The ‘Bring a bottle’ club’s theme this month was the southern Rhône, an interesting counterpoint to the usual preference for the mainly more prestigious wines of the northern section of this great river. But it proved an inspired choice with some great bottles, both white and red. There were a few disappointments too with oxidized and corked bottles – and some, shall we say ‘broad’ interpretations of the southern Rhône itself. But all in all, this was a very worthwhile evening showing the high quality of the wines from the region. The wines were marked by good fruit on the palate, a structure which would make them amiable companions for food, controlled alcohol levels and balancing freshness. The best was full-flavoured, complex and with some elegance.
The evening began with four whites, three of which were in good condition. The first, pictured above left, was very pale but had good peach, citrus and almond notes and then something vegetal. Its acidic freshness was notable – but easily explained by the fact that it was a barrel sample of a wine from Domaine de la Graveirette 2011. It is currently a simple ‘vin de France’ (the new vin de pays category) but, as the Grenache Blanc (70%) and Clairette vines age, it is will graduate to being a Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. By contrast, Les Archevéques, AC Saint-Peray, Les Vins de Vienne, 2009 was a fully formed classic already. The bright citrus fruit and herbiness were accompanied by some well-judged oak and the palate was complex, nutty and intense. But the real question is, can it be regarded as southern Rhône? – strictly ‘no’ as it is the most southern of the northern Rhône ACs, but when the wine is this good, nobody is going to complain. 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. Definitely from the south was Mas des Restanques, Vacqueyras Blanc 2011, made from Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. This comes from a tiny 0.73-hectare plot and is fermented in new, large barrels which have have been full of water for a year to calm down the new oak effect. Very good nectarine, peach kernel and citrus on the nose was followed by a long fruit finish on the palate. Some thought it was a bit expensive at £27. Sadly, Ch. Simone Blanc, AC Palette 2001 had strongly oxidized banana and caramel aromas on the nose but intriguingly the fruit on the palate had withstood the rigours of time (and oxygen) better.
The second half of the evening featured six red wines. Jean-Michel Serin, Champin le Seigneur, Côte Rôtie 2005 was showing sweet fruit, a slight tertiary note and a voluptuous palate – a superb wine even if from the most northern of the northern Rhône appellations. Three wines definitely in the zone followed. First up was Ch. de Saint Cosme, Gigondas 1999 with olive, leather and black fruit evident. Guess the vintage produced a range of possibilities from the 1980s and 90s. The red sibling of Mas des Restanques, Vacqueyras 2009, a Grenache/ Syrah blend grown on sand and limestone soils also showed well. Dense fruit, a hint of chocolate and understandably young tannins made a fine glass of wine. The third red also threw up a range of possible vintages but in the 2005-07 range: lively fruit, silky tannins and just a tertiary hint from a surprisingly subtle wine at a relatively low price. In fact Dom. Le Clos des Cazaux, Cuvée Saint-Roch 2002 turned out to be a sprightly 10-year-old. And finally, and, yes, strictly speaking out of zone again, this time towards the south, was the excellent Ch. Simone, AC Palette 2001 in its red form: some farmyard notes, good red and black fruit, and fine slightly drying tannins as a part of a complex palate. The blend here on the Mediterranean is 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah and 20% other varieties.
Thanks to all for a great evening. And there was Châteauneuf-du-Pape in its classic red version but sadly it was corked. But there is more to the southern Rhône than its most famous appellation.