Popular Posts

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

En Primeur Rhone Tasting With Cambridge Wine Merchants at St John's Chop House

Earlier this week, I was invited to a Rhône en primeur tasting by Stewart Travers, Senior Buyer for Cambridge Wine Merchants, held at the St John's Chop House which I have previously reviewed here.

When one thinks of en primeur (buying wine ahead of commercial bottling), First Growth Bordeaux is usually what springs to mind and indeed, Bordeaux represents around 90% of the market.

However, there are en primeur offerings of top wines from Burgundy and California as well as the Rhône.

With 35 wines to get through, most of them young, red and grippy, it was quite hard work and half-way through I had to pause for a thorough palate sluicing and refresh before continuing.

Most of the attendees were college buyers looking to buy stocks at favourable prices to lay down in cellars for years if not decades, for in a gently-but-steadily rising market and with enough up-front capital and storage space, you could easily plan to sell half what you originally buy at a later date and cover the entire cost with the proceeds.

The hand-out with the wines informed me that 2010 was a very good vintage with lower alcohol levels, more acidity and Grenache yields down, meaning generally more of the more-tannic varieties in the blends.

Prices are quoted "IBD per case of 12" - to get to a retail price, add £22 duty then divide by 10 (this is mathematically equivalent to diving by 12 and then adding 20% VAT).

This gives you a per-bottle price assuming you buy a case - single bottles sold off the shelves will be more expensive.

It is worth noting that given the colleges' volume and buying power, these wines are probably cheaper at Cambridge Wine Merchants than elsewhere - see here for their en primeur selections.

White wines

The Luberon Blanc, Perrin & Fils was aromatic and fruity on the nose, with minerality, a soft texture, balance and length - good value at £36.

If you're still struggling with the en primeur maths, that's around £4.80 per bottle for a case or around £5.99 on the shelf.

The Cotes du Rhône Samorens, Ferraton Pere & Fils (£45) was crisper with more minerality.

The Saint Peray Le Mialan, Ferraton Pere & Fils (£84) had more weighty structure and minerality on the finish.

The progression of these three wines was fascinating with the cheapest showing the most aromatic, up-front fruit on the nose that we have all come to love whilst the more expensive wines showed progressively more weight and texture on the palate and greater length on the finish.

A Condrieu at £200 showed honeysuckle aromas, a peachy texture and a hint of something like warm toastiness; I really tried to see why it should be more than double the price of the previous wine, but failed - would I pay £22 a bottle for this wine ? I don't think so.

Rosé wines

A Cotes du Rhone Samorens, Ferraton Pere & Fils (£45) was very pale and more of a crisp white with a bit of colour, and had good minerality and linear structure.

By contrast, a Tavel, Domaine de la Rocaliere (£65) was the colour of diluted Ribena and had a "Pinot-esque" nose and a fuller if softer and gentler texture with a more minerally finish.

Southern Rhône reds

Perhaps it's not surprise that, in an en primeur tasting of cool-vintage red wines, the word grippy comes up in my notes a lot. Moreover, I arrived at the start of the tasting so the bottles had only recently been opened.

Looking back, there are certain themes that come across in the wines - balanced grippiness, cool mintiness, elderberry fruit, inky texture and rounded tannins being the best aspects.

For me, the most enjoyable wines (for drinking now-ish rather than for laying down) were those that showed in particular rounded tannins with a dense inky texture and good fruit with the addition of something more secondary and interesting such as vegetal aromas or cool mintiness.

Other wines might potentially do better over the course of, say, 10 - 20 years, but for me the key criterion was wines for drinking in the next few years, albeit perhaps with a few hours in the decanter.

These then, are the wines that stood out:

The Cotes du Rhône Antimagnes Rouge, Domaine Escaravailles (£65) had a blackcurranty, vegetal nose, a dense, grippy and mouthfilling texture with blackcurrant fruit and cool mint.

The Cotes du Rhône Villages from Mas de Boislauzon (£72) was very dark in the glass with a minty, eucalyptus nose, very soft and plump on the palate with a grippy finish.

The Lirac Rouge "Ikebana", Domaine de la Rocaliere (£105) was very dark in the glass with dark cherry fruit and a vegetal nose, a lovely inky texture, mintiness on the palate, soft and smooth with a nicely grippy finish - balanced and rounded.

The Lirac Rouge "Dentelle Noir" also from Domaine de La Rocaliere (£105) had a complex minty nose with lots of dark fruit, cool mint and rounded but grippy tannins on the finish; it felt like a step-up from the previous wine.

The Cairenne Ventabren from Domaine Escaravailles (£82) was paler in the glass with a more vegetal nose, more pruney fruit on the palate and overall felt less tannically challenging - very well balanced and perhaps a wine for slightly earlier drinking.

The Vacqueryras Domaine Saint Pierre (£102) showed complex dark berries, liquorice and cool mint; the texture is lovely in a soft-yet-mouthfilling way with pleasant grip.

The Rasteau Vielles Vignes, Domaine Grand Nicolet (£80) had a vegetal nose of dark cherries and again a lovely soft-yet-grippy texture.

The Roaix Hautes Granges, Domaine Escaravailles (£115) was dark in the glass with dark cherry fruit, prunes, dark spices, liquorice and vanilla; a lovely mouthfilling texture, balanced grip and cool mint.

The Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine de Farguerol (£129) felt gentler with balanced prune, cherry, liquorice and cool mint - an easier-drinking wine.

The Chateauneuf du Pape, Mas De Boislauzon (£209) had more prune and spice and was significantly more expensive, but showed a superior tannic structure.

The next two wines shoot up the pricing scale, so it's no surprise that they were very good - both showed a soft ripeness that makes them suitable for drinking now.

The Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine de Villeneuve (£240) was vegetal with dark cherries and had a lovely texture with blackcurranty fruit and soft, harmonious ripeness, well-integrated tannins and good fruit.

The Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee de Quet, Mas De Boislauzon (£550), a GSM blend from 60 year-old vines, had a very vegetal nose, dark cherries, elderberry fruit and cool mint. The palate is soft and mouthfilling, with a balanced tannic structure and a huge finish where the vegetal aromas make a re-appearance.

Expensive with lots of ripe fruit and rounded tannins, perhaps it's no surprise that this one is well-liked by US critic Robert Parker.

Northern Rhône reds

A pair of Crozes Hermitage from Ferraton Pere et Fils - La Matiniere (£79) and Les Picheres (£110) - showed surprisingly well after the previous wine (at £550, 5+ times the price).

The Crozes Hermitage "Le Rouvre", Yann Chave (£142) had a vegetal nose, elderberry fruit, prominent cool mint and a balanced soft texture.

Again, the last two wines in this section were significantly more expensive than the earlier bottles.

The Cote Rotie "La Germine", Benjamin and David Duclaux (£291) had a floral, fragrant nose of violets and a soft, peachy texture with good tannins, pepperiness and some eucalyptus.

The Hermitage, Yann Chave (£422) showed elderberry and eucalyptus on the nose, with a complex, soft-yet-grippy texture and felt balanced and well-integrated.


After the formal tasting, I sat down to a roast beef dinner courtesy of the St John's Chop House and chewed the fat (not literally, the meat was lovely) with CWM owner Hal Wilson on the "Chinese effect" on 2010 en primeur Bordeaux and also caught up with Lyndsey Spellman, one of CWM's directors on the need for business admin and how young graduates looking for work in the wine trade all talk about their passion for wine and visiting vineyards, but are surprisingly reticent on the subject of making sales to punters or running a profitable business.

Over lunch, we tasted four wines that had arrived too late to make it into the en primeur tasting and sampled in their "proper setting" of a meal, these all showed excellently and matched well with the food.


This was the most technically challenging tasting I have been to so far - and therefore a great experience - with its focus on young, tannic reds from a single region and vintage.

The Rhone is not an area I know particularly well as my early wine education was based on good, plentiful but inexpensive Bordeaux from French supermarkets and so for well-structured, mouthfilling French reds, I usually look to Bordeaux.

What I have found with Rhône reds, however, is a very different tannic structure which shows as a dense, mouthfilling inkiness and which I find I do rather like.

Recommended wines

With such a wide range of prices from pretty much "everyday drinking" to "rich Uncle's indulgence" and nary a disappointing wine on show, it is very difficult to pick out a single wine to recommend.

Moreover, these are very young wines and will continue to develop for many years yet.

Fellow Cambridge wine blogger, Davy Kurniawian who also came along to the event recommends Domaine de Escaravailles and Mas de Boislauzon generally.

My personal recommedation for a good Rhône wine from Cambridge Wine Merchants is a de-classified Cornas from Jean-Luc Colombo that I reviewed for my September Wine of the Month column.

It did not award it the Wine of the Month simply because, being young, it does not show well straight out of the bottle and needs a a good couple of hours in the decanter to open up and soften out (or a couple of years in bottle). However, with a bit of air, it really is a lovely wine and I have since been looking for a forum to give it the acclaim I feel it merits.

Les Collines De Laure, Syrah, Collines Rhodaniennes, 2009, Jean-Luc Colombo, £9.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants


Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
St John's Chop House - http://www.stjohnschophouse.co.uk/

Davy's review of the tasting - http://vinoremus.blogspot.com/2011/11/cwm-rhone-2010-en-primeur.html
My review of the Jean-Luc Colombo - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com/2011/09/wine-of-month-september.html

Main image credit: http://www.sevierwines.com/images/vineyards-rhone.gif

No comments:

Post a Comment