The Rhône valley has been our wine region of choice in 2013. Overton’s blind tasting group has chosen it no fewer than four times in the last year. Clearly we can’t get enough of it as this week’s tasting – north and south, white and red – was a great success. As it turned out and with no conferring, the wines fell neatly into four flights. (OK – there was a bit of direction from our Director of Wines; all organisations need a director or two these days.)
I was tired on the evening of the tasting and was not immediately sure what the first two whites were. After some time in the glass – and especially when compared to the next flight – it became very clear: semi-aromatic stone fruit with a silky palate, medium in weight, very different levels of sophistication. While the first wine led with overt fruit, the second was much more closed up but had much greater concentration and length. The hint of toffee and apple here was the product of a few years in the bottle.
Viognier, Cuilleron, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniens, 2010
Condrieu AC, E Guigal, 2008
With three whites in front of us, the fun really began. They were all blends but what else could we say about them? The first was initially oaky but also showed a much higher level of acidity than the Viognier above. All three were full in the mouth, pretty high alcohol, with little obvious fruit but with herbal and mineral hints; weighty whites that impress. Wine three was clearly older than the other two – a deeper lemon colour in the glass, much more developed (fatter, with floral notes emerging after half an hour). For its weight, we plumped correctly for Chåteauneuf-du-Pape for number three but could not agree which was the generic Côtes-du-Rhône and which a single appellation.
Lieu-Dit, Saint-Joseph Blanc AC, E Guigal, 2009
Domaine de la Janasse, Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc 2011
Château Fortia, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2003
This was here that I really noticed the tiredness, not least in that I couldn’t initially decided if this was a Syrah flight or a southern Rhône line-up! What became clear was that wine number 1 was in a different league to the other two with its elegant maturing fruit, vegetal and mushroom notes and intensity. It had that pleasantly acetic scent, which it would share with a wine vastly older than it. By comparison, the next two showed nice young fruit with a touch of greenness (surprisingly) and warmer red and black fruit … and these last two from a great if recent vintage:
Côte-Rôtie, Pierre Gaillard, 2005
Saint-Joseph, Georges Vernay, 2010
Crozes-Hermitage, Alberic Bouvet, 2010
Well, they had to be from the southern Rhône by now and indeed they were … again three wines, one which at a glance was much older than the other two. But could we spot the Châteauneuf? as opposed to the other supposedly lesser appellation? The old/very old wine was in excellent condition and likely to be from the grandly named region … but the Vacqueyras did not show a hint of rusticity to set it apart – standards have been rising rapidly. Both younger wines showed rounded fruit, smooth and even with a hint of chocolate.
And how old was the venerable wine in the garnet glass? We had a vote for most of each of the last five decades … I went for 40 years and still too conservative. Ch. Rayas 1967 was in superb condition with a fabulous aroma of mushrooms and old wood but with fresh, lovely acidity. Remarkable. We have some very generous friends.
Vacqueyras, N. Perrin, 2006
Château La Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 2008
Château Rayas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 1967
Here’s to the next journey up the majestic Rhône valley.