Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Bonnes Mares de Vogue 1949 - 1999

Very few Domaines need as little introduction as Domaine de Vogüé. Dating back to the 15th century it has been under the same ownership for 20 generations. The general manager, Jean-Luc Pepin, was in attendance to host the evening with Jordi (to whom so many thanks as ever) in a unique retrospective of the Domaine's Bonnes Mares. Even Jean-Luc has never done so extensive a tasting of Bonnes Mares as this. I must declare my bias here as I work for the UK agent of this great Domaine. The bottles for this tasting were all bought by Jordi over the course of 6 or 7 years with as little research as is possible. 
Ready for battle...
By way of a little background I found this: de Vogue Bonnes Mares - Terroir insight by Wine Hog which I think is a good overview and includes a good map (love a map me!). The one analogy Adam used that Jean-Luc liked and re-uses is that you "would want Bonnes Mares on your side in a fight"...

To kick off as people gathered we had Philipponnat Clos de Goisses 2004 en magnum - A shade reduced, a little cocoa bean and reduction on the nose like a late release Champagne. A food Champagne was how I view this, vinous and rich with good texture and enough life.
A very good appetiser for what lay ahead... 
The team at the square did a good job with the food, all of which was a high standard but importantly played a good second fiddle to the wine. Nothing over powering and the service worked well as there was no over emphasis on trying to match things. A flight of wines was poured, into not overly big glasses (a good thing), then the food followed. The menu is below:

Amuse Bouche

Crisp Milk Fed Veal Sweetbreads with New Season’s Wet Garlic,

Violet Artichokes and Preserved Lemon

Slow Cooked Fillet of Cod with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Smoked Anchovy and Red Wine

Roast Organic Guinea Hen with Smoked Sausage of the Leg, Creamed Morels, Provencal White Asparagus and Roasting Juices

So now it was time to get going:
"Modern" vintages
Modern vintages: These tastings always focus on vintages that are mature or at the very least maturing. Whilst this started with the 1999 I have heard good things about the 2000 and had the 2001 recently at a cracking dinner in St.Emilion and it's delicious...this was a stunning flight.

1999 - Pure colour, actually the colours in the first two flights were very consistent, with a tiny bit of development. Lovely fresh mulled red fruits on the nose. This is the only wine on the evening that was most certainly primary. Really good balance and density, a shade reduced and a little hint of cheesecloth, sweet berry fruit on finish. Very promising.

1996 - Good colour and clarity. A little pine-like spice, richness on the nose, palate good but a shade drier, quite taut and serious. Some sweetness. There is a very "1996 like" sternness. I like this and would like to drink a bottle, it isn't showey enough to standout in a tasting like this but is good.

1993 - A slightly deeper colour, deliciously sweet and succulent, not just red fruit on the palate, good depth, a shade of clementine and tangerine. This is a little bigger than some of the 1993's I've had. Delicious and certainly still loosening up and improving! Very fine.

1990 - Good colour, pure, delicious, opulent, decadent, this is a little degraded. It doesn't quite have the poise and focus of the 1993 or 1999 but has an easy appeal of obviously being good....very 1990-ish 

1989 - A shade lighter in colour but so bright and so clean. A shade of animal character just showing a little more a maturity. Pure and lovely sweet fruit, really delicious, this is a feminine and sweet, poised wine. A little herbaceousness certainly, this is, on this showing, a classier and more refined wine than the good, but more brutish 1990. Special.
1988 - A shade more evolved, a dash more texture, almost a slightly chalky, powdered feel. At the same time it is very moreish and a little saline, the note doesn't seem "glowing" but this is good and a little like the 1996 in being very typical of the vintage.
The classics
Classic vintages: A dangerous title given that it raises expectation.

1985 - Paler and lighter in colour but so clear and clean. A little development but such profound sweetness, a lovely greenness that gives energy. This is a really super wine, focus but generous, rich but not remotely weighty. Special, graceful, perfect now.
1979 - Bright, clean and lean. This is in a similar style to the 1985, it remained remarkably consistent in the glass, not budging an inch. Great persistence and poise. Lovely.  

1978 - Slightly less clear as a colour. More texture, a little more degraded but at the same time saline, this is bigger and bolder than anything else going back to the 1990. Opulent and generous. Nicely a little vulgar.

1976 - More red to the colour here. This is very deep and quite resinous. Serious and with really decadent richness and opulence. There is a sense of the hot and dry season but not of burnt fruit. The image is one of small intense berries. Very good indeed.

1970 - A shade orange in colour, clear madeirisation, the palate initially had a dash of sweetness but ultimately this is not right.

1967 - This has a little madeirsation but whilst the 1970 does not appear to be representative I think this probably is as 1967 is just very tricky.
Illustrious indeed!
Illustrious vintages of the George de Vogüé era:

1966 - Sensational wine this. Good colour, lovely saline, some smoke and generosity but also focus. Rose petals and delicate aromas, a little like the 1985 in character but with even more to give. Staggeringly good.

1964 - Slightly frazzled, degraded even, then a little fruit and some sweetness but ultimately this is not in perfect condition.

1962 - Delicious, seriously giving the 1966 a run for its money. Herbs, cocoa bean and then some spices before a little coffee but all with good intensity. There is an element of the 1976 character here. Special.

1959 - Clean bright colour, some decaying fruit, clinging on a little. Interesting.

1953 - Sweet decay, a slightly milky texture, this actually got a little better with air which was unexpected.

1949 - Smells a little herbal, almost minty with some saline too, a shade powdery in texture. This is interesting and not dead if a shadow of what it probably once was.
The last flight!
Musigny Blanc mystery vintage - So this had to be 1994 or older as the white has been named Bourgogne Blanc since, knowing Jordi it could well have been much older. There was a grapefruit character and some citrus. To me there was an almost Chablis like quality. Clearly very little new oak. It was impressive and enjoyably pure too but I really needed to know what it was. One of our number got it bang on saying it reminded him of another white of the same vintage - Corton-Charlemagne from Bonneau du Martray - it was the 1987 vintage.

Fonseca 1963 followed on and was lovely, a little volatile, slightly raisin like. The marzipan character was there but in perfect balance with the succulent dried fruits. Another reminder, as in the last post, that we really should drink more good port.

Jordi, in a fit of generosity, then opened two more bottles both of vintages we had had earlier - 1976 and 1953. The 1976 was a fresher bottle, insanely so. The previous bottle was superb and what you would hope it would be in terms of maturity. This bottle tasted more like the 1993 than any other wine of the night, amazing really. The 1953 was a more lively bottle, showing more fruit and a little more balance...

All in all a stunning evening, a really good group, everyone's expectations were surpassed. What we learnt I think is that Bonnes Mares from de Vogue is more that capable of Red Burgundy of the highest order and is not to be underestimated. Also that whilst the de Vogue style is one that repays cellaring this has been exaggerated...I look forward to many more vintages in the future.

Thank you Jordi and thank you Jean-Luc for your insights!
Amouse Bouche
Crisp Milk Fed Veal Sweetbreads with New Season’s Wet Garlic,
Violet Artichokes and Preserved Lemon

Slow Cooked Fillet of Cod with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Smoked Anchovy and Red Wine
Roast Organic Guinea Hen with Smoked Sausage of the Leg, Creamed Morels, Provencal White Asparagus and Roasting Juices

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Perfect Petrus...

I am incredibly late writing up this truly wonderful evening that happened before Christmas last year. The evening was all about Petrus. The location was the stunning Dumfries House. It's an easy thing to say but this was a truly memorable time. The hosts were a combination of three of the team from Corney & Barrow (of which I was delighted to be one) then Christophe Jacquemin Sablon (CEO) and Olivier Berrouet (Winemaker from 2008 having taken over from his father Jean-Claude who was in charge from 1964-2008) from Petrus.
We started the evening with a tour of the house and a small explanation of the amazing works that go on all over the estate (this continued with a driven tour the following morning). It is a fascinating estate and story, one worth looking at the website to find out more about it.

We then gathered in the drawing room and started the evening with the rather splendid Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 1996 En Magnum. The 1996 was a vintage of Delamotte that all got sold to the Japanese market so I had never had it before. A lovely combination of toastiness and freshness with a lemon shortbread finish, very moreish and very appetising

We were then piped through to the spectacular dining room and a delicious looking menu of:

Half Lobster with Beurre Blanc

Roast Pigeon Breast with a Pea and Bacon Salad

Dumfries House Estate Venison with Market Vegetables, Roasted Shallots, Potato Puree and Thyme Jus

A Selection of Locally Sourced Cheeses (Aiket, KIlbride, Cheddar and Arran Blue)

With the opening speeches and the first course we had Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2011 En Magnum from Bonneau du Martray which, whilst on the youthful side, is drinking very well now like the vast majority of the 2011's. It has a steely classicism but not quite the searing acidity that you might expect of Bonneau at 4 years of age. Very good indeed with the delicious Lobster, quite a combination.

Now of course, it was time for Petrus, this most famous of Pomerols. I have been very lucky to have both visited and drunk my fair share of Petrus over the last decade or so. This 11.5 ha site with vines of 45 years age on average is planted, historically, with 97% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is actually now pretty much 100% Merlot. We were to have the vintages served in two pairs. Older, and from more difficult vintages, first then the younger stellar vintages. This has the advantage of showing grace and maturity before power although it is not necessarily the conventional order. Olivier Berrouet did comment, with a twinkle in the eye, that of course these were his father's wines and he could not be "blamed". The wines had all come from the Chateau a moth or so earlier.

Olivier speaks...
Petrus 1969 - This was described as a lighter style of Petrus by Olivier, "a style that doesn't really exist anymore". The wine was delicate but persistent, not tired. The nose had notes of grapefruit and citrus almost a cool tropicality. I loved it, a shade of menthol and a good gentle balance.

Petrus 1979 En magnum - A growing season with quite high rainfall and limited warmth. This was by contrast to the 1969 (and accentuated by the format) a richer more succulent wine all round. Very iron-like and savoury, a wine to wallow in, a wine of depth and texture. As with the 1969 this far exceeds the vintages reputation.

Petrus 1990 - Velvet and superb weightlessness, supreme even, so moreish with a battle between red and black fruit. My note is clearly too concise, quite rightly this was a wine to enjoy and drink rather than write about. There was a brief comment about the contrast between 1989 and 1990 for Petrus. Olivier said that in 1989 the spring and early summer were hot then it was cooler later, pretty much the opposite in 1990.

Petrus 2000 - Savoury, granite, stones, so youthful, delicious, packed with fruit, decadent and rich. Stunning balance...depth, depth, depth, so much texture but without being heavy. I was trying to compare it to the 2001 that I once had and it seemed less extrovert than that vintage, may be more serious, more understated confidence.
The combination of the food, the wonderful conversations and the fact that there are never going to be enough occasions in life when you have four vintages of Petrus in front of you made for a wonderful atmosphere. The receptiveness of everyone to the Grahams 1970, bottled by Whighams of Ayr, was tremendous, I find myself saying it often but we don't drink enough good Port! We did on this occasion.

As the harpist, oh yes you have to have a harpist, played her last, rather brilliant notes we were joined by a singer and a fiddler...this went well with the Hine 1987 Early landed Cognac, bottled in 2006, which I find to be the most drinkable of all spirits, so mellow and refined...

The evening carried on late, with singing and cigars back at the lodges, a few sore heads in the morning...

What fun!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Tuscan evening...

Back in March a customer of a colleague wanted to do a celebratory Tuscan dinner and I was roped in to help given my penchant for all things Italian. It was a cracking line up for dinner but first we had a vertical of Andrea Franchetti's Tenuta di Trinoro from Magnum. Having done a few verticals before this was an exciting prospect.

Whilst everyone gathered we started the evening with a glass of Guilio Ferrari Riserva Franciacorta 2002, I know Ferrari pretty well from Zucca days of old, this 2002 had spent 10 years on the lees and is from 100% Chardonnay having been first made in 1972. A good good fizz with character and a nutty freshness.

Then it was time to start the evening proper, to have Andrea there to lead the tasting made it all the more special. Andrea gave an overview back to the start of the estate even before the first vintage which was 1997.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2009 Magnum - This has sublime completeness, rounded ripe tannins and delicious decadent yet fresh fruits, it is a wine to drink now or in 20 years time. It comes across, and this is easy for someone who has never made wine to say, as a wine that probably made itself. Long lasting red and black fruits, no signs of oak just ripe aromas.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2007 Magnum - Andrea commented how this was a vintage characterised by a low water table and a lack of water in the season itself. The vintage, fortunately, was not excessively hot in itself. There is a more secondary nature to this wine, a little less obvious juicy fruit and a more leathery, tobacco and savoury element. It is more degraded and more animalistic, there is a spiciness too.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2003 Magnum - The 2003 is seductive and in many ways has the opposite challenges of the 2007, very hot but not without a decent reserve of water from the wet 2002 vintage. I like this wine, there is a feel of smaller more concentrated berries but not a lack of freshness. Impressive.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2000 Magnum - "So complete" is how my not starts here, at 15 years of age this is in a lovely place, neither vibrantly young nor decaying, it just begs to be drunk. Mellow soft fruit, not bruised but easy to appreciate. Some of the character of the 2009 but with the lighting dimmed down. A wine you don't really need food with...just wallow in it.

We then made our way down for dinner and a lovely classcial Tuscan inspired menu.

Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Sauce

Fillet of Beef with Chianti Sauce, Rosemary Potatoes, Grilled Vegetables



The wine line up was rather monumental with a great spread of wines and vintages:

Tignanello 1988 - Sangiovese based wine with a little bit of both Cabernets. 1988 is cracking all round vintage in Tuscany, often better than the famed 1985 (which owes much to the Sasscaia 1985). This was a lovely easy mellow wine at its peak, probably has been for a while.
Brunello Case Basse, Soldera 1985 - I have a rather massive vertical of Soldera to write up and regular readers will know I love these wines and visit regularly so I will not dwell too long here. Tar and degraded sweet fruit, lovely.
Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Biondi-Santi 1990 - An iconic winery in Brunello if not seen as the dominant producer that Soldera is. This is fully mature with a lovely decayed sweetness and a good acidity with a saline aspect too.
Solaia 1982 - I learnt most of what I know about this from a vertical organised five years ago by "Sussex". This had a marked mintiness, not in bad way, it is just the Cabernet Sauvignon really showing through. This is a very early Solaia as the wine was first made in 1978. There was then a 1979 but no Solaia in '80, '81, '83 and '84. An easy and quite gentle wine.

Sassicaia 1988 - In so many ways the standard bearer for the Super Tuscans. The 1988 is a superb wine, iron and dark fruit with good body but also a completeness. I love the balance of this.

Masseto 1998 - from the most Iconic of the Cabernet Sauvignon Super Tuscans in Sassicaia we move to the Merlot one in Masseto. This wine has been around even less time than Solaia with the first wine made on 1986 but the first commercially released vintage was 1987. The 1998 is a wine I know well but before this I had not had it for 3 or 4 years. It retains a real vibrancy and densely fruited nature. A wine probably only now really getting into the drinking window. Delicious.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2011 Magnum - This is a bold vintage of Andrea's wine and shows such extreme ripeness that even Andrea at times wonders if it is too much. There is a slight toning down of the richness from the 2012. I love the decadence of this and it works well at the end of the meal.

Ornus dell'Ornellia 2009 Halves - Thomas Duroux, the former winemaker, now at Palmer, planted this plot of Petit Manseng in 2003. This is a late harvest desert wine, that is a tricky wine to describe the fruit character I'd pick out most is dried Apricot possibly with a little honey.

What a great evening... 

Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Sauce 
Fillet of Beef with Chianti Sauce, Rosemary Potatoes, Grilled Vegetables

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Rhone Epic - "En Parallel"

If you judge a trip or tour by the amount of time you spend laughing then this went rather well! This is a blog of a trip to the Rhone that followed on from the same "squads" visits of previous years. I say squad deliberately because it was with heavy hearts that we left behind three fine men who could not make it - "Dusty", "Vestier" and "Boycey" all succumbing to the rigors of everyday life. As we flew out to Lyon things started well with a rather splendid upgrade…had we peaked to soon or was this a sign of things to come? So the team in batting order:

"Fiscali", "Wardy", "Magnum", "RAW", "180" and myself all embarked with a minimum of fuss in "London" and got on with the crucial work at hand, seeing how many producers we could "tick off" whilst remaining just about compos mentis enough to really enjoy things, laugh a lot, eat well and actually, importantly, learn a bit.

You'll get the general idea from the previous two trips:

As this may be a long blog I'll get my acknowledgements in early. The Rhone is not an area I know as well, or have as many connections in, as the previous to regions. This meant more input from several people. So in no logical order many thanks to Natasha, Tanya, Rachel, Victoria, Matt, David and Oliver for their advise, suggestions and logistical nowse. The other people I must thank are all those who looked after us in restaurants and hotels and at Domaines. It is one of the most heartening of things to see how well and generously producers around the world receive guests, often who they have never met…long may it continue.
In flight entertainment!
Back to the quest at hand and in that hand was a glass of enjoyably mellow Laurent Perrier Rose and delicious it was too, possibly the most mainstream drink we had the entire four days, from here most of us moved to a little Krug Grande Cuvee, a younger batch than Mr Magnum is used to but exceptionally good. Meanwhile one of our party, Wardy, was off at the first of many tangents, he regularly starts a meal with a Coke to ease himself in, instead "dodging" the bubbles for a few glasses of Meursault 1e Cru Narvaux 2012 from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey. He was excused on three fronts, we had some too, it's delicious and there was good logic as we had met P-Y on the Burgundy trip. Quite why he saw fit to donate the other bottle of this wine to the team at our first hotel later that day, we'll never know but it was a lovely and generous touch.

Arrival in Lyon Bron was a pleasure and here we were picked up by our larger than life driver for the next four days Sebastien, little did a know what he was in for. The first destination was of course lunch and that meant the Bistrot de Serine in Ampuis. We fell straight into form, two copies of the wine list (one to me, one to Magnum to start with), get a red ordered for Wardy and a pair of whites on the go before looking at food. The dynamic was working well.

There has to be logic to the pairings and wines must come in pairs or "En Parallel" as Madame "Serine" cold us. So being in the Northern Rhone we went for  two good producers and two of the big name communes -  Hermitage Blanc 2014, Julien Pilon and Condrieu de Poncins 2014, Francois Villard - were the selections and a good start it was. The Pilon was the comfortable favourite though the Condrieu was not left friendless in the market, Raw being most appreciative. A few reasons; firstly the Condrieu may be needed to mellow, Viognier is not everyone's "bag" and Hermitage is a style far nearer those we knew well. The food here was good, solid, proper bistro style. We then ventured to Cornas for the red that had already been started, it was Cornas 2013 from Clape. Delicious too, rich dark violet fruit, iron like and arterial, Wardy commented that it was "bushy" but fruity at the same time. Then back in "land of pairs" I decided we should have two blind wines with a theme. So we had Crozes-Hermitage 1996 Domaine de Thalabert from Jaboulet and Crozes-Hermitage 2012, Alain Graillot. The link being commune of course. The team did well in getting to the age gap quite quickly. The Graillot was fresh and deep whilst the Thalabert might have been "clinging" onto life a touch. Time for one more wine and after much discussion we settled on a great choice, Chateau de Fonsalette 2003, Rayas. Rayas as a producer was, rightly, to feature large on the trip. It in one of these iconic artisan names that has almost all wine lovers salivating, a little like; Coche, H.Bonneau, DRC, Chave, Leroy, Selosse. In fact I realise know we avoided the horror of a Rayas-free day on the trip. The wine, from that savagely hot vintage showed none of the singed character you might expect this was just a red fruited joy. With a coffee to follow we told ourselves it was a "marathon not a sprint" and bid fair well to the lovely, understated, team at Bistrot de Serine, go if you can.

A first Line-up pic...
So what next? Well this was ascension day so I had drawn the blankest of blanks on visits but dinner was only four hours away. Divide and conquer, the team saw a rare splitting of resources as Raw, Wardy and Magnum headed to the hotel leaving Fiscali, 180 (though still Leechy at this stage) and myself decided that a walk up into the vineyards of Cote Rotie would be a good idea. There are few places where a trip into a vineyard is waste of time and that is certainly not the case here. Cotie Rotie is so steep and must be so hard to work, all the vines standing alone rather than on lines. It was an eye-opener even knowing what to expect. As we walked back toward Ampuis we saw a sign for Domaine Barges but little seemed to be doing. A small walk around Ampuis predictably bore little fruit until we noticed a half open door and amazingly it was the cave for the very same Domaine Barge. We were nicely welcomed by Julien Barge a charming and understated man, a tasting began.

Condrieu 2014 - Less overt than the lunch Condrieu, best in 2-5 years, good.
St.Joseph 2014 Clos des Martinets - only 5000 bottles of this get made, dark pepper spice, white pepper and good ripe clean fruit, nicely done.
Cote Rotie 2014 Le Combard - Syrah with 5% Viognier, rich yet elegant with good spice.
Cote Rotie 2013 Coeur de Combard - This is literally the "heart", i.e. top selection, of the Combard site,the first time it has been made. Cool spice and good energy, was bottled in September. Fine.
Cote Rotie 2013 Cuvee du Plessy - Rounder and more open, easier to "get", lovely.
Cote Rotie 2013 Cote Brune - This was impressive, bold, rich, good density without heaviness, brave and masculine. 
Cote Rotie 2013 Cote Blonde - Redder, almost raspberry, fruit character, delicious, palate follows through with intensity, a keeper for sure.

That was the tasting so then we asked what we could buy to drink? Julien shyly said the  Cote Rotie 2000 Cote Brune was superb and he only had 11 bottles left. He tried then to get protective of the bottle but with good grace agreed to serve it, we shared it with him. This is clearly a good address very much going one way with Julien full of ideas but with a sensitivity to previous generations. A great find. A quick call to Sebastien and we too where now on the way back to Hotel.
Domaine de Clairefontaine in Chonas L'Amballan turned out to be a great find. An hour or so of break and the next rendezvous was the Hotel's one star restaurant.

One or two of our number had nodded off and looked a little sleepy but quickly pressed on as we had a good toasty, spicey bottle of St.Joseph Blanc 2014 from Pierre Gaillard to get the body and mind going again. Then catastrophe as Wardy couldn't get into his Ipad for the, soon to start, Liverpool European semi final. Suffice to say Fiscali had to play the role of "divine IT overlord" for the rest of the trip as a series of coding calamities sought to derail Wardy. With all back in order we moved through to the restaurant. The sommelier took a little time to warm to our charms but that he did very in the end. 180's wisdom in introducing the 180 seconds from ordering to serving deadline certainly got the idea across. We started with, yes a pair, of white Burgundies, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes 2013, Domaine Jacques Prieur (DJPand Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres 2009 from Bouchard. They played off each other well the Combettes being a little tighter and more saline whilst the Perrieres was generous with a shade of nice reduction. The food here was very good, a little fussy for some, well one, and the fish dishes especially worked very well. The was time for one more white and it was to be Condrieu 2012 Coteau de Chery from Andre Perret, I really liked this just the correct balance of extrovert Viognier fruit and a good bit of leesy minerality, very nice.
The first Supper
Right red wine…with a trip to see Rene Rostaing in the morning we though we'd do the correct thing and have a pair of his wines, two themes here, producer and vintage. Cote Rotie 2009 Ampodium and Cote Rotie 2009 La Landonne, this had us excited for the following days visit. The Ampodium was in a lovely place, deep fruit, balanced and with a long life ahead but oh so appreciable now. The La Landonne was another step up again, stylist but true to its origins dark but not heavy, a shade saline, I'd love to own this. 180 then produced a bottle he'd brought with him Grange 1998 from Penfolds, even with a couple of hours decanting by the time we had this, it is a powerhouse that could quite possibly outlast us all. Deliciously full fruit and spice with that oak support, nice! Time for one more red before a sweetie. Rasteau 2008, Domaine Gourt de Mautens by Jerome Bressy was selected. Now this is a producer I'd been wanting to try for some time. To think of him a "Rasteau", however good it can be, is wrong. This was delicious and from the, largely disastrously, difficult 2008 vintage, gently elegant and focused, moreish even at this time of proceedings. To round off day one it was Condrieu Candice-Grain de Folie 2011, Domaine du Monteillet by Stephane Montez. This won Condrieu of the day by some distance, delicious energy and fruit forward sweetness…as you might imagine heads hit pillows rather easily...

With a little sadness but a good breakfast we left the lovely surrounds of Domaine de Clairefontaine and headed the 15 minutes back toward Ampuis to meet up with Rene Rostaing at Domaine Rostaing. This was a great tasting, Rene is well renowned as a softly spoken and quiet man. So he was. He introduced us via his Languedoc estate - Puech Noble.
Chez Rostaing...
Vassal de Puech Noble Rouge 2012, Coteaux de Languedoc - from 70% Syrah, 15% each Grenache and Mouvedre, ripe full berry fruits, open and supple and all this from a bottle that had been open 5 days, admittedly in a very cool cellar.

Vassal de Puech Noble Rouge 2013, Coteaux de Languedoc - Richer more robust and fuller, a granite edge here, lovely. He only makes 40,000 bottles in the Languedoc and spends a fair bit of time travelling back and forth.

Cote Rotie 2013 Ampodium - 100% Syrah, this is firm and honest, good darker fruits and a lovely gentle pepper spice, the fruit is dark but not heavy. Good finish. As "preparation" for the trip I drank a bottle of this a few weeks ago, deliberately following it over three days, it's a very good wine.

Cote Rotie 2012 La Landonne - This was a real treat, only 8000 bottles made, some spice but harmony is the main thing here, one of those wines you just don't find easy to describe, long long finish.

Cote Rotie 2001 Cote Blonde - This was both generous and also served blind. Wardy and one other (can't remember who) got this correct. I went for 2006. The wine was lovely, a little degraded (good) stink on the start and then a mellowness. Rene is a big believer in not decanting and also in not keeping the wines too long, he believes in the vigor of younger wines.

Then, as is often the way though interestingly not at our next stop, we finished with a couple of whites. 

Puech Noble Blanc 2014, Coteaux de Languedoc  -is 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Rolle (Vermentino), it has some nice spice and good pure stones fruits.

Les Lezardes Viognier 2014, IGP Collines Rhondaniennes
- Rene apologised for not having any Condrieu to show us, "it is all sold out", this a wine from 100% Viognier around the area of Condrieu but not inside the designated area. It had lovely opulent ripe fruit, impressive.

I was interested to hear that 85% of production is exported and also that when asked about the difference between his Cote Blonde and La Landonne he said the former is tighter and more elegant while the latter is more muscular and classic. It was a very good visit, one I won't forget.
Back in Sebastien's chariot and south to Tain L'Hermitage for a visit at Chapoutier and then Luncheon. I always love the contrast between small artisan producer, Rostaing say, and the bigger "firms" - in the case of the Rhone; Guigal, Jaboulet and Chapoutier. I have to say this was a very good, well pitched and enjoyable visit and tasting which had been well prepared. David Large (said in your thickest French accent) took us straight to the vineyards, the foot of (H)ermitage to be precise.

First a little on Chapoutier, having started in 1808 it is one of the bigger companies in the area as stated above but by common agreement was not really performing as it might. Michel Chapoutier (all the heirs in the family have names beginning with "M") returned to the estate in 1990 and shook things up big time. He started the conversion to Bio-dynamics in 1991/92 which was very radical at the time. Put the braille on the labels, 1996, in tribute to a member of staff/land owner who had gone blind, and really started focusing on quality bottling of different tiers of wines. If you include the negociant business and the wines in Portugal, Australia etc this a very big producer of fine wine 8-9 million bottles! David explained to us that the very top "Parcellaires" in Hermitage have no "H" on them. It is a striking site.
Hermitage - you can just see La Chapelle, top left
Back at the HQ in Tain we had a private room with lots of space in which to taste and ome tasting it was too, whites then reds as "the red tannins here make it hard to do it the other way around":

Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Les Meysonniers 2015 - 100% Marsanne, a variety I was to like more and more as this tasting went on, slight spritz from the youth, this was only bottled in March, good rounded yellow fruits and nice length.

St.Joseph Blanc Granits 2014 - Again Marsanne, slightly bigger and bolder, really good.

Condrieu "Invitare" 2014 - Viognier or course, 50% steel and 50% big foudres, nicely balanced and less obviously Viognier in character, liked this.

Ermitage Blanc "De L'Oree" 2012 - No "H" here so we're in top top country, 100% Marsanne, 20% new oak, this was really pretty special, rounded yellow and gold fruits but with freshness, toasty but not too much, lovely.

Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2015 - 100% Syrah, soft and easy, good fresh fruits, mostly black but with a bit of pepper, good drink.

St.Joseph Granits 2014 - Spicier, bigger, bolder, dark fruits with grey pepper, 8 months in oak (not new), good wine this.

Cote Rotie Les Becasses 2013 - Good sweetness of dark fruit balanced with a good mellow black pepper.

Hermitage Monier de la Sizeranne 2011 - Good runded darker fruit again, quite from a slightly more modern style to me.

Ermitage "Le Pavillon" 2012 - Classy, cool richness, smokey, deliciously moreish, very drinkable, misleadingly so I imagine.

Cote Rotie la Mordoree 1996 - Tertiary character here, briary, tobacco, mellow, complete, degraded sweetness, lovely.
A splendid Chapoutier line-up...
We weren't totally done here now because Magnum decided to buy a bottle (well magnum of course) for us to take to lunch. Whilst that was being done we tried two Portuguese wines from Chapoutier.

Eleivera, Douro - 100% Touriga Nacional, full fruited, almost candied fruits, good drinker.

Pinteivera, Douro - Again 100% Touriga Nacional, the older brother of the Eleivera - more depth and punch, more oak too I imagine.

Overall we left with a very good impression of the Chapoutier operation, they clearly know exactly what they are up to!

We popped back in the wagon, but needn't have really as our lunch destination - La Cave du Taurobole was just around the corner. A suggestion from a colleague this was great find. It looks like a wine shop from the outside but inside there are a few seats on the ground floor and then a room upstairs with a big table for up to eight people. We had this to ourselves with a great view of the Hermitage hill out of the window. With a tasting just outside Chateauneuf lined up for 4.30 pm we had just over a couple of hours to get going.
The En Parallel whites were - Hermitage Blanc Les Rocoules 2006 from M.Sorrel and the 2008 of the same wine. I'd love to know I anyone has experience of the 2006, it was very cloudy, almost "orange wine" cloudy but regardless tasted well, fully mature with a chalky mellow grapefruit and ginger note. The 2008 was simply lovely, precise, zesty but rich at the same time, special.
A room with a view, from the table...
First red was the magnum bought just 10 minutes earlier - Cote Rotie la Mordoree 1999, M.Chapoutier, A lovely wine drinking perfectly right now. I agreed that it would have been "Bordeaux" tasted blind, a gently smokey nose, very grown up wine. I thought we'd just sneak in two more reds before we hit the road and they had to be two of the Northern Rhones other top producers. The pairing was: Cote Rotie 2011 from S.Ogier and Cote Rotie 2011 from Jamet, The Ogier was brisk and full, very much a black pepper wine, forceful in a  way but not heavy. I found the Jamet, and a lot of people have raved about this producer, to be really refined and focused a superb, radiant Cote Rotie…very good.
One of the features of the bar restaurant was that madame did everything from serving to cooking, all delivered very well, the food was terrific, a recommended spot.

Having finally got the bluetooth to work DJ RAW took to his decks on the drive south as Wardy had another IT
 disaster. I had fully expected that this hours drive would be quiet with the odd break in the silence coming only from snoring. In contrast it was only as we arrived at out destination - Domaine de la Vieille Julienne - that a few people felt may be they should have used the time to have a snooze.

We were charmingly greeted by the unpretentious Jean-Paul Daumen, owner and wine maker. He ushered us to the tasting room and gave us an insight into this estate that is actually situated (as with Charvin - see below) outside of the designated Chateauneuf-du-Pape area. We tasted 4 wines:

Cotes du Rhone Lieu-dit Clavin 2013 - Good, some spice, easy redder fruits but not lacking in decadent richness. Made at a very low filed of 22hl/ha. This is the site around the actual winery.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Trois Sources 2011 - The 2011 vintage from what we tasted in a few places is clearly one of richness and depth, this was rich in berry fruits, there is a sense, to me, that most 2011's will make good older wines.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Haut-Lieu 2011 - Somehow this managed to be both richer and deeper than the Trois Source but at the same time fresher and more mineral, serious wine.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2006 - This had a little bit of that secondary aroma stink that passed with air, a winter wine for stews and rich dishes.

One or two of the team did find the alcohol levels a little on the punchy side but late afternoon after a generous lunch may have emphasised that. I'll be keeping an eye out for these wines. The strike me as decadent wines slightly in contrast to the relaxed, meditative man making them.

On the drive to our hotel - Chateau de Varenne - Sebastien reached into the glove compartment and reached out his disco ball…The Chateau was charming, shabby-ish chic with good rooms.
We had an hour to check in and the re-group for the drive Northest to Gigondas. This was a restaurant - Oustalet - that, again I had been recommended but also one I had seen, though not eaten at. It is owned by the Perrin Family of Chateau Beaucastel fame. I was worried it may have been style over substance but far from it. A very good wine list at good prices, a welcoming attitude to opening a bottle or two we had taken with us, an excellent sommelier and very good food, I will be returning for sure. We were sightly man down for the first hour with Fiscali fighting a lull in energy but back he came stronger than ever as the reds got going.
Magnum had challenged me earlier that he just didn't really like Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc  so with the Chablis 1er Cru Les Forest 2012 from V.Dauvissat that we just had to have at a silly price we also took the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2012 from Clos des Papes. Both did exactly as they should the stoney, waxy Chablis contrasting the richly fruited but mineral Chateauneuf.

From here the "pairing programme" slightly broke down. Wardy had already started on the Gigondas 2005 from local legends St.Cosme, which was full of iron and decadent warm fruited Grenache and Raw was "of on one" in Beaujolais land with the lovely, gentle and fruited Morgon 2015 from M.Lapierre. We next ordered up the Corton Grand Cru 2000 from Bonneau du Martray which begged to be bought. It was moreish and gritty the way it should be, delicious. At this stage a chap who reads this blog (rather flatteringly) appeared and offered us a taste of his rather lovely sweetly degrading (in a good way!) Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru Clos des Corvees 2000 from Domaine Prieure-Roch. He sat with us again towards the end of the evening.

Now it was time to re-focus on the Rhone and the pairing of choice was - Chateau de Fonsalette 2005, Rayas alongside Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2007 from H.Bonneau. This was heaven to me and a "battle", totally the wrong word, that we were to re-enact the following day. Henri Bonneau was a legend. He has been on the list of producer I wanted to drink for a very long time. His 2007 Chateauneuf was at the limit of where freshness goes and where ripeness becomes overripe. This is such a good portrayal of a vintage of excess…super wine. The Fonsalette 2005 was more classically reserved than the 2003 of the previous day. Momentarily conversation tuned to the following years trip and the possibility of Tuscany, we had a bottle of Biserno 2010 from Tenuta di Biserno which the sommelier (how I wish I could remember his name) very sensibly put outside for a while. It drank as it always does, almost too easily.  
We promptly realise we hadn't had our fill of Bonneau (is it even possible?). Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005 Cuvee Marie Beurrier was ordered. My little book of notes simply says "Superb", no need to say anymore. I have no Bonneau in my cellar, I'm not sure it'd ever stay there anyhow.

"180" who had been wallowing in the food pulled one more wine from the proverbial hat - Yquem 1998. What a glorious wine to end an evening…the 1998 Sauternes are one of the great bargains at the moment, not as serious as the 2001's for sure but find them and buy them, this was extremely good. We'd had such a good time that Wardy and Raw both left with hats! The attitude of this restaurant was just right, relaxed "rules" in a semi formal surrounding - really great.

The music blared on the way home as the realisation of a 8am first tasting was being routinely ignored.

Day three dawned, "180" marked it's arrival with not one, not two but three poached eggs! The rest of us tucked in and re-hydrated. The wheels rolled only a few minutes late as we headed for the early tasting at Domaine de La Janasse where we were greeted by the very generous, 8am on a Saturday in France is not usual, Isabelle Sabon. We certainly didn't get a slimmed down tasting:
8am tasting…and a Saturday to boot
Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2014 - Fruited and fresh with no pretence, good. 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2013 - This is a Roussane heavy blend with a nice bit of decadence, they clearly know what they are doing with whites.

Rose IGP 2014 - This is literally from the "wrong side of the tracks" and hence not a Cotes du Rhone. Nicely elegant.

Cotes du Rhone Rose 2011 - "Aged" Rose is not to all palates, this actually reminded me of Chablis with its waxy unctuousness.

Cotes du Rhone 2014 - good rich fruit and some grip, quite grown-up.

Terre de Bussiere IGP 2014 - This is a blend of Syrah and Merlot that was quite heady, not really my style but decadent and generous.

Cotes du Rhone Villages Terre d'Argile 2013 - Four varieties in here in equal splits - Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Counoise - more savoury than the last, rich but not too much.

Cotes du Rhone Villages Les Garrigues 2013 - This I really liked, more mellow and spiced, good wine.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2014 - Bottled just a month ago, fresh as you'd expect but full with dark fruits, one for the cellar you'd think.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Chaupin 2014 - 100% Grenache, 80year old vines on average, spiced fruits, lighter colour and redder fruit character…superb!

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2014 - Creamier richer, more "gourmand" more generous possibly, from the four oldest parcels, 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mouvedre.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Chaupin 2011 - Very generous of Isabelle to gig us a glimpse of two wine sin older vintages. This was all about the berry fruit and intensity, added to my view that 2011 is serious.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2011 - This too was heady and full with real grip and presence, a wine for the long haul.

A very enjoyable tasting - thanks again Isabelle.

We now only had one full tasting to go now as we headed briefly across to Domaine Charvin. This was the estate that we visited whose wines I certainly knew best. I have been drinking and enjoying the Charvin Cotes du Rhone for years.
Laurent Charvin is a real character and we spent 45 minutes to an hour outside in the vineyard looking at the vines and talking about how he was the 6th generation at the estate, 26 hectares (17 Cotes du Rhone and 9 in Chateauneuf) in size, inside and outside of Chateauneuf territory. He was the man who came into the estate in 1990 and decided to stop selling in bulk, to make Domaine bottled wines, to turn the estate to Bio-dynamics, to make wine with whole bunches and not use oak. The average age of vines here are 45-50 for Cotes du Rhone and 60 for Chateauneuf du Pape. He is a great balanced of thinker and pragmatist.

Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2015 - Unctuous, herbal, very good, not a wine I even knew he did  but then he does very little.

Cotes du Rhone Rose 2014 - Another wine I didn't know about, easy drinking with some ripe fruited sweetness, nice.

IGP Principauté d'Orange à Côté 2014 - 50% Grenache and 50% Merlot, robust but balanced, unpretentiously juicy.

Cotes du Rhone 2014 I've bought this so was delighted to see how good it is! Fresh, red fruited, some spice but more herbs and raspberries, lovely.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2014 - Good, not over rich and towards red fruit over black gentle spice but not pepper, complete and fresh…try good. 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2013 - Strawberry and ripe raspberry hit me here, richer palate, proper wine this, could age very well. One to watch out for. Laurent was interesting about the 2013 vintage saying that had it fallen in the 1980's it would have been viewed as one of the vintages of the decade, a very late harvest.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2012 - Balanced, complete a little darker than the 2013, I asked Laurent how highly rated the 2012's, thinking I knew he'd be positive and he was…very! 
Laurent sells half of his wine in France and sees the domestic market as very important, very different from others we'd seen. We mentioned that we were lunching at La Beaugraviere and he was visibly quite emotional about how important places like that are…I was excited enough as it was...

I left here in the full knowledge that I will do all I can to buy these wines every year. When you look at prices he's seriously under appreciated.

One quick drive into Chateauneuf to visit the Pegau Cave and we'd be on our way to La Beaugraviere, nice and early as Wardy and Magnum had to get a cab at 2.30 which might be just when lunch was warning up…we needed to give them a fair crack.

I am pleased we didn't skip the Domaine Pegau tasting as this is a famous, high profile, very Parker-adored winery. The style is fuller to my tasting. I didn't realise quite how many wines they made. 95% of production is exported and I imagine the US of A takes the lions share of that. Cuvee de Capo is arguably their most famous wine and was last made in 2010, 2015 will be next.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2014Domaine Pegau - This was easy to appreciate, elegant and refined, very nice indeed.I didn't realise that there was a white version of the Capo called "Tempo" 

Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Maclura 2013, Chateau Pegau - Balck pepper and saturated fruit, rich but not without acidity and a balance.

Plan Pegau Rouge 11/12/13 - A multi vintage wine (there's a sundial on the neck label that tells you what's what). Again black pepper and some richness but a nicely drinkable, slightly savoury nature.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 2013Domaine Pegau - 70,000 bottles get made, this is bold full and I imagine will become quite savoury quite quickly and me a masculine interpretation. Low yields and intensity.

We arrived at La Beaugraviere at 11.59am with palpable excitement, we were very sensibly given a table outside in the lovely weather with another table to store the wines and hopefully a bit of space for other diners to get some peace. I was put in charge of the white pair as Magnum went red wine hunting!! I had heard so much of this places relaxed surroundings, good service, nice food and stellar wine list. No disappointments!!
Once we had explained that whilst two of our number had to go at 2.15 or so the rest of would be leaving before, but not long before, dinner.

Possibly a little unconventional but I had to go for a couple of cult Sancerre producers so Vatan and Cotat it was to be - Sancerre Clos La Neore 2010 from Edmund Vatan and Sancerre Les Monts Damnes 2013, Francois Cotat. The Vatan, whilst good, was a shade oxidative and just not as pure and expressive as the Cotat, a producer I am growing to love. These had been good but with the lobes of Foie Gras ordered we needed a white with a little more opulence so Mr Magnum made the correct call and went to Burgundy. The Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Chaumees 2011 from Domaine Ramonet was just the thing. As Fiscali said with a smile "I've drunk whites from all over but so often you just have to go "home" - Burgundy is number one!". It had that trademark Ramonet, wax, lanolin and stem ginger. The 2011's are stunning now too - drink them! 
Back on track the first red pair was settled on. Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras 2007 from Domaine Roumier and Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussiere 2007 also from Domaine Roumier was something of a no-brainer with the 2007's drinking so well. This was a bit of a miss-match oddly with the good Morey slightly wasted alongside the superb Chambolle.
With the veal about to hit the table and the clock ticking it was time to look at Mr Charvin's work when it has a little age - Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2011, Domaine Charvin En Magnum. This was just delicious and shows the merits of both age and format. there was a lovely development to it but still that Grenache character. The last two bottles that Magnum and Wardy would taste were on their way and or so appropriately it was to be two of the greats Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003, Rayas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003 Cuvee Marie Beurrier, H.Bonneau. They tussled with each other like two great boxers, Bonneau taking the early rounds and quietening the crowd but as the Bonneau eased the Rayas upped the tempo and looked the victor on points…either way two splendid bottles with which to bid farewell, for this year, to two friends.

There was one name that was most notable by its absence thus far and that was Chave. So we sorted that with a pairing  - Hermitage La Chapelle 1999, Jaboulet and Hermitage 1999, Chave. My notes are sparse by this stage but the Jaboulet gets a "Lovely, iron, deep, classical" while the Chave gets "Saline, supple sweetness, SUPERB" and from memory that wasn't actually a bad summary. The cheese trolley had been turned away a few times but now we needed to keep the food intake going…our bottle line up was starting to get a few nice comments and admiring looks but we were far from done yet and dinner wasn't booked until 8pm. I snuck in a blind wine that whilst not a classical Rhone wine would have been a poor omission. Domaine de Trevallon 1998, a wine that perplexed and performed well, no idea what I would have guessed!
A couple more reds were clearly needed now before the Tarte Tatin. We realised we hadn't had a Beaucastel as yet so had to do that and it seemed appropriate to have it paired to Clos des Papes Rouge, having only had the white so far. We tried for an exact vintage comparison but settled on Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005, Clos des Papes with Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1999, Beaucastel. The Beaucastel was lovely, rich but not OTT, very balanced and probably spot on now, the Clos de Papes a little more pungent but refined with it. From the few we have had I would say the 2005's are worth seeking out from the top estates.
We stayed with this vintage for the sweetie and despite spending ages trying to go somewhere else we went for Sauternes with Climens 2005. This was delicious, full but with good acidity, decades ahead of it but not a waste with the superb tatin. Our waiter served us coffee having changed into "home clothes" so that he might get home before returning for the evening.

La Beaugraviere is an institution and rightly so, worth the trip alone!

The music was even louder now as we had to keep momentum up and not lapse before dinner. The drive back was 25 inutes or so but now we had a dangerous 30 minutes before heeding to dinner so we settled for a bottle of the zesty, refreshing Champagne Le Brun de Neuville Blanc de Blancs NV at the Hotel and agreed that any lying down would be "fatal".

Dinner at La Table de Sorgues was enjoyable, we managed to add three producers to the list and the food was very good. It was a little more modern as a setting than we might have needed but the lobster starter was a real star. For whites we copied the previous nights pairing of Chablis and Chateauneuf  by having Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2012, Vieux Telegraph with Chablis 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre, Raveneau. Both were good examples of their types with again decadent fruit against leaner minerality.
For reds I finally managed to bring to the party the producer I know best by getting a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Speciale 2007 from Tardieu-Laurent to go with the Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1998, Vieux Telegraph. It was such a shame that both Bastien and Michel Tardieu were away…it would have been great if they could have joined us at a meal. I fully plan to go and see them in Lourmarin in the summer. We left La Table de Sorgues as weariness set in...
Back at the hotel Raw's bottle of Palmer Merlot 2000 from Margaret River was slurped alongside a cigar…we had singularly managed not to see through the final meal task of nailing the destination for next year…Tuscany got a lot of votes with Germany and Ribera getting a shout…dinner soon then chaps.

So, what did we learn?
-The Rhone as region is as diverse in styles as any region anywhere.
-2015 is an exciting vintage, no winemaker managed to hide that, North or South.
-There are many great restaurants with cracking prices.
-Rayas and Bonneau have reputations for a reason.
-Wine is rather fun and laughing is good for you.

Chaps - thank you!