Intriguing new cuvée at Chateau la Nerthe

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Thanks to the very generous Anton at CDP estate Chateau La Nerthe we were treated to a tasting of an intriguing new cuvée this week - “Les Clavelles” - tiny production single plot ( beteween La Crau and Font de Loup) - 100% pure Grenache made in a batch of just 1500 bottles. This the 2015 vintage. Light colour, pale strawberry , super aromatic nose distinctly pinot style, terrific balance of power and finesse on the palette. I think the most impressive wine I have ever tasted here. Bit beyond my usual budget alas at €150 per bottle - i’m sure Anton ( thats him seen through the glass) isn’t supposed to open it up for us - what a nice lad!

"Vin de la Solitude" - superb heritage wine from Chateauneuf du Pape

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Delighted to see that Domaine de la Solitude is maintaining production ( albeit in micro quantities) of their heritage cuvée “Vin de la Solitude” - a tribute to Solitude ancestor Paul Martin who was making wine at the domaine in the. 18th century. The “recipe” is as close to the original as Florent can tell from the available evidence: an eclectic blend of Counouise ( 30%) , Grenache ( 25%), Syrah and Mourvedre ( 15% each) and 10% of white grapes - Clairette, Roussanne, white Grenache. The varieties are co-fermented , entire bunch and the maceration time is long - 78 days. The wine is attactively packaged in a flask shaped bottle with a wax top. Less than 1000 bottles produced and only 100 magnums ( of which I own one!). Bravo Florent!

A venerable white from Pegau

Pegau white 1999

Pegau white 1999

A good friend of mine has gifted us a prize bottle from his cellar : a white CDP from Domaine Pegau, the 1999 vintage. This presents something of a quandary- our prior guests will know ( because i’m fond of explaining it) how white CDP plays a clever trick of descending into an abyss of total oxidation when most owners would chuck them out in despair that they didn’t drink them earlier, only to return with a cheeky smile on their face “Hey… fooled you! we are alive after all and we taste good!” - albeit all nuts and honey no longer fresh fruit. Even the colour reverts to something straw like from the oloroso sherry phase- weird chemistry that! So open or not? The colour looks to be frankly completely unpromising - close to a pale whisky! Might just keep it as a curiosity.

Wine Touring ++++ this week

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Four days on the road this week, with delightful clients from NYC , Connecticut and the UK. Lots of treats - Tasting with Mirielle Cartier at Goubert, gourmet Lunch at the now Michelin starred l’Oustalet, Jude’s roast Pintade dinner served with some mature Solitude CDP, but perhaps the real high point was watching Sandra Rochel, Chef du Chai ( chief winemaker) at Chateau Fortia demonstrate how to slide into an old foudre ( 3500l cask) to get it cleaned - unbelievable contortions , but basically as she showed us, if you can wriggle your shoulders in, the rest of your body should fit. But imagine the claustrophobic reaction once you stand up in these barrels - absolutely not for me!

Superb dessert wine from Vacqueyras producer

Les Grains des Novembre dessert wine from Vacqueyras producer Clos des Cazaux

Les Grains des Novembre dessert wine from Vacqueyras producer Clos des Cazaux

Vacqueyras producer Clos des Cazaux make great Cru level reds and white wine - I’ve been a fan for a long time - but this wine is new to me: their “Les Grains de Novembre”; made in tiny quantities , each year just a single barrel of 600 bottles produced , its surely a unique wine in the region being made from late picked grapes affected by noble rot ( botrytis) - so a Sauternes style wine made from 100% white Grenache. It’s simply delicious - more than twice the price of my favourite Beaumes de Venise dessert wine ( and for just 50cl) but for the occasional after dinner treat well worth the money.

Chateau Fortia - a great name and a new addition to our network

The Fortia cuvée line up

The Fortia cuvée line up

So pleased to announce we will be taking guests to visit this Chateauneuf du Pape estate on our tours this yea. Fortia is one of the really important historic estates of the appellation: wine was made here going back to the 14th century but the estate really came to prominence in the 18th century. In the 1920’s the estate was owned by Baron Pierre le Roy , a lawyer and decorated 1st world war pilot. Le Roy is locally famous for being the architect of the AOC system in France - Chateauneuf du Pape under his guidance becoming the very first AOC in 1936. Today the estate is run by descendents of the Baron and is producing some very fine wines based on may tastings there this morning- three red cuvées, Tradition, “Cuvée de Baron” and the top red “Reserve” - this a super Syrah/Mourvedre cuvée without wood ageing to preserve the character of the fruit and the terroir - delicious when young but definitely a keeper. A white CDP with increasing Roussanne content is also produced. Looking forward to those visits.

Very interesting, not to say disturbing, development - the “"replica” wines..

The Times, May 3 2019, 5:00pm

Michel Roux Jr is not in agreement with the two sommeliers at the table. They’re all perching on a humongous leather sofa in a photo studio in northwest London. Each has before them two glasses. One – they don’t know which – contains a splash of 2017 Far Niente, a highly regarded chardonnay from California’s Napa Valley that retails for £85 a bottle.

The other glass contains what you might call a homage or, less charitably, a knock-off – a pirate wine created by a team of renegade vintners who have analysed the molecular composition of the Far Niente and used their laboratory breakdown to create what they hope is a high-quality, low-cost copy.

The facsimile wine, called Retrofit, sells for $20 (£15) in the States, but is not available in Europe. Its makers argue that consumers pay too much for decent plonk, that a handful of producers effectively have a stranglehold on the market and that the veil needs to be lifted on how the wine industry really operates.

Our blind tasting soon suggests that they have a point. Roux, who runs the two-star Le Gavroche in Mayfair, thinks that glass No 2 contains the Far Niente – but he’d rather drink a glass of No 1.

Alexandra Badoi, sommelier at Meraki, an upmarket Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia, disagrees. No 1 is the better wine, she says, with more body and biscuityness – so surely it’s the original?

Monica Galetti, the MasterChef judge, and her sommelier husband, David, run the high-end restaurant Mere in Bloomsbury.

With its creaminess and its pineapple and its superior complexity, structure and density, No 1 is the original, says David.

“They’re very close,” Monica murmurs as she sips each in turn and then chooses No 2.

She’s not sure that she approves of the ethics of the people who make Retrofit. Exploiting somebody else’s hard work is bad form, she says. “But I think they’re going to have a great time confusing the public.”

They certainly foxed our sommeliers: both thought the copy was the real Far Niente.

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Four thousand miles away, in Denver, Colorado, I imagine Ari Walker chuckling to himself. Walker is the man behind Replica Wines, the outfit that produces Retrofit and a stable of other copycats. He’ll insist that he gains no satisfaction out of embarrassing professional wine tasters, something that he achieves on a fairly frequent basis. “But we do deliver the flavours that consumers already love, at a fraction of the price.”

Ari WalkerMORGAN RACHEL LEVY

His company is part of a nascent trend in what you might call “molecular” wine and spirits manufacturing. It’s based on the notion that a convincing replica of any beverage can be concocted from scratch.

The San Francisco company Endless West makes a “molecular whiskey” called Glyph. It’s a blend of alcohol and additives, synthesised entirely in a lab and designed to taste (in order to appeal to a wide market) like inoffensive, middle-of-the-road whiskey.

The idea came after one of the company’s founders, Mardonn Chua, took a tour of Napa Valley wineries and saw a bottle of 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay on display.

In 1976 this had been the vintage that had won the famous “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting – a shootout between US and French wines that put the Americans, for the first time, at the top of the world rankings.

There are only a few bottles left and they fetch astronomical prices. It was a shame, Chua thought as he gazed at one of them locked away in a plexiglass case, that nobody would get to taste it.

On the bus ride home, he decided that perhaps they could. He could make any wine, he reasoned, down to the last molecule, without grapes. Alec Lee, Endless West’s CEO, sketches out the rationale for me. “If you take away the history and the marketing and all that, it’s a collection of molecules, mostly water and alcohols and sugars and acids,” he says.

“I have a lab. If I can figure out what each of these molecules is, I should be able to quantify them,” he continues. “If I can source each one of them independently, I should be able to mix them back together again, like the pixels of a photograph.”

The process, he argues, has the potential to be more efficient, by orders of magnitude, than traditional distilling and winemaking. Years of cellaring could be sidestepped. Carbon dioxide emissions and the use of land, water and pesticides might be slashed.

Ari Walker is less of a molecular fundamentalist. He doesn’t argue that a wine can be duplicated with perfect accuracy. Instead, he is in the business of “improving” cheap base wine in the science lab. “We’re not trying to hit a bullet with a bullet,” he says. But he’s betting that if he can get 90 per cent of the way to a famous label and sell the result for, say, 30 per cent of the price, then customers will snap it up.

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Walker stumbled into the wine industry. He took a job at a wholesaler when he left college at 22 (he’s now 46), because his wife was pregnant and he needed an income. He soon became beguiled; wine-and-food pairings started to infiltrate his dreams.

In 2001 he started his own import and distribution business with Kevin Hicks, an internet entrepreneur. Their first attempt to create their own affordable wines fell flat – too many competitors. It wasn’t until 2012 that Walker had his epiphany, via baby food.

Technician Joanna Jarosz in Walker’s labMORGAN RACHEL LEVY

Hicks, who was on the cusp of fatherhood, had begun to ask what, precisely, was in the organic purees that he and his wife were planning to feed their newborn. He sent samples to a laboratory to be analysed. The bills quickly mounted – $1,500 per analysis – so he decided to build his own lab.

He ploughed millions into equipment for the venture, which he called Ellipse Analytics. It was soon providing breakdowns of products – everything from sunscreens to bodybuilder diet supplements – for industrial clients. Walker quickly spotted the potential for wine.

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Today, it’s likely that Walker possesses the largest library of molecular reports on individual vintages. The scientists at Ellipse have broken down the composition of thousands from around the world.

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The people who trade in fine vintages often land on descriptions that are calculated to amplify their mystique. Michael Broadbent, the distinguished former head of Christie’s wine department, was a master. The author Benjamin Wallace described his way with words in the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar. A 1979 Pétrus once reminded Broadbent of Sophia Loren: “You can admire them, but you don’t want to go to bed with them.” A double magnum of 1947 Cantenac-Brown evoked chocolate and “schoolgirls’ uniforms”.

Walker has less time for poetry. Instead, he can tell you precisely which acids and sugars are responsible for producing the taste, aroma and “mouthfeel” of your favourite pinot. He knows which esters make your sauvignon blanc smell like grapefruit and gooseberry, which sulphites have been used to inhibit the growth of rogue wild yeasts. He can say which tannins are reacting with the proteins in your saliva to produce the tactile astringency of your go-to house red.

He also sees which additives have been used to bolster mainstream favourites – the brands, for instance, that go heavy on “Mega Purple”, a concentrated grape-juice gloop used to deepen colour.

‘I wouldn’t buy a knock-off watch, so why a facsimile wine?’ says Roux Jr

In 2015, Walker and Hicks started Replica. They would use their data to reverse-engineer some of America’s most celebrated wines. They also pledged to cut out pesticide residues and other unwelcome elements. They would not resort to using Mega Purple. Before long, it became apparent that professional tasters often could not distinguish their copies from the real thing.

Last year, Walker let Wired magazine view the process behind an effort to clone a 2015 Far Niente. It began with a taster going through more than 70 lots of chardonnay – cheap vats of surplus wine, essentially – that were being offered by a broker based in the Napa Valley. Two were chosen as potential fits.

One was from a tiny boutique vintner, the other from a massive producer that makes millions of bottles of wine each year. The first was an excellent match for the Far Niente, but only a little was available; the second was less suitable, but there was more of it.

Walker’s team were guided by an analysis of the aromatic compounds present in the most popular California chardonnays. Far Niente, it emerged, was something of an outlier: it had more citrus and no coconut.

It also had a far higher level of malic acid, found in lime juice. This was not a surprise: it had not undergone the secondary fermentation that transforms malic acid into lactic acid – a process by which the taste of green apple is transformed into something more creamy or buttery, and which Walker’s team felt had lent a “flinty” note to the Far Niente.

Walker was unconcerned about the malic acid – he could add the chemical into his blend. Replicating the cloves and raw wood notes present in the Far Niente would be trickier. They were a product of the precise type of oak barrel in which the wine had been fermented. His team would have to try to mimic them by adding a wood extract.

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Unsurprisingly, not everybody has warmed to the Replica sales pitch. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, a newspaper in Sonoma County, California, regarded as speaking for the state’s wine industry, has denounced the company’s offerings as “Frankenstein wines”.

“While Replica wine doesn’t begin in a petri dish,” it said, “it is created, to a large degree, in a lab.”



Just returned from an extensive tour in the Northern Rhone...

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Just blitzed the NR with clients/friends from Stockholm : many highlights including Alain Voge’s top Cornas “Fontaines” ; a tasting lunch at Chapoutier: tastings of mature Cornas at Jean Luc Colombo; A fabulous dinner on the riverside at the Hotel /Restaurant “Beau Rivage”; Hermitage “Bessards” at Delas Freres; some “to die for” Condrieu at Christophe Pichon and Rémy Niero; discovering the top Seyssuel ( the forgotten vineyards of Vienne) cuvées from Vins de Vienne; discovering that Crozes Hermitage IS capable of excellence ( Domaine des Colombier and Domaine des Lises) and not forgetting the stellar line up of Cote Rotie/Condrieu at Jean Michel Gerin; Exhausted on my return but very satisfied ..and many gems stored away in the cellar.

Our latest Trip Advisor review - first of the season

Reviewed by GFchef

24 Apr 2019

Reviewers Bob and Robyn tasting  with Kate McKinley at Domaine Mourchon

Reviewers Bob and Robyn tasting with Kate McKinley at Domaine Mourchon

Outstanding Experience!

We joined our gracious hosts Jude and Philip for a three night, two day wine adventure at their impeccably restored property in Malaucene. My husband and I had our own comfortable suite with access to a large sitting/dining area with a wood burning fireplace as well as the use of a private roof top deck. Jude's food was excellent and the wine choices were superb. Philip arranged tastings in some small, out-of-the-way wineries that are inaccessible to the average tourist. It is obvious that the winemakers have an excellent relationship with Philip as we were consistently welcomed with open arms. We learned much about Southern Rhone wines and had the opportunity to purchase some favorite bottles that will be shipped to us by Philip. We enjoyed our shared time with the Reddaways, both of whom are charming conversationalists. By the end of our short stay I felt that we had made two wonderful friends. I very much look forward to another visit.



Easter Sunday treat wines

Easter Sunday wines at La Madelene

Easter Sunday wines at La Madelene

Lovely lazy Sunday lunch with Jude, Fiona and Chris. Champagne to start to toast Fiona’s birthday , then Christophe Pichon’s Condrieu ( stunningly good) to accompany the asparagus with a herb and anchovy butter sauce, then Solitude’s “Cornelia Constanza” 2010 CDP ( 100% Grenache) to accompany the Guinea Fowl and” ratte” potatoes with ceps - then a Villeneuve CDP 2013 to go with the cheese board- as near to a Burgundy as a CDP Grenache gets. Good day , siesta well deserved.

At the Avignon Palais du Pape"Decouvertes" tastings and masterclasses today

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Great day at the bi-annual “Decouvertes” tastings at the Palais du Pape - two masterclasses , the first run by wine journalist/blogger Matt Walls on the appellation of Seguret (really interesting session defining the style) - Mourchon’s Family Reserve Grenache was featured as one of the top reds -and the second a double act between Louis Barroul of Saint-Cosme and Andrew Jefford the wine journalist ( an gifted speaker). The theme of the latter - “Freshness” - Gigondas being positioned as the Northern wines of the Southern Rhone due to their climate, altitude, unique terroir and in many cases whole cluster fermentation. Learnt new things as ever- for example the reason why i’ve found La Bouissiere Gigondas so austere is all down to its altitude and super cool north facing slopes! Louis told a great anecdote about being a kid and watching the Faravel family bring down their grapes from the high slopes at harvest time in October with a dusting of snow, incredible!. Ran into many old friends and met a new contact Christophe Ay the young wine maker at venerable estate Raspail Ay - nice guy and absolutely loved the style of his 2016 Gigondas…must take guests to taste at some point this yearF

A new white wine to admire from Creve-Coeur

Pablo Hocht introduces his first white wine at Domaine Creve-Coeur

Pablo Hocht introduces his first white wine at Domaine Creve-Coeur

We enjoyed tasting Pablo Hocht’s first ever white wine vintage (2018) at the bio-dynamic tiny estate he runs just behind the village of Seguret - Domaine Creve-Coeur. Before he struck out on his own Pablo was employed by Louis Barruol at Saint-Cosme as his “Chef du Chai”- and there is more than a little inspiration I know from the Saint-Cosme white Cotes du Rhone/IGP that I like so much - in particular the magic ingredient of Picpoul. Pablo’s white is made at Cotes du Rhone Vilages Seguret level and was intended to be a Viognier/Marsanne/Picpoul blend but as a result of the pour yield of Marsanne last year it has ended up being a highly unusual ( possibly unique?) Viognier/Picpoul blend ( with just a dollop of Marsanne) - so a great combo of aromatics and fat from the Viognier with citrus zesty notes on the finish from the Picpoul. Felicitation Pablo…we like it!

To the annual "Printemps" tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape this morning

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They say over 5000 wine fans are attracted to this salon/dégustation event at Chateauneuf du Pape held over 6/7th April - more than 80 vignerons showing their latest vintages including many 2017’s. It was a great opportunity for me to catch up with old friends ( Florent from Solitude/Fred from Jaufrette/Daniel and daughter Fanny from Mont Thabor) as well as make some new contacts - had some productive chats with both Chateau Fortia and Clos Saint Jean - would not be surprised if some tour visits weren’t on the cards for later this year. The catering arrangements this year were a real plus - enjoyed a delicious “assiette grillard” ( with grilled duck) in the marquee following my tastings. Nice day out.

We will be tasting 2017's soon on our tours - here is the Jancis Robinson verdict on the vintage...promising!

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The following from Jancis Robinson’s excellent site - sign up here:https://www.jancisrobinson.com

It was all the right weather, but not necessarily in the right order, to misquote English comedian the late Eric Morecambe. One year on, the end results of the 2017 vintage in the southern Rhône are clearly of the highest potential quality, but in significantly restricted volume. 

The word potential is important, because while the weather produced grapes that were undoubtedly capable of creating fantastic wine, it was equally possible to spoil this potential, most often through over-extraction or overripeness, and possibly both. It could be convincingly argued that this is a scourge of many a wine region these days, although the warm climate and naturally powerful varieties of the southern Rhône exacerbate the problem – as did the weather patterns of 2017.

The season started out mild, which accelerated growth and resulted in early and enthusiastic flowering. Then, however, came a period of cooler, wetter weather which meant the vines suffered from high levels of coulure, which is when incomplete fertilisation results in reduced fruit set. At this point, it was all but inevitable that the 2017 yield would be low, made worse by a warm, dry summer with less than half the usual rainfall. The grapes were therefore smaller than usual, and ripened quickly because the crop load was low and temperatures were high.

Consequently, the harvest started in late August – much earlier than normal. Fine, dry weather meant that the fruit was in excellent sanitary condition, and that little or no selection was necessary. However, it became clear that the desired levels of sugar and acidity did not necessarily mean sufficient ripeness of flavour. There are no green, underripe notes in these wines, but there are many examples of nondescript fruit with bitterness on the finish. 

Furthermore, the naturally high proportion of skin to juice can result in an exaggerated, unbalanced structure, where acid is too low (especially in whites) and alcohol is too high. The bravest growers let their grapes stay on the vine to maximise flavour development, and the best winemakers were careful to handle the fermentations gently. In these instances, the finished wines fulfil the excellent potential of the vintage.

In terms of volumes, every appellation recorded lower yields than in 2016. Vacqueyras had an average of 27 hectolitres per hectare, compared with their usual 36. Vincent Avril at Clos des Papes made only 40% of his usual volume, and most of his neighbours in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (whose stony terroir is pictured below) faced similar shortages. 

A curiosity of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape tasting notes is that there are more Cuvées Spéciales than Traditions (102 of the former, 74 of the latter). The smaller number of the traditional bottlings doesn't logically reflect the smaller vintage because the same number of these wines are made each year, just in varying volumes, whereas the fashion for Cuvées Spéciales is likely a reflection of producers making more ambitious and therefore expensive blends. 

It seems to be an important way for producers to differentiate themeselves from the competition. At their worst they are like concept cars – attention-grabbing, but at the cost of their fundamental utility: drinkability and enjoyment. At their best, they are genuine reflections of an interesting variety or terroir, although you could argue that even the best examples sacrifice classic Châteauneuf typicality in this pursuit.

The general characteristics of the best 2017 southern Rhône reds are full body, concentrated fruit, mellow tannins and low acid. This makes them attractive to drink young, but with the intensity and structure that should age well. The whites are similarly full and ripe, but acid seems more obviously lacking, resulting in high viscosity and low refreshment.

It is certainly a year that has produced some exciting and delicious wines, and is definitely worth buying, although I would not say it is definitively 'better' than the very good 2016 vintage. As ever, the producer's capability and the drinker's personal preference are as important as the weather conditions of the growing season. 

However, an additional factor worth considering is that the 2018 vintage is likely to be even smaller than the 2017, so devotees of the southern Rhône may want to buy while they can, especially from the most sought-after estates.

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Here are 17 wines that are some of my most favourite 2017s from the southern Rhône, providing plenty of buying options across all prices and styles.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition

  • Ch Rayas – an absolute standout, with a level of complexity that leaves most other Châteauneufs in its shadow

  • Dom du Banneret – fantastic example of the classic Châteauneuf style, including the typical 'garrigue' scent

  • Le Bastide St-Dominique – delivers the ripeness of the vintage while retaining nuance and complexity

  • Mas de Boislauzon – 50% Mourvèdre makes this darker, chewier and spicier than the usual Châteauneuf style

  • André Mathieu – from one of the better-value producers, with well-integrated acidity

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvées Spéciales

  • Dom de la Vieille Julienne, Réservé – modern, rich, ambitious and convincing

  • Dom de la Présidente, Nonciature – heavily oaked, but with enough fruit to score highly when tasted blind

  • Paul Autard, Juline or La Côte Ronde – the 50% Syrah gives excellent peppery spice to both these cuvées

  • St-Paul, L'Insolite – atypically, this is 100% Syrah but it captures the wild savoury nature of the grape brilliantly

  • Dom de Panisse, Confidence Vigneronne – there is a stemmy, sappy element to the aromatic range which I enjoy

Other southern reds

  • Ch de Fonsalette, Côtes du Rhône – stunningly good stuff from the Rayas stable

  • Famille Perrin, Clos des Tourelles – the expertise of Beaucastel weaving their magic in Gigondas

  • Le Couroulu, Classique or Vieilles Vignes – two wonderful wines from Vacqueyras, which age brilliantly and are terrific value for less than £20

  • Moulin de la Gardette, Ventabren – a great expression of Gigondas terroir

Southern whites

  • Ch de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape – I gave this the same score as their (much more expensive) Vieilles Vignes Roussanne. Nuff said!

  • Dom Barville Roussanne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape – pretty good value for this honeyed, peachy varietal

  • Le Sang des Cailloux, Floureto, Vacqueyras – the richness and structure of Hermitage at a fraction of the price

Chene Bleu Rosé a reference wine?

Spotted this in my copy of “The Week” this week- Bruce Palling, their wine editor promotes a selection of wines from around the world which can be bought through the magazine: from his comment around the rosé selected, seems our very own local “Chene Bleu” rosé is being talked about in the same breath as Domaine Ott ( surely the world’s most expensive rosé - the favoured tipple of many a Saint Tropez yacht owner). Not saying Chene Bleu doesn’t merit this recognition- many of my guests will know I select it as a lunchtime wine when we are at Verger des Papes at Chateauneuf du Pape where it is a staple on the wine list- its an undeniable class act - but just a little surprised at its elevation to the “peerage”here! Congrats to Nicole Rolet the owner and her team.

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The "prix malin" ( bargains) of the Northern Rhone

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Been spending a fair bit of time in the Northern Rhone of late - had a lot of fun, met a lot of “sympa” winemakers - but oh my God are these wines wickedly pricy! Most top end Cote Rotie/Hermitage is beyond my usual budget and Condrieu/Saint-Joseph/Cornas not far behind. Us Southern Rhone wine fans are thoroughly spoilt by the terrific price/quality ratio we are used to….even if we shop at Chateauneuf du Pape. However, increasingly it seems NR vignerons are creating economies of scale by introducing entry level wines ( at IGP/Vin de France level) to their ranges at modest prices - €10 to €15 is typical. These are from vines planted usually on the plateau above the hills , or on the flat near the river. Many of these are fabulous “little Cote Rotie” Syrahs or “little Condrieu” viogniers like the “La Champine” pictured from serious Cote Rotie/Condrieu man Jean-Michel Gerin. His neighbour Guillaume Clusel is making a juicy Gamay based red from the Coteaux Lyonnais ( pictured = “Traboules”), a little known outpost of Beaujolais actually south of Lyon just before you hit the Syrah slopes. Easy on both the palate and the pocket these wines.

It's Découvertes time again at the Palais du Papes!

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All signed up and badged up for the biennial mega Rhone tasting session that is the “Découvertes en Vallée du Rhone” , four days ( April 15th to 18th) of Rhone hedonism in the magnificent setting of the Palais du Pape. With more than 600 exhibitors showing their wines, turning up without a clear strategy of whose wines you want to taste is likely to leave you completely bewildered - where the hell do you start? The event is super well organised have to say and this year hoping to get to a couple of the Matt Walls /Andrew Jefford hosted masterclasses in as well.

Les 3 Barbus

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Recently we visited maverick winemaker Stanislas Wallut of Domaine de Villeneuve at Chateauneuf du Pape, we were amused by his label ( “Les Trois Barbus” = bearded ones) for the collaboration he has going with two other bearded gentleman in the Northern Rhone , Mathieu Barret of Cornas, and David Reynaud at Crozes Hermitage, a fine blend of Stanislas’s old vine Grenache and Syrah from the North. At Stanislas's recommendation I caught up with David last month at his caveau on the plains of Crozes Hermitage – very nice guy, an excellent bio-dynamic producer of Crozes and a very fine looking beard to boot!

Another great Truffle & Wine Tour

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Last week we took our guests out for another of our seasonal ( January or February) Truffle & Wine tours - really lucked out yet again with the weather , bright blue skys and no frost to deter the dog, Junior, from doing his work - found more than 400g in around 50 minutes ( and at €800 per kilo thats good going!). With Nicolas Monnier’s fab truffle cooking , a slap up 5 course truffle dinner at Fleur Bleu ( merci David) , and winery tastings at Solitude, Escaravailles, Saint-Amant and with an “on great form” Philippe Gimel of Saint Jean du Barroux ,a good time was had by all.