more tannic than most. A bistro wine, perhaps. Given what was to follow, not much point in dwelling here.

2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is a GSM blend (70/20/10). I tasted VAT 64 which was instantly recognisable as a Grand Veneur Chateauneuf. A big cherry wine but no jamminess whatsoever, a cross between 2007 and 2003 perhaps but without the OTT characters of the earlier vintage. Grapes stayed on the vines two weeks longer than in 2007 (which explains why some other wines from the vintage were jammy and hot) and for the better estates this was advantageous as it gave maturity to the grapes and, consequently, to the wines. It must be stressed, however, that many estates were unable to take proper advantage of this condition. The barrel samples tasted were similarly recognisable as Chateauneuf with big, fleshy, rounded, sweet fruit. This wine is going to be very accessible from a young age although the Mourvedre, whilst more accessible than the Lirac Mourvedre (tasted before this, see below) is more muted now, providing body and structure to the wine.

Jumping about, we next tasted some Grenache which will form a part of the 2009 CDR Villages "Champauvins". A pretty nose, sweet fruit with noticeably less body than the CDP but big, nonetheless for a Cotes du Rhone. A second vat showed similar fruit but with sweetness and instensity at different levels. The Syrah is quite restrained at first, very black and tannic. Ageworthy. The raw materials of this yet-to-be-blended wine are extremely promising.

The 2009 Gigondas "Terrasses de Montmirail", a negociant wine is stunning: 85% Grenache about to be bottled. It has an intense nose of sweet dark fruits with savory notes, quite spicy with more grip than the other wines. It will age well.

The 2009 Vacqueyras seemed more refined than the Gigondas, more feminine somehow but with more wood showing at this stage and more tannin. For me, this was the only wine which showed any hint of jam but very enjoyable in any case.

I have become a big fan of the Jaume's excellent Lirac (I bought several cases of the 2007 for my own cellar whilst I was there). the 2009 Lirac "Clos des Sixte" Grenache is incredibly rich with sweet fruit but no jam despite its 15% alcohol. A little later we tasted the Syrah, first from the vat (a little of the same wine is oak aged) which would be a fabulous wine if bottled on its own. Rich and chewy, the barrel-aged version is stunning, almost the wine version of blackcurrant fruit pastilles, sweet and black with hints of vanilla. Almost drinkable now, perfect Southern Rhone Syrah! The Mourvedre for this wine is less forward on the nose at present and more structured with spicy, peppery characters. It is clearly a very long wine.

Lastly, the two prestige Chateauneufs: 2009 Origines is very refined and long with pure, sweet fruit. It has more Mourvedre than other wines so will benefit from longer ageing to let this shine. Quite a lot of black fruit here with good minerality too. It is at least as good as the 2007 at this stage.

The 2009 Vieilles Vignes has an unmistakable Chateauneuf nose. Wonderful barrel-aged Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah aged in new oak but you wouldn't know it, the fruit is so intense. The wine has a very smooth and rich palate, some cherry liqueur and liquorice coming through. A slow burner but a hedonistic wine so the only question is whether the bottles will survive into maturity.

A great start!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tasting in the Ventoux: Domaine des Anges

My first day of tastings was at Domaine des Anges in the Ventoux. Most of the wines tasted were from the 2010 vintage (which is looking pretty good already if these are anything to go by).

At Domaine des Anges, Ciaran showed me his 2010 Ventoux Blanc which was typically fresh and fruity, a good everyday bottle for those who like a bit of flavour and varietal character in their whites (Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and a little Roussanne make up the backbone of this wine). Next up was a first taste of a new wine for this estate: pure Viognier. From the tank, it had an almost New World Sauvignon intensity but around 25% of this wine will have seen some wood which fleshes it out beautifully. Put together, this will be gorgeous; it's only a pity there is so little of it.

The only 2009 I tasted - also from the tank - was a pure Grenache cuvee which Ciaran describes as his Chateauneuf. Certainly the wine has depth and length  and plenty of structure. Time will tell whether it will fool tasters into thinking it is from the more heralded appellation but in any case it will be a lovely wine for those who can get hold if it.