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2008 en primeur - Southern Rhone

The 2007 campaign was the most successful to date but should you buy the less successful 2008 vintage?

White wines are often very good indeed so, if you like white Rhones don't dismiss them at all. Reds from better producers are decent enough but why bother? Don't forget that next year there will be the fabulous 2009s to buy and there are still some (not many) superb 2007s available, some even at sensible prices (especially standard cuvees from CDP growers - the luxury cuvees are, by and large, all gone now).

There are some very good wines from including Beaucastel and, a perennial favourite, Raymond Usseglio (exceptions to the "why bother" question). My point is really that most 2008s will still be around when they are ready to drink so, whilst as an importer of these wines, I should be pushing them, as a consumer/wine lover first and foremost, I would recommend people not to buy them except for "allocated" wines. If you like Beaucastel then you do need to get it now, I guess.

Domaine de Mourchon did not produce a Grande Reserve in 2008 as it was felt the grapes were not good enough and they wanted to ensure the Tradition was up to standard. That said, they have creamed off the very best for their micro-cuvees, the "Family Reserve" wines (don't believe everything Parker writes, by the way; there are two cuvees of this: one Grenache and one Syrah). However, Mourchon also downgraded some of the CDRV grapes to produce a decent CDR in 2008 which is quite admirable.

The question about whether wines benefit from the grapes normally destined for luxury cuvees is interesting. The answer should be "yes" (assuming they are of higher quality even in the poor vintages) although the impact can be quite small when you consider the miniscule quantities produced of such wines.

However, when I visited Raymond Usseglio to taste his 2002s, I was prepared to say "thanks but I'll see you next year" (in French, of course: neither Raymond nor son Stef speak much, if any, English). We tasted the red which displayed all the characteristics of a bad vintage of Bordeaux (lean, unripe, herbaceous, stalky etc) and Raymond looked at me in agreement. He told me it had been bottled early for the American importer (presumably trying to sell it before Mr P released his verdict) but there was another, later bottling which also included the grapes normally destined for the "Cuvee Imperiale". This was probably the best 2002 CDP I tasted, a little lighter than usual but it still had some depth and good CDP character. I supported him in that vintage and my customers knew I would not sell them a bad wine so they, in turn, supported me. Everyone seemed quite happy with the results.

Whilst we must demand certain minimum quality levels, we cannot cherry pick all the time if we want the high quality in the top vintages at reasonable prices.

So, what will I be offering in 2008? All depends on what I taste when I visit later in the spring. If wines are good enough, then it doesn't matter that they come from a supposedly inferior vintage. If not, I will work with the estates to put together an attractive offer in any case. As always, I will not recommend (much less, buy) wines I would not like to drink myself.


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