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2012 NORTHERN RHÔNE CLOSE-UP

BERNARD FAURIE BUSY IN HIS CELLAR: HIS 2012s CAPTURE THE VINTAGE WELL

INDEX

1. SAINT-JOSEPH RED

2. CORNAS 

3. HERMITAGE WHITE

4. HERMITAGE RED

5. SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

6. SAINT-PÉRAY 

7. CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

8. CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

9. CONDRIEU

10. CÔTE-RÔTIE

11. CÔTES DU RHÔNE/VIN DE PAYS RED

12. CÔTES DU RHÔNE /VIN DE PAYS WHITE

 

1. 2012 SAINT-JOSEPH RED

Easy going, well-fruited: that’s the take on 2012 SAINT-JOSEPH reds. It isn’t a vintage that will linger long in the memory, but there were plenty of very agreeable wines. In some ways, it was a “classic” vintage, with harvesting well into September, ending in some cases in early October.

On the weather front, a wet winter and spring meant that there were good reserves of water by May. Flowering took place in the first week of June, but there was the hovering spectre of mildew. STÉPHANE MONTEZ of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET in the northern sector at CHAVANAY, gave this reprise on the ripening cycle when he told me in late September: “the seasons have been very accurate this year – the spring was wet, from 21 June to 21 September we had a genuine summer, and now the autumn has been wet. The grapes contracted through the dry weather, and there was a blockage of ripening which happened very slowly for me.”

Hail badly hit the area near SARRAS on 17 July, with PIERRE-JEAN VILLA telling me: “I lost 40% of my crop south of SARRAS through hail on 17 July – ERIC ROCHER at DOMAINE DE CHAMPAL had 20 hectares hit by the same hail.”

The dry summer presaged modest levels of acidity, a factor commented to me by several growers, including STÉPHANE MONTEZ, while ERIC DURAND from CHÂTEAUBOURG in the southern sector, stated: “I compare 2012 to 2007. 2012 is riper and has more concentration than 2011. Both are quite low acidity years.” JEAN-CLAUDE MARSANNE, from MAUVES in the south, agreed: “2012 has less acidity than 2011,” he reported. 

For those who waited on their harvest, there was late September rain to complicate the picture. STÉPHANE MONTEZ, again: “I completed 60% of the harvest by 28 September, with a beau crop. I picked the ripest plots before the rain – we had 42 mm (1.61 in) on 26 September.”

Achieving full ripeness was also down to the quality of the terroir, as FRANÇOIS MERLIN observed: “SAINT-JOSEPH was less ripe than my CONDRIEU and CÔTE-RÔTIE, so I had to wait to harvest, some way behind the others.” ANDRÉ PERRET also spoke about the struggle for full ripeness, giving this view: “2012 is not the year to go after structure in the SAINT-JOSEPH reds; ripening wasn’t phenomenal, so it was better to seek out fruit above all. we were at 40 hl/ha for our SYRAH, and 45 hl/ha for our white. The 2012s are quite similar to 2011 – finesse, soft tannins – but 2012 is a bit riper, has less crop.”

It’s rare these days for growers to have bulk up their wines given increased levels of heat, but 2012 was one such vintage for BERNARD FAURIE, whose mature SYRAH grows on prime granite sites at TOURNON. BERNARD, as meticulous as ever, informed me: “my SAINT-JOSEPH came in at 12.1°, and I chaptalised that to 13°. 2012 is perhaps similar to 2000” [a year of abundance and low scale tannins].

The doyens of SAINT-JOSEPH at MAUVES, the COURSODON family, found restricted yields on their old vine SYRAH, reporting 30 hl/ha for them, with 36 hl/ha elsewhere, which tied in with the quantity from XAVIER NOVIS.

Growers generally accepted that 2012 wasn’t a year when they shot for the moon, reining in their expectations as a result. LIONEL FAURY summarised: “it’s a pretty classic vintage, the wines very agreeable. They have a beautiful structure, and the tannins are round and fine. They are drinking well now. It wasn’t a vintage that hit the headlines. 2013 and 2014 were more bizarre, and extreme.”

As a late harvester this year, CHRISTOPHE PICHON was able to breathe a sigh of relief, stating: “we ended the harvesting of our domaine vineyards on 1 October at CHAVANAY, our Syrah there. I am very agreeably surprised – the crop is belle, and so is the quality. Our SYRAH at SAINT-JOSEPH is 12°-13°.

So 2012 will not be a poster vintage, but will provide elegant drinking, with no tannic constraints, especially when bottles are opened around 2018 to 2021. The most noble wines, such as the highly esteemed GUIGAL VIGNES DE L’HOSPICE, from TOURNON, will do well over at least 15 years.

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH RED 2012s

***** E Guigal Vignes de l’Hospice 2026-28 10/15 gt style, balance, delicious
****(*) M.Chapoutier Le Clos 2024-25 11/13 stylish gras, grown up
****(*) Domaine Coursodon L’Olivaie 2023-25 11/13 genuine, top class, long
****(*) Pierre Gaillard Les Pierres 2022-23 11/13 pacy fruit, stylish
****(*) E Guigal Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph 2029-31 10/15 strength, finesse, length
****(*) François Villard Mairlant 2020-22 11/13 poised, deep, zappo VALUE
**** M.Chapoutier Les Granilites   2022-23 11/13 cool fruit, long, potential  
**** M Chapoutier Les Granits 2024-26 11/13 spherical, precise elegance
**** Aurélien Chatagnier La Sybarite 2019-20 11/13 character; sleek fruit 
**** Domaine Jean-Louis Chave   2025-27 01/15 STGT; rolling fruit, salty  
**** Louis Chèze Anges   2023-25 03/15 smooth, en finesse  
**** Domaine Courbis Les Royes   2025-26 03/15 clear fruit, smooth gras 
**** Emmanuel Darnaud   2022-23 11/13 get up and go St Jo  
**** Delas Francois de Tournon 2023-25 11/13 supple, fine, mineral thread
**** equis Maxime Graillot   2023-24 11/13 STGT; cerebral, time  
**** Guy Farge Gourmandises   2018 11/13 w.o.w., generous fruit, fun  
**** Domaine Faury La Gloriette   2022-23 11/13 cultured, stylish, oak  
**** Ferraton Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph   2023-24 11/13 authentic, long  
**** Pierre Gaillard   2022-23 11/13 expressive, genuine granite 
**** Domaine Pierre Gonon 2027-29 03/18 iron, vivid, pleasure, STGT
**** Domaine Gripa Le Berceau 2028-30 11/17 handsome, gracious, gd glint
**** E Guigal   2025-27 10/15 unfettered, cool, clear  
**** Domaine Habrard   2019 11/13 STGT, w.o.w., gt balance
**** Dom Michelas St Jemms Terres d'Arce 2026-28 10/15 solid, sealed, dense  
**** Domaine des Remizières   2019-20 11/13 delightful fruit, some oak, V
**** David Reynaud 350 m  2019 11/13 racy fruit, w.o.w.
**** Gilles Robin André Péleat   2023-24 12/15 expressive gras, a treat  
**** Domaine Robert & Stéphane Rousset 2023-24 11/13 nicely wild, Punk Rock  
**** Domaine du Tunnel   2020-21 11/13 enjoyable, expressive  
**** Dom Grges Vernay La Dame Brune   2026-28 04/15 intricate, mineral, true  
**** Dom Grges Vernay Terres d’Encre   2025-26 04/15 tight, pure, long  
**** Les Vins de Vienne Les Archevêques  2020-21 11/13 superior fruit; promising  
***(*) Aléofane  2018-19 11/13 vigour; intense fruit  
***(*) Dom Les Alexandrins Arène de Coeur  2018 11/13 vibrant, mobile, zap  
***(*) Gilles Barge Clos des Martinets   2019-20 11/13 trad, very drinkable  
***(*) Cave de Tain Esprit de Granit   2021-22 01/15 fleshy, generous, genuine  
***(*) Alleno Chapoutier La Croix de Chabot   2022-23 11/13 fluid fruit, oak crunch  
***(*) M.Chapoutier Deschants   2021-22 11/13 clear, sparky   
***(*) Domaine du Chêne   2019-20 11/13 soaked fruit; oak  
***(*) Jean-Luc Colombo Les Lauves   2019 11/13 quietly rich; heart, floral
***(*) Domaine Courbis   2019-20 03/15 decent depth, appeal  
***(*) Domaine Coursodon Paradis St Pierre   2024-25 11/13 glamour; near fruit bomb  
***(*) Yves Cuilleron Les Serines  2021-23 11/13 sleek, racy, peppery  
***(*) Delas Sainte-Epine   2023-25 11/13 modern, clear, grainy  
***(*) Domaine Durand Les Coteaux   2019 11/13 sleek coating; some gras  
***(*) Domaine Durand Lautaret   2019-20 11/13 plump, genuine, STGT
***(*) Guy Farge Terroir de Granit   2020-21 11/13 trad, meaty depth  
***(*) Bernard Faurie 2023-24 11/12 charm, appeal, aromatic
***(*) Domaine Faury Hedonism   2021-23 11/13 smoky grip, lucid fruit  
***(*) Ferraton Lieu-Dit Paradis   2021-22 11/13 fragrant, savoury  
***(*) Pierre Gaillard Clos de Cuminaille  2023-24 11/13 dense, compact, oaked  
***(*) Yves Gangloff   2019-21 11/13 clear, cool; good fruit 
***(*) Xavier Gérard Le Blanchard   2021-22 10/15 STGT; naked, character  
***(*) Jean-Michel Gérin   2019-20 11/13 fresh, alert, shapely, w.o.w.
***(*) Domaine Gripa 2026-28 11/17 crisp, mineral, character
***(*) Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne 2024-25 12/15 veritable, well juiced
***(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Sainte Epine  2026-27 10/15 bright, peppery, direct  
***(*) Domaine du Monteillet Papy   2027-29 10/15 clear, fine, honest  
***(*) Domaine Mucyn   2019 11/13 fat, scented pleasure  
***(*) M & S Ogier d’Ampuis   2021-23 11/13 full, free, typical  
***(*) Domaine Alain Paret 730 Nuits 2025-26 10/15 plump fruit with the oak 
***(*) André Perret 2020 11/16 trim, charming, w.o.w.
***(*) André Perret Les Grisières   2021-22 11/13 can gain depth 
***(*) Dom de Pierre Blanche Les Caboles  2018 11/13 clear appeal, drinkable  
***(*) François Villard Reflet   2020-21 11/13 fruit intensity, can fuse  
***(*) Vidal-Fleury   2019-20 11/14 direct, quality fruit, oak 
***(*) Les Vins de Vienne L’Arzelle   2019-20 11/13 easy drink; cool fruit 
*** Etienne Becheras Tour Joviac   2019-20 11/13 country wine, sleek fruit 
*** Cave Saint-Désirat Domaine Rochevine  2018 11/13 juicy fruit, smooth tannin 
*** Caves Saint-Pierre   2018 11/13 correct, modern  
*** Alleno Chapoutier Couronne Chabot 2019-20 11/13 rich, needs to fuse
*** Louis Chèze Prestige Caroline   2021-22 03/15 savoury, plump, oaked  
*** Vignobles Chirat Les Côtes  2018-19 11/13 regular quality, cool fruit  
*** Dom de la Côte Sainte-Epine V Vignes 2019 11/13 fluid fruit, bit rustic 
*** Domaine Coursodon Silice   2020-21 11/13 ample, flashy, plush 
*** Delas Les Challeys   2019-20 11/13 upright, cool  
*** Guy Farge Passion de Terrasses 2019-20 11/13 shapely fruit; bit taut  
*** Ferraton Père & Fils La Source  2022-24 11/13 tender under much oak  
*** Jeanne Gaillard La Relève 2019 11/14 clear, en finesse  
*** Domaine Alain Graillot   2019-20 11/13 fluid drinking, snappy fruit 
*** Pascal & Catherine Jamet Greenette  2018-19 12/13 natural, aromatic, clear   
*** Pascal Marthouret Coup de Foudre    2021-22 04/16 suave fruit, tannic kick, oak 
*** Domaine François Merlin   2016-17 11/13 solo drink, uncomplicated  
*** Domaine Novis Les Bruyères  2018 11/13 tender; easy drinking  
*** Domaine Vincent Paris Les Côtes   2017-18 11/13 suave fruit, life  
*** Maison Nicolas Perrin 2020 10/15 blackberry fruit, savoury
*** Domaine Christophe Pichon    2018 11/13 tame, straightforward
*** Saint Cosme   2022-23 11/13 direct, oaked, needs time  
*** Pierre-Jean Villa Préface   2019 11/13 jaunty fruit, clear wine
*** François Villard Poivre et Sel   2019-20 11/14

correct, withdrawn

**(*) Maison Bouachon Roquebrussane   2017-18 11/13 liqueur fruit, bit technical  
**(*) Cave de Saint-Désirat Septentrio   2018 11/13 international, oaked  
**(*) Cave de Tain Grand Classique 2017-18 11/13 straightforward; lacks depth  
**(*) Domaine Anthony Vallet Méribets   2018 11/13 clipped, direct
**

Nicolas Badel Montrond

2017-18 11/13 rustic
**

Domaine Novis La Capricieuse

  11/13  
** Domaine Novis Cuvée du Prieur    11/13  
** Domaine Pradelle     11/13  

 

2. 2012 CORNAS

2012 is a vintage that brings out the elegance in Cornas. It is a “singing” vintage, where the grace of the Syrah leans towards a mature Pinot Noir in style – what the growers term the Pinote effect. Both the DOMAINE CLAPE and the THIÉRRY ALLEMAND REYNARD, his top old vines cuvée, displayed Burgundian tendencies, their length stealthy and accomplished, when tasted in June 2015.

The relative stability of the weather during the growing season and a leaning towards abundance meant that there were never any real moments of drama during the year. There were two only brief heatwaves, so the crop mostly proceeded towards ripeness steadily. However, there were instances where the high slopes, usually delivering the best crop along the Burgundian principle of Grand Cru at the top, were set back by the two moments of high heat.

PIERRE CLAPE reported the following towards the end of the growing season, on 25 September: “the Cornas phenomenon is that we have been riper than our neighbours even at Mauves and across the river at Crozes-Hermitage, where not a lot of people have yet harvested. Cornas vegetation was in advance in the spring, and it has been warmer here, and a lot of growers have now finished.

I think the vineyard handled the high heat – up to 38-40°C – this year better than last year. We had four or five nights above 20°C, which grilled a few bunches, but a lot less than in 2009. Our Syrah was at 12°-12.4° on 29 August, before the recent rain of 18 mm (0.75 in), which came in two strong bursts. It’s a good sign that the grapes have inflated after the rains now. The crop has been superb for most people, and the yield is around 35-36 hl/ha – in 2011 it was 40 hl/ha, a lot too much. The vintage is richer than 2000, perhaps like 2006.”

“If you had too much crop this year,” he continued, “it ripened very, very slowly, with a lack of rain to free the grapes. Some people may have harvested before their whites. We did a lot of green harvest at the end of July and until 8-9 August – after that, it is too late to have an effect. Today - 25 September - there are quite strong squalls – we had 15 mm (0.6 in) on 24 September.”

GUILLAUME GILLES, whose wines are serious year in and year out – he is a worthy successor to the generation of PIERRE CLAPE and THIÉRRY ALLEMAND – referred to the two moments of high heat when he told me: “The two big heatwaves in mid-July and mid to late-August played a big role, and caused a temporary halt to ripening, with the grapes on some plots higher up becoming grilled. I had a team of 12 cutters at harvest time this year, and one of their main tasks was to cut out the burnt grapes from the heat this summer.

In the second of the two main moments of high heat – in the late part of August - the setting sun on CHAILLOT [the foundation of his best wine] was particularly hot. Even the foot of the slopes and flat areas with less high heat were almost riper than the high slopes this year, since they weren’t sunburnt.”

“The 32-35 hl/ha yield was idea, and the harvest was healthy, even stunning - very, very ripe, very charged in sugar, and the potential degree above 13.5°, which I didn’t expect. We finished on 22 September after four days of harvesting. Overall, 2012 is a year of quality that I didn’t expect. The tannins are quite serious. 2010 is of course richer, though.”

GUILLAUME vinifies in the old cellar of ROBERT MICHEL, off GRAND RUE in the village. ROBERT is therefore on hand for advice and an experienced view to help out the younger man. GUILLAUME related that “immediately after vinification, the tannins were very hard and strict - it had been a long time since they had been so hard. ROBERT remarked to me that the wine reminded him of 2001 at that stage.”

“Then after two to three months the cask raising had softened them, so that after 15 months the wines became supple and gourmand. Cask raising allowed it to take on a more robed ensemble, unlike 2013 that became harder and darker as it was being raised. It is also the opposite of 2011, which started out soft, was like jam after the vinification, then firmed and tightened.”

Grower opinion certainly favoured 2012 to 2011, while 2013 is a little ahead of both of those vintages in my view, which is shared by LAURE COLOMBO, who declared: “2012 is more interesting than 2011 – the fruit is attractive, and the wines accessible; there is more spice and the wines are more profound than 2011s. I rate 2013, better though: alongside 2013, 2012 is too flattering, with fruit on top. It isn’t a real Cornas vintage.”

Among young voices, there was support for 2012 over 2011, as well, though a note of realism that 2012 wasn’t a top CORNAS vintage. JÉRÔME DESPESSE gave this balanced view: “after 2009 and 2010, which were so top grade, 2011 and 2012 aren’t so good; I prefer 2012 to 2011.” JOHANN MICHEL, whose wines are stylish, reported: “2012 is fresh, very aromatic, holds some tannins but isn’t exuberant like 2010 and 2011.”

LUDOVIC IZÉRABLE of the genuine, organic DOMAINE LIONNET regarded 2012 as follows: “2012 is more tender than 2011, less astringent. It is quite black-fruited and has a touch less density than 2011.” OLIVIER CLAPE, now in his mid-thirties, told me: “2012 has a generous, gourmand side. It doesn’t have any hard sides, is elegant and floral. 2011 held more acidity than 2012.” And THIÉRRY ALLEMAND was succinct: “2012 is fine, like 2014.”

FRANCK BALTHAZAR has recently moved into a brand new cellar just on the edge of the village; his first vintage there was 2014. “It was getting too small,” he informed me; “yes, I have some regret about the change of mood, but there is more space here.” he is also starting to work with limited amounts of SYRAH crop purchased at SAINT-JOSEPH, CROZES-HERMITAGE and CÔTES DU RHÔNE. He has also planted 0.3 hectare of ROUSSANNE at SAINT-PÉRAY on CLARENÇON, on the limit between CORNAS and SAINT-PÉRAY, a granite-based, south-facing slope.

He likes 2012. “2012 is joli,” he told me. “Yields are not bad, 35-36 hl/ha, there is a lot of colour. We had rain in June and July, but if you treated the vineyards at the right time, all was OK. I started harvesting on 15 September, which was eight days later than 2009, 2010 and 2011. In the shade in August it reached 39°C. 2012 is more of an airborne vintage, 2011 is more tight, though the vintages have similar qualities. 2012 is an airborne year, 2011 more sealed, tight.”

PIERRE CLAPE is also pretty happy with the vintage: “2012 holds more fruit than 2011 – it isn’t enormously concentrated, but the content is joli, and the fruit riper and more striking than 2011, the balance better, too,” he related.

“The mid-palate fruit is good, while the finish needs time to settle its tannins. The freshness and acidity are good, and it will live longer than 2011 thanks to its greater tannic structure and a little more acidity. The degree is 13.15° - 2011 was 12.8°. I could compare it to 2007, or a very good 2004, but with more structure. 2004 is tasting very well now – it was all on the fruit and flattery at first, but it has gained structure since its debut.”

CORNAS COMPARISONS 2010-2011-2012-2013

  2010 2011 2012 2013
6 STAR 02      
5 STAR 11 04 02 02
4.5 STAR 10 06 11 07
4 STAR 10 10 15 14
3.5 STAR 09 15 09 11
3 STAR 01 08 06 06
2.5 STAR   01 03 01
2 STAR   01    
TOTAL 42 44 42 41
4*+ % 76 43 66 58
STGT 03 03 01 06

Moving past the first impression of attractive fruit, 2012 is a chance to show the wide world that CORNAS can be a wine of pedigree elegance, pretty far removed from the dark wines of my youth in the 1970s. I tip my hat to the late GUY de BARJAC, since he it was who in those 1970s and early 1980s vintages would announce that his brief eight day vinification served to show the stylish side of Cornas. GUY worked with 1910 Syrah from BARJASSE (his was the old seigneurial family of Cornas, and much of the stained glass in the church was provided by them), along with very young Syrah (1979) from CHAILLOT.

His wines were always more supple than most, yet held the road well; in November 2010, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the floral and mineral qualities of his 1983 – “it is very true and lovely. An admirable vision of the simple past from a small village appellation,” I wrote in my notes. 1983 was also a very dry summer, so avoiding hard tannins was a challenge that year – just go and try a bottle of the mightily stubborn HERMITAGE LA CHAPELLE 1983 if you want an example of the vintage’s downside.

Expect 2012 CORNAS to be a wine of pleasure, one of simplicity, the chapel not the cathedral. Serve it in large glasses to allow a full aromatic expression, and treat it almost more like Burgundy than Rhône – how about a poulet de Bresse, for example, rather than a dish of steaming venison? Think more modern dishes, as well – magret de canard, pigeon breast would be good companions. Balance over power: not much wrong with that in my book. Allow twenty-plus years for the top wines.

LEADING CORNAS 2012s

***** Ferraton Père & Fils Patou 2025-27 11/13 Rock n’Roll, v elegant
***** Domaine du Tunnel 2026-27 11/13 generous fruit; pleasure
****(*) Matthieu Barret, Dom Coulet Billes Noires  2028-29 11/13 STGT; lovely clarity
****(*) Domaine Clape   2036-38  06/15 

elegant, suave, clear 

****(*) Jean-Luc Colombo La Louvée  2027-29  11/13  class, elegance, length 
****(*) Domaine Courbis La Sabarotte   2029-31  03/15  suave, stylish, well-filled  
****(*) Domaine Durand Confidence   2028-29  11/13  full, slow-burn   
****(*) Domaine Durand Empreintes   2025-26  11/13  swish, swell, long  
****(*) equis Maxime Graillot   2026-28  11/13  fine, handsome, true 
****(*)  Pierre Gaillard   2027-28  11/13 

polished, long, supple fruit 

****(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Terres d'Arce 2028-29 10/15

go-go, tasty, delightful

****(*)  Nicolas Serrette Patou   2027-28  11/13  concentration, with flair  
****(*) Alain Voge Les Vieilles Fontaines 2030-32 10/15 full; old vine elegance
****(*) Alain Voge Les Vieilles Vignes 2031-33 10/15 robust, smoky, engaging
**** Thiérry Allemand Reynard 2033-35 10/16 cool fruit, gusto, generosity
**** Thiérry Allemand Chaillot 2029-31 06/15 smooth fruit, cool feel
****  Franck Balthazar Chaillot    2026-26  06/15  suave, body, aromatic 
****  Matthieu Barret, Dom du Coulet Gore   2028-30  11/13  broad fruit, tangy  
****  Jean-Luc Colombo Les Ruchets   2028-29  11/13  complicated, potential  
****  Domaine Courbis Champelrose   2028-29  11/13  gutsy, weighted  
****  Domaine Courbis Les Eygats   2025-27  11/13  mineral, harmony, style 
****  Guillaume Gilles Chaillot   2027-29  06/15  sunny, quietly intricate  
****  Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2025-26  11/13  gravelly depth, full  
****  Jacques Leminicier   2024-26  12/13  aromatic, dark, stylish  
****  Johann Michel Cuvée Jana   2024-26  12/13  subtleties; wide, gd spine  
**** Vincent Paris La Geynale 2032-34 02/16 inner strength, mineral
****  Vincent Paris Granit 60   2023-25  12/13  variety, precision, promise  
**** Maison Nicolas Perrin 2023-24 10/15 pedigree fruit, sure, true
****  Les Vins de Vienne Les Barcillants  2025-26  11/13  full, long, gd purpose  
***(*)  Matthieu Barret Coulet Brise Cailloux  2023-25  11/13  direct fruit, delicacy 
***(*)  M.Chapoutier Les Arènes   2024-25  11/13  fleshy, trad, character  
***(*)  Domaine Clape Renaissance   2027-29  06/15  cool, clear, orderly  
***(*)  Jean-Luc Colombo Terres Brûlées   2022-24  11/13  tasty; runs on well  
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Vires   2026-28  11/13  generous, ripe, but tapers  
***(*)  Delas Chante Perdrix   2024-26  11/13  sensible, oily, shapely  
***(*)  Domaine Durand Prémices   2024-25  11/13  direct, no-nonsense  
***(*)  Domaine Johann Michel   2020-21  12/13  modern, swish, round 
***(*) Tardieu-Laurent Coteaux 2029-31 07/16 direct, tight but wild for now
***(*)  Maison Ughetto-Audoin   2024-25  11/13  round, accessible, w.o.w. 
***(*) Alain Voge Les Chaillés 2027-28 10/15 very juicy, fresh, true
***  Cave de Tain Arènes Sauvages   2022-23  11/13  mild fruit, bit fragile 
***  Cave de Tain Grand Classique   2020-21  01/15  earthy, has gained depth  
***  Jérôme Despesse   2023-24  12/13  med gras, round tannins 
***  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Eygats   2027-28  11/13  sledgehammer, Big Wine 
*** Ferraton Père & Fils Les Grands Mûriers 2022-23 10/15 open, soft, workmanlike
*** Paul Jaboulet Aîné Dom de Saint-Pierre 2031-33 12/18 comfy fruit, international oak
*** Alain Verset 2027-29 12/18 trad, really rocky, unformed
**(*) Guy Farge harmonie 2022-23 11/13 easy fruiting, acidity, wild
**(*) Chrystelle Michel 2021-22 12/15 traditional, bit disorganised
**(*)  Vincent Paris Granit 30   2020-21  12/13  modern, light bodied  

 

3. 2012 HERMITAGE WHITE

The whites of Hermitage in 2012 hold consummate gras richness and elegance, but do not quite carry off a triumphant finish as do the 2013s. There is more softness in white Hermitage these days, with growers afraid of wines that probe the deep-seated essence of the Marsanne – its supreme richness that comes tingled with a tang of bitter and a note of tannin.

The JABOULET family were of course great supporters of the ROUSSANNE in the 1960s, when they set out to add nobility to the MARSANNE; their CHEVALIER DE STÉRIMBERG then leapt from largely all Marsanne to about half Roussanne in the 1970s. As the late LOUIS JABOULET told me in the early 1080s: “We block the malolactic fermentation since the wines here lack acidity by nature, so if the malo is done there is atendency towards flabbiness.”

This was the era when JABOULET were fermenting at just 14°C, and bottling within six or seven months of the harvest. I think we would term such a wine “rather technical” these days. Certainly quality ebbed and flowed. Brought up as  I was on the mighty, rich STÉRIMBERGS of the 1960s – almost a case of name your vintage – the wines such as the 1978 and 1986 were a let down, while the 1980 – more natural acidity – was better, as was 1983 and 1990, while the 1988 was very strongly oaked.

The ideal for white Hermitage, therefore, is Marsanne with a 10-15% dose of Roussanne to pep up the former variety. Or one takes only the Marsanne, which is harvested good and ripe – at least 14° - tank ferment it at 18°C-19°C, then allow it to sit quietly in 600-litre oak casks, a smattering of them new for around a year. No lees stirring - no silly northern region intervention - since the gras and richness are already present. A brief stay assembled in tank, and off you go. Depth and elegance in your glass.

The growers were satisfied with their 2012 whites, with MARC SORREL stating: “my white is very gras, supple, elegant,” and BERNARD FAURIE observing: “I harvested 20 September; my white is quite rich, and tasted very openly and well right from the start. Their degree was 14° to 14.2°.”

From the CAVE DE TAIN, chef de culture for decades, DANIEL, was pleased with their Marsanne cop this year: “the whites were slow to ripen, about a week later than usual. The Marsanne ended up at over 13.5°, which was good. Our yield was 40 hl/ha.” Good quantity, good quality, thus.

As a rule, I find white Hermitage becoming more streamlined these days – a prime example is the DELAS, a reflection also on their white range as a whole. Another grower in hot pursuit of immediate, suave whites is FRANÇOIS VILLARD with his SAINT-JOSEPH blanc, and some of his CONDRIEU.

If buying, then remember this: do you want a wine that is out of the mainstream loop, and beautifully situated to drink with a well prepared dish based on butter and rich content? Or do you want a sleek wine that will suit cuisine that is steamed, or performed with the tasteless sous vide preparation? There is a considerable gulf between the two, so tread carefully. The former wines will live longer, and should be more complex as they mature.

LEADING HERMITAGE WHITE 2012s

****(*) Cave de Tain Au Coeur des Siècles 2027-29 11/13 good heart, true centre
****(*) M.Chapoutier Le Méal 2032-34 11/13 muscle; deep-seated
****(*) Domaine Jean-Louis Chave 2038-40 01/15 charm, style, length
****(*) E Guigal Ex-voto 2028-30 10/15 classic, stylish, nuanced
****(*) Domaine Habrard 2027-28 11/13 STGT; winning finesse
****(*) Maison Nicolas Perrin 2027-29 11/13 STGT; proper content
****(*) Marc Sorrel Les Rocoules 2033-35 11/13 profound, filled, coated
**** Cave de Tain 2023-25 11/13 dabs, nudges = stylish
**** Jean-Luc Colombo Le Rouet Blanc 2024-26 11/13 style, body, poise
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Dionnières 2024-25 11/13 finesse; stylish gras
**** Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet 2026-28 11/13 copious, fat, has grip
**** Domaine des Martinelles 2027-28 11/13 genuine, smooth, long 
**** Domaine des Remizières Cuvée Émilie 2026-27 11/13 hearty gras; oak
**** Marc Sorrel 2024-27 11/13 unforced, balanced
***(*) Domaine Christelle Betton 2023-25 11/13 fat, not overdone
***(*) M.Chapoutier Chante Alouette 2026-27 11/13 elegant gras; carbo gas
***(*) Domaine du Colombier 2025-26 11/13 squeezy gras 
***(*) Delas Domaine des Tourettes 2024-26 11/13 orderly, tame, polished up
***(*) Bernard Faurie 2023-25 12/13 v clear; will gain weight
***(*) E Guigal 2024-26 10/15 harmony, squeezy gras
*** Les Vins de Vienne La Bachole 2025-26 11/13 tangy, cellar-driven
         

4. 2012 HERMITAGE RED

2012 is very good at Hermitage. It is a vintage with one foot in the south, the other in the north. The wines hold good content, are fresh, and in their first two-plus years have expanded and grown in dimension. I have been particularly impressed by their striking depth recently, and their ability to reflect their terroir is successful and delivered with precision.

DANIEL, the highly experienced chief of the vineyards at the CAVE DE TAIN, related the ripening season’s ups and downs to me: “the Syrah grapes were small this year. Our yields were at 37-38 hl/ha. September was “correct” after a tricky summer. August was hot, with heat above 35°C some times.

We average 13.5° for the Syrah, which was a pleasant surprise. We started harvesting on 17 September, finished 6 October. We had a lot of rain at the end of June, signs of botrytis in early July. After the Equinoxe, on 26-27 September, we had 60-70 mm (2.4-2.8 inches) of rain – but the grapes didn’t shift. Some wind followed, it became cooler, and we got through without rot.”

The growers are happy, with BERNARD FAURIE preferring 2012 to 2011. “I am happy with 2012,” he reported. “We had so much fear – the cherry and apricot crops had failed, but the vines did well. It is superior to 2011. We had 70 mm (2.8 inches) of rain in several falls at the end of September. We harvested very quickly, from 4 pm on Friday until the Sunday, then the Tuesday after we had done the Saint-Joseph. Hermitage was at 13.2°, Saint-Joseph at 12.1°, and I chaptalised that to 13°. It was the same degree as 2011 at first, but there was more sugar in the skins in 2012. The crop was very healthy. We didn’t throw anything away and were still 15% down on quantity.”

Two other supporters of 2012 are MICHEL CHAPOUTIER and MARC SORREL. MICHEL told me: “I prefer 2012 to 2011 – the wines are more crystalline, have more tension,” while MARC stated: “2012 is more elegant than 2011 for me.” For me, 2012 is clearer and more orchestrated than 2011, so I am in this camp.

However, JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE took another angle when talking in early 2015: “2011 is a more serious vintage than 2012 – 2012 got the headlines because it was open and up front, and is a sympa year. 2012 is a bit like 2000 – the tannins on the reds are supple.”

Nevertheless, there is body in the wines, and I would call 2012 superior to the definitely low-key 2000, a vintage which marked probably the modern times low point of LA CHAPELLE, under the JABOULET FAMILY, who by then had lost the plot – there was far too much wine allowed to be sold as LA CHAPELLE, which is of course a brand, and the result was a dilute wine.

The mildness of the tannins in 2000 meant that the wines lacked structure, but there is better acidity in the 2012s, and I expect the wines to evolve well as a result. The vintage is an elegant one, but the content is well established. At my first tasting of them after a year-plus, a few showed the occasional lack of body, but I got the distinct feeling that some of the wines could make progress and gain in depth over the next there to four years. I think that is being justified as I write.

LE MÉAL is very good this year - it has captured the August sun well. If MÉAL does well, having been soaked in hot sun for at least part of the summer, then everything is possible at Hermitage for those lucky enough to own plots on this fabulous south-facing hillside. I suspect that even the FREY family of PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ are beginning to appreciate the true, southern qualities of this prime climat or site.  

Some of the east end wines from the small holders are more reduced in dimension this year, though. 15 years is a typical life span for most, with 20+ years in view for LES BESSARDS and LE MÉAL. Overall, it is a West End year – meaning MÉAL, BESSARDS, L’HERMITE and LES GREFFIEUX - the nobility of those sites being declared when tasting the wines blind. I also think it is a safer bet to go with HERMITAGE over many CÔTE-RÔTIEs this year, but the latter appellation has also been making progress over time.

LEADING HERMITAGE RED 2012s

*****  Delas Les Bessards   2031-34  12/14  STGT; manly, long   
*****  Bernard Faurie Les Greffieux-Bessards  2030-32  01/15  naked beauty, intrigue   
*****  Ferraton Père & Fils Le Méal    2033-36  12/14  manly, dark, complete  
***** E Guigal Ex-voto 2034-37 12/15 dark, chiselled, up tempo 
****(*)  Cave de Tain Vin Biologique   2029-30  12/14  fine, precise, balance  
****(*)  M.Chapoutier L’Ermite   2028-30  11/13  subtly complex, stylish fruit
****(*)  M.Chapoutier Le Méal   2030-32  12/14  big attack, power; time  
****(*)  M.Chapoutier Le Pavillon   2028-31  11/13  effortless, beau, clear  
****(*)  Domaine Jean-Louis Chave    2036-39  01/15  elegant, tasty, clear  
****(*)  Domaine Yann Chave   2028-31  12/14  elegance, balance, round  
****(*)  Delas Domaine des Tourettes   2025-27  04/15  elegant, fine, genuine  
****(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Dionnières  2028-30  11/13  elegant; classy fruit 
****(*) Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Chapelle 2033-36 11/16 genuine, full, gd gras, character
****(*)  Marc Sorrel Le Gréal   2033-36  01/15  plush, rich, high octane 
****  M.Chapoutier Les Greffieux    2030-32  12/14  full, oily, persists  
****  Bernard Faurie Bessards-Le Méal   2031-33  01/15  tangy, intricate, expressive 
****  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Miaux   2025-26  11/13  carefree, fun, juicy   
****  Paul Jaboulet Aîné La Petite Chapelle   2028-30  12/14  steady gras, clean  
****  Domaine des Martinelles   2026-28  11/13  fine fruit; good style  
****  Domaine des Remizières Émilie   2029-32  12/14  polish, power, oak  
****  Tardieu-Laurent   2029-30  12/14  aromatic, flighty  
***(*)  Cave de Tain Epsilon  2025-27  11/13  upright; subdued, sound fruit  
***(*) Domaine Belle   2026-28  11/13  compact, may amplify  
***(*)  M.Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne   2026-28  11/13  plump, cosy, amiable  
***(*) J-L Chave Selection Farconnet 2029-31 11/16 careful juice, fresh wine
***(*)  Domaine du Colombier   2027-28  11/13  agreeable depth, wee sweet 
***(*)  Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Dionnières   2026-27  11/13  some gras, close-knit 
***(*)  Marc Sorrel   2027-28  11/13  rugged; charm flashes  
***(*) Maison Nicolas Perrin 2023-25 10/15 aromatic, fine, tidy
***(*) Gilles Robin 2026-27 12/15 compact, suave, plump
*** JC & Nicolas Fayolle Les Dionnières 2023-24 12/15 traditional, unrefined, spiced
***  Domaine Alain Graillot   2025-26  11/13  crunchy, pebbly; bit edgy  
***  Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2026-27  11/13  gushy; sweet tooth vin  
***  Domaine des Remizières Autrement   2029-30  12/14  sleek fruit, sound, but … 
***  JMB Sorrel Le Vignon Vieilles Vignes  2023-25  01/15  dark fruit, sound wine 
**(*)  Cave de Tain Grand Classique 2021-22  01/15  peppery, lacks gras  
         

 

 

BRING ON THAT DAURADE IN FENNEL. EXPERT PREPARATION FROM LAURE AND JEAN-LUC COLOMBO TO ACCOMPANY THEIR 2012 SAINT-PÉRAY BELLE DE MAI, A ROMANTIC SOUNDING TITLE, BUT ALSO THE NAME OF ONE OF THE MORE NOIR-ISH QUARTIERS OF MARSEILLE 

5. 2012 SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE

2012 is a very successful, delightful vintage for white Saint-Josephs. The freshness of the year comes through clearly in the wines, while there is sufficient depth to allow them time to improve. They therefore combine the virtues of being good to drink – straight back, as an aperitif or with canapés – or associating themselves with cuisine ranging from country foods for the more traditional styles, on to steamed fish, Asian or Japanese offerings for the more overtly aromatic, modern styles.

Ripening that occurred and developed gradually is the key to the year, in providing the essential balance that lies at the heart of the wines. I find words such as “stylish” and “appealing” cropping up pretty regularly in my notes – perhaps I should develop other terms such as “winning” or “bonny” or “tempting”. Anyway, they reflect the fact that Rhône whites deserve to be bought and drunk by those who really appreciate them, and if much of the wine world passes them by, then so be it. They will remain our little secret.

I can envisage these wines going down a storm at outdoor events, picnics, dining on the terrace – a good range of settings, including fine dining over the course of eight to ten years. The best have a true Marsanne heartbeat, are centred on the glycerol richness of that variety, and extend well along the palate. A complete finish is a prerequisite for these wines, so that they can accompany dishes with a flourish. That is what the best this year achieve – CHAPOUTIER’S 100% MARSANNE trio, led by the recently introduced LES GRANILITES are good examples.

On a more thematic note, I am becoming unsettled by the trend towards what I would term non-Rhône approaches to white winemaking; this is where the maker fears depth, which may involve some tannic extraction, seeks aromatics and “Goody Two Shoes” styling in the wines. But you can’t drink aroma, only taste. So these wines present light appeal on the bouquet, a minor level of seduction, then wisp away after the mid-point of the palate. They are undoubtedly aimed at young, cool, metropolitan drinkers – THEY MUST NOT BE OFFENDED, NOR HAVE THEIR PALATES CHALLENGED – is almost the motto.

I find this with the whites from DELAS more and more – a changed winemaker there for the whites; I also find it with some of FRANÇOIS VILLARD’s whites, including some ground level CONDRIEU, and I found it pretty much this year in the PIERRE GAILLARD ST JO white. Degrees of 12.5° tell their own story – crop harvested before maximum ripeness, thus denying the ability of the grapes to offer their glycerine bounty.

Remember one fact: it may be more noble terroir, but it is still largely based on granite – the Hill of HERMITAGE – home of some of the longest lived wines in the world – the white wines. Off the top of my head, I have drunk 1929, 1954 and 1961 WHITE HERMITAGES when they have been 40 to 50 years old, all in compelling form, a true southern abundance present in the glass, thoughts turning to how many dishes they would suit well.

SAINT-JOSEPH is also largely a granite vineyard, so its whites do not at all have to be will o’the wisp wines for drinking in urban chic cafés over a couple of years: there are plenty of wines that at first base lack the same essential pedigree of terroir, and they can provide that market requirement, after all.

This year, very honourable mentions are due to the CAVE DE TAIN, whose SAINT-JOSEPH is their most authentic vineyard in my view; there are far fewer growers involved than in the machine that is CROZES-HERMITAGE, and the winemaking can be precisely handled. DOMAINE COURSODON, under the buzzy, New-World trained JÉRÔME, have produced two wines in perfect delineation – the powerful, younger drinking SILICE, and the more restrained, older vine (includes 1947 MARSANNE), deeper and richer PARADIS SAINT-PIERRE.

Many will have benefited from the winter 2013-14 to settle acidities and to become more integrated; there also several that require decanting early in their lives – testament to their intrinsic depth and their often free, fluid richness that will unfurl with style over the next few years. Some may hit a flat spot, a dumb phase, around 2015-16, but I back the most structured, traditional offerings to live into the 2020s, capable of surprising complexity if left to evolve over the fullness of that time.

LEADING SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE 2012s

****(*) M.Chapoutier Les Granilites 2025-26 11/13 deep, stately, interesting
**** M.Chapoutier Deschants 2020-21 11/13 precise, authentic, w.o.w. 
**** M.Chapoutier Les Granits 2024-26 11/13 jaunty, depth to come
**** Domaine Courbis Les Royes 2019-21 11/13 gracious, stylish, young oak
**** Dom Coursodon Paradis Saint-Pierre 2022-23 11/13 authentic, shapely gras
**** Domaine Faury 2019-20 11/13 STGT, great style
**** Domaine Pierre Gonon Les Oliviers 2025-26 11/13 strength, richness, time
**** Domaine Gripa Le Berceau 2020-22 11/13 complexity, appeal
**** E Guigal Lieu-Dit Saint-Joseph 2021-23 10/15 glycerol, character, length
***(*)  Etienne Becheras Prieuré d’Arras  2018  11/13 STGT; appealing gras, trad
***(*)  Cave de Tain   2019-20  11/13  grounded, good heart
***(*)  Cave de Tain Terre d’Ivoire   2021-22  11/13  plump fruit, good cut 
***(*)  Aurélien Chatagnier   2018  11/13  trad; lasts well, food  
***(*)  Domaine Coursodon Silice   2019  11/13  powerful, table wine  
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Pierre   2019-20  11/13  careful, joli gras 
***(*)  Guy Farge vania   2018  11/13  suave texture, lucid end  
***(*)  Ferraton La Source   2019  11/13  serene gras, stylish   
***(*)  Yves Gangloff   2019-20  11/13  good body; fragrant  
***(*)  E.Guigal    2018-19  05/13  precise, fine, interesting  
***(*)  Domaine Novis La Mutine   2018-19  11/13  precise; charm; lazy gras 
***(*)  Dom de Pierre Blanche les 85 rangs  2018  11/13  precise; fine Marsanne 
***(*)  Julien Pilon dimanche à lima  2019-20  10/13  finesse, character  
***(*)  François Villard Mairlant   2019-20  11/13  sleek gras, elegant 
***(*) Domaine de la Ville Rouge Lenny 2021 11/18 sound fruit intensity
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Élouède   2018-19  11/13  gras, tasty heart, potential 
***  Alléno & Chapoutier Couronne Chabot  2019-20  11/13  genuine Marsanne; rich  
***  Domaine Boissonnet    2019  11/13  zesty nose, sweet palate  
***  Domaine Courbis   2017-18  11/13  soft fruit; regular drop  
***  Yves Cuilleron Le Lombard   2017-18  11/13  mildly elegant 
***  Yves Cuilleron Lyseras   2018  11/13  floral fruits, unctuous 
***  Emmanuel Darnaud   2018-20  11/13  discreet gras, orderly  
***  Pierre Gaillard   2018  11/13  modern, nose beats palate 
***  Domaine Gripa   2018-19  11/13  fresh, skip along  
***  Domaine du Monteillet Grand-Duc  2019  11/13  suave ripeness, bit flashy  
***  André Perret   2018  11/13  beau, subtle, elegant   
***  Domaine Christophe Pichon   2018  11/13  grip, tenacity, some gras  
*** Domaine Vallet Méribets 2017 01/15 genuine, solid, full
***  J Vidal-Fleury   2019  11/13  round, for la table  
***  Pierre-Jean Villa Saut de l’Ange  2018  11/13  correct, modern, gd nose  
***  François Villard Fruit d’Avilleran   2018-19  11/13  slow to go; tangy Marsanne 
**(*)  Delas Les Challeys   2019  11/13  bit wired, drifts at end 
         

 

6. 2012 SAINT-PÉRAY

One of life’s funny little pleasures is to daydream. I daydreamed more when young than I do now, so when living in Aix-en-Provence rather than Sussex, my dreams would guide me towards wishing I could have a plat of écrevisses or Breton oysters in front of me, along with a chilled Chablis Vaudesir, for example. Or an onion tart from Les Frères Haeberlin at the Auberge de l’Ill, chased by a cooled Muscat sec d’Alsace.

Another, more recent, mental wandering takes me towards a freshwater fish, perhaps a juicy trout from the glinting, mineral-clear waters of the Ardèche, accompanied by a Saint-Péray, one of the Saint-Pérays from the cool, low oak school rather than the puffed up, obviously oaked grouping. I am thinking more northern than southern accompaniments here – brochet or pike, a cured ham, as well - a good Christmas drink there.

ONE CAN DAYDREAM NOW

It’s a good time to daydream about Saint-Péray, since it is a largely unknown and underrated appellation whose fortunes have been rising for a few years. For most of my life in wine it has been afflicted by declining vineyards, land grabs by developers and indifference among the worthy merchants of the Rhône Valley.

In the 1970s, it was even more parochial than its next door neighbour Cornas. I recall the DARONA and MILLIAND (still Co-operateurs at the Cave de Tain today) families being at the heart of matters, with JEAN-FRANÇOIS CHABOUD the leader of the pack. Four Saint-Péray merchants provided the base for sales in the vicinity, straying as far as Grenoble and what is today termed the RHÔNE-ALPES region.

THE OLD NEGOCIANTS

These merchants, now all disappeared, were AMÉDÉE DUBOURG, whose focus was on the CÔTES DU VIVARAIS and ARDÈCHE country wines, EUGÈNE VÉRILHAC, whose sales network extended to the Southern Rhône, and who could secure very good Cornas, a notable 1959 lingering in my memory, GILLES PÈRE ET FILS, a jaunty gentleman but whose wines, apart from a decent SAINT-PÉRAY, were so-so, and PAUL ETIENNE PÈRE ET FILS, whose range was modest.

MAINLY CHAMPENOISE IN THE 1970s

40 years ago, only 20% of the production was still table wine. The MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE was the big seller, a local novelty with RICHARD WAGNER affidavits boosting its sales – PARSIFAL is said to have been composed at the bottom of a glass of Saint-Péray, the sparkling version, for which story a letter from Bayreuth dated 2 December 1877 chasing a merchant for the 100 bottles he had ordered bears the testimony.

The vineyards conform in some part to the granite slope and hillside landscape of CORNAS – indeed the vines rub alongside the south of Cornas next to the N86 road – LES BLÂCHES and GRAND PLANTIER, notably.

LIMESTONE FROM CRUSSOL

But the big difference with Cornas is the towering limestone presence of the Hill of CRUSSOL, the steep rocky spike on which a Château was built in Medieval times, and noted for having been climbed by a young NAPOLÉON BONAPARTE when garrisoned inValence. [We are on a real history trail, today, dear Reader, spreading the references like jovial specks of confetti. But I don’t unleash the prose on dear old Saint-Péray very often.]

Behind Crussol, meaning to the West and South, the country changes markedly as well: streams, pasture, gentle slopes – another world from the granite, Massif Central influences next to Cornas.

Likewise, if you climb up behind the village of Saint-Péray on the way out west to LAMASTRE, where my culinary mentor and heroine ELIZABETH DAVID would lunch and drink in post-War years, you enter a more profound Ardèche than the Rhône Valley corridor expression. Even with new housing springing up to serve ever expandingValence, this is grazing ground, hills and dales, streams and hamlets.

THREE MAIN SOIL INFLUENCES

To encapsulate the soils here, consider three main influences. Still firm granite, with rocky patches is the first: the area near CORNAS, including GRAND PLANTIER (beside CORNAS, a flinty, short-term wine from the likes of CLAPE), the very top of HONGRIE (CHAPOUTIER makes a well suited MARSANNE wine from here, as do STÉPHAN CHABOUD, and also ALAIN VOGE with 1930s MARSANNE), along with FAUTERIE, CHANTE-LUZET (JEAN-LUC COLOMBO planted ROUSSANNE here in 2001) and the CÔTE DU PIN (CHAPOUTIER-PIC, vineyards at up to 500 metres).

Then there is more decomposed, sandy and slippery granite with clay-limestone across lieux-dits such as BIGUET (JEAN-LOUIS THIERS’ stamping ground, his Marsanne there going into his Mousseux wine), RABATTE, which is part of AMOUR DE DIEU (the old DARONA vineyards, now in part with their cousin FABRICE GRIPA and the heart of their LES FIGUIERS cuvée), the middle to lower reaches of HONGRIE, LA CÔTE and LES FAURES. These wines usually live longer than the previous grouping; ALAIN VOGE says that LA CÔTE is the favourite of his three sites, adding “it gives wines that age well, with a lot of matter in them, plus some minerality. I consider them to be fresh and also notable for their length.”

Those with limestone vineyards include RÉMY NODIN, notably on BEYLESSE, whose style is for light wines, and STÉPHAN CHABOUD, the latter notably on VICHOUÈRE, planted in the 1990s, with PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ a neighbour. LES CHAMPS is where JEAN-LOUIS THIERS has some 1988 Marsanne on its limestone, clay-loess soils in the lee of Crussol. These wines do not have the depth of content of the middle grouping and are often helpful in a blend, especially in the case of young vines.

To give an idea of the fortunes of SAINT-PÉRAY, at least during my working lifetime, the vineyard surface area has run as follows:

YEAR SURFACE IN PRODUCTION
1971 56 hectares
1982 48 hectares
1989 65 hectares
1995 52 hectares
2000 55 hectares
2003 64 hectares
2005 58 hectares
2007 65 hectares
2013 75 hectares

NEWCOMERS IN THE PAST TEN YEARS, A BOOST

The last ten years have signalled entrants such as CHAPOUTIER, on the company’s own account, as well as in partnership with ANNE-SOPHIE PIC, the daughter of the legendary JACQUES PIC, a restaurant that has retained its three Michelin stars over several decades. Likewise, the Chapoutier-owned FERRATON PÈRE ET FILS has launched a MIALAN cuvée, named after the valley that acts as the division between the forces of granite and the limestone zones in this appellation.

Then there is YVES CUILLERON from CONDRIEU; Yves first set up a rental on vineyards in Saint-Péray for the 2006 vintage, and has been active in planting ROUSSANNE to supplement the MARSANNE in his LES POTIERS, taken from the cool site of LES PUTIERS. This is now a 50% MARSANNE, 50% ROUSSANNE wine, one recommended as an aperitif, or with grilled fish rather than the more robust, 100% MARSANNE LES CERFS - fish in sauce, cheese, cooked ham all suited to that.

From up the road at Châteaubourg, past Cornas, the COURBIS brothers, LAURENT and DOMINIQUE, entered the game with a 2,750 bottle Saint-Péray in 2012, the fruit from a rented 0.6 hectare old Marsanne vineyard on clay-limestone soils. “We seek fruit and an attractive freshness, which was very much the characteristic of 2012,” LAURENT COURBIS explained. “We bottled it in September 2013, and it’s all been sold in six months, a great success. We find Saint-Péray more tight and less long on the palate than our Saint-Joseph white, which makes it good for the aperitif.”

SAINT-PÉRAY COMPARED TO SAINT-JOSPEH BLANC

Referring to the comparison between SAINT-PÉRAY and SAINT-JOSEPH BLANC, STÉPHANE ROBERT of DOMAINE DU TUNNEL observes: “by analysis, Saint-Péray has similar acidity to white Saint-Joseph, but Saint-Péray by tasting has what I would call more minerality on the palate.” 

BERNARD GRIPA, who has seen many vintages and is now in his sixties, describes SAINT-PÉRAY as “having clean fruit with a mineral side to it. Ideally, I like it to go past that and have an extra richness, but that’s not easy to achieve. The hot years often bring low acidities, so those wines can’t live and develop properly. I expect SAINT-JOSEPH BLANC to be more fulsome and often more open, also more elegant. It’s not the higher Roussanne content at SAINT-PÉRAY that makes the difference; it’s also the richer soil, with pockets of limestone, that brings the greater acidity.”

PLANTING RIGHTS

While the accomplished STÉPHANE ROBERT could not be considered young any more, his mantle has rather fallen to RÉMY NODIN, from an old Saint-Péray family, whose brother BENOÎT is the President of the Growers Union. Aged 28, RÉMY qualifies as a Jeune Viticulteur, A Young Viticulturalist, so his annual planting rights exceed the 0.3 hectare most commonly accorded to older growers such as JACQUES LEMENICIER from CORNAS.

JACQUES undertook the burden of clearing overgrown land on a site called CHEMIN DU TRAM,  a granite hill, to plant his allowances – one hectare in total over time. “I first planted in 2011; it took a minimum of three of us from August to February to do all the work,” he told me. His area thus rose from 2.5 hectares to 3.5 hectares. JACQUES sells his SAINT-PÉRAY TRADITION in a flash – the 2013 was bottled in February 2014, and was all sold by the month of May 2014, 75% of it in the RHÔNE-ALPES region, the rest to Paris, Holland (RHÔNE VALUE WINES) and the USA.

Overall new planting is spread among about ten growers, with an appellation allowance of around four hectares per annum. Hence one could envisage around 80 to 85 hectares in production here in the foreseeable future.

The greatest change from my youth is the switch from Mousseux to Still wine, from CHAMPENOISE to what used to be called NATURE. 20% Still wine in the early 1970s is now 90%. The Mousseux is made by JEAN-LOUIS THIERS of DOMAINE DU BIGUET, and has been imported every year for ages to Britain by YAPP BROTHERS. Now RÉMY NODIN is making  Mousseux as well, a respectable one, too, a correct decision when taking crop from his more limestone vineyards. It acts as a good aperitif above all.

ROUSSANNE'S ROLE

MARSANNE remains the prime variety, although ROUSSANNE has always had an above average presence when compared to SAINT-JOSEPH or even HERMITAGE whites. JEAN-FRANÇOIS CHABOUD discussed the Roussanne at length with me in the early 1980s, and made a couple of interesting points. “In 1981 I made nearly 2,500 litres of wine from my 1.5 hectares of Roussanne. While a bunch of Marsanne will weigh a little over 1 kilo, the Roussanne gives only about half as much fruit per bunch. I sell this as still wine, but it doesn’t really live much more than a couple of years, which convinces me further that this Roussanne at Saint-Péray is not the same as the one planted on Hermitage Hill.”

The Roussanne is regarded as a contributor of florality and life to the more stolid, glycerol-related Marsanne, and has always fitted in well to the soils of Saint-Péray. The idea of a country wine, after all, is for unpretentious drinking rather than glorious longevity and complexity, even though instances of bottles of Saint-Péray successfully drunk at 20 years are on the record. I would remind readers that Capt’n Bob, ROBERT PARKER JR, had downers on two Rhône wines in his early days – TAVEL and SAINT-PÉRAY, the former never written up in his first vintage reviews, the latter dismissed as “the Rhône Valley’s viticultural dinosaur” (The Wines of the Rhône Valley and Provence, Simon & Schuster, 1987).

For my part, the most stylish Saint-Péray on a year on year basis is that of FABRICE GRIPA, the top wine LES FIGUIERS composed of 60-70% Roussanne dating from 1960-62, snugly complemented by Marsanne dating from 1946 and the 1950s. This I regard as a wine capable of living eight to 12 years, about the same as the regular LES PINS cuvée, made from 70-80% Marsanne. LES PINS is part oak, part vat prepared, while LES FIGUIERS is all oak, the nw oak content not exceeding 20% - nicely restrained, thus.

In terms of STGT wines, and those that drink easily, the w.o.w. category, the last five years show the following:

STGT WINES  
2012 ALAIN VOGE LES TERRES BOISÉES ***(*)
2011 ALAIN VOGE LES TERRES BOISÉES ****
2011 LES VINS DE VIENNE AMPHORE ***(*)
2010 JEAN-LOUIS THIERS, DOMAINE DU BIGUET TERRES ROUILLES ****
2009 PIC ET CHAPOUTIER ****
2008 DOMAINE RÉMY NODIN LA BEYLESSE ***
w.o.w. WINES  

2010 JEAN-LOUIS THIERS, DOMAINE DU BIGUET

***(*)
2008 FRANÇOIS VILLARD VERSION ****

The track record for recent vintages of Saint-Péray confirms that quality is steady, at a good level of mainly 3 to 4 star wines, whatever the vintage:

SAINT-PÉRAY VINTAGE RATINGS 2008-2012

    4.5 STARS 4 STARS 3.5 STARS 3 STARS 2.5 STARS 2 STARS
2012     09 09 08 02 02
2011   01 05 14 09 02  
2010     02 04 09 05  
2009   01 05 05 07 02  
2008     01 03 08 04  

2012: THE VIGNERON VIEW

Growers are content with 2012, their comments gathering around adjectives such as fresh, and nouns such as fruit. JOHANN MICHEL described the vintage thus: “it has finesse, and there are elegant, supple wines, on good fruit. They are fresh, drink soon wines.” Another younger grower, STÉPHANE ROBERTDOMAINE DU TUNNEL, termed it as follows: “it is quite mineral, more so than 2011, 2010 and 2009. There is good purity in the fruit, an appealing balance.”

A man with a long track record is JEAN-LOUIS THIERS at DOMAINE DU BIGUET, someone I greatly respect, along with his wife FRANÇOISE for their local integrity and their tenacity – he has relied on Saint-Péray, with a little help from Cornas, to make his living for over 30 years, decades that have certainly seen severe commercial struggles. He told me: “I like 2012 well. The yield was correct at around 40 hl/ha, the quality good. The wines are quite nervous, typical of Saint-Péray, the balance sound, and the aromas like fennel, as usual.”

I regard 2012 Saint-Peray as a successful, precise vintage – there aren’t grandiose wines, but they are largely well-knit, and well-tuned between fruit and acidity, and are nicely long. Nine at 4 stars speaks for itself – these are wines that will please, and can be purchased with confidence. Their purity sets them up for steamed foods, and fowl, for instance.

LEADING SAINT-PÉRAY 2012s

**** M.Chapoutier Les Tanneurs 2021-22 11/13 rich, food friendly
**** Jean-Luc Colombo La Belle de Mai 2021-22 11/13 creamy, fluid, shapely
**** Yves Cuilleron Les Cerfs  2021-22 11/13 poised, style, buttery
**** Yves Cuilleron Les Potiers 2020-21 11/13 savoury, very joli
**** Domaine Bernard Gripa Les Figuiers 2020 11/13 precise, stylish, subtle length
**** Domaine Rémy Nodin Le Suchat 2021-22 12/13 v good gras; table wine
**** Julien Pilon les maisons de victor 2019 11/13 shapely, long, true
**** Domaine du Tunnel Cuvée Prestige 2020-21 11/13 suave gras; stylish
**** Les Vins de Vienne Les Archevêques 2021-22 11/13 full, lucid, character
***(*) M.Chapoutier Lieu-Dit Hongrie 2022-23 11/13 tight, v typical Marsanne
***(*) Domaine Courbis 2018-19 11/13 easy harmony, fine fruit
***(*) Guy Farge grain de silex 2019-20 11/13 trad, sturdy, food wine
***(*) Johann Michel Les Petites 2018 12/13 stylish, gd flow, long
***(*) Domaine du Tunnel Roussanne 2019 11/13 quiet fruit, good style
***(*) François Villard Version 2019 11/13 stylish, and cool
***(*) Les Vins de Vienne Les Bialères 2018-19 11/13 round, well-knit; food wine 
***(*) Alain Voge Les Terres Boisées 2020-21 10/15 stylish, grip, gras, STGT
*** Cave de Tain 2019 11/13 true St P snap, precise
*** Domaine du Biguet Terres Rouilles 2018-19 11/13 agreeable, charm, mild fruit
*** Domaine Clape 2015-16 12/13 STGT nose; bright start, fades
*** Ferraton Père et Fils Le Mialan 2020-21 11/13 close-knit, clear
*** Domaine Bernard & Fabrice Gripa Les Pins 2018 11/13 cosy nose, mild fruit 
*** Domaine Rémy Nodin La Beylesse 2019-20 11/13 meaty, oaked, time
*** Domaine Rémy Nodin Extra Brut Mousseux 2016 12/13 pear fruit; body for desserts
*** Domaine du Tunnel Marsanne 2017-18 11/13 tender, mild, supple
**(*) Domaine du Biguet méthode champenoise   11/13 joli nose, palate less so
**(*) Jacques Lemenicer Elegance 2019 11/13 dour, rather tannic
** Domaine du Biguet 2018 11/13 austere, undistinguished
** Domaine Rémy Nodin Classique 2016 12/13 fat but bitter

 

7. 2012 CROZES-HERMITAGE RED

2012 is a jaunty vintage at Crozes-Hermitage, the style being one of uncomplicated, clear fruit. Oh that there were more vintages in this vein, since Crozes is the one northern Rhône appellation whose wine should be drunk with abandon on the part of enthusiasts, a flowing run of berry flavours filling one’s glass.

Hence it is a get on and go vintage, without further ado. I prefer the year to 2011 – the wines finish longer than the 2011s, hold more sustained content, and display more brio, and more striking élan than the 2011s.

VIGNERON VIEWS

From the DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES in the northern, more rocky sector at GERVANS, PASCAL FAYOLLE drew this comparison with recent vintages: “perhaps 2012 is like a mix of 2007 and 2010. It does not have big matter, and the wines are quite fine and elegant. Tannins are present, and are a bit more tightly drawn and firm than 2011’s.”

Also content, a man who regards his red Crozes as often light, was MARC SORREL, whose vineyard is at LARNAGE. He told me: “I am very happy with Crozes-Hermitage red in 2012 – it has colour, concentration.” His 2012 is a bonny, naked, w.o.w. wine.

Speaking from the southern plain of LES CHASSIS, MAXIME GRAILLOT commented: “I adore 2012 – it is similar to 2001, very pure, works well on its balance – we had a normal climate for a normal wine this year. Its finesse pleases me.”

VINEYARD WORK THIS YEAR

Yields were often down on 2011 – MAXIME GRAILLOT reported 40 hl/ha against 46 hl/ha in 2011, for instance. “My Syrah was very handsome, very healthy. You had to work well, and choose your moments to do treatments. We applied copper and sulphur in very light amounts – one-third or one-quarter of what we could have, but there were six treatments in all. The rhythm of ripening was good. The spring was very unstable – switching between hot and cold, so the start was turbulent.

In June the threat was mildew; in July you had to be vigilant. Just after flowering around 5 June, I took on 16 temporary workers to take out the false buds – that took one month.

Our veraison – red grapes turning colour - lasted two weeks, against six weeks in 2011. August was hotter and drier than the months before until late in the month, when rainfall came on three occasions – 25, 28 and 29 August, and amounted to around 55 mm (2.1 inches). Our rain on 12 September was a dribble, really, about 4 mm. The late August rain was a big help, as the vineyard was getting dry.”

THANKS TO SEPTEMBER

A stable start to September contributed to the success of the vintage, allowing a gradual late ripening to consolidate, so much so that many growers did not leap into action after the ban des vendanges, the official opening of the harvest was announced on 10 September. Due to the good forecast, growers took their time. Bear in mind also that the plain area of Crozes-Hermitage is the one prime zone in the northern Rhône where harvesting machines can be used, their speed of work a factor in the timing of the picking.

Full ripeness accelerated after 20 September, with a rainfall of 50 mm (2 inches) on 24 September provoking the more patient domaines. MAXIME GRAILLOT observed: “the harvest was almost more beau after the rain than before it. As to the style of the vintage, it is like 2006, 2001 – you have everything. It is precise, concentrated, quite airborne,” he concluded.

SLINKY BOUNTY

The reds from the southern plain have done well this year, with a real bounty of fruit present in wines such as LES SAVIAUX from LA ROCHE-DE-GLUN – witness the DOMAINE DE LUCIE’s grounded, well-filled wine; in the east, CHANOS-CURSON in the form of ETIENNE POCHON’S CHÂTEAU CURSON and the DOMAINE DES ENTREFAUX both gave stylish wines, the fruit of the latter particularly slinky. Meanwhile, the BEAUMONT-MONTEUX brigade, led by DAVID REYNAUD of DOMAINE LES BRUYÈRES with able support from LUC TARDY of DOMAINE DU MURINAIS, have turned out sizzling wines, the new cuvée BEAUMONT from DAVID REYNAUD exciting to drink and superb VALUE.

GRANITE DOES WELL, TOO

Nor has the northern zone been idle; there are the expected refinements and hidden corners in the wines from the usual top names connected to the granite slopes north of TAIN L’HERMITAGE. The ROUSSET LES PICAUDIÈRES, from a magical craggy vineyard that used to belong to legendary farmer and drinker RAYMOND ROURE, breathes the smoky, flint rockiness and bears the tenacity of its hillside. FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE always work with precision, and their LES CORNIRETS also declares its place well, WHILE the recent cuvée from LAURENT COMBIER, his CAP NORD, is w.o.w. wine, some ageing in used oak helping to round it, the tannins mild.

TAKE THE FISH, LEAVE OUT THE CHIPS

Oak use is a contentious subject at Crozes. Little known, although I have written about this before, and am the only voice to make this public as loudly as I can, is the fact that oak chips are not disallowed in the raising of the red wines. This was the result of a trade-off between a section of the growers lobbying for an earlier release date for the wine, and those who wanted to be able to use oak chips.

Apart from the dent to the reputation of the appellation, this renders the wines susceptible to an overly production-led, technical approach. To hell with the nuances of the wine, just ship out as much as possible as soon as possible. The “as soon as possible” implies micro oxygenation, not perhaps reverse osmosis as far as I know, and oak chips. In 2012, the weather rendered the tannins naturally supple, so that is a vintage with nature on its side in that respect.

However, there is still a Rhône tradition, not a celebrated one, of using oak clumsily. One sees the skill of someone such as ETIENNE POCHON at CHÂTEAU CURSON, where the wine is judiciously raised, against the use of more debutant domaines, the DOMAINE MELODY, to name one, for instance. Experience in oak use brings improved results, often by trial and error, and oak handling is perhaps a skill that even a goodWineSchoolcannot teach.

Other developments noted across Crozes-Hermitage is that when the oaking is strong, a grilling effect is delivered, with what is perhaps oak chips showing strongly on some bouquets. In matters of vinification, I note greater use of part vat emptying/refilling or rack and return, as softness and approachability of the wines is encouraged.

BUY-IN OF CROP TO ENLARGE PRODUCTION

Another trend common across the Rhône as a whole is the expansion of theNew Worldmodel of domaines combining own crop with purchased crop to increase the amount of wine they sell. Hence a DOMAINE XXX owned by Monsieur DUPONT can become VIGNOBLES DUPONT, and the wine production doubles.

For example, I note the rise in the LAURENT COMBIER CROZES-HERMITAGE RED from 45,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles, and even the recent merchant start-up NICOLAS PERRIN has doubled its CROZES RED from 30,000 to 60,000 bottles. This is putting a squeeze on the Co-operatives, which are losing members as domaine owning merchants pay higher prices for crop, also being actively implicated in the management of the vineyard in question rather than buying sight unseen on the open market.

PRICES RISING

Prices to the consumer are also rising – I see €25 to €30 for buying at the cellar door now, a big hike for what is mostly a fun wine (I set aside the top brass cuvées such as CLOS DES GRIVES from COMBIER or LA GUIRAUDE, the special selection from ALAIN GRAILLOT – these are serious wines for second stage drinking).

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE RED 2012s

***** Emmanuel Darnaud Les Trois Chênes 2022-24 11/13 impressive; proper depth
****(*) Domaine Combier 2021-22 11/13 serious, stylish, long
****(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Cuvée N°29 2027-29 10/15 unctuous, deep, superior
****(*) David Reynaud/Bruyères Beaumont 2019-20 11/13 zap! Pow! exciting, V*
****(*) Domaine Rousset Les Picaudières 2022-23 11/13 close-knit, long, smoky
**** Cave de Tain GN Terroirs d'Exception 2019-20 01/15 precise, delicate, STGT
**** Château Curson, E Pochon  2021-22 11/13 stylish; oak needs time
**** M.Chapoutier Les Meysonniers 2022-24 11/13 unctuous, good shape
**** Domaine du Colombier 2018 11/13 round, get on and do
**** Domaine du Colombier Cuvée Gaby 2021-22 11/13 elegant flow; quiet strength
**** Domaine Combier Clos des Grives 2020-21 11/13 profound; good clarity  
**** Laurent Combier Cap Nord 2018-19 11/13 ensemble, w.o.w.
**** Delas Les Launes 2020-21 11/13 serious, varied, drinkable
**** Domaine des Entrefaux 2018 11/13 w.o.w. slinky, fun
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Cornirets 2021-22 11/13 STGT; mineral, fleshy
**** Domaine Alain Graillot La Guiraude 2030-32 12/18 gt life, stylish, natural, free
**** Domaine du Murinais Vieilles Vignes 2021-22 11/13 modern, active, serious depth
**** Rémy Nodin Le Mazel 2018-19 11/13 intricate; nice ease
**** David Reynaud/Bruyères Les Croix 2020-21 11/13 interesting, deep, long
**** Domaine Rousset 2020-21 11/13 STGT; precise, fine-tuned 
**** Saint Cosme 2022-24 11/13 generous fruit, much oak
**** Les Vins de Vienne Les Palignons 2018-19 11/13 w.o.w. juicy, colourful
***(*) Aléofane  2017-18  11/13  liberal fruit, juicy  
***(*) Domaine Belle Louis Belle 2026-27 09/15 grainy, fresh, oaked, time
***(*)  Cave de Tain Les Hauts du Fief  2021-22  11/13  plenty in time, overt oak 
***(*)  Domaine Les Alexandrins Attirance   2017-18  11/13  drinkable, easy, no fuss  
***(*)  Alléno & Chapoutier Guer Van  2022-24  11/13  modern, crisp, oaked  
***(*)  M.Chapoutier Petite Ruche  2020-21  11/13  w.o.w. juicy, busy  
***(*)  Yann Chave Le Rouvre   2019-20  11/13  juicy start, gd body  
***(*)  Laurent Combier L   2017-18  11/13  early, effortless  
***(*)  Domaine Courbis   2019  11/13  grilled; discreet quality fruit  
***(*)  Yves Cuilleron Les Deux Terrasses  2023-24  11/13  racy fruit; can prosper  
***(*)  Emmanuel Darnaud Mise en Bouche  2021-23  11/13  compact, sleek, deep 
***(*)  Delas Le Clos   2020-21  11/13  cool, airborne, polished 
***(*)  Delas Domaine des Grands Chemins  2021-22  11/13  elegant, bit international  
***(*)  Domaine des Entrefaux Les Pends  2018  11/13  w.o.w. tender, tasty  
***(*)  Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre   2019-20  11/13  flinty, slow gain wine 
***(*)  Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix   2020  11/13  linear; poise to come  
***(*) J-C & N Fayolle La Grande Seguine 2018 12/15 trad, detail, STGT
***(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Pichères   2023-24  11/13  fruit surge, large scale, oak 
***(*)  Domaine Alain Graillot   2021-23  11/13  free run fruit, very 2012 
***(*) E Guigal 2020-21 10/15 trim fruit, entertaining, w.o.w.
***(*)  Domaine Habrard   2019  11/13  scented fruit, good cut  
***(*)  Dom P & V Jaboulet Nouvelère   2019-20  11/13  upfront, stylish, oaked  
***(*)  Le Domaine de Lucie Les Saviaux   2019  11/13  grounded; manly depth  
***(*)  Domaine Melody Etoile Noire   2018-19  11/13  inky intensity, also elegance 
***(*)  Dom Michelas St Jemms La Chasselière  2019-20  11/13  muscle, oak, cellarish  
***(*)  Gilles Robin Papillon   2017  12/15 gourmand, facile, tasty
***(*)  David Reynaud/Bruyères Grges Reynd  2019  11/13  go-go, juicy  
***(*)  François Villard Comme une Evidence  2019-20  11/13  joli, fine touch  
***  Etienne Becheras Prieuré d’Arras  2018-19  11/13  traditional, deep, smoky 
***  Domaine Belle Les Pierrelles  2019-20  11/13  crisp fruit; safe player 
***  Domaine Christelle Betton Caprice  2017-18  11/13  springy fruit; easy 
*** Domaine Breyton Fût de Chêne 2021-22 12/18 red fruits, oak, pepper
***  Cave Clairmont Immanence   2018-19  11/13  flattering; med weight  
***  Cave de Tain Fine Fleur de Crozes  2017-18  11/13  scented fruit; cellar-led 
***  Cave de Tain Sélection Première  2020  11/13  juiced gras; close-knit  
***  Yann Chave   2017-18  11/13  grilled; fair fruit  
***  Dom des Entrefaux Les Machonnières   2017-18  11/13  cool, cutting, fresh  
***  equis equinoxe Maxime Graillot   2018  11/13  fat fruits, sweet notes 
***  Ferraton Père & Fils Le Grand Courtil  2022-23  11/13  very ripe fruit, oak; clumsy 
***  Ferraton Père & Fils La Matinière   2021-22  11/13 

table wine, med weight 

***  Domaine Jeanne Gaillard   2018  11/13  sweet, facile  
*** Maison Lombard 2017 04/15 elegant; floral tones
***  Domaine des Martinelles   2019-20  11/13  trad, uncomplicated  
***  Dom Michelas St Jemms Signature   2019  11/13  well mannered; packaged  
***  Domaine Mucyn   2018  11/13  neat, relaxed  
***  Domaine du Murinais Les Amandiers  2019-20  11/13  flashy; grilling, fruit, oak 
***  Domaine du Pavillon   2018  11/13  easy going, clear  
***  Maison Nicolas Perrin  2019-20  10/15  restrained, not really shine  
***  Etienne Pochon   2017  11/13  supple fruit, not forced 
*** Domaine Pradelle 2018 11/13 w.o.w. easy, no pretence
***  Domaine Pradelle Courbis   2019  11/13  gentle red fruit, quiet style 
***  Domaine des Remizières Christophe  2020-21  11/13  fluid fruit, much oak  
*** Gilles Robin Albéric Bouvet 2018 12/15 supple, bit tame, quiet grace
***  Marc Sorrel    2018-19  11/13  w.o.w. clean, naked  
***  Vidal-Fleury   2019-20  11/13  weighty, solid, oaked 
***  Pierre-Jean Villa Accroche Coeur  2018  11/13  perfumed sweetness  
***  Dom de la Ville Rouge Inspiration   2018  11/13  agreeable; easy fruit 
**(*)  Cave de Tain Grand Classique   2018-20  11/13  workmanlike 
**(*)  Maison Bouachon La Maurelle   2017  11/13  modest nose; decent fruit 
**(*)  Ferraton Père & Fils Les Pichères bio   2020  11/13  raw goods, cooked fruit, cut 
**(*) Domaine des Lises, Maxime Graillot 2019-20 11/14 down from 4 stars, narrow
**(*)  Le Domaine de Lucie Saint Jaimes  2017-18  11/13  visceral, elemental  
**(*)  Domaine Melody Premier Regard   2018  11/13  fruit OK, oak excess  
**(*)  Dom Michelas St Jemms Terres d’Arce  2020-21  11/13  tecchie, oak, simple fruit  
         

8. 2012 CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE

The theme of 2012 CROZES-HERMITAGE whites is one of tender, slightly low acidity wines. They are easy to drink, and can cross beyond the aperitif, for accompaniment to staters dishes, the flavours not too pronounced.

YANN CHAVE was content, telling me : “given the low acidity, it isn’t a bad year; the crop was ripe, the phenolics were ripe. The wines are beau, and more serious than 2011, and a lot better than 2009.”

PASCAL FAYOLLE from DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES at GERVANS [northern sector] gave  a similar appraisal: “it’s a good year, and fresh, even if the acidity isn’t high. The pHs are not as low as 2011’s, so there is freshness and the wines are aromatic.”

OLIVIER DUMAINE at nearby LARNAGE preferred this vintage to 2011, reporting: “the whites have more nerve, and are fresher than the more heavy 2011s. I actually prefer 2011, but my clients prefer the 2012s.”

From my broad tasting, a trend showed through, namely that of what I term NEW WAVE  wines, where the grower’s goal is to make an aperitif style wine, and cut out any deep set gras, which is considered in this new vogue to be too heavy.

Thus the school of airborne CROZES BLANC is growing – from sources such as DELAS, JULIEN PILON, CAVE DE CLAIRMONT and others, which, while agreeable, rather robs them of their broad range of food options, and ends up placing them more in the mainstream of white varietal wines.

The “proper” school come in the form of HABRARD, from good granite and loess soils at GERVANS, or LES VINS DE VIENNE or DOMAINE DES MARTINELLES. The FAYOLLE FILS & FILLE LES PONTAIX BLANC is another refined, traditional wine, lovely with fish such as daurade, for instance.

The 2012s are wines for drinking up, rather than conserving. I would expect many of them to be tiring by around 2019. The NEW WAVE school wines should be drunk earlier still.

LEADING CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE 2012s

****(*) Dom des Entrefaux Les Pends 2019-21 11/13 complex, subtle, good brio
**** Cave de Tain Grand Classique 2017 11/13 classic, racy, w.o.w.
**** E Pochon Château Curson 2019-20 11/13 stylish, finesse
**** Domaine du Colombier 2029-20 11/13 interesting, fulsome
**** Dom du Colombier Cuvée Gaby 2021-23 04/16 v tender, stylish, joli
**** Domaine Combier 2018-19 11/13 true depth, long
**** Olivier Dumaine La Croix du Verre 2018-19 11/13 neat, juicy, bonny
**** Fayolle Fils & Fille Les Pontaix 2019 11/13 classy, genuine; silky gras
**** Domaine Habrard 2022-23 11/13 knit, sealed, weight
**** Gilles Robin Les Marelles 2017-18 11/13 local depth, good finish
**** Marc Sorrel 2022-24 11/13 STGT; very good gras
***(*) Aléofane  2017-18 11/13 STGT; poised, nice depth  
***(*) Y Alléno & M Chapoutier Guer-Van 2021-23 11/13 tang with gras; will progress 
***(*) Domaine Belle Les Terres Blanches 2019-20 11/13 typical Marsanne, quiet gras 
***(*) Chrystelle Betton Cristal   2019-20 11/13 wavy gras, Scarlet Woman  
***(*) Dom Les Bruyères Aux Bêtises   2018 11/13 scale, rich exotic fruit   
***(*) Cave de Tain Les Hauts d’Eole   2020-21 11/13 fine fruit, discreet gras 
***(*) M.Chapoutier Les Meysonniers   2019-20 11/13 will develop; quiet style 
***(*) Yann Chave   2018 01/14 good body, long  
***(*) Emmanuel Darnaud   2019-20 11/13 good style, old Marsanne  
***(*) Delas Les Launes   2017-18 11/13 elegant; salty clarity  
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils La Matinière   2019 11/13 typical nose; stylish dash 
***(*) Domaine des Martinelles   2018-19 11/13 harmony; suave gras 
***(*) Dom Michelas St Jemms Signature 2018-19 11/13 compact, table wine  
***(*) Domaine Mucyn   2018 11/13 stylish, balanced
***(*) Domaine du Murinais Marine   2018-19 11/13 poise, length, style  
***(*) Domaine Pradelle   2019 11/13 elegant, quiet style   
***(*) Les Vins de Vienne   2018-19 11/13 fresh feel; flair, joli gras  
*** Domaine Belle Roche Blanche   2020-21 11/13 fresh, clear, technical  
*** Laurent Combier   2017 11/13 low-key, easy, polished  
*** Dom Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet   2017 11/13 safe; smooth gras  
*** Dom Gaylord Machon la fille rêvé  2018 11/13 bit strict, oak, la table 
*** Domaine Alain Graillot 2017 11/13 light n'easy, scented
*** E.Guigal   2018 10/15 round, ripe, smooth  
*** Maison Nicolas Perrin   2017-18 11/13 safe, civilised, airborne  
*** Julien Pilon nuit blanche   2018 10/13 skims, soft tread  
*** Dom des Remizières Christophe   2021-22 11/13 tight, steely gras  
*** Dom de la Ville Rouge Cuvée Nathan  2019-20 11/13 plump, table wine, oak   
**(*) M.Chapoutier Petite Ruche   2019 11/13 some gras, but v tangy 
**(*) Le Domaine de Lucie Pichounettes  2018 11/13 glutinous, residual sugar  
**(*) E Pochon   2017 11/13 light, fresh, fades 
**(*) Domaine Rousset   2016 11/13 lightweight, mild  
** Cave de Clairmont Classique   2016 11/13 escapist, nose beats palate
** Domaine Pradelle Courbis   2016 11/13 modest 
         


9. 2012 CONDRIEU

The gradual move in ideology towards more free-drinking wines than those steeped in sugary, often late-harvested richness, is also observable at Condrieu, not just in theSouthern Rhôneand its red wines. The influence of Bordeaux advisers such as DENIS DUBORDIEU has not benefited the handling of Marsanne in the Rhône at places such as Hermitage, and I have serious concerns about the approach at Artemis of Bordeaux owned CHÂTEAU-GRILLET with the Viognier there. However, if that influence serves to apply some restraint on the excesses of ripening that produce sweet and heavy, burdensome Condrieus from Rhodanien hands, then so much the better.

It is a fine line, however, between achieving rich elegance and neutering the wines, whereby local soul and depth are taken away, for that is what is happening in some cases now. As steady a benchmark as one can find is the impeccable DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY, where Georges’ daughter CHRISTINE seeks restrained elegance, but a genuine ripeness, which with the Viognier is an act demanding great high-wire nerve and even a degree of insouciance. A day or two too late – wham, the acidity drops and the glutinous content rises; a day or two early, and the inherent richness of this capricious variety fails to appear.

FREER STYLE WINES

Beyond the all-important date of harvesting, other moves contribute to the freer style of some wines. The DOMAINE DU CHÊNE has for many years sought extraction with lots of oak, but the raising of their Condrieu has now been reduced from 10 to nearer six months; less oak is also apparent chez Chapoutier-owned FERRATON: their Condrieu was 60% oak raised  until 2011 or so. Now it is all vat raised. And a Young Turk in the shape of AURÉLIEN CHATAGNIER, with young, 2003 Viognier at LIMONY, has moved back from using new oak casks in the past couple of years, now favouring more neutral 1-4 year old oak.

SOME SWING TO AIRY FAIRY

One domaine where the approach has swung towards the airy fairy modernism is FRANÇOIS VILLARD; I find some of his recent white wines good for an international, aperitif drinking market, but their loss of depth is a real concern. I have to go back to roots here, and point out that Christine Vernay is born and bred at Condrieu from the line of the Saviour of Viognier in the 1960s, when Condrieu and Château Grillet represented around 9 hectares or 25 acres of all the Viognier in the world. Her father Georges backed the variety as a noble one, roused the local growers not to abandon hope, and kept the appellation from becoming extinct. The details of this struggle are of course deeply chronicled in my book The Wines of theNorthern Rhône.

Frankie (my name for him, not his) Villard is a newcomer, having worked as the Chef in the Hospital of Vienne between 1985 and 1988 before turning to the sommelier profession, then winegrowing, undertaking his first plantations in 1989. He has always been more of a fashionista, a go-go presence than the more reserved Christine Vernay, with a pursuit of extreme late ripeness in his early years. Remember that such sweetness can mask the deficiencies, notably the sustained length, of the fruit of young Viognier vines, so is an option for growers who understandably need good critical scores and firm prices to recoup their early investments.

I am simply using Monsieur Villard as an example of what I find happening. I tasted some of his wines next to a distinguished, very good friend of mine recently, and he enjoyed them and their elegance, but I am more of a historian and always keep in mind the context of the past and where it can lead. Truth is not something that should be easily sacrificed to the altar of high finance and high prices, and so-called “cool” wines.

BALANCED RIPENESS FIRST, THEN FRESHNESS

If the essential pedigree of Viognier is one of gras, the ultimate richness, and not of fresh drinkability, then the former should be the last lifebelt to be thrown out of the lifeboat. Simply match that to a harvest date when the grower pounces on the right combination of ripeness and freshness, and all will be well, not the other way round, with freshness the first requirement. The prime soils of Condrieu and the arzelle, sanded granite heart of the appellation are capable of giving mineral notes in the wines, anyway.

DIRECT APPEAL

2012 is a year when nature brought freshness to the wines, so this is a vintage of direct appeal and approach. It wasn’t an easy year due to cool weather during flowering, and the crop ripened later than in recent times. But quality of the crop was good and healthy, so the launch pad for a good year was in place.

An account of the year in the vineyards was given to me by PAUL AMSELLEM, husband of CHRISTINE VERNAY: “It was a complicated  year, needing a lot of action in the vineyard. We lost a lot of crop on the plateau, for our vins de pays Syrah and Viognier, due to rain during flowering – it will be half the yield of 2011. But the slopes did well; our luck was the high heat in August – regularly 37-38°C, with moments when we were at 39-40°C – and then some rain and cool weather that slowed down ripening.”

RAIN ENCOURAGED MODERATION

I consider that rain to have been crucial in allowing moderation in the wines, with CHRISTINE VERNAY recounting that “the crop was ripe, and nearly had a Muscat sense about it.Vernonwas 13.5° to 14°, not high compared to recent vintages. The grapes skins were firm, and the pips very ripe. Overall, there was attractive maturity in the 2012 crop – it is a year of largesse.”

STÉPHANE MONTEZ, the busy, dynamic owner of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET has his vineyards further south at CHAVANAY, which of course was not part of the original Condrieu appellation. On 28 September, 2012, he reported on the vintage as follows: “the Viognier juice in the grapes at Condrieu is aromatic – I still have two hectares to harvest there, and with the constant switch between wet and hot weather, noble rot has developed on that. Acidity levels are modest. The seasons have been very accurate this year – the spring was wet, from 21 June to 21 September we had a genuine summer, and now the autumn has been wet.” STÉPHANE has set out to make more long-keeping Condrieu in recent years, which I regard as perfectly valid and achievable, having taken back to the Vernays a bottle of Georges’ 1979 in November 2012 – a wine that Christine had never drunk before. It was in prime condition.

PLENTY OF CHARM

ANDRÉ PERRET, also at Chavanay was content with his vintage: “we had to treat the vineyards, then treat them again this year, look after the leaves, but it was worth it. We had to take measures to save the crop. We achieved 41 hl/ha, with 44 hl/ha allowed this year. 2012 is a year of plenty of charm. The sugars and the phenolic ripening occurred hand in hand this year in the vineyard – which means very aromatic potential.”

Given his wide network of suppliers for Condrieu, which is produced in quantities ranging from 90,000 to 120,000 bottles a year, PHILIPPE GUIGAL is well placed to offer an accurate perspective: “this is a year of good credibility. We had a normal yield, unlike Burgundy and Champagne. The wines have good balance, and attractive freshness. Analytically, they are fresher than 2011.”

GOOD ACIDITIES FOR SOME . . .

Also happy with acidity levels was CHRISTOPHE PICHON, who told me: “2012 is good, even very good. We have quantity but also quality; the acidities are good for now,and our Condrieu yield was 38 hl/ha. The better acidities were on the high areas and the plateau – the lower full slopes were lower on acidity.” JEAN-MICHEL GÉRIN, whose vineyards are in the original appellation area further north at Vérin and Condrieu, confirmed this: “there is more acidity in 2012 than 2011,” he stated.

. . . BUT NOT ALL

However, not all growers spoke of good acidity levels, FRANÇOIS MERLIN, among them. His report ran thus: “I am happy. Both Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie have been magnificent. I started my harvest on 18 September; we had our feet in water until the middle of June, and mildew was around, then the weather was very beau. High heat came for eight days on 22 August, up to 40°C. Acidity on the whites is low, the degree not high, so attractive wines should be the result. Some people lost 25-30% of their crop due to the harsh start to the season. This year you had to be in the vineyard, especially given the pressure up until the middle of June. The heat finally arrived in mid-July. It is beau vintage in my view, with a belle richness.”

RENÉ ROSTAINGis careful in his statements about vintages, and stylistically prefers rigour in his wines as opposed to fat generosity. His take on 2012 ran as follows: “fruit is evident this year; the Viognier is attractive in its typicity. The wines are savoury, pulpy – they are immediate wines that come forward, and are already open after nine months. I regard 2012 as a belle year, with rich, structured, powerful, very typical wines, better than 2011. Drink them with cheeses such as Comté, Beaufort (both Savoie), Pinzel, Rigottes de Condrieu (local goat cheese), saucisson (dried sausage),” he recommends.

PIERRE BENETIÈRE, who makes stylish, really hand-made feel Condrieu from vine yards at Vérin compared the last two vintages when saying: “the total acidity in 2012 and 2011 is 4.2 gm, so both years are live. 2012 is more fresh, has more verve, was open earlier, and is more on the fruit. 2011 has more harmony, balance, a bit more gras.”

LARGESSE + FRESHNESS

Hence largesse and freshness, with quite a high crop, and a gradual late ripening: all pretty good factors underpinning this vintage. It isn’t one of the top years, but is a good, clean-winded one, with pleasure to be had from the most balanced, cleanly made wines. As GILBERT CLUSEL observed: “it is a well-balanced vintage.”

GOOD TO VERY GOOD, BUT . . . .

As it is a good to very good vintage, I still annoyingly find too many wines that are not worth the price. In these examples, relatively high cropping with ripeness not fully achieved is one consideration. Lack of harmony, and not enough finesse and purity come to the fore as complaints - all the more so given the prices. Meanwhile, the best 2012s are complete, run firmly to the line and merit top cuisine – lobster, white truffles, turbot spring to mind, or palate.

SUMMER 2014 PICNICS

Many 2012 Condrieus will be showing well in the summer of 2014, with some weather forecasters predicting a heat wave in Northern Europe; in those circumstances, a sociable picnic would certainly be enhanced by one of the 3.5 to 4.5 star wines, especially those based more on precision than implicit strength: step forward LES CHAILLETS of YVES CUILLERON, JOCELYNE & YVES LAFOY's AUX RUSES, a rare 2012 STGT wine, and most available at the cellar door, CHÉRY of ANDRÉ PERRET (although this will evolve well) as well as his w.o.w. classic CONDRIEU, the SAINT COSME from LOUIS BARRUOL, PIERRE BENETIÈRE, DOMAINE FAURY, GEORGES VERNAY TERRASSES DE L’EMPIRE: all would march extremely well with asparagus, smoked salmon, smoked fish or crab patés, even lobster if a high-class Opera, Horse Race Meeting or School Sports Day were in play and generosity hung in the air.

Otherwise, some of the beefier wines will do well indoors, à table, when opened around 2016 or so. Decanting would serve them well. These wines will live pretty well – eight to twelve years on the cards.

CONDRIEU 2012-2011-2010-2009-2008-2007-2006 COMPARISONS

  2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
6 STARS         02    
5 STARS   01 07 01   01 01
4.5 STARS 07 10 05 05 02 01  
4 STARS 16 17 17 07 02 02 03
3.5 STARS 16 16 14 12 07 08 02
3 STARS 15 10 07 12 11 12 13

The table above shows that 2012 clusters in the good to very good band, without excellence. 2010, with 7 excellent 5 star wines, stands out on its own. Note that there are 2.5 star, 2 star and lesser wines tasted in each vintage, but not shown.

LEADING CONDRIEU 2012s

****(*) Yves Cuilleron Les Chaillets 2018-20 11/13 class, charm, precise
****(*) Domaine Faury La Berne 2020-21 11/13 serious, deep-seated
****(*) Jocelyne & Yves Lafoy Aux Ruses 2017-18 11/13  STGT; pure, classy
****(*) Domaine François Merlin Les Terroirs 2019-20 11/13  rich, authentic, stylish
****(*) Domaine Mouton Côte Châtillon 2020-21 11/13  flowing gras, full
****(*) André Perret Chéry 2024-25 11/13  rich, good finesse
****(*) Saint Cosme 2021-23 09/13 classy, a pleasure
**** Domaine Gilles Barge La Solarie  2018-19 11/13  trad, good body
**** Marie & Pierre Benetière 2019-20 11/13  crisp; elegant gras
**** Domaine Clusel-Roch Verchery 2022-23 11/13  scaled, scope, time
**** Yves Cuilleron La Petite Côte 2018-19 11/13  orderly, gd flow, grip
**** Yves Cuilleron Vertige 2020-21 11/13  tight bundle; solid
**** Domaine Faury Tradition 2019 11/13  clear, nicely full
**** Yves Gangloff 2020 11/13  rich; genuine depth
**** E.Guigal La Doriane 2026-27 10/15 solid, grounded
**** Domaine François Merlin Jeanraude 2022-23 11/13  sustained matter, thorough
**** Stephane Montez, Monteillet La Grillette 2021-23 11/13  big, potential 
**** Domaine Rémi & Robert Niéro Chéry 2021-23 11/13  sturdy, compact, la table
**** M & S Ogier Les Vieilles Vignes J Vernay 2020-22 11/13  generous, classic
**** André Perret Clos Chanson 2020-21 11/13  interesting richness
**** Dom Georges Vernay Chaillées de l'Enfer 2022-24 04/15 gras; gd acidity, clarity
**** Dom Georges Vernay Coteau de Vernon 2027-29 04/15 overtly rich, take time
**** Dom Gges Vernay Terrasses de l’Empire 2022-24 11/13  elegant, stylish, fresh also
***(*) Maryline & Christophe Billon Les Matisses 2019-20 11/13  slow burn, firm
***(*) Domaine Boissonnet 2017-18 11/13  broad, joli mineral
***(*) Aurélien Chatagnier 2018-19 11/13  genuine, grounded
***(*) Jean-Luc Colombo Amour de Dieu 2018-19 11/13  tight; good weave
***(*) Delas Clos Boucher 2018 11/13  aromatic, but lack depth
***(*) Ferraton Les Mandouls 2017-18 11/13  measured, charming
***(*) Jean-Michel Gérin La Loye 2021-23 11/13  gd mix grace, power
***(*) E.Guigal 2020-21 10/15 smooth, varied, still oaked
***(*) Steph Montez, Monteillet Grandes Chaillées 2018-19 11/13  rich, smooth
***(*) Domaine Mouton Côte Bonnette 2018 11/13  honest, quiet depth
***(*) M & S Ogier La Combe de Malleval 2019-20 11/13  stylish, elegant
***(*) André Perret 2018 11/13  classic, aromatic, w.o.w.
***(*) René Rostaing La Bonnette 2022-23 10/13 fat, open arms Condrieu
***(*) Domaine Vallet Rouelle-Midi 2018-19 11/13 gd heart, firm intent
***(*) Pierre-Jean Villa Jardin Suspendu 2018 11/13  discreet gras, supple
***(*) François Villard De Poncins 2019-20 11/13  compact, mineral, grippy
*** Domaine Guy Bernard Bassenon 2018 11/13  tight knot
*** Domaine Bonnefond Châtillon 2019-21 11/13  regular quality, bit tame
*** M.Chapoutier Invitare 2017 11/13  aperitif; fades a bit
*** Domaine du Chêne 2018 11/13  genuine, gras, coating
*** Domaine de Corps de Loup 2017-18 11/13  quietly enjoyable, ease
*** Pierre Gaillard L’Octroi 2019 11/13  broad, obvious
*** François & Xavier Gérard Côte Châtillon 2021-22 10/12 balance, aroma, soft fruit
*** Steph Montez Dom du Monteillet Chanson 2019-21 11/13  Big Production
*** Dom de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois 2017 11/13  plush, obvious
*** Domaine Rémi & Robert Niéro Les Ravines 2018 11/13  grip, upright
*** Domaine Christophe Pichon  2018-19 11/13  suave, round
*** Domaine Christophe Pichon Caresse 2019-20 11/13  emphatic, deep, power
*** Julien Pilon Lône 2017-18 10/13 fat, some cut, but late drift
*** Vidal-Fleury 2018-19 11/13  rich, bit pushed
*** Les Vins de Vienne La Chambée 2018 11/13  rich, bit tannic
**(*) Domaine de Bonserine 2017-18 11/13  tight, plain
**(*) Vignobles Chirat 2017 11/13  mild fruiting
**(*) Domaine de Pierre Blanche Resurgence 2017-18 11/13  emphatic, forcing style
**(*) GAEC Daniel Roland Gisèle Vernay Vernon 2017 12/13 tight, power, untidy end
**(*) Les Vins de Vienne Les Archevêques 2017-18 11/13  coated; gourmandise
** Domaine Chambeyron Vernon 2016 11/13  strict; darts around
** Domaine Louis Clerc 2017 11/13  pedestrian
** Domaine Stéphane Pichat La Caille 2017 11/13  cohesion??
** François Villard Les Terrasses du Palat  2017-18 11/13 brittle content, unsteady 

10. 2012 CÔTE-RÔTIE

JEAN-PAUL JAMET AT HIS DOMAINE IN CÔTE-RÔTIE, SHOWING ME HIS 2012 ON 8 OCTOBER, 2012, ALL FRESH UP. HE AND WIFE CORINNE SEPARATED FROM BROTHER JEAN-LUC JAMET AFTER THE 2012 VINTAGE. JEAN-LUC NOW SELLS MOST OF HIS GRAPES TO MERCHANTS. THE DOMAINE JAMET 2012 CÔTE BRUNE IS STGT, 5 STAR WINE, CAPTURING THE DARK MYSTERY OF THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS HILLSIDE AT CÔTE-ROTIE 

A good vintage 2012, no doubt. A northern vintage, as well. Back we go towards the years of my youth, the 1980s, for example, but with much more polished vineyard management and cellar technique to raise quality. In the immediate term, I prefer 2012 to 2011, although both have the ability to develop past their first signals into more serious, deep-seated wines. I refer to the tight, northern instincts that result in early reserve on the second half of the palates. However, a locked-up potential underlies that, a sense of greater declaration and depth willing to emerge.

I suspect that many growers under 40 simply have no reference point for such evolution in their wines, so there is a certain school in 2012 that started by worrying about the wines and their ability to develop in the first months of their lives.

The clarity in these Côte-Rôties is very appealing, a clarity that will remain as the content expands over time. Hence these are classic, balanced wines. Nevertheless, they lack the full charge and sensaround qualities of the mighty 2010, a vintage apart, unless one goes back to 1978.

It was a demanding year in the vineyards. A lot of work and constant watchfulness were required. The early part of the year was marked by many bouts of rain, so that the ripening season was never running on rails. The rain also provoked mildew, big time.

BERNARD BURGAUD told me: “The climate has been a bit chaotic, with rain, but no storms. Flowering was capricious, so budding was variable.” STÉPHANE OGIER added: “in June I thought we were heading for a catastrophe. I have never known a year with such blight pressure from June until the middle of July – grass growing everywhere, mildew potential, treatments needed, all very complicated.”

CHRISTINE VERNAY of DOMAINE GEORGES VERNAY commented as follows: “it has been a complicated season; 80 mm of rain (3.2 inches) in early July got mildew going, a real explosion. We have had to be extremely vigilant – you were in trouble if you missed a window of treatment.”

PIERRE-JEAN VILLA detailed to me the blight challenges he had faced in the first part of the ripening cycle: “From a blight angle, I have had most problems on my most northerly vineyard at Seyssuel (just south of Vienne) where the schist gave mildew on the bunches, not only the leaves. We had rain of 40-60 mm (1.8 in–2.4 in) in early July over five days, and brown rot came out after the 14 July.”

By mid-July the weather dried, leading to what amounted to a drought. On 4 August, BERNARD BURGAUD informed me: “after all the rains, we had to fight against the usual illnesses, but now it has been dry for three weeks, the last rain in later June thanks to a good, steady 50-60 mm (2-2.4 in). We actually now need rain because our soils are not deep, and the main challenge is oïdium.

Temperatures have gone up to 33-34°C,” he continued, “with nights hovering around 20°C. We now have a North Wind, and conditions are favourable for ripening - we could end up with a super vintage. The most precocious zones are half way through their veraison (colour change on the grapes), so we are perhaps in advance of a classic year from 20 years ago, and could be harvesting around 21 September." 

On 17 August, PIERRE-JEAN VILLA recounted: “I am now dropping grapes from the young vines, but I notice that even with the heat, if you press a grape like this – [he squeezes it] – it’s full of water. In a hot and dry year, that would not be normal, and it shows how well the spring rains have served the vineyard. So the Syrah here is ripening, but steadily, and shows that we have actually needed the heat of the last two or three weeks. Most recently we had 5 mm (0.2 in) of rain on 15 August which just refreshed the temperature more than anything else. Today it will be 32-33°C in the afternoon, but for the last two days, the nights have been cool.”

So a game of two halves was developing: rain, high reserves of water in the subsoils, delayed ripening, fragility. Then, hot weather, dry conditions over weeks, not brief spells, and a gradual – the key word is gradual – development of ripening within the berries. Herein lies the balance of the vintage. It really was knife edge stuff – more rain after the mildew and oïdium, and the vintage goose would have been cooked.

By mid-September, growers were talking in much more relieved terms about the vintage. STÉPHANE OGIER gave this viewpoint: “since August the weather has been magnificent. It’s now not the vintage of the century but we are well past the point of catastrophe. The next ten days will help the degree, which is not high at present. My samples on 10 and 11 September across my plots at Ampuis (Côte-Rôtie) and Seyssuel (vin de pays, across the river, north of Ampuis) showed Syrah at 11° to 12.5°. I have dropped a lot of grapes this year. 

Now that we have had nearly 40 mm (1.6 in) rain on 12 September,” he added, “the degree will be lower, but good weather is here now, and more of the same is forecast. I want to wait as long as I can, and may start to harvest around 19-20 September. The grape skins are fine, and I can envisage having to chaptalise some vats, since I expect low alcohol this year.

The sort of vintage I expect is one of good aromas, a supple and round set of wines, not high in acidity – maybe along the lines of 2000 or 2004. If rot does come, it will be necessary to harvest super fast, unlike 2011 when I harvested over a month.”

STÉPHANE PICHAT, one of the younger growers who will not have lived many similar vintages, was one of the early harvesters for his vines in the northern sector. He related: “we started to harvest on Monday 8 September, and finished on 25 September. We have had some rain, but nothing too extreme, and it was followed by a lot of wind which dried the crop quickly. The skins are becoming very, very fine, and won’t last long in the current conditions.

September was a healthy month, and my Syrahs are not high in degree – 12.5° about, with Grandes Places 13° or so. The yield is variable – I have a small crop on Grandes Places from coulure (flowers not converting into fruit). I have given myself the luxury of including 40% stems this year on the Grandes Places since it was in such good condition. The grapes are small and handsome. This year we have had to work hard all the way through, so we are quite tired after all that, and happy to have reached the finishing line.”

Waiting longer were the brothers GARON, whose vineyards are more southerly. KÉVIN GARON reported thus: “we had a lot of work in the summer, which was irregular. The nights were fresh, with rains at the end of the season. There was no blockage of ripening. We harvested very ripe crop on Les Rochains (the Brune sector) and Combard (south of the Blonde sector) in two days, 23 and 24 September – sites that are well exposed, on rocky top soils, and these came in at over 13°, were moving towards jam and had to be picked, fast. Then we waited for the remaining vineyards until 27 September, ending on 1 October. Degree is good, so is concentration.”

Domaines with long experience were among the last to finish their harvest this year. Daughter of a CHAMBEYRON - MARIUS, wearer of a constantly tilted flat hast or casquette,  NICOLE LEVET said: “we finished on 29 September, and it went well. We waited to achieve a sound degree which ended at about 12.5°. We picked in four days, starting on the first two days with Chavaroche and La Landonne (both Brune sector). We had 60 mm (2.4 in) of rain on 26 September, so after that we had to do some triage (sorting, discarding) in the vineyard. We came out at 39-40 hl/ha, against 42 hl/ha in 2011.”

Likewise, the JAMETS, JEAN-PAUL and CORINNE were, as usual, about the last to harvest, with rain on 20 and 21 September adding to the nerves: JEAN-PAUL took this position when looking back: “the late work in the vineyard really helped the tannins to soften. You have to take risks to have ripeness like this. Our yield was 35 hl/ha, which was good in the context of the year’s weather. As for which areas suffered, the big drought made the skins on some vines on the main, shallow soil slopes fragile, such as La Gerine. The lower zones were OK, though.”

Vinifications went off at great pace, almost too quickly for comfort. CHRISTOPHE PICHON remarked: “fermentations are going very quickly, and I would like them to be a bit slower for quality reasons,” while YVES GANGLOFF commented: “acidity in 2012 was feeble, so the stems played their role this year – I fermented the bunches whole, with stems. 2012 vinifications on the Côte-Rôtie Syrah were very rapid, but malolactic fermentations went very fast as well, in the vat, even before the end of the alcoholic fermentation. Hence the first six months of raising were a bit bizarre. Today – November 2013 – I still prefer 2011 in balance and freshness over 2012, but the 2012s are starting to improve over their debut months.”

Hence grower confidence in the vintage was cautious, restrained, at first. I refer once more to the fact that 2012 comes out of a different mould – the fresh, not sunswept vintage, and so reverts back to patterns not seen for a generation. Bit by bit, I sense, the year has gained standing, so that views across a range of growers, young and old, now present 2012 in a more optimistic light.

Time to put some perspective on 2012. The table below shows the ratings of the last six vintages of consequence at CÔTE-RÔTIE.    

2012-2011-2010-2009-2007-2006 CÔTE-RÔTIE COMPARISONS

  2012 2011 2010 2009 2007 2006
6 STARS   01 13 06 01 02
5 STARS 06 05 22 15 04 04
4.5 STARS 15 11 09 10 08 05
4 STARS 30 23 13 17 12 10
3.5 STARS 27 19 08 13 16 13
3 STARS 11 15 02 04 14 13
TOTAL 88 84 67 65 55 47
6/5 STAR % 6.5 7.1 52.3 32.3 9.1 12.8
STGT WINES 03 06 09 08 07 01

I read appraisals on the vintage from, frankly, Greenhorn journalists, who write of 2012 as a mini-2010. Bah, humbug!

KÉVIN GARON of DOMAINE GARON saw 2012 thus: “2012 is an attractive year; its balance resembles 2010 with less depth and power – it can be drunk younger than 2010, and is perhaps the small brother of 2010.” Yo, Kévin - talking to too many Greenhorns!!

PATRICK JASMIN chose more properly, I feel, to compare 2012 to 2011. “There is a lot malic acidity this year, it will be OK,” he told me. “My yield was 39-40 hl/ha – I will be at my permitted level this year. I think 2012 has a bit more structure and heart than 2011. There will be belles choses (good things) in 2012, but also wines that are not good – it will be a mixture.”

For CHRISTOPHE BONNEFOND, 2011 was also a suitable comparison: “tannins in 2011 and 2012 are quite similar,” he observed, “but 2012 is a bit more open now, at the end of 2013.”

In late 2013, BERNARD LEVET followed the same path when he stated: “2012 is a bit more supple, very fruited, and with finer, more round tannins than 2011.”  At the same time, GILBERT CLUSEL pointed to the gain after more than one year: “the vintage has been surprising; it wasn’t rated at first, but has become rather good over time. The wines have good chewy robustness and concentration, and should evolve well.”

Someone who likes and appreciates early rigour in his wines, and so follows some of the classic Burgundian tenets, is RENÉ ROSTAING. He told me: “we suffered an important loss of crop, but were better off than the other regions ofFrance. The crop was on the cusp as regards its health, but the wines are perfumed, evident, facile, and are also typical. They are popular in style, not inaccessible and will be facile, agreeable, on the limit for what is required for Côte-Rôtie. I am sure, though, that they will come back and show more, with an interesting outlook for them.”

JEAN-MICHEL GÉRIN is a fan of 2012, without hesitation: “I adore the freshness and the balance of 2012. It is the elegant vintage among recent years. We had a good crop of 38-39 hl/ha.”

Somewhat downbeat about the year is JEAN-PAUL JAMET, with his observation “2012 is very good, but doesn’t have the same density as 2009, 2010 and 2011, not the same grain of complexity.” His natural caution may be on top for the moment, though.

Perhaps clarification is necessary on the revised situation at DOMAINE JAMET. Until the vintage 2012, everything was as usual, although it is never ideal to be working vineyards and running a domaine when there is a fall-out between the parties involved. Hence the fact that the CÔTE-RÔTIEs from 2012 have performed well is a tribute to JEAN-PAUL and CORINNE’s tenacity and eye for detail.

The domaine was previously divided one-third each between CORINNE, JEAN-PAUL and JEAN-LUC, so the net effect is for a change of one-third to the holdings. Since 2006, the labels have stated CORINNE & JEAN-PAUL, JEAN-LUC JAMET, by the way.

“I want to prepare the transmission on for the next generation,” comments JEAN-PAUL. His children LOÏC and FANNY, born in 1993 and 1995, are both motivated for the domaine. In mid-2013 he was 54, his brother JEAN-LUC 50. “First of all, I have been doing the vinification from 2003-04,” he continues. “The result of the change is that Corinne and I will have a bit less CÔTES DU RHÔNE blanc and VIN DE PAYS in future, and a very little less CÔTES DU RHÔNE rouge, since there are new plots coming into production.

As for CÔTE-RÔTIE, we are keeping the CÔTE BRUNE, while other sites such as GERINE stay with us, as does the CÔTE BLONDE. TARTARAS, for instance, is being split between the two of us. Out of 17 lieux-dits, two are now absent – LANCEMENT (from the BLONDE sector) and MORNACHON (high on the BRUNE sector). However, we also have a new lieu-dit to come on stream, LES LÉSARDES, (the north, near SAINT-CYR). Hence the classic CÔTE-RÔTIE will derive from a total of 15 lieux-dits, and its base will remain the same, while the CÔTE BRUNE [the absolute jewel in the crown] will continue as before. Overall, we will be down about 15% in volume for two years, the 2013 and 2014 vintages. JEAN-LUC is planting VIN DE PAYS behind the cellars.

Meanwhile father JOSEPH JAMET, 85 years old in 2013, whom I used to visit in the 1970s and 1980s to taste his CÔTE BRUNE, looks on from the main family house high on the plateau.

When I look at the tasting results from a very wide range of wines in 2012, I regard the vintage as marginally favouring wines from the northern, more schist, sector. The acidity and backbone present in these wines serve them well in slow to develop vintages, and notable sites such as LA VIALLIÈRE, CÔTE ROZIER and LES GRANDES PLACES have done extremely well – the first-named more floral and intricate than the crunchy, grainy, smoky, mineral-tinted last two.

From a critical point of view, hope this year is also offered by the fact that I regard 2012 as not a straightforward vintage to read for future purposes. At one year old, the wines are often not ensemble, their parts moving at different speeds - not in concord. There are flashes of lucid fruit, and overall the tannins are ripe. The best fruit is delicious. Bouquets are still more obscure than obvious.

There aren’t many Knock your Socks Off wines, but plenty have character and future possibilities. They will certainly be agreeable to drink, and not impose the sort of weighty demands of close-knit years such as 2009 and 2005. 2012 is superior to 2011, a better balanced year, with clearer fruit, clearer tannin, and reminds me a little of 2007. Many will do well over around 15 years, a few over 20 years.

My resumé on the DOMAINE JAMET 2012 after tasting the many different sites separately in November 2013 was: overall 2012 has a good foundation, a grounded base, from which to launch its clear running fruit. The nose will please, and become aromatic. Life of 20-22 years.

So a vintage for a little patience - an absorbing, not flashy year, one that will suit lovers of Burgundy rather than those who chase big, obvious wines. Finesse and balance in the game – how good it is to be writing those words. 

LEADING CÔTE-RÔTIE 2012s

***** Domaine de Bonserine La Sarrasine 2029-31 11/13 STGT; long, true, beauty
***** E Guigal La Landonne 2036-39 12/15 close-knit depth, stylish
***** E Guigal La Turque 2033-37 12/15 juicy abundance, free run
***** Domaine Jamet Côte Brune 2041-43 04/16 STGT; iron, flowers, brilliant
***** René Rostaing Côte Blonde 2033-35 10/13 pedigree; quiet stayer
****(*) Gilles Barge Du Plessy 2025-26 11/13 fat heart, tasty gras
****(*) Pierre & Marie Benetière Le Dolium 2032-33 11/13 true Brune; micro vin
****(*) Domaine de Bonserine La Garde 2028-30 11/13 plenty, full; patience
****(*) Domaine de Bonserine La Viallière 2027-29 11/13 great elegance, shapely
****(*) M.Chapoutier La Mordorée 2026-28 11/13 elegant juice, potential
****(*) Dom Clusel-Roch Les Grandes Places 2030-32 04/16 needs time; mineral, rocky
****(*) Yves Cuilleron Terres Sombres 2025-27 11/13 muscle, long, ensemble
****(*) Yves Gangloff La Sereine Noire 2028-30 11/13 iron, mineral, gd local feel
****(*) Jean-Michel Gérin Les Grandes Places 2032-34 11/13 interesting; handsome fruit
****(*) Jean-Michel Gérin La Viallière 2029-31 03/15 calm, collected, gd package
****(*) E Guigal La Mouline 2035-38 12/15 gourmand, elegant, long
****(*) Dom du Monteillet Les Grandes Places 2031-33 10/15 well knit, concentrated juice
****(*) Domaine Mouton Maison Rouge 2027-28 11/13 handsome, long, solid
****(*) M&S Ogier d'Ampuis La Belle Hélène 2035-37 04/16 mineral, intellectual, STGT
****(*) Dom Grges Vernay Blonde du Seigneur 2029-30 04/15 precise, stylish, balanced
**** Gilles Barge Côte Brune   2027-29  11/13 trad, gutsy, visceral  
**** Pierre & Marie Benetière Cordeloux 2023-25 11/13 poise, elegance, v pure
**** Maryline & Christophe Billon Les Élotins  2023-25  11/13 character, stimulating 
**** Domaine Bonnefond Côte Rozier   2026-27  11/13 direct, light tread wine 
**** Domaine Bonnefond Les Rochains   2027-29  11/13 profound; very frank  
**** Bernard Burgaud   2029-31  10/13 ensemble, tasty, pure  
**** M.Chapoutier Les Bécasses   2024-26  11/13 cut, mineral; clear fruit  
**** Domaine Clusel-Roch La Viallière 2028-30 04/16 pure heart, fine wire tannin
**** Benjamin & David Duclaux La Germine  2024-27  04/15 easy gras, smooth, supple  
**** Ben & David Duclaux Maison Rouge 2023-25 10/15 ample, texture, dark fruit
**** Domaine Faury Reviniscence   2023-24  11/13 balance, much charm 
**** Ferraton lieu-dit Montmain   2024-25  11/13 entertaining fruit, tasty 
**** Yves Gangloff La Barbarine   2026-28  11/13 flair, depth, promising  
**** Domaine Garon Les Rochins  2026-28  11/13 faithful to place, oaked 
**** Domaine Garon La Sybarine   2025-27  11/13 flashy, long, suave gras 
**** Jean-Michel Gérin La Landonne  2030-32  11/13 slow developer; plump fruit 
**** E.Guigal Brune et Blonde 2032-33 06/17 fine fruit, tasty, dainty, pure
**** E.Guigal Le Château d'Ampuis 2031-33 12/15 open fruit, rocky finale
**** Domaine Jamet 2037-39 04/16 graceful, tasty, inner depth
**** Domaine Patrick Jasmin   2026-28  04/15 expressive, natural
**** Jocelyne & Yves Lafoy Côte Rozier 2025-26 10/15 grounded, ample, stylish
**** M&S Ogier d'Ampuis Lancement   2031-33  04/16 perfumed fruit, elegance
**** Stéphane Pichat Les Grandes Places  2025-27  11/13 gutsy, grounded, true  
**** Stéphane Pichat Löss  2023-25  10/13 good buzz, wide panorama 
**** Domaine de Rosiers 2030-32 10/13 dark, good ensemble
**** Domaine de Rosiers Coeur de Rose 2024-26 10/15 energy, genuine, joli
**** René Rostaing Ampodium  2029-31  10/13 precise fruit; slow gain  
**** René Rostaing La Landonne    2031-33  11/13 careful fruit; can gain depth 
**** Saint Cosme   2025-26  11/13 meaty, good life, character 
**** Dom Georges Vernay Maison Rouge 2028-29 04/15 bright fruit; stylish, aromatic
**** François Villard La Brocarde   2023-25  11/13  juicy caress, upbeat  
***(*)  Dom Guy Bernard Coteaux de Bassenon  2023-24  04/15  grainy texture, sinewed
***(*)  Gilles Barge Le Combard   2025-27  11/13  compact, soft, with mineral  
***(*) Maryline & Christophe Billon La Brocarde 2025-27 04/16 cool, fine, pretty open
***(*)  Domaine Clusel-Roch Classique   2027-29 04/16 precise, lucid, fine
***(*) Delas La Landonne 2025-26 11/13 charming, polished
***(*) Delas Seigneur de Maugiron 2026-27 11/13 slow gainer; can be elegant
***(*)  Domaine Faury Emporium   2021-23  11/13  serene; gourmand  
***(*) GAEC François et Fils 2020-21 05/13 charm, finesse
***(*)  Pierre Gaillard    2027-28  11/13  sleek fruit; needs time 
***(*)  Pierre Gaillard Rose Pourpre   2024-26 11/13  finesse, but arm’s length 
***(*) Domaine Gallet 2023-24 10/15 crisp fruit, genuine, savoury
***(*)  Domaine Garon Les Triotes   2022-24  11/13  squeezy fruit, flattering 
***(*)  Jean-Michel Gérin Champin le Seigneur  2028-29  03/15  fine fruit, clean, modern
***(*)  Jocelyne & Yves Lafoy JYL   2024-25  11/13  clear, drinkable, joli  
***(*)  Domaine François Merlin   2022-24  11/13  joli juice; slow gainer   
***(*) Domaine du Monteillet Fortis 2025-27 10/15 finely juiced, pacy, direct
***(*)  Rémi Niéro Eminence   2024-25  11/13  sound; elegant; neat gras 
***(*) M & S Ogier d'Ampuis Réserve Domaine 2027-29 04/16 genuine content, tasty
***(*)  Stéphane Pichat Champon’s   2021-23  11/13  trad, punchy 
***(*)  Christophe Pichon Promesse   2026-28  11/13  ripe fruit, but mechanical  
***(*)  Christophe Pichon Rozier   2025-27  11/13  sound fruit, obvious oak  
***(*) Christophe Semaska Chât de Montlys 2025-26 04/16 charming, floral, sound
***(*) Christophe Semaska Fleur de Montlys 2031-33 04/16 spice, texture, rather rich
***(*) Jean-Michel Stéphan 2021-22 11/13 dense, floral flashes
***(*) Pierre-Jean Villa Carmina 2021-22 10/15 soft texture, soft aroma
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Les Archevêques  2024-25  11/13  compact, neat, modern 
***(*)  Les Vins de Vienne Les Essartailles  2025-27  11/13  solid, oak, modern 
*** Domaine Bernard Les Méandres 2023-24 04/15 trad, a bit downhome
***  Domaine Bonnefond Colline de Couzou  2023-25  11/13  time to fuse  
***  Domaine B Chambeyron La Chavarine   2024-26  11/13  raw, elemental, solid 
*** Ferraton Pere & Fils L'Eglantine 2021-22 10/15 rounded, facile
*** Xavier Gérard 2021-22 10/15 open, clearly fruited
*** Domaine Jamet Fructus Voluptas 2028-30 04/16 crisp, engaging fruit, direct
*** Vignobles Levet Améthyste 2028-29 12/15 aromatic, unhurried, bit dry
*** Maison Nicolas Perrin 2025-26 10/15 cool fruit, slow gain weight
***  Chr Pichon La Comtesse en Blonde  2023-25  11/13  v ripe fruit; vigour, confused 
*** Julien Pilon la porchette 2023-24 02/15 fragrant, economical, modern
*** François Villard le Gallet Blanc 2020-21 10/15 tasty start, then quietens
**(*) Domaine Guy Bernard Côte Rozier 2024-25 04/15 collapse from *****
**(*)  Domaine Louis Clerc Pont de Tupin   2019-20  11/13  trad, gummy, poss dry 
**(*) Dom Corps de Loup Corps de Loup 2019-20 11/13 scent, liqueur, reduction
         

 

11. CÔTES DU RHÔNE, VIN DE PAYS RED & WHITE 2012s FROM THE NORTHERN RHÔNE

The character of 2012 has been well expressed by the bottom tier wines this year – the VINS DE PAYS and the CÔTES DU RHÔNES that are taken from vineyards near the main appellation zones. Generally these are either plateau vineyards, or plain vineyards near the Rhône River. Sometimes young appellation vines can be involved, those bearing fruit up until their fourth leaf, or beyond if the vigneron judges their quality not up to scratch for the principal wine. 

The other matter to note is that of the quality of the domaines in question. I regard the VIN DE PAYS DES COLLINES RHODANIENNES as a tremendous source for SYRAH and VIOGNIER. The growers who make these wines are all competent to inspired, and so names that do not appear here that I would trust include EMMANUEL BAROU, GUY FARGE, STÉPHANE MONTEZ of DOMAINE DU MONTEILLET, ROMANEAUX-DESTEZET, and PIERRE-JEAN VILLA at SAINT-JOSEPH, ANDRÉ PERRET at CONDRIEU, PATRICK JASMIN, STÉPHANE PICHAT at CÔTE-RÔTIE, DOMAINE LES ALEXANDRINS at CROZES-HERMITAGE.

The other recent development is the VIN DE FRANCE category, where less paperwork and control are involved, and yields are higher. Here YVES CUILLERON is storming along with his range of VIOGNIER and ROUSSANNE, for example.

2012s in these categories express free fruit and are not especially high in degree, so fall easily into the w.o.w. bracket. Bien buvable - highly drinkable - they are, and with growers such as JEAN-PAUL JAMET and the CLAPE family on your side (ie in your cellar), you have access to the fun side of their work, always drawn with a steady, experienced hand. The 2012 VIN DES AMIS (SYRAH) from CLAPE, VIN DE FRANCE, at £156 in bond for 12 from YAPP BROTHERS www.yapp.co.uk is a definite buy and frolic wine, for instance.

As for the 2012 CÔTES DU RHÔNE DOMAINE JAMET, a mini-CÔTE-RÔTIE awaits. I have bought the VIN DES AMIS and the MARSANNE le bruit des vagues (the sound of the waves) from JULIEN PILON (A&B VINTNERS) www.abvintners.co.uk  

2012 CÔTES DU RHÔNE, IGP OR VIN DE FRANCE REDS, MAINLY SYRAH

**** Domaine Jamet Côtes du Rhône Syrah 2021-23 11/13 mini-C Rôtie; VALUE
***(*)  Domaine Clape Vin de France Le Vin des Amis 2019-20  12/13  gt fruit; VALUE, w.o.w.
***(*) Charles Helfenbein Brézème CdRh Origine 2020-21 04/15 fine gras, with oak
***(*) Chs Helfenbein CdRh St Julien en Saint Alban 2020-21 04/15 tight, mineral, butty
***(*)  Domaine Jamet Vdp Colls Rhods Syrah   2021-22  11/13  true Syrah, w.o.w.  
***(*) Dom Lombard Brézème CdRh La tour du diable 2022-23 04/15 punchy fruit, mineral
***(*)  M & S Ogier L’Âme Soeur Terres de Viennae  2023-25  11/13  ripe; notable character 
***(*)  M & S Ogier d’Ampuis Vdp Coll Rh La Rosine   2020-21  11/13  cool, expressive  
***(*)  René Rostaing Vdp Coll R Les Lézardes Syrah  2024-25  10/13  aromatic, good frame 
***(*) Dom Grges Vernay Côtes du Rhône Ste-Agathe 2017-18 04/15 expressive, beau
*** Dom du Château Vieux vdp Drôme V Vignes 2018 12/15 crunchy, good body
*** Domaine Clape Côtes du Rhône 2020-22 12/13 mineral, tight
*** Jérôme Despesse Côtes du Rhône 2018-19 12/13 nerve, mineral, wee gras
***  Dom Bonnefond Vdp C Rh Sensation Syrah 2018  11/13  modern, easy drink  
***  J-Michel Gérin Vdp Coll Rh La Champine Syrah  2017  11/13  free, now, w.o.w. 
*** Charles Helfenbein Brézème Côtes du Rhône 2019-20 04/15 pure fruit, fragrant
***  Cathrine & Pascal Jamet Vdp C Rh Grand Beliga  2016-17  12/13  harmony; beau; w.o.w. 
*** Eric Texier CdRh St Julien en St Alban 2018 02/15 pure fresh fruit
***  Dom Georges Vernay Vdp C Rh Fleurs de Mai Syrah  2016-17  11/13  tender; supple fruit 
**(*)  Dom Georges Vernay Vdp C Rh De Mirbaudie Syrah   2016-17  11/13  spiced, mid-weight 
         

12. 2012 CÔTES DU RHÔNE, IGP OR VIN DE FRANCE WHITES, MAINLY VIOGNIER

***(*) Julien Pilon Vdp Coll Rh le bruit des vagues Marsanne 2017 10/13 complete, character
***(*) Georges Vernay Vdp Coll Rh Pied de Samson Viognier 2018 11/13

lots here, character

*** Domaine Jamet Côtes du Rhône white 2020-21 11/13 fat, fluid; la table
*** Cave de Tain Vdp Coll Rhodaniennes Marsanne 2015-16 11/13 plenty; easy drink
*** Dom François Merlin Vdp Coll Rh Brocéliande Viognier 2015-16 11/13 serious, long
*** Domaine Alain Paret Vdp d'Oc Pastourou Viognier  2015 05/13 perfect aperitif 
**(*)  Jean-Michel Gérin Vdp Coll Rhodaniennes Viognier   2017  11/13  squeezy, textured 
**(*)  Pascal & Catherine Jamet Vdp Coll Rhod Viognier  2016  12/13  fat; food wine  
**(*) Julien Pilon vdp Coll Rh Frontière Viognier 2016-17 12/13 sleek, tight, acetate