Login | Subscribe
twitter

LES VINS NATURELS 

SOME 2010 TASTINGS

2007 Dard & Ribo Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée K white: exotic, fascinating

2007 Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Vin de Pays de l`Ardèche white: delicious, classy

2009 Domaine Gramenon Poignée des Raisins Côtes du Rhône red: w.o.w., fab drinking

2000 Dard & Ribo St-Joseph Cuvée Pitrou white: suited to cèpes (wild mushrooms, in season now, but served with no garlic), also cauliflower crème and terrine of black pudding (boudin)

1998 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône red: classic wine, beautiful 

BUT. . . 1999 Dard & Ribo Hermitage red: volatile, and shouldn`t be at 11 years if made with more SO2. Hence no access to secondary complexity.

Intellectually, I lean towards Les Vins Naturels. Let René-Jean Dard of the Crozes-Hermitage Domaine Dard & Ribo explain the terminology: "Japan started this. My ex-wife is Japanese, and we have always sold a lot of wine to Japan since 1996. They termed our wine "vin naturel" or "natural wine", and that was the first time we heard that title. They also have their own word for "buvabilité", (which phonetically sounds like Nomiasugui - Japanese subscribers, please advise)!

The "naturel" refers to organic through and through, both in the vineyard, but especially in the cellar, where machine use and mechanical intervention is not applied, and where the application of sulphur dioxide - sulphites on the labels - is eschewed, or only used in tiny amounts. Legally in the European Union, the grower is obliged to put "contains sulphites" on the label if the wine contains more than 10 mg per litre of SO2. As a drinker, especially if you were asthmatic, you would pick up on 30 mg of SO2 in a bottle - it might make you sneeze, or would give the smell of bad eggs, or a sort of sherbet.

Sulphur dioxide is a minuscule by-product of any fermentation, but winemakers know that if not used, there is a risk that bacteria, unwanted yeasts, and oxidation can occur in the resultant wine. Unwanted yeasts in a bottle on a hot quayside would equal re-fermentation, for instance. The school favouring les vins naturels argue quite with reason that the skins and stems of red grapes provide anti-oxidant agents by themselves. So for them, it is criminal to cultivate lovely healthy grapes and then apply outside agents that are really only there for commercial imperative, or as risk insurance. If that conflicts with one`s philosophy on life and indeed ecology, then SO2 is dressed in black, but does not have the salvation of a Zorro cape and mask, or whip, for that matter.

In early December 2009, I asked for a bottle of 2006 Côtes du Rhône Les Laurentides to taste from Tanners, the exemplary, long-established wine merchants in Shrewsbury, north-west England. It arrived the next day by courier mail, but was undrinkable. Here is its tasting note: No Rating: quite deep purple that is evolving at the top. Wide, open bouquet - ripe cherry aroma with a liqueur/eau de vie cross, has good depth. The palate lives on a "steely" encasing of tannin and also a nerve of alcohol towards the finish. Solid wine with a quite smooth outer surface texture. The fruit recedes at the finish at first, then after 1 hour, it starts to re-ferment, has a leesy aftertaste. Was delivered here in Sussex today from Shropshire, and has not survived the shaking up and travel. 14°. £15.60 from Tanners.  Dec 2009. Hence I could not review this wine for any article I wanted to write.

A second example since then came in mid-March, 2010, with a bottle of 2007 Côtes du Rhône Le Gramenon, which was fizzy when drunk with friends. This had been delivered by the local wine merchant that day, travelling about 10 miles. It was still unstable the following day.

Now, imagine you are eating in Ludlow, in Shropshire, a little south of Shewsbury - a superb collection of watering holes, blessed with Slow Food principles, local produce, all the modern virtues of responsible suppliers and chefs. Also a most charming racecourse (speed horses favoured over outright gallopers). At your dinner table, the Laurentides would be priced at around £40. Some diners would send it back, others would not. The former group would have a delay and hassle in discussing the merits or otherwise of the faulty bottle, the latter group would perhaps find the wine an uneasy match for their dishes, and feel unwell subsequently. The sommelier might genuinely say, "well, well, that is the first bottle like this," which could well be the case. Either way one looks at this, it is a minefield, with the well-worn Latin phrase CAVEAT EMPTOR (buyer beware) attached to it. What a lot of trouble.

That is the rub when extolling these wines. Dard & Ribo have longstanding relationships with the restaurant trade in Paris, and thus they have sellers of their wines who understand them, and can explain their merits and proclivities to their diners. That is vital in this transaction between seller and buyer. Most of the Dard & Ribo French wine sales occur in Paris, in fact, with the Bistral, 80 rue Lemercier, 75017 Paris, near Montmartre, or the tiny La Garde Robe, 41 rue de l`Arbre Sec, 75001 Paris, near Les Halles and the Louvre, or Le Repaire de Cartouche, 8 blvd des Filles-du-Calvaire if you like the top entrance 75011 Paris. +33147 00 25 86 as examples.

"Most of our wine is sold to the CHR (Café, Hotel, Restaurant) trade - even 97%," says René-Jean. "There can be a bit of carbonic gas in the reds, so we sell to restaurants who understand. The gas is used to preserve freshness, and enhance the brightness of fruit, and is the hallmark of many of these Vins Naturels, with seepage into the mainstream in recent times.

They also like to get on and drink their own wines, favouring spontaneous conviviality over awed obeisance or contemplation. Thus "laying down" wine is not their habit: " It`s amazing that people often drink a wine that is good, but they then say "it will be even better with more time."

"The true keeping wines in the region are the whites," affirms René-Jean Dard - a point with which I am in some agreement, having recall of the glorious 1929 white Hermitage of J-L Chave drunk in its sixties, and, if we are going to stray south, the fantastic 1934 white Châteauneuf-du-Pape of Domaine Roger Sabon, also drunk well into its sixties. "Vins de garde - keeping wines - are more from their vinification than their terroir, from their tannic extraction and so on, indeed it is a fabricated keeping that is going on. Buvabilité - drinkability - is what counts," he states quite categorically.

Implicit in these comments is criticism of oenologues, who can often be the tail wagging the dog that is a wine domaine. I visit some estates, especially in the Southern Rhône, where a prominent oenologue turns up on the day of my visit, and when I ask my questions looking at Monsieur and Madame, it is he who replies. As a later member of the Vin Naturel Club, Jean-Michel Stéphan started with an oenologue in the early 1990s, but that changed in 2003. "I got rid of my oenologue," he says - "oenologues want to sterilise wine. They put chemical products in to be sure about the wine. At Wine School, the young place confidence in them, but they shouldn`t. Learning is not mathematical." Wham!

On sulphur use, François Ribo waxes somewhat lyrical: "you penetrate a world of tastes and odours if you work without sulphur - you touch something particular, not like wines that have been more worked on. You can get to the heart of what you drink." If I give the Dard & Ribo reds a simple tag these days, it is aromatic fruit, a close connection to what is found at Gramenon.

Michèle Aubéry-Laurent of Domaine Gramenon, the inspiration for low or no sulphur dioxide in the Southern Rhône, is clear that risks can occur. She cites the 1997 vintage, which was very delicate. "The Mémé Côtes du Rhône was as usual free of SO2, but we had lots of problems with it, including a reprise of fermentation. By contrast, the Sagesse Côtes du Rhône, which in that year was given SO2, tasted perfect 10-plus years later."

There follows a little close-up on each of these estates, and if looking through all their tasting notes, you will find above-average reference to STGT and w.o.w., the two key categories of drinrhone.com. There are the two early pathfinders, Dard & Ribo in the Northern Rhône, Domaine Gramenon in the Southern Rhône, and Jean-Michel Stéphan, a second wave practitioner at Côte-Rôtie. Other domaines with similar hands-off mentality include Thiérry Allemand at Cornas, Romaneaux-Destezet of Hervé and Béatrice Souhaut at Saint-Joseph and the Ardèche, Stéphane Othéguy at Côte-Rôtie, the successor to Vincent Gasse, and Jean-Pierre Monier of Domaine Monier-Pérreol at Saint-Joseph. There are plenty of others, but the vogue for converting to organic, and then when that becomes too competitive a bracket, for moving on to biodynamic, clouds the issue, and is the topic for another article some time in the future.

DARD & RIBO

The arrival of this duo in 1984 in Tain was below the radar of most wine lovers. In those days, the Rhône had only a small following of enthusiasts, and none of the global popularity of today. On a corner opposite the notary offices of the Sorrel family, owners on the hill of Hwermitage, they set up in a tiny courtyard, home to old Delas cellars, their external trademark a romantic black Citroën 15, the car favoured by the detective Maigret, Georges Simenon`s creation.

Their families had both been members of the Tain Co-operative, and the boys had been making wine together as youngsters, since 1980 - but were sans image, sans much cash, sans any real material goods. But they had plenty of determination and commitment to simplified winemaking practices, having met at the Beaune Wine School. René-Jean Dard was born in Tournon on the Ardèche side of the Rhône in 1960, and François in Tain l`Hermitage, on the Drôme side, in 1961.

"Local people thought we were hippies, that we did drugs," recalls René-Jean. Their early wines were, it has to be said, rather hit and miss, but certainly not because of external substances. I found their 1980s Hermitage reds woody, after 18 months in cask, the wood perhaps not being as meticulously clean as it might have been. The word "foxy" would occasionally appear in my tasting notes. Colours were solid, purple-black, and there was certainly matter in the wines.

Their holdings were very small - 1.7 hectares between their Crozes and St-Joseph vineyards, 0.8 hectare at Hermitage. Today it is 5 hectares at Crozes and 2 hectares at St-Joseph, 0.6 hectare at Hermitage (rental arrangements have come and gone). "We don't overwork the soils," says François - "people have recently gone from doing nothing to overdoing it." They also have some craggy gneiss granite slopes, and erosion is an issue.

The reds can be destemmed, mostly the crop from the young vines. But if the crop is healthy, then whole bunches are fermented. The duo still use open wood fermenting vats, do a foot crush, use no machines for operations - which rules out pumping overs, but brings in cap punching by foot. "We taste the vats every day, so the process can last for 10 to 21 days," says François. They try to vinify on a plot by plot basis.

Sulphur is sparely used - the 2008 Crozes red received 15 mg/litre at bottling, for instance, given the fragility of the year - "it is a vintage to drink fast and not lay down," says René-Jean. "Our red Crozes reflects more the vintage than Dard & Ribo - a vintage without make-up, and wines with great fruit for the short-term." Their 2008 Saint-Joseph red, tasted out of tank 4 days before bottling on Monday 9 November, 2009, was a wine, I noted, "to drink solo for les branchés (the tuned-in drinkers) or with grilled foods" - just the sort of wine for uncomplicated moments that the duo would encourage.

In similar vein, accepting the vagaries of the vintage, they made just one white Crozes in 2008, assembling the different terroirs, and suppressing the Cuvée K for a half Marsanne, half Roussanne wine that was very agreeable.

"We make the wine for us, and if it sells, then OK," says François. This is a sound approach, naturellement. Principle lies at its heart rather than a cocked eye on the points of the wine writers and the fashions of the market. But it also helps if you have an established following. René-Jean Dard, always good for a trenchant statement, has little good to say about oenologues who guide and even totally drive some domaines: "Pharmacists and doctors = oenologues," he says, adding the final thrust, "they give out pills rather than cure illnesses." Attaboy!

In the last few years, I have found their light touch winemaking most suited to the whites, with a gradual improvement in the reds in terms of their clarity of fruit. Looking through notes, I find STGT placed alongside the very fine Roussanne Saint-Joseph white, as well as the all-Marsanne Crozes white Les Bâties from the kaolin, clay soils of Larnage. "White Saint-Joseph is usually a bigger wine than the white Crozes-Hermitage," says François Ribo.

Meanwhile, the reds slot into the w.o.w. (what one wants) category - the classic example here is the C`Est le Printemps (It`s Springtime) Crozes red, which mirrors the Gramenon Poignée des Raisins, the latter one-quarter fermented by macération carbonique, and also intended for early, effortless drinking - a neat display of the pure colours of young wine from northern Syrah and southern Grenache respectively.

If there is a slight shift in outlook, it is towards somewhat fresher wines in recent years. The2007 Pé du Loup red Crozes, from half 1989, half 1950s Syrah, had the 600-litre cask turned sideways, in the Bordeaux way, so the need for topping up was removed, meaning evaporation was more gradual, with just a light oxidation. "We are looking for a bit more freshness in our wines, so they are more stretched out and less marked by some oxidation," explains François. "We work a lot on the balance of our wines, so we taste a lot during fermentation to avoid too prolonged an extraction, and also to avoid wines that are too pomadés (creamy, even smarmy), and have dull tannins."

As was the case for Gramenon, 2009 presented issues of ending the fermentations - "it is a ripe year, whereas 2003 was marked by a lot of degree," states François, when comparing two very hot and dry summers. "Our old vines were OK, but vines under 20 years` old had small berries, and leaf cover was lost, especially on the whites, a bit on the Syrah. The fermentations were very special, and after an easy start, the sugars were extremely slow this year - we like a slow, soft fermentation, but this was ultra slow, and we found the malolactic fermentations were very fast, sometimes ahead of the sugars. There was very little malic acid in 2009 because of the dry, hot weather."

RECENT DARD & RIBO FAVOURITES

***(*) 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Les Blancs des Bâties white

100% Marsanne, striking, fascinating aroma. Mini-Hermitage without the flair, STGT. To 2013. 

***(*) 2009 reds - Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage

all promising when tasted in Nov 2009

*** 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Pé du Loup red

Very typical N Rhône Syrah fruit, as if from the granite of the west bank at St-Joseph opposite. Good style, w.o.w. wine. To 2014.

*** 2008 Saint-Joseph white

100% Roussanne, white jam richness, also passion fruit zap on nose. Typical Roussanne - sturdy interior, airy outer - foods best. To 2013

DOMAINE GRAMENON

I used to visit this domaine in the early 1980s, when Michèle and Philippe Laurent were striving to make wines with less intervention. A word such as "pacesetters" would imply too conscious an approach, too savvy, too self-important a stand on issues such as ecology. Their belief in natural ways of working the vineyard lay at the heart of what they did. In those days, the low or no sulphur school had not really taken off.

"We bought the domaine in January 1979, and have never applied chemical products, preferring to work the soils, and our treatments have only ever been copper and sulphur," states Michèle.

Philippe died in a tragic accident of la chasse one day, when his gun went off while he was out on his own. Their son Maxime-François, born in 1982, was a small boy at the time, and Michèle was left on her own with a large 43 hectare domaine to juggle all requirements domestic, personal and commercial. If you look at her now, you can see the years have passed with some mark, but she retains her mignonne, elfin looks, putting in mind such similarly tenacious gamine women as Corinne Couturier of Domaine Rabasse Charavin at Cairanne.

Some of the vineyard was sold to neighbours, even 15 hectares to the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in 2002. Now, with Maxime growing up, a little more was bought in 2007, 5.5 hectares at Valréas. Thus, the total domaine comprises 16 hectares at Gramenon, a reduced area after old vines have been taken out, then 4.5 hectares at Vinsobres and the 5.5 hectares at Valréas.

The base soil at Gramenon is a mix of white and brown clay, with a gravel layer down at 80 cm (32 inches) which can be mixed with sand and then the safre rock base, a sandy sediment rock. "You would think the clay was helpful in a drought year like 2009," says Michèle, "but the vine roots were squeezed by the clay." A useful feature of the Gramenon vineyard, which lies out on its own away from any departmental roads, is that 10 hectares are at a fresh 300 metres altitude. The rest of the vineyard mixes sandy spots, places full of clay, and gravel zones.

The prevailing wind is north. Thus a relatively late harvest date of 27 September is normal. 2009, with its heat and dry spell, was started on 14 September, but then rain fell, and they re-started on 23 September. "We had 100 mm (4 inches) of rain over 3 days in the middle of the month," recalls Michèle. The oldest vines - Grenache, naturally - date from the 1900s and 1910s, while quite a lot were planted in the 1940s and 1950s. The next leap forward was the early 1980s when Philippe was planting, followed by the 2000s.

The Vinsobres vineyard of 4.5 hectares on La Bicarelle was what Michèle retained after the 2002 sale to the Perrins. It is next to the Domaine de la Bicarelle, above the hamlet of Cornu, at 400 metres, thus another fresh spot. It is strong in clay and limestone, with two plots full of smooth galet stones on the site of an old river bed. The vines date from the 1960s and older. This is the last vineyard to ripen.

The Valréas vineyard is on the Chemin des Bornes Papales between Valréas and Vinsobres, where the land can also give Vinsobres. An altitude of 400 to 450 metres is more useful these days than ever. Here the soils are irregular, mixing gravel, some clay, with galet stones high up, and limestone rock as well. The vines here date from the 1970s. Michèle signals the greater power in its wine - "the Valréas wine is harder, more austere than Gramenon, whose terroir gives finesse, so I age the Valréas in used oak, and the Gramenon part in concrete vat for my new L`Elementaire Côtes du Rhône. Remember, also, that the Valréas was not organically cultivated until we bought it."

There are 2 hectares of white among Gramenon`s 16 hectares, comprising 1988-93 Viognier and Clairette blanche that goes into sparkling wine.

Yields are low, since natural wastage is high with so much organic practice.

Michèle`s taste is uncomplicated: "I like fruit, finesse. I want the foundation (le fond) of the terroir in the glass, a finesse, a minerality, and wines that are not too heady -  I like fresh wines. I like to express the purity of the terroir, of the vine variety and of the vintage." Sounds pretty STGT to me, Michèle!

Vinification in their cellar hewn into the safre rock is varied according to circumstances: "we destem according to the vintage" says Michèle. "We have small concrete fermenting vats, and can do a full destem, a half destem or no destem at all. We destemmed almost all the 2008, and perhaps normally that is around 50%. The fermentation lasts two weeks or so, we do daily pumping overs, one or two cap punchings, although we are not fans of that, and may do a part vat emptying/refill or rack and return (déléstage), but that is not practised on the Poignée des Raisins, for instance."

In the high profile area of sulphur use during vinification and raising, Maxime-François uses very little on his own wines - just 1 mg per litre after the malolactic fermentation, and 1 mg at the moment of bottling. Mother Michèle uses 1 mg at bottling. "I apply no suphur dioxide at the time of vinification," she says. "I can apply 0.5 or 1 mg  after the malolactic fermentation if the volatile acidity is not too stable, as occurred with the 2009, when I added 1 mg at that stage, but our levels would always be under 2 mg. And on the Centenaires Mémé and the Pascal, there has been no SO2 added since I started them in 1990 and 1992." The other suplhite-free wines here are La Sagesse and the Vinsobres. Neither domaine fines or filters.

The decision to use no sulphur dioxide put Michèle out on a limb locally in 1990. When Philippe was alive, the domaine used SO2, and the focus was on clean cultivation in the vineyard. Michèle realised that she had to make her own mark, and so moved to purer practices within the cellar. "No-one around here worked that way twenty years ago," she recalls. In the Northern Rhône at Crozes-Hermitage, René-Jean Dard and François Ribo had been running their own small and cranky domaine since 1984, and there was immediate affinity between the two domaines: "we have been good friends all the way - they are my Frères Vignerons - my Brother Vignerons." There is a sighting of a bottle of Dard & Ribo red Hermitage in the Gramenon cellar - not something to be found often in conventional Rhône cellars.

Since then, others have of course been drawn towards this low or non-interventionist approach, with Thiérry Allemand from Cornas consulting Gramenon about methods and outcomes, and also Jean-Michel Stéphan at Côte-Rôtie, and later on, Hervé Souhaut at Saint-Joseph, Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet - well, technically at Saint-Joseph, since he has so much hassle from the authorities to obtain the right of appellation when his wine is tasted that he now sells it as simply Saint-Épine.

Michèle designs the labels here, and the domaine breathes her presence, her commitment. "I want to make vins attachants - wines you can attach yourself to, (oh, Shakespeare, how you fail me on occasion, Lit Ed) ones that speak to your sensibilities, not a wine that imposes itself on you or is an easy monster," she states quietly but emphatically. "Normally, the Grenache tastes of prune here, but sometimes we can find blue flowers such as iris or violet, more so in our cooler years, also thanks to our cooler soils."

Still many challenges lie ahead, even with Maxime working on the domaine since December 2005, after studies at Orange and Beaune, with work experience in Gaillac, Saint-Émilion and two years at Saint-Romain in Burgundy as a régisseur. In 2007, it was July hail at Gramenon, although Vinsobres was spared: "We lost 75% - some plots were pulverised, others lost half the crop and the vine wood was damaged," remembers Michèle. For Maxime, "the 2007 July hail was like a plane or helicopter above the house. It came at 5 minutes past midnight. The next day at 5 in the morning, the ditches were still full of hail."

All these wines receive marks for character and access to true fruit. Tasting them at the domaine is real treat, a savoured moment when the intellect is engaged with the senses, and that wonderful word "mystery" crops up, one that Michèle used to describe her 2008 Côtes du Rhône Ceps Centenaires La Mémé red.

RECENT GRAMENON FAVOURITES

**** 2008 Côtes du Rhône Ceps Centenaires La Mémé red

varied bouquet, quite a bundle there, lots of fruit, STGT wine. Mystery, yee ha, let`s get jiggy! To 2016-18

***(*) 2008 Côtes du Rhône La Sagesse red

calm, natural bouquet, red fruit, rose flowers. Interesting wine, pepper woven into the fruit. Very good for 2008.  To 2014-15

*** 2008 Côtes du Rhône Villages Les Laurentides red

genuine Grenache aromas, reductive. Very clear, w.o.w. wine, vibrant fruit. Get on and drink wine. To 2012-13

*** 2006 Côtes du Rhône Le Gramenon red

for purist drinkers, who appreciate restraint, and what I term "apparent simplicity" in their wines. Like a Laurent Charvin Côtes. To 2013-14

JEAN-MICHEL STÉPHAN

A new pupil in this school of vigneron naturel is the short, tousled hair, veering towards dishevelled Jean-Michel Stéphan in the southern hamlet of Tupin at Côte-Rôtie. His great icon is the late Jules Chauvet, an unassuming but very rigorous Beaujolais grower-merchant whose legacy was to inspire talented growers such as Marcel Lapierre at Morgon, home of some of the best, most structured commune-specific Beaujolais.

With his boffin style looks, Jean-Michel does not surprise when he admits to a love of biology. His father grew fruit and vegetables along with vines, and he uses the cold storage area as his wine cellar in his modest home beside the N86 road on the way between Ampuis and Condrieu. The ladder descent into the cellar is one of the steepest I know, and this is a domaine where wine is the champion, domesticity a runner-up. His studies were in the Beaujolais, at Belleville, where his first acquaintance with the views and practices of Jules Chauvet occurred.

"I want fruit and maximum freshness," he says. "I follow the Chauvet method with my Coteaux de Tupin - saturating the vat with carbonic gas until the cap rises, with fermentation taking place at around 10°C over 20 days to allow an intracellular fermentation that is very slow and gentle." It is a macération carbonique wine in effect, with some cap punching in the last two days to ensure the sugars have finished fermenting. "I end fermentations at 12°C," he says," as there is no sulphur, and I cannot risk volatile acidity developing."

Jean-Michel`s methods, as with those of the low or non-intervention school, brings side effects, one of them reduction, when the wine is stinky due to lack of oxygen. "The smell of reduction comes with my process," he says. "Remember, the wine is not blocked in any way by sulphur, and the reduction aromas lessen in the bottle after 16 months' cask raising. You should also decant the wine, and it will remain good for three days in an open bottle."

Jean-Michel has cut back on his oak exposure - between 2000 and 2005 new oak was used on the Coteaux du Tupin, but from 2006 he has retreated to the use of 2-6 year old casks. The no SO2 Coteaux de Bassenon, which is fermented by macération carbonique and part carbonique, meaning there is one pumping over open to the air, is aged in 5 to 8 year old oak casks, the regular Côte-Rôtie in 2 to 6 year oak.

Jean-Michel, like Dard & Ribo, works a lot with carbonic gas to preserve freshness in his wines. Thiérry Allemand and others of this school are similar, which can make cellar tasting quite difficult at times when the wines are being raised. "My great wish is that carbonic gas use becomes accepted as giving a maximum of fruit, a perfection of the elements in a wine. My methods turn more on fermentation than ageing - oak ageing is just to add some polish to a wine," he states.

He is also prone to very low yields, the vineyards swept by the ravages of nature: the 2008 crop was mainly hit by mildew, resulting in around 15 hl/ha. He does not hold back on his pricing, a consequence of these low yields, either: the 2007 Coteaux de Bassenon weighs in at €65. I gave it ***, a reductive wine that needed decanting, thus work by the purchaser, and sympathetic understanding by that person. The phrase Caveat, Croesus, Emptor intones to me in the back of my head at such moments.

Jean-Michel also curls his lip when talk moves to clones, but has to accept the reality of them. The Coteaux de Tupin is composed of 25% original 1941 Sérine, the small berry, small bunch, lighter colour red wine Syrah of the ancient times, but the complement is made up of 1993 to 2000 hand grafted or massale cutting Sérine vines. He has to work with clones on his regular Côte-Rôtie, but reckons that the softness of the carbonic maceration is a compensation for that.

Jean-Michel`s experience of 2009 was formed around the healthy rainfall in the spring that created reserves. "It was very dry, the summer rain was parsimonious, but a bit here and there kept the grapes going, so there was no drought problem," he comments.

There was a 20 mm (0.8 inch)  storm in July 2009, so in this part of the Rhône it was a moderate more than extreme year. In mid-September, a further 30 mm fell, which diluted some of the alcohol levels. "Before the rain, people were at 13°; after it, I was at between 12.4°and 12.7°. We were helped by a lot of sun, and I harvested on 10 October for a separate cuvée, when it was still dry and warm, with no rot. It will be a good vendange tardive year for Condrieu, but then I don`t have those vines any more, tant pis pour moi."

RECENT JEAN-MICHEL STÉPHAN FAVOURITES

****(*) 2007 Côte-Rôtie Coteaux de Tupin

boldest robe of his 3 2007s. Very appealing nose, classic, tasty, dark-fruited Côte-Rôtie, STGT. To 2022-23

**** 2007 Condrieu

first and penultimate vintage of this; soft, abundant nose, buttery, generous, attractive Roussanne-like freshness on the finish. To 2019-21

***(*) 2008 Côte-Rôtie Coteaux de Tupin

cask tasted, steady, intense nose, quietly persistent, mixes tannin and clear fruit. To be bottled Sept 2010. To 2020-21 

***(*) 2006 Côte-Rôtie Vieille Vigne en Coteau

mixed fruits, intense nose. Direct, clear fruit, peppery tannins. Interesting wine, will unfurl. To 2017-18