Login | Subscribe
twitter

2006 IN THE NORTHERN RHÔNE: CLOSE-UP

INTRODUCTION

2006 in the Northern Rhône is a flashback to my earliest Rhône days - 1973-74 - when no vintage could be taken for granted, and if nature delivered a fine crop, there was reason to rejoice. 2008 is an even more extreme case of this. In those distant days, a dodgy crop, as was often the case, meant the grower just had to get on with spoiled raw materials it, and make the best of matters. Across the market, expectations were way lower, and more realistic, than they are today. There was then no early hype around a vintage: news trickled out gradually, without an early rush to judgment. Furthermore, wines took time to bring together their acidities and their tannins - those were the days of whole bunch fermentations, and the wines were allowed more time than they are today.

After the run of early 2000s heated vintages, with growers` expectations served so high year on year, 2006 came as a shock to some domaines: the wine started with an angular nature, and Global Warming had not done its work during the summer. There was a struggle to achieve easy ripeness.

The year had got off to a slow start, with an unusually heavy snowfall of 40 cm (16 inches) in January at Cornas. Water reserves started to edge back to normal levels, so diminishing some of the hydratic stress that the vines had experienced since the deluges of autumn 2002. 2005 had been very dry, and hot, with the famous tannins of that vintage emanating from the thick skins built up through the summer. There was 20% more rain over the year of 2006 than there had been in 2005, but notably in the important time of January to March, when it is most needed to set the tone of the vines` first flourish, it was four times greater - 196 mm (8 inches) against the 49 mm (2 inches) of 2005.  

By April, there was a roughly two week lag in ripening; "there have been a lot of morning frosts, like the old days," commented Bernard Faurie at Hermitage. June and July were very dry, but mixed in with the summer heat of that month came a well-timed rainfall at Crozes-Hermitage in the third week of July. Some rain in August helped to smooth out the ripening of the polyphenols in the Syrah.  While August was not very hot, and was even fresh at Côte-Rôtie at the northern end of the Valley, September was fine and stable.

It is always worth remembering that in ripening terms, Cornas and Hermitage are comfortably ahead of Côte-Rôtie, whose mean temperature is usually 1-2°C lower. Consequently in less hot years, the Côte-Rôties will be on the sinew more than on any plump fruit, as if stretching out their feelers to the Pinot Noir lands of Burgundy further north. The wines from such years take their time to fuse, and if tasted in their first two years can surprise people through their evident acidity and apparent lack of real body.

The contributor to 2006`s ripening, as happened in 2007 as well, was the presence of the North Wind, locally called the Bise (the Kiss - I hope Rodin isn`t offended). This served to concentrate the grapes late in their cycle.

Now for some grower comments on 2006, the appellations in alphabetical order:

INDEX

1. CONDRIEU

2. CORNAS

3. CÔTE-RÔTIE

4. CROZES-HERMITAGE RED & WHITE

5. HERMITAGE RED & WHITE

6. SAINT-JOSEPH RED & WHITE

7. SAINT-PÉRAY

 

1. 2006 CONDRIEU

While the Marsanne frolicked in 2006, the Viognier at Condrieu faced challenges. In the front rank came the problem of rapidly rising alcohol levels - "we experienced some plants gaining 2° in a day," commented Christine Vernay of the top-notch Domaine Georges Vernay. "We had galloping ripeness after 20 September - it was high degree everywhere - even on the plateau it was 15°, versus 13°+ normally, and there wasn`t the difference between low and high slopes that usually exists. As a result, 2006 was difficult to vinify - the sugars were sluggish to end and also it was hard to get the malos done," recalls Christine. Personally, I am hindered by the alcohol in the 2006s, which I find oppressive and a little fiery at times.

The Vernays were not alone: "The Viognier was complicated to complete in 2006; we only finished the malolactic fermentations in June 2007," says Philippe Guigal.

A supporter of the vintage has vineyards on the Côte Bonnette, above the village of Condrieu at the very north end of the appellation (the heartlands). "I prefer 2006 to 2005 because it is a bit less heavy than 2005, and as the yields were high - a full 40 hl/ha - acidity levels were better in 2006," affirms Yves Gangloff.

So good was the late season, the weather so fine and stable, that Stéphane Montez at Domaine du Monteillet was encouraged to make a botrytis/passerillé wine - his 2006 Grain de Folie is ***(*). "The extraordinary month of October encouraged me to do this," he says. Likewise, the Yves Cuilleron late-picked 2006 Les Ayguets was also successful, coming in at ***(*).

SOME LEADING CONDRIEU 2006s

For the regular Condrieus, the field is headed by three habitual suspects, and one "outsider"

*****  E.Guigal La Doriane  way ahead of the field this year 
****  André Perret Chéry   
****  Domaine Georges Vernay Coteau de Vernon   
****  Domaine Mouton Côte Châtillon improving all the while here  
***(*)  André Perret Clos Chanson   
***(*)  Domaine Niéro Cuvée de Chéry   
***  Domaine Boissonnet   
***  Yves Cuilleron Les Chaillets  
***  Yves Cuilleron Vertige   
***  Pierre Gaillard   
***  Yves Gangloff   
***  François & Xavier Gérard Côte Châtillon   improvement ticking over here 
***  Paul Jaboulet Aîné Les Cassines   
***  François Merlin Jeanraude   
***  Domaine Niéro Les Ravines  
***  Stéphane Othéguy   
***  Christophe Pichon   
***  Domaine Georges Vernay Les Chaillées d'Enfer   
***  J.Vidal-Fleury  near overripe crop 

 

Very honourable mention in the vin de pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Viognier category, always capable of supplying mini-Condrieus at cheaper prices, are

**(*)  André Perret Franc de Pied "Marsanne"   1980s "Marsanne" 
**  Domaine du Monteillet Les Hauts du Monteillet   young vines 
**  Domaine Mouton   1989-1992 Viognier 
**  Michel & Stéphane Ogier Viognier de Rosine    2000 Viognier vines 

2. 2006 CORNAS

Vincent Paris, who works the Genale vineyard on Reynards, a wonderful central site where I own a few vines, finds 2006 quite an easy vintage - "it is a bit like 2004, but with more in it," he states. "There is a lot of perfume and good acidity support, which can allow a steady, slow evolution," he adds. "The wines do not have a big structure, but have finesse. They are lighter than 2005, but the acidity adds interest," he observes.

In similar vein, Thiérry Allemand describes 2006 as "pretty", but variable from one cask to another, like the 2005. Eric Durand, of the progressive Domaine Durand, also remarks on the stylish nature of these wines: "there was good acidity support this year, but above all a lot of finesse", he says.

At the prime Domaine Clape, Pierre observed in mid-2008 that "the wines are just closing up now, are a touch austere, and were more open at Christmas. They are quite square now. For me, 2006 resembles 2004 a bit, but has more matter and more firmness." In December, 2008, he found the following: "the wine is now a bit more closed than it was - it is less on its fruit than when we assembled it. It is not an enormous year for us, but is a wine for the future. It has cleaner fruit than the 2004, more matter than 1996, while 1991 had more sparkling or brighter fruit. It isn`t easy to find a parallel year for this," he concluded.

Pierre`s father Auguste reflects on the year thus: "I think the 2006 will keep its fruit for a long  time. We were at a full yield allowance, even having dropped grapes. 2006 is closer to 2005 than 2004." I would add, however, that the texture of the tannins is very different from 2005: the Reynards Clape 2006 is a three-quarter depth wine, is rather refined, and its tannins will be well absorbed by around 2010 - less time than in the really robust, dry, hot vintages such as 2005.

Across the appellation, the Cornas 2006s are more readable than the 2005s, are more transparent, and reflect well on the vinification progress made at this appellation over the past eight years or so. In the case of Jacques Leminicer, who has been making improved wines these past three years or so, a more robust 2006 will emerge - "that is because I have been doing a longer maceration, up from 3 to 4 weeks," he explains. Other modifications or modernisations at Cornas include the use of a large oak Tronconique vat of 15 hectolitres by Stéphane Robert at the successful Domaine du Tunnel. This will infuse more oak into the wine.

Young, talented Jérome Despesse, who works under half a hectare inherited from his father, finds 2006 more deep than his 2007, and so adapted his raising of 2007 accordingly. In December, 2008, he told me:"2006 is more structured, has more matter than 2007 - I will only raise the 2007 for 14 months, not the usual 18 months, since the risk is that the longer cask ageing will dry the wine."

SOME LEADING CORNAS 2006s

*****  Thiérry Allemand Reynard  exemplary 
****(*)  Vincent Paris Granit 60    
****  Domaine Clape STGT, really faithful 
****  Franck Balthazar Chaillot  but 2 bottlings differ 
****  Domaine Durand Confidence   
****  Alain Voge Les Vieilles Fontaines   
***(*)  Thiérry Allemand Chaillot   
***(*)  Domaine Courbis Champelrose   
***(*)  Domaine Courbis La Sabarotte   
***(*)  Delas Chante Perdrix   
***(*)  Domaine Durand Empreintes  brothers on the roll 
***(*)  Paul Jaboulet Aîné Les Grandes Terrasses   
***(*)  Johann Michel Cuvée Jana  
***(*)  Alain Voge Les Vieilles Vignes   
***  Domaine Clape Renaissance   
***  Jérome Despesse tiny vineyard, talented 
***  Dumien Serrette Patou  12/09 up from *(*)
***  Guillaume Gilles   promising new boy  
***  Jacques Lemenicier  improving of late 
***  Gabriel Meffre Cuvée Carolus 2 different taste results 
***  Johann Michel   hard working improver 
***  Vincent Paris Granit 30   
**(*) Paul Jaboulet Aîné Domaine St-Pierre 12/18: lacks cohesion

Lastly, note three very fine, genuine Côtes du Rhônes, first of all the *** 2006 Jérome Despesse red, also in the w.o.w. category, and a Clape duo - the 2006 Domaine Clape Syrah and the 98% Marsanne, 2% Viognier Domaine Clape white, both **(*). Then an honourable footnote here for the ** Domaine Durand 2006 Vin de pays de l`Ardèche Merlot.

3. 2006 CÔTE-RÔTIE

"2006 is one of the most beau Côte-Rôties we have made - it is profound, terribly aromatic, a true Syrah of the North wine, not heavy in any way at all," commented Yves Gangloff to me. He added, "I prefer 2006 to 2005 because it is a bit less heavy than 2005, and as the yields were high, acidity levels were better in 2006." Yves of course makes wines of finesse, and enjoys supple tannins, so 2006 would be right up his alleyway, as they say (there is no real street outside his house).

Another purveyor of finesse, René Rostaing, was also content: "2006 is very classic, a bit like 2004, a vintage on the supple side that is fine and elegantly structured - it is not a scoop wine for the press," he stated, adding that "the yield was correct, at 35-40 hl/ha." All his three cuvées have done well. "My La Landonne 2006 was very good for a long time, but closed up in November 2007," he says, "just as the Blonde started to open. It's often like that between the two of them." His classic Côte-Rôtie is faithful to both place and vintage, marked by bright black fruits with a live thread of tannin coursing through it until a good, clear-toned finish arrives.

The trio of Big Wines from Guigal are all well defined this year, lending credence to the vintage`s striking clarity of definition. La Mouline is floral, with a sweet-toned bouquet and verve on the palate`s open fruit - "it has always been fruited and open," according to Philippe Guigal. La Turque reflects its characteristic soaked red cherries on the bouquet, and a friendly ensemble on the palate - a wine of flow, and ripe tannins. La Landonne is an arresting combination of the open fruit of the year, along with the crisp, oxide mineral of its place - a wine of complexity and growing worth as it ages. "I love the balance of the 2006s - the longer they live the better they are, stated Philippe Guigal in March 2009.

Across the appellation, leading names have helpful comments to make about 2006. "It seems a bit above 2004 in structure," remarked Patrick Jasmin, very early on, in December 2006. In December, 2008, he noted: "when we first bottled the 2006s, they were lively, pleasure, elegance wines, but now they are starting to close a little - I expect them to open before my 2005, which is very closed, a big structure wine."

Jean-Paul Jamet's comment in June 2007 was "it is very beau, it isn`t a closed or austere wine, it`s one that tastes well now - which is unusual. Our crop was very mature." Jean-Paul also remarked that some of the wines were low in acidity. The Jamets actually picked into October, ending on 6 October after starting on 25 September. In December 2008, tasting the wine after 3 months in bottle, Jean-Paul observed: "the fruit is ripe, there is a wine racé ( of pedigree), it is a classic style of year."

Louis Drevon, the unassuming owner of Domaine des Rosiers, told me: "2006 is a good vintage - the yields were 36 hl/ha, against 32 hl/ha in 2005, and there was no rot. I started to harvest on 18 September, 4 days later than in 2005. August was fresh, nearly cold, but we had summer weather from early September onwards. June and July were very dry, but some August rain helped. There is very good balance. I find the vintage close to 2001, a structured, keeping wine that needs putting aside until at least 2012."

Bernard Levet, as traditional as you can find, initiated a new cuvée in 2004, Maestria, at his daughter Agnes` bidding. The vines are on the west end of La Landonne, on terraces - note terraces, and not the ex-terraces of Guigal`s holding, where an easy to cultivate slope has been shaped out of the old terraces. He is content with his 2006 ripeness: "we had very good maturity on our terraces on La Landonne in 2006, for over 13°," he states.

The modernist Stéphane Ogier is also pleased with 2006, but remarked on the acidity levels, in similar vein to Jean-Paul Jamet. "There is good equilibrium, but lower acidity than 2005 and 2004, and also more alcohol than 2005; the malos completed very quickly, and were all done by January, whereas in 2004 and 2005 some took until June. The warm winter of 2006/07 helped this. The 2006 makes me think of 2004 with less acidity and more roundness than the 2004 - it has good, persistent fruit. I will age my 2006s for less time in cask than the 2005s, which had a lot of tannic rcihness." After bottling his wines, Stéphane remarked in December 2008: "although the 2006s are very good in their youth, they can be left for another 3 to 4 years for best results."  

2006 Côte-Rôtie is therefore a wine that may not receive the glare of publicity, but which I back to do well. First of all, it is consistent across many domaines - over 50 have been tasted, and small growers such as Christophe Billon have made wonderful top wines, his La Brocarde a real STGT (Soil to Glass Transfer) darling. Likewise less high profile domaines such as Garon and Duclaux, with the low intervention winemakers like Jean-Michel Stéphan showing up well.

Second, 2006 has the sort of slow-burn gain in depth and variety that brings to mind past gradual successes such as 1991, and reaching far back to my earliest wine days, 1967. I would cite it as a Burgundian style year, led by finesse and supple tannins, with a little helping of mystery. The wines hold agreeable, well-founded richness, and ripe, well-behaved tannins that have just a little bite in them. The only intrusion is the amount of oak, an issue that has been hanging around Côte-Rôtie these past ten years or more. Most of the wines can be drunk from 2010, provided the oak has been absorbed.

On a final note of interest, the Guigal trio of Mouline, Turque and Landonne were tasted with 9 other vintages of the Big Three with Marcel and Bernadette Guigal in the Maldive Islands in May 2011. The wines had been shipped in refrigerated containers specifically for the occasion, and were in good order. Most noticeable about the 2006s was their transition style - neither very young, nor middling in age,. They were all tucked up to some extent, not showing at their most open or alluring. They were marked as they stood on that day, but I take heart from the acidity present, and thus their ability to take their time and keep on trucking. Expect their performance to improve by a notch or two from around 2015.

SOME LEADING CÔTE-RÔTIE 2006s

******  Michel & Stéphane Ogier Lancement "terroir de Blonde"   
******  René Rostaing Côte Blonde   
*****  Gilles Barge Côte Brune   
*****  Domaine de Bonserine La Garde improving in bottle 
*****  E.Guigal La Landonne  bounty, charm, frm 6*
*****  Domaine Jamet Côte Brune   
****(*)  Clusel-Roch Les Grandes Places   
****(*)  Domaine Garon Les Rochins   
****(*)  Dom Michel & Stéphane Ogier Cuvée La Belle Hélène   
****(*)  René Rostaing La Landonne   
****  Marie & Pierre Benetière Cordeloux  STGT, gentle wine 
****  Christophe & Maryline Billon La Brocarde  note this down 
****  Delas La Landonne   
****  Benjamin & David Duclaux La Germine  good young hands 
****  Jean-Michel Gérin Les Grandes Places   
****  E.Guigal Le Chateau d`Ampuis  steady stayer 
****  E.Guigal La Mouline  fresh, elegant, frm 6* 
**** E.Guigal La Turque 11/15, fine content, oaking
****  Domaine Jamet   
****  Domaine de Rosiers   
****  Domaine Georges Vernay Maison Rouge   
**** J Vidal-Fleury La Chatillonne 2027-29, much oak still 01/15
***(*)  Domaine de Bonserine La Sarrasine  Guigal influence 
***(*)  P & C Bonnefond Les Rochains   
***(*)  Domaine de Bonserine La Viallière   
***(*)  M.Chapoutier La Mordorée   
***(*)  Benjamin & David Duclaux Maison Rouge   
***(*) Yves & Mathilde Gangloff La Sereine Noire transition in Nov 2011, sound
***(*)  Jean-Michel Gérin La Landonne   
***(*)  E.Guigal Brune et Blonde de Guigal  jam-like 
***(*)  Domaine Levet Améthyste  traditional virtues 
***(*)  Rémi & Robert Niéro Vires de Serine  brand new wine 
***(*)  René Rostaing  
***(*)  Jean-Michel Stéphan Vieille Vigne en Coteau   
***(*)  François Villard La Brocarde   
***  Christophe Billon Les Elotins improving 
***  P & C Bonnefond Côte Rozier  much oak, wait 
***  Château de Montlys   
***  Château de Montlys La Fleur de Montlys 10-15% Viognier 
***  Domaine de Bonserine La Sarrasine   
***  Clusel-Roch  "good citizen" wine 
***  Domaine Corps de Loup Corps de Loup  early wine 
***  Delas Seigneur de Maugiron   
***  Domaine Levet Maestria  Landonne, Brune mix 
***  Domaine Levet La Péroline  downhome touches 
***  Michel & Stéphane Ogier Réserve du Domaine   
***  Stéphane Pichat Les Grandes Places   
***  Jean-Michel Stéphan Coteaux de Bassenon  15% Viognier 

Among lesser status wines made by these domaines, there is special mention for the Côtes du Rhône Syrah reds and the always stimulating vin pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrahs, the latter usually made from some young Côte-Rôtie vines not yet in production, mixed with Syrahs from just outside the appellation area - either high up on the plateau at around 300 metres, or low down near the Rhône.

***  2006 Domaine Jamet Côtes du Rhône Syrah  STGT, lovely stuff 
**(*)  2006 Dom Georges Vernay Côtes du Rhône Syrah Ste Agathe lip-smacking fruit 
**(*)  2006 Jean-Michel Gérin vdepays Syrah  young CR, 1950s  
**(*)  2006 Vins de Vienne Sotanum  Seyssuel, young 
**  2006 Domaine Jamet vdepays Syrah 1990s plateau  
**  2006 Michel & Stéphane Ogier vdepays La Rosine Syrah   1988 and younger  
**  2006 Domaine Georges Vernay vdepays Syrah  1975, 1980s-2000  

4. 2006 CROZES-HERMITAGE RED & WHITE

Hmm. I blow hot and cold on Crozes, I find these days. It simply does not rate alongside Saint-Joseph Syrah, and yet the latter in England, anyway, is much harder to sell. Saint-Joseph also faces higher cultivation costs thanks to its hillside vineyards, as opposed to much of Crozes - the southern zone - being on easy to cultivate plain land.

Too many Crozes wines are got up with oaking and at times, excess extraction. Maybe growers should aspire to providing more simple wines - the easy gluggers that the market already associates with Crozes. Many 2006s have nowhere near the concentration of matter that the 2005s possessed: the vintage is like 2004, with a bit more richness, the wines a bit more comfortable and rounded. The fruit is restrained, so it was unwise to invest them with bags of oak - and clumsy oak for some domaines.

Thus it is not a vintage for lashings of oak, and at times I find a change of pattern compared to 2005. There are a lot of growers going for plush, perfumato wines, marking a definite trend towards sweeter wines due to late harvesting and then long macerations, which I regard as a pity. It may well have been a challenge to achieve a tannic structure in 2006. It is a year to drink young - early - up to say 5-6 years for most of the wines.

"2006 is very pretty - the wines are less tight than the 2005s, so are easier to drink, with well rounded matter," says Philippe Jaboulet of Domaine P&V Jaboulet. Philippe was in charge of the vineyard cultivation at Paul Jaboulet Aîné before the Frey takeover, and subsequently took over the Domaine Collonge on the Les Chassis.

A neighbour of Philippe`s is Stéphane Cornu at the Domaine du Pavillon-Mercurol: "2006 is a super vintage - it has balance, volume, fullness, length, and it can keep. It is dense, but the tannins are tight and also silken. The 2005 tannins are more extreme," he observes.

Down the road at Pont de l`Isère, Laurent Combier of the organic Domaine Combier finds 2006 absolutely typical: "2006 represents my take on Crozes - I like its charm, openness, balance - all without being too exuberant. It has the power of 2005 with the fruit and florality of 2004 - it is superior to 2004."

The top wines all have a common theme - they are from the best sites, they are made by committed, talented growers, they have been carefully selected, and yes, they cost more than the basic Crozes reds. That suggests a vintage where the democracy of quality has been sparing, one where things were not delivered on a plate for growers, and also raises questions about the ordinary quality of the southern plain wines in the "quite good" vintages.

SOME LEADING RED CROZES-HERMITAGE 2006s

****  Alain Graillot La Guiraude   best casks selection 
***(*)  Domaine Belle Roche Pierre  new cuvée, old vines
***(*)  Domaine du Colombier Cuvée Gaby  the special wine 
***(*)  Emmanuel Darnaud Les Trois Chênes  his top wine 
***(*)  M. Chapoutier Les Varonniers  site-specific wine 
***(*)  Delas Le Clos  1950s site-specific 
***  Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles  very consistent performer 
***  Domaine Combier   
***  Domaine des Entrefaux Les Mâchonnières   
***  Domaine des Lises  young Max Graillot 
***  Domaine du Pavillon-Mercurol   
***  Domaine Les Bruyères Cuvée Georges Reynaud  keen grower, lively fruit 
***  Domaine Les Bruyères Les Croix   
***  Domaine Rousset northern granite 
***  Fayolle Fils & Fille Clos Les Cornirets  northern sector 

The white Crozes wines are agreeable in 2006; there is definite Marsanne expression in them, plenty of hazelnut, with grippy, bitter notes and orange hints. The best show an easy richness, nothing overdone, and reflect a ripe year, one that has not been too alcoholic. They are mostly suited to food, rather than the aperitif. 2007 was successful, and often superior here, perhaps confirming the impression that the standard of white winemaking is creeping up here. The best, most full white 2006s can live for around six years.

SOME LEADING WHITE CROZES-HERMITAGE 2006s

***  Domaine du Colombier  merits of 75% vat raising 
**(*)  Domaine du Colombier Cuvée Gaby    
**(*)  Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix   
**(*)  Jean-Claude & Nicolas Fayolle Les Blancs   
**(*)  Domaine Alain Graillot   
**(*)  Domaine Habrard  sympa wine 
**(*)  Domaine du Murinais Cuvée Marine   
**(*)  Marc Sorrel   
**  M.Chapoutier Petite Ruche   
**  Domaine des Martinelles  
**  Domaine Michelas St Jemms Signature   
**  Domaine Pradelle   
**  Domaine de la Ville Rouge Cuvée Nathan   

5. 2006 HERMITAGE

There is good style in the 2006 Hermitage reds, including the small domaines that possess less noble vineyards towards Larnage and the eastern end of the appellation. Philippe Belle, for instance, whose vines are on Diognières and the fine white wine site of Les Murets, says: "I always liked the 2006s - there is a finesse and elegance in them that 2005 doesn`t have."

From Chapoutier comes the approving comment of chief winemaker Gregory Viennois: "2006 had a beautiful concentration in the tannin of the skins - there was a lot of flesh. The grapes were ripe, but never compote (jam-like) or too sweet."

Yann Chave, another vigneron with holdings towards the centre-east of the appellation, finds 2006 lies really between 2005 and 2007: "it is more structured than 2007," he says.

In December 2007, Jean-Louis Chave told me: "the 2006 reds are quite hidden now. My big question is if I rack them - I rack to bring oxygen and to open the wine, but of course the sulphur you apply makes the wine reduce, so it`s a circle." He added, "my red will be a pleasure to construct from all the primary elements".

The Chave red Hermitage from all the diverse climats appears to be a wine of scented appeal, and rounded in the recent style of wines from this domaine. The 2006 is also unusual in the role reversal of its tannins, namely that the usual provider of the wine`s backbone, Les Bessards, holds stylish fruit and comes with a gourmandise - a sweet, supple nature. In contrast, the usual provider of fleshy red fruits, the south-facing Le Méal climat, is more tannic than usual, with noticeable grip and clarity, and pure fruit at its core. 

In December 2008, Jean-Louis described 2006 as "a very terroir, very soil year - a more Protestant year than 2007 - it will make up into a very belle bouteille, with good class. It is tight-knit, straight and pure - more intellectual than 2007" - a wine that he reckoned would show its hand in 10 years` time.

The suggestion chez Chave is of a wine that might be drinkable on its primary fruit, but ideally from around 2011, with a life ahead of 23 to 25 years. Wines from the middle to eastern parts of the hill are medium-bodied. It is not a big vintage, but the best of this group, such as the Cave de Tain Gambert de Loche, the Ferraton Le Méal, and Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Émilie all have sufficient body to handle their oaking: they are elegant and wholesome, and a life towards 2021-24 beckons.

The Chave white delivers finesse with an unctuous character, good length and sound stuffing, a wine that can live for 20-24 years.

Delas have produced an authentic Marquise de la Tourette red, which holds a nice bout of richness, while the top Les Bessards possesses well-judged ripeness of fruit that allows both round appeal and cut in the wine: here we an encapsulation of the vintage through its mix of clarity and poised ripe fruit. It is also a wine that by late November, 2009, had blossomed into a mighty, imposing wine, raised from 5 to the rare 6 stars in my rankings. Jacques Grange takes up its story: "Les Bessards was a discreet year at first - its power was reserved. During and at the end of its cask raising, it continually gained a lot of puissance (power). Then, I thought, this is a sacré good wine. Remember that it arrived after the 2005 which was very structured, a very good year, a brilliant wine. The maturity was concentrated, a drying ripeness, a sort of over-ripeness on granite; the grapes withered, cracked as the water in them evaporated. As a result, it is jovial vis-à-vis 2007 and 2005, a wine that I feel crept under the radar."

Chapoutier have also performed well, the regular Marquis de la Sizeranne not especially profound, but capable of coming together from 2010. The special Le Pavillon from Chapoutier comes from the backbone west end climat of Les Bessards, and the result is similar to that found chez Jean-Louis Chave, with his Bessards: it holds fruit reminiscent of the ripe, curvaceous1985 in its sunny youth, while the top cuvée wines from this old family house are all likely to be on a sound footing by from 2011-12, with life into the late 2020s.

The Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2006s pose questions that have been fully aired by me, given that I have doubts about their ability to express local virtues, rather than bland international features. 2006 is the first complete vintage that the House has produced since the acquisition by the Swiss Frey family in late 2005. The wine is now being made by Bordeaux consultant wine makers, notably the white wine specialist Denis Dubourdieu and the inexperienced Caroline Frey, who until recently lived full-time at Château La Lagune (itself nowhere near as interesting as it used to be in the late 1970s), and who only occasionally dropped in on the Rhône. At least Caroline has started to rent a place in the Northern Rhône from spring 2009, undoubtedly in response to the adverse comment circulating on the Jaboulet wines under the Frey regime.

Their La Chapelle 2006 - a wine that is highly important to the image of Hermitage and the Northern Rhône around the world - has emerged as a refined, "don't scare the horses" offering: a Rhône for those who do not know the Rhône in many ways. The jury has to be out at such moments of transition, while the Côte-Rôtie Les Jumelles and the Cornas Saint-Pierre hover in something of a twilight zone: the former especially lacks the sort of stuffing that should come from good sites at Côte-Rôtie.

Undoubtedly, this is a good vintage at Hermitage, a classic steady improver.

SOME LEADING RED HERMITAGE 2006s

******  M.Chapoutier l'Ermite       
******  Delas Les Bessards      wonderful, mighty 
*****  M.Chapoutier Les Greffieux       
*****  M.Chapoutier Le Méal       
*****  M.Chapoutier Le Pavillon       
*****  Marc Sorrel Le Gréal       
****(*) E Guigal 2029-31 12/15 breezy, intricate
**** Jean-Louis Chave  2032-34 11/15 tasty, gamey
****  E.Guigal Ex-voto      dark, earthy 
***(*)  Jean-Luc Colombo Le Rouet Rouge      from Le Méal 
***(*)  Delas Marquise de la Tourette       
***(*)  Bernard Faurie Le Méal       
***(*)  Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Petite Chapelle       
***  Domaine Belle       
***  Cave de Tain      decent local feel 

The white Hermitages of 2006 hold a good standard across the board, too. The Marsanne performed well here, and it is noticeable that several of the top white Crozes in 2006 were also from the northern, granite, more hilly sector - the better terroir, superior to the flat southern plain of Crozes. These white Hermitages will live for a good 20 years.

LEADING WHITE HERMITAGE 2006s

*****  M.Chapoutier L`Ermite   close to six stars 
*****  Jean-Louis Chave   
****(*)  M.Chapoutier Le Méal   
****(*)  M.Chapoutier de l`Orée  big, like a red, balance gd 
****(*)  Marc Sorrel Les Rocoules   
****  Cave de Tain Au Coeur du Siecle  big, over its dip now 
****  M.Chapoutier Chante-Alouette   
****  E.Guigal Ex-voto   
***(*)  Delas Marquise de la Tourette   
*** Jean-Louis Chave Sélection Blanche chunky, robust, to 22-24
***  Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet  

6. 2006 SAINT-JOSEPH RED & WHITE

As with Crozes-Hermitage in 2006, the best domaines come to the fore, since they were most likely to take trouble over crop quality and yields. The vintage is intrinsically soft, the tannins low key, but there is excess oak, which is often being used as a substitute for genuine depth of matter. The reds are not especially deep, but many will drink well towards around 2013-14.

"The reds are elegant, supple and fine, for early to mid-term drinking. They are a bit more concentrated than 2004, with a greater touch of elegance, since the ripeness was better," states Frédéric Boissonnet of Domaine Boissonnet. The longest-lived wines, from older vines or those that have been judiciously oaked, such as the Domaine du Monteillet Cuvée du Papy, can run for 10-12 years or so. At Monteillet, Stéphane Montez cut his oak ageing in 580-litre casks back from the 22 months for 2005 to 19 months for his more tender 2006.

Jean-Louis Chave found his Saint-Joseph reds straight - down the line wines: "we didn`t filter them, and because they were straight rather than fat, we were worried about taking out some of their flesh."

When amassing the various quality levels of the red 2006s, it is immediately noticeable that the preferred wines cluster around the southern sector of the appellation - the prime granite hill sites around Tournon and Mauves - in other words, the cradle - Le Berceau - of the Saint-Joseph appellation when it was started in 1956.

The Great Triumph of 2006 Northern Rhône was the white Saint-Josephs. Tasting through a series of about 30 wines 15 months after the harvest, I reached number 6 and asked myself "what is going on here?" All six were exemplary, full wines with genuine Marsanne character, and a dashing mix of freshness and stable content.  There are some suited to young drinking, but many have sufficient depth and variety to ensure a successful second phase, when they are five-plus years` old.

The Barge family at Côte-Rôtie work with a little Marsanne at Chavanay, and Julien Barge acknowledges that "our 2006 whites are richer than the 2007s - they are superior," he said in December, 2008. 2006 really is a supreme year for white Saint-Joseph. I am very enthusiastic about these whites, but recall the words of Fabrice Gripa, who prefers his 2007s - "the white 2007s are more harmonious, the 2006s have more punch and alcohol." Ever since he stopped playing rugby, dear old Fabrice has clearly lost it!

As another affidavit about the quality of white Saint-Joseph 2006, consider how highly I rate the large production wines this year. A white Saint-Joseph of 20-30,000 bottles is large production, and in that category up pop Chaputier, Delas and Guigal. Should any of you be holidaying in the region this year, buy Saint-Jo whites on the wine list, please, or raid local caviste shops.

LEADING WHITE SAINT-JOSEPH 2006s

****(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Granits  STGT 
****(*)  Domaine Gonon Les Oliviers  a must buy, as usual 
****  Dard & Ribo  100% Roussanne 
****  Domaine Gripa Le Berceau   
**** Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne STGT, still v good in 12/15
***(*)  Pierre & Jérome Coursodon Le Paradis St-Pierre   
***(*)  Domaine Faury  STGT into the bargain 
***(*)  Ferraton Les Oliviers  a great site for Marsanne 
***(*)  E.Guigal Lieu-Dit St-Joseph   
***(*)  Pascal Marthouret  good whites here, this STGT 
***(*)  François Villard Mairlant   
***  M.Chapoutier Deschants   25-30,000 bottles 
***  Domaine de la Côte Saint-Épine   
***  Domaine Courbis  the regular cuvée 
***  Pierre & Jérome Coursodon Silice  the regular cuvée 
***  Yves Cuilleron Le Lombard   
***  Delas Les Challeys   20,000 bottles 
***  Thiérry Farjon STGT 
***  Ferraton La Source   
***  E.Guigal   30,000 bottles 
***  Domaine du Monteillet Grand-Duc du Monteillet  old Mars, young Rouss 
**(*)  Domaine Barge La Ribaudy   
**(*)  Louis Chèze Ro-Rée  40% Roussanne 
**(*)  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Pierre  100% Roussanne 
**(*)  Christophe Curtat Sous l`Amandier  95% Roussanne 
**(*)  Pierre Gaillard  100% Roussanne 
**(*)  Pascal Jamet Vignoble de la Tour d`Arras  100% Roussanne 
**(*)  André Perret  40-50% Roussanne 
**(*)  François Villard Fruit d`Avilleran  late-picked crop 

I would add as a special mention the vin de pays white from Andé Perret, the 2006 vin de pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Franc de Pied, an assured **(*) wine, as always providing great value.

LEADING RED SAINT-JOSEPH 2006s

****  Domaine Courbis Les Royes   
***(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Granits   
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Pierres Seches northern sector 
***(*)  Delas Saint-Épine   
***(*)  E.Guigal Lieu-Dit St-Joseph   
***(*)  E.Guigal Vignes de l`Hospice   
***(*)  Domaine Gonon   
***(*)  Domaine Gripa Le Berceau   
***(*)  Domaine Georges Vernay La Dame Brune  northern sector 
***  Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit   
***  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave   
***  Pierre & Jérome Coursodon Le Paradis St-Pierre   
***  Domaine de la Côte Saint-Épine Vieilles Vignes  great site, improving  
***  Yves Cuilleron L`Amarybelle  
***  Delas François de Tournon   
***  Domaine Durand Lautaret   
***  Domainy Faury La Gloriette  STGT, northern sector 
***  Domaine des Martinelles   
***  André Perret Les Grisières  northern sector 
***  Saint Cosme middle zone vineyards used 
***  SCEA La Tache Cuvée Badel  STGT 
***  SCEA La Tache Cuvée Guillamy  w.o.w. wine 
***  Domaine Vallet Cuvée des Muletiers  mid-north sector, improving 
**(*)  Cave de Saint-Desirat Septentrio  new oak 
**(*)  Domaine Barge Clos des Martinets   
**(*)  Domaine Boissonnet  clear drop, go for it 
**(*)  Aurélien Chatagnier  w.o.w. wine 
**(*)  J-L Chave Sélection Offerus  his merchant St Jo 
**(*)  Domaine Coursodon L`Olivaie   
**(*)  Domaine Coursodon La Sensonne  slow fuse wine 
**(*)  Delas Les Challeys  approachable 
*(*)  Domaine Durand Les Coteaux  lucid fruit 
**(*)  Pierre Finon Les Rocailles   
**(*)  Pierre Gaillard  oak, from late 2009 
**(*)  Domaine Gripa   
**(*)  Paul Jaboulet Aîné Le Grand Pompée   
**(*)  Gabriel Meffre Laurus w.o.w. wine, even with oak 
**(*)  François Merlin  w.o.w. wine 
**(*)  Domaine du Monteillet Cuvée du Papy  from 2010 
**(*)  Domaine du Monteillet Grand-Duc du Monteillet   
**(*)  Domaine Mucyn  1997 Syrah 
**(*)  Vincent Paris   
**(*)  Domaine du Tunnel w.o.w. wine 
**(*)  Domaine Vallet   
**(*)  François Villard Reflet   

7. 2006 SAINT-PÉRAY

The Marsanne was the great triumph in 2006 for Saint-Joseph. Think of Saint-Péray as the last wagon on the train, down south, with all of Saint-Joseph streaming north ahead of it. It is a vineyard that reduces a little each year, as housing from Valence encroaches, and growers give up the struggle to sell their sparkling wine - made by the same methods as Champagne.

The most recent retiree was Pierre Darona, the cousin of the Gripa family, and a person one might refer to as a retiring cove. He stuck gamely to making the champenoise wine, but its audience is tiny outside the region, and he chose to rent out his vineyards to the Gripas rather than carrying on making the wine, but encountering difficulty in selling it. The Gripas are of course an excellent destination for such mature vineyards - their touch with whites is supreme.

The Roussanne played a good, supportive role to the Marsanne at Saint-Péray in 2007, with correct acidity and sound ripeness. "We had a little more richness than usual in our Saint-Péray this year," states Jean-Louis Thiers, and the leading wines here are all capable of a second stage of evolution. I would suggest a life of 6 to 9 years.

An encouraging sign recently for these wines from very good, largely granite-based vineyards is that the Condrieu set - Cuilleron, François Villard - and Chapoutier - in conjunction with 3 star Michelin chef Anne-Sophie Pic from Valence - have started to buy crop and produce their own still wine Saint-Pérays. The former lean towards richness, the latter more towards mineral elegance.

LEADING SAINT-PÉRAY 2006s

***  Domaine Auguste & Pierre Clape  STGT, natch 
***  Yves Cuilleron Les Cerfs  100% Marsanne, genuine 
***  Domaine Gripa Les Figuiers  w.o.w. in its youth 
***  Domaine Gripa Les Pins   STGT 
***  Domaine du Tunnel Cuvée Prestige   
***  François Villard Version   
**(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Tanneurs   
**(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Les Bialères  can live 
**(*)  Alain Voge Fleur de Crussol  1930s Marsanne