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.