Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.
Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.
I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.
Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.
However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.
There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.
Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s (our offer of these wines closes this Sunday).
Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:
• Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.
• Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!
• Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.
• Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.
• Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.
• Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.
So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.
The Cellar Showroom
Our offer of white and red Rhône wines from the 2014 vintage for drinking now is available until Sunday 29th May while stocks last.
Once upon a time, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel were the only two named ‘crus’ of the southern Rhône.
But of course it is the ambition of every village to aspire to cru status.
Making it happen can be a long process and has to involve a Paris-based body called INAO which stands for the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. It alone can decree that Brie de Meaux can be called Brie de Meaux or that Chambertin can be called Chambertin.
In the case of Cairanne, that process seemed interminable.
The case for Cru Cairanne began when the appellations were first created back in the 1930s. Growers then were far-seeing, and even then had begun by insisting on low yields and that only a certain number of grape varieties could be used.
There were geological surveys, an infinite number of tastings and meetings, and plenty of politics and negotiations to determine which could be crus and which vineyards couldn’t.
What makes a good Cairanne?
With a majority of grenache in the blend, Cairanne is never going to be anything less than a full-bodied, generous wine with a certain fruity charm and tannins that should always be well integrated and soft.
The upshot is that Cairanne is now the 17th cru of the Côtes-du-Rhône, joining the likes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage; and it applies to both red and white wine though red is by far the more important.
As far as we are concerned, it means that from the 2015 vintage just ‘Cairanne’ need appear on the label. Goodbye ‘Côtes-du-Rhône Villages’!
Quality won’t change that much as most growers have been making such brilliant wine anyway. Yields are a little lower which will mean that the wines should have more substance and greater concentration.
Cairanne itself is a delightful place to visit. It’s an old village, typically laid out, Provence style, on a hill with a church at the top, lots of winding lanes and plenty of character.
These days there are some good places to eat with the choice possibly headed by the Tourne au Verre. This is very central and has an excellent wine list with most if not all Cairanne producers represented. The food is good and simple, and one can eat outside in the summer.
Our offering from the 2014 vintage, which closes this Sunday, features two wines from Cairanne producers: Côtes-du-Rhône Clos Romane (£8.50) and Cairanne Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Domaine de l’Ameillaud (£8.95).
The 2015 vintage is also looking very promising, and some of the wines will soon be in bottle.
As for the 2016 vintage, flowering is still a little way off but so far so good…
So, roll on Cairanne, the Rhône’s newest cru!
Our French colleagues at The Society’s showroom in Montreuil-sur-Mer tell us that as well as advising on wine, they are also frequently asked by our members for recommendations of places to visit in the area.
So, as the holiday season starts to hot up, we asked Marc, Clément and Julien to pick their top tips for visitors to the town…
…oh and while they were at it, we also asked them to name their current favourite bottle!
One thing that I always think should be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list is a trip to the unmissable and almost mythical Caseus cheese shop. As well as local specialities, you can find just about any French cheese for sale here.
If you are looking for a stop for afternoon tea, in my opinion you can’t beat Salon Rodière – the patisserie are amazing, but they also do really good cooked meals too.
Fromagerie Caseus: 28 place du Général de Gaulle 62170 Montreuil-sur-Mer
Salon Rodière: 81, rue Pierre Ledent, 62170, Montreuil-sur-Mer
Marc’s vin du jour
MacManis Family Petite Sirah
I would recommend a meal in one of the most picturesque streets in Montreuil, Rue du Clape en Bas, at the small, family-run Le Pot du Clape where you’ll get generous meals cooked over an authentic wood-fired oven.
Le pot du Clape: rue du Clape en Bas, 62170 Montreuil-sur-Mer.
Closed on Mondays.Service from 11am to 10pm.
Tel: +33 (0)3 21 05 46 35
Clément’s vin du jour
Dourthe No 1 Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux
Why not take a little walk (or bike ride – electric mountain bikes available for hire in Montreuil) around the base of the ramparts, following in the footsteps of Victor Hugo when he was looking for inspiration for his novel Les Misérables? This stroll could also be lengthened by a tour of the marshes around La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil where our local hero, chef Alexandre Gauthier has his roots and digs around for his culinary inspiration. Between the town, river and marshes, discover a page of history set in greenery (see below).
Julien’s vin du jour
Castillo de Viña Crianza, Rioja 2012 which would go perfectly with a Spanish tapas starter followed by marinated and barbecued spare ribs.
For more information on visiting Montreuil, visit our website.
Join us in Montreuil
In May and July, we’ll be hosting two special dining events with Gault et Millau’s Chef of the Year, Alexandre Gauthier, offering the perfect opportunity to visit. More information.
…and for those of a puerile disposition, I’m most definitely talking about the feathered variety!
Last year when Santiago Deicas of Familia Deicas (who own Uruguay’s largest wine company, Juanicó) visited our offices in Stevenage I realised that there was so much I didn’t know about this small South American country.
Santiago is used to this level of general ignorance when it comes to knowledge about his homeland and travels the globe telling people like me where his country is and how it is unlike the rest of South America before even getting started on discussions about wine.
One thing I was aware of was Uruguay’s connection with birds… and during our chat with Santiago, we did talk quite a lot about birds. In fact, I think this was the longest conversation I have ever had on the subject! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the name Uruguay means ‘River of the Painted Birds’.
The Southern Lapwing
Santiago also told me about the Southern Lapwing, or téro, the country’s national bird. This pugnacious little wader is also the mascot of the national rugby team, Los Téros. ‘It’s a very beautiful bird, but it’s fierce,’ Santiago tells me. Aggressive and highly territorial, the téro has a spike on the edge of its wing case and rather than nesting in trees, apparently it makes a hole in the ground, ‘So you never know if you are going to approach one,’ Santiago says, ‘suddenly they fly up and attack you… they really hurt… some people say they go for your eyes!’
The way that Santiago talks about his national bird, you can’t help but get the feeling he has a sneaking respect for this little fighter. Well, I suppose that is also only to expected as Santiago used to play rugby for the national team himself, once upon a time.
Back to the vineyards
While the lapwing might be a threat to vineyard workers, the vines are also at the mercy of birds, it seems: ‘We have a big problem with birds,’ Santiago says. ‘Losing your whole harvest is a real threat.’
So what action can they take to protect their crop? ‘We have a couple of options,’ Santiago goes on to explain. ‘We don’t want to poison the birds; we can make loud noises to scare them off or put down repellents. In the old days we used falcons, but they didn’t work at weekends!’
So they have taken to putting down hail nets. ‘We have to put them above the vines and below to stop them getting in… they are really clever at finding a way in and always get the best grapes!’ But after trialling the hail nets they have found the system really works. ‘It makes a huge difference. It’s really expensive at first to put them up, but we are putting them into more and more vineyards,’ Santiago informs me.
One of the issues with the hail nets is that once they are in place it is no longer possible to work on the vines, to carry out canopy management, for example, but it also helps to protect against the wind, which I learned is also a common feature of the Uruguayan climate.
More curious nesters
Another unusual avian visitor to Uruguayan vineyards is the Rufous Hornero, or oven bird (the national bird of neighbouring Argentina), so called because of the shape of its nest which resembles a wood-fired clay oven.
These curious birds are not uncommon but not an awful lot is known about them except that they are largely terrestrial, spending much of their time strutting about the ground and that they laboriously build a new nest every year. The beautifully constructed nest gets taken over by other, presumably grateful but more lazy birds.
A more attractive visitor to the vineyards is the pretty kiskadees or Bentevéo as it is called in Uruguay (literally, ‘I see you well’ – because of its exuberant call!). It’s up to 30cm in length and feeds mainly on insects but can be quite aggressive too, seeing off much larger birds by calling harshly to its mates and mobbing them mid-air!
Given Uruguay’s rich bird life, it’s not surprising then that birds feature on some of Juanicó’s labels and it’s the pretty Bentevéo bird that’s on the newly shipped 2015 chardonnay (£7.25) which Santiago says is their best vintage yet.
Naturally, when you taste a range of wines completely blind, as we do for our forthcoming Wine Champions offer, you open yourself up to an element of risk.
The various offers put together at The Society are carefully planned so as to ensure a balanced selection of wines that cater to the various colours, flavours and prices the theme demands.
Wine Champions, however, is a very different beast.
Rather than trying to drive this offer and steer it in a direction that we decide it should go, we simply put a saddle on it and ride it to wherever it takes us.
Tasting through a vast number of wines blind, picking out only the ones which are judged to be perfect for drinking now, regardless of whether they are red, white, rosé, fortified, sparkling etc. means that we put ourselves at risk of sending out an offer without the usual planned balance between styles, prices and so on.
This year, we have an offer which has fewer wines in it than the last and is slightly heavier on red wines. (You can read a little more about that in my previous dispatch from the tasting room). This is not to say that there were not as many good white wines. Quite the contrary, in fact: we had a superb chardonnay tasting and both of our Aromatic Whites tastings unearthed some real stars.
Quite simply, the variability of the line-up is the only way that we can guarantee that first and foremost, Wine Champions remains a genuine round-up of those wines that our expert buyers voted for by consensus to share with you all.
784 blind wines and three months of tasting later, we have an offering for you that we are proud to present. Every bit as unique as the previous Wine Champions offerings, which never fail to harbour new surprises and tell their own stories.
This year’s stories are many, and without giving too much away before the wines are revealed next month, pinot noir is certainly one of them, as is our first ever Champion red from Germany.
We hope you enjoy the results – they will be unveiled soon!
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Aimé Guibert at the age of 91.
He was the founder of the iconic Mas de Daumas Gassac in the Languedoc and it would not be too fanciful a claim to state that he, more than anyone was responsible for putting the Languedoc on the map of fine wine.
He was born in 1924 in Millau in the département of the Aveyron. His first career had been as a tanner and then as a successful glove maker. His second career came somewhat unexpectedly and as a result of finding somewhere peaceful where he and is growing family could escape from the bustle and noise of Paris.
They bought a large farmhouse or Mas on a virgin, wooded hillside by a cold mountain stream called the Gassac. Then their world changed when a friend, professor Henri Enjalbert, a geologist specialising in wine, visited the Guiberts on their farm in 1971 and declared on examining the site that the soils and climate were perfect for growing vines. He went on further, proclaiming that with cabernet sauvignon, a great wine could be made.
And so it began.
Aimé with his wife Véronique put all their energy into creating a vineyard where none had existed before. Remarkably, and with the help of another academic, professor Emile Peynaud of Bordeaux, the first vintage was made in 1978.
Aimé’s vision was extraordinary and all encompassing. Making a wine was not enough. Daumas Gassac had to be a great wine that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best. From his previous career he bought sales and marketing expertise that at the time was probably unique in the world of wine, at least outside Champagne and Bordeaux.
No appellation existed for the valley of the Gassac so his wines were labelled as mere vin de pays, becoming the most expensive non-appellation wine. But that didn’t seem to matter and Mas de Daumas Gassac gained a large and devoted following around the world.
From the start, Aimé and Véronique Guibert wanted to work as close to nature as possible. They were pioneers in creating an environment that promoted biodiversity. Though cabernet sauvignon is the principal black grape, others were planted with varieties coming from elsewhere in France, Italy and even Georgia. Plots of vineyard were kept small and surrounded by woods and hedges. Other wines followed including a viognier-inspired white.
That the Guiberts were sitting on a gold mine did not go unnoticed. Others moved in nearby with mixed success. Robert Mondavi became interested. An offer to buy Daumas Gassac was rejected and a plan to create a Mondavi estate vigorously and successfully opposed with the passionate Aimé very ably leading the local population in revolt. In the film Mondovino, Aimé Guibert is seen as the champion against what he saw as the industrialisation of wine.
His greatest achievement was to prove the notion of terroir. In creating Daumas Gassac, Aimé Guibert created the Languedoc’s first grand cru.
Many other vignerons would follow often with the same energy, spirit of enterprise, determination and individuality as the great man himself. The Languedoc owes him an awful lot and will miss him.
He is survived by his wife Véronique and his nine children including Samuel, at the head of the business.
My time as buyer for the Languedoc was greatly enriched by his wisdom and I shall miss him too.
It’s nearly time for us to reveal this year’s Wine Champions, selected from a course of blind tastings that ran over three months to find the best of our best for drinking now.
As with every year our team of buyers tastes all of the contenders blind, with nothing but price brackets (under £10, £10-£15, £15-£25 and £25+) and an overall theme of the tasting (Mediterranean Reds or Aromatic Whites, for example) as guidance.
Each buyer scores what they think the wines deserve and at the end of the tasting, we may, or may not, have a Champion or two!
Our final 40 wines in the offer have been picked out of 784 candidates, throughout the course of 18 tasting sessions. This year was a record number of contenders a sign that our range is always growing as we search for new and exciting wines, but having more wines means that it was harder than ever for a wine to be crowned a Champion.
That isn’t to say that there weren’t some noticeable trends this year: pinot noir, for instance, performed extremely well and there is also a superb showing from Italy which we are all very excited about indeed.
When you have fewer wines, the chances are that because of the more limited selection it is more likely that buyers will land on more of the same wines but, thanks to the size of some tastings this time around, only the unquestionable best of the best make it through.
As a result, this year there are fewer Champions in the offer than last year, but because of that we are able to present you with a truly elite selection.
The winners will be unveiled in June, but in the meantime, keep an eye on this blog, where we will be able to provide sneak peaks as to what you can expect from this year’s offering.
Although how much we can give away is very limited, we can reveal that:
• One outstanding producer has not one, not two but three of their wines in the Wine Champions offer!
• The Mediterranean 2015 wines are singing
• And your lunchtimes may soon become a lot fizzier thanks to a delicious, lower-alcohol bottle of bubbly (and not the one you might expect either!).
Around a year ago, a small party of lucky members, random winners of our Buyers’ Tour competition, met up one morning in Saint Pancras.
Six hours or so later, we were in the Rhône valley tasting our first wine. The highlight of the trip was a safari-style excursion in Gigondas, aboard two Land Rovers, one coming from Clos de Cazaux, the other generously on loan from the Beaumes de Venise co-op.
Jean-Michel Vache bought the Cazaux land rover ex-United Nations, where it had seen service in Bosnia and Kossovo. But that’s another story!
The trip had been hugely successful and it got me thinking:
Why not bring Gigondas to the UK?
The Land Rovers were left behind.
Instead five Gigondas producers came over, first to London and then the following day to Newcastle, and they gave an hour-long masterclass on Gigondas as part of our annual Rhône event.
There were eight vintages shown, from the youthful fruit of a 2014 to the majesty of 2007.
Gigondas itself was represented by the aforementioned Jean-Michel Vache, showing a mighty 2009, Thierry Faravel of Domaine la Bouïssière, Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette, Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-Cosme and Henri-Claude Amadieu of Domaine Amadieu.
A reason why it worked so well is that the growers are all mates, some very close, so there was no infighting and no jealousies.
Gigondas is a not an especially large appellation and all of it pulls well together. It is heartening to see members’ enthusiasm for the wines on the rise, and perhaps we’ll do it again sometime!
In the meantime, our current offering of affordable pleasures from the excellent Rhône 2014 vintage features a delicious juicy red from Moulin de Gardette (£13.50), as well as what would be a blueprint for white Gigondas, if such a wine legally existed, from Amadieu (£9.95).
Travels in Wine is a brand new section of our website. Here you’ll find the inside track from the latest trips throughout the wine world. Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams tells us more.
Behind every wine label, even the most modest, there hangs a story – of where and how it was made and by whom. Most of the wines will have been bought as a result of a buyer visiting the cellars, tasting from barrel and vat, and tramping through the vineyards.
Indeed, as buyers we are actively encouraged to leave the sanctity of the Stevenage tasting room and to boldly go and seek out new wines wherever they are made.
Stories of our travels abound and so we thought we should share some of them with members.
Over the course of a year, between us, we travel to most of the main wine-producing areas of the world, sometimes on our own, sometimes accompanied by colleagues.
We taste thousands of wines, sorting out the wheat from the chaff, finding out what’s new and exciting and forging relationships with the growers that we think are already making, or have the potential to make, great wines.
The stories and insights garnered along the way will help to bring even more context to the wines we bring back for your enjoyment and we hope that members will enjoy coming along for the ride.
Visit Travels In Wine here, and please feel free to let us know what you think. We’ll be adding new ‘Travels’ regularly, so watch this space for visits to Champagne, Piedmont, Bordeaux, Beaujolais and many more.
Members know a good thing when they taste it, and judging from the highly enthusiastic response to our current offering of Australian wines (available until Sunday 8th May while stocks last), the Aussie buzz is truly back.
How fitting then that Alex Vooght has chosen to feature a favourite Australian red for his Staff Choice – courtesy of a producer who are no strangers to this blog, Wirra Wirra.
I love reds packed full of fruit with silky tannins and which are punchy enough to hold up to a nice steak meal. It’s also important for me to have a wine where I can enjoy a glass (or two) just as it is.
Church Block from Wirra Wirra fits the bill nicely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste a fair few vintages of it at a vertical tasting and it ages surprisingly well for a wine under £12.
Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot are blended perfectly giving this wine its jammy black-fruit style with enough peppery spice to keep me coming back for more. The stylish bottle only adds to its appeal. A sure bet with all my friends and family. Enjoy!
£11.50 – Bottle
£69 – Case of six
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