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2011 NORTHERN RHÔNE

 

BERNARD FAURIE READY TO SHOW HIS 2011 HERMITAGE AND SAINT-JOSEPH IN HIS INTIMATE CELLAR OUTSIDE TOURNON IN THE ARDÈCHE. HIS HERMITAGES PICK THE POCKET OF THE GOOD TERROIRS OF BESSARDS, MÉAL AND GREFFIEUX THIS YEAR

INDEX

1. SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

2. CORNAS 

3. SAINT-PÉRAY

4. SAINT-JOSPH RED

5. CONDRIEU

6. CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

7. CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

8. HERMITAGE RED

9. HERMITAGE WHITE

10. CÔTE-RÔTIE

11. CÔTES DU RHÔNE/VIN DE PAYS RED

12. CÔTES DU RHÔNE /VIN DE PAYS WHITE

1. 2011 SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

2011 Saint-Joseph whites are flanked by two superior years, 2010 and 2012. Balance and underlying freshness are superior in those two vintages. However, the best are agreeable, well toned towards a stylish showing, with floral tones present.

The grapes were big and attractive according to growers, with a low level of acidity and a lack of stuffing the main problem I encountered. JEAN GONON, who has the honour to work with 50-year plus vines, told me: “the 2011 total acidity is low, but the pH levels are not very high – which gives the palate more tonic and freshness.” If growers were working with young vines, on the other hand, there was a potential lack of length and grip in the wines.

Indeed several wines faded after half way along the palate, having offered early density. This makes them most suitable to aperitif drinking, or with Vieille France cuisine, where cut and raciness are not as much a necessity when paired with butter-based dishes.

One underlying theme is the trend to making the wines safer – more style, sophistication, a lighter touch all round. The days of extreme ripeness, sucrosity and overt fat have been replaced by more trim wines that in some cases have taken this revised concept to the point of tameness. One wants the whites from south ofLyonto have the guts to go with garlic and Mediterranean-inspired dishes, and to respect the role of glycerol in the wines as their main orchestrator over acidity.

This year the imprint of the wines is led by a good performance from the MARSANNE, which was also the case at CROZES-HERMITAGE. The older the vines, the better: the YVES CUILLERON LOMBARD (100% MARSANNE back to 1967) is a good example. For a wine that truly finishes well, look to the CHAPOUTIER GRANILITES (100% MARSANNE), while the GUIGAL LIEU-DIT SAINT-JOSEPH (97% MARSANNE of 1968, 1973 and 2004) is extremely long, its fine gras richness retained all through. These are expensive, but serious, wines.

I would be happy to drink a white Saint-Joseph in a restaurant, since I know it would make an immediate impression and would show well in a broad glass (ask for one). If buying for home consumption, I would be more circumspect. Perhaps the JULIEN PILON DIMANCHE À LIMA (75% MARSANNE, 25% ROUSSANNE) – a well made, smooth STGT wine from this talented young producer – or the harmonious DOMAINE GRIPA (75% MARSANNE, oldest 1971), the classic and therefore cheaper wine of the two they make.

As for longevity, many feature around seven to 10 years, the fullest capable of doing well for more like 12 to 15 years.

SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE 2012-2011-2010 COMPARISONS

  2012 2011 2010
5 STARS     01 
4.5 STARS 01  02  03 
4 STARS 08  04  11 
3.5 STARS 16  11  05 
3 STARS 14  12  04 
2.5 STARS 01 04  01 

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE 2011s 

****(*) E.Guigal Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph  2025-27  05/13  complex: long, gras 
****(*)

Dom du Monteillet Grand-Duc du Mont 

2019-21 12/12  stylish; pure fruit   
**** Yves Cuilleron Le Lombard   2018-19  11/12  ripe texture, some class 
**** Ferraton Les Oliviers   2020-21  11/12  body, complete; long  
**** Domaine Gonon Les Oliviers   2022-24  11/12 rich, full, trad, muscle  
**** Christophe Pichon   2019  10/12  STGT; great elegance   
***(*) Cave de Tain Terre d’Ivoire  2019-20  11/12  rich, oak, hidden 
***(*) M Chapoutier Les Granilites   2020-21  11/12  STGT; grounded, long 
***(*) M Chapoutier Les Granits   2023-25  11/12  full-on; gras, oaking  
***(*) Dom Coursodon Le Paradis St Pierre  2020-21  11/12  gras, robust, tangy 
***(*) Domaine Coursodon Silice   2018  11/12  fine harmony   
***(*) Yves Cuilleron Lyseras   2018  11/12  stylish, decent acidity 
***(*) Ferraton La Source   2019  11/12  character, bit wild  
***(*) Domaine Gripa   2017-18  11/12  harmony, order, gras  
***(*) Julien Pilon dimanche à lima   2019  11/12 STGT; smooth  
***(*) Domaine Richard   2018-19  11/12  aromatic, quite long 
***(*) André Perret   2017  10/12  clean, clear, tidy   
*** Cave de Tain   2017  11/12  STGT; grain, tang   
*** Yves Cuilleron Saint-Pierre   2018  11/12  waxen, grippy, grounded 
*** Domaine Faury   2016-17  11/12  apero, fresh, graceful   
*** Domaine Gripa Le Berceau   2019-21  11/12  tight, beefy  
*** E.Guigal   2018  05/13  gourmand, orderly  
*** Jean-Claude Marsanne   2017-18  11/12  local; country foods  
*** Eric Rocher Mayane   2017  11/12  75% R; gentle, quite genuine  
*** Domaine Vallet Méribets 2018-19  11/12  80% R; gras; thick style 
*** J Vidal-Fleury   2016  11/12  early drinking, agreeable  
*** Pierre-Jean Villa Saut de l’Ange   2016  11/12  bang on aperitif  
*** François Villard Mairlant   2018  11/12  correct; give time  
*** Dom de La Ville Rouge Cuvée Lenny  2016  11/12  65% R; rich style, foods  
**(*) M Chapoutier Deschants   2019  11/12  tight, bit on edge  
**(*) Delas Les Challeys   2018  11/12  correct, uninspiring   
**(*) Guy Farge vania   2015-16  02/12  ripe sweetness   
**(*) François Villard Fruit d’Avilleron   2016  11/12  escapist fruit 
         

 

2. 2011 CORNAS

2011 at Cornas is a not an Agatha Christie vintage – there is little sense of mystery. The wines are straightforward, not as packed in as in the leading vintages, and present an accessible entrée to those trying Cornas for the first time. The best carry very appealing flroal notes - witness the DOMAINE CLAPE and both the CHAILLOT and REYNARD from THIÉRRY ALLEMAND - so charm is in the air.

Unless selecting those two domaines, this is not, therefore, a vintage to cellar assiduously across the board, awaiting a moment of glorious flowering after a cussed start. These are more convivial wines than usual, open and easy to appreciate. I have found them very consistent on the palate, formed of two stages. The first is marked by fruit that ranges from juicy to abundant and generous. The second stage brings slightly darker notes from tannins, or oak.

“Structure” – meaning a classic assembly of properly deep content backed by brisk or fresh young tannins – is not often in evidence, although wines such as the GRANIT 60 from VINCENT PARIS can claim to show some structure, built around forceful late tannins.

It is a good to sometimes very good year, and I would not put anyone off buying the wines, especially those with the undertow of potential development – those from the classic top names of ALLEMAND, CLAPE – and those in the eye of the vintage, ones offering short-term harmony and pleasure. In this category feature names of domaines with a modern approach, those that do not seek the full display of tannin of which CORNAS is capable. I would nominate wines such as the two DURAND wines, the PRÉMICES more immediately than the EMPREINTES, and also the DOMAINE COURBIS SABAROTTE and the TARDIEU-LAURENT COTEAUX (their second tier Cornas).

INCOMPLETE MATURITY

Ripening did not run evenly, so that there were dips and halts along the way. As a result, in the words of PIERRE CLAPE, “the form of the year was shaped by rather incomplete maturity – the late August high heat between the 20th and the 28th and the subsequent days, which were at 35°C, not 24°C. That led to a blocking of ripening due to the heat, and not due to hydric stress, which is a lot more commonly the case. The grapes became puckered and flat. Acidities lowered very slowly, and the sugars didn’t budge. The difference between the old vines and the young vines was greater than normal, as well – the old vines suffered less at the end of the cycle, and kept more concentration.”

The ripening season started almost without a classic quarterly season to set it on its orderly way; LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE of the traditional, STGT, DOMAINE LIONNET reported: “there was no real spring this year – we went virtually from winter to summer, and May was very dry and resembled a high summer month in style.”

DRY EARLY ON

Conditions became very dry early on, with ANNE COLOMBO, who plays an important role at DOMAINE JEAN-LUC COLOMBO explaining in mid-June: “we had intense drought for six to eight weeks; from early June for 10 days we had a few storms, a bit of rain, but it’s still very dry at depth – there has been an irregular distribution of rain – we had one 50 mm (2 in) storm on the night of 3-4 June and one 10 mm (0.4 in) fall recently. Much of the storm water ran off the dry soils, so was inefficient. The vegetation isn’t showing symptoms of drought, though in some places it has been growing less quickly than usual. It was quite cool until 14 June, then it rocketed up to 30°C on 16 June. There has been no mildew this year, but we still need to protect against oïdium.”

LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE termed the early June rain “magnificent.” “In early June we had a 40 mm (1.8 inch) fall, and another 20 mm (0.8 in) around 10 June, just after flowering which took place in hot and dry conditions. Nights have been fresh.”

MINOR HAIL

Not everyone was able to profit from the rain, though. The storm swathe that cut across from the west hit JACQUES LEMENICIER, who in mid-August told me: “I had hail on my vines in June after a large budding. By mid-August, we were two weeks ahead, and I was obliged to drop grapes, leaving me then at around 35 hl/ha or more. We have had August rain, even a bit much - 80 mm (3.2 in) - but no storms.  One big storm of 30 mm (1.2 in) fell in just 10 minutes. Now the vineyard is super beau.”

PIERRE CLAPE also reported some hail damage in July: “we had 53 mm (just over 2 in) in two falls – 43 mm (1.6 in) then 10 mm (0.4 in), a very little hail, but the rain did help. We had 3 mm of rain on 7 July, then some hail on 10 July – that left perhaps 5% damage. By mid-July the vineyard was pretty dry, and anywhere with a lack of leaves suffered. Temperatures ran around 32-33°C in the first week of July, but the rain of 12 July brought the temperature down from 32°C to 24°C.”

YOUNG VINES: LIGHT WINES

Bunches on the younger vines under 30 years old held fat berries, and when harvested, the relative abundance and lack of tip-top maturity meant a tendency in some of these cuvées towards the dilute. FRANCK BALTHAZAR related: “I wasn’t content with my young vines wine, so I declassified into CÔTES DU RHÔNE part of LES MAZARDS – the best part of MAZARDS is 1961 Syrah, and that went into my CORNAS CASIMIR BALTHAZAR.”

The veraison – changing of colour of the grape skins – was early this year, on the go by mid-July, as opposed to the old days – the 1980s and 1990s, for instance - when it would start in the last week of July. “30-40% of the veraison had completed by mid-July,” PIERRE CLAPE informed me. “That is particularly early.”

FRESH NIGHTS PLAYED A QUIET ROLE

The shape of the vintage – facile wines – would have been further aggravated if nights had not been fresh before August; the image of low acidity crop and incomplete ripeness would have propelled the growers towards a highly technical, cellar-led vintage, so the fine line there was happily not crossed.

A jam-like style is sometimes referred to, which has an immediate ring of the year 2000, a low tannin and acidity vintage, about it. In the words of OLIVIER CLAPE: “the end August high heat blocked the young vines’ ripening; the end of July rain having got them going, the result being very big grapes. The August heat halted their ripening, which is where the jam style fruit comes from. Our yield went to 40 hl/ha this year.”

Hence the comments on the year cluster around a sub-text of some relief about what was avoided, and a realistic view that the wines are not heroic, but are nevertheless useful commercially for earlier than usual appreciation and drinking.

THE YOUNG VIGNERON VIEW

Younger growers gave their verdicts to me. GUILLAUME GILLES, who has definite eye for detail and a thirst for perfection, regarded the year thus: “2011 has finesse due to the fact that the crop maturity wasn’t very pronounced, a logical outcome.”

JÉRÔME DESPESSE, who doubles up with a high profile job for the cork maker AMORIM, stated: “after 2009 and 2010 being such top vintages, 2011 and 2012 are obviously not so good. I prefer 2012 to 2011.” His 2011 is indeed a rather limited event.

JOHANN MICHEL emphasized: “I find the 2011 fruit pretty exuberant.” Meanwhile, MAXIME GRAILLOT, who works with the ELIE BANCEL vineyards, and vinifies at his CROZES-HERMITAGE base is enthusiastic, also a fruit lover: “It is super, a Cornas for debutant drinkers because it is super gourmand; it was a bit over the limit on yields, so the fruit was upbeat and didn’t pose questions. It doesn’t have the power and depth of most years. I kept 20% of the crop with its stems, against 33% in the superior 2012.”

LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE, husband of CORINNE LIONNET, was happy with the year: “It is very Cornas in style, very structured, has a spinal column, just a little astringency from the use of whole bunches, - we don’t destem. Our Cornas is persistent, and the balance is good,” he told me.

T.ALLEMAND: THE CONTRARIAN ANGLE

An enthusiast is THIÉRRY ALLEMAND, who quite often likes to make the Bold Statement – he would be a Contrarian were he to work in financial markets. His view was: “2011 could be better than 2010 in some years’ time. It is good, and above all, very fine. It was very floral, then went through a hard passage until August-September 2012, then back on a floral track now in November 2012. I reached 28 hl/ha - high for me.”

I was impressed with both of THIÉRRY’s cuvées this year: the CHAILLOT subtle and gracious, the REYNARD, quite correctly, possessing a true lining of tannin in support of a good, stable core. His ability always comes through in lesser vintages, just as it does for the CLAPE family. However, it takes something of a leap of both imagination and trust to confer “superior to the mighty 2010” status on 2011, in my opinion. I am an unconditional supporter of 2010 across the board.

In contrast, PIERRE CLAPE made a more sober assessment of the year when discussing it with me in mid-2014: “2011 is a bit average, but I like it well. It is the least good of the past three years – which I rate 2013 ahead of 2012, ahead of 2011 – in terms of structure and construction. It is more “small” than the other two vintages – the fruit is more simple, and there is less concentration. The colour is lower than 2012. The degree is 12.8° - low compared to recent years. It is a good 2008, which drinks in super form now, at six years old.

As an idea on the style of the vintage, our 2011 RENAISSANCE cuvée is like the first years of it, when the vines were indeed young, while the 2010 RENAISSANCE was a more complete wine – that was a beau petit Cornas, in fact,” he concluded.

POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT OVER TIME

ERIC DURAND, though, did point to improvement over time. He commented: “our CORNAS 2011s have taken on more grip and late tannin since September 2012 – before that they were confected . . . . I would compare it to 2000, and it is a year of quite low acidity.”

A WESTMACOTT RATHER THAN CHRISTIE YEAR, AND ITS KEEPING POTENTIAL

So, here you have CORNAS 2011: no Mysterious Affair at Styles, but perhaps a more MARY WESTMACOTT [a literary clue, mes amis] construction in the wines.

CELLARING: with the leading names of CLAPE and ALLEMAND, we are talking 20+ years. With many of the more new wave CORNAS, we are talking 15 to 20 years. There will certainly be some, such as the JOHAN MICHEL CUVÉE JANA, the DURAND EMPREINTES, the FERRATON PATOU and the largely traditional FRANCK BALTHAZAR CHAILLOT, which are stylish but also will become more diverse, more complex and even more rugged if left, their depth of foundation possibly expanding as well.

LEADING CORNAS 2011s

***** Ferraton Patou   2024-26 11/12 stylish, classy  
***** Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes 2026-28 11/12 full; major Cornas 2011
****(*) Thiérry Allemand Reynard 2034-36 04/16 inky content, pep, STGT
****(*) Thiérry Allemand no SO2 Reynard 2031-33 10/16 zip, drive, concerted juice
****(*) Domaine Clape 2030-33 12/13 solid heart, fruit goes long
****(*) Domaine Durand Empreintes 2026-27 11/12 modern, clear struck Cornas
****(*)  Vincent Paris La Geynale 2026-27  11/12  large scale, dense   
****(*)  Vincent Paris Granit 60    2026-28  11/12  structure, character, upright  
**** Thiérry Allemand Chaillot 2030-32 12/15 stylish, aromatic, clear
****  Franck Balthazar Chaillot   2029-31  11/12  stylish, fruit-filled  
****  Domaine Courbis La Sabarotte 2022-24  11/12  pedigree Syrah; elegant 
****  Dumien Serrette Patou   2024-25  11/12  sturdy, promising 
****  Domaine Durand Prémices     2024-25  11/12  unbridled fruit, w.o.w.   
****  Guy Farge harmonie   2021-22  11/12  STGT, precise, traditional   
****  Ferraton Les Grands Mûriers   2023-24  11/12  STGT, truffly fruit  
****  Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2025-26  11/12  stylish, modern, deep  
****  Johann Michel Cuvée Jana   2022-24  11/12  potential, interest, good flow  
**** Dom Michelas St Jemms Les Murettes 2027-29 10/15 drive, good gras, STGT
****  Tardieu-Laurent Coteaux   2024-26  11/12  pleasure, fullness 
**** Alain Voge Vielles Vignes 2028-30 10/15 solar, fleshy, enjoyable
***(*)  Franck Balthazar Casimir Balthazar 2024-26  11/12  fresh fruit, cut  
***(*)  Cave de Tain Arènes Sauvages   2023-24  11/12  plump, nice gras  
***(*)  Domaine Clape Renaissance   2025-27  11/12  open-fronted; wavy fruit  
***(*)  Domaine Courbis Champelrose  2023-25  11/12  free roll fruit, oak   
***(*)  Domaine Courbis Les Eygats   2021-23  11/12  modern appeal, early  
***(*)  Delas Chante Perdrix   2025-26  11/12  ripe style 
***(*)  equis, Maxime Graillot  2023-25  11/13  steady, fair richness 
***(*)  Pierre Gaillard   2024-25  11/12  modern, potential  
***(*) Guillaume Gilles Chaillot 2025-27 06/15 aromatic, supple, pleasing
***(*)  Guillaume Gilles La Combe de Chaillot 2024-26  11/12  supple fruit; finesse   
***(*)  Jacques Leminicier   2024-25  12/13  slow gainer, strength 
***(*)  Domaine Lionnet Terre Brûlée   2026-28  12/13  genuine; tannic structure  
***(*)  Johann Michel   2022-23  11/12  modern, clear fruit 
***(*)  Domaine des Remizières   2023-25  11/12  very sound, sturdy 
***(*) Alain Verset 2020-21 12/15 authentic, cosy, elegant
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Les Barcillants   2023-25  11/12  effective, deep-seated  
***(*)  Alain Voge Les Chaillés    2023-25  11/12  abundant fruit; deep 
***  Cave de Tain   2019-20  11/13  plump, tasty, early  
***  M. Chapoutier Les Arènes   2019-21  11/12  fleshy; sweet fruit 
***  Ferraton Les Eygats   2021-23  11/12  tight pack; pinched  
***  Chrystelle Michel   2019-20  12/15  facile, light, early  
***  Vincent Paris Granit 30    2020-21  11/13  early action; bit hyper  
***  J Vidal-Fleury   2021-22  11/12  uncomplicated, sparky  
**(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Vires   2021-22  11/12  stretched, tame  
**  Jérome Despesse   2018  12/13  lack of fruit carry  
**  Maison Ughetto-Audoin   2019-20  12/13  mainstream, too modern 

3. 2011 SAINT-PÉRAY

In 2011, Saint-Péray’s revival showed up after a very good 2010 in the shape of a ripe, full vintage that lent itself to dining rather than the aperitif. Ripeness from early maturing crop was central to the style of the wines.

For someone who appreciates the cool clarity of granite-backed wines, this was a vintage of stuffing, perhaps leaning at times to “made in the cellar”, or certainly “influenced in the cellar”. But growers have to work with the goods nature gave them, and this was not a year to back off and seek fresh charmers.

What it did demand, though was a lot of constant work and attention in the vineyard. FABRICE GRIPA reported: “this year there is better acid balance at SAINT-PÉRAY than at SAINT-JOSEPH – the degree is 13.5° and the pH 3.2; there has been no rot, but a lot of vineyard work was involved.”

JEAN-LOUIS THIERS of DOMAINE DU BIGUET told me: “this was a precocious vintage; we harvested at the end of August and early September. The fruit was very well ripened. As a result, I blocked the malolactic fermentation this year to keep freshness, unlike 2012 and 2013.”

The harvesters at the end of August and early September were obliged to get going if they wanted to make the METHODE CHAMPENOISE, sparkling, SAINT-PÉRAY. Whereas domaines such as CLAPE waited until mid-September for their crop; PIERRE CLAPE spoke of a “correct yield, and a sound degree,” their MARSANNE wine bearing the genuine gras richness of the vintage.

This year degrees were set in a compact range of 13° to 13.5°, indicating that some of the excesses of overripeness and over-buttered wines from a few years ago is fading. The excess also derives from growers seeking maquillage – make-up – on the juice from young vines, so that their lack of true richness can be masked by extreme ripeness and/or the use of new or young oak. Two wines lay at the high end of the scale – LES BIALÈRES (14.5°) from LES VINS DE VIENNECUILLERON, GAILLARD and F VILLARD – and the ALAIN VOGE FLEUR DE CRUSSOL (14°) where the style is always aimed at Vieille France dishes in sauces and butter, with the restaurant trade a notable purchaser of the wine.

MARSANNE remains the majority variety ahead of ROUSSANNE; historically this has been the case for economic reasons as much as anything else; STÉPHANE ROBERT at DOMAINE DU TUNNEL achieved 35 hl/ha yields on his MARSANNE this year, against 30 hl/ha for his ROUSSANNE, a normal ratio. However, aware of the already fat shape of the vintage, he backed off using as much oak as usual on his MARSANNE this year, to allow the wines more space, greater freedom.

He summed up the vintage as follows: “personally, I like 2011 - perhaps it’s my favourite of the three years from 2013 to 2011. It is a  bit more heavy, shows some overripeness, and is less lively than 2012 and 2013, and is well suited to la table, fish in a cream sauce, or gambas if you are drinking the Roussanne.”

The old hands of BERNARD and son FABRICE GRIPA made two very good whites. FABRICE likes his wines to give effortless drinking, a shared pleasure with friends, and is not seeking to make scaled-up, long-lived offerings. The word “stylish” fits them like a glove.

The GRIPA LES FIGUIERS, with its 60-70% early 1960s ROUSSANNE supported by post World War Two MARSANNE, is always a notch ahead of LES PINS (70-80% 30-year MARSANNE) in sophistication, its delicate drops of flavour accumulated along the palate. The 2011 mix of intricacy and its leaning towards red wine, grounded features fits the vintage character well. As a serious white wine made from two relatively poorly known varieties, it is well worth buying and cellaring a little, to be offered to guests who appreciate discoveries. It costs around £25 from VINE TRAIL in Britain, and is imported to the USA by ALAIN and JOHN JUNGUENET in New Jersey.

Of the relative recent comers, YVES CUILLERON started at SAINT-PÉRAY in 2006 with the rental of vineyards. His two wines are also defined by one that is all MARSANNELES CERFS – and a second that is a 50-50% split, LES POTIERS, taken from 25 year old vines, 10 years less than the MARSANNE for LES CERFS. “The POTIERS is designed for simple accompaniments, grilled fish or the aperitif,” he says, “while the CERFS, with its greater volume and gras from the Marsanne, is suited to cooked ham, cheese or fish in sauce.” In 2011 the fleshy richness of the Marsanne was well captured in his CERFS.

There is a longer article on SAINT-PÉRAY under 2012, where some of the history of the appellation is also discussed.

LEADING SAINT-PÉRAY 2011s

****(*) M Chapoutier Lieu-Dit Hongrie 2020-21 11/13 STGT; gras, depth, great
****(*) Domaine Gripa Les Figuiers 2023-24 11/12 intricate, solid, long
**** Yves Cuilleron Les Cerfs 2020-21 11/12 fleshy, bright
**** Guy Farge grain de silex 2018 11/12 honest, has character
**** Domaine Gripa Les Pins 2020-21 11/12 stylish, poised
**** Dom du Tunnel Pur Blanc 2020-21 11/12 fleshy, nuanced
**** Alain Voge Les Terres Boisées 2019-20 11/12 STGT; crisp, elegant 
***(*)  Cave de Tain Fleur de Roc   2017  11/12  gras, and flinty
***(*) Anne-Sophie Pic & M Chapoutier 2020-21 11/12  dumb, but potential  
***(*)  Domaine Clape   2018-19  12/15  bold gras, thick coating 
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Potiers   2021-23  11/12  compact; with full foods  
***(*)  Chrystelle Michel   2017  12/13  aromatic gras, joli  
***(*)  Domaine Johann Michel   2016-17  09/12  delicate, sympa   
***(*)  Dom Julien Pilon les maisons de victor 2018  11/12  opulent, savoury 
***(*)  Domaine du Tunnel Marsanne   2017-18  11/12  serene, soft  
***(*)  Domaine du Tunnel Roussanne   2017  11/12  comfortably round, pure   
***(*)  François Villard Version   2019  11/12  fat; smooth texture 
***(*)  François Villard Version Longue   2018-19  11/12  fat but flows, allow time   
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne   2019  11/12  authentic Marsanne, STGT  
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Les Bialères   2018  11/12  well flavoured 
***(*)  Alain Voge Fleur de Crussol   2021-23  11/12  red wine style, ripe   
***  M Chapoutier Les Tanneurs   2018  11/12  tight, grippy, local  
***  Ferraton Le Mialan   2020-21  11/12  grounded, dour; time  
***  Domaine Rémy Nodin champenoise    12/13  sound body, pear fruit  
***  Domaine Benoit Roseau   2017-18  11/12  flan, toffee, 12° only  
***  Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes   2018  11/12  reliable, has gras  
***  Domaine du Tunnel Cuvée Prestige   2017-18  11/12  solid; sound length  
***  Les Vins de Vienne Les Archêveques  2021-22  11/12  take yr time; red vin style  
***  Alain Voge Harmonie   2018  11/12  varied foods avec   
**(*)  Cave de Tain    2016 11/12 smooth, bit insipid   
         

 

4. 2011 SAINT-JOSEPH RED

Saint-Joseph red 2011s = highly drinkable wines, with that extra soupcon of flair above the Crozes-Hermitage 2011s that are more open and obvious. It is a vintage to buy and drink in convivial circumstances, or with picnics and events outdoors. Much the same DNA applies here as elsewhere in the Northern Rhône this year – mild tannins, pretty good freshness, and clear fruit.

Thus, a Saint-Joseph 2011 red at 4 star rating is a better buy than a Côte-Rôtie 2011 at similar rating. The lean of quality with the St Jo appellation is towards the southern zone around St Jean-de-Muzols, Tournon and Mauves, where there fell less rain, and the crop was riper than in the Chavanay area, also allowed to make Condrieu - so a different micro-climat away.

The weather patterns were a precocious start to the year after a cold winter. FABRICE GRIPA of DOMAINE GRIPA, leading edge Questor and man for details, told me in March 2011: “we had three or four days snow in the winter – a bit in December, a fall of 30 cm (14 inches), then some in January 2011. The spring has been dry, and we need rain now, when I am replanting. I think 2010 may have been tiring for the vines – it wasn’t a hot year, and the vegetation worked hard, and also stopped and started several times during the growing season.” Hence possible fatigue in the vineyards at the start of the new growing season, a point to bear in mind vis-à-vis the future depth of the wines.

The high early spring heat catapulted the vineyards and their vegetation forward, with PIERRE COURSODON, from the epicentre of Mauves, reporting on 6 June 2011: “it’s fine today; we are three weeks ahead. The grapes are like petits pois (peas) now. If it becomes hot, we will harvest in August this year. We haven’t had great heat – a maximum of around 30°C, and the nights have been fresh. We had a 10 mm (0.4 in) storm on 4 June, and the 1 June was a cold, damp day, not much above 10°C.”

Then June played its role in slowing things down, via cool and occasionally rainy weather. JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE, also from Mauves, with vineyards there and just north of Tournon, told me: “the rain on 23 June varied between the villages where I have vineyards – while Tain had 17 mm (0.65 in), Mauves had 20 mm (0.8 in), and Lemps had 35 mm (1.4 in). There is no stress in the vineyards currently. It has been very easy in the vineyards so far this year.”

A view from further north in late July, at Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf, where some of his vineyards stand at 250 metres, came from the promising XAVIER NOVIS, of DOMAINE DE LA ROCHE DE L’ISLE. He reported: “it has been super good so far; we are three weeks ahead, the recent rain has been just what the grapes and the leaves have needed. We had 40 mm (1.6 in) of rain on 13 July, after around 10 mm (0.4 in) on 7 July. I would say we will be picking around 10 September this year, against early October in 2010, and 25 September in 2009” – an early date then set.

FABRICE GRIPA later told me of the circuitous route to taken to the final harvest this year: “we had three weeks of rain in July, flanked by drought. The berries were very small, and we cut back crop and thought “job done”, but after the rain we had to go back in again because the remaining grapes had expanded so much. Overall, there was a lot of vineyard work all through from mid-April to mid-October. Our harvest took 20 days not the usual 7 this year – there weren’t many full vats’ picking at any one time, and there was also a lot of difference between levels of ripeness across the vineyard.”

“Of course, at the end of June we thought we had a 2003 on our hands, and that we were heading for a harvest around 20 to 25 August – just as well that wasn’t the case. The 2011 reds are good, that I do know,” he concluded.

Uneven ripeness, and the need for vigilance when collecting the crop at the cellar door was underlined by growers such as ANTHONY VALLET of the good DOMAINE VALLET at Serrières, which stands a little above the mid-point of the appellation going south to north. He stated: “we were lucky with storms at Serrières and didn’t get too badly hit by them. This year you had to drop crop and do green harvesting. Our yield was 34 hl/ha against 36 hl/ha in 2010.”

From Saint-Jean-de-Muzols and Tournon, in the south, GUY FARGE, a man with a lean towards STGT wines, told me: “this year I had south facing bunches giving Syrah at 13.5°, and north-facing bunches giving Syrah at 9° - complicated.”

From a vinification standpoint, the 2011s were not tricky, but excess cellar intervention was likely to hurt the rather fragile young wines. FABRICE GRIPA reviewed his winemaking year as follows: “the pHs on our red wine were high, indicating low acidity, while degrees were high - all over 13°. Colours are very good, the tannins very soft, very velvet. 2011 isn’t as massive as 2009 and 2010. Density of the wine is the game. I did one pumping over instead of two or three - a light approach this year. The Syrah vats worked almost on their own.”

Ex-Co-operateur at Saint-Désirat in the middle zone, and biodynamic grower, JEAN DELOBRE of FERME DES SEPT LUNES told me about his cellar work: “my vinifications went well, with the malolactic fermentation occuring quickly, some even under the marc. We had double the crop of 2010, so near a full yield. The reds are a bit less dense than 2009 and 2010, and will be a nice canon to drink.”

The drinkability of these wines was emphasized by several growers. JÉRÔME COURSODON: “the reds are in the style of 2007, better than 2007, are very gourmands. The tannins are very supple and the acidities help the tension in the wines. It is a good drinking vintage.” Also from the southern zone, at Châteaubourg, the brothers DURAND offered these views: JOËL DURAND remarked “the reds have finesse, appealing texture and drink well. We were a bit worried about a lack of depth after 2010, but feel that they will evolve well. They have fine tannins.” His brother ERIC told me: “the 2011s have taken on more grip and late tannin since September 2012. I would compare it to 2000, and it is a year of quite low acidity.”

From the southern sector at Tournon, BERNARD FAURIE, now working a smaller vineyard as he gradually sells off some of his Saint-Joseph vines to son-in-law EMMANUEL DARNAUD, observed as follows: ““I think the 2011 Saint-Joseph reds will do well and be OK; often you get years like 1997 and 1987 that do really well,” he explained. Note that vintage in comparison are not mighty wine, more ones that gave easy to appreciate pleasure, nothing too complicated.

The STGT maestro, JEAN GONON, from his HQ at Mauves, gave me his take on the vintage; Jean makes excellent red and white, has been organic for years with his brother PIERRE, and his oldest Syrah dates back to 1915 at St Jean-de-Muzols, part of the old RAYMOND TROLLAT vineyard on the soft granite there. This is rock-solid quality, year in year out, thus. Off we go, Jean: “2011 is a normal year, neither too much nor too little. It is joli, more gourmand and kind than 2010. In November 2011 I was a bit deceived by it – I found it very good, but too simple. However, the cold weather of the winter 2011-12 changed it, did it good after the cold of February – and it became more profound.” I find the brothers’ wine w.o.w. this year – a lovely, textured drink.

One of the rare leading lights from the Northern zone this year is ANDRÉ PERRET, at Chavanay. His top wine, LES GRISIÈRES, is made from 40 to 70-year old Syrah, and it, too, is tasty, has flair, is a w.o.w. wine. Hurrah! ANDRÉ reviewed the year thus: “2011 is elegance over power. My two St Joseph reds this year are closer in quality than they were in 2010. I had a good, homogenous ripening on my Syrah.”

There lies 2011 Saint-Joseph, thus. Perhaps for export markets, it is creeping up in price, but it fulfils much of what the old Ardechois hands believe it should do – be a free flowing drink with country foods and in good company. Don’t wear your tuxedo, gents, or your tiaras, ladies. Just get on and do. Allow around 10 to 12 years, perhaps a little more, but

I emphasize the fun and pleasure to be had with these wines, their fruit extolling a message of Happy Days, so youthful consumption should be on everyone’s agenda.

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH RED 2011s

***** Les Vins de Vienne Les Archevêques 2024-26 11/12 very long, serious depth
****(*) Domaine Jean-Louis Chave  2028-31 11/12 big wine; terroir talking
****(*) Domaine Courbis Les Royes 2022-23 11/12 modern; Burgundian poise
****(*) Delas Sainte-Epine 2025-27 11/12 good style; Burgundian
****(*) André Perret Les Grisières 2024-26 10/12 classy fruit, w.o.w.
**** M Chapoutier Les Granits   2020-22  11/12  modern, oak, has ease
****  Dom de la Côte Saint-Épine V Vignes  2019  11/12  discreet delicacy, genuine
****  Dom Coursodon Paradis St Pierre  2023-25 11/12  fleshy, full, manly
****  Delas François de Tournon   2022-23  11/12  authentic; sleek fruit
****  Domaine Durand Les Coteaux   2023-25  11/12  STGT; elegant fruit
****  Pierre Gaillard Clos de Cuminaille   2020-21  11/12  hearty, long  
****  Domaine Gonon   2022-24  11/13  sweet fruit, gusto, w.o.w. 
**** Domaine Bernard Gripa Le Berceau 2028-30 11/17 tasty, interesting, beauty
**** E Guigal Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph 2028-30 10/15 stylish, long, has detail
**** E Guigal Vignes de l'Hospice 2027-29 10/15 grunt factor, liqueur fruit
**** Jean-Claude Marsanne 2022-23 10/15 supple fruit, pure, unadorned
**** Domaine Monier-Perréol 2019-21 10/14 STGT; very tasty; tight gras
**** Domaine Monier-Perréol Terre Blanche 2021-22 11/14 character, variety, length 
****  Domaine Mucyn   2018-19  11/12  copious fruit, w.o.w. 
****  Tardieu-Laurent Les Roches V Vignes  2020-21  11/12  harmonious, bonny  
****  Domaine Vallet Méribets   2019-20  11/12  buzzy, fruit-filled, w.o.w. 
****  Pierre-Jean Villa Préface   2021-22  11/12  Bingo St Jo, life, w.o.w.  
****  Pierre-Jean Villa Tilde   2020-21  11/12  pure, very good flow  
****  Les Vins de Vienne L’Arzelle   2020  11/12  quiet finesse, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Cave de Tain 2016-17  11/12  approachable, long  
***(*) Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit 2020-21 11/13 modern, swell, likeable
***(*)  M Chapoutier Le Clos   2019-20  11/12  clear fruit; oak  
***(*) Jean-Louis Chave Offerus 2022-24 11/15 rocky, stylish, mineral
***(*)  Domaine du Chêne La Dame   2020-21  11/12  gourmand, tasty; oak
***(*)  Domaine Courbis   2018  11/12  country wine appeal  
***(*)  Domaine Coursodon La Sensonne   2022-24  11/12  modern; lasting fruit 
***(*)  Domaine Coursodon Silice   2020-21  11/12  harmony, free fruit  
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Serines   2020-21  11/12  stylish; mature notes  
***(*) equis Maxime Graillot 2019 11/13 racy fruit, long; solid quality
***(*)  Guy Farge terre de granit   2019  11/12  good fruit carry  
***(*) Bernard Faurie 2020-22 12/13 v pure fruit; subtle body
***(*)  Domaine Faury La Gloriette   2019-20  11/12  light tread, glides along  
***(*)  Domaine Faury Hedonism   2019-20  11/12  trad, plump, musky  
***(*)  Ferraton La Source   2018  11/12  fun, early drink, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Pierre Gaillard Les Pierres   2018  11/12  gentle; sound juice 
***(*) Domaine Alain Graillot 2019-20 11/13 crunchy, gd vigour; wild horse
***(*) Domaine Gripa 2023-25 11/17 suave gras, aromatic
***(*)  Domaine Habrard   2016-17  11/12  attractive, biddable  
***(*)  Domaine des Martinelles   2019-20  11/12  STGT, tasty fruit  
***(*)  Gabriel Meffre Saint-Etienne   2019-20  11/12  harmony, elegance  
***(*)  Dom des Miquettes Sans Soufre Ajouté  2018  11/12  capital, gt bistrot vin  
***(*)  Dom du Monteillet Cuvée du Papy   2021-22  11/12  pliant, ripe  
***(*)  André Perret   2020-22  10/12  supple, drinkable 
***(*) Dom Georges Vernay La Dame Brune 2025-26 04/15 fluid fruit, nuggety tannins
***(*)  Dom Georges Vernay Terres d’Encre  2020-21  03/13  pure, clear, elegant  
***(*)  Vidal-Fleury   2019-20  11/12  early; sizzles along  
***(*)  François Villard Reflet   2022-23  11/12  deep, constructed  
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne   2021-22  11/12  oak; will sing in time 
***  Domaine Boissonnet Extrêm   2019-21  11/12  oily, extraction, oak   
***  Cave Saint-Désirat Septentrio   2021-22  11/12  v modern, fluid fruit; oak 
***  Caves Saint-Pierre   2020  11/12  Safe Operator, luxury   
***  Domaine du Chêne Anaïs   2020-21  11/12  upright, hardworking  
***  Delas Les Challeys   2017  11/12  live, aromatic  
***  Emmanuel Darnaud   2020-21  11/12  asserted oak, needs soul   
***  Domaine Durand Lautaret   2018-20  11/12  charm, simple  
***  Ferraton Lieu Dit Paradis   2021-22  11/12  oak, international  
***  Pierre Gaillard   2020  11/12  trad, solid  
*** Yves Gangloff 2019-20 11/13 typical, mineral, v drinkable
*** Brunel de la Gardine 2017 09/13 smooth, polished, reliable
***  François Merlin    2018  10/12 

free-going, clear 

***  Domaine des Miquettes   2017  11/12  fresh; fine fruit  
***  Domaine Pradelle   2020  11/12  wild, can get together  
***  Domaine des Remizières   2019-20  11/12  modern, arm’s length, brisk  
*** Gilles Robin André Péleat 2019-20 12/15 perky, raw; sweet spice
***  Eric Rocher Terroir de Champal    2020  11/12  cellar-led, dark  
***  Dom Romaneaux-Destezet Ste-Epine  2020-21  03/12  direct fruit; slow gainer  
***  François Villard Mairlant   2020-21  11/12  ripe coating, “effective" 
***  François Villard Poivre et Sel   2018  11/12  Steady Operator  
**(*)  Dom Benoit Roseau Cuvée Patagone  2019  11/12  fat, coated  
**(*)  Cave Saint-Désirat Coeur d Rochevigne 2019-20  11/12  retro style; much oak  
**(*)  M Chapoutier Deschants   2017  11/12  dark wine  
**(*)  M Chapoutier Les Granilites  2018-19  11/12  needs more depth
**(*)  Domaine Coursodon L’Olivaie   2021-22  11/12  oak beats fruit  
**(*) Yves Cuilleron Pierres Seches 2019 11/13 tame, oak; bit sweet
**(*)  Duseigneur  2020-21  12/12  peppery, cutting  
**(*)  Romain Duvernay  2019-20  11/12  correct, arm’s length  
**(*)  Guy Farge Passion des Terrasses   2018-19  11/12  crisp, direct, low charm  
**(*) Jean-Michel Gérin 2017-18 11/13 down the line; fair
**(*)  Vincent Paris    2016  09/12  simple, some depth 
**(*) Domaine Christophe Pichon 2017 10/12 timid wine; mid-term drink
**(*)  Christophe Semaska   2017-18  11/12  floral, push button  
**(*)  Dom de la Ville Rouge Cuvée du Potier  2018-19  11/12  full-on, stretched  
         

5. 2011 CONDRIEU

2011 Condrieu will not go down in the annals as a great vintage, but it does provide something of a rarity these days, when Viognier has spread so far and wide from its home source, namely that of crisp, mineral fruiting. Most winemaker converts to the variety chase a path of ample, obvious muskiness, density being preferred over cool lines.

The centre of the appellation, its historical heart, is of course the hills closest to the village itself. Limony in the south, Malleval and other areas near Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf were not part of the original zone when it was established in 1940, when the decree allowed for a total vineyard of 200 hectares across the communes of Condrieu, Vérin (home of Château-Grillet) and St-Michel-sur Rhône. In this group lie the sites ofVernon(notably Domaine Georges Vernay), Chéry (notably André Perret), Colombier (ex-Dézormeaux, now E Guigal for La Doriane) and Clos Bouche (Delas).

In style, the 2011s are mild, not especially deep, and are sometimes described as “fragile” by growers; acidity is gentle, a bit low, but present. Bouquets are varied, expressive. I also feel that growers have been sensible this year – not generally too ambitious, either in harvesting with extreme ripeness, or in going for broke on the cellar work. The base quality is good – there are few wines below three stars.

However, I stop short of 5 star Condrieu this year, mainly because of the regular slight tapering of their content in the late palates. The matter can drop down in their late stages, giving a sense of drift, which matches the vintage style of early ebullience followed by quietening.

The vignerons and vigneronnes are content. CHRISTINE VERNAY, doyenne of the appellation, at DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY, observed: “it’s pretty good; the whites are disparate in quality, though. I harvestedVernonand La Caille (1957 Viognier for LES CHAILLÉES DE l’ENFER) at the end of August before the rains, with a high degree of 14.5°-15°. After the rain the grapes lost acidity, and their balance suffered. It is more like 2010 than 2009.”

A different reaction to the effect of the rain came from PHILIPPE GUIGAL, who stated: “our La Doriane vineyards were at 15.8° before the September rains that were separated by two days, bringing a total of 50 mm (2 inches). After the dilution of the second rain, you had to wait for three weeks to re-concentrate the grapes.”

The Viognier is indeed a tricky variety, with surges of ripening near harvest time, but also reverses. The rains had this impact for FRÉDÉRIC BERNARD of DOMAINE BERNARD, whose vineyard is on Bassenon, at the north end of Condrieu, towards the Côte-Rôtie boundary: “after the very hot spell at the end of August, when we had 120 mm (4.8 inches) of rain across one week, the Viognier lost 3°, so our average is around 13.7° this year.” Here the rain served a calming purpose on the potential headiness of the wines, but the imprint of late fade on the palate was established.

Low acidity is remarked upon by several domaines. ANDRÉ PERRET told me: “it is not a high alcohol year – 13.8° to 13.9°. We added no cultured yeasts – the natural yeasts were healthy - and both Chéry and Chanson fermented until spring 2012. It is a year of low acidity, so you couldn’t do a lot of extraction by lees stirring and skin fermentation. Freshness is present, but the wines, with the abundant crop, are fragile given their low acidity. We might have picked in August, as has been the case recently – but we waited until 10 September, to achieve better ripeness and degree, but that involved a loss of acidity.”

FRANÇOIS MERLIN, whose son Laurent is now working with him, viewed the vintage thus: “2011  will have lowish acidity; the Viognier is 13.5° to 14°. In 2010 I needed 15.5° to achieve a good ripeness, but in both 2011 and 2012, it was nearer 13.5°. I expect gourmand wines given the high Phs, and the lack of acidity.”

Another grower seen giving instructions to the next generation is CHRISTOPHE PICHON, whose two eldest sons Corentin and Alexis are now active helpers; he remarked on the essential quality of 2011 – drinkability: “2011 has attractive, aromatic freshness, length and  good balance – you want to drink these wines. I rate them slightly ahead of 2010, helped by the acidity that brought length. The 2011s have a greater capacity to absorb oak than the 2010s – there is more wine in them, and better acidity.” In tasting over 50 2011 Condrieus, I also found that this year the use of new and young oak has given one or two wines valuable extra structure, and prevented looseness in them.

The number of STGT wines reflecting a faithful display of terroir has not varied much in recent years: 2011 was 3, 2010 was 3. The hot and dry summer of 2009 fominated the style of that vintage, with just 1 STGT wine, the poor weather-affected 2008 just 1 as well.

In terms of quality from one vintage to the next, here is a snapshot on the past six vintages at Condrieu. Remember that some growers show me their wines later than others, so the 2011 line-up is not yet complete.

CONDRIEU 2011-2010-2009-2008-2007-2006 COMPARISONS

  2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
6 STARS       02    
5 STARS 01 07 01   01 01
4.5 STARS 10 05 05 02 01  
4 STARS 18 17 07 02 02 03
3.5 STARS 16 14 11 07 08 02
3 STARS 10 05 12 11 12 13

So the best wines in 2010 are better than the best wines in 2011, but 2011 has plenty of good, upper quality bottles. Both vintages are some way ahead of 2009.

I would be happy to buy Condrieu 2011; I would not be expecting grandiose, impressive wines, so bear that in mind. They are agreeable, less startling than, say, in 2010 and will do extremely well in setting up a dinner party or cocktail event. Santé!

LEADING CONDRIEU 2011s

***** Yves Cuilleron Les Ayguets  2028-30 11/12 abundant, varied, late picked
****(*) Pierre & Marie Benetière 2018-19 11/13 variety; gras inside, v good
****(*) M.Chapoutier Coteau de Chéry   2024-26  11/12 profound, masculine  
****(*) Xavier Gérard Côte Châtillon   2024-26  10/12 STGT; clear, can live  
****(*) François Merlin Jeanraude    2020-21  10/12 close-knit, joli   
****(*) S Montez Dom du Monteillet Chanson   2021-22  11/12 provocative, appealing   
****(*) André Perret Chéry    2019-20  10/12 smooth, v fine  
****(*) Tardieu-Laurent   2017-19  11/12 stylish, nice depth  
****(*) Dom Georges Vernay Coteau de Vernon 2028-30 04/15 flamboyance/reserve mixed
****(*) Dom Georges Vernay Terrasses Empire 2019-20 03/13 deft, stylish, understated
****(*) François Villard Les Terrasses du Palat   2023-24  11/12 firm matter, lots here  
**** Yves Cuilleron Les Chaillets   2020-21  11/12 close-knit, dense   
**** Yves Cuilleron La Petite Côte   2017  11/12 sympa, fine, fresh  
**** Yves Cuilleron Vertige   2019-21  11/12 sturdy, imposing  
**** Domaine Faury La Berne  2017-19  11/12 precise, ripe, oak  
**** E.Guigal La Doriane 2026-27 05/13 rich, serious, promising
**** François Merlin Les Terroirs    2017  10/12 smooth elegance  
**** S Montez Monteillet Grandes Chaillées 2021-22 12/13 full, solid, stylish
**** Domaine R & R Niéro Les Ravines 2016-17  11/12 STGT; stylish, authentic   
**** M & S Ogier V Vignes Jacques Vernay  2017  11/12 tender, excellent apero 
**** André Perret Chanson    2019  10/12 STGT; elegant, clear   
**** Domaine Christophe Pichon   2019-20  10/12 fleshy, persistent  
**** Domaine Christophe Pichon Caresse   2022-23  10/12 sturdy, v long  
**** Domaine Julien Pilon Lône   2016-17  11/12 style, potential  
**** René Rostaing La Bonnette 2020 05/13 silken, serene, quite classy
**** Dom Georges Vernay Chaillées Enfer 2021-23 11/13 full; stewed fruits; time
**** François Villard Le Grand Vallon   2018  11/12 stylish, interesting  
**** Les Vins de Vienne Les Archêveques   2017  11/12 fine depth, foods   
**** Les Vins de Vienne La Chambée    2016  11/12 elegant, drink now   
***(*) Domaine Boissonnet   2017  11/12 traditional, fat   
***(*) Domaine Bonnefond Côte Châtillon 2019 11/13 supple, likeable gras, high fruit
***(*) M.Chapoutier Invitare   2017  11/12 sturdy, grounded   
***(*) Domaine du Chêne   2018  11/12 lots of flavour  
***(*) Domaine Louis Clerc   2017-18  11/12 big, thorough, hearty  
***(*) Domaine Clusel-Roch Verchery   2018  11/12 intricate, knit  
***(*) Delas Clos Boucher   2020-21  11/12 oak, oiliness, floats  
***(*) Pierre Gaillard L’Octroi    2017  11/12 broad nose; mild fruit  
***(*) E.Guigal   2019 05/13 floral, has gras, bit tame
***(*) Domaine Mouton Côte Châtillon   2017  11/12 fat, compact, oak   
***(*) M & S Ogier La Combe de Malleval   2017  11/12 finesse, rich fruit 
***(*) André Perret    2016-17  10/12 mild, harmonious   
***(*) Stéphane Pichat La Caille   2018-19  10/12 wholesome, refined  
***(*) Saint Cosme 2018-19 12/12 juicy, fresh, high oak
***(*) Christophe Semaska Lys d’Or 2023-24 04/16 wide, knit, lots of wine
***(*) Les Vins de Vienne Amphore d’Argent   2016-17  11/12 earthy power, enjoy   
*** Domaine Bernard Bassenon 2016 05/13 rich; fleshy fat
*** Domaine de Bonserine   2016  11/12 rich, bit tame   
*** Vignobles Chirat    2017  11/12 assertive, grounded  
*** Delas La Galopine   2017  11/12 apero, bit tame  
*** Domaine Faury   2015  11/12 light n’easy  
*** Ferraton Les Mandouls   2018  11/12 sturdy, enclosed  
*** Pierre Gaillard   2016  11/12 tidy, orderly  
*** Cave Saint-Désirat   2017-18  11/12 sturdy, oaked  
*** Domaine Vallet Rouelle-Midi    2016-17  05/12 sympa, unforced   
*** François Villard De Poncins 2018 11/13 tangy, fresh, busy fruit
**(*) Gilles Barge La Solarie 2016 05/13 floats, glides, not more
**(*) Gabriel Meffre Laurus    2017  11/12 direct fruit; oak  

 

6. 2011 CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

White wine standards at Crozes-Hermitage have risen well in the past half dozen years. I am sure this is the result of growers spending more time on their whites, first in the vineyard, with canopy and yield management, and more exactitude on the maturity of the crop. In the past, green crop or the easy default of exaggerated ripeness crop could be harvested – the former leading to thin or mean wines, the latter to receive the dubious open arms of oak and hence a stew-up.

In the cellar, there is also greater refinement in the crop handling – temperature control, lighter pressing, more vigilance. No more is the Crozes blanc the extremely junior partner of the red wine. Growers realise that they can make easy drinking wines, which fits the current vogue for buvabilité – drinkability – and also provokes the image of drinking wines at the zinc counter with a dish of sliced saucisson and some olives to hand. 

Roussanne vines are also growing up, and their proportion is rising – Gilles Robin’s Les Marelles is now 60% Roussanne, for instance, and the proportion at Yann Chave has risen, too.

Above all, 2011 is a great Marsanne vintage, capturing its finesse side rather than its potent forces. Following the all-round strength of the 2010, an excellent year for la table, 2011 is often suited to the aperitif and light, clear-flavoured dishes. The high yields this year helped balance in the wines finally.

So the Marsanne is very expressive, bearing notable aromas of hazelnut and honeycomb, supported by pear or peach, apricot, stylish white fruit flavours. Their finishes are accurate – they have classic Marsanne grip and tang. Some, not a lot, are very aromatic and pure – the CLASSIQUE DE CLAIRMONT and DOMAINE MUCYN, for instance.

Many are suited to food – cold foods, lighter flavours for the majority. Among this group, I would highlight the graceful DOMAINE DES ENTREFAUX LES PENDS from one of the best sites in the appellation at Mercurol, and also the promising young grower JULIEN PILON’s nuit blanche – rich wine, with flair.  

At the end of the scale are more heavyweight wines such as DOMAINE PHILIPPE & VINCENT JABOULET – excellent attack, sturdy, very typical Marsanne - and the DOMAINE DES REMIZIÈRES CUVÉE CHRISTOPHE. The latter accentuates a savoury, full richness, and provides stimulating drinking.

Yields were higher than usual this year, and acidity levels were limited. ALAIN GRAILLOT reported: “2011 is a very abundant year, especially in the white crop – 50 hl/ha. We harvested on 5-6 September, picking a really healthy crop, with very good balance. It is closer to 2010 than 2009 – 2010 was balanced and fresh.”

FRANCK FAUGIER of DOMAINE DES HAUTS CHASSIS was content: “we had a bit more crop than 2010, which meant more freshness, more citrus notes. The wines are persistent, with good gras behind.”

YANN CHAVE  liked the drinkability of the 2011 whites: “they have a  certain acidity, good balance, a wee bit of tannin and bitterness, hold gras richness. They are good aperitif wines, don’t have too much degree, will not tire drinkers, and can be kept better than 2009. 2011 is a pleasure wine year.”

OLIVIER DUMAINE, STGT grower at Larnage - good white wine lands based around kaolin (white clays) - also emphasized their fruitiness: “early on they were all on the fruit, with very little acidity, even though they are very fruited. September was magnificent. I picked the white crop on 11 September – it ripened regularly, and is at 12.8° to 13°.”

Also speaking about the great white wine zone of Larnage, PASCAL FAYOLLE of DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES, gave the following resumé: “I harvested 12 September, with a lot less acidity than 2010. Our yield was 50 hl/ha. The high heat at the end of August degraded the acidities. There are very interesting aromatics, and the wines were ready early. They are attractive, do not have a lot of acidity, so are quite rich – they suit the aperitif, and meals, too.” Pascal’s wines are authentic, traditional, and by and large suit table dining over the aperitif. His 2011 is STGT, in line for some grand Vieille France dishes.

MARC SORREL pointed to the quantity of the harvest, up 25% on his usual tally: “with the high yields, the white is on its fruit, and can be drunk early. I made 2,000 bottles instead of 1,500 bottles,” he told me.

ETIENNE POCHON prefers 2010 to 2011: “it was very, very hot at the end of August, and is a bit less interesting as a vintage than 2010, which I considered a reference year – 2011 is a bit like 2003. Malos were all done in 2010, not done in 2009, and in 2011 it was the Roussanne alone that did its malos.”

A brief summary from MAX GRAILLOT will end this report: “we have belles, fresh, quite balanced whites this year.”

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE 2011s

****(*) Dom des Remizières Cuvée Christophe 2020-21 11/12 savoury richness
**** Cave de Clairmont Classique de Clairmont 2015-16 11/12 STGT; delightful
**** Domaine des Entrefaux Les Pends 2018-19 11/12 rich content
**** Domaine des Martinelles 2020-21 11/12 STGT; trad dishes avec
***(*) Domaine Belle Les Terres Blanches 2016-17 11/12 STGT; stylish, precise
***(*) M.Chapoutier Les Meysonniers 2018 11/12 full; fine Marsanne
***(*) Yann Chave 2018 11/12 weight, elegance
***(*) Domaine Combier 2018 11/12 thick; rich texture
***(*) Dard & Ribo Cuvée K 2027-28 11/18 naked, character, fresh
***(*) Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre 2020 11/12 fragrant, stylish
***(*) Ferraton La Matinière 2018-19 11/12 bright; typical Marsanne
***(*) Domaine Habrard 2022-23 11/12 trad, scaled, solid
***(*) Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet 2020-21 11/12 sturdy, v typical Marsanne
***(*) Maison Nicolas Perrin 2018 11/12 genuine; joli richness
***(*) Julien Pilon nuit blanche 2017-18 11/12 soft flavours; foods best
***(*) J Vidal-Fleury 2016 11/12 supple, smooth, bonny
*** Domaine Bernard Ange  2015 11/12 agreeable apero 
*** Domaine Belle Roche Blanche   2018 11/12 low acidity; oak  
*** Bruyères D Reynaud Aux Bêtises de Léa  2016 11/12 comfortable gras  
*** Cave de Tain Les Hauts d’Eole  2016-17 11/12 heart; low acidity  
*** M.Chapoutier Petite Ruche   2017-18 11/12 broad, grounded  
*** Domaine du Colombier Cuvée du Gaby   2017-18 11/12 hazelnut, tight 
*** Dard & Ribo Blanc Divers    2018 03/12 close-knit; interesting  
*** Delas Les Launes    2016 11/12 fine, easy float  
*** E.Guigal 2016-17 05/13 ripe flavour, with steel
*** Le Domaine de Lucie Pitchounettes   2016 11/12 richly coated  
*** Domaine Mucyn 2015 11/12 elegant, apero  
*** Domaine du Murinais Cuvée Marine    2014 11/12 floral, subtle, agreeable  
*** E Pochon Château Curson   2016-17 11/12 good-bodied  
*** Domaine Pradelle   2016 11/12 glycerol, decent heart 
*** Dom des Remizières Ciuvée Particulière   2019 11/12 grounded, stubborn  
*** Domaine Saint-Clair un matin . . .   2016 11/12 aromatic, fresh  
*** Marc Sorrel   2020-21 11/12 tight, has gras  
*** Dom de La Ville Rouge Cuvée Nathan 2018 11/12 interesting, spiced  
*** Les Vins de Vienne   2016 11/12 simple, easy  
**(*) Domaine Combier Laurent Combier 2015-16  11/12  simple, apero 
**(*)  Dard & Ribo Les Opatayres  2018  03/12  naked, raw wine   
**(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix   2017-18  11/12  acetate, bit austere  
**(*) Domaine Alain Graillot   2016  11/12  easy, cld be deeper  
**(*) Domaine Pradelle Courbis   2017  11/12  grounded, expressionless 
**(*) Gilles Robin Les Marelles   2017  11/12  arm’s length, bit short  
**(*)  Domaine des 7 Chemins Tradition 2015  11/12  smooth, but plods  
         

7. 2011 CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

Crozes-Hermitage is worth buying in 2011. It expresses the easy fruit virtues of the vintage extremely well, and is half the price of a somewhat diluted Côte-Rôtie year. Saint-Joseph – a little more expensive because of the costs of labour on largely hillside vineyards – is also worth buying in 2011, as is Cornas with its successful depth of content.

Most of the Crozes-Hermitage reds are accessible, contain moderated tannins and drink well now, in early 2013. The most interesting wines come from older and better-sited vineyards, and so end up in the higher priced cuvées such as CLOS DES GRIVES of DOMAINE COMBIER, the CUVÉE GABY of DOMAINE DU COLOMBIER, or the DOMAINE ALAIN GRAILLOT LA GUIRAUDE. The northern zone – with its granite and hillside influences – has done very well, the quality consistent across the domaines there – DOMAINE BELLE, CHAPOUTIER (VARONNIERS), FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE, HABRARD, MARTINELLES and MUCYN, to name a few.

The ripening season reflected the contours of neighbouring appellations – a fast start, a slow down, an acceleration, changed plans, doubts, on the hoof decisions. FRANCK FAUGIER of DOMAINE DES HAUTS CHASSIS explained: “it has been beau after problems. We had a hyper early start, and a drought. The end of July storms helped us; the July weather hadn’t been great so we were fearful by then. But from the end of August the weather was exceptional and gave us a lot of help, allowing us to catch up. Some grapes were burnt by the end of August sun. After the spring droughts, the vineyards didn’t lack water reserves. We started the white crop on 12 September and the Syrah on 20 September.”

The adjective used by YANN CHAVE for 2011 was “bizarre”. He saw it thus: “2011 is a very bizarre year. Until mid June it was very hot, with near extreme temperatures; flowering had been very good, quantity was normal, all was OK. Then from mid-June to the end of August the weather was fresh, not bad, with the most rain at the start of August – a lot of 10-20 mm (0.4-0.8 inches) falls, the worst kind. We lost our advance on the year, and then faced the risk of oïdium. The second half of August saw 40°C heat, which dried the bunches a lot, similar to 2009, with a South Wind as well. So then we had lack of water stress, and a blockage of ripening.

On 2-3 September, we had 80 mm (3.2 inches) of rain in one big fall, without hail, and that unblocked the vines. We then had a lovely September, so you could take your time. The crop was very large – you had to drop grapes this year, and do that in several gos since it was dry then wet. The result has been degrees that are interesting without being too much – 12.5° to 13.5° for the Syrah, the white similar,” he concluded.

ETIENNE POCHON also remarked on yield control this year. He stated: “there was a big diversity of success with the Syrah this year. You had to sort your yield – a lot of crop meant that you had to wait a long time for full ripeness. I find 2011 a bit similar to 2010 – my crop was 45 hl/ha in both vintages.”

In tasting around 85 red Crozes this year, there are examples that lack body, which I would suggest derives from not waiting for full ripeness, and hoping that cellar work could compensate. IT NEVER DOES. There are also wines that show the 2011 trait of starting well, then tapering - as opposed to the 2012s that finish with a fair old flourish.

However, the best wines offer harmony between bouquet and palate, are long and pleasurable, the w.o.w. acronym (what one wants) or “drinkability” being applied to several. GILLES ROBIN’s PAPILLON actually achieves the rare double of both w.o.w. and STGT (Soil to Glass Transfer), and is highly recommended (available under the name Les Papillons at The Wine Society in GB, £12.50, for instance).

Growers’ opinions of the quality and nature of the reds cluster around words such as “gourmand” and “joli”, or attractive. FRANCK FAUGIER: “The 2011 reds are pretty – it is an extremely particular vintage – from the degree in the vineyard and the end wine – 12.3°-12.5° became 13.2°-13.3° in the wine – I have never seen that before. So we have a very good degree, beautiful colour. The wine wasn’t aromatic at the start – it was austere, but two months on in November it showed more fruit and charming acidities and matter – there is some resemblance to 2010. Both 2010 and 2011 have a similar quality across the old and young vines. The southern sector had a bit less coulure (flowers failing to convert into fruit) than the northern sector of Crozes.”

OLIVIER DUMAINE, long-time organic grower at Larnage in the northern sector, owns vineyards in great soils and locations. He told me: “2011 is a bit like 2007. It is a wine of the zinc counter – round, low on acidity, not at all aggressive, the tannins not rude. It is very, very sympa and agreeable to drink, will be a wine of limited keeping, less than 2009 or 2010. It was easy to vinify – I would like that every year. The reds reached 13° - I harvested them on 22 September, and found that the Syrah only really got going in mid-September. The phenolics moved into shape between 15-20 September notably, and my neighbours also found that same late development.” Here, the benefits of patience in the vineyard were laid clear.

ALAIN GRAILLOT, whose domaine is effectively run by his son MAXIME now that ALAIN is often away consulting on overseas vineyard projects – one of his is near Venice on low-lying soils – spoke thus of 2011 in its early days: “2011 has given simple but gourmand wines at this early stage in mid-November, 2011. Raising them may bring out a bit more depth. There are possible comparisons with 1991 and 2007.”

A year later, his son MAX GRAILLOT gave this assessment: “the 2011 reds are not great wines, but they are vins de canon (drinking, toot-toot wines). They are a bit like 2000 – high yields, everything is there, the fruits are very ripe, the tannins beau; the wines lack some power and concentration, but then you don’t drink wines for their concentration. The critic will want more, but the consumer will enjoy them.”

YANN CHAVE’s view of the 2011 Syrahs ran as follows: “the reds have decent balance, the tannins are not green. 2011 lacks a bit of concentration vis-à-vis 2009 and 2010, and is less powerful than them, too. It is more like 2007 in its finesse, is very round and facile. Vinifications were tricky due to very heterogeneous bunches in a single plot – those grapes facing the sun had burnt grapes at 14°, for instance; those on the other side of the bunch were not really ripe – some people thought they had 13°, but ended up with just 11.5°. As for the young vines – these showed no cassis bud notes or vegetal. Work en douceur, without exaggeration, was necessary – long macerations without too much extraction. We actually need vintages that are more facile and round like this, similar to 2007, without the imposing structure of 2009 and 2010.”

DOMAINE DE LA VILLE ROUGE is making progress year on year, and son SÉBASTIEN GIRARD saw the vintage as an early drinking one: “2011 is more balanced, fresher than 2010. The reds won’t keep a long time, and should be drunk quite fast.”

A good, traditional, STGT-style vigernon is PASCAL FAYOLLE of DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES at Gervans. He sells part of his wine to GUIGAL, but bottles a little each year. His rundown on 2011 centred on the easy nature of the wines: “I started harvesting my first plot on 13 Seotember, then the rest on 18 September onwards – ripening speeds were different. The wines are quite pleasant, have attractive colours. Our yield was a little lower than the white, at 47 hl/ha. I see it as a sympa, gourmand year – the tannins are supple and silken, and there is interesting volume on the palate. The reds already present themselves well, have very good colour, too. Thanks to the fine late season’s weather, we picked with good ripeness.”

So expect low acidity and soft tannins in the 2011 red Crozes-Hermitages – indeed, the tannins are hardly in evidence at times. The bouquets are aromatic. Several are good for solo drinking thanks to the mild tannins, which implies that growers did not exaggerate the work on their crop, a good portent. A lot of wines are clustered between 3 and 3.5 stars, implying a very reliable, good but not exceptional vintage – which therefore fits the profile one wants from Crozes-Hermitage. Drink it up with friends and family, have a party. Do not treat the wines with reverence. Go to Paris and trawl around les bars à vin, which will be dispensing them with liberal relish. They are there to be drunk.

Only in certain cases – BELLE’s LOUIS BELLE, COMBIER’S CLOS DES GRIVES, DELAS LE CLOS, FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE’s CLOS LES CORNIRETS to name a few – should the wines be laid down, pending their fusion. These wines can show well towards 2023-2026. See the drinking dates in the LEADING WINES below for precise references.

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE RED 2011s

****(*) Domaine Combier Clos des Grives 2024-26 11/12 flair; Rock on Tommy wine
**** Cave Clairmont Immanence 2020-21 11/12 polished fruit; oak
**** Caves Saint-Pierre 2019 11/12 balance; w.o.w.
**** Domaine Belle Louis Belle 2023-24 11/12 fruit, gras, oak - good mix
**** Yann Chave Le Rouvre 2017-18 11/12 modern; soaked fruit
**** Domaine du Colombier Cuvée Gaby 2021-23 11/12 copious, rich, bold
**** Emmanuel Darnaud Mise en Bouche 2019-20 11/12 pedigree coolness
**** Delas Le Clos 2022-24 11/12 stylish, classy
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Cornirets 2020-22 11/12 intresting, mineral
**** Ferraton La Matinière 2020 11/12 heart; thick depth
**** Domaine Alain Graillot La Guiraude 2024-25 11/13 dark fruits, long, fresh
**** Domaine du Murinais Vieilles Vignes 2019-20 11/12 modern; much pleasure
**** Gilles Robin Papillon 2017-18 11/12 rare STGT, w.o.w. wine, ace
***(*)  Domaine Les Alexandrins  2018  11/12  ripe, tasty, enjoyable 
***(*) Aléofane  2019-20  11/12  plenty to enjoy; w.o.w. 
***(*) Bernard Ange   2018  11/12  authentic, steady depth 
***(*) Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles  2020-22  11/12  scale; rib of beef beckons 
***(*) Domaine Betton Espiègle  2017  11/12  precise; Bingo Crozes 
***(*) Dom Les Bruyères Georges Reynaud  2017  11/12  softly fruited; precise 
***(*) Cave Clairmont Classique de Clairmont 2017  11/12  w.o.w. pleasure 
***(*) Cave de Clairmont Pionniers 2018 11/12 easy access; gentle
***(*) M.Chapoutier Les Varonniers   2021-22  11/12  wide, coated 
***(*) Domaine Combier   2020-21  11/12  stylish, fresh 
***(*) Delas Domaine des Grands Chemins  2019-20  11/12  fat, gourmand 
***(*) Domaine des Entrefaux   2016-17  11/12  pliant, suave, w.o.w. 
***(*) Dom des Entrefaux Les Machonnières 2018 04/16 spherical, elegant
***(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix  2019-20  09/12  tasty, attractive 
***(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Sens    2019-20  11/12  live fruit, grilling  
***(*) Domaine Gaylord Machon Cuvée Ghany 2018-19  11/12  ball of fruit 
***(*) Domaine Alain Graillot 2017-18 11/13 ripe fruit; on the go; w.o.w.
***(*) Domaine Habrard 2019-20  11/12  fat, modern, grounded 
***(*) Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet Nouvelère 2019-20  11/12  big, oaked; "impressive" 
***(*) Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne   2021-22  10/12  expressive, drinkable 
***(*) Domaine Melody Premier Regard   2019-20  11/12  very good fruit heart 
***(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Terres d'Arce 2021-22 10/15 dark, tasty, good gras
***(*)  Ogier Oratorio 2018-19  11/12  modern, smooth, direct 
***(*) Etienne Pochon  2019-20  11/12  manly, oily, big 
***(*)  Etienne Pochon Château Curson   2019-21  11/12  fluid; oaked 
***(*)  Domaine Pradelle   2020  11/12  tight fruit; modern 
***(*)  Domaine Pradelle Les Hirondelles   2019  11/12  promsing elegance 
***(*)  J Vidal-Fleury   2018-19  11/12  solid depth, dark 
***(*)  Domaine de La Ville Rouge Inspiration 2018  11/12  compact depth; foods 
***(*)  Domaine de La Ville Rouge Cuvée Paul 2018-19  11/12  STGT; subtle potential 
***  Domaine Betton Caprice   2016  11/12  upfront fruit; sound 
*** Cave de Tain Les Hauts du Fief 2018-19 11/13 dwn frm 3.5 strs; depth???
***  M.Chapoutier Petite Ruche   2016  11/12  bouncy, supple 
***  Domaine Combier Laurent Combier 2019  11/12  plum fruits; floral 
*** 2012 Laurent Combier Cap Nord 2018 12/13 prune, grip, OK but ...
***  Emmanuel Darnaud Les Trois Chênes   2019  11/12  soft ripeness 
***  Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre   2019-20  11/12  upright, has gras 
***  Olivier Dumaine Opora  2018  11/12  crisp; grills or solo 
***  Romain Duvernay   2017  11/12  scaled; immediate impact 
*** equis equinoxe 2018 11/12 plump, closing now
*** E Guigal 2019-20 10/15 bonny juice, slight dry end
*** Domaine des Lises 2018 11/13 bright early fruit; bit simple
***  Domaine des Martinelles   2019  11/12  discreet persistence 
***  Domaine Melody Etoile Noire   2018-19  11/12  foot-down, plenty 
***  Domaine Melody Friandise   2017-18  11/12  big scale, Wild Child 
***  Domaine Mucyn   2017  11/12  orderly, w.o.w. 
***  Domaine du Murinais Les Amandiers   2016-17  11/12  juicy, clear, early drink 
***  Ogier Comte de Raybois   2018-19  11/12  generous, fleshy 
***  Domaine Pradelle Courbis   2017-18  11/12  careful fruit; very sound 
***  Dom des Remizières Cuvée Particulière   2015-16  11/12  shapely; easy drinking 
*** Gilles Robin Albéric Bouvet 2019 12/15 bright fruit; not ensemble
***  Domaine Saint Clair étincelle  2016-17  11/12  good drinkability 
***  Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes  2019-20  11/12  mature; for sweet tooths 
***  Dom de La Ville Rouge Terre d’Eclat 2018  11/12  supple, subtle 
***  Les Vins de Vienne Les Palignons   2019  11/12  scented, squeezy, wee oak 
**(*) Cave de Tain 2015 11/12 medium weight; solo OK
**(*)  Cave de Tain Selection Première   2016  11/12  soft; drink soon 
**(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Meysonniers   2017-18  11/12  tender, modest 
**(*)  Yann Chave   2019-20  11/12  gutsy, tight; may improve
**(*)  Dard & Ribo Rouge Divers   2016  03/12  soft fruit; bit edgy 
**(*)  Delas Les Launes   2017  11/12  workmanlike; not more 
**(*)  Domaine Jeanne Gaillard   2019-20  11/12  swish fruit; technical 
**(*)  Dom de Lucie Aux Racines Saint-Jaimes   2016  11/12  juicy, modern, stretched 
**(*) Dom des Remizières Cuvée Christophe 2017-18 11/12 cellar-led; oak-matter??
**(*)  Eric Rocher Chaubayou   2020  11/12  cellar on top 
**(*)  Domaine des 7 Chemins Tradition   2019  11/12  fruit has style; lot oak 
**(*) Marc Sorrel 2018 11/13 lacks depth, quiet drink

 

8. 2011 HERMITAGE RED

2011 Hermitage fits into a trio of excellent vintages, each one offering its own expression of the ripening cycle and the Noble Hill. We start with the sun-swept power of 2009, a rippling, grounded version of Hermitage, one when the Chave family chose to produce their Cathelin cuvée – the previous had been 2003. In 2009 it is founded around Les Bessards, in deliberate counterpoint to the style of the classic red - the Méal-centric heart of their classic wine was a true example of the bounty that this sweeping slope gives in warm or hot summers.

2010 has better balance than 2009, but one can never discount the full-blooded appeal of a hot sun year such as 2009. However, 2010 is so well-packed, so full of options, that I regard it up among the star vintages of my lifetime – my first “live” vintage, tasted at the time, was 1972. The freshness of 2010 is superior to that of 2009, and that will mean that the wines will take their time to integrate and to strut their undoubted potential. Very, very long, extremely aromatic, the Hermitages of 2010 impress on every level.

2011 is the most winsome vintage of the three years, but it is very good indeed, a real deft purveyor of terroir nuances as one travels around the different climats of the hill. One of the best insights to a vintage always comes from the climat by climat tasting at Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, and the vintage hovering in the back of my mind as I tasted through the parts of their 2011 was the excellent 1991. That was a slow developer, a vintage of finesse and gain over time, an underestimated wine and vintage. Drunk at 10+ years’ old with Gérard Chave’s kid – young goat – dish, provides a Mighty Marriage. (I have been lucky enough to have Gérard serve the 1991 to me more than once, so details about exactly when are blurred, but certainly when the wine was over10 years’ old).

The uneven weather of the summer ended up favouring the most noble sites across the hill. It was also contingent on growers to keep yields under control. “2012 is interesting providing you had a small crop,” asserted JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE, a point also emphasized by MARC SORREL, who told me, “It was extremely important to get on top of yields. We didn’t drop grapes on Les Greffieux and Le Méal, but we did on the lower lying sites [lesser exposures] in early August.”

The year had bounded forward early on in April and May, giving lush vegetation, with JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE stating that he was three weeks ahead on 27 June, at which stage he was envisaging an early September start for the harvest. The vineyard was showing no signs of hydric stress, helped by 20 mm (0.8 inch) of good, steady rain on 23 June. However, as the weather led to a slowing of ripening, but also another surge of vegetation in July, and then hotted up in late August, the differentials between ripening according to exposure widened.

BERNARD FAURIE recounted: “2011 was a complicated year, The fruit is nickel, very, very clear. There were different levels of ripening for both reds and whites. Anything south-facing ripened quickly. From 25 August, after the high heat, to mid-September, not much budged – the vine absorbed the 70 mm (2.8 inches)  of rain at the end of August, but the degrees didn’t change. I harvested my Syrah between 10 and 17 September.”

The route to the harvest bucket was therefore tortuous, with growers never quite able to see a clear horizon ahead. This meant they had to be watchful in the vineyard, and alert to uneven rhythms of ripening across sectors, and harvesting plans changed from one week to the next.

There is no doubt that the heat in August will actually help the wines this year. MARC SORREL reported: “August was hot – after mid-month it went up to 36°C in those 10 days, while September was nice.” The heat clinched the ripening and gave the wines their mid-palate depth. Otherwise, this could have been a restricted year.

Alcohol degrees are restrained – Sorrel’s Gréal at 13.5° compares to his 2006 at 15°, for instance but he also picked quite early – 9 September for his Syrah, four days after the Marsanne and Roussanne.

2011 Hermitage reds are also less easy to read than the obvious 2009s and 2010s, a point made by BERNARD FAURIE: “ripening was complex in 2011,” he observed, “and the wines are complex also – I expect them to go up and down, to have heights and troughs. There is a lot of deposit in them, there is matter. 2011 doesn’t resemble any other vintage. It has freshness, like 2010, but less density than 2010.”

MARC SORREL was keen to dispel what he thought the Press might lazily infer about 2011 if they took the route of deducing that what happened in Bordeaux happened all over France, certainly a regular feature of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s: “2011 is not a bit better than 2008, it is a lot better,” he stated. “For me 2011 resembles 2000 – 2000 had a lot of crop as well.”

“In 2011 there is a larger quality gap than usual between the top cuvées and the classic or entry level wines,” he continued. “Although the crop was large, my old vines always produce less; as they are very well exposed, they performed well, and better than the other vines because it wasn’t a very sunny year. I like these 2011 wines, since they allow the typicity to come out from the most noble terroirs,” he concluded.

I expect the wines to take shape gradually, to take time over fusing not only their constituents such as tannin, fruit and acidity, but also to be gradual in working out the balance between the plot contributors. Cool and precise are the best wines, with the CHAPOUTIER MONIER DE LA SIZERANNE a faithful example of the vintage –  it offers violet-mineral, tempting clarity this year.

Often the role of the junior wine at CHAPOUTIER is to try to be “big” in order not to disappoint, while the senior wines such as MÉAL and L’ERMITE strut their silken stuff. The last two indeed do just that this year – MÉAL is sunny, replete and long, while L’ERMITE shows its usual intricate mix of depth and saline-style cut.

CHAVE’s red is also a quilt of precise contributors – the classy L’Hermite, the muscled, stylish Méal and the vital baton-wielder, Bessards, long, stylish and clear. The CHAPOUTIER Bessards wine, LE PAVILLON, is also marked by the mineral click of this hillside, with enough ripeness to suggest southern breezes visited the hill during the summer.

Likewise, the DELAS LES BESSARDS’ mineral freshness develops as it goes, with a reassuring certainty of gras to back it up – another accurate connection from the granite to the glass, even in its currently prominent oaked context.

This is therefore a vintage for connoisseurs – it is not a flashy, immediate gratification year; it will develop slowly, it will show Pinot Noir influences at some stage in its mature life, and Burgundy lovers will be turned on by the purity of the fruit. “A most thoroughly agreeable beverage, Dr Watson,” would almost be the Holmesian take on it, in between puffs on some noxious substance.

Expect this vintage to do well over 20 to 25 years, and to be drinking with extreme elegance around the age of 12 or so. 

LEADING HERMITAGE RED 2011s

***** M.Chapoutier L'Ermite 2032-34 11/12  well assembled, true 
*****  M.Chapoutier Le Méal 2033-35 11/12  replete, generous, long 
*****  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave  2035-38  11/12  precise, fine, long 
****(*) Domaine Belle  2029-32 12/14 upright, fresh, STGT
****(*)  M.Chapoutier Le Pavillon  2033-36 11/12  muscled, mineral, true 
****(*)  Delas Les Bessards  2027-29  11/12  tight, fresh; gras certainty 
****(*)  Bernard Faurie Bessards-Méal  2031-33  11/12  good central fruit 
****(*)  Ferraton Les Dionnières   2028-30  11/12  manly, STGT 
****(*) Marc Sorrel Le Gréal 2032-35 11/13 sustained; proper Hermitage
**** Cave de Tain Epsilon 2030-32 12/14 copious, long, intense
****  M.Chapoutier Monier de La Sizeranne   2029-31  11/12  manly nose, elegant palate 
****  Delas Domaine des Tourettes  2025-27  11/12  fine; easy texture 
****  Bernard Faurie Greffieux-Bessards  2027-29  12/13  fine heart, expressive fruit 
****  Ferraton Le Méal  2028-30  11/12  heart, ripeness  
**** Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 2031-34 11/16 supple, elegant, ground force
****  Domaine des Martinelles  2027-29  11/12  elegant; fine fruit 
**** Dom Michelas St Jemms Terres d'Arce 2028-30 10/15 stylish, sunny, expressive
****  Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Émilie 2026-27  11/12  thorough, mobile  
***(*) Cave de Tain Gambert de Loche 2023-24 11/13 joli, authentic; supple fruit
***(*) Cave de Tain 2027-29 12/14 easy, low-key, has detail
***(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Greffieux   2029-31  11/12  Regular Guy Hermitage  
***(*) Domaine du Colombier  2024-26 11/13 careful; slow gainer
***(*) JC & Nicolas Fayolle Les Dionnières 2024-25 12/15 hunky, grounded, thick gras
***(*)  Ferraton Les Miaux   2025-27  11/12  subtle, elegant  
***(*) E. Guigal 2029-31 06/17 juicy, sunny, alcohol on cusp
***(*)  Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet  2024-26  11/12  aromatic, orderly  
***(*) Maison Nicolas Perrin 2023-24 10/15 cosy harmony, floral, tasty
***(*) Gilles Robin 2025-26 12/15 coated, thick, full
***(*) JMB Sorrel Le Vignon Vieilles Vignes 2020-22 01/15 wholesome, genuine
***  Yann Chave   2027-28  11/12  swish, modern 
*** Bernard Faurie Greffieux-Bessards-Méal 2025-26 12/13 dn frm 4.5 strs; fuzzy
*** Marc Sorrel 2021-22 11/13 fluid, round, uncomplicated
***  Tardieu-Laurent   2025-27  11/12  gourmand, sweet 
***  Vins de Vienne Chirats de St Christophe 2023-25  11/12  cooked fruit; big shape 
         

9. 2011 HERMITAGE WHITE

2011 is a good example of a pure Hermitage vintage, the Marsanne as one with its best soils – from climats such as L’Ermite, Maison Blanche and Rocoules. The drawback is the style sought by several of the peripheral growers, those with extremely small holdings, the price of their wines lower than the high amounts from Chapoutier or Paul Jaboulet Aîné. With these smaller domaines, one finds from one year to the next excessive similarity – later harvested crop and large new oak presence, meaning that their white Hermitages lack nuance and provocation.

Michel Chapoutier has been an ardent, dogged defender of the Marsanne, and realistic about its qualities – those that give a wine based around glycerol more than acidity and its accompanying freshness. Houses such as Paul Jaboulet Aîné, who have employed the Bordeaux-based Denis Dubordieu to direct the vinification of their wines, do not understand this, and are intent on creating “fresher”, more aromatic wines. I am upset by the Bordeaux influence on the Rhône, the effect being to neuter many of the wines, notably the whites. 

I have the first stirrings of unease at Delas with their 2011 whites, I have to add. Claire Darnaud is now in charge of vinification (she has been helping on the whites for maybe three years now), and she told me: “with reference to our 2011 white, we don’t want to make huge white Hermitage like our 2009 was – we want a more Burgundian model. Now we also raise the white Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette in 50% new François Frères, Damy and Seguin-Moreau casks, and 50% in 1 year casks from those three houses, instead of all being raised in new François Frères casks.”

The DELAS MARQUISE DE LA TOURETTE comes from two contrasting vineyards – it is the only Marsanne at Hermitage that is cultivated on severe granite, that of the west end, windswept, high plot of Les Grandes Vignes, some of it planted in 1912, some planted in 1918 by German Prisoners of War – hence its name Les Vignes des Prisonniers. Its wine is mineral, tight - as one would expect from taut, very rocky granite sources. All the rest of Hermitage blanc comes from clay-limestone, old alluvial soils or from dead soils, loess that lie further east.

The other source is a 0.45 hectare vineyard at the bottom of Les Bessards, which borders the eastern flank of Les Grandes Vignes high up the hillside, but which down at its foot by the town of Tain has long accumulated rich deposits in its soils. It is actually close to the Jardin des Bessards, a photograph of which I have in my book, showing cardoons, leeks and tomatoes being grown there. This plot, known as Le Sabot (the Clog) thanks to its shape, gives big, round, oily wine from its 1950s Marsanne. Clearly, therefore, the new policy is to favour the Marsanne from high up, rather than the glycerol-laden wine from the bottom of Les Bessards: harvest the Bessards crop earlier than usual, and the result can be less glycerol in the wine.

Thus reference for those wanting true Marsanne from the noble hill have to either pay top dollar for Chapoutier’s whites, or for the glorious and complex Jean-Louis Chave white (now a £100/US$160+ wine) or seek wines from reliable, STGT-style sources – MARC SORREL is a good example, with his two wines, the more noble by some way the ROCOULES - £385 for 6 in bond at Justerinis (www.justerinis.com), for example. Or one turns to a more obscure estate such as DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES, which for years has supplied wine to Guigal, but also bottle around 3,500 bottles a year of their pure Marsanne, 50% cask fermented and raised wine. 

Cheaper than SORREL's ROCOULES by some way is the soft, fleshy Hermitage white from DOMAINE DU COLOMBIER - £415 for 12 bottles in bond with Justerinis. This comes from Maison Blanche, a good, well-exposed easterly site, and the Marsanne dates from 1942. Out of the CHAPOUTIER stable, the already bottled CHANTE ALOUETTE 2011, a stylish and true version of Hermitage blanc, is a sound buy for €45.50 for a bottle in Tain, chez Chapoutier.

I would also mention the CAVE DE TAIN’s year-on-year success with their top white Hermitage, AU COEUR DES SIÈCLES,  made from early 1900s Marsanne from Le Méal (robust source), Les Murets (very fine whites), La Croix (OK, but . . - so does well as the source for the Vin de Paille). The 2010 is a big, manly, close-knit Hermitage, while the 2011 is, correctly, a not overdone, genuine and properly elegant white. Worth looking out for, as is their stunning, yes stunning 2009 VIN DE PAILLE, a 6 star wine of Great Pedigree.

Vintages such as 1991 and 2007 line up as Hermitage blancs with lower degree and style in their fruit, and 2011 is similar. However, the 2011 quality isn’t spread widely due to the aforementioned overdone approaches by some growers. The best 2011s, therefore, shoulf offer charm, and have a naturally rich finesse; this year they should be airborne, not based on fat.

The Marsanne performed well in 2011, and the definite quality of the best terroirs is apparent in the fine features of, for example, the CHAPOUTIER plot-specific wines – led by L’ERMITE and LE MÉAL. These , as usual, will unfurl gradually, and need leaving until nearer 2020 than 2010.

BERNARD FAURIE has made an interesting, mineral-tinted white this year: he recognises that his white has not always been consistent from one vintage to the next, but was content with 2011: “I picked my white in early September, with a degree of over 14°,” he told me. “There is a lot of freshness, but the wine may lack a bit of acidity. I harvested in two gos, and there is less body than 2010.”

Meanwhile, JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE has not yet embarked on his crucial blending exercise for his 2011 white, but observed that it had taken a little over year for his whites to get away from their lees, and start to purify.

White Hermitage remains a luxury wine, but one that provokes the mind and the senses when allowed to age well past 10 years. It is a must for a well-planned dinner or lunch, and remains the wine I would take to my Desert Island if I were allowed just one bottle (and not one Bengali Tiger as a companion, either).

LEADING HERMITAGE WHITE 2011s

***** M.Chapoutier L'Ermite 2032-34 11/12 rich, thorough, terroir
***** Domaine Jean-Louis Chave 2031-35 11/12 complex, streamlined
****(*) M.Chapoutier Chante Alouette 2027-29 11/13 stylish, poised, true
****(*) M.Chapoutier Le Méal 2030-32 11/12 fine, airborne
****(*) M.Chapoutier De l'Orée 2029-31 11/12 purity, understated
****(*) Bernard Faurie 2028-29 11/12 mystery, mineral, STGT
****(*) Marc Sorrel Les Rocoules 2027-29 11/12 bonny depth, STGT
**** Cave de Tain Au Coeur des Siècles 2025-27 11/12 lift, length, elegance
**** Cave de Tain Vin de Paille 2033-25 11/12 very fat, sustained
**** J-L Chave Selection Blanche 2033-35 11/16 elegant, knit, thorough
**** Delas Marquise de la Tourette 2027-28 11/12 light elegance, fresh
**** E Guigal 2026-28 10/15 sunswept, rich, punchy
**** Domaine Habrard 2026-27 11/12 weighty, full-on
**** Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet 2028-30 01/15 gras, glycerol, acidity
**** Domaine des Martinelles 2025-26 11/12 stylish, STGT
**** Domaine Julien Pilon Prisme 2025-27 11/12 elegant, very clear
***(*) Domaine du Colombier 2025-27 11/12 soft, fleshy
***(*) Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Dionnières 2024-26 11/12 pure, light touch
***(*) Ferraton Le Reverdy  2025-27 11/12 built-up Ermitage
***(*) Marc Sorrel 2023-24 11/12 medium+ depth, refined
***(*) Tardieu-Laurent 2026-28 11/12 oil, oak, noble oxidation
*** Cave de Tain 2023-24 11/12 elegant, cld be deeper
*** Ferraton Les Miaux 2023-25 11/12 smooth, polished
*** Gabriel Meffre Laurus 2024-26 11/12 fleshy, oaked
*** Dom des Remizières Cuvée Émilie 2025-27 11/12 sweet, oxidative style
**(*) Les Vins de Vienne La Bachole 2025-26 11/12 limited; more flair plse
         

10. 2011 CÔTE-RÔTIE

Côte-Rôtie 2011: a vintage for Northern Rhône enthusiasts, for lovers of finesse in their wines, for those who seek a soft landing after the heavyweight artillery of the fabulous 2010 vintage. I rate 2010 Côte-Rôtie as good as 1978 and 1929, so 2011 inevitably slots into the shade of that wonder year.

The wines have a flourish of fruit early in the palate, but can fail to carry fully through to the finish. The slight dilution present stems from two sources – a large crop, and rainfall in September, rain that didn’t hit Hermitage and the Cornas-southern Saint-Joseph area of the Valley, so those wines are that bit more complete this year.

After the robust, successful 2009 and the profound and lingering 2010, growers see the role of 2011 as helpful, while appreciating that it is a little behind the other two vintages. Adjectives applied are terms such as ”charming” or “fine”, and certainly they are already approachable, their tannins mild.

As with vintages that are not marked by sustained summer heat, there is scope for improvement in these wines; by that I mean a gain in weight and density, and a tightening of their fabric as they evolve. In that respect, they resemble 2007 to some extent, a vintage that was low-key at first, but a gainer of body and length over time. At this stage, 2011’s fruit is more flamboyant and free-running than that of the young 2007.

It was a strange year, with similarities to vintages of high heat such as 2003 in view at some stages, and even showing comparison to 2010 at others. This was because the weather sequence was bumpy, marked by big swings rather than by gradual evolution. The spring was very hot, and the vineyards roared into life, suggesting even then that the harvest could end up being ahead of its usual date, with advances of up to three weeks noted.

RENÉ ROSTAING described the year from his point of view as follows: “it was a difficult year; April was very hot, while July and August alternated between hot and cold, hot and cold weather, and the vines became stressed, lacking regular heat. At the start of June we were three weeks ahead, then we lost two weeks in July and August, and we ended up harvesting one week earlier than usual.”

PHILIPPE GUIGAL expressed satisfaction with the vintage, notably alongside the travails of Bordeaux and Burgundy in 2011: “we shall not be complaining in the Rhône this year; 2011 was a frustrating year, since July and August were average, and we changed our planning and took our annual holiday from mid-July to mid-August to be ready to harvest in mid-August after the early ripening. Then we were delayed with a lot of high heat in mid-August rising to 37°C by the end of August. Two rain falls amounting to 50 mm (2 inches) came in September, the first lovely and needed, but the second one excessive.

The tannins on the Syrah were hurt after the second rain, and it was an error to harvest straight after that – you had to hold back for about a week. It was tricky, because if you waited two weeks after the second rain, you came up with a concentration in the grapes, which was severe, and not typical. Our main harvesting was from 20 to 25 September until early October. Yields were enormous – we did two (more than usual) green harvests, and still hit our maximum 40 hl/ha yield.”

STÉPHANE OGIER also spoke of delicate decisions needed at harvest time: “I harvested two to three days at a time, with a lot of pauses. I actually started on 2-3 September, and finished on 5 October. For example, my Besset vineyard I harvested on 3 September - it is a very, very steep, hot spot, protected from the North Wind – and that was very early. We had 30 mm (1.2 in) of rain on 4 September, and another 30 mm (1.2 in) on 17 September, so this year big decisions were necessary. I think the vintage could show terroir well, like 2010."

GILLES BARGE was content with the crop level this year, but also found the September rains a clear impediment: “I had a full crop this year, 41 hl/ha; degrees advanced a lot in the second half of August – my Syrah at Côte-Rôtie by 3° to 3.5°, and my Viognier at Condrieu by a full 5°. Then things levelled out in September, and didn’t advance a lot more, so we could harvest before 15 September. The main setback was the September rain, which meant that grapes in some cases crumbled or lost their skins if you touched them, so couldn’t be harvested. Our Côte Brune crop (Syrah that is mostly most 1976, with some 1952-53 vines) was in such good shape, though, that we didn’t destem any of it – the rest of the crop was 60-70% destemmed.”

PATRICK JASMIN referred to 2010 possibilities before the September rain: “that bit of rain – 25-30 mm (1-1.2 in) eight days before harvesting diluted the crop – otherwise, the vintage would have been close to 2010,” he told me, while FRÉDÉRIC BERNARD of Domaine Bernard drew on the cauldron vintage of 2003 when he stated: “2011 was saved by the first half of August and July being cold and rainy – otherwise we would have been experiencing a 2003.”

JEAN-PAUL JAMET is regularly about the last grower to harvest at Côte-Rôtie, and this year was among the backmarkers once more. He related: “we harvested  a full 40 hl/ha; Côte-Rôtie in general started to harvest on 1 September, whereas we started on 12 September, when most growers had finished. We ended on 29 September, to achieve depth in the crop. I was ready to lose quantity in search of quality of the tannins. Vis-à-vis the climate, 2011 was ultra precocious, the earliest since 2003 but it is extraordinarily fresh; the phenolics were ripened in good condition this year.”

Cellar handling had to be careful as well, given the size of the crop and its relative fragility. Malolactic fermentations happened very quickly, with PATIRCK JASMIN telling me that his occurred under the marc, as did Jamet, before the wine has even been placed in cask. NICOLE LEVET of Vignobles Levet, traditional, STGT in approach and working with at least half the crop in whole bunch form, said that their year was marked by waiting for the tannins to ripen, with concentrated sugars but unrefined skins on their Syrah: “our La Landonne crop was 13.2°, but acidity was feeble. The presence of a lot of natural yeasts set the grapes going fast, and the ferments were all done in two or three days.”

A tactic of several domaines was to restrict cask ageing this year, with the wines considered unlikely to benefit from too much aereation. As JEAN-PAUL JAMET observed, “it is a year of great charm in the Northern Rhône, but it also needed particular attention to not lose its elegance and subtlety. Special attention had to be paid to its raising – you needed extreme prudence in the oxygenation of these wines, which were not reductive this year. The choices and decisions of the grower counted for more in 2011 than in 2009 and 2010, when nature did much of the work. 2012 will be the same as 2011.”

FRÉDÉRIC BERNARD worked along similar lines: “2011 doesn`t have large matter, has round tannins, and is open and flattering,” he recounted. “We may raise it a little less time – bottle it in December 2012 instead of April 2013. I see 2011 as a drink in youth vintage.”

Two of the younger generation, which is tuned into easy drinking wines rather than big scale events, liked the style of 2011, and its accessibility. KÉVIN GARON, 35 years old, who with his younger brother Fabien has taken over from father Jean-François (the last-named currently single handedly constructing a new cellar – its wooden doors, the masonry and so on), had this outlook on the vintage: “the 2011 harvest was very handsome, very healthy – so the wines drink very well, are silken, a bit like 2006. It has less tannin, less acidity than 2010. You can keep them, but also drink a lot of them around 2016-17. I like the style of the wines.” From north of the village of Ampuis, the talented STÉPHANE PICHAT stated: “I find the style of 2011 is for a bit more matter than 2010, but I prefer both 2010 and 2011 to 2009. They both have better balance."

In terms of comparisons, CHRISTINE VERNAY of Domaine Georges Vernay, who likes finesse in her wines, was reaching for a couple of vintages from the recent past: “with a complicated harvest, some wines lack balance; it is not an opulent vintage, and resembles 2004 and 2006 for me.”

PATRICK JASMIN's thinking ran along some similar lines: “2011 will be a very approachable vintage,” he stated. “The wine was slow at first to come together but by October 2012 has taken on weight. I compare 2011 to 2006 and 2007 – it is a year of finesse, and quite easy to drink. I notice that growers are perhaps seeking rounder, more coloured and easier to drink wines since 2010 – extraction isn’t the same, and the cap of the vat is no longer in its bath all day.”

JEAN-PAUL JAMET is enthusiastic about this rather testing year: “2011 is a super year, with class, and Côte-Rôtie charm,” he said. “It is exceptional, with density as well. I find it elegant, fine - silken it is - but there is plenty of wine there as well. It will be good now, but also for 20 years. It is a bit less concentrated than 2010 and 2009, but has great charm. 2010 is superior to 2009, 2011 and 2012, I should add.”.

Today, more and more of the most switched-on, younger vignerons in the Northern Rhône find their inspiration in Burgundy, as opposed to the previous generation, now around 40 years old, who went off to the New World to discover other methods and different thinking. For the current group, 2011 is a great vintage to work with, allowing them to work with restraint, and to draw out subtle influences from their crop.  Aromatic, neatly packaged wines are the result of this. 2012 will have more depth, but it, too, will suit this school of winethinking and winemaking.

2011 will suit a trend that not just Patrick Jasmin has observed, namely that of earlier drinking of Côte-Rôtie than used to be the case. A similar comment came from KÉVIN GARON of Domaine Garon, who told me: “I find people are buying and drinking Côte-Rôtie more in the summer these days, a change I have noticed here in France in the last three or four years.” Hence I can see this style suiting the Parisian and Lyonnais restaurant trade, where “cool” (the French word branché) establishments will offer these wines in 2013 – an example would be a duo of w.o.w. wines – the CHRISTOPHE SEMASKA Fleur de Montlys and the DOMAINE BERNARD Les Meandres.

I would buy these wines if I felt flush of pocket, but a pre-condition would be that I would feel it necessary to leave them in the cellar until around 2016-17, so that above all they could gain extra substance, and linger longer on my palate. Their time line for drinking runs towards 2025 or so: cosy friends rather than respected, even wondrous visitors they are.

Extremely few of the 70 or so wines that I have tasted have been bottled at the time of writing in November, 2012. The wines I have listed go as far down as 3 stars, with some below that. But the above commentary hopefully gives a useful guide to one’s expectations about this vintage, another confirmation of the importance and quality of the northern Rhône as a premier wine region not just in France, but in the wide world as well.

LEADING CÔTE-RÔTIE 2011s

***** Jean-Michel Gérin Les Grandes Places 2028-30 11/13 stylish; relaxed bounty
***** E.Guigal La Landonne 2035-38 12/15 comely, deep fruit, flair
***** René Rostaing Côte Blonde 2033-35 05/13 buzzy, also dense, fragrant
****(*) Gilles Barge Côte Brune  2030-32 05/12 good body all through
****(*) Domaine Clusel-Roch Les Grandes Places 2027-29  11/12 powerful, driving, potential 
****(*) Domaine Duclaux Maison Rouge 2024-26  11/12 STGT, class, balance 
****(*) Yves Gangloff La Barbarine 2021-23 11/13 pretty, round, expressive 
****(*) Domaine Garon Les Rochins 2024-26  10/12 good style, compact
****(*) Jean-Michel Gérin La Landonne 2027-30 11/13 silken; gd fruit-tannin flow
****(*) E.Guigal La Mouline 2036-39 12/15 super tasty, élan, Pinot
****(*) E.Guigal La Turque 2033-36 12/15 direct, fresh, tight fruit
****(*) Domaine Jamet 2030-33 10/12 stylish, textured
****(*) Domaine Jamet Côte Brune  2033-35 10/12 manly, will accommodate
****(*) Dom Monteillet/S Montez Grandes Places 2026-28  11/12 pedigree, length, terroir 
****(*) René Rostaing La Landonne 2029-32 05/13 delicate, solid inside
****(*) Jean-Michel Stéphan VV en Coteaux 2023-25 11/13 subtle, persistent, varied
****(*) J Vidal-Fleury La Chatillonne 2024-27  11/12 pure flavour, good weight 
**** Gilles Barge Du Plessy 2024-26  11/12 traditional, buoyant 
****

Marie & Pierre Benetière Le Dolium

2029-31 11/13 charm but steel, tenacity
**** Domaine Bernard Côte Rozier 2027-29 05/12 stylish, expressive
**** Domaine Billon La Brocarde 2024-26 11/12 big, scaled; potential
**** Domaine Clusel-Roch La Viallière 2025-26 11/12 wrapped-up power, clear 
**** Delas La Landonne 2023-25  11/12 aromatic, gras centre 
**** Domaine Duclaux La Germine 2022-24  11/12 clear fruit, will thicken 
**** Ferraton Père et Fils L'Eglantine 2022-24  11/12 gourmand; will be stylish 
**** GAEC François et Fils 2022-23 11/12 polished wine; w.o.w.
**** Yves Gangloff La Sereine Noire 2024-25 11/13 subtle; pedigree, interest
**** Domaine Garon Les Triotes 2023-24 10/12 tasty, precise
**** François & Xavier Gérard 2026-27 10/12 aromatic, shapely
**** Jean-Michel Gérin La Viallière 2027-29 11/13 fine fruit; local mineral cut
**** Domaine Jasmin 2027-29 04/15 compressed depth, sunny
**** Vignobles Levet Maestria 2028-30 03/15 earthy rumble, rocky wine
**** Vignobles Levet La Péroline/Chavaroche 2027-29 02/15 properly full, much to enjoy
**** François Merlin  2024-25 10/12 elegance, balance, interest
**** Michel & Stéphane Ogier Lancement 2027-29 11/12 charm; attractive, terroir
**** Stéphane Pichat Les Grandes Places 2027-29 10/12 oak, STGT within, variety
**** Christophe Pichon Comtesse en Blonde 2026-27 10/12 harmony; good flavours
**** Christophe Pichon Rozier 2023-25 10/12 elegant; pretty pure
**** Christophe Semaska Fleur de Montlys 2029-30 04/16 improver; joli juice, Pinot
**** Dom Georges Vernay Blonde du Seigneur 2023-24 11/13 charm; swish, liberal fruit
**** Dom Georges Vernay Maison Rouge 2029-30 04/15 sleek, ingrained depth
**** J Vidal-Fleury Brune & Blonde de V-Fleury 2023-25  11/12 STGT; mineral finesse 
**** Les Vins de Vienne Les Essartailles 2023-25  11/12 good heart, filling 
***(*) Gilles Barge Le Combard 2024-26  11/12  grounded, meaty, dense 
***(*) Pierre & Marie Benetière Cordeloux 2022-23 11/13 lucid, unforced; still tight
***(*) Domaine Bernard Coteaux de Bassenon 2026-27 05/12 accessible, rich and fleshy
***(*) Dom P & C Bonnefond Colline de Couzou 2024-26 11/13 modrn, upright, oak; scope
***(*) Dom P & C Bonnefond Côte Rozier 2024-26 11/13 supple, can expand
***(*) Dom P & C Bonnefond Les Rochains 2027-29 11/13 solid, profound, frank
***(*)  Domaine de Bonserine La Garde  2023-25  11/12 manly; nimble Burgundian 
***(*)  Domaine de Bonserine La Viallière 2023-24  11/12 straightforward, sound 
***(*)  Domaine Chambeyron La Chavarine 2022-23  11/12 STGT, grounded, thorough 
***(*)  M.Chapoutier La Mordorée 2025-27  11/12 STGT, full-on, grounded 
***(*) Vignobles Levet Améthyste 2025-27 12/13 dense, full; plenty here 
***(*)  Dom du Monteillet, S Montez Fortis 2024-26  11/12 moderated, feminine, oak 
***(*)  Domaine Niéro Eminence 2021-22  11/12 open, uncomplicated 
***(*)  Domaine Clusel-Roch Classique 2025-27  11/12 STGT; manly, glass filler 
***(*)  Ferraton Père et Fils Montmain  2023-25  11/12 modern, wired; needs time 
***(*)  Pierre Gaillard Rose Pourpre 2024-26  11/12 assertive, fat, cellar-led 
***(*) Michel & Stéphane Ogier Belle Hélène   2026-28 12/11 upright; gradual developer
***(*) Ogier Cave des Papes Cardinal Saint Ange 2022-23 11/12 harmony, pleasure
***(*) M & S Ogier d'Ampuis 2025-27 11/15 rocky juice, savoury
***(*) Stéphane Pichat Löss 2021-23 10/12 fine, Burgundian, tangy
***(*) René Rostaing Ampodium 2025-27 05/12 stylish, restrained
***(*) Christophe Semaska Château de Montlys 2024-25 04/16 red berries, chunky wine
***(*) 

François Villard La Brocarde 

2022-24  11/12 straightforward, tangy 
*** Domaine Bernard Les Meandres 2022-23 05/12 supple, flattering, w.o.w.
***  Domaine de Bonserine La Sarrasine  2021-23  11/12  drinkable, fresh, fruit roll 
***  Yves Cuilleron Terres Sombres  2021-23  11/12 light, pleasure wine 
***  Delas Seigneur de Maugiron  2022-23  11/12  close-knit; medium length 
***  Domaine Faury Reviniscence  2022-24  11/12  precise, Regular Guy 
*** André François Gerine 2022-23 11/12 traditional, forceful
***  Pierre Gaillard  2022-23  11/12  crisp, free, mineral 
*** Domaine Garon La Sybarine 2021-22  10/12 genuine, agreeable 
*** Jean-Michel Gérin Champin le Seigneur 2025-26 11/13 juicy middle; workmanlike
*** Domaine Jamet Fructus Voluptas 2022-24 05/13 plenty fruit; grain tannin
*** Domaine Stéphane Pichat Champon's 2022-24 10/12 sound, Regular Guy
*** Domaine Christophe Pichon 2021-22  10/12 good tooting wine 
*** François Villard Le Gallet Blanc  2022-23  11/12  scaled-up, effective 
**(*)  GAEC Daniel, Roland & Gisèle Vernay  2021-22 12/13  rigid; tannins a challenge 

 

VIN DE PAYS, IGP 2011s FROM THE NORTHERN RHÔNE

A constant source of good value for money, and really sharp, often stylish wines, is the VIN DE PAYS or as it is now called IGP category from the COLLINES RHODANIENNES or the Département such as ARDÈCHE or DRÔME.

This brings in wines whose vineyards are at the bottom of a hill, on the plain beside the Rhône, bang next to the hillside full appellation vineyard - often the case at CÔTE-RÔTIE - or up on the plateau beyond the main slopes. These wines can also include the young fruit of full appellation vines, before those are deemed worthy of giving correct quality for the principal wine, be it CONDRIEU or CÔTE-RÔTIE, for instance.

2011 has been a success for these wines, since growers aim to provide drinkable, fresh, bistrot-style quality in their more lowly wines - nothing fancy. Indeed, they take the vigneron away from some of the serious, more pressurised winemaking that accompanies the issue of noble French wines from top vineyards. Note that several are w.o.w. wines - ideal for the restaurant trade.

The VIN DE FRANCE category is also being used by growers now - such as YVES CUILLERON, ANTHONY VALLET - since it allows them higher yields - no limit, whereas the IGP category is fixed at 120 hl/ha for reds, whites and rosés. Of course most hillside growers wortk at 50-60 hl/ha for their IGPs.

VIN DE FRANCE also means less red tape (no approval tasting, checking on varietal percentages etc), and also takes away the obligation of IGP to have a minimum 85% of the wine in the variety stated on the label - hence an IGP Viognier must be at least 85% Viognier. The name is also more resonant than the title Collines Rhodaniennes.

Here is a selection of some that have caught my eye in my travels and visits up to the autumn of 2012:

SOME GOOD DRINKING 2011 IGP REDS AND WHITES

11. 2011 IGP OR VIN DE FRANCE REDS, MAINLY SYRAH

***(*) Domaine Gonon vdpays de l'Ardèche Syrah 2017 11/12 high grade
*** Domne Clape Vin de Table Le Vin des Amis Syrah 2019-20 10/12 fat, great resto vin
*** Domaine Garon Collines Rhodaniennes IGP Syrah 2016 10/12 strng appeal; w.o.w.
*** Michel & Stéphane Ogier IGP Seyssuel L'Âme Soeur 2022-23 11/12 breezy, drinkable
*** Stéphane Pichat Coll Rhod IGP Syrah 2019-21  10/12  character, structure 
*** Jean-Michel Stéphan Vin de France Vin Sans Origine red 2019-20 11/13 fresh, steely, edgy
**(*) Dom Les Alexandrins Coll Rhod IGP Intuition 2017 11/12 rich; trad Beaujolais
**(*)  Aurélien Chatagnier vdp Coll Rhod Syrah   2014  11/11  natural; STGT 
**(*) Yves Cuilleron Vin de France Syrah 2015 10/12 free flow; solo drink
**(*)  Domaine Jamet Coll Rhod IGP Syrah 2019-20  05/13  great flow; w.o.w. 
**(*) Michel & Stéphane Ogier La Rosine 2018-19 12/11 lively fruit; bonny
**(*)  Domaine Perret Coll Rhod IGP Merlot 2019  10/12  clear, drinkable 
**(*)  Dom Christophe Pichon Coll Rhod IGP Syrah 2014 10/12  aperitif; w.o.w. 
**(*)  Dom Romaneux-Destezet vdp Ardeche Gamay 2016-17  03/12  clear; good solo 
**(*)  Dom Romaneaux-Destezet vdp Ardeche Syrah 2017-18  03/12  racy fruit
**(*) Domaine Vallet Vin de France Ritou Syrah 2015  05/12  fresh; w.o.w. 

12. 2011 IGP OR VIN DE FRANCE WHITES, MAINLY VIOGNIER

***(*) Yves Cuilleron Vin de France Rousselière 2024-25 09/13 spine; character
***(*) Yves Cuilleron Vin de France Viognier 2015 10/12 outstanding
***(*) Francois & Xavier Gérard Coll Rhod IGP Viognier 2015-16 12/13 up from 2.5 stars
***(*) René Rostaing Coll Rhod IGP Viognier Les Lesardes 2016-17 05/13 mini-Condrieu
*** Dom Les Alexandrins Coll Rhod IGP Viognier Poupées 2016 11/12 rich; food best
*** Guy Farge vdp de l'Ardèche (Mar/Rous/Vio) 2014 02/12 facile, v pretty
*** François Merlin Coll Rhod IGP Brocéliande Viognier 2016 10/12 texture, length
*** S Montez, Dom du Monteillet Coll Rhod Le Petit Viognier 2016-17 10/12 gd apero; w.o.w.
*** Christophe Pichon Collines Rhodaniennes IGP Viognier  2016 10/12 pure fruit; long
*** Dom Romaneaux-Destezet vdp de l'Ardèche (Vio/Rous) 2016-17 03/12 tender; solo
*** Dom Grges Vernay Coll Rhod Pied Samson Viognier 2015 03/13 crisp, drinkable
*** François Villard IGP Contours Deponcins Viognier 2016 11/13 fresh; w.o.w.
**(*) Yves Cuilleron Vin de France Marsanne 2015-16 10/12 tasty, open