The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 22 of 148

STEVEN SPURRIER'S LETTER FROM LONDON The Northern Rhône A PHOTO: DECANTER 22 / the tasting panel / may 2013 week in the Rhône Valley leading a group from Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours, showed to all of us how sensational these wines are. A series of good vintages—perhaps only 2002 and to a lesser extent 2008 were below par—and dedication to make every grape variety, every terroir express its most, has resulted in a very wide range of wines with vibrancy and vigour, character and class. Vintage-wise, the reds are better than whites in 2012, the reverse is true in 2011, everything is great in 2010 and the same in 2009 with a little more alcohol, pleasant enough 2008s, rich and robust 2007s, elegantly firm 2006s and ripe and structured 2005s. A Monday morning start in Ampuis saw Philippe Guigal showing us a lovely Condrieu 2011 and the superb special cuvée La Doriane, followed by their classic 2009 white Hermitage and a magnificent white 2009 Ermitage Ex Voto from over 100-year-old vines that would rival the best Montrachet. Four 1999 reds followed: a good Crozes-Hermitage, the house classic Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde as good as ever, superbly structured Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis and finally the richly smooth and seductive La Mouline from vines as far back as 1893. From Guigal it was across the river to Domaine Georges Vernay, where Christine Amsellem, daughter of the great Georges Vernay—who as Mayor of Condrieu in the late 1960s and early 1970s saved the appellation, then down to under a dozen hectares, from extinction and thereby saved the Viognier grape for the world—was named "Man of the Year 2012 by Béttane-Dessauve. Their two 2011 Condrieus— Terrasses de l'Empire and the more complex Chaillées de l'Enfer—were loral, long and even minerally, while the 2010 Côte-Rôtie Blonde du Seigneur showed a subtle texture of the best Burgundies. Then it was down to Tain l'Hermitage where the Chapoutier tasting room is at the foot of the Hermitage Hill. All Michel Chapoutier's vineyards are farmed biodynamically, which perhaps gives their vines an added individuality for his famous "Sélections Parcellaires," single vineyard plots from the terraced Hermitage vineyards. Certainly his white 2008 Ermitage de l'Orée and his red 2006 Ermitage Pavillon could hardly be rivalled for concentration of expression. Neighbours and historic rivals Paul Jaboulet Aîné, taken over in 2006 by the Frey family, ex-owners of Champagne Ayala and now also of Château La Lagune, have always blended the best from their Hermitage holding of Les Bessards, Le Méal, Les Rocoules, etc., to create the famous La Chapelle and lately, in Bordeaux fashion, they have produced a "second wine," La Petite Chapelle, whose 2007 is quite ready now. The whites, under the consultancy of Bordeaux's Denis Dubourdieu, have improved tremendously, with the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Mue Blanche being a sure bet for another few years and the 2010 Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg a triumph of irm lorality through to 2020. As Vernay is to Guigal, so is Domaine Alain Graillot to Chapoutier and Jaboulet. With 18 hectares of Syrah on stony ex-riverbed soils and three of the white Marsanne grape, he makes some of the appellation's best wines, with his oenology training in Burgundy and many friends from the DRC downwards being much in evidence. His 2011 white for now (bottled under Stelvin to preserve freshness) and 2010 red (no de-stemming here, which serves to add structure and diminish alcohol) will go straight to my cellar for a future pleasure, especially the barrel selection 2009 La Guiraude which beats many Hermitages. Finally, down to Cornas, where the ebullient, irrepressible Jean-Luc Colombo, now aided by his daughter Laure as winemaker, continues to produce wines that perfectly exemplify his joie de vivre. From his crisp white 2011 Saint-Péray Belle de Mai to his famous 2010 Cornas Les Ruchets (the 2006 is great now) and the extraordinary 2010 Cornas Vallon de l'Aigle, which needs another decade, his wines are the heart and soul of the Northern Rhône. I shall write about the South next month.

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