Wine tasting dinner at the Riverside in Cambridge, part of the Cambridge Food Festival so I had a chance to taste half a dozen of the wines and get reactions from around 60 diners. Some really liked one white but not the other one or vice-versa so I was pleased. Better to have a strong opinion and find wines worth buying than just have a neutral reaction to everything because it's bland. Started with Liebart-Regnier's Rosé Champagne which I really like because of the slug of Pinot Noir they use to get the colour. It gives a lovely Pinot sweetness to the final wine and gives it a structure which makes it particularly good with canapés (although at my niece's wedding earlier this summer it was just as good after the canapés ran out). The starters (confit de canard or goat's cheese) came with Domaine de la Tourade's beefy, perfumed Vacqueyras and Xavier Vignon's "Lili", the Viognier proving a particularly good match for the cheese and making an exotic, exquisite alternative to the more usual Sauvignon Blanc. Carrying on the Rhone theme for the rest of the meal, the beef demanded a Châteauneuf-du-Pape so Raymond Usseglio's 2001 was given a whirl. Classy and complex but still a little closed (unusually for CDP, Raymond's wines tend to close down for a while before emerging in outstanding form after another year or so). The white for this course (there was a mushroom-based vegetarian option) was Domaine des Anges' "L'Archange" Blanc, one of my very favourite whites: I am convinced that a well-oaked old-vine Roussanne is the red wine drinker's white wine and certainly every confirmed red wine drinker I know makes an exception for these wines. As always it didn't disappoint. For the tarte tatin I gave up the last few bottles of Domaine Bressy-Masson Rasteau Rancio, a vin doux naturel which comes with the explanation that, as the obscure appellation suggests, the wine has already gone off so if you should happen to open a bottle and leave it under the bed for six months or a year it will still be drinking well. That said, I have no real evidence as it never lasts more than a few days under my bed. It is a glorious wine with Madeira-like qualities but lighter in style. I am told it matched the food perfectly and it was very popular. I will have to go back for more! The only pity about the evening was that I didn't get to eat any of the rather gorgeous looking (and smelling) food.
Simple labels adorn the bottles of these highly effective and enjoyable wines which have a distinct nod to the northern Rhône and even Burgundy and Bandol despite their southern Rhône setting. Described by Robert Parker as ‘one of the best estates in the entire Rhône Valley’, Domaine Ste-Anne has been in the Steinmaier family since 1965 when it was bought as a holiday home for this Burgundian family. Guy Steinmaier quickly recognised the potential of the 12 hectares of vines and set about replanting them. Now under the stewardship of his son Jean, who studied winemaking in Beaune before taking over in 1977, they have remained consistent throughout making remarkably un-Parkerised wines (that is to say, these are elegant and refined rather than the blockbusters generally regarded by the former uber-critic). A quarter of a century since Parker wrote those words, Domaine Ste-Anne remains synonymous with the Côtes du Rhône Village of St-Gervais. Today the range is much the same as it was