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Fortified by a superb dinner at Guy Julien’s truffle-orientated restaurant ‘Le Beaugravière’ in Montdragon (which has a legendary Rhône wine list) we arrived in Châteauneuf-du-Pape on Wednesday morning greeted by a blue sky and southern sunshine.

At Le Vieux Donjon Marie-José Michel and her daughter Claire gave us a warm welcome and the happy news that the Rhône 2009 vintage had surpassed their expectations. We then sampled a bottle of their excellent white Châteauneuf’ 2009. Made from equal volumes of Clairette and Roussanne this mid-weight, un-oaked offering has subtle citrus and ‘fleurs blanches’ scents and a bright, palate of white orchard fruit underscored by a clean acidity. It is drinking wonderfully well right now and should continue to do so for a further 3 years. Claire then produced a cask sample of the red Le Vieux Donjon 2009 which exhibited a powerful bouquet of red fruit and a complex palate infused with garrigue berry and Provençal herb notes. We then compared with a bottle of the blockbuster 2007 vintage (which still has plenty of youthful vigour) and although the 2009 is a shade lighter and less concentrated (dare we say more feminine?) it is clearly a superb and age-worthy wine.

Domaine du Père Caboche

Domaine du Père Caboche

Down the road at Domaine du Père Caboche another young vigneronne, Emile Boisson, was equally upbeat about the 2009 vintage. The Boisson family is renowned for producing forward-drinking, fruit accentuated wines for immediate gratification. Their white Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2009 is a classic with a fresh, sapid palate and attractive white peach aromas. It is cleaner and zestier than most of its peers and you could happily drink it as an aperitif. The principal cuvée of red Châteauneuf’, called simply ‘Domaine du Père Caboche’, has a bright bouquet of crushed red berries and a supple, silky palate of warming red fruit flavours and ripe, sweet tannins. This is a wine for shameless hedonistic consumption while waiting for grander, more contemplative wines to mature. The Boissons’ flagship wine called ‘Elisabeth Chambellan’, from 100 year-old vines on ‘La Crau’ plateau, is deeper, darker, richer and more complex than the regular bottling but it retains the domaine’s signature of seductive, come-hither fruit. It will age well for a decade – if you’ve got the patience to wait that long.

Having completed our tastings in Châteauneuf’ we then headed south to Les Baux to sample the wines of Domaine de Trévallon. Strictly speaking this is in Provence and not the Rhône valley but it’s certainly a wine that appeals to Rhône enthusiasts so we were keen to pay a visit. After successfully negotiating the backwaters of Les Alpilles we were greeted by Antoine Dürrbach and his younger sister Ostiane who are both now firmly involved in the family business. We kicked-off with a tasting of the rare and idiosyncratic white Domaine de Trévallon 2009. Made from a unique blend of Marsanne (45%), Roussanne (45%), Chardonnay (7%) and Grenache Blanc (3%) raised in oak barrels (half of which are new) this is rich, powerful, gastronomic wine that probably requires a bit of bottle-age and a food accompaniment to be seen at its best. We then sampled the 2009 red Syrah from barrel which had an impressive purple colour and a core of concentrated sweet, black fruit over fine-grained tannins. We then tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon which had a lovely cassis bouquet, very bright fruit and a fresh acidity. The obvious thing to next was to sample a blend of the two together which produced a really harmonious result – a great balance of berry aromas, ripe fruit, sweet tannin and clean acidity. Considering its southern location Domaine de Trévallon is a very vintage sensitive wine and it appears that the 2009 is going to be a classic. As in Châteauneuf-du-Pape some of the raw power of the 2007’s might be missing but there is great balance and purity which will yield a wine of elegance and enormous future gratification.

After another day spent tasting young Rhône wines there is really only one choice of liquid refreshment – a cold demi pression or two in ‘Le Mistral’ bar in Orange.

Jason & Tom.