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?