On our last day in the Southern Rhône, we stopped for a picnic on the side of a road leading into Châteauneuf before popping in to see Raymond Usseglio to retaste his 2005s (and 2004s) including my first taste of the Impériale from bottle. When I arrived, we discussed the relative merits of the two vintages as I have been a big fan of the 2004s from Raymond in particular (although fairly extensive tastings during the Fête de la Veraison, the annual party held in the village to celebrate the ripening grapes, revealed many other extremely good 2004s, generally drinking well already). Raymond said he didn't know what all the fuss was with 2005 when you considered his 2004s and, in a way he's right. The standard 2004 is one of the best wines I have tasted from the vintage (at this price level anyway) with immense potential. Unlike some others, it isn't really ready yet: the tannins are still quite assertive but, really, that's a positive thing as it means the wine will hold together for several years whilst it develops in complexity. The 2005 is a touch more in every respect: not enough to belittle its older sibling but enough to make me want to buy both! The 2004 Impériale, especially, is magnificent (very Burgundian, I thought) and the standard bottling is almost indistinguishable in style and quality from its younger sibling. However, the 2005 Impériale really shone out as being that bit more impressive for the longer term. When I tasted this in January it was quite muted; not any more. Superb old-vine Grenache which shows why this is probably the best vintage since 1998 at least.
The moratorium is over. Decanter’s December issue has been published and I can announce our successes in the recent tasting undertaken by their Rhône expert, Matt Walls who has recently returned from a year and a half in the region. If you look on Decanter.com today (November 2020), you will see a link to ‘Top Côtes du Rhône wines under £20’. What the article doesn’t tell you is that the brief of its writer was to taste and rate wines from across the valley in that price range and that the top scoring white wine was actually a Ventoux. No prizes for guessing that it was Château Juvenal’s 2019 ‘Ribes de Vallat’ Blanc , awarded 91 points, which, at £12.60 is also the best value of any of the white wines on the list: 'From 30- to 40-year-old vines grown on granite south-facing slopes; half of the wine is matured for six months in demi-muid leaving no overt oakiness to the aromatics. Full-bodied, rich and opulent style, very ripe and fulsome. Some mango and pineapple juice. Unmist