Wednesday, 18 December 2013

What's in store for 2014?

Well, when Jill challenged me to go for the whole of January without wine, my first thought was "Don't be ridiculous". My second thought was "Don't be ridiculous" but when I realised she actually meant it, I decided I may as well do it for a good cause so I am going to attempt the impossible (or, certainly, improbable) and go for thirty one consecutive days senza vino  as well as sans vin.

So, if you've already bought the presents, now's your chance to feel really good by making a donation to Cancer Relief via my brand new Just Giving page.

Don't forget to GiftAid your donation so Osborne has to stump up his share too!

And finally, you will able to follow my efforts here on my blog ( which, hitherto, has extolled the virtues of some big red wines but, for January 2014, will be dedicated to my struggle to "do the right thing".

Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year!


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Christmas tastings

We have two Christmas tastings every year: one here and one in Norwich. Very different crowds but the selection of wines is more or less the same for both so it is interesting to see what goes down well at each event. The line up for this Saturday is as follows:

Sparkling wines
1.      PROSECCO Grandi e Gabana                                                                                                
2.      CHAMPAGNE 1er Cru Michel Rocourt 'Blanc des Blancs'                                                         

White wines
3.      SAUVIGNON BLANC Moulin de Gassac, VDP de l'Hérault 2012     
4.      PINOT GRIGIO Grandi e Gabana, Latisano 2012 'Terre d'Argilla' 
5.      CAIRANNE-CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES Domaine Brusset 2012 'Les Travers' 
6.      CÔTES DU RHÔNE Raymond Usseglio 2012 'Les Claux'        
7.    GIVRY Domaine Joblot 2010 'En Veau'       

Red wines
8.   BARBERA D'ASTI Cascina Saria 2011 'Convento'  
9.   BARBERA D'ASTI Cascina Saria 2010 'San Lorenzo'    
10.  LANGHE NEBBIOLO Cascina Saria 2010 'Riddolina'    
11.  GRENACHE Domaine de Cristia 2010 'Vieilles Vignes'      
12.  CÔTES DU RHÔNE Domaine Grand Veneur 2010  
13.  SIGNARGUES-COTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES Domaine de la Charité 2010 'Cayenne'     
14.  PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA Sampietrana 2009 'Carlone'                            
15.  RIOJA CRIANZA Miguel Angel Muro, 2009               
16.  BORDEAUX SUPÉRIEUR Château Teyssier 2006 'Pezat'  
17.  CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE Raymond Usseglio 2007 
18.  CÔTES DU RHÔNE Christophe Coste 2007 'Les Ombres' SYRAH 

Sweet wines
19.   RASTEAU Domaine des Côteaux des Travers 2007     
20.   RASTEAU RANCIO Domaine Bressy-Masson   

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Moving with the times

Today, our mobile site has gone live. This means that anyone typing the URL into their mobile phone will no longer have to scroll around avoiding images and excessive (for a mobile phone) text but will instead find a much scaled-down version which anyone can visit here:

Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Wine Advocate on Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Robert Parker's replacement for Rhone reviews, Jeb Dunnuck has given a stunning reappraisal of many wines from the 2011 vintage.

First a word about 2012 which he describes as "a great vintage for the whites". I could have told him that in April when I first tasted the white wines from Laurent Brusset, Domaine des Anges and Raymond Usseglio whose new Cotes du Rhone Blanc scores an outstanding 90 points. That seems fair to me; it is a truly superb white.

Raymond Usseglio's 2011 reds (in stock) all receive excellent reviews and, for me, it is about time his Part des Anges cuvee got the top score (not that I have any problems with the delicious 2011 Imperiale - I just think Stephane should be rewarded for his efforts and successes with this fairly new wine). This is a sensationally black-fruited wine that just goes on and on. I had a bottle of the 2007 with a friend a couple of weeks ago - he had not tasted this cuvee before and was completely bowled over. Yes, on paper 2007 is a better vintage but as Dunnuck says, 2011 is "a very good vintage for Mourvedre".

Domaines Grand Veneur and Cristia both received very favourable reviews for both their 2011 and 2012 wines too but as these are not yet in stock, I will confine myself to a "well done!" to them.

However, Xavier Vignon is fast becoming a name to watch. Indeed, his spectacular 2007 Anonyme, a wine blended from parcels he obtained from some of his most illustrious clients in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (who include Raymond Usseglio and Grand Veneur), sold out incredibly quickly. I have, just today, taken delivery of my case of the 2010 of this wine which, given the vintage, may be even better but, reading the Wine Advocate, I am already getting excited about several new wines from Xavier - including the 2011 Anonyme and a new white Anonyme - but also:

Sacrilege, a wine from the 2012 vintage which is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. The grapes are sourced from two of the most prestigious vineyard areas for these varieties but in one case it is not permitted to declassify the wine except as vin de France. This means Xavier is not allowed to state the origins of the wine and, whilst we know the back story, we cannot go against this, obviously. Anyway, vin de France it is and, as such, it may well be the most expensive one on  the market.

Reserve VII IX X which is a blend of the very best parcels of Anonyme from 2007, 2009 and 2010, likely to be the most expensive non-vintage wine ever made in Chateauneuf. More important, knowing Xavier and his wines, it is likely to be a phenomenon.

I have already reserved my cases of these!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Gigondas in Decanter

December's issue, out now (as a subscriber, I received my copy before the end of October! I will never understand this) features the results of a tasting of Gigondas 2010/11.

The UK's leading Rhone specialist, John Livingstone-Learmonth, advises that the levels of ripeness in 2010 were excellent whereas there was more unevenness in 2011 which means, of course, caveat emptor (or, at least, buy a wine you either know or from a merchant you trust). He describes 2010 as a "more complete vintage" although the panel certainly does not write off the 2011 vintage at all.

A criticism that was levied against a few of the wines was heavy handed use of oak. When I first got to know Gigondas, it was a time of experimenting with new oak in the top cuvees (started, I believe, at Domaine les Gouberts) and it was fun for a while but Grenache doesn't always react well to the gentle oxidation that inevitably takes place in the barrel and, frankly, if you want an "international" style wine smothered in oak, you are unlikely to be interested in this blog!

It was good to read one of the other tasters, Christian Honorez saying "there is a core of really good producers in Gigondas who are making much better wines than many in Chateauneuf-du-Pape". Obvious, perhaps, but sometimes these things need to be spelled out. One of these is Laurent Brusset, currently at the helm of family estate Domaine Brusset.

I have been tasting and buying (and consuming) wines from this excellent estate along with several others from the village since the mid-1990s with wines dating back to the late 1980s and, whilst it would be only fair to say that from time to time another estate may come up with a marginally better wine, a wine with a Brusset label is quite often the best of the appellation in a given vintage. Moreover, and more important, the Brusset family has proven itself to be the most consistent estate in Gigondas. Even in the disastrous 2002 vintage, their Les Hauts de Montmirail was a lovely wine.

So, what of 2010? This is a vintage that bowled me over in just about every estate I visited - principally those I work with and a handful of others - and it was no exception here. The wines were harder at Domaine Brusset than in other Gigondas and Chateauneuf estates I visited, by which I mean that the structure, in particular the tannins, are less forgiving at this stage than in a vintage such as 2009. There is some good acidity here too. Actually, I can see strong stylistic links between the Rhone and Burgundy in this vintage. Of course, this is actually good news as it means, as with the 2005s, the wines will be able to evolve more gradually than in a more flashy year.

And the wines? My thoughts are already on record so it may be simpler to record the verdict of the Decanter panel:

Les Hauts de Montmirail 2010: "Sleek sweep of dark cherry fruit across the nose, good and pure. Bright, black cherry fruit and winter spices intermingle with smoky oak. Intense with some tar and graphite: complex and multi-layered, with noticeable Syrah." 2015-2029. 90/100

Le Grand Montmirail 2010: "Mineral nose of some depth which has a baked brioche character. Liqueur cherry and coffee flavours add to a palate full of red fruits and fresh acidity." 2015-2029. 85+/100

It's been a while since I tasted HDM (it would be a shame to drink it too young) but I bought some half bottles of LGM for myself (very useful things, half bottles!) and can certainly vouch for this wine. Lovely!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Absolutely Cracking Wines from France

The annual tasting of French wines selected by 50 UK wine critics - three wines each so 150 altogether - took place a few weeks ago in London and today has been written up in the Ham & High by Liz Sagues who points out that "unlike just about every other trade wine tasting in the UK, the bottles are there because people who know and love wine want to drink them, not because they’re the choice of a wine-promoting organisation of whatever kind."

Event founder, Andrew Jefford had already reviewed Domaine Joblot Givry 1er Cru 'Clos du Cellier aux Moines' 2010“Precise, fresh scents of mingled red and black cherries, with poised and vivacious fruit flavours which warm, fill and fatten on the palate.”

Liz Sagues agreed with the emphasis on this wine in her column; this was the one wine she highlighted from the tasting:

"For a single recommendation, rather than one of my own choices, here’s a memorable wine – a perfumed, elegant and warmly fruited red burgundy selected by Andrew Jefford, who was the inspiration for Absolutely Cracking, via his groundbreaking book The New France. It’s Domaine Joblot Givry Premier Cru Clos du Cellier aux Moines 2010, £24 from"

Also in the line-up was Moulin de Gassac's Merlot: “This is what you wish sub-£10 Bordeaux Merlot was like, lots of fruit, but still with a touch of leafy freshness.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Barolo and Barbaresco at La Trompette

A couple of days after the fact but my memory is probably better today than yesterday (after the lunch I went to Uppingham to present a selection of Rhone wines).

Before the eagerly awaited lunch (I had enjoyed a similar starter at the Manzone meal in March), a tasting of 2010 Barbaresco and 2009 Barolo. Fortunately I was one of the first to arrive but within minutes there were 25 people, mostly male, crowding round a small table with a dozen or so wines to try before we sat down around 12.30. Not much time to savour the subtle nuances of a dozen young Nebbiolos. 

Indeed, one seasoned Nebbophile later commented that it was, perhaps, too much even for him - his actual comment was "I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed by the volume of wines - for all my love of Nebbiolo, in the end I felt myself craving for some variety, even though interestingly clear differences were visible. I think I'm a wimp!"

For some reason a Roero had been allowed to slip through, the incredibly young 2011 from Filippo Gallino. It smells of Roero rather than Barbaresco or Barolo but seemed to have some volatile acidity and should probably have been saved for another day. For now, the 2009 will do for me,

Otherwise, there were a couple of new names but I was pleased to find that the Nada Giuseppe 2010 'Casot' and Cascina Saria 2010 'Colle del Gelso' outshone all others, the former typically forward. The Grasso Fratelli 2010 showed good promise too but was a little sweet at present (but, given that we still have the 2001, this is clearly a baby).

The Barolo wines were, almost without exception, too closed to assess properly although I did find that, as I had to spit everything out and because of the crowd around the table, I was holding samples in my mouth for rather longer as the tasting session continued. This meant the wines were opening up inside, a rather odd sensation. Fenocchio's 2009 Barolo 'Bussia' was the one I enjoyed most here.

Onto the lunch itself and a first starter of raviolo of suckling pig with turnip, crisp secretto and roasting juices (fabulous although the similar raviolo we had in March had the edge) which was paired with Gallino's Roero Arneis, a white with a sweet fragrance that worked well with the pork.

The second starter was a delicious boudin of pheasant with pearl barley, chanterelles and chestnuts which, on our table was paired with a mature Langhe Nebbiolo (2006) from Nagiurna, new to me but one to investigate (where will it all end?) and a magnificent, if youthful Barbaresco "Pora" 2008 from the superb cooperative, Prodottori del Barbaresco.

A glazed short rib and croustillant of beef with marrow, scorched onions and field mushroom was served with my 2009 Barbaresco from Nada Giuseppe (I had meant to take the 2007 Riserva but in my haste to grab a bottle the night before, pulled out the wrong box) and a 2005 from Cascina Saria which was showing very well for a vintage which was less easy than any since then.

An Italian cheese course (Robiola, Taleggio and a Toma - can't remember which one) provided the best wine matching of all though when served with Barolo "Brunate" 2006 from Francesco Rinaldi and Barolo Riva 2007 from Claudio Alario.

As usual, a great meal and good to catch up with some increasingly familiar faces.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Wine tasting in Rutland

Off to meet the good people of Uppingham on Wednesday evening. They have asked me to present a selection of wines from the Southern Rhone. Here is what I am proposing:

White wines
1.     Domaine Brusset, Cairanne-Côtes du Rhône Villages 2012 "Travers"
2.     Raymond Usseglio, Côtes du Rhône 2012 “Les Claux

Red wines
3.     Domaine de la Charité, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2010
4.     Domaine Grand Veneur, Lirac 2010
5.     Domaine Brusset, Gigondas 2009 “Le Grand Montmirail”
6.     Xavier Vignon, “Début”
7.     Raymond Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007
8.     Domaine de Cristia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2004

Fortified wines
9a.   Domaine des Côteaux des Travers, Rasteau 2007
9b.   Domaine Bressy-Masson, Rasteau Rancio

I would have liked to include Charite's 100% Syrah for contrast but that would probably mean taking out one of the CDPs, the Usseglio I suppose as the estate is already represented. Hmmm. I will have to mull this over - over a glass of each, perhaps.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Top award for Nada Giuseppe

Italy has two leading wine guides: Gambero Rosso (which I know better as there is an English translation) and Veronelli. This latter publication has just published its list of 3 Star wines (the best) for 2014 and there in the Piedmont section is Nada Giuseppe's Barbaresco Riserva Casot 2008. Fantastic news for Enrico and the family. Well done!

I have been enjoying the 2007 - I am trying to hold back my last few bottles of the stunning 2006 - and have pulled a couple of corks from 2008s which looks to me more a re-run of 2008 so expect me to be reticent about letting you have any!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Domaine Brusset - Coup de Coeur twice in 2014!

Coup de Coeur is the highest accolade awarded by the French wine buyers bible, the Guide Hachette. This is an annual publication that lists the results by appellation of tastings from all over the country. An arduous task - everyone always thinks wine tasting is fun and easy. With some of the dross that gets entered into competitions, I would not willingly swap with most judges. The Guide Hachette is a little different though: whereas few seriously good wines are ever entered in the Decanter World Wine Awards et al, the grandest of the grand put their wines forward for the Guide - page 475 of the 2013 edition sees DRC winning a Coup de Coeur for its 2010 Grands Echezeaux, for instance.

Now, I am sure Laurent Brusset would be the first to distance his wines from anything coming out of DRC but, for Gigondas and Cairanne, they are consistently at the top of the game - and somewhat more affordable too.

Domaine Brusset's Gigondas Les Hauts de Montmirail is one of the oaked cuvees coming out of Gigondas but Laurent has been considerate of the use of oak which he has tempered somewhat, allowing the fruit to come out better in recent vintages. It is a GSM blend from high up in the Dentelles de Montmirail, a jagged rock formation abutting Mont Ventoux with spectacular views across the valley floor. And, as the GH write up says, the wine reaches the summit too, just eclipsing Le Grand Montmirail, the regular bottling.

In Cairanne, it is the 2011 Les Travers the scoops the highest award with the 2012 white, a personal favourite, just behind.

Well, now I know what I will be drinking tonight!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Matching wine with food

I was asked today to put together a mixed case with recommendations of what to eat with the wines. Food pairing is always difficult as this is even more complicated by personal preference. That said, here were my ideas - any alternative suggestions would be welcome!

Giulia Negri, Langhe Chardonnay 2008 Tartufaia
Lobster, with or without mayonnaise.

Raymond Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010 Rousanne Pur
Fish and seafood. Can take quite strong flavours but really at its very best on its own.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Herault 2008 Blanc
The producer recommends asparagus but, obviously, this is not in season so, perhaps, a light meat (veal or one of the more meaty fish such as swordfish or fresh tuna) or salad.

Giovanni Manzone, Langhe Bianco Rosserto 2010
I had this at La Trompette earlier in the year with a  risotto of squid ink with confit cod, mylor prawns, Tuscan oil and lemon - superb! Otherwise, fish, chicken etc.

Domaine Joblot, Givry 2010 En Veau Vieilles Vignes
Chicken - a light sauce should work well.

Chateau Lamartine, Cahors 2007 Expression
Duck or lamb are obviously choices for Cahors. This is vibrantly fruity and can take almost anything that is thrown at it so something quite peppery would work well.

Raymond Usseglio, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005
Something with herbs and/or a little spice - sausage can work well although the wine seems too grand for a banger. Perhaps venison or wild boar then.

Grasso, Barbaresco 2001 Sori Valgrande
Game but not too strong - wild boar or game bird.

CrissanteAlessandria, Barolo 2007 Galina
The wine is quite big with a sweet note so something along the lines of lamb kidneys?

Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie 2004 Classique
I would opt for simple roast beef, rare.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l'Herault 2007
This is Cabernet dominated so beef is probably best, either on its own or a casserole (or steak and kidney pie, perhaps?)

A very affordable wine

Out to lunch yesterday with friends who are not averse to something pleasant to drink but don't really know where to look for it (here!!!) so I took a bottle of Grand Veneur's 2009 Cotes du Rhone. This is a slightly controversial wine as it is the "Champauvins" wine but bears a different label. Why? Because, rather naughtily, GV sold me a wine they have been selling me for several years but now have an exclusivity arrangement with another (larger) UK importer. So, to get around this, they put on a different label and add a back label "Selected by The Big Red Wine Company". Not really the right thing here but I know some people in the French trade don't understand the British obsession with labels - as Sebastien Jaume (of GV) asked me, shouldn't we "drink the wine not the label"?

Anyway, the wines are seriously good, whatever label they carry and, frankly, that is all I am interested in. As an online retailer essentially, I have been bemused on more than one occasion to discover a winemaker has decided to change the labels from something that would look attractive on any wine shop shelf to one that requires the wine to be decanted fast. And as for dubious practices, anyone who finds what GV has done here objectionable should dig rather deeper. I suspect there are thousands of similar (and worse) stories to be told, even at some of the wine world's most prestigious names, given my own limited experience.

Anyway, what about the wine? 2009 was a hot year and the wine has a hint of raisin and a lovely warm feel.It's rich and warming with thick cherry fruit and a mouthfeel to match. Looking back at my original notes and the Parker review, this wine has come together brilliantly. I never quite understood why the 2007, for example, was dubbed a mini-Chateauneuf but this one merits the badge. I wonder how many sub-£10 wines can really match this. All suggestions welcome.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Barolo in Decanter

... the magazine, that is.

Results of a tasting of 2009 Barolo features in this month's issue. I have a lot more time for these panel tastings now that they just employ three judges for each one (although the quality of the results is determined by who is tasting, of course) but still much depends on the actual submission of wines. As the catchphrase goes, you have to be in it to win it.

It was good to see Serradenari getting an outstanding rating with 95 points for its 2009 although, as I don't have any in stock yet, the listing is with another wine merchant. My only concern is that it is listed as costing £34.90 - we have the 2006 and 2007 both for well under £20 so something is stacking up! Having said that, the company's website doesn't even list the wine or the producer. Oh well, I'll just have to import it myself.

The real delight for me was to find, just below Serradenari, an estate I have just started working with, principally for their Freisa, a quirky wine I have been wanting to add to the list for a while. Of course, I have also bought some of the Barolo which gets the following write up:

Filippo Broccardo et Flli. Monforter d'Alba 17.75 (92/100)
"Spicy oak aromas of vanilla and liquorice. Fresh and rich on the palate at first, then smooth and balanced. Very pure red fruit and polished (though still chewy) tannins."

Well done! I can hardly wait for the new wines to arrive.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My last bottle of...

Domaine Brusset, Cairanne-CDR Villages 2007 "Les Chabriles"

An inky dark wine with a thick texture but, surprisingly not at all OTT. There is an intensity about this wine, certainly, and the fruit is dark and foreboding but the acidity keeps it light enough. Very well restrained. A pity I have no more... roll on 2009 (and 2010 and 2011...)

Beaucastel 2012 en primeur tasting

Yesterday saw a return to the Church House Conference Centre in Dean's Yard, next door to (and overlooking) Westminster Abbey. An impressive location with views across Dean's Yard to the Abbey, a picturesque oasis in the middle of the hustle of Parliament and its surrounds.

Several of the country's most respected critics were present with notebooks in hand or laptops nudged between bottles so it will, of course, be interesting to read their thoughts in due course but, for what they are worth, here are mine.

Overall, an extremely good vintage for the Perrin family with, generally, low acidity and good balance. Alcohol levels seem a little lower than usual (ABVs were not printed on the labels of these barrel samples) which is welcome these days. I checked with Marc Perrin who confirmed that blends are more or less the same as usual.

The tasting was organised in the order of Vieille Ferme followed by Famille Perrin CDRs and Crus then a pair of new wines (to me, at least) from Provence and only then the Coudoulet and Beaucastel wines until, finally, a small selection of older Beaucastel wines. Of course, I had to approach the tasting differently, tackling the whites first, eschewing the rose wines and then taking in the reds all together. That said, I will comment in the order the wines were presented (my tasting sheet follows this order so I am really just trying to make my life a little more straightforward).

The Vieille Ferme Blanc seemed a really decent wine with a nose and palate typical of the region (it's actually a Luberon wine but the grapes are the same) but I found the red too much like the cheap bulk wines I consumed as a student. Slightly more appealing on the palate and I wonder whether it will grow into itself in time. Frankly, though, how many people are going to cellar an inexpensive Ventoux red? That is always the problem with these wines which can be very good value if they are consumed at the right time.

On to the Famille Perrin range and the CDR Blanc is first up: more subtle than the VF white but there is an extra layer of spice on the palate and the superior breeding shows through. The red seems to have more Syrah than most from this area, blacker fruited anyway. This would benefit from some bottle age but can be enjoyed now, I think. The "Nature" has a quite funky animal whiff and lacks something on the mid-palate. However, the last wine on this table, the CDR Villages - a new one, I think - was extremely good with a gorgeous nose of rich, rounded fruit and just a hint of oak. It is restrained but lands on the right side of austerity and is not too heavy at all. Very well judged.

Of the Crus I enjoyed the Vinsobres most this year. First, the Cairanne which is very modern and clean (none of the wet dog notes of yesteryear) with a touch of oak and firm tannins; it needs a couple of years. I slightly preferred the 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah that is the Vinsobres though. This is ripe with cherry notes mixed with the black fruit of the Syrah which also provides good tannic support. It seems the Syrah is particularly good this year judging by this and other wines.

Slightly disappointed with this year's offering from Rasteau which had a tartness that complimented the sweetness of the fruit but made me unsure. I also wondered about the Vacqueyras which I felt could tend towards oxidation. These criticisms are necessarily overstated; they are all good wines but some are undoubtedly better than others.

The Sinards Chateauneufs have improved. They used to be quite average, letting the range down. Not so this year. The only concern about the white is the apparent use of oak which will not be to everyone's taste. I liked it though. The red is quintessentially Chateauneuf with its warming nose and nicely rounded, not too heavy style. The fruit is slightly reminiscent of red fruit pastilles.

Table 3 began with the serious Crus. The La Gille Gigondas is a modern wine which, perhaps, lacks a little distinctiveness but the L'Argnee Vieilles Vignes from the same village was superb. More structure and fruit than its predecessor and a wine that needs some bottle age (5-10 years should do it), it has a lovely richness and length. When I find a wine I would really like to have at home, I put a star alongside my note: L'Argnee has a star, the next wine a bracketed one. Les Hauts de Julien from Vinsobres was more structured than expected and very tight. I think it will open up well in time though. It is less flamboyant at this stage than the 2011 but all the better for that! One last look at Gigondas: Domaine des Clos du Tourelles which is very rounded and fleshy, full-bodied with sweet red/black fruit. A very good, classic Rhone.

Slipped in before the big guns, two from Cotes du Provence bearing the name Mireval. Only the white was tasted: quite good if a little higher in acidity than I would personally like. The bottle shape rather put me off though.

Coudoulet Blanc is a wine I am warming to. Its texture and weight are just right. The 2012 needs to come out of itself a little to be truly great but no doubt it will achieve this. Already there are notes of honeysuckle and tropical fruits combined with good minerality,

The Coudoulet Rouge has a superb nose and follow through, more modern in style than a decade ago but a lovely wine either way. Quite meaty/savoury with the Syrah playing exceptionally well and the structural elements in good balance.

Beaucastel Blanc has excellent balance and mouthfeel with deliciously long fruit: a bigger, more complete version of the Coudoulet, perhaps. I preferred it to the old vine Roussanne which, perhaps, doesn't have quite enough acidity to help it age for long.

Beaucastel Rouge is quite restrained on the nose and palate but is clearly a very sophisticated wine with good body and mouthfeel. Clearly this is going to be a great Beaucastel one day. (I would have liked to go back to the days when we tasted individual varieties separately and then assembled our own blends but this was not to be this year.)

A final zip through 2008 (showing well), 2001 (maturing nicely but still youthful enough) and 2004 Hommage (surprisingly forward although the bottle was near its end) finished off this excellent tasting.

Marc was asked about 2013: too early to tell yet, of course, as the grapes have yet to be harvested but so far everything is looking good here, he assured us.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A ten-year-old Chateauneuf-du-Pape

To say that 2003 was a hot vintage in France is something of an understatement. It was the year of the heatwave, the summer that, when I holidayed with my grandmother in France, was so hot we had to lift her into the pool to keep her cool. Days were 43 degrees; night temperatures were not much lower.

When the wines were released, there was much hype but, realistically, only a handful have made it to ten years. Most producers have long advised that their wines be drunk up and my Brussets, for example, are long gone (with every bottle enjoyed, it must be said). Most Chateauneufs will not be at their best now either.

Why is this? Quite simply, the summer was too intense. Instead of the normal 100 days between flowering and harvesting, only 70 were needed to ripen the fruit. However, the tannins lagged behind and acidities were low (although alcohol was, inevitably high) so, whereas in their youth the wines were fully flavoured with plenty of ripe fruits, the structural elements were all over the place in all but a few wines.

One of those few, it transpires, was Raymond Usseglio's 2003 "Cuvee Imperiale" which, for some reason seemed appropriate for a Tuesday night wine - last night, fact. I am really not sure why I gauged this wine as being "appropriate" but sometimes the really special bottles need to be appreciated a deux rather than en masse. If nothing else, you get a second (even third) glass that way.

This really was a great Chateauneuf, perfectly integrated with the tannins enriching the thick velvety texture. The fruit is secondary now but still full of peppery spice and cherries. Delicious.

The good news is that Stef has been improving this wine in the vintages since 2003 to the point where even Parker is having to admit that it is one of the very best wines of the appellation (Parker seems to prefer liquid jam to the more elegant style of the wines from Raymond Usseglio et Fils).

And for Wednesday night? Well, it happens to be my son's 14th birthday and tradition has it that we will have something from 1999. Barolo perhaps? Or maybe Burgundy? Or perhaps a 1999 Imperiale from Raymond Usseglio.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Joblot in the FT

Andrew Jefford, so often a champion of the underdog asks if, with the wave of interest in Burgundy and the current problems the region faces because of atrocious weather, it is time for the region's eternal bridesmaid to step out of the shadows. 

His report focuses on the five villages, from north to south: Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny, advising readers what to expect, broadly, before listing recommended producers from each. 

Of course, for me interest is enhanced by his particular recommendation of Domaine Joblot's 2010 "Clos du Cellier aux Moines", a Premier Cru from Givry which he describes as:

"Precise, fresh scents of mingled red and black cherries with poised and vivacious fruit flavours which warm, fill and fatten on the palate."

Andrew told me he had made two short research trips to the Cote Chalonnaise in the last nine months, and that he intended to write the region up for the second of his "Jancis stand-in" columns in the FT in August.

He also said the Joblot wines "were among the best I tasted when I was in the region". He tasted the 2012s from barrel with Juliette Joblot plus Servoisine 2011, the only wine Juliette had available (even for ready money!). Even the wine shop in the village said they couldn't get hold of any Joblot. So logically the one Andrew planned to recommend was the Servoisine 2011 unless I would rather he recommended something else. Given the additional maturity of the 2010 and the fact that my allocation of Servoisine was miniscule, I sent a bottle of Cellier aux Moines to Andrew in the south of France. He liked it and decided to feature it in the article (frankly, I could have sent any of the Joblot wines).

The next thing was to sort out a photograph. My now rather old digital SLR doesn't do the job it seems. However, my son's more modern compact camera apparently does - see here for the photo (and the full article):

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Refosco - a completely new experience for me

Even after 15 years in the wine trade, and even having eschewed most wines from the New World (and many parts of the Old World) in commercial terms, there is still much to learn, it seems. Recent dabbling with Italian wines should have been enough to forewarn me that I really know next to nothing about wine. I reassure myself that, with very few exceptions, few do.

This was highlisghted to me when, having received some samples of Refosco from the producer of our new Prosecco (unsurprisingly a great success this summer), Grandi e Gabana, I posted a query on Wine-Pages to ask what I should expect from this grape. This forum is made up of enthusiasts who, in many cases, like to try virtually every style of wine imaginable. Only seven people seemed to have any experience whatsoever of the grape.

Why is this? It's an easy name to pronounce, after all - pronunciation is all important to the English consumer after all (and, perhaps, to residents elsewhere in the British Isles but the English are, perhaps, worst at soaking up foreign languages. I write this as an English man, of course. So why does Refosco remain so unknown?

It seems to go by the name of Teran in Croatia (or Terrano in Slovenia) but in north-east Italy, variations on Refosco are the norm. In Friuli, it is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (peduncolo rosso means "red stems"). So far, so good.

So, what of the grape itself?

Two samples were tasted. The first was nothing special on the nose - quite youthful and simple really - but it had a decent, savory palate with plummy black fruit and a kick of attractive green undergrowth on the finish. However, the second sample tasted is only about £1 more and delivers substantially more than that.

This was a 2009 reserve bottling (apparently it spends two years in oak but this is not at all obvious) which had pronounced black fruit which reminded me of a cool climate Aussie Shiraz, the sort that is bottled as Syrah to distinguish it from the jammy Barossa wines (and the sort I prefer) but with slightly wilder fruits too. Structurally, this is moderately tannic and I would expect the wine to age interestingly over six or seven years. I am told it will develop more floral characters over time which should be interesting. There is good acidity here to keep it going too.

Price-wise, this is interesting too. I made a point of not knowing what to expect for the wine until after I had tasted it: bang on £10 per bottle sounds very fair for this. A welcome new discovery for me!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Two reviews in including 91 points for Nada Giuseppe

When Tom Cannavan of released his reviews of Cahors wines earlier this year, I was not at all surprised by the glowing reports of the wines from Chateau du Cedre (see Tom's full report on Cedre here) but, on reading his take on Haut-Monplaisir's 2009 Pur Plaisir (see here for Tom's report on Cahors), thought he must have tried an altogether different wine. I contacted Tom and suggested I send another bottle for him to try and, at the same time, a bottle of Nada Giuseppe's 2007 Barbaresco Riserva (the 2006 had been discussed excitedly by forumites but it had all gone).

Today I discovered that Tom had reviewed the wines and clearly liked them, especially the Nada Giuseppe which he awards 91 points with the following note:

"This has a lovely nose, the tar and roses of maturing Nebbiolo is there, with a crisp-edged, juiciness to the red and black fruit, a touch of something charcoally, and a layer of toast and charriness beneath. On the palate this has beautiful sweetness of fruit, a savoury black olive twist counteracting the berry fruits. It is supple and lithe, the tannins grippy but fine, and the overall sense of freshness and balance is delightful. No shortage of stuffing to age a while yet, but approachably fruit and elegant now."

See here for the full review.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

TN: Usseglio 2009

Rifling through my racks for something tonight, I stumbled across a rather larger stash of Raymond Usseglio's 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I don't recall buying quite so many for myself and can't find my original TN so can only assume I thought extremely highly of it at the time. Of course, the website entry for this wine was probably based on the TN so it looks like I did.

On opening, the nose is youthful but not harsh, a good sign. The fruit is foremost: quite deep, liquorish and liqueur-ish. On the palate the mouthfeel is an instant hit, coating the inside of my cheeks with just enough glycerine to subdue the tannins but beyond the fruit there is an explosion of spices. Wow! This is a development which, not altogether unforeseen, was not something I had been expecting to such a degree. The flavours really need to knit together for me but there is so much going on here that this is an exciting prospect.

One more thing: after the first slurp, I went off to attend to some food on the cooker and had to put all thoughts of the wine on hold. When done, I realised I could still taste it. What a finish!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

DWWA results

The results of the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards are out today - the usual nonsense, of course, as it all depends on entering in the first place. I have never been a fan of these catch-all competitions; actually, I'm not sure about any wine competitions. That said, it's always nice to win so congratulations to Chateau de Jurque for its Regional Trophy (I must re-stock with this vintage!)

Otherwise, in the Southern Rhone, Domaine Brusset picked up three gongs for the two red Cairannes and "Les Hauts" from 2011 as did Domaine des Anges for its 2012 Blanc, 2010 Ventoux Rouge and "L'Archange", and Domaine des Bernardins for its sweet Muscats but it looks like no-one else thought the cost of entering their wines worthwhile.

In the South-West, Chateau de Jurque collected four medals (so that's the whole range then) and Chateau du Cedre one for its 2010 (I didn't even know it had been bottled yet!), Chateau Lamartine two including one for Expression 2009 (I had the foresight to buy myself a case of this gem) but, clearly, it was Marion Latrille's wines that wowed the judges this year.

It looks like most of the Italians stayed away too but Sampietrana picked up one medal this year and Monte Rosola picked up some silver too.

Of course it would be churlish of me not to congratulate all the above as well as all winners of the DWWA and any other competition but I have never hidden my views (see here) although I would accept the charge of not expressing myself strongly enough about wine competitions!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Summer wines on a rainy day

I had billed this as a tasting of wines for the summer so it was inevitable that it would be raining although only half an hour before the start we were still thinking about having the tasting outside!

This was an opportunity to show some new wines and some old favourites too. New wines included both the Prosecco and Pinot Grigio from Grandi e Gabana, the former proving one of the most popular wines of the tasting. Other popular whites included new vintages from Domaine des Anges and Domaine Brusset's Cairanne "Les Travers" (both 2012) and the ever-popular Domaine des Malandes Chablis.

The most controversial white was Serradenari's "Mone" which some wondered what they would pair it with - I suggested they could simply enjoy it on its own.

I was pleased with the success of the Saria Barbera "Convento". One taster, a self-confessed fan of Bordeaux and South-West France, couldn't work around the inevitable acidity but most loved the fruit and could envisage this with a barbecue or tomato-based meal. Rightly so. The Nebbiolo divided opinion (good! It is nearly sold out) between those who like Italian wines and those who don't. It was my wine of the tasting.

French successes were more even between Domaine de Cristia's VDP Vieilles Vignes and Alain Jaume's Lirac (which we are told really is "Clos des Sixte" even if the labelling is wrong! We have tasted it alongside a bottle of estate-purchased CdS and can't find any difference).

One really pleasing result was the popularity of the two sweet wines on show: the Grasso Moscato d'Asti and Filippo Gallino's Birbet, the latter a novelty to most but well received by those brave enough to taste it.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Sublime Moscato goes all the way to the ridiculous...

Now, I am a fairly recent convert to the charms of Moscato but, whilst I am delighted to learn that others have joined me in their enthusiasm for the wine, it does seem that some have got somewhat carried away.

A round-up of recent stories from Drinks Business (a trade magazine that, for some reason, I didn't ignore for once) includes this:-

Yes, that's right, Moscato seems to have found its way into the lyrics of rappers (so, are they still drinking Krug or have their budgets been reduced to sub-£10 sweet sparklers now?). Inevitably, the lyrics are drivel and the content verging on lewd but I hope I am not alone in finding this funny.

Anyone wanting to see whether Moscato will have the same effect on them (or who just wants to enjoy a bottle) should check out the one we offer from Grasso Fratelli. Please report back!

Roero too young to really enjoy but what promise!

The bottle was unlabelled so only I knew what its contents were. In some circumstances this could be thought of as a mean trick but it was genuine: Laura Gallino had given me a couple of bottles of her family's 2008 Roero Riserva "Sorano" when I visited last year before the label had been finalised.

This is one of those wines that too many wine enthusiasts just won't get around to trying. How many have heard of Roero, for example? I hadn't until I was dragged there a couple of years ago - well, OK, I was called up by Fabrizio Battaglino who persuaded me to visit him as I was staying just a few miles away. The Gallino estate proved even trickier to find than Fabrizio's parents' house!

It was striking that this is a family that lives for its wine. The house (or row of houses; it seems the whole family lives together) is ramshackled but the winery is immaculate. This comes through in the wines which are made with great care and precision.

Sorano is certainly the best wine I have tasted from this estate, though. In fact, it is unlike just about any Roero I have tasted before, offering a more ethereal quality, somewhere between Barolo and Barbaresco. It has dusty tannins which need time but the fruit is simply gorgeous and the potential of the wine quite phenomenal, offering everything you could ask for from Nebbiolo. Certainly, there are some very good Nebbiolo wines selling for considerably less money than this one but few are going to offer as much as this one does.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Domaine Treloar: "Coup de Coeur" estate in the Revue du Vin de France

In the Spécial Millésime 2012 issue, with the caption "Notre Coup de Coeur" and a smiling picture of Jonathan:

Beautifully crafted wines.

Today in charge of 10ha of vines on the calcareous clay soils of Les Aspres, Jonathan Hesford used to have a different life in New York and worked in data processing until the events of 9/11 encouraged him to exorcise his passion. After training and experience in New Zealand, he started his estate in 2006 with his partner Rachel Treloar. Nowadays he makes nearly 10 cuvées, a beautiful dry Muscat One Block, a tasty white blend of Grenache gris and Macabeu, and several excellent red cuvées blending Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. His Mourvèdre Motus is full and well balanced and his Syrah Le Secret fresh and expressive. This is a address to watch for its beautifully crafted wines.

Congratulations Jon!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Cascina Saria - the best value in Piedmont?

Having let them know that I still have not mastered Italian, we were met at Cascina Saria (another estate recommended by my Danish friend Birger) a couple of weeks ago by Maura, the owners' daughter. Actually, Maura is in charge of sales whilst her brothers look after the vines and the winemaking, a fairly common set-up.

We were brought into the tasting room which has some of the best views across Piedmont and the southern Alps I have seen and which we stood in awe of whilst Maura prepared the wines for tasting. I knew from Birger that this estate produced a very good Barbaresco and he had particularly recommended the Barbera wines but first, a Langhe Arneis from the Barbaresco commune of Neive. Actually two: the 2011 and the 2012, both sharing the crisp floral fruitiness of the variety I have come to know at Fabrizio Battaglino's Roero winery a few miles away. Whilst the 2011 was very good (and excellent value), the 2012 seemed to have just a little more flesh, a quality that appeals to me.

There are three Barbera wines here: "Bricco delle More" is from vineyards around Coazzolo.  This is the most simple of the Barbera wines with attractively juicy red berry fruit. Presumably intended for restaurants, this would certainly make a good lunchtime wine or, as it is bottled in magnums only, a good party wine.

The Barbera "Convento" is a little fuller, from lower yielding south-east facing vineyards at Castagnole delle Lanze. A really lovely nose bursting with red fruit and quite a full palate. This is a really superb wine for such a low price.

Of course, I like big reds so it was no surprise that the wine from the "San Lorenzo" vineyard at Costigliole d'Asti was my favourite of the Barberas. This south-facing vineyard is ideal for Barbera and the lower yields (7,500kg/ha, the same as for their Barbaresco) ensure a fuller, richer wine than the others. This wine sees some wood ageing but it is only texturally that this is apparent. As expected from a Barbera, the fruit has good acidity but, whereas in the earlier wines this enhances the juiciness of the fruit, in "San Lorenzo", the oak and acidity offset each other well. This is a wine which is continuing to evolve and, whilst it can be enjoyed now, I can see it growing over the next four or five years.

Finally we came to the Nebbiolo wines but before the Barbaresco, an inexpensive Langhe Nebbiolo from 2010. It sells for a rock bottom price - around £10 (depending on the exchange rate!)-  and for that money it is quite simply the best Nebbiolo I have tasted. It has an enticing nose that is suggestive of Barbaresco - indeed, it is grown in Neive, one of the top communes in Barbaresco, so I don't really know why it is bottled with the inferior designation. No matter, this is to the benefit of consumers who want a superior wine at an affordable price.  Actually, the more I think about it, with the exception of the Manzone Nebbiolo which, at the La Trompette lunch recently, showed as a mini-Barolo, I don't think I have had a Langhe Nebbiolo that comes as close to emulating its more famous stablemate. If you like Nebbiolo... need I say more? Only that its exquisite nose follows well onto the palate which is moderately tannic suggesting a good future for this wine over the next five years or more.

So, onto the Barbaresco wines: 2009, 2008 and 2007 from bottle and 2006 from magnum (I think 2005 is also available in magnum). 2009 is still very young with lots of tannin interfering with the hedonistic pleasure this wine will one day offer. 2008 was more complete. An intense nose with hints of liquorice and tobacco combining with the fruit, very characteristic of Barbaresco. Evolved enough to enjoy now, the wine has a good future over the next 10-15 years. After this, the 2007 was certainly very good but for me the 2008 stood out ahead of its peers. From magnum, however, the 2006 is excellent and what a price! Maura told me that every year they bottle too many magnums for the Christmas market then have to find alternative markets for them so, if you enjoy magnums of excellent wine, these are a steal.

A wonderful find - thanks Birger! - and an estate I would be very pleased to add to the BRW list. It seems I can never have too many great wines from Piedmont!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Domaine Brusset 2011 en primeur offer

I visited Laurent Brusset on 4th April when we tasted through the current selections including 2012 whites and the 2011 reds. 

Laurent was clearly pleased with the wines and, as expected, the Cairannes and Gigondas showed extremely well. The reds are forward with attractive fruit and good acidity levels to keep them really interesting. Alcohol levels are not too high in this vintage. They can be enjoyed before the 2010s with "Les Travers" and "Le Grand Montmirail" both approachable already. 

The 2012 "Travers" Blanc is the best example of this wine I have tasted in over 10 years.

Five wines offered from Domaine Brusset. They will be shipped in mid-May. Prices are quote "in bond" (IB) for shipment to our bonded warehouse. We are willing to split cases subject to overall quantities.

The best white tasted in the southern Rhone this year below Chateauneuf level. A beautifully fresh and fragrant wine, the Roussanne and Viognier take centre stage this year on both the nose and palate. Quite floral but exotic and a lovely dry quality to contrast with the round fleshy character of the wine. Only a whiff of the oak comes through. Good length. 13% ABV. Drinking Dates: 2013 to 2016

Good fruity nose of black cherry and spice with hints of tar follows through well on the palate which has good weight and balance. Quite rich but very forward - one to drink whilst waiting for the 2010s to come round. 13.5% ABV. Drinking Dates: 2013 to 2017

Firmer than "Les Travers" with some solid, spicy black fruit character. Needs a little time to soften the more tannic structure but will be good from around 2015. 14% ABV. Drinking Dates: 2015 to 2020

Well rounded nose and a fleshy palate of spicy sweet red and black fruits. Tannins are well managed, supple. Good balance. Quite an easy drinking style - certainly very drinkable. 14% ABV. Drinking Dates: 2013 to 2020

Another superb vintage for Laurent Brusset with this formidable wine. He has combined power with elegance expertly. A mere hint of the barrels overlays the sweet fruit which compensates for the additional structure this wine has compared with the "Le Grand Montmirail" cuvee. The tannins glide and there is a wonderful mouthfeel. It will need 3-5 years but last for 15. 14% ABV. Drinking Dates: 2017 to 2025

Friday, 26 April 2013

Nada Giuseppe in Wine Enthusiast

Some good reviews in Wine Enthusiast Magazine - see here.

The 2007 Riserva gets an especially good write up although I am surprised the 2006 is not scored at least as highly. Probably they felt the 2007 has more stuffing and will go the distance better.

Canterbury 2013

Once again, I made the trip to Canterbury yesterday to present a range of Southern Rhone wines. As always, it was well attended by a crowd of enthusiastic and lively tasters. Most of the wines came from the superlative 2010 vintage so I started with the caveat that they would not be close to being ready to drink and, quite possibly, closed. Not altogether true, it turned out.

We began with Laurent Brusset's highly aromatic white Cairanne "Les Travers" from 2012 which is already shaping up to be another top class vintage. Whilst only 30% of the blend, the Roussanne (20%) and Viognier (10%) dominate on the nose and palate and there is just a hint of oak fleshing out the wine and giving it an added dimension. Really drinkable.

After that, there was only one way to go with the whites: Raymond Usseglio's 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "Rousanne Pur" (only one "s" for some reason), a phenomenal wine which I described to the group as a red wine drinker's white wine. They agreed: it has a broadness which is more in keeping with the big reds I often favour. Some aniseed/liquorice comes through but the dimensions to this one are numerous and any oak used in ageing (100% I believe) is barely noticeable. Impressive stuff.

On to the reds and the Domaine des Anges Ventoux 2009 "L'Archange" is the last such wine completely made by Ciaran Rooney who has left the estate after 13 years and is currently working in Chateauneuf. This wine has calmed down since it was first bottled but still has lots of black fruit character (80% Syrah) and considerable body. The consensus was that this is a very good value wine.

Next up was Domaine de la Charite's 2009 "Cayenne" with just a hint of oxidation on the rich nose followed by an incredibly complex, layered palate with excellent spicy fruit and a delicious finish. Christophe seems unable to do anything wrong! We wondered what the 2010 is like, given that it is an even better vintage across the valley (I didn't let on that I have a couple of bottles of this at home, as yet untasted).

A mystery wine next: Xavier Vignon has been working on a project in northern Turkey for the last 15 years and has recently started bottling the wines. The entry-level 2009 Syrah (50%), Grenache and Mourvedre (25% each) wine is decent enough and on its own would impress but, frankly, it is no match for the Rhone wines. In a Turkish restaurant it could work very well as it offers a taste of Turkey with the reassurance of known grape varieties.

Xavier's 2010 Vacqueyras is a little closed but the underlying Syrah which, unusually, makes up around 50% of the blend is very promising. I haven't bought any for a couple of years but there are some good 100% Syrah wines made by Vacqueyras producers so, perhaps, the terroir is especially good for this grape.

Two more from Raymond Usseglio: his 2010 Cotes du Rhone, a true mini-Chateauneuf, offers so much more than most CDRs, even at Villages level. Spicy fruit with good depth, this will continue to improve but offers attractive drinking already. I suggested that, in youth, it is often difficult to tell this wine apart from its big brother but there is no doubting the majesty of the 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The depth of fruit and the body are magnificent here. We discussed how Stef Usseglio always seems to manage the balance between elegance and concentration so well. Everyone agreed that this is the preferred style of wine from the region rather than those wines that seem to be chasing points with over-extraction but can't be enjoyed beyond the first sip or two. This was another wine I could cheerfully drink now although I know it will be better in another few years.

We finished up with a pair of wines from Domaine Grand Veneur. First, the 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (in half bottles) was interesting for its difference from the Usseglio wine. More "modern" in style, there is noticeable oak here but some attractive fruit and a remarkably soft palate. Another year or two should see this develop to the point of utter deliciousness.

Finally, I had promised something special and the "Les Origines" did not disappoint. Despite its 100% new oak, the fruit dominates. I was accused of offering a "Parker" wine, a charge which I refuted. This is elegance in a glass and, if it does achieve high scores, then, as with the Usseglio wines, that is because quality will out. Like the other 2010s, only more so, this wine combines power with freshness and is already one of the most impressive wines from this stunning year.

So, what will tonight have in store?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Burgundy 2011 - Joblot's Servoisine

When I visited Jean-Marc Joblot in August 2011, he was days away from starting the harvest. He was optimistic about the quality even then and, now, at last from the bottle, the verdict is in.

Servoisine, along with Cellier aux Moines, is regarded as the best of the Joblot's holdings in Givry and I haven't had a new vintage from the bottle for a couple of years at least so I was keen to give it a whirl as soon as I could lay my hands on a bottle. It's been in the country for three or four weeks now so it should be well rested.

The wine is quite purple but, frankly, that is of secondary interest. Diving into the nose, there is a heady perfume of red fruits with mineral overtones. Good depth, especially with aeration. Now for the palate... Its youthfulness is apparent - some tannin but good acidity dominates the structural elements. A mid-weight wine with raspberry fruit, the same as the nose, which lingers well.

Sadly, I must re-cork the bottle until tomorrow and then again and again to see how it develops over several days. It's going to last as long as I can hold out, that's for sure. Lovely!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Domaine de Cristia

A busy morning! I have known Dominique and Baptiste Grangeon for several years now so there is always much to catch up on. Baptiste was heading off to Paris so most of the time, Dominique and I chatted whilst tasting the new vintages.

To start, a new wine from the Cristia Collection, a 2011 Grenache Blanc to partner the red vin de pays. Decent nose, medium-bodied and length with good fruit. 13% ABV. Bottled 02/03.

Next another new wine, this time from the Cristia range (neither Domaine de Cristia nor Cristia Collection but somewhere in between, I think - slightly confusing! I do know the vines are not part of the family's estate), a 2012 Cotes du Rhone Blanc from 30% each Grenache, Roussanne and Clairette with the balance Viognier and Marsanne. 13% ABV and full Ecocert status for this wine. Complex nose follows through to a soft palate. Bottled 02/03.

The last of the whites is from the domaine, a 2012 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc made with 40% each Roussanne and Clairette and 20% Bourboulenc. This has a soft nose, a fairly full palate and is well balanced. I discovered that this wine does not carry the Ecocert label as, from 2012, the wine itself must be organic, not simply made from organically grown grapes. This means that if any treatments used in the winery are not on the approved list, the wine cannot be certified in that vintage. The team at Cristia did not discover this until too late for the 2012 white! Bottled 02/03.

The first red, as expected, was the 2012 Grenache, the organic VDP entry-level wine to the estate's production. A rich nose is followed by a youthful palate, slightly lighter than expected. Perhaps a little closed or reductive? It will flesh out well given a couple of months. Bottled 08/03. I had the impression that sales of the excellent VDP Vieilles Vignes have not been as good as they had hoped and that, in future, as they will also have organic certification, these grapes will be blended in with the regular Grenache.

The 2012 Cotes du Rhone is probably the best vintage of this wine I have encountered. Pure Grenache, from 30-40 year old vines, it has a slightly animal nose reminiscent of old school Cairanne. A good, pure palate and moderate tannins. 14% ABV, Ecocert. Bottled January 2013.

I was less struck by the 2012 CDR Villages from 80% Grenache, the balance Syrah. Some oak comes through (from the Syrah'e elevation) but I felt the two grapes were not well integrated at this time. This 14.5% ABV wine is not organic as the 7 hectares of the vineyard it is produced from are under fermage from this vintage.

The 2011 Cotes du Rhone "Garrigues" Vieilles Vignes is pure Grenache again. Less oak than in previous vintages too which is an improvement for me. A lovely rich nose follows through well with some good fruit. Not overblown, this is a medium-full wine in body and in flavour. Dominique tells me this is from real Chateauneuf terroir (red clay). It hides its 15% ABV well.

Only one Chateauneuf this year,the 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape has a good, modern nose - not too much and not at all baked. Liquorice and rich fruit dominate this wine which has good freshness and a pleasingly light touch. The tannins are in check too. Probably one to drink over the next 5-10 years whilst waiting for the 2010s.

Raymond Usseglio visit

My first visit to any of the people I work with in the Southern Rhone was to Stef Usseglio who had just bottled most of his new releases. After such a stellar performance in 2010, I was not expecting such great heights this year but, overall, I found a very satisfying range of wines - no great surprise.

First, the 2012 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, a field blend of Grenache, Marsanne, Rousanne and Bourboulenc which had been bottled just two weeks earlier. This has a lovely nose, full and fruity with hobeysuckle and green fruit characters. The palate is a little shy - but that's only to be expected from a wine so recently bottled - but good and the medium-bodied wine finishes well.

The 2012 Rousanne Pur is more intense with some oak coming through on the nose but the wine has not been bottled yet (bottling due tomorrow!). There is a more waxy texture and richer tones to the fruit in this fuller-bodied wine. A red wine drinker's white wine!

There is also a new white Cotes du Rhone but we didn't taste it on site - Stef gave me a bottle to take away so I will report on it later - and the red has been re-named after the lieu-dit. The 2011 Cotes du Rhone "Le Claux" is 14% ABV but quite soft on the nose, very slightly austere even. It smells like a wine that will be better in another year or two, certainly less apparent than the 2009 and 2010. There are some nice tannins here which don't overwhelm the fruit which is lighter than the 2010. Overall, this is less ageworthy and quicker to mature than the previous two vintages but quite decent. If I was scoring it, I would have to give it a sound 85, I think (the 2009 and 2010 would probably merit 88 each).

A big step up to the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. With 14.5% ABV and bottled on 1st April, this already has a lovely rich, warm and inviting nose. A little woody still but attractively so. Some good black fruit here, quite modern in style - Stef has been moving in this direction since the middle of the last decade. A little lighter than the 2010, inevitably, but it will drink well sooner.

With 90% Grenache and the rest a blend of Counoise, Cinsault and other old vine grapes the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Imperiale" is quite elegant; full but not overblown. It has good structure and the lively tannins carry through to the finish along with the black fruit and liquorice. Rich and tannic with lovely Grenache fruit, this is very modern with a long finish.

Finally, the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Part des Anges" is a wine that hedonists can enjoy now if they don't mind the inevitable tannins of a wine with 70% Mourvedre. It has an intense nose dominated by black Mourvedre fruit with some oak. Excellent balance of fruit and tannins etc with a pleasant sprinkling of vanilla on top. Drinkable now? That's obviously a matter of taste but it can go the distance too.

After this, Stef invited me to taste the white Chateauneuf-du-Pape again, always a good sign that the wine has the fruit and structure to cut through the big, chunky reds that have gone before and refresh the palate. It did the trick.

Overall, there is an attractive freshness in all the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines which I found both attractive and welcome after the more blockbuster 2010s. I need to make room in my cellar for some of these!