"Northern Rhône white wines", a combination of words that would excite any wine amateur or professional I know. At Yapp Brothers, we've been importing these rare wines for over 47 years and felt it would arouse a particular interest to offer our wine lovers to study them in-depth. What better place in London to host a fine and rare wine masterclass than 67 Pall Mall, 'the member's club founded by wine lovers, for wine lovers'!
With an impeccable staff and organisation, the room was ready to host our 40 guests by 7.30pm. And they all arrived on time! Jason started his introduction of the Northern Rhône region, highlighting key figures such as the scarce production of white wines - indeed, they account for about 10% of the Northern Rhône and only 1% of the total Rhône valley production.
Starting with our only sparkling wine of the evening, the Saint-Péray Mousseux Brut from Domaine Biguet showed a great nose of pears, apricots and wild flowers aromas along with a well-balanced refreshing palate. Interesting fact, the St Péray AOC accounts for only 75 hectares, one third of only planted in the last 10 years and is the only sparkling appellation in this sub-region. Moving onto a personal favourite, we gladly tasted the 're-born' Saint-Péray tranquille from Domaine Clape 2015, a great blend of Marsanne and Roussanne, with concentrated aromas of salted butter, white peach, and a creamy but fresh mouthfeel.
No need to introduce the third wine, a Crozes Hermitage white from Alain Graillot. Bien classique, it offered fruits, balance, freshness, at a great value for the memorable 2015 vintage. Although less well-known, the Brézème white from Domaine Lombard had nothing to be ashamed of. The addition of 5% of Viognier in the Marsanne-Roussanne blend improves the aromatics and gives this gem a subtle texture.
It was then Tom's turn to tell us more about the Saint-Joseph white 'Circa' from Jean-Louis Chave, who has taken on a mission to rebuild the image of the AOC that has suffered from its extension of area and hence inconsistent quality of production over the past 20 years. Finishing this line up of Marsanne-Roussanne blends from the 2015, this Saint-Joseph had a lovely texture, subtle aromas of white flowers, almonds and peaches.
Viognier was almost lost to Phylloxera in 1965 - just a handful of winemakers in the area of Condrieu managed to keep this unique aromatic grape alive. The Domaine Georges Vernay is one of them and produces some of the top wines made from the grapes on this specific terroir. According to Jason "Condrieu is all about texture" and he believes "quenelles de brochet with a Condrieu from Vernay is something everyone should experience in his life!" From the refreshing Terrasses de l'Empire 2014, we moved onto the much richer and tropical Coteaux du Vernon 2014 and 2009. Whether you like your Northern Rhône white wines on their youth or their evolution is up to you and was an interesting source of debate all along this tasting.
Tom then took pride introducing our guests to the iconic Château Grillet. We found in Château Grillet 2013 a very different Viognier than we did in our three Condrieus. The aromas were more subtle, fresh with a mineral mouthfeel and an intense complexity. We also tasted the 2009 but I personally enjoyed the youth of the 2013 and its depth of mineral layers.
To finish our grand tasting, we had the chance to compare two of the top Hermitage producers: Jean-Louis Chave and Michel Chapoutier, on two unique vintages 2013 and 2000. While Jean-Louis masters the blending of various parcels and specific terroirs in one cuvée, Michel releases different wines from diverse locations and only from Marsanne. Even though the two Ermitage 'Le Meal' wines from Michel were widely appreciated, the wines from Jean-Louis had more success due to their finesse, complexity and retained freshness. What a beautiful way to finish this special dégustation!
We ought to thank again the team at 67 Pall Mall for their excellent professional service, who really made this once in a lifetime tasting possible. Should we have the same for Northern Rhône reds in the Autumn? We might even have a special guest...