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2018 SOUTHERN RHÔNE CLOSE-UP

2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE carries the variety in quality that one would expect after such a mildew-infested season. Just as vineyard plots around the appellation differed in levels of ripeness and yield, so the wines were a mixed bag. Some achieved proper length and structure, destined for la table, while others were skimpy and fleeting.

It's a vintage to select carefully, therefore, with a slight numerical leaning towards wines that can be drunk relatively soon. Harvest dates were early, too, implying that growers worked hard to secure freshness in their wines – indeed freshness was a word that occurred in several discussions on the merits and style of the vintage, with surprise that it had been obtained.

IRREGULAR RIPENING

SERGE GRADASSI, now PRESIDENT of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS and patron of DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE observed how irregular ripening was this year: “the 2018s are very aromatic, with ripening homogenous across the varieties,” he told me. “The CLAIRETTE was joli notably. The GRENACHE BLANC on LES BOSQUETS and GUALIGUIÈRES [immediately North of the village] did well, since they are OK in wet weather, as did our plot on PIED DE BAUD [North-West, next to CABRIÈRES, windy], which was the one that best resisted the mildew, whereas our vines on the ROUTE DE SORGUES [South-East] were a catastrophe this year. In 2019, all plots did well, by contrast.”

RECORD EARLY HARVEST DATES FOR BIODYNAMIC DOMAINES

Record early harvest dates were commented upon by two of CHÂTEAUNEUF’s premier domaines, both of them biodynamic. SOPHIE ARMENIER of DOMAINE DE MARCOUX stated: “2018 has belle freshness, bizarrely, given the vintage. This was the earliest we have ever harvested – we started with the ROUSSANNE on 24 August – the 2003 started on 28 August. We picked the BOURBOULENC on 14 September.”

Likewise, ANTONIN COULON of DOMAINE DE BEAURENARD: “we picked the 2018 ROUSSANNE on 25 August, a record. We also had a second generation of CLAIRETTE BLANCHE to harvest on 24 October on LA NERTHE and part of CABRIÈRES. It wasn’t a vendange tardive – late harvested grapes - but was what we termed a deferred cycle of ripening. The crop of this effect made up 20% of the CHÂTEAUNEUF BLANC and a lot of the BOISRENARD BLANC in 2018.”

ENORMOUS LOSSES FOR SOME

There was no such reprieve for the organic CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL, whose CÉSAR PERRIN told me: “we were badly hit, notably the ROUSSANNE VIEILLES VIGNES, minus 70%.” Even worse off was JÉRÔME GRADASSI: “I didn’t make a white in 2018; the CLAIRETTE was hammered by mildew, which it’s very susceptible to – I have 80% CLAIRETTE ROSE and 20% BLANCHE on PALESTOR.” For VINCENT AVRIL at CLOS DES PAPES, “the white variety worst hit by the mildew was the BOURBOULENC – so there’s less of that in the blend this year.” BOURBOULENC is the bearer of acidity, and relatively lower degree than varieties such as GRENACHE BLANC.

GROWERS CONTENT, THOUGH 2017 FAVOURED BY SOME

Growers who were content with their white this year included LAËTITIA GRADASSI, DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE: “the whites are attractive, fresh, aromatic.” ERIC BONNET of LA BASTIDE SAINT DOMINIQUE in the North-East at COURTHÉZON was also encouraged, but favoured 2017: “the 2018 whites have a Northern accent, since there is fresh balance, tension in them. Enormous sorting (tri) was needed. By comparison, I like the 2017s – their precision, although they carry power.”

DANIEL BRUNIER of DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE also preferred 2017: “the 2018 BLANC is better than 2016; 2017 has a certain classic droiteur (a straight down the line delivery), is ahead of 2018, which is more summery. I like the relative strictness of 2017.” His brother FRÉDÉRIC BRUNIER also referenced the snap in the wines, which was a surprise for some, observing: “I’m not sure what level they will hit, but they have tension in them.”

JEAN-LUC MAYARD, very experienced, of DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES spoke in similar terms: “2018 is very good for the white, very fine. There was very little crop, and it is long on the palate, with fresh, citrus notes. People have been surprised by their style, their freshness.”

15 YEARS OF PROGRESS ON THE CHÂTEAUNEUF WHITES

Even with extreme vintages such as we have been experiencing recently, there has been such a shift in approach to the whites that domaines are now much more capable of producing sound wines every year. As DANIEL BRUNIER summarised prominent changes over the past 15 years: “there has been much progress. You have harvesting earlier in the day, the speed of transport of the harvest, quality control [optical tables for sorting] at the cellar reception, more controlled decantation, lighter pressing, and also, what is left now – the lesser quality - goes into the red wine.”

STGT WINES AT ****(*)

Among the leaders, I rated those with genuine local tone and depth highly, three of the ****(*) wines being STGT – one of them the small quantity LA SOUSTO - much more interesting than the New Wave, vivacity school of CHÂTEAUNEUF BLANC: it held a solid foundation, was classically built, up for sauced dishes, delivered a firm handshake on the grapey sign-off.

Then there is the DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE LA CRAU, which has been on good form recently, capable of really expressing garrigue connotations – the 2018 discreetly muscular, solid and traditional, no hurry to be drinking it.

Lastly, the DOMAINE DE BEAURENARD BOISRENARD, high appeal via its glycerol and texture, a stylish wine that ANTONIN COULON termed “unctuous”; as mentioned, it was made mostly from a second grape growth on the CLAIRETTE, picked on 24 October. It’s interesting to note that both BEAURENARD and VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE have twenty-something lads working on the domaines. I am sure that BEAUNE WINE SCHOOL is red hot in teaching the principles of good white wine making. All it then requires is for the young to respect the natural, ripe bounty of their habitat, and not seek to make razor sharp, acidity led whites. So far, so good.

HAPPY COMBINATION OF SOUTH AND NORTH

There was also a good group of wines that mixed South and North – the Southern couch of content with Northern freshness, clarity. Among these were the thorough, good combination of local weight with freshness of the **** DOMAINE DU PEGAÜ CUVÉE RÉSERVÉE, €33- a cuvée on very good form recently. And the stylish, authentic gras, traditional style, for la table **** DOMAINE GRAND VENEUR LE MIOCÈNE, their classic cuvée, €29.50, against the €38.80 of their all ROUSSANNE, special, also **** LA FONTAINE, a wine of gourmandise and greater opulence.

REFINEMENT

A group with refinement at their centre included the tasty elegance of the **** CHÂTEAU DE MONT-REDON, the fine acidity, good body, and rather dainty finish of the **** PIERRE USSEGLIO & FILS, and the appealing gras, fresh, well presented **** DOMAINE DES SÉNÉCHAUX, all of them well equipped to go well with a polished, clear flavoured table. I actually consider the SÉNÉCHAUX BLANC to be more interesting year in, year out, than the RED.

LESS FANDANGO ON THE PRESTIGE WHITES

There is still a distinction in the minds of the growers about two levels of cuvée – what they term TRADITION and PRESTIGE. The main difference between these two is first and foremost price, and second, age of vines, and third, limited quantity, often 1,000 to 4,000 bottles. A fourth in the past has been the gussying up of these wines, with notes of extreme ripeness and new or young oak on board as a matter of deified obligation. It was therefore encouraging to taste a group of 22 of these wines and to find that these so-called attributes had receded in their general composition.

I think some domaines look at the ROUSSANNE VIEILLES VIGNES of CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL, and think they should copy that – certainly ROUSSANNE and new oak can quite often be found in these wines. This year an example of that was the ***(*) BROTTE DOMAINE DE BARVILLE ROUSSANNE – a Big Production, ripe and oaked. A better version came in the form of a new cuvée from CHÂTEAU DE VAUDIEU called LES VIEILLES ROUSSANNE – yes, a wine of gourmandise, and oaking, but one that carried its flavour long, the finish rich.

On the down side, I noted that the CHÂTEAU DES FINES ROCHES TRADITION cuvée was **(*), light, simple, lacking stuffing. Was it robbed by the **** FINES ROCHES cuvée, also from LA GRENADE, and which accounted for 300 bottles of the harvest in 2018? Quite possibly.

2019 is a superior vintage for CHÂTEAUNEUF BLANC, which isn’t surprising given the much more straightforward summer season and better quality harvest. It’s a year of some strength, with plenty of wines demanding accompaniment à table. Many of the 2018s are looser, earlier, and can provide enjoyable drinking over the immediate future.

LEADING 2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

***** Chât de Beaucastel Roussanne V V 2045-48 10/19 most stylish, complex, silken, luxury
****(*) Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard  2036-38  02/20  fluid, tasty, stylish, STGT 
****(*) Domaine Bosquet des Papes   2027-29  10/19  svelt gras, smooth, character 
****(*) Clos des Papes   2045-47  10/19  savoury gras, stylish, gd spine 
****(*) Clos Saint Michel   2033-35  10/19  joli gras, thrust, clarity 
****(*) Domaine Giraud Les Gallimardes   2032-34  10/19  smooth, wholesome, genuine, STGT 
****(*) Domaine du Grand Tinel   2026-27  10/10  engaging, energy, clarity, w.o.w. 
****(*) La Sousto   2037-39  10/19  classic, grapey, interest, STGT 
****(*) Dom du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau  2036-38  10/19  discreetly muscular, trad, clear, STGT 
**** Brotte Les Hauts de Barville   2031-33  10/19  seamless, balance, trim fruit 
**** Château de Beaucastel 2040-43 10/19 rich, measured, stately, time
**** Ch Fines Roches Fines Roches   2032-34  10/19  thorough, coated, vinous, table 
**** Château de la Gardine   2031-33  10/19  comfortable gras, layered, fresh 
**** Chât de la Gardine Marie-Léoncie  2031-33  10/19  savoury, well charged, long, local 
**** Château Jas de Bressy   2030-32  10/19  generous gras, squeezy, evolve 
**** Château Maucoil   2030-32  10/19  sound gras, fresh, good body 
**** Château Mont-Redon   2027-29  10/19  neat gras, rolling, tasty 
**** Château de Nalys   2028-30  10/19  deft, balanced, floral, elegant  
**** Ch de Nalys Stes Pierres de Nalys   2026-28  10/19  elegant, compact, soft, table 
**** Château Sixtine   2028-30  10/19  free fruit, mineral, stylish 
**** Chât de Vaudieu Clairette de Gabriel  2025-26  10/19  fluid gras, spice, engaging 
**** Chât Vaudieu Vieilles Roussanne  2028-30  10/19  well coated, rich, gourmand 
**** Clos du Caillou Les Safres   2029-31  10/19  squeezy richness, sound freshness 
**** Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes   2032-34  10/19  med weight, aromatic, tidy 
**** Clos La Roquète   2035-37  10/19  tender gras, neat oiliness 
**** Domaine Christophe Mestre  2031-33  10/19  firm gras, with spark 
**** Domaine de la Charbonnière  2026-28  11/19  elegant, fine acidity, detail 
**** Domaine des Chanssaud   2030-31  10/19  broad, good gras, local ID 
**** Domaine Charvin   2033-35  05/19  supple gras, elegant, vinous  
**** Domaine Duseigneur Catarina   2029-31  10/19  spiced, clarity, length, convincing 
**** Domaine Galet des Papes Au Ju Blan  2030-32  10/19  elegance, balance, smoky, clear 
**** Domaine Giuliani Flora   2032-34  10/19  rich, local, long, power 
**** Domaine Grand Veneur La Fontaine   2030-32  10/19  rolling, gourmand, citrus, time 
**** Domaine Grand Veneur Le Miocène   2031-33  10/19  authentic gras, stylish, trad 
**** Domaine Patrice Magni Roussanne   2032-33  10/19  lucid, nicely sustained, iron 
**** Domaine de Marcoux 2036-38 05/19 thorough, firm, texture, heart
**** Dom Georges-Lombrière Cuvée Thaïs   2030-32  10/19  textured, stocked gras, strength 
**** Domaine L’Or de Line Osmose   2031-33  10/19  true Sud, vinous, character 
**** Domaine du Pegaü Cuvée Réservée   2032-34  10/19  good weight, freshness, style 
**** Domaine Roger Perrin   2026-27  05/20  fat content, solid, good trad 
**** Domaine de la Présidente   2029-31  10/19  stylish, fresh, fine, oily 
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Renaissance   2031-33  10/19  refined, expressive, floral, clear 
**** Domaine des Saumades   2030-32  10/19  comfy gras, savoury, good local 
**** Domaine des Sénéchaux   2034-36  10/19  lovely nose; fat, serene 
**** Domaine Serguier   2029-31  10/19  oily, serene, bonny, fresh 
**** Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils   2030-32  10/19  body, fine acidity, freedom 
***(*) Brotte Domaine Barville Roussanne   2031-33  10/19  ripe, rich, copious, power 
***(*) Château Gigognan Clos du Roi  2028-29  10/19  thick richness, honest, table 
***(*) Château La Nerthe   2028-30  10/19  broad, fuelled, solid, table 
***(*) Chât La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir  2025-26  10/19  gentle fruit, mild, fine acidity 
***(*) Château de Vaudieu   2027-29  10/19  style, fresh, modern, solo OK 
***(*) Ch de Vaudieu Clos du Belvedère   2026-28  10/19  compact gras, mild, pliant 
***(*) Domaine de Beaurenard  2028-30  02/20  easy gras, aromatic, firm couch 
***(*) Les Cailloux   2028-30  10/19  easy, tasty, fine gras, genuine 
***(*) Domaine Chante Cigale   2030-31  10/19  expressive, bracing, enjoyable, glow 
***(*) Domaine Chante Cigale Extrait   2031-33  10/19  steady gras, stylish, time 
***(*) Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange  2031-33  10/19  tight, streamlined, late gras 
***(*)  Domaine de Cristia   2029-30  10/19  thick juice, sold length 
***(*)  E Guigal   2029-31  12/19  gentle flow, floral, shapely 
***(*)  Albin Jacumin Bégude des Papes  2029-30  10/19  med weight, vinous quality 
***(*)  Domaine de la Janasse   2029-31  10/19  steady richness, length 
***(*)  Domaine de la Janasse Prestige   2030-32  10/19  rounded, oaked, confected, squeezy 
***(*)  Domaine Patrice Magni Sensation  2029-31  10/19  elegant, fresh, bracing, drinkable 
***(*)  Dom Julien Masquin Montplaisir   2025-26  10/19  fresh verve, apero, New Wave 
***(*)  Domaine André Mathieu   2024-25  10/19  fresh, immediate, tender, apero 
***(*)  Dom André Mathieu Vin de Felibre  2027-29  10/19  well filled, bit of drift 
***(*)  Domaine La Millière   2026-27  10/19  easy richness, detail, clear 
***(*)  Domaine du Père Caboche   2024-25  10/19  expressive, gentle, easy drinking 
***(*)  Dom Pères de l’Eglise Calice St Pierre  2031-33  10/19  enjoyable gras, style, table 
***(*)  Domaine de Saint Siffrein   2028-30  10/19  discreetly solid, steady gras 
***(*)  Saje  2031-33  10/19  tight, firm; gras quality 
***(*)  Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils   2031-33  10/19  stylish fruit, grace, late power 
***(*)  Dom Raymond Usseglio Roussanne   2032-34  10/19  rich, oaked, weight, upright 
***  Château Simian Le Traversier   2028-29  10/19  immediate gras, fat, fleshy 
***  Domaine L’Abbé Dîne   2026-28  10/19  comfortable gras, sudden end 
***  La Bastide Saint Dominique   2026-27  10/19  weighty, bit edgy close 
***  Domaine Comte de Lauze   2027-28  10/19  table weight, not knit 
***  Dom de la Présidente Nonciature   2028-29  10/19  rich early, layered, clumsy 
***  Jérôme Quiot Les Combes d’Arnevel 2025-26  10/19  tangy, glow, strength   
***  Ravoire Olivier Ravoire   2032-34  10/19  muscled, nutted, oak, glow, time 
***  Domaine de Saint Paul   2028-30  10/19  well filled, oak, confected 
***  Domaine Saint-Préfert   2029-31  10/19  sturdy, saturated, top heavy 
***  Le Vieux Donjon   2035-37  05/19  big, power, wait till 8 years   
**(*) Château des Fines Roches   2024-25  10/19  loose, simple, fleeting 
**(*)  Domaine La Mereuille   2028-30  10/19  firm, glowing, vinif over place 

 

2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

EIGHTY YEARS YOUNG: JEAN-CLAUDE VIDAL WITH DAUGHTER AUDREY HAS PRODUCED A SLINKY, CEREBRAL 2018 DOMAINE DU BANNERET CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, BASED ON OLD GRENACHE FROM THE TOP SITE OF GRAND PIERRE, NEXT TO NALYS

THE EXTRAORDINARY 2018 VINTAGE

There could not have been a starker difference between 2017 and 2018 at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE; it was as if the Gods had unleashed all their tempestuous furies on to the vineyard in 2018, bringing constant bouts of rain over the first 10 months of the year, as if they regretted their parsimony of 2017: 833 mm (33.3 in) plays 206 mm (8.2 in). For the entire year, 2018 received 1,120 mm (44.8 in) which restocked the reserves for 2019, while 2017’s total was 350 mm (14 in) – both wild swings from the long-term average of 650 mm (26 in).

This brought an avalanche of challenges, many of them in early season, in May, notably. Indeed, it is true to say that by mid-June, many domaines had kissed goodbye to most of their 2018 harvest. The worst aspect of the rain was that, in a region where heavy, sudden storms are the norm, there were no such really dramatic deluges during 2018.

As an example the autumn equinoxe, 21 September, can often usher in what is termed an ÉPISODE CEVENOLLE, a weather front form the CEVENNES to the South-West, that brings 100 (4 in) to 200 mm (8 in) in a couple of days. In 2018, that spell amounted to just 5 mm, indicating how blighted the early part of the growing season was.

As things unravelled, old timers were scratching their heads for parallels. CHÂTEAUNEUF had the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – an early ripening vineyard with mildew marching on in a matter of hours. Usually mildew comes along gradually, attacking the leaves first; in 2018, it went pretty directly to the most fallible target of all - the recently formed bunches. Descriptions were lurid, top names and those in organic were not spared.

2018 AT CLOS DES PAPES

VINCENT AVRIL of CLOS DES PAPES recounted: “our yield is only 8-9 hl/ha this year. Yields are so reduced these days, bar the odd year such as 2016. 2015: 90,000 bottles; 2016 100,000 bottles; 2017: 60,000 bottles; 2018: 36,000 bottles.

We lost 70% in 2018, all down to the mildew. Being organic hurt – the vines weren’t up to resisting such an attack. In 24 hours at the end of May a few spots on a leaf had become an attack all over bunches and leaves. The leaves could renew, but not the bunches. Ironically, we had a good budding and start, for once. We took 18 days to harvest the 9 hl/ha to absolutely ensure that there was no dry matter in the vats. The last such year was in the late 1940s, maybe 1946. 800 hectares at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE didn’t produce this year [whole appellation is a little over 3,300 hectares, 8,150 acres].”

2018 AT CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL

Another of the big names, CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL, was also toppled in 2018. The rain in May kept coming every day or two, rendering the vineyards too wet for tractors that would get stuck. Then tiny windows of opportunity to treat the vineyards fell, as luck would have it, on weekends, when small family concerns could sortie out to apply treatments – not so the big businesses with employees taking their weekends off as usual. Being organic, BEAUCASTEL suffered all the more.

CÉSAR PERRIN, the son of FRANÇOIS, told me what happened at CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL: “spots of mildew appeared on leaves and bunches at the same time; we spray copper to avoid the bunches, to not touch them at all, but were eaten alive by the mildew.

There’s a lot of variation in the pH levels across different varieties this year – the GRENACHE can be 3.40 or 3.70. 2018 was more complicated to assemble than other recent vintages. Our yield was 10 hl/ha. My grandfather JACQUES PERRIN experienced years in the 1950s with zero crop, so I want to continue definitely on the organic path. We are keeping back 10% of the wine every year as an insurance that we have goods to sell. The sorting table was full of ladybirds, which confirms that we must remain organic.

This year we started the white harvest on 26 August, ending on 5 October with the COUNOISE. The weather was magnificent – there was MISTRAL wind during the harvest, and rain finally came on 9 October – 100 mm (4 in). The press wine was particularly good in 2018, so we have included more than usual.”

2018 AT CHÂTEAU RAYAS

Another of the great names will be absent from shelves and wine lists in years to come – CHÂTEAU RAYAS. EMMANUEL REYNAUD explained his situation: “it rained over six weeks in the spring, right during flowering, 30-40 mm (1.2-1.6 in) every two to three days. The mildew in May 2018 was gourmand. The bunches had just flowered, and were at their most fragile – the mildew hit 99% of them, and their leaves also. It hit the bunches – bang! In three days between the end of May and the start of June, it was all extremely rapid, with May having rain and 30°C – we needed the rain, but …. there are limits. The last such year was 1950. We tried to harvest the grapillons, the second bunches. It rained around 10 October – 80 mm (3.2 in), so that put some moisture into the soil.

You treat the dried grape bunches left on the vine, and then want the vegetation to come back – which was rapid from the third week of June, an attractive pale green the leaves were. There was no MISTRAL in May, which encouraged the mildew, but there was MISTRAL in June. The 2018 grapillons – second bunches – were large, gros because the vine’s energy didn’t go into the regular bunches, and indeed can be larger than the regular bunches, around 500-700 gm.

I harvested the RAYAS 2018 crop in one day on 28 November, 6-8 hl of RAYAS, 5 hl of PIGNAN and 4 hl of CHÂTEAU DE FONSALETTE, the CÔTES DU RHÔNE. There will be 400 litres of RAYAS BLANC, 800 litres of RAYAS ROUGE in 2018. I am quite content to have a year like this since it showed the young generation why I keep wines back to sell, and to learn that lesson early in their careers.”

All across the appellation, there were tales of woe, or of narrow escapes. Those who treated their vineyards could admit that they were blessed by luck here and there, but also pointed to record amounts of treatments, many of the early ones done at the weekend. As DAVID COURTIL of CLOS DES BRUSQUIÈRES, whose vineyard is managed softly, emphasized to me: “our yield was 32 hl/h; we did seven treatments against four in 2019. This year, the big difference wasn’t if you were either organic or conventional – what counted was whether you could go out and work in the vineyards at the weekend – that was the key. Our harvest date was 14 September, two days earlier than in 2019.”

LACK OF EQUIPMENT A REAL SETBACK IN 2018, CHANGES IN PLACE FOR 2019

JÉRÔME GRIECO of the Northern sector DOMAINE DE LA BISCARELLE has not been long in the job, but already his wines capture the imagination with flair and running energy in them. His tale of 2018 was a sad one. “I didn’t make any CHÂTEAUNEUF in 2018,” he told me; I didn’t like the little I had, and sold it in bulk. My neighbour LAURENT CHARVIN was doing his treatments on Sunday nights, early Saturday mornings, but for my treatments on the mildew, I relied on outside people because I don’t have the materials to do them. I missed out on the end of June treatments, and three weeks later I had no grapes. I have now bought a tractor that will do the spraying.”

THIÉRRY USSEGLIO of DOMAINE PIERRE USSEGLIO & FILS was another vigneron prompted into changing equipment following the 2018 experience, telling me: “we lost 35-40%, mainly on our GRENACHE. As a result of 2018, we changed our material for copper treatments in 2019, an upgrade. The old vines on GOBELET, stand alone training, aren’t straightforward to treat. The canon works well, even if it isn’t ecologically popular – it makes fog, the air affected. A lot of people bought them in 2019. It’s banned in CHAMPAGNE, but the vines are wire trained there, so it’s not necessary.”

Even from laissez-faire domaines there were stories of record treatments this year; JEAN-CLAUDE VIDAL of DOMAINE DU BANNERET is now 80, and has seen it all; he told me: “every weekend we treated the vines with sulphur against the mildew – we weren’t on the beach! Two to three treatments is normal for us, with MISTRAL wind afterwards. There was no MISTRAL this year, and we treated eight times – very rare for us.”

WEEKEND WORK, FLUID WINES IN 2018

JULIEN BARROT of DOMAINE LA BARROCHE makes racy, stylish wines, and he, too, was busy on “off days”: “I treated the vines at the weekend, by day, by night against the mildew; in May, two treatments a week were needed – I even did three treatments in April, a total of 16 treatments against just six in 2016. My yield was normal – 35 hl/ha. 2018 is a super year, with tannin, paradoxically, since the wine is very juicy and drinkable. It’s fine, similar in some ways to 2014. It’s not evolving as usual after one year because there’s been no cold weather across the 2018-19 winter – things are moving less slowly.”

ERIC BONNET, busy, skilled, with vineyard and merchant interests all over the place, also spoke of multiple treatments for his LA BASTIDE SAINT DOMINIQUE this year – 14 against four in 2019. 2018 prompted a revision of his approach: “I was officially organic until 2018 – but I won’t be in 2019, not any more. I want solutions to all sorts of challenges in vineyard and cellar, so it’s not all one way traffic. For example, I reduce my SO2 a bit each year – I am now in the range of 55 mg to 80 mg/litre. I am still mainly organic in the vineyard, but at least I can react now when necessary.

As for the 2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF ROUGE, I am absolutely proud after all the work. There are a lot of years when the wine is naturally good, on its own. I certainly don’t want a repeat experience too soon, but it’s a year when I brought a contribution to the table. In the final analysis, on grapes that were very well sorted, there is a true ripeness with a little Northern accent, a bit of fluidity, a bit less concentration – but that’s not a bad thing.”

CLAIRE MICHEL of the excellent LE VIEUX DONJON was another who worked at the weekends: “in 2018 there was big budding,” she said. “Then you had absolutely not to mess up or miss the first two treatments – if you did that, you could never capture the lost ground. Weekends and bridge holiday days (taking the extra day near the weekend) were in the way, but as a small domaine we could treat in four to six hours. After the mildew stress, summer and autumn were magnificent. We ended up with a sound 28 hl/ha. Fermentations lasted longer than usual. The red is beau, has good matter, balance, shows well already, is joli.”

SOME LOST LESS CROP THAN IN 2017

PHILIPPE BRAVAY of the Northern sector (ORANGE) DOMAINE DE FERRAND gave some insights into the wild swings of this extraordinary vintage: “2018 is a year of the vigneron, an All Sorts vintage,” he commented. “There was a lack of wind, and the vineyards suffered a lot. I am organic without being official, so did a lot of treatments, applying 200 to 300 gm of copper early on. We had 500 mm (20 in) of rain over six weeks – it was very irregular, with constant amounts, no let up. I did 14 treatments in all, all copper, against four or five in 2019. I lost 15-20%, against 50% in 2017 when the coulure was so bad. The mildew was still active until the harvest, drying the stems once it had eaten the grapes.

Tackling the mildew, the quality and frequency of the treatments are the key. You needed efficient kit to do a proper spray both sides of the rows – it’s no good to have one side OK, the other not. I replaced my spray machine in 2017, and was very happy I did. It was 20° to 25°C in May, with a lack of Mistral, and low, glowering clouds. On 13 June, the moon changed, and the weather moved to big sun, dry conditions – the complete opposite. There was enormous growth of weeds in the vineyards, and in 10 days the soils became concrete, too.”

GENERAL LACK OF WIND IN EARLY SUMMER, SO VENTILATED SITES FARED BEST

JULES GASPARRI is the son of YANNICK of the very consistent DOMAINE DE LA COTE DE L’ANGE where the family decided to stop making two special cuvées in 2016. He spoke about the wind effect in 2018 – so often this is taken for granted by the growers: “the most ventilated sites did best in 2018 – for us that meant the COTEAU DE L’ANGE, LA NERTHE. Those that suffered were LE GRAND DEVÈS, which receives less wind, LES MARINES, which is surrounded by cypress trees, and TERRES BLANCHES. 2018 isn’t a great year, lacking matter. We worked on extraction a lot more than 2017. It’s a tricky vintage.”

A domaine with a respectable harvest was DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI, where son THOMAS told me: “our yield was large – we had no mildew, did our treatments at the right time, budding and dropped leaves as well. We were a bit affected on the white vines, though. It was a much better harvest than 2017, when coulure meant we only made 15 hl/ha.”

SOUTHERN ZONE MUCH MORE HIT THAN THE LATER RIPENING NORTHERN ZONE OF THE APPELLATION

A vigneron who felt the full force of nature in 2018 was JEAN-PAUL VERSINO, the most likeable patron of DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN; he confirmed the regional differences around the appellation in 2018. “My yield was a sorry 6 hl/ha,” he lamented. “I suffered due to my organic working. I’d never seen brown rot, mildew on the bunches rather than the leaves.

There were differences around the appellation: there was a lot of crop in the MONT-REDON zone [North-West], while a ring around the village and the route de ROQUEMAURE [West] were spared. The Southern zone suffered a lot. 2018 was a catastrophe – 90 hl for 15 ha, or 6 hl/ha. I had a machine to treat mildew where the copper is applied only on the leaves, but I didn’t have one to treat the vine itself. From 10 June, the mildew came and didn’t relent, even into early July it was still advancing.”

AURÉLIEN GRANGER joined his father PHILIPPE at the Northern sector DOMAINE LA MEREUILLE in 2016, at the age of just 20. He reported: “we lost 30% to 40% on our CÔTES DU RHÔNE; we were a bit late on treatments, with mildew going straight to the bunches. Our older CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE vines, 50 to 80 years, fared better.”

2018 was the most challenging year yet experienced for many young growers – 2014 was easier overall. LAËTITIA GRADASSI of DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE gave me these reflections: “we treated 1.5 times more than usual, compared to 2019, say - nine treatments against six. My uncle JÉROME is ill if he sees a stain of mildew on a leaf! We lost 30% to 40%.

The Southern zone was very hit, the area North at CABRIÈRES not hit. Our half hectare vineyard on VAUDIEU was hit because it’s enclosed, while LES SERRES in the South was very badly hit. Our old vines on COSTE FROIDE were OK. The crop was healthy. Vinifications were very jolis, while acidities were good, better than 2018. The wine is rather fine, has fruit, not very concentrated, and low acidity. It’s less concentrated than 2017, and the tannins are supple.”

Her father SERGE GRADASSI, DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE chipped in: “I didn’t find that the problem of mildew actually had an impact on the wines; the mildew dried the grapes. It’s not like hail, when you harvest and put scarred bunches to one side, isolating them because that can affect the wine. The mildew effect is more on yield than the quality of the wine. As to whether 2018 left a scar on 2019, our vineyard on LES SERRES near the ROUTE DE SORGUES was a wipeout in 2018, but very good in 2019.”

BLANDINE MAYARD, DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES is another talented young vigneronne, and she gave me this report: “the season started well enough, March and April being fine enough, and budding and flowering going OK. Then came the mildew - we lost 50% through it – I’ve never known such mildew. As usual, the MISTRAL wind was eventually our saviour. Early May until the end of June saw rain, humidity, hot sun, and an absence of MISTRAL - perfect conditions for the mildew.

BLOCKAGES OF FERMENTATIONS HERE AND THERE

On the same terroir, the mildew could be here, not there, according to the amount of leaves, with more pressure on the young vines over the old ones. I’ll give you an example of how savage the mildew was. From our plot on LES SERRES [South-Eastern sector], we had a harvest of 700 kg, instead of 3 tonnes from the 1.5 hectares. The same applied to our nearby plot on CONDORCET. The mildew was on leaves and bunches. The wines are on low acidity, have a lot of fruit, some tannin, on the SYRAH, for example. It was easy to vinify, but I know that growers have had trouble ending fermentations, have had blockages. Colours are correct, not that deep. The MOURVÈDRE suffered less from mildew than the other varieties, while the GRENACHE required a lot of sorting.”

Her dad JEAN-LUC MAYARD placed the vintage in a wide context, telling me: “the 2018 harvest was very small, half the usual, only 150 hl. In 42 years, I’ve never seen that. It was so dry. Our discarding was done in the vineyards – the task was to cut out the dry elements, since there was no rot. It’s a year with less degree than some on the reds, a lot of finesse, quite supple wines, silky tannins.”

MOURVÈDRE EMERGED SUCCESSFUL

FRÉDÉRIC BRUNIER, DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE, remarked on the success of the MOURVÈDRE in 2018, praising the accessibility of the wines: “our average loss was 25% to 30%. On PIGNAN, for PIEDLONG, we lost 50% to 60%, the MOURVÈDRE giving 10 hl/ha. Luckily there was no loss on our old vines on LA CRAU. TÉLÉGRAMME [the second wine] comes from TERRE FERME and ESCONDUDES, and that was 50% down.

I have a very good early impression of the wines; the SYRAH are good, and the bottom of the vats are very perfumed. There’s good fruit, the GRENACHE beau, not heavy, including the whole bunch elements. the degree is lower than 2015, 2016 and 2017. The MOURVÈDRE is successful – even the young vines of it for TÉLÉGRAMME did well.”

DANIEL BRUNIER, his brother chipped in: “2018: I like the vintage. I didn’t expect what we got – I am surprised by the freshness, by the vibration, the live side of the wines. It’s not a heavy wine, and even though 2016, 2017 and 2018 are all hot years, the wines are truly fresh, minty.”

Also, happy with his MOURVÈDRE was VINCENT MAUREL of CLOS SAINT JEAN: “the MOURVÈDRE was good in 2018. We lost 20-25% - just a few plots, but they were hard hit. There were some GRENACHE fermentation problems and delays, the ferments lengthy. Our 1905 GRENACHE for COMBE DES FOUS and for DEUS EX MACHINA had blocked fermentations, with a stubborn 5-6 gm of sugar. There is less structure than in 2015, 2016 and 2017 – they are elegant, feminine wines, with less tannin than those three vintages.”

There were different reactions to 2017 alongside 2018 across the community – some praised the fluid style of 2018, others felt that it had better structure than 2017, while a third group preferred 2017.

SOME FAVOUR 2018 OVER 2017

PAUL POMEL is the son of FLORENCE PAUMEL at the good, traditional CHÂTEAU DU MOURRE DU TENDRE, their vineyards concentrated on COURTHÉZON in the North-East of the appellation. His review of 2018 ran as follows: “it’s a singular year. A lot of mildew meant we lost 25%. April started with mild weather; the spring was dry at first, then there was enormous rain. Mildew started on the leaves, but if the plot has been well treated, it stayed on the leaves - if not, it spread to the bunches. What mildew we had didn’t really affect the vinification thanks to the later dry conditions, meaning it didn’t intensify.

There was also just a bit of coulure [flowers not converting into fruit] on the old GRENACHE. 100 mm (4 in) of rain on 18 August allowed the vines to revive after the drought, and served to pump up the grapes. We started the harvest on 20 September, as opposed to ending it on 22 September the year before. 2018 resembles 2016 – it’s a very good year. The balance is better than 2017’s, and 2018 is a superior year, with better colour, too. There’s a lot more tannic structure in 2018.”

SÉBASTIEN CUCUSA of LA CONSONNIÈRE commented: “the 2018 ROUGE is more complete and balanced than 2017 – I prefer this vintage. My yield was 22 hl/ha, against 28 hl/ha in 2017, which was hit by the old vines growing on sandy soils on FONT DE LOUP, PIGNAN, BÉDINES. I don’t seek to go extreme on ripeness of the harvest because my terroir isn’t suited to that.”

FRUIT, WITHOUT GREAT STRUCTURE IN 2018

Then there were growers who pointed to the fruited nature of the year, without tremendous structure. One such was DANIEL NURY of DOMAINE SERGUIER, who has recently expanded into LIRAC: “I lost 40% this year,” he stated, “though it was half for my LIRAC and CÔTES DU RHÔNE. It’s a light year similar to 2008, but better than that, has a flattering side to it rather like 2012, with a joli fruit despite the mildew. The degree is also similar to 2012. The Volatile Acidity is a bit raised, but there are nice aromas – it’s a drink and get on with it vintage.”

JÉRÔME GRADASSI held a similar view: “I lost 40%, and had a lot of small grapillons (secondary bunches), the harvest complicated. I am content with the end result given that. It’s a perfumed wine, but lacks a bit of structure.” CHRISTOPHE MESTRE of DOMAINE CHRISTOPHE MESTRE - the ex CUVÉE DES SOMMELIERS also pointed to the ease of the vintage: “2018 is very beau, not too hard, is supple, fine, fruited. It will have a medium length life, similar to 2014.”

LOWER DEGREE THAN 2016, 2017

VINCENT AVRIL of CLOS DES PAPES may have a tiny harvest, but was satisfied enough with his 2018, another pointing to the ease and openness of the year: “at least the 9 hl/ha are good quality,” he stated. “I had to assemble everything at the outset this year – there wasn’t enough wine to fill the large barrels [foudres]. Degrees are 1° less than in 2016 and 2017, running at 14° to 14.8°. The 2018 perhaps approaches 2015 via elegance, finesse, with more colour than 2015, the tannins silken in both vintages.”

SLIGHTLY HIGHER HARVEST FOR WHOLE APPELLATION THAN 2017

SERGE GRADASSI, DOMAINE DES PÈRES DE L’ÉGLISE has succeeded THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT OLIVET as PRESIDENT of the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, the GROWERS UNION, giving him a close-up insight on matters across the appellation. He told me: “there is a belle concentration, finesse in wines that are quite fine, not too much on alcohol. The young vines’ wines also held balance and ripeness, as well as the old vines. The yield was a bit higher than 2017 – around 78,000 hl against 72,000 hl in 2017.”

2018 ISN’T AN EXTREME VINTAGE

Amidst such a welter of views, some themes emerged from a broad tasting and inspection of the 2018s, There are plenty of reliable, **** wines in 2018, with local virtues, good filling, not too complicated. They represent the AC well on the whole. It doesn’t come across at all as an extreme vintage. In that respect, it is easier to appreciate and enjoy than 2017.

The tannins are more mild than 2015’s, and there is more stuffing than 2014. The degrees are lower than in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. It’s not quite the same as 2012, where the fruit was more crystalline, also given the fact that there is increased refinement in the vineyard and cellar work today compared to six years ago. The spring, early summer rains served the vineyard very well during the rest of the ripening season, setting up this ingrained freshness.

2018 IS APPROACHABLE

There is a good vibe to 2018 because the wines are not tricky, not overdone, nor too heady. That approachability serves them well. They carry more immediate appeal than the 2017s, the rain reserves helping their balance. Tannins are well set within, fresh, rarely chunky. There is local colour – garrigue, menthol, herbs – in several, access to terroir not beaten down by a really hot, arid vineyard ripening season.

The feel is unlike 2014, however – an airborne vintage of pure, cool fruit. There is more density, some close-knit intensity, so the feel is grounded rather than skywards. There is no sense of heat, excess power, degree, and tannins are not fortissimo, either. I found that the word “gras” – richness – wasn’t used a lot, replaced more by the noun “content” or the adjective “robust”.

TRADITION [CHEAPER] CUVÉES CAN STILL OUTPOINT THE PRESTIGE CUVÉES

The above comments apply to the regular, TRADITION CUVÉES, which are so often better value for money than the PRESTIGE ones. What remains a disappointment for me, after all the decades I have known CHÂTEAUNEUF, is that growers don’t just let their old vines do the talking when it comes to these PRESTIGE wines; of course they are aimed at one market more than any other, the USA, but it is still a pity to immediately encounter an immediate ratchet up of oaking, also a sense of power, and a move towards sipping over free drinking in too many of these wines.

A lot of a lot of these PRESTIGE wines will be on good form around 10 years old, with the best parading clearly struck fruit; their tannins are for the most part well ripened. However, value for money is questionable as we move towards prices such as €70 or higher.

DOMAINE DE FONTAVIN: GREAT 2018 SUCCESS

A domaine that surprised me with two really beautiful wines, both ***** pre-bottling, was DOMAINE DE FONTAVIN, which stands outside COURTHÉZON. HÉLÈNE CHAUVET is kept very busy by a wide spread of vineyards beyond her 10 hectares of CHÂTEAUNEUF, namely 5.5 hectares of GIGONDAS, 4 hectares of VACQUEYRAS (2 at SARRIANS, 2 at VACQUEYRAS), two hectares of MUSCAT DE BEAUMES-DE-VENISE and 16 hectares of CÔTES DU RHÔNE, ten at COURTHÉZON, six at BÉDARRIDES. That is some portfolio.

TRILOGIES is the replacement of the old TRADITION cuvée,” she told me; “it is 80% GRENACHE (1930s-1970s) on the galet stone clay soils of LES SAINTES VIERGES and SAUMADES at COURTHEZON, and on the sand soils of ESCONDUDES and SAUVINES at BÉDARRIDES. The 15% SYRAH (late 1980s) is on LE GRÈS at COURTHÉZON, and the 5% MOURVÈDRE (2009) is on the galet soils of SAUMADES.

The style of CHÂTEAUNEUF that I like is to keep a lot of freshness above all; degrees are rising, so you must make wines that are drinkable, around 15°.” Well, that was well achieved in 2018 – the TRIOLOGIES, which sells for €24.40 at the domaine is a MUST BUY VALUE wine, joli and symphonic, especially given the challenges of the South-South-Eastern sector with much mildew this year. There are around 25,000 bottles of TRILOGIES, so its companion DAVID & GOLIATH is a sharp contrast, taken from just two demi-muid or 600-litre casks of 95% old GRENACHE on LES SAUMADES – it was stylish and pure in 2018.

VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE: HITTING ITS STRIDE ONCE MORE

Other notes on 2018 concern two high profile estates which are perhaps regaining some authority. The first is DOMAINE DU VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE which has had some quiet vintages recently. Not so the ***** generous, rock n’roll energy 2017 for the LA CRAU RED, nor the ****(*) 2018, the influence of the new generation present, DANIEL’s son EDOUARD having schooled in BURGUNDY. The latter wine extols PINOT associations, has good purity of fruit, but then gets serious on a concentrated finish - a good NORTH-SOUTH tandem.

I would add that the VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE LA CRAU WHITE remains one of my favourite CHÂTEAUNEUF BLANCs – the 2017 ****, the 2014, 2015 and 2018 ****(*), the 2016 *****. It absolutely expresses a sense of place, the 2014 and 2018 both STGT, its essence derived from CLAIRETTE BLANCHE that dates back to 1946 for the oldest vines.

LA NERTHE: REVIVAL ON THE CARDS

CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE has been toiling for a while, having been under the stewardship of risk-averse managers, meaning very early harvesting – August for the whites – and wines low on soul and local imprint. Therefore to have a ***** CUVÉE DES CADETTES, the special cuvée red on the 20th anniversary of the legendary ****** 1998 is most pleasing. It is from the South, South-Eastern sector on sandy, galet stone soils, so is set up for finesse. The 2018 was lovely and genuine, STGT wine – at last, a wine of character form this stable. Their two 2019 whites, **** for the classic and ****(*) for the less oaked than before CLOS DE BEAUVENIR were also encouraging signs for the future.

A third domaine to highlight as doing well after tricky times is the TAVEL-based DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE, whose charismatic, energetic CHRISTOPHE DELORME died suddenly in 2015, aged 52. Both their 2018 were ****(*) wines, the REINE DES BOIS, mainly sourced from LA CRAU (oldest GRENACHE 1929) a wine of gusto in the big vintages, but in 2018 playing a sensible tune, detailed and most pleasing. In good contrast was LA DAME VOYAGEUSE which was assertive, untamed and interesting, a wine for the long haul, at €31 a very fair buy, the REINE DES BOIS €45 at the cellars.

2018 is a vintage to buy selectively, therefore, but there are wines that will give pleasure in the next 20 years; they precede a closely packed, dense 2019 vintage, where power will be more apparent, so have their slot in the comings and goings of consecutive vintages, with accessibility earlier than other years such as the mighty, wonderful 2016, and the tannic, more rugged 2015 and 2017.

LEADING 2018 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

***** Chât de Beaucastel Hommage J Perrin  2045-48  10/19  pedigree, detail, feathery finesse 
***** Chât La Nerthe Cuvée des Cadettes   2044-46  10/19  genuine, character, mystery, STGT 
***** Domaine de Fontavin David & Goliath  2044-46  10/19  expressive, detail, ace length 
***** Domaine de Fontavin Trilogies  2043-45  10/19  natural elegance, balance, symphonic, V 
****(*) Brotte Les Hauts de Barville  2043-45  10/19  elegant, gourmand, velvet-like 
****(*) Château Beauchêne Grande Réserve  2042-44  10/19  stylish, structure, balance, together 
****(*) Chât Beauchêne Vignobles Serrière  2044-46  10/19  winning sève/sap, detail, long 
****(*) Clos du Caillou La Réserve   2043-45  10/19  robust, fresh, planted, local 
****(*) Clos des Papes   2048-51  10/19  flair, pleasure, Burgundian charm 
****(*) Clos Saint Michel Homage to Heritage  2044-46  10/19  strength, vigour, deep content 
****(*) Domaine Paul Autard La Côte Ronde  2044-46  10/19  stylish, elegance, balance, fresh 
****(*) Domaine La Barroche Pure 2049-51 10/19 dreamy fruit run, wholesome, suave
****(*) Domaine du Banneret 2049-52 10/19 spice, perfume, cerebral, slinky 
****(*) Dom La Boutinière V Vignes La Crau 2042-44 07/20 heartlands CdP, authority, gd length
****(*) La Celestière Tradition  2042-44  10/19  generous, genuine depth, STGT 
****(*) Dom la Charbonnière Vieilles Vignes  2044-46  11/19  handsome, clear, persistent 
****(*) Domaine Charvin   2042-44  07/20  perfume, spice, character, STGT 
****(*) Domaine La Consonnière  2044-46  10/19  stylish content, balance, finesse, V 
****(*) Domaine de Cristia  2043-45  10/19  impressive, surging, generous, floral 
****(*) Domaine Duseigneur Catarina  2041-43  10/19  flair, glides, shapely, together 
****(*) Gabriel Meffre Saint Théodoric  2043-45  10/19  vivid, compelling, clear, lissom 
****(*) Dom la Mordorée La Dame Voyageuse  2043-45  10/19  assertive, untamed, interesting 
****(*) Dom de la Mordorée la Reine des Bois  2041-43  10/19  enjoyable fruit, tuneful, detail 
****(*) Domaine du Pegaü Cuvée Réservée 2042-44 10/19 well built, juicy, complex 
****(*) Domaine Pères l’Eglise L’Héritage Pollus  2043-45  10/19  lusty, wild, colouful, power 
****(*) Mas de Boislauzon Chaussy Séléction  2043-45  10/19  classic Gren, garrigue, STGT 
****(*) Ravoire & Fils Olivier Ravoire  2043-45  10/19  scale, v gd structure, fruit appeal 
****(*) Domaine Roger Sabon Réserve  2042-44  10/19  stylish, wholesome, fine, engaging 
****(*) Domaine Raymond Usseglio Impériale  2045-47  10/19  elegance, body, balance, precision 
****(*) Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau  2045-48  10/19  firm, with silken ease, purity 
**** La Bastide Saint Dominique  2042-44  10/19  rich heart, fruit flair 
**** Bastide St Dominique Les Hesperides  2043-45 10/19  pedigree Gren, garrigue, strength 
**** Louis Bernard   2039-41  10/19  detailed fruit, juicy, w.o.w. 
**** Brotte Secret de Barville     2042-44  10/19  juicy, lissom, tasty centre 
**** Les Cailloux   2040-42  10/19  good gras, spiced, crystalline 
**** La Celestière Les Domaines  2043-45  10/19  bustling fruit, wholesome, together 
**** Château de Beaucastel  2043-45  10/19  quality fruit, fresh, pure 
**** Château Cabrières  2042-44  10/19  gliding richness, genuine, ensemble 
**** Chât des Fines Roches Forget me Not  2038-40  10/19  aromatic, homely, authentic, Vaccarèse 
**** Château Fortia   2043-45  10/19  southern weight, raw, promising 
**** Château Fortia Cuvée du Baron  2041-43  10/19  stylish, elegant, serene, tasty 
**** Château de la Gardine Tradition  2043-45  10/19  bounding matter, sustained length 
**** Château de la Gardine Peur Bleue  2036-38  10/19  fruit quality, scale, to fuse, zero SO2 
**** Château Gigognan Clos du Roi   2041-43  10/19  tasty, appealing, harmony, balance 
**** Château Mont-Redon   2041-43  10/19  well filled, comely succulence 
**** Château Mont Thabor   2040-42  10/19  quality content, refined, savoury 
**** Château de Nalys  2044-46 10/19 muscled, intense, stout content 
**** Ch de Nalys Saintes Pierres de Nalys  2041-43  10/19  sweet, gourmand, natural Grenache 
**** Château Sixtine  2044-46  10/19  swell, smooth texture, dense 
**** Clos des Brusquières  2045-47  10/19  v genuine, good inner strength 
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Quartz  2042-44  10/19  wavy fruits, elegant, fresh 
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Safres  2041-43  10/19  spiced, precise, cool 
**** Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes  2039-41  10/19  savoury, textured, length, STGT 
**** Clos Saint Michel Cuvée Réservée  2044-46  10/19  spiced, punchy, fresh 
**** Domaine La Barroche Julien Barrot 2047-49 10/19 refined, deep, long, develop well
**** Domaine de Beaurenard   2041-43  10/19  cool fruit, good vintage clarity 
**** Domaine Berthet-Rayne  2039-41  10/19  scale, kick, genuine, spiced 
**** Domaine du Bois de St Jean   2042-44  10/19  suave content, good Grenache 
**** Domaine Chante Cigale  2041-43  10/19  sturdy flow, handsome, harmony 
**** Dom Chante Cigale Vieilles Vignes  2039-41  10/19  streamlined, suave, harmonious 
**** Dom Charbonnière Htes Brusquières 2045-47 11/19 muscular, plenty heart, time 
**** Dom Charbonnière Mourre des Perdrix  2042-44  11/19  firm juice, harmonious 
**** Domaine de Cristia Vieilles Vignes  2042-44  10/19  stylish, aromatic, good detail
**** Domaine Duseigneur Mattéo  2039-41  10/19  smooth texture, pleasing, benchmark 
**** Domaine La Fagotière  2044-46  10/19  coated, copious, classic, genuine 
**** Dom du Galet des Papes V Vignes 2044-46 10/19  elegant filling, iron, genuine 
**** Domaine Giraud Les Gallimardes  2044-46  10/19  interesting mix, mineral, busy 
**** Dom Giraud Grenaches de Pierre  2039-41  10/19  relaxed, joli, stylish fruit 
**** Dom du Grand Tinel Alexis Establet  2042-44  10/19  intensity, relaxed appeal, genuine 
**** Dom Grand Veneur Vieilles Vignes  2044-46  10/19  strong, concerted, southern intensity 
**** Dom de l’Harmas Caprice de Mathys  2035-38  10/19  fluid gras, pure, balance 
**** Domaine Olivier Hillaire  2039-41  10/19  perfumed, discreet, joli sweetness 
**** Dom O Hillaire Petits Pieds d’Armand  2040-43  10/19  stylish content, flair, full 
**** Domaine Albin Jacumin A Aimé   2044-46  10/19  careful, some freedom, promise 
**** Domaine de la Janasse  2042-44  10/19  nuggety, powerful, concentrated 
**** Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin  2045-47  10/19  smooth, succulent, strength, length 
**** Domaine de Marcoux 2040-42 10/19 good stuffing, thorough, time
**** Domaine Porte Rouge  2039-41  10/19  savoury appeal, juicy, w.o.w. 
**** Dom de la Présidente Nonciature 2039-41 10/19 energy, good fruit, spice
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Les Olivets  2043-45  10/19  ample, layered, genuine, time 
****  Domaine Roger Sabon Prestige  2045-47 10/19 classic refinement, balance, sphere
****  Dom Roger Sabon Secret de Sabon 2043-45 10/19 quality fruit, smooth, long
**** Domaine de Saint Siffrein  2043-45  10/19  balance, salt clarity, long 
****  Domaine St Préfert Charles Giraud  2044-46  10/19  robust, structured, intense, long 
****  Domaine Santa Duc Habemus Papam  2039-41  10/19  clear fruit, harmony, genuine 
****  Domaine Santa Duc Saintes Vierges  2042-44  10/19  thrust, drive, bracing, nimble 
****  Les Semelles de Vent  2043-45  10/19  gliding content, sparked tannins 
**** Domaine des Sénéchaux  2044-46  10/19  uncomplicated, polished, up tempo 
**** Domaine Serguier Révélation  2038-40  10/19  firm, wide, aromatic, gd length 
**** Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils  2044-46 10/19 gutsy, well filled, fresh length
**** Domaine Pierre Usseglio 18 Cépages  2039-41  10/19  detail, fine, cool, expressive 
**** Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils  2042-44 10/19 tasty, fruit spark, harmony
**** Dom Raymond Usseglio Part des Anges 2046-49 10/19 woollybully, drama, very solid
**** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme 2039-41 10/19 bounce, verve, garrigue, w.o.w.
**** Le Vieux Donjon  2042-44  05/19  bright, juicy, continuous 
**** Mas de Boislauzon  2041-43  10/19  lusty, muscular, good juice, STGT 
**** Mas Grange Blanche font bessounes  2040-42  10/19  expressive, continuous, herbal 
**** Vignobles Mayard Clos du Calvaire  2043-45  10/19  copious, verve, plush style 
**** Vignobles & Cie Ch La Grande Gardiole  2044-46  10/19  pleasing, floral, well rounded 
***(*) Arnoux Seigneur de Lauris 2038-40  10/19  steady richness, genuine, no frills 
***(*) Bastide St Dominique Crous St Martin  2041-43  10/19  soft, genuine, garrigue 
***(*) Brotte Domaine Barville  2040-42  10/19  enjoyable richness, purposeful length 
***(*) Chapelle St Théodoric Le Grand Pin  2042-44  10/19  solid Grenache, spice, strength 
***(*) M Chapoutier La Bernardine  2038-40  10/19  well juiced, harmonious, lucid 
***(*)  Château des Fines Roches Cinsault  2036-38  10/19  fine freshness, squeezy texture 
***(*)  Château de la Gardine Générations  2044-46  10/19  overt juice, oak, thick tannin 
***(*)  Château Maucoil   2041-43  10/19  substantial, charged, full-on, time 
***(*)  Chateau La Nerthe  2040-42  10/19  robust, fired-up, strength, glow 
***(*)  Le Clos du Caillou Le Caillou  2037-39  10/19  genuine, firm, comfortable 
***(*)  Clos Saint Michel Tradition  2042-44  10/19  tangy fruit, tasty, scented 
***(*)  Domaine Paul Autard  2042-44  10/19  full, southern virtues, oak 
***(*)  Domaine Paul Autard Juline  2043-45  10/19  gourmand, ample, oaked, 'impressive' 
***(*)  Domaine Bosquet des Papes  2041-43  10/19  spiced, plenty, time 
***(*)  Domaine La Boutinière Tradition  2034-36  07/20  discreet, refined, floral, authentic
***(*) Domaine des Chanssaud 2040-42 10/19 ground force, fuel, insistence
***(*)  Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange  2036-38  10/19  cool fruit, wiry, grounded 
***(*)  Domaine de la Charbonnière  2038-40  11/19  soft, juicy, floral, joli 
***(*)  Domaine de Ferrand  2039-41  10/19  smooth texture, fresh, likeable 
***(*)  Isabel Ferrando Colombis  2042-44  10/19  sound richness, spice, freshness 
***(*)  Domaine du Galet des Papes Tradition  2039-41  10/19  suave texture, cool, aromatic 
***(*)  Domaine Giraud  2040-42  10/19  soft, spiced, genuine, no frills 
***(*)  Domaine Giuliani   2043-45  10/19  grounded, good wildness, thrust 
***(*)  Domaine Jérôme Gradassi   2033-35  10/19  fruit glint, floral, dense tannin 
***(*) Les Grandes Serres Clos St Patrice 2041-43 10/19 weighty, sipping, soaked, smooth
***(*)  Les Grandes Serres Le Domaine   2040-42  10/19  spiced, musky, lip smacking 
***(*)  Domaine du Grand Tinel Hérès  2043-45  10/19  ample, assertive, vigorous, bit plain 
***(*)  Domaine Grand Veneur Le Miocène   2042-44  10/19  clear fruit, pleasing texture 
***(*)  Domaine de l’Harmas   2029-31  10/19  juiced, open, aromatic, w.o.w. 
***(*)  Dom de l’Harmas Réserve de Félicien   2035-37  10/19  sweet, easy, gourmand  
***(*)  Dom Olivier Hillaire Les Terrasses   2042-44  10/19  honest, rugged, jam-like 
***(*)  Dom Albin Jacumin Bégude des Papes   2039-41  10/19  easy, spiced, a sound glass 
***(*)  Dom de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes   2042-44  10/19  fleshy, broad, power, time 
***(*)  Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine   2041-43  10/19  thick matter, garrigue, honest 
***(*)  Domaine Georges Lombrière Marie   2040-42  10/19  suave content, fresh, oaked 
***(*)  Domaine Patrice Magni Le Pressoir   2040-42  10/19  elegant, but oak, cellar, time 
***(*)  Domaine des Maravilhas Espirito   2044-46  10/19  broad, rolling, concentrated, time 
***(*)  Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2038-40  10/19  sweet, well juiced, modern 
***(*)  Domaine La Mereuille Tradition   2039-41  10/19  thick, full, assertive 
***(*)  Domaine Christophe Mestre   2039-41  10/19  good Gren heart, rich, packed 
***(*)  Dom du Père Caboche Création Emilie  2039-41  10/19  succulent, heady, orb-like shape 
***(*)  Dom Père Caboche Elise Chambellan  2040-42  10/19  copious, rich, aromatic, time 
***(*)  Dom Roger Perrin Galets Berthaude  2044-46  10/19  muscular, full-on, firm, garrigue 
***(*)  Domaine de Saint Paul   2039-41  10/19  spiced, time to come together 
***(*)  Domaine de Saint Paul L’Insolite   2043-45  10/19  carefree fruit, oak, time 
***(*)  Domaine Saint-Préfert Classique   2039-41  10/19  firm fruits, plenty juice 
***(*) Saje 2041-43 10/19 engaging thickness, sure delivery
***(*)  Saje Marquis Anselme Mathieu   2040-42  10/19  free, straightforward, clear 
***(*)  Domaine Santa Duc Pied de Baud   2043-45  10/19  aromatic fruit, easy pleasure 
***(*)  Domaine des Saumades   2040-42  10/19  spiced, decisive, cool tenor 
***(*)  Domaine Serguier   2036-38  10/19  easy fruit, sound length 
***(*) Le Serres des Mourres M & G 2033-35 07/20 immediate, spiced, floral, authentic
***(*) Vignobles Mayard Crau de ma Mère 2043-45 10/19 muscular; fibrous tannin, to fuse
***(*)  Vignobles & Cie Les Combelles   2039-41  10/19  cool, intricate, live tannins 
*** Arnoux Vieux Clocher 2035-37 10/19 spiced, salted crispness, safe
*** Bastide St Dominique Secrets Pignan 2043-45 10/19 weighty, suave, replete, sipping
*** Chapelle St Théodoric La Guigasse 2039-41 10/19 thick matter, throbbing persistence
*** Chât Beauchêne Hommage Odette B 2042-44 10/19 soaked, fuelled, power, exerted
*** Château des Fines Roches 2042-44 10/19 thick juice, garrigue, bit heavy
***  Château Jas de Bressy   2037-39  10/19  succulent, quiet, “correct”, but .. 
***  Dom de Beaurenard Boisrenard   2044-46  10/19  scaled, tarry, tough extraction 
***  Domaine de Cristia Renaissance   2038-40  10/19  grainy, singed, fresh, raw, time 
*** Domaine du Grand Tinel 2039-41 10/19 polished, suave, easy, bit tame
*** Domaine Patrice Magni Sensation 2038-40 10/19 soaked fruits, thorough, to clarify
*** Domaine du Père Caboche 2039-42 10/19 spiced, down the line, power
*** Famille Perrin Les Sinards 2036-38 10/19 squeezy content, safe
*** Domaine St Préfert Auguste Favier 2042-44 10/19 deep succulence, glow, sipping
***  Ferraton Le Parvis   2031-33 12/19  soft, flattering, perfumed, light 
*** Vignobles Mayard Domaine Père Pape  2041-43 10/19 fatness, potent, sipping
**(*)  Bosquet des Papes Chante le Merle   2037-39  10/19  musky, med weight, plodding 
**(*)  Bosq des Papes Gloire de Grand Père   2037-39  10/19  close-knit, scaled, dry 
**(*) La Celestière La Croze 2039-41 10/19 loose bundle, crisp tannin
**(*) Château Maucoil Privilège 2040-42 10/19 chunky, firm, exerted, cautious
**(*) Château Sixtine Cuvée du Vatican 2038-40 10/19 fat, static, solid, uninspiring
**(*) Clos de l’Oratoire Papes Les Chorégies 2039-41 10/19 raw, vegetal, bit hollow
**(*) Clos Saint Antonin 2039-41 10/19 spiced sweetness, bit dry end
**(*) Domaine L’Abbé Dîne 2035-37 10/19 springy, crisp, edgy tannin
**(*) Domaine Grand Veneur Les Origines 2038-40 10/19 thick fruit, extraction, dry end
**(*)  Domaine La Mereuille Cuvée d’Auré   2038-40  10/19  gourmand, plush, oak, dry bits 
**(*)  Dom Pères de l’Eglise Calice St Pierre  2036-38 10/19  plain, bit dry tannins 
**(*)  Dom la Présidente Grands Classiques  2038-40 10/19 too concentrated, musky, soaked, retro 
**(*)  Domaine Pierre Usseglio mon Aïeul   2040-42  10/19  ample, high octane, oak-Gren clash
**  Ferme Chabran   2029-31  10/19  soft, mild, lacks stuffing 
**  Domaine Saint Laurent   2033-35  10/19  lack clarity, finish drops 
N/R  Château Simian Le Traversier     10/19  raw, tough, re-taste 
         


2018 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

TWO GENERATIONS OF LE MAS DE LIBIAN: HÉLÈNE THIBON WITH SON VINCENT: "2018 WAS EXHAUSTING"

The highly complicated vintage of 2018 actually served some pretty good base level wines that are set up for early drinking, so there are possibilities among the CÔTES DU RHÔNE category this year. The fruit is generous, and the w.o.w. nature of several leads to enjoyable on the terrace drinking, the most overtly fruited wines suitable for an entire meal.

Many of those tasted are from CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE estates, which means they are often from mature vineyards on terroir that is close to the CHÂTEAUNEUF boundary. The predominance of the best such vineyards tends to be in the North of the appellation, from the communes of ORANGE or COURTHÉZON, gravel soils on the former, sand and some galet stones on the latter as a general rule. It goes without saying that they are well vinified, and suited to la table.

In my cellar as I write you will find CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDs from CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL with their COUDOULETDOMAINE CHARVIN, DOMAINE DE FERRAND’s ANTIQUE VIEILLES VIGNES and DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE’s LIEU-DIT CLAVIN. A bit like the ruse of buying BOURGOGNE tout court – the VILLAGES wine – from the top BURGUNDY Domaines, so it is with this quartet, which would feature right up there with the best around. I would also include the remarkable E.GUIGAL CÔTES DU RHONE RED, which year in year out gives tremendous value, the enormous quantity of it not a natural detriment due to the rigorous, near military, precision of the Search, Taste, Blend process of MARCEL and family, and the very high amounts of time spent in putting it together.

I leave a commentary on conditions to one of my favourite domaines, the trend setting, very médiatique organic-biodynamic MAS DE LIBIAN, set in a land of pines, gorse thickets, terraces that used to bear both fruit and vines on the right bank ARDÈCHE département (07) – the South of it, near SAINT-MARCEL D’ARDÈCHE. HÉLÈNE THIBON, glamorous and energetic, has long been held up as a torch bearer for organic wines in the RHÔNE, with her use of a horse, a hero called NESTOR, now passed on to the unsaddling enclosure in the sky, to till the vineyards going back over 20 years. Her oldest GRENACHE goes back to the mid-1950s and 1960s, and her wines are racy, brimming with fruit and underlying firm intent.

She found 2018 extremely challenging: “2018 was exhausting – as we are a family here, we could work at night and at the weekends. The last two weeks of April gave temperatures of 30°C – high summer - then the rain came in May, and the rain never really paused until early June.

Our flowering was mid-May, but the mildew was starting by early May. We then had a spell of high heat [canicule] at the end of July and three weeks into August: there was no air, and nights and days were both very hot. The result was a loss of malic acid, and low levels of tartaric acid, but strangely the pH was quite normal. We started the harvest on 25 August – normal – and ended 11 September. The Grenache varied between 14° and 15° - also normal.”

“2018 isn’t a year to keep,” she added, “drink it rapidly, within four years maximum. The wines are on the light, silken side, with high degree. 2017s were more ample, with more acidity.”

2019 announces itself as good, very full vintage, so there had been pressure on CÔTES DU RHÔNE prices until the pandemic struck, which will certainly result in some of this category ending up in a still. There has also been frost, then bad hail in the right bank GARD département in spring, 2020, so the outlook for prices has just become very volatile for the 2019 vintage.

LEADING 2018 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

****(*) Domaine Charvin 2029-31 07/20 floral, rocky, much personality
****(*) Domaine Gramenon La Mémé 2031-33 02/19 v sure depth, v long, 100 yr Gren
**** Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet  2031-33  10/19  flow, cool fruit, nourishing 
**** Clos du Caillou Nature  2022-23  10/19  stylish fruit, body, w.o.w. 
**** Clos du Caillou Les Quartz  2029-31  10/19  well juiced, tasty, pleasing 
**** Clos du Caillou La Réserve  2030-32  10/19  well built, thick, patience 
**** J-Louis Chave Sélection Mon Coeur  2027-28  12/19  racy fruit, freedom. w.o.w. 
**** Domaine Chaume-Arnaud  2024-25  03/19  stylish fruit, finesse, w.o.w. 
**** Domaine de Ferrand Vieilles Vignes  2029-31  10/19  fluid gras, intensity, springy 
**** Domaine Gramenon L’Emouvante  2032-34  02/19  pure fruit, superior Syrah 
**** Dom Gramenon Poignée des Raisins  2021  02/19  dainty, juicy, joli, w.o.w. 
**** Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse  2028-29  02/19  expressive, silken gras, balanced 
**** Domaine du Joncier L’O  2023  02/20  swirling fruit, cool, w.o.w. V 
**** Domaine des Pères de l'Eglise 2024-25 06/20 tasty. stylish, mineral, bespoke
**** Domaine La Roche Buissière Gaïa 2026-27 02/20 supple fruit, crisp tannin, balance
**** Mas de Libian Khayyâm  2024-25  02/19  well grounded, tasty, fresh 
***(*) Clos des Mourres Novice  2026-27  02/20  busy fruit, saline, character 
***(*) Clos des Mourres Trikâla  2026  02/20  fruit purity, firm, good carry 
***(*) Clos du Caillou Bouquet des Garrigues  2025-26  10/19  fruit energy, purity, drinkable 
***(*) Clos du Caillou Le Caillou  2023-24  10/19  bracing, direct, lively fruit 
***(*) Domaine de l’Agramante Ciaüla  2023  02/19  genuine, raw clarity, floral 
***(*) Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange  2025-26  10/19  frank, good freedom, energy 
***(*) La Durbane La Côte de la Durbane  2023 06/20 fat, pleasing fruit succulence
***(*) Domaine de Ferrand Mistral  2023-24  10/19  plucky fruit, late strength 
***(*) Dom Gramenon L’Elementaire  2027-29  02/19  lissom, suave, discreetly solid 
***(*) Dom Patrice Magni La Cueillette  2026-27  10/19  supple, spiced, genuine, la table 
***(*) Domaine La Mereuille  2027-28  10/19  genuine, rugged, gd tannins 
***(*) Domaine La Roche Buissière Flonflons 2026-27 02/20 soft, good late crescendo
***(*) Mas de Libian Bout d’Zan  2023-24  02/19  joli fruit hit, fresh 
***(*) Maxime-François Laurent La Rubiconde  2027-28  02/19  fat, good oiliness, scaled 
***(*) Famille Perrin Nature  2025-26  10/19  soft, layered, garrigue 
***(*) Vignobles & Cie Chât de Cheylus Elin 2023-24 06/20 smooth, spiced, sound Syrah
*** Domaine des Banquettes  2023-24  03/19  good fruit cut, likeable 
*** Dom Chaume-Arnaud Le Petit Coquet  2023-24  03/19  grainy, salty, solid, character 
*** Domaine de Coste Chaude Florilège 2023-24 07/20 modern, svelte; red-fruited
*** Maxime-François Laurent il fait soif  2021  02/19  expressive, cosy fruit 
*** Famille Perrin Réserve  2024-25  10/19  soft n’easy, bit tame 
**(*) Domaine de l’Harmas Harmonie  2023  10/19  direct drinking, functional, dry 
**(*) Domaine Serguier Vieilles Vignes  2021  10/19  direct fruit, stark, toppy ° 

 

2018 VIN DE FRANCE/IGP VIN DE PAYS


ROCK ME MAMA: LE MAZEL, THE MOTHER LODE, JOCELYNE & GÉRALD OUSTRIC IN THEIR 1954 GRENACHE VINEYARD

VINS NATURES

Feeling outside the loop? Care for the environment? Dislike officialdom? Right, off you go to the Southern ARDÈCHE, find yourself four or five hectares of craggy valley vineyards, and you are all set.

This is the path trod by dozens of pioneers in the RHÔNE, a wave that is still in full flow in 2019, with new names coming along regularly. Indeed, it is hard to keep up, but there is a lineage attached to this movement that takes in organic farming with low intervention wine making and the rejection of added SO2 in the wines.

ROOTS FOR THE RHÔNE MOVEMENT IN THE BEAUJOLAIS

The story starts in the BEAUJOLAIS, where the merchant JULES CHAUVET spent many years studying yeasts and effects of fermentation, including the malolactic fermentation. His conclusions were that yeasts did not need to be added to grapes, and that a laissez-faire approach in the cellar stood up to scrutiny.

He was opposed to the grip of the big chemical companies and their sweet talk to growers that encouraged mass spraying of chemical products on the vineyards, and the application of cultured yeasts and adjusted acidities in the cellar. The large groups were pedalling a no risk modus operandi that resulted in a low common denominator in the resultant wines [and cheap prices], while CHAUVET was encouraging a risk-reward outlook that encouraged character and individuality in the wines [and higher prices].

MORGON, AN EPICENTRE

CHAUVET died in 1989, but by then growers in the BEAUJOLAIS had taken up his baton. I visited MARCEL LAPIERRE in the 1990s, by which time he was already well set on a path of low to no intervention from his domaine at MORGON. His wines of that time were pure, frisky, striking, well sealed, against a regional context of a massive amount of dull, loose, chaptalized – always much chaptalisation - wines. These were days when the tail called BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU wagged the dog of BEAUJOLAIS, the ID of the various crus and their mass of different terroirs subsumed to what was a brilliantly successful marketing campaign.

MORGON was a centre of operations for the organic-low intervention movement, with JEAN FOILLARD nearby another practitioner. I do not recall the wines being called NATURE in those days; I think that came along later, when the Japanese market notably had declared its taste for hells-a-popping wines that were as rootsy as could be – straight from vineyard to bottle with many a defect accompanying them – secondary fermentations, high Volatile Acidity and oxidation being prime evils in many unstable wines.

STEP FORWARD, GÉRALD OUSTRIC

The first stirrings of a RHÔNE movement came in the 1980s with GÉRALD OUSTRIC of DOMAINE DU MAZEL – now called LE MAZEL – taking over the old family vineyard that had been worked there since just after the First World War. GÉRALD joined his Dad PAUL in 1975, and assumed sole charge of the vineyards in 1982. At the time, the only outsider in the region was the Burgundian house of LOUIS LATOUR, who had spotted the potential of the limestone with clay soils for CHARDONNAY in 1979. That company has been producing a very respectable [first vintages a bit thin due to young vines] VIN DE PAYS DE L’ARDÈCHE CHARDONNAY, all steel handled, since then. It is a large scale operation, the vines machine harvested, bim bang, these days.

There was the usual fabric of CAVES CO-OPÉRATIVES in the 1980s; they had not yet hit the buffers then, with sales adequate to make up for inefficiencies, and quality acceptable to local consumers. The ocean of cheap, dull wine had not then accumulated. Among these CO-OPs was VALVIGNÈRES, founded in the late 1950s, where the OUSTRIC family sent their harvest, while also working en polyculture – cereal, cherries, apricots, the vines not the prime item.

“I worked the vineyards here from 1975, and three years after running them on my own, I went organic in 1985, and started to treat only at the base of the vines to cut down on treatments. I would do three runs through the vineyard – the griffonage [building the soils at the base of the vine], the retourne [restoring the soil back down around the base], and then chaussage - turning the soils at the end of the harvest,” GÉRALD recounts.

ISOLATION

“I was isolated here in my adventure – I didn’t know the THIBON family [MAS DE LIBIAN] - my influences coming from the wines I liked to drink – BEAUJOLAIS with MARCEL LAPIERRE an inspiration, along with JACQUES NÉAUPORT and, in the LOIRE, GUY BRETON.

“The CO-OPÉRATIVE is now part of UCOVA at RUOMS [respectable wines, not dear]. It had maybe 250 members, of whom only 42 really lived from vineyards,” recalls GÉRALD. “The trouble was they were producing conventional wines – and if I wanted to make those, I wouldn’t have left the CO-OP in 1997. We were working 30 hectares at the time, but I have since reduced that to a more manageable 19 hectares. In fact, GÉRALD’s 11 “lost” hectares have been very much found, rental agreements setting growers such as ANDREA CALEK [about 5 ha in 2007] and SYLVAIN BOCK [3 ha in 2011] en route.

ENORMOUS DEMAND, WORD OF MOUTH PROMPTS

“When I started to vinify in 1997, I wanted to make the most natural wines possible,” GÉRALD continues. “Mt father supported me in this. Our sales of around 20,000 bottles were actually not complicated – there was an enormous demand for VINS NATURES. We were not very expensive outside the region, but were expensive for this region. A lot of importer interest was drawn by the renown of JACQUES NÉAUPORT. Hence the buyers came here to see and to taste – which made it easy.”

GÉRALD is a busy, restless person, always on the trail of moving his approach forward to greater refinement. He speaks quickly, urgently even. Nothing is allowed to sit and just be. That is why he stopped the retourne of the soils 10 years ago. “I want to preserve the contact of the soil at the top with the air, while the soil below should stay in contact with its amoebas. One row in two is grassed now, one row in two has worked soils.”

BOURGUIGNONHÉRODY THE VINEYARD PROFS

The vineyard guru for many RHÔNE growers is CLAUDE BOURGUIGNON, his influence strong with vignerons such as JEAN-MICHEL STÉPHAN of CÔTE-RÔTIE in the North. In the SOUTHERN ARDÈCHE, there are around 15 vignerons and vigneronnes who have been trained with him and YVES HÉRODY, who is based at CHARENCY in the JURA region of Eastern France.

HÉRODY is a consultant, and much revered. His view is that the better one knows the soils, the better one can optimise them, so production is achieved that actually improves the soils. “A new model of understanding has been needed, since all the old models have failed, whether through destroying the soils or through insufficient levels of production,” he writes.

LET THE LAND, NOT THE PERSON, DO THE TALKING

His approach is an agriculture of optimisation – working with the natural functions of the soil to mobilise those elements that are indispensable to the plants/vines thanks to a well managed microbial activity, and also harnessing the notion of energy which defines the most efficient sources of alimentation. This is opposed to the more widespread agriculture of substitution, whereby what the plant lacks in the soil is replaced by the human hand – aka fertilisation. Let the land, not the person, do the talking, in other words.

DO NOT . . .

His list of what NOT to do makes for interesting reading. No-nos include:

Do not apply tired out compost, nor compost that is too old – apply the organic matter superficially, do not bury it

Do not apply massive doses of nitrogenous manure

Absolutely never apply lime to the soils

MOTIVATION, INSPIRATION OVER INTER GENERATIONAL DRUDGERY

One can well understand the zeal with which these youngish pioneers set off on their trail. Proper belief in what one is doing, a larger context for everyday activity. Contrast this with the relative drudgery of many growers who have wearily taken up the family baton across vineyards in FRANCE and the world over – duty prevailing over motivation.

These days, I see a generation of youngsters [relative to me, certainly] at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE who have the word Commitment emblazoned on their chests, those who want to make “better” wine, to be more sustainable, to explore further, who are not just looking at the bottom line.

One of the slow to disappear residues of the previous generation was trauma over loss of harvest – the 1970s and 1980s had been decades of chemical spraying since so many crops were lost or damaged in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, growers are starting to trust their own abilities to fashion a wine whatever the circumstances, in whatever quantity comes along. Superior vineyard care has already helped harvests to survive setbacks better than in the past.

I accept that this generation have an economic couch established that the previous generation didn’t always possess. But certainly, things are moving on from the clench of the past – shall we say the 1990s and 2000s - that stated that CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE must be extremely ripe, powerful, therefore high degree, full on, no hidden corners wine. Power over balance, strength over finesse – ce n’est plus le cas, thank goodness.

WHERE ELSE FOR VINS NATURES? HOW FEASIBLE?

VINS NATURES fit into this broader context of direct connection between grower and environment, greater traceability, more fun, too. Could there be more VINS NATURES elsewhere in the RHÔNE? Discussing CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, SOPHIE ARMENIER of the long-time biodynamic DOMAINE DE MARCOUX gave this observation: “the pH here is very high, 3.80 [low acidity, hindering longevity], for example, so it’s not evident. LIRAC has a lower pH, so there’s more chance there. CHÂTEAUNEUF is also meant to live for 20 years. We have lowered our SO2 thanks to my son VINCENT – now we apply the most after the malo, and a bit at bottling, a total of 50-55 mg. We can use less SO2 on our LIRAC and CÔTES DU RHONE because they are raised for a shorter time.”

ALMOST ALL ZERO ADDED SO2, VIN DE FRANCE

For everyday simplicity, nearly all these Zero added SO2 wines are VIN DE FRANCE, allowing growers more liberty with varieties than if they were IGP VIN DE PAYS. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the connecting theme that I have found very clearly is the good quality of the fruit. These are wines to drink young for the most part, while that fruit is buzzing along. There are some that, if well stored after a good, cool shipment, will evolve into greater complexity and foundation. The vines feeding them can also been decades old, the vineyards confidential given the rugged nature of the ARDÈCHE landscape that has not made it prey to large scale farming.

In the winemaking, the common theme is after hand harvesting, work with wild yeasts, nothing cultured. Whole bunch fermentations, often macération carbonique, are frequent. Raising is in vat, or used oak. New oak is very rare. There is no tinkering with acidity, no chaptalisation. No fining nor filtration. Multiple wines per domaine, too: small lots of each. Funky wine names and designs on labels. One could say that “in every bottle of VIN NATURE, there is an ARTISTE trying to get out.”

SELECTION OF DOMAINES

I will now give a snapshot of the best domaines I have so far encountered. They are mostly in the ARDÈCHE, where limestone-clay is the predominant terroir, with some old volcanic basalt around ALBA and LUSSAS, where vineyards stand at 400 metres and at SCEAUTRES, at 300 metres. “Basalt’s manganese, iron side brings fertility to the soils; the powder of basalt energises soils on its own, naturally, unlike limestone soils that can need nitrogen and working to activate them,” states SYLVAIN BOCK. Differences with the main RHÔNE VALLEY include less direct MISTRAL wind, and higher altitudes, certainly when compared to the sprawling left bank VAUCLUSE region.

DOMAINE DES ACCOLES, S ARDÈCHE

1st vintage 2010, 21.5 hectares, low SO2 use. Worked in BURGUNDY at DOMAINE DE L’ARLOT. Wines show their ability to achieve finesse, with the whites notable, and the CARIGNAN NOIR [1960s] a triumph – elegant, tender. Check out the GRENACHE GRIS called L’INATTENDU, the 2015 ****.

LAURA AILLAUD, VAUCLUSE

1st vintage 2017, rented vineyards. Ex-sommelière, rare in the LUBÉRON to be a vigneronne who uses SO2, but very limited amou1st vintage 2010; nts - 10 mg/litre. Mix of VIN DE FRANCE and LUBÉRON. Note LUBÉRON LONG COURRIER RED [50% late 1960s GRENACHE, 25% SYRAH, 25% 1970s CAB SAUV], 2017**** fruit energy, most engaging.

SYLVAIN BOCK, S ARDÈCHE

1st vintage 2010; impetus with 3 hectares rented from LE MAZEL in 2011, now 6.5 hectares, inc 2.5 ha on basalt at SCEAUTRES. Hail attacks 2016-2017 prompted small merchant business to secure wine to sell. Provocative wines, remind me of racy, terroir approach of the likes of CHRISTOPHE BARON at CAYUSE, USA. Basalt wine NECK RED [100% early 1970s GRENACHE] was STGT **** in 2018, though from 2018 vintage, no year put on labels, just a code on back label. SUCK A ROCK [mid-1970s MERLOT, stony limestone soils] a BURGUNDIAN take, very good **** RHÔNE MERLOT, in 2016. Many wines, much investigation worthwhile

ANDREA CALEK, S ARDÈCHE

Czech, based at ALBA, has a devoted following, with creative labelling and fruit delivered with brio. Many wines. Given impetus with 5 hectares from LE MAZEL in 2007. Note BABIOLE RED, 2018 **** w.o.w. wine, BLONDE WHITE, mainly VIOGNIER, 2017 **** free, racy, a wine of verve.  

JÉRÔME JOURET, S ARDÈCHE

1st vintage 2006. Old mixed family farm [almonds, goats, cows, vines]. 8 hectares, clay-limestone at 300-380 metres, so natural freshness. Interesting PAS À PAS RED, 70% CARIGNAN [1952], 30% ALICANTE [1977], 2018 **** supple, aromatic, w.o.w. wine. “I seek fluidity, not too much tannin.”

LES DEUX TERRES, S ARDÈCHE

1st vintage 2009, 13.5 hectares, clay-limestone for part, basalt soils for other part. Major call-out for the LA REBOULE RED, given it’s 60% early 1990s MERLOT [a variety I am rarely comfortable with in the RHÔNE] from basalt at 400 metres, fermented by macération carbonique, the fruit entertaining, a w.o.w. wine. Also ZIG-ZAG RED [50% 1970s GRENACHE, 50% SYRAH, 25% used oak casks], well filled, dark fruit, structure.

LES VIGNEAUX, S ARDÈCHE

Decades with family vineyards, 1st vintage bottled 1995, 12 hectares, neighbour of LE MAZEL. Both organic and biodynamic. 1ST family to plant CHARDONNAY at VALVIGNÈRES in 1987. A shout out for their PINOT NOIR [often overwhelmed in the RHÔNE] DU BOUT DES DOIGTS, on quite deep, fresh clay-limestone, semi carbonic vinification, 2018 **** floral, joli, tasty core, w.o.w. wine. The GRAIN…CHEUX RED [late 1970s GRENACHE] comes with mystery, complexity, the 2017 **** and capable of living well.

MAS D’INTRAS, S ARDÈCHE

Most wines IGP ARDÈCHE, some zero added SO2. 25 hectares, organic since 2009. 12 wines, trademark purity and clarity, encouraged by clay-limestone soils at 250 metres. The vat-only CARIGNAN expresses finesse, with CARIGNAN fibre, the 2017 ***(*) wine for la table.

LE MAZEL, S ARDÈCHE

GÉRALD and sister JOCELYNE OUSTRIC. 1st vintage 1997. 19 hectares, classic ARDÈCHE clay-limestone with some stones. There is more structure, and hence longevity, in these wines, compared to many of the start-ups that favour immediate bottling and drinking of their wines. Note the VIOGNIER [2018 **** grounded, character], GRENACHE CUVÉE BRIAND [1954, 1976 notably, 2015 **** spine, strength], SYRAH CUVÉE LARMANDE [1958, 1978, 2015 **** expressive, nuanced].

THE 2018 VINTAGE

ANTONIN AZZONI, LE RAISIN ET L’ANGE: “there was a lot of spring rain in 2018; then from mid-June, it became very dry until early August. There was very heavy rain of 180 mm (7.2 in) on 10 August, which expanded the grapes. The trouble was, the skins didn’t ripen as much, so the outcome was a lot of sugar, and not very ripe skins. That meant I performed shorter vinifications.”

SYLVAIN BOCK: “there was more mildew to the south of us in 2018. We are a bit later ripening, so temperatures for mildew weren’t so bad as down there – our “tropical Vietnam” phase wasn’t during flowering. There’s a lack of acidity and freshness, but the wines aren’t too bad under analysis. It’s a vintage of finesse, a lot of fruit – 2017 was more rich, more substantial, and you should drink 2018 before 2017.”

CHRISTOPHE COMTE, LES VIGNEAUX: “2018 is a fresh enough vintage, easy to drink, the wines gourmand. We lost 30% from the mildew.”

JÉRÔME JOURET: “2018 was a complicated year, but the wines are elegant. We lost 25% of the Grenache.”

SOME LEADING 2018 VIN DE FRANCE/IGP VIN DE PAYS REDS

**** Sylvain Bock VdFr Neck  2026-27 05/19 life, kick, serene depth, STGT
**** Andrea Calek VdFr Babiole 2023-24 02/19 naked, energy, w.o.w.
**** Domaine Charvin IGP Orange à coté  2029-31 10/19 enjoyable fruit, pleasure, depth
**** Les Deux Terres VdFr La Reboule 2022 02/19 entertaining fruit, firm flow
**** Les Deux Terres VdFr Silène 2026-27 02/20 sparky nose, live dark length 
**** Les Deux Terres VdFr Zig-Zag 2024 02/19 good filling, bright, ensemble
**** Dom de Ferrand VdFr L.126 by Ferrand 2022 10/19 verve, purity, zero SO2, w.o.w.
**** C & J Grieco VdFr Debut d’une histoire 2027-28 05/19 fruit appeal, vivid, off piste
**** Jérôme Jouret VdFr Pas à Pas 2022  02/19 supple, fine, aromatic, w.o.w.
**** Les Vigneaux VdFr Du bout des doigts 2021-22 05/19 floral, joli Pinot noir, w.o.w.
***(*) Laura Aillaud VdFr terre à terre  2022  02/19  clear, peppery, nicely natural 
***(*) Sylvain Bock VdFr Fruit jazz   2021-22  05/19  floral, free fruir, w.o.w. 
***(*) Brunier IGP Vaucluse Le Pigeoulet des Brunier 2023 10/19 joli fruit, dash, drinkability
***(*) Andrea Calek VdFr A Toi Nous   2021  02/19  cosy fruit, juicy appeal 
***(*) Clos des Mourres VdFr A Table! 2023 02/20 free bursting fruit, has beat
***(*) Dom Dieulefit IGP Medit Amour de fruit  2021  02/19  soft, floral, cool, w.o.w. 
***(*) La Durbane VdFr Hédoniste Syrah 2022 06/20 primary fruit, fluid, plump, w.o.w.
***(*) Dom du Joncier VdFr L’O de Joncier  2021  02/19  tender; v likeable fruit 
***(*) Jérôme Jouret VdFr En avant doute  2023-24  02/19  discreet muscle 
***(*) Jérôme Jouret VdFr Java   2021  02/19  juicy channels, good core 
***(*)  Dom des Maravilhas VdFr Alice  04/2020  02/19  spiced, cool, exuberant 
***(*) Famille Perrin VdFr L'Oustalet 2022 10/19 fine, fresh, has verve
***(*)  Dom Rabasse Charavin VdFr Ribouldingue  2021  03/19  sleek fruit, v tasty, V 
***(*)  Les Vigneaux VdFr Salto   2022  05/19  suave texture, tasty, pleasing 
***(*)  Les Vigneaux VdFr Syrah   2022  05/19  fruit tingle, fresh, structure 
***(*)  Mas de Libian VdFr Vin de Pétanque  2022  02/19  fine fruits, aromatic, w.o.w. 
***  Laura Aillaud VdFr tout feu tout femme  2021  02/19  joli fruit, hands off style 
*** Dom Chaume-Arnaud IGP Medit Pontias 2021 03/19 spiced, upfront fruit, lift
***  Les Deux Terres VdFr Vin Nu   2022-23  02/19  solid, grippy, red fruits 
*** Domaine de la Graveirette VdFr Ju de Vie 2023 02/20 spiced, fluid, plump, salted
*** Jérôme Jouret VdFr La Coulée Douce 2023-24 02/19 vibrant fruit, grippy, dark
***  Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Grenache  2021  02/19  fresh, peppery, dentelle 
***  Montirius IGP Vaucluse Les Violettes   2022  02/19  mild gras, clarity 
***  Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Fable  2021-22  02/19  peppery, streaming, perlant  
***  Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Hommage Robert  2021  02/19  direct, ferrous, naked 
*** Domaine du Trapadis VdFr Esprit 2024 02/20 brothy, some fruit intensity
*** Famille Pierre Usseglio VdFr L'Unique 2026-27 10/19 weight, spice, scale, gasping
***  Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Syrah  2022  05/19  gourmand, willing, savoury 
**(*) Mas Théo V dFr P'tit Gaby 2021 02/20 v peppery, loose, on the edge
**(*)  Montirius IGP Vaucluse Le Cadet   2021  02/19  raw fruit, grippy 
**(*)  Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr Brân   late 20  02/19  tinny, uneven, some gras 
**(*)  Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Nature Vautour  2023  05/19  fleshy, red-fruited 

SOME 2018 VIN DE FRANCE/IGP VIN DE PAYS WHITES

**** Le Mazel VdFr Mias Viognier 2025-26 05/19 character, strength, firm gras
****  Brunier IGP Vaucluse Le Pigeoulet des Brunier 2026-27  10/19  direct gras, garrigue, genuine 
***(*) Sylvain Bock VdFr Faux sans blanc  2021 05/19 juicy, free wheeling, tasty
***(*) Clos des Mourres VdFr Pompette  end 20 02/19 joli fat, soft n’easy
***(*) Domaine du Joncier VdFr lumen 2024-25 02/20 oxidative, but lucid, character
***(*) Les Deux Terres VdFr Vin Nu 2020-21 02/19 juicy, liberal, fleshy
***(*) La Durbane VdFr Hédoniste Viognier mid-21 06/20 rolling, generous, suave, table
***(*)

Famille Perrin VdFr L'Oustalet

end 21 10/19 soft, tender; saltiness
***(*) Les Vigneaux VdFr Viognier  2022 05/19 tasty, suave texture, nice length
***(*) Raisin et Ange A Azzoni VdFr nedjma end 2020  02/19 clear drinking, salted, fresh
*** Les Deux Terres VdFr L’Adret 2024 02/19 butty, knit, has fond 
*** Dom Grange Blanche IGP Vaucluse Viognier 2021 03/19 soft, compote, immediate
*** Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Chardonnay  07/20 02/19 fat, ripe, easy to like
*** Mas de Libian IGP Cotx Ardèche Cave Vinum  2020  02/19 soft centre, early wine
**(*) Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Montagnère 04/20 02/19 soft, supple, low acidity
** Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Salamandre 2021  05/19 fair gras, but hesitant 
** Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche Viognier 2020-21 05/19 candy flavour, excess power
** Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Viognier mid-20 02/19 uneven, here and there

SOME 2018 VIN DE FRANCE/IGP VIN DE PAYS ROSÉS

***(*) Domaine Jean David VdFr Janot mid 20 02/19 soft fruits, glides, pleases
***(*) Mas d’Intras IGP Ardèche Champ Filles  04/2020 02/19 clear, soft, inviting, w.o.w.
***(*) Les Pallières VdFr au petit bonheur 2020 10/19 fine freshness, toot, toot
*** Laura Aillaud VdFr entre deux eaux 2020 02/19 easy, clear drinking
*** Dom Dieulefit IGP Medit Amour de Fruit  04/2020 02/19 red fruits, tender, soft 
*** Mas de Libian VdFr Bout d’Zan  2020 02/19 soft; easy drinking
**(*) Domaine Vigne IGP Ardèche P’tit  04/2020 05/19 juicy, up front, unusual 


2018 TAVEL

EARLY 2000s GRENACHE & CINSAULT, EAST FACING, ON LES VESTIDES, ONE OF THE HIGHEST VINEYARDS AT TAVEL, DOMAINE DE L'ANGLORE VINEYARDS ON LAUZES, CHIPPED LIMESTONE SOILS 

With mildew decimating some of the vineyards across the river at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, there was a brighter picture at TAVEL in 2018. Indeed, the GARD [30], right bank, profile was considerably different to that of the VAUCLUSE [84]. Rain came during the leaf, vegetative phase, with bunches not yet formed, which was the decisive factor for the vignerons of the right bank. Correct doses of copper were used, around 4 to 4.5 kg, with green harvesting also performed to help to avoid mildew.

ROBUST CLADDING IN THE 2018s

As a result, yields were only a little down, but the high heat of the mid to late summer certainly marked the wines, bringing robust cladding to them. Growers seeking a PROVENCE rosé style were therefore going against nature’s flow if they sought lightweight, skipping styles, and I certainly found in my tasting – a high 45 wines or so – that the 2018 collection showed more red-hued robes than in the previous few years - a slight return to TAVEL à table wines for several.

A DISCUSSION ON VINEYARD WORK NOW THE SUMMERS ARE SO HOT, AND HARVESTS "EARLY" COMPARED TO THE PAST

Vineyard work has been evolving given recent incidences of very high heat and very dry summers, and I talked at some length with ÉRIC PFIFFERLING, who is organic, and uses very little SO2, about this, as we walked around his vineyards. “Some of the pruning that would have been done in January is now more like 10 April,” he related. “That means there’s a large interval across the pruning dates, so ripening doesn’t come at the same moment – you spread out the flowering, and it aids you to achieve different ripeness levels. For instance, you can prune early on the precocious vineyards, or leave the fresher, cooler vineyards for later.

I have early ripening plots on VAUCROSE [red clay, some galet stones] and LES SABLES[sandy]. In the past I would even prune these around mid-December, whereas now I prune them in March, expressly to delay the ripening. Then there’s a plot here that I prune at the end of January – early, because there are often blockages in its ripening, which means that we can harvest at 13° to 13.5°, with no imbalance. We also harvest our four weeks.

This approach cannot be done by the big system domaines,” he continued; "we have been working like this for two to three years now.” ERIC has been joined by his two sons THIBAULT (July 1991) and JORIS (April 1994) since 2015 and late 2016 respectively, which has allowed such an increase in detail.

Looking further back, ERIC also reflected: “when I started at the end of the 1980s, there was more regularity from one vintage to the next – you didn’t have to take such measures.” As for soil work, ERIC states that “it’s important to cultivate the soils, to perform agriculture, and to eliminate the problem of erosion and competition to the vines. Hence freeing up and loosening the soils can eliminate the pressure of grasses on the vines. Having forests fringe the vineyards is also necessary if you want water to be present – the woods fabricate the water, and transfer it. The soil can then retain organic, bacterial matter close to the vine. With no woods around it, TAVEL becomes a desert.”

GOBELET BETTER THAN WIRE-TRAINED VINES

ERIC also takes issue with wire-trained vineyards – “they consume more water than Gobelet-trained vines [which stand alone]. On wires, there is much more distance between leaves and soils – you expand across rather than up – the latter being what Gobelet represents. The wire-trained vines are all exposed, but get through more water.”

ERIC has a vineyard on EYROLLE [chipped limestone, termed LAUZES, very stony soils] at LIRAC planted between 1971 and 1973 by my old chum CHARLES PONS-MURE, who was an adventurer and larger than life character, who came to LIRAC in the late 1960s having lost the family vineyards near ORAN after the Algerian War of Independence. “He was very wise in planting at a low density of 3,000 plants per hectare,” ERIC told me. “He got it right – it’s not a question of playing catch-up with irrigation because of the dense modern planting; it’s better to simply plant fewer plants per hectare.”

SUPERB 2018 CINSAULT

The oldest ANGLORE GRENACHE dates from 1953-54, and forms the base of their two cuvées, the regular one [all raised tronconic oak vat, 18-20,000 bottles] and the longer raised blue label wine [raised half concrete vat, half tronconic oak vat, 3-5,000 bottles]. ERIC finds the 2018s wines come “with a good level of ripeness, gras richness, and also loose enough to be enjoyable. The CINSAULT was superb, especially from the lauzes [chipped limestone] soils, no health problems there. The degree runs between 13° and 13.5°, and I find the 2018s digestible, that helped by all the early rains – there’s less dry matter in the wines than there was in 2016 and 2017.”

GOOD COLLECTION OF ORGANIC DOMAINES AT TAVEL NOW, WINE SELLS FOR c7% MORE

ERIC is one of several organic growers at TAVEL now, which is encouraging. Others are the CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE, CHÂTEAU DE MANISSY, CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL, DOMAINE DES CARABINIERS, DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE, DOMAINE FLORENCE MÉJAN [now sold and divided up, including to GENESTIÈRE and ANGLORE], DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE, DOMAINE MOULIN-LA-VIGUERIE, the PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES and the DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE.

There is a slight premium for the organic TAVEL over what the French term the conventional – the average price per hectolitre on bulk wine transactions between August 2018 and May 2019 being €342.6 for the organic, and €318.80 for the conventional, 7% or so extra. 44% of TAVEL is sold in bulk – merchants such as OGIER, VIDAL-FLEURY, GUIGAL, LAVAU, TARDIEU-LAURENT and CHAPOUTIER to the fore.

TRICKY EARLY SEASON, MILDEW HOVERING

From the organic DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE, SÉVÉRINE LEMOINE gave me a full rundown from her point of view; she favours elegance over power in her wines, of which there are two cuvées. “With reference to the weather, it was a very tense start to the growing season,” she told me, “especially as we work organically. It rained all though weekdays, then it was OK to treat on a Saturday, which we did – then off went the rain again.

The mildew didn’t spread to the bunches, and the climate then turned in our favour, meaning well placed rainfalls during July and August – a strong storm on 15 August was a great help if your vineyard hadn’t already been hit by mildew. There was a hot spell in July, that came with cool nights.

It wasn’t a precocious year, with the harvest at the end of August. 2017 had been picked mid-August, earlier. The harvest turned out to be healthy, and not a lot of sorting/discarding was required. My quantity was similar to 2016. During the season, the soils weren’t looked after, because you had to get crop in, and not touch the soils in favour of making the harvest secure – that was the number one priority above all. Hence after the harvest, there was a lot of work to do on the soils. Healthy crop, dirty soils was the safe option.

2018 MUCH DIFFERENT TO 2017

As for the style of the wine, with 2017 a year of a very small harvest, and floral, live, balanced wines, 2018 presents a different profile. The wines are evolving now, in early summer 2019 – there’s fruit, not bad quality fruit, with more spice than usual. They are only quite fresh on the palate, and may not live that long, since it’s a low acidity vintage, with some oxidative notes. I know that there have been some stoppages of fermentation, though not for me.”

RICHARD MABY admitted that “this year we lost 25% of the harvest, but at least that was better than 2017, when we lost 45%. The harvest was very ripe, and that is reflected in the wines. Hence, it’s a vintage that is different from usual, one with less fresh fruit, and lower acidity than normal. We let our macerations last longer in order to help the structure of the wine, encouraging a move towards tannin to help its foundation.”

FORTUNATE AUGUST RAINFALL

A couple of growers signalled the August rainfall as being beneficial in 2018, with the cheery, rock music-loving BRICE BEAUMONT, based in LIRAC, telling me: “it’s a year of very supple feel, full on its fruit. We had the luck to have 100 mm (4 in) of rain in three to four falls in mid to late August, so avoided blockages of ripening, and I harvested from 4 September onwards.”

PASCAL LAFOND of the high quality organic DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE has been joined by the next generation in the shape of FRANÇOIS and JEAN-BAPTISTE recently, and gave this summary: “I am confident about quality. We had a rainfall of 100 mm (4 ins) on 10 August, rain over several hours, with no hail, after six weeks of extreme high heat. The yield is correct, on the mark. We didn’t suffer too badly in the GARD from mildew – it was greater at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE.”

A COUPLE OF OUSTANDING 2018s, BOTH WITH A STRONG BACK STORY

2018 features a few – not many - outstanding, fully dimensional top grade wines, which are the complete package, with wholesome palates, good freshness and balance, and very good length. The two ****(*) wines are CHÂTEAU LA GENESTIÈRE and DOMAINE LE VIEUX MOULIN, the former STGT, the latter w.o.w.

In the first edition of THE WINES OF THE RHÔNE [1973-74], I wrote: “the best TAVEL of all comes from a domaine just outside the village, M.GEORGES BERNARD’s DOMAINE DE LA GENESTIÈRE. His wine is outstanding. Beautifully pink in colour, it has a perfect balance of fruit and finesse which makes it a joy to drink. In more peaceful days [before Pol Pot and the time of the Killing Fields, JL-L], his wine would regularly go as far abroad as CAMBODIA, and more than 25,000 of his 35,000 bottles annually are sold to the Chinese restaurant trade in PARIS.”

The VIEUX MOULIN was one of the leading names at TAVEL when I first visited in 1973, under GABRIEL ROUDIL, with around 50 hectares. I call the ROUDILs Royalty of TAVEL, one of the bedrock families over the decades. Their wines were firm, full, and heavier than others. Until the late-1970s they would raise the wine in oak casks for two to three months.

PLENTY OF **** WINES TO CHOOSE FROM

Then there are very good 2018 wines, which deliver attractive, peppy fruit and good body for la table, the full range of Mediterranean dishes in view. These wines situate around **** and include two STGT wines, the CELLIER DES CHARTREUX domaine wine, the DOMAINE LES HAUTES ROCHES and the CO-OPERATIVE of TAVEL & LIRAC’s wine from the lauzes soils, called LES LAUZERAIES. It is commendable that the now combined CO-OPERATIVE also came up with two other **** wines, the CUVÉE ROYALE from galet stone covered clay-limestone soils, and the TRÉSOR DES SABLES, the latter from sandy soils.

WINES WITH FAULTS, TOO, CAN BE DULL

2018 is a vintage with faults, so there are some humdrum wines that don’t inspire – safe, but dull. One or two lean towards early oxidation. There is the clumsy use of carbonic gas in one or two. I reckon 2018 is a vintage to drink up: usually TAVEL will drink fine over three to four years, but I would term 2018 an early drinking year, unlike the very well-filled 2016s, for example.

PARISH NEWS, INC SALES & PURCHASES

Turning to parish announcements and matters, M. CHRISTIAN LATOUCHE of FIDUCIAL has bought a few domaines at TAVEL, notably the CHÂTEAU DE LA GENESTIÈRE, the vineyards of the SEIGNEUR DE VAUCROZE, followed, most recently, by the DOMAINE DE TOURTOUIL of CHRISTINE LEFÈVRE. He is now the second largest producer of TAVEL behind the CO-OPÉRATIVE.

Other recent changes have been the sale of the cellars of the DOMAINE FLORENCE MÉJAN, bought by ERIC PFIFFERLING, who has his two sons now working with him. Around half of the 36-hectare MÉJAN vineyard was bought by M. LATOUCHE, who is apparently an amateur of TAVEL, catching the bug from his father who liked to drink it. The CAVE DE TAVEL picked up 9+ hectares, with ERIC PFIFFERLING satisfied with his 1.4 hectare of 1940 vines. The DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE, with two sons on the go now, also stepped in to buy around 5 hectares on the sandy and prized LE SAUVAGE site at LAUDUN.

MARCEL GUIGAL has reduced his TAVEL purchases – his regular source has been MONIQUE FRAISSINET, who has described the visits of ETIENNE GUIGAL and his son MARCEL, followed by MARCEL and his son PHILIPPE, as always “un grand jour” over the decades that she has worked with them. I am told – not checked – that GUIGAL no longer buys from her, which may explain my disappointment with their 2018 TAVEL.

TAVEL REVERTING TO THE FULL TABLE WINE OF YORE, AWAY FROM PROVENCE

Since 2016 or so, there has been more confidence, and a concerted strategy, to re-stamp TAVEL as the full-bodied, red-hued table rosé of former times – before the PROVENCE ROSÉ invasion. The image of a CRU on its own terms is foremost once more, which makes sense. Increased purchases by OGIER, the CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE based merchant, as well as an upping of quantity by the local CELLIER DES CHARTREUX, which sells the wine of the CHRISTOPHE CHAUDEYRAC-owned DOMAINE LES HAUTES ROCHES, CHRISTOPHE now a Vice-President of the TAVEL SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, taking over from the former President, GAËL PETIT of the excellent DOMAINE MOULIN LA VIGUERIE. No-one wanted to be full-time President, so there is just the V-P for now.

It is also said that the PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES is for sale. It is part of the RICHARD coffee empire, along with CHÂTEAU DE LA NERTHE at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE and the VAUCLUSE [84] based DOMAINE DE LA RENJARDE at MASSIF D’UCHAUX.

LEADING 2018 TAVEL ROSÉS

****(*) Château La Genestière  2022 05/19 rich, tasty, high quality, STGT
****(*) Domaine Le Vieux Moulin  2022 05/19 stylish, tasty, salted, w.o.w.
**** Cellier Chartreux Dom Hautes Roches 2021 05/19 fresh, live, genuine. STGT
**** M Chapoutier Beaurevoir 2021 06/19 vivid fruit, genuine, la table
**** Château de Ségriès  2021 05/19 bonny fruit, style, suave 
**** Chât Trinquevedel Les Vignes d'Eugène  2023-24 07/20 serene, spiced, close packing
**** Domaine Amido Les Amandines  2021 05/19 trim, live, can be stylish
**** Domaine de L'Anglore L'Anglore blue label 2023-24 05/19 stylish gras, tender length
**** Domaine de L'Anglore Vintage pink label 2024-25 05/19 solid heart, gradual developer
**** Domaine des Carabiniers   2021 05/19 sunny, succulent, nourishing
**** Domaine Corne-Loup  2021 05/19 live, stylish, authentic
**** Domaine des Muretins    2021 05/19 firm content, snug, long
**** Alain Jaume Le Crétacé   late 20 05/19 style, length, mineral clarity
**** Dom de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse 2021 05/19 stylish, nicely fat, jaunty 
**** Dom de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois  2022 05/19 vivid, fuelled, ample 
**** Ogier Etamines  2021 05/19 refined, genuine, light spice
**** Domaine Saint-Ferréol  2021 05/19 gourmand, sleek, balance, length
**** Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Cuvée Royale 2021 05/19 pleasure, fresh lining, w.o.w.
**** Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Les Lauzeraies 2022 05/19 freighted, true, convincing, STGT
**** Vignerons Tavel & Lirac Trésor des Sables 2021 05/19 neat gras, salted, savoury
***(*) Château d’Aquéria  2021  05/19  upfront, driving, good bundle 
***(*)  Château de Manissy Langoustière    mid 20  05/19  fleshy, sweet, plump 
***(*)  Château de Manissy Trinité   mid 20  05/19  comfortable depth, mild drinking  
***(*)  Domaine Amido Les Gourmandines   late 20  05/19  squelchy, supple, plump 
***(*)  Lavau   2021  05/19  refined fruit, bonny freshness
***(*)  Ogier Héritages   2021  05/19  good fruit level, has kick  
***(*)  Vidal-Fleury   2021  06/19  appealing, gentle  
***(*)  Vignobles & Cie Les Combelles   2021  05/19  local weight, low-key 
***(*)  Vignobles & Cie Réserve des Chastelles   2021  05/19  suave content, fleshy, fresh 
***  Arnoux Vieux Clocher Remus Tradition   2021  05/19  juicy, open, one dimensional 
***  Chateau de Trinquevedel   mid 20  05/19  firm, close-knit 
***  Domaine Brice Beaumont   mid 20 05/19 consistent fruit, freshness?? 
***  Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Esprit   2024-25  05/19  vinous, oaked, nutty, table 
***  Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine   2021  05/19  compact, butty, nuggety fruit 
***  Domaine Maby La Forcadière   04/20  05/19  mild, plump, downbeat 
***  Domaine Maby Prima Donna   2021  05/19  manly, muscular, firm, power 
***  Gabriel Meffre Saint-Ferréol   2021  05/19  tangy, cool, pared back  
***  Domaine Pelaquié   mid 20  05/19  light richness, correct 
***  Domaine La Rocalière le Classique   mid 20  05/19 spiced, tangy, lacks lift 
***  Rocca Maura Domaine Laurent   2021  05/19  plump, fat, bit ponderous 
***  Domaine le Vieux Moulin My Tavel   late 20  05/19  supple, simple; soft berries 
**(*)  Ch de Trinquevedel AutrementTavel   late 20  05/19  low flesh, gas distracts 
**(*)  E Guigal   2021  06/19  subdued fruit, compact, stubborn  
**(*)  Domaine La Rocalière Perle de Culture   mid 20  05/19  soda pop, low-key