Tuesday evening 22nd January – 11pm.
…….sure, all this snow will be gone by morning.
Wednesday morning 23rd January – 7am.
The pretty town of Beaune lay under a blanket of snow. It had fallen steadily for most of the night, leaving a good few inches covering all.
We had a 2 hour drive ahead of us, travelling south from Beaune, through Chalon-sur-Saone and Mâcon, on the main A6 towards the northern Rhône. The snow ploughs were out and the roads were in good condition, the drive was simple enough until we came up behind 3 snow ploughs. They were doing a great job of clearing the motorway, but blocking all three lanes as well as the hard-shoulder! We were blocked behind them for almost an hour, until unmarked police cars arrived and they were pulled over.
Arriving a little late, we were delighted to finally arrive at André Perret’s small winery. The other car of Jim, Averil and Darren had missed the road-blocking ploughs and had already tasted the whites so we dived straight in to a superb selection of André’s white wines.
Perret’s approach to wine growing is classic: respect each individual terroir he produces several single vineyard wine and works the soil to avoid the need for chemical treatments. His goal is to make fresh, structured wines, in “a sort of Burgundian style” as he says. They don’t contain too much wood; wines that aren’t too worked over and will age well. His Condrieu bottlings are reference points for the entire appellation. In 1995 André built a new cellar, but he has never expanded beyond the very best terroirs. He keeps the estate small so he can maintain his standards of manual labour in the vineyards and individual attention to all of his wines.
We tasted his Vin de Pays Viognier 2017, Condrieu 2017, Condrieu Coteau de Chéry 2017 and Condrieu Clos Chanson 2017. The standout for me was the Clos Chanson; big and weighty but still possessing incredible complexity and length. This, along with the Coteau de Chéry is made in such small quantities we will eagerly await our annual allocation.
For the reds we tasted the Vin de Pays Merlot / Syrah 2016, St. Joseph 2016 & 2018 as well as the St Joseph “Les Grisières” 2016 & 2018. Whilst Andre Perret is undoubtedly one of the masters of Condrieu and St. Joseph, and rightly recognised the world over as such. His Vin de Pays should not be overlooked either. Whilst labelled Vin de Pays these wines in André Perret’s hands become far greater than their humble labelling, showing wonderful complexity and finesse. A superb introduction to his wines with a decent amount of bottles available.
Running somewhat behind schedule, we headed to a local restaurant, a favourite of André’s. Having persuaded him that we really only wanted a quick salad, perhaps a few plates in the middle of the table to share, he ordered for us all. With snow falling outside, we were treated to salads with the local cheese of Condrieu, “Rigottes”, along with two other specialities of the region, a chicken liver mousse and the smallest ravioli I’ve ever seen. Politely refusing dessert we were coerced into a Café Gourmand, basically an espresso with a selection of all the house’s desserts in bite-size portions. Quite delicious.
Making our farewells to the legend that is André, and now very much behind schedule we left Perret for our next visit in the region, J. M. Gérin, luckily only a short 15 minute drive away.
The Gérin family represents six generations of winemakers established in Ampuis (Rhone Valley) at the heart of the famous 280-hectare Cote-Rôtie appellation, where the Syrah pairs well with a hint of Viognier (Condrieu). Jean-Michel Gerin 12-hectare adventure started in 1983. The property’s first vintage was produced in 1987, under Marcel Gerin (the grand-father) and Alfred’s (the father) leadership. In 2003, the estate began planting the La Valliere area, in Cote Rôtie: a tremendous undertaking on exceedingly steep slopes. Today, Michaël and Alexis Gerin (Alfred’s sons) show deep devotion to the creation of wines in the Cote Rotie, Condrieu, and Saint-Joseph appellations.
In the Gérin tasting room they were using an Enomatic cabinet to ensure their tasting wines were of an optimal temperature and quality. We tasted the following:
La Champine Viognier 2017 (round honeyed fruit and lovely length), Condrieu la Loye 2017 (comprising grapes from two distinct parcels), Condrieu les Eguets 2017 (a single vineyard offering), La Champine Syrah 2017 (great value from such a renowned producer), St. Joseph 2017 (only bottles in December and already drinking very well), Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2016 (95% Syrah & 5% Viognier, 20 months in oak with 20% new), Côte Rôtie La Viallière 2016 (100% Syrah, 100% new oak, intense and will need time), Côte Rôtie La Grandes Places 2016 (from vineyard parcels dating from 1923 to 1966), Côte Rôtie La Landonne 2016 (only 1500 cases produced).
After a superb tasting of such sublime wines, Alexis offered us a bottle of their Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2016, of which more about later!
With time marching on and now only half an hour behind schedule we departed the Gérin property for the vertiginous drive up the slopes of Côte Rôtie towards our next tasting at Domaine Jamet. Located on a plateau, known as “Le Vallin” the property enjoys views of Mont Blanc and the Alps, (well on a clear day anyway, but certainly not today).
We were met at the property by Loïc, the son of Jean-Paul and Corinne, owners of the Domaine.
After an introduction to the Estate we were led into the cellar where Loïc took us through a selection of bottles and barrel samples:
Condrieu Vernillon 2017 (the first vintage of which was produced in 2015 and vinified by Loïc). Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2017 (Predominantly Marsanne and Viognier, fresh minerality, providing immediate enjoyment). Vin de Pays Syrah 2017 (from a tiny plot of 1 ½ hectares, smokey nose, spiced plum fruit, great introduction to Jamet at an affordable price). Côtes du Rhône Rouge 2017 (100% Syrah, 12 months in old oak from a selection of parcels on the upper slopes).
And then things started to get really interesting as we moved on to the 2018 barrel samples from individual parcels within Côte Brûne and Côte Blonde. The samples, whilst all sharing a finesse, structure and power were all markedly different, offering insights to the finished wines. Memorable elements were the high alcohol juice(15%) from Le Plomb (where the finished blend will be round 13½ %), the smokey, bacon fat aroma of the Fonjeant parcel, the distinctive violet nose of the Gérin parcel and the lovely depth of black fruit and spice notes in the Truchet parcel.
What a winemaker!! If only our allocations were bigger.
It was now time to head south. With almost an hours drive ahead of us we made our farewells and departed the snowy slopes of Domaine Jamet. Once down the hairpin bends and switchbacks of the slopes of Côte Rôtie we crossed the mighty Rhône and joined the A7 which led us inevitably towards Tain – l’Hermitage.
Apart from being a legendary wine location on the Rhône, Tain – l’Hermitage also happens to be the home of Valhrona chocolate and La Cité du Chocolat, Valhrona’s museum and interactive experience to all things chocolate! (Definitely worth remembering for a future trip to the region!) Unfortunately, we had to keep going and a mere six minutes later we arrived at Domaine Coursodon in the villages of Mauves.
We were met at the doors to the cellar by fifth generation family wine maker, Jérôme Coursodon, and what a gentleman he is.
Jérôme led us down, below the reception room to the family cellars where the new vintages were resting in their oak barrels. Our tasting started with a tank sample of:
Saint Joseph Blanc les Silices 2018 (100% Marsanne, 100% stainless steel), followed by Etincelle Blanc 2017 (Delicious and great value, a Vin de France, 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne). Saint Joseph les Silice Rouge 2018 (from a 14 year old parcel, concentrated rich fruit and a wonderful, bitter violet finish).
We then moved on to some of the individual Cuveé’s; Olivaie 2018 (from 60 year old vines,) Paradis 2018 (unfined and toffee notes on the nose), La Sensonne 2018 (100% new oak and very concentrated).
Jérôme then produced some bottlings of the 2017 vintage: Saint Joseph les Silice (so very refined), L’Olivaie (very “together” for such a young wine), Le Paradis St Pierre (dark and exceptionally concentrated, but still wonderfully balanced).
As a treat we finished with a bottle of Saint Joseph L’Olivaie 2011. A treat to see a mature bottle. Absolutely ready to drink and showing a Chambord style nose and an elegant palate. Somewhat short but refined and elegant.
The town of Carpentras
With the tasting over it was a fond farewell to Jérôme and back into the cars for the 2 hour drive to Carpentras. It is a rather dreary town, but did set us up well for the next days excursions into the southern Rhône.
It has to be said that, apart from its ideal location for the next days visits, Carpentras had little to recommend it. (Although there is a superb truffle restaurant, Chez Serge, that we were lucky enough to visit Thursday evening). Arriving as we did around 9:00pm. we were rather limited in our dinner options. Thanks to the very friendly, dog owning, hotel owner, who directed us to a very good pizza restaurant (the only restaurant still open), we did not go hungry.
After quick change of clothes we made our way through the quiet streets to find the very trendy, “Come Pizza” on Avenue Notre Dame de Santé. Whilst the quality of the food was excellent the selection of wines did leave a little to be desired, especially considering where we had spent the day. Fortunately, we still had the bottle of Côte Rôtie Champin Le Seigneur 2016. Which, as it turns out, goes particularly well with wood-fired pizza. Delicious!
A few pints, a bottle of Côte Rôtie and some delicious pizza later and we were back to the hotel and readying ourselves for the next days tasting in the southern Rhône.