Early morning Carpentras, blue skies, crisp frost but none of the snow that greeted us in Beaune. A breakfast of café au lait and croissants in our favourite Patisserie, Jouvaud, does not disappoint. And then we are off.
Mont Ventoux stands majestically before us with a dusting of snow making it ridiculously picturesque. We drive towards the more jagged peaks of the Dentelles de Montmiraille and arrive on time at Domaine du Grapillon d’Or where the smiling face of Celine Chauvet awaits.
We taste the ever-reliable staff favourite, Merlot- Caladoc. Such a good pizza / party wine at under £10! Caladoc is a cross between Grenache and Malbec and gives it a point of interest. We taste the Gigondas 2017 and 2016 as well as the Cuvee Excellence 2016 and the classic Gigondas 2015. All the wines have scored superbly with the critics and our marks do not conflict.
2017, she tells us, was marked by coulure and a severe drought but the classic Gigondas is fresh and juicy with yielding tannins and very pure fruit. Then it is on to Demazet on the edge of the Ventoux appellation.
This is a larger operation, a co-operative in fact but a very efficient one. We source one of our best-selling restaurant reds here, Cotes du Rhone Reserve des Armoiries – also the Canteperdix Viognier and Ventoux red.
Nicolas also has a few new things for us to try – some of interest and some not. His Gadagne, Chateau Quilex has proved popular with our customers and the 2017 is on a par with the 2016 we currently stock.
Onwards we go to the little town of Chateauneuf du Pape which is aptly the location for Roger Sabon’s winery although they have vineyards dotted throughout the appellation. The first wine we try sets the bar pretty high. It is the white Chateauneuf du Pape 2018. He only makes 6,000 bottles and we have never shipped it before but this cuvee seduces us all. It won’t be cheap but we may be able to persuade Jim to add a few bottles to our order.
There is no doubt the extremely rare Secret de Sabon 2017 steals the show but I am very impressed by all 3 more affordable Chateauneufs from the 2016 vintage. Les Olivets is almost ready to drink, the Reserve needs 2 or 3 years and the Prestige should be put away for at least 5 years.
New wines from Old Friends: Vieille Julienne and Vieux Telegraphe
It had been some time since Jim and Jean-Paul Daumen had been in touch but it was like 2 old friends meeting at the door of the Vieille Julienne winery. “You’re looking well”, “Where’s the hair gone?” – same old banter!
Vieille Julienne is a unique 25 hectare estate farmed biodynamically in one block. Jean-Paul chooses not to put his Demeter certification on the label of the parcel selection wines as he doesn’t want this to be a distraction from the focus of the expression of terroir. There is no doubt it is a very singular place with its north facing vineyards in the northern part of the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation.
My favourite of his sublime wines was the Les Trois Sources. This is a field blend with a base of Grenache but there is also some Counoise in the blend. What struck me was the purity of the fruit and the fact that the tannins were superfine – a remarkable feat in the Southern Rhone.
Then it’s on to a very close friend of JN Wine and a stalwart of our list: Vieux Telegraphe. Daniel Brunier is always delighted to show the newcomers around his winery which he designed himself according to the very exacting way he wishes to make his wines.
His son Edouard, whom some of you may have met at one of the Belfast tastings, is now very much part of the team and carrying on the family tradition of fastidious attention to detail. We tasted through the range together starting with the 2018 Pigeoulets: both the red and white of these Vaucluse wines offer great value for money .
The white is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Clairette giving it a rich texture, balanced by fine acidity and a citrus finish. The red is dominated by Grenache with beautiful purity of strawberry fruit and a long, mineral finish.
Tasting Telegramme and Piedlong side by side demonstrated the difference in these two cuvees. The Telegramme 2017 has real black pepper and garrigue notes on the nose. Classic Chateauneuf, it is full bodied and muscular and needs time to develop. The Piedlong has a herbal note and juicy fruit with more wet stone / mineral on the palate. It is made from older vines and Daniel includes 50% stems – which, he says, works with this wine giving it freshness and a texture which is almost Burgundian.
I thought the 2017 was excellent with notes of black fruit, liquorice, mineral and pepper. Well balanced, it has a freshness to balance the intensity of the fruit and a very long finish. The 2016, which we have just shipped, is now tasting quite superbly. It has an amazing purity of summer fruit. Concentrated yet weightless, it manages also to be very elegant. We still have a few cases of this fantastic wine available to purchase by the case or by the bottle (delivered or from our shop in Crossgar).
The Beaune to Rhone Case is available now and features some of the producers in this blog,