Welcome to La Madelene : Rhone Wine Holidays

Old World wines still rule if you are prepared to pay just a little more

autumnvine.JPG The following is a piece that I wrote for Brighton’s community newspaper The Whistler:

In the past few years French wine sales have taken a battering in the UK. Australia has now been joined by California as the most popular supplier of wine to the Brits. The attraction of New World wines is obvious: the consumer knows what to expect from varietal labelling (chardonnay, shiraz etc are recognizable brands in their own right); the wines deliver consistency- just as a true brand should; and in these tough times promotions discounting wine to less than £4 is clearly attractive. But those who wouldn’t tolerate sliced white bread in their diet would do well to apply their discernment more often to wine – for only a few pounds more you can savour artisanal products that ooze character, flavour and satisfaction…not just a quick fix alcoholic fruit bomb.

This is where France really comes into its own – in the mid range price bracket £7-£12. Why are these wines generally superior? For one the typical French winery is a small family business where the focus is on driving quality and reputation before profit, on average 2/3 family members and 2 employees farming just 25 hectares of vineyard. Compare this to Australia where 15 giant wineries now make 86% of the wine produced.

Take one example of the difference a focus on quality can make…hand vs machine harvesting. I recently helped pick the harvest at Domaine des Anges here in the Ventoux and even this year when the fine summer had left the grapes in great condition we were still leaving about every 10th bunch on the ground, rejected for showing some signs of minor rot. A harvesting machine – ubiquitous in Australia – can make no such discernment, all the bunches go into the hopper together and in order for off flavours not to appear in your glass “corrective” procedures are then necessary in the winery. When the French talk loftily about the importance of a wine “expressing it’s terroir” its too easy to scoff…what they really mean is they aim to reduce intervention (chemicals, modern techniques for softening tannins, wood substitutes etc) in the wine making to an absolute minimum. The result is wines that are as infinately different from each other as the terrain is different from farm to farm  – its what makes wine drinking such fun, the continual discovery of different nuances of aroma and flavour from different producers.

So my top tips for characterful wines from our area, available in the UK, in that price bracket? At Majestic the 2006 Clos de Mont-Olivet Cotes du Rhone, £8.99 (or at time of writing £6.99 each if you buy two) big, savoury and warming. As an aside Cotes du Rhone level wines from Chateauneuf du Pape producers are a great source of bargains. From M&S the earthy, spicy Perrin brother’s (another CNDP house) Rasteau 2007 at £9.99; and finally fom the Devon wine merchant Christopher Piper, but available on-line, the Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan 2005 from Roche-Audran at £11.16, a bio-dynamic wine of great complexity and character that will convince you your extra pounds have been wisely invested.

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