Getting a grip on the Rhône

Overton’s blind tasting group themed tasting this month was quite simply Rhône reds. Between us we managed – without any conferring – to bring 10 different North or south?appellations, five from the north and five from the south.  Out first challenge was to identify whether the first flight of five wines was northern or southern. Mercifully there was near unanimity that we were in Syrah country, not Grenache/ Syrah/ Mourvèdre blends, north not south, on account of the homogeneity of the wines, their relative austerity (no juicy Grenache) and lightness.  Having successfully jumped the modest first hurdle, we could settle down and enjoy the evening.

Tasting five basically Syrah wines from five geographical zones with a spread of age (2000-09) and trying to place them was quite a challenge.  One wine was markedly youthful and was easy to spot as such, but then the best wine of all was the oldest but was remarkably youthful.  Two had the varnish hints of VA which you could have mistaken for age.  The youthful Les Monestiers, Syrah, David Reynaud, Vin de Payes des Colliner Rhodanniennes 2009 had the tell tale purple edge and was relatively simple if with red berry and floral notes.  But Clos de Caminailles, Côte Rôtie, Pierre Gaillard 2005 was a bit closed up on the nose if on the palate the ripe fruit covered the tannins successfully.  The same maker’s St-Joseph 2008 showed good red fruit, but again was not that fragrant and quite simple.  The rather older Cornas, Les Chailles, Alain Chaille, 2003 had the hint of varnish but then showed real class – perhaps the most complex of this group with polished fine red fruit and grippy tannins, surprising given the warmth of the year.  But the wine that was most fragrant was Domaine de Thalabert, Crozes Hermitage, Jaboulet, 2000. Despite its twelve plus years, it was remarkably youthful with an excellent complex fruit and raisin palate, soft tannins and sweet fruit on the finish. 

South

Off then to the south. Again we had five appellations to chose from though those were likely to include and indeed did include the two multi-village Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. (Theoretically these wines could be from the north but in practice they are not.) The real test was whether we could spot the grandest appellation, if of course it was present. It was … and we couldn’t! Both the Gigondas and the Vacqueyras were mistaken for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

Wine number one had a real yeast or marmite nose and then the sweet juicy fruit of the south.  It had a certain French reserve but also meaty, grippy texture, quite intense red fruit and a softer finish:  La Griffe, Domaine de Villeneuf, Côtes-du-Rhône, 2010. The tannins were back in force in Château de Saint Cosme, Gigondas, 2005 with its quite powerful nose, herby and fruity palate and demandingly grippy palate.   The grippiness continued with an older wine: Vacqueyras, Paul Jaboulet, 2000 with its soft fruit. medium intensity nose and full palate.   The wine which really was CNP had smooth developed notes, rich prune fruit and obvious fruit sweetness:  Vielles Vignes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Elisabeth Chamberlan, 2003.  And finally there was Les Coteaux Schisteux, Séguret, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Boutinot, 2003, huge, full of developed rounded, sweet fruit but with a bit of a bitter edge.   It is fair to say that in general the wines of the north were (at least to my palate) subtler, more complex and more enjoyable. 

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