It has been a busy day. I was leading a team at the Sommelier Wine Awards in Vauxhall until 3.20 pm, and then I hot footed it along the Thames to Westminster, and One Great George Street, for the Berry Bros & Rudd Rhone 2011 en primeur tasting.
This is a great chance to try the new wines from one of my favourite regions, the Northern Rhone. My regret is that my already stretched palate didn’t allow me to do a proper sampling of the Southern Rhone, also – a shame. I restricted myself to just one producer in the south, Domaine St Prefert, so my general comments are all about the north.
The headline: it’s a good vintage. They’re not big, muscular wines, but they aren’t dilute, thin wines, either. There were plenty with enough concentration and character to be compelling, and if you love the region, it’s worth thinking about making some purchases. I found freshness, beauty, and – above all – drinkability. Not a vintage for investors (Rhones, generally, aren’t the sorts of wines that investors go for), but one for those who like to drink.
My highlights? They come in two sorts. First of all, absolute quality, not bearing value for money in mind. Second, that happy intersection of great wines that I could actually consider shelling out my hard-earned on. I’m going to give points here, but these are cask samples in the main, so put a range in place. I’ll also give prices per 12 in bond, but many of the wines are available in six-pack, which is generally preferable.
Niero’s Condrieu Cuvee de Chery is a beautiful example, pure delicate and fine (94, £300), as is Georges Verney’s Condrieu Les Terasses de l’Empire (93, £384) and Coteau de Vernon (95, £696). I really like Pierre Gaillard’s wines, which are honest and open, with expressive fruit. His Cote Rotie, with 10% Viognier, is beautifully pure and perfumed (93, £288) and his Cote Rotie Rose Pourpre is sleek and elegant with spicy bite (94, £300).
Domaine Pichon’s St Joseph is a real bargain, with fresh black cherry fruit and grippy spiciness (92, £126). Yves Cuilleron has produced a remarkable Condrieu Vertige (95, £528) with amazing powerful apricot and pear fruit, but his reds are currently a bit woody, although they show amazing purity and intensity of fruit.
I was quite taken by the wines of Pierre-Jean Villa, made in a modern style but with lovely intensity. His Seyssuel L’Esprit d’Antan from schist soils on the other side of the river from Cote Rotie has amazing intensity (94, £270), and his old vine Cote Rotie Carmina (with 30% whole bunch) is sweet, ripe, powerful and complex (94, £360).
Maxime Graillot’s wines are remarkable value for money. His Domaine des Lises Crozes Hermitage, with 25% whole bunch, is vivid, peppery, intense and ripe (93, £126), and the des Lises St Joseph is even better – fine, expressive and vital (94, £132).
Domaine Combier is also brilliant value, but in a slightly riper, more forward style. The regular Crozes Hermitage is the one to go for (93, £132).
I liked Emmanuel Darnard’s Crozes Hermitage Les Trois Chenes quite a bit, with its floral aromatics and dense black fruits palate (93, £132). And Domaine Vincent Paris had a very good vintage in 2011, with the Granit 30 (93, £186) and Granit 60 (94, £252) showing vivid freshness, while La Geynale showing amazing mineral elegance and softeness of texture (94, £300).
My sole foray south was a good one. Isabel Ferrando makes some of the greatest Chateauneufs of all at Domaine St Prefert, and of the three she was showing, I preferred the Reserve Auguste Favier, a blend of 85% Grenache with 15% Cinsault. Sweetly fruited, mineral, and really elegant (95, £288).
The BBR offer is here: http://www.bbr.com/fine-wine/rhone-en-primeur-2011