Tag Archives: rhone

Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my Rhone)

December is upon us, nights are long and temperatures low, and by my reckoning that makes it Southern Rhone o’clock. I don’t think I’m alone here, even if Grenache, the region’s dominant grape, is not the trendiest, which you can tell because it’s largely ignored by ambitious new world producers (nearly 90% of all the world’s Grenache comes from France or Spain). But it is capable of producing wines of genuine greatness as well as wines that sit in that sweetest of spots, giving great pleasure to the consumer without causing significant pain to their wallet.

Take, for example, Rasteau. I literally took an example of Rasteau a couple of weeks back, having been offered a bottle as part of the celebrations of the region’s 10th anniversary as a full-blown Rhône cru – at the top of the local hierarchy, above Côtes du Rhône Villages, which itself sits above the common-or-garden Côtes du Rhônes. Rasteau is a name to remember, as you will generally find it to be a phenomenal hunting ground for generous, fruity, warming (fairly alcoholic, in other words) and good value reds, though it is also true that you will not generally find it at all.

Let’s take a quick look at the current selection available to Britain’s Rasteau-hunters. Here’s what you can find at Tesco:

Meanwhile at Sainsbury’s, there’s this:

Marks and Spencer offer this:

And at Waitrose not only is there no Rasteau, but customers looking for some are told they might like to just skip straight to the spirit aisle:

As for the wine specialists, the Wine Society currently lists one (at £13.95), as do Majestic (£14.99/6), Laithwaite’s (£14.79/12), Slurp (the same one as the Wine Society, but at £14.95), Lay & Wheeler (£14.95 in bond, and they only had four bottles of that at the time of writing) and even Rhone-focused Yapp Brothers (£14.50). The homogeneity of their pricing is just one of the remarkable things about this list; most obviously it is surprising that there is so little of this stuff about, given that Rasteau produces about the same amount of wine as Gigondas (33,494 hectolitres in 2016, compared to 36,832 in Gigondas), and everyone*’s got loads of that. Clearly the fine folk of Rasteau are also puzzled about this, which is why they are sending bottles to the likes of me (there is also a Rasteau vin doux naturel, which is considerably harder to find).

For a general idea of Rasteau’s stylings, the Wine Society have a Côtes du Rhône made entirely from Rasteau-grown grapes for just £9.50, from the reliably good Romaine des Escaravailles (also available at Cambridge Wine Merchants for £12.10). Further up the same producer’s ladder, the Wine Society normally list their Rasteau La Ponce in their Rhone en primeur offers, most recently at £95 in bond for 12, or about £12 a bottle once you factor in duty and tax, and it is reliably excellent value at that price. Cambridge Wine Merchants have La Ponce 2018 available for £19.99 (or £16.62 if you buy 12), and Escaravailles’ top-of-the-range Rasteau Heritage 1924 2016 for £29.99/£27.50

As for the bottle I got, it was Les Adrès 2016 from Domaine du Trapadis, which is made by a man called Helen. It was a full-throttle bottle, bursting with fruit and energy, impressive freshness for its 14% ABV, and velvety smooth, still young but raring to go. In the UK the 2013 is available from Natural Vine for £21.25 (as well as the same producer’s Rasteau Tradition 2013 for £17). It was an absolute pleasure to drink, though (obviously) it is much better value in France, where it costs around €15. Curiously, Trapadis are sufficiently environmentally concerned to be certified biodynamic but nevertheless bottle their wines with an Ardeaseal, a cork substitute made using “highly technological synthetic materials” (plastic, in other words) and “an avant-garde manufacturing process”. My trusty Le Creuset corkscrew took one look at the Ardaseal and snapped in two, but thankfully the contents of the bottle made the sacrifice worthwhile. I look forward to bottles of Rasteau being easier to get hold of, and easier to get into.

* Nearly

Côte-Rotie, points and prizes

Recently I went to an illuminating Côte-Rotie tasting at Roberson, an excellent wine merchant on Kensington High Street, one of a series of high cost but high reward evenings they host there. Côte-Rotie is an appellation in the Northern Rhone that produces syrah-dominated red wines, often brightened with a splash of the white grape viognier. Like pretty much everything from the northern Rhone it’s normally too expensive for me to buy – at Majestic the cheapest version costs £40; at Berry Bros it’s £32.65; the Wine Society, to be fair, has three between £20 and £30 (and I actually bought one there a few weeks back for £25); Roberson themselves have a small selection that starts at £300 a bottle and ends on £1,020 (reduced from £1,335). The upshot was that I tried more Cote-Roties in this single evening than in the entire rest of my life.

We tried 10 wines in all, served in three flights and ranging in retail price from £49.95 to £395, for the most famous and celebrated wines of the appellation. With my inexperience in wines of this style, and at this level, I was a little nervous about how my poor tastebuds would shape up. But things started pretty well as we were given a few minutes to quietly try the first three wines, and my conclusions broadly mirrored the consensus of my presumably rather more experienced co-tasters. Of these, a 2001 Rene Rostaing “La Landonne” was rather brilliant, in a complex but still understated way, and smelt rather a lot of zatar, I thought. My favourite of the second flight, again in line with popular opinion, was a 1998 Delas “La Landonne”, made from fruit from elsewhere in the same vineyard, even though it smelt rather a lot of damp swimming goggles.

My confidence buoyed by these minor successes, the final flight and unrivalled highlight of the evening was served: a full line-up of 1998 Guigal’s “la-las”, the nickname for three single-vineyard Côte-Roties, La Landonne (again), La Mouline and La Turque – incredibly famous wines that I never thought I’d get my mitts on, and the wines most often awarded a maximum 100 points by notorious wine critic Robert Parker. Though only one of the three 1998s – La Landonne – had got the full haul, this was my first chance to taste a 100-point wine.

And I must say I was baffled. Of the three I preferred La Turque, but I found them all a bit unyielding and unlovely. Give me the Rostaing Landonne, for a “mere” £80 a bottle, over these £400-a-pop leviathans. Perhaps I lacked the experience to judge how they will evolve, because they’re certainly not at their peak yet – but I couldn’t find enough fruit to make them particularly interesting either now nor in the future. I’m prepared, though, to accept that I am wrong. Pretty much everyone else disagreed.

And so my conclusion has to be that I either need to drink many more 100-point wines, or no more at all. And that, while the best of Côte-Rotie is pretty excellent, if you want to drink some syrah there’s much, much better value to be had elsewhere.