Chateauneuf & Friends – a tasting of the Southern Rhone
Following on from the Northern Rhone event, the second Rhone tastings at the West London Wine School focused on the Southern section of the region… Oh how I could feel the fragrant warmth of the region in each glass…
The smell of lavender, fennel, dried rosemary and thyme fills the air of the Southern Rhone, where spicy Grenache is the champion grape. Wines made with Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes, often with lashings of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. This is a very inviting region with extremely inviting wines. The classification system is straightforward, although not always a true indicator of quality; it pays to know the winemaker as well as the classification, as a good winemaker’s Cotes du Rhone can be far superior to a bad one’s Chateuneuf du Pape.
There are a plethora of grape varieties planted in the area. For reds you’ll find Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, and quite a few others. But the Southern Rhone is also home to a whole host of white varieties: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Viognier and Picopoul, to name but a few. In fact there are a total of 18 varieties permitted in the blend of Chateuneuf-du-Pape!
The classification starts with basic Cotes du Rhone, which stretches over 200km and covers over 83,000 hectares of vineyards. We then move up the quality pyramid to Cotes du Rhone Villages (approx. 3,000ha), which is a selection of 95 communes making better quality wine. Next it’s the “named” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which over the years have consistently produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label; there are 18 of these villages, my favourites being Sablet and Cairanne. Finally, we come to the “Crus”; these are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have earned the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhone Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Vinsobres, Gigondas and, the most famous of all, Chateuneuf du Pape. All of these “Crus” have Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) status for red wines, but only some are allowed to use the village name for whites and rose; Tavel, for instance only has AOC status for rose wines, and Vaqueyras, we learnt during our stay there last summer, is the only Cru where the AC covers Red, White and Rose.
This fascinating and delicious tasting consisted of a selection of white red and sweet wines from different levels of the classification (and thanks to Matt for sending the notes I left at the end of the tasting!).
Domaine de Foudreche Eclats Cotes du Ventoux 2012 (Cadman £9.99)
Interesting blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. A delightful nose of pear, peach and even a hint of orangey clementine; very clean, a touch of slate and even a hint of honey. Fresh and juicy initially but just missing the degree of sharpness that I enjoy in a white wine, and just a bit pithy and flabby. I was seduced by the aromas and really wanted to like it but just a bit short on flavour. 86 points
Domaine des Escaravailles La Galopine Cores du Rhone Blanc 2012 (Waitrose £18.99)
45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne, 10% Viognier. Floral aromas come first then there’s pear, apricot and grapefruit, with a touch of almond, marzipan even. Full bodied with a delightful attack of pear and lively citrus. There’s a nuttiness, creaminess with an attractive bitter almond finish. I didn’t expect to like this but there’s plenty of interest and complexity and good, long finish. 90 points
Chateau de Baucastel Vieilles Vignes 2010 (Hedonism £108.40)
100% Roussanne. Wow, wow, wow! Heavenly aromas of lemon balm, clementine and also a touch of the tropics. It smells rich and creamy and there’s nuts, flashes of wet stone and lemon thyme. On the palate the wine is graceful with a wonderfully full but soft texture and oh so complex. Peaches, oranges, cantaloupe melon and apple skin all combine with delightful nuts and just a wisp of dairy. It just seems to give a bit of everything but in perfect balance. Wonderful. 95 points (wine of the tasting).
E Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2009 (Waitrose £10.99 – now onto the 2010)
50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mouvedre. Brambly black fruit and smoke with delicious hints of dried herbs and just a touch of liquorice. Slightly chewy tannin upfront before the dark fruit shines through with a great blast of smoke and black pepper. More Cru quality than lowly Cotes du Rhone – if you have around £10 to spend on a bottle of wine you’ll struggle to find a better quality available in the supermarket. 91 points (obviously the best value wine of the night!)
La Famille Perrin Domaine des Tourelles Gigondas 2010 (Berry Bros £39.95)
Blend of Grenache and Syrah. Still very young so the wine was decanted 4 hours prior to tasting. Turbo-charged smoke and spice with hugely powerful dark and brooding fruit and just a hint of dried cranberry and touches of sweet vanilla and oak. On the palate the wine is massive; super spicy, lashings of black pepper then hints of sweet oak. Still very tannic and needs plenty of time. This is a big, bold and powerful modern wine, a real sledgehammer. 91 points
Domaine les Goubert Gigondas 2010 (Roberson have magnums of 2007 at £32.46)
This wasn’t advertised on the tasting list but Jimmy kindly decided to open a more traditional example of Gigondas after the Tourelles lip-smacker. Softer more elegant nose with red and black fruit and the irresistible smell of herbs de Provence. Smooth and silky with lots of red cherry as well as ripe blackberry, supported with smoke, spice and pepper. A totally different wine to the first example and more to my liking. 92 points (PS: that magnum price looks a steal for the marvellous 2007 vintage)
Chateau de Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape Rouge 1999 (Farr Vintners £40.00)
Beaucastel use all of the permitted grape varieties in their assemblage. The wonderful smell of aged wine but still with plenty of fruit. Red cherry, strawberry and dried cranberry, supported with notes of roasted meat, leather and even a hint of truffle. So fresh with raspberry-spiked fruit before the dried figgy notes come through. The tannins are soft and smooth and the texture is so elegant with a fresh, sweet and long finish. Superb balance and freshness and real finesse. 94 points
Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 1995 (Berry Brothers £61.40)
Actually smells younger and fresher than the 1999. Lots of strawberry and cranberry aromas before we get the sweet, dried fruit and sweet spice – wonderfully elegant. Lots of red fruit and freshness with gentle and elegant spice. There’s plenty of fruit but the evolution is more pronounced on the palate with a pleasant dose of spices and dried herbs. Not as complex as the 1999 but certainly makes up for it in elegance. 93 points
Domaine Escaravailles Rasteau Blanc Vins Doux Naturels (Wiliam Baber Wines £17.50)
100% Muscat. Aromas of grape and pear with hints some floral and honey notes. I have to be honest, all I can taste is alcohol (16.5%). There is a hint of honey sweetness but that’s about all. 82 points
Domaine Escaravailles Rasteau Rouge Vins Doux Naturels (Field & Fawcett £19.90)
100% Grenache. This is more like it! Raspberry liqueur brightness with a touch of liquorice and black spice. Plenty of red fruit upfront and extremely fresh juicy and ever so moreish. Jimmy also provided some wonderful Valrhona chocolate, which was a delightful pairing. Like the best strawberry cream ever! 89 points