Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Chambeyron-Manin

 

The history of the Chambeyron-Manin family entwines with the competing crops of Cote Rotie.  Wine is largely on top now, in terms of financial and cultural return, but its ascendancy is relatively recent. For the Chambeyrons, vegetables, fruit and tobacco have been as much a part of their story as wine.

The earliest record I can find is that of Jean-Marie Chambeyron. Jean came to the region as a stone-mason towards the end of the 19th century but soon switched to making wine for the local cafes and bistros. He was one of the men who helped replant many of the prime sites that loom over Ampuis post-phylloxera.

His grandchildren Maurice and Marius went different ways. Maurice went into the fruit and vegetable business, a much safer financial proposition after the Second World War and his brother, Marius took the more risky vocation of growing grapes and making wine. He never lacked confidence in his abilities. The Chambeyron name entwines in the history books like a handful of headphone leads long in the pocket.

The majority of the Marius’ 4 hectares went to his daughter Nicole, who used it to start the Levet estate with her husband Bernard in 1983. He only kept a tiny parcel (0.5 hectare) to work himself until 1992, when he finally hung up his boots and passed it onto his other daughter, Christine. She continued the label, adding her husbI wonder if Marius decided to keep this plot after he’d given the rest to his daughter Nicole, as it was the closest to his house and as he got older, the easiest to get to and back from.

The winemaking and style here are very naked. There is no new oak, no destemming, the vines are old and perfectly exposed. It is not a heavily extracted wine, but one that has great elegance on release.ands name, Manin as a tiny concern of only 165 cases as a homage to her father.

Although there are 2 different labels in circulation, one of them is the same label that Marius used for his wines. Now the estate is run by her daughter Veronique, whose main business is the vegetable market in Ampuis.

It’s a simple operation, although one that demands a lot of work. The vineyard is just across the road from the family home / winery, and rises and curls around the corner beneath the Chambeyron sign erected by the bold Maurice sometime in the 1970s.

It remains wonderful value and a perfect homage to Marius, pictured above, one of the legendary ‘old timers’ whose sweat on the demonically pitched slopes kept alive these magical vineyards for the next generation, who found a market receptive in a way I suspect their grandparents could only dream of.

 

Joe Gilmour

Controversy

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Drinking old Italian wines can be like licking god’s coat-tails, but has the era between 1960 and 1980 yielded more misses than hits?

I think so. Here are my reasons why and some non-scientific thoughts on a recent dinner and tasting.

Not Bartolo, not Gaja, not Conterno, not Rinaldi, not him, not her. Sure. These are some of the historic greats of the world. But they are the exceptions not the rule. Not only that, but they are I think exceptional in a way that is unique to Italy and not France.

There’s so much stuff, that could, that should be interesting after thirty years that has just departed from the world of joy.

Barolo, Brunello, Vino Nobile, these were not wines that sold off their silky newness, they were supposed to age. But most of them didn’t. Some tell me that traditionally there was less binning of wines, that they were often left upright and the corks dried, which is a novel explanation of why many wines have not aged too well. Well maybe, but I’m not convinced.

At my previous company, Roberson, we organised a tasting with a pretty representative sample of Italian wines of the 50s, 60s and 70s, We opened fifty wines, and how many did we truly enjoy?

How many were truly alive? Five? Six?

Maybe my sample size is too small. Certainly the general quality of Italian winemaking today is light and day with the wines made in the 60s and 70s.

This impression was somewhat re-enforced in a recent tasting with a supplier in Piedmont. We were in Mondovi, just half an hour or so from Monforte d’Alba, a historic town where old and young parts are linked by a nifty funicular railway. Top speed 30 miles an hour, which seemed unnecessarily quick.

2002 Pol Roger

Top stuff,  compressed like a spring and with plenty of power in reserve.

2011 Chablis 1er Butteaux Raveneau

This seemed to be infused with a herby, almost bitter character. When 2011 is done well, they can be lovely, approachable wines that delivery real pleasure, this seemed to lack the purity and precision that one associates with this estate. A disappointment, which is rare with the wines of Raveneau

2009 Riesling Kabinett Scharzhofberger

Although from a warmer vintage, this had precise minerality and a creamy, lemony style. A real balm for the palate.

1997 50/50 Avignonese

A stunning nose of substantial depth and cool mint freshness but lacked a bit of cohesion on the finish. Maybe just starting to turn.

2007 Chateau de Fonsalette Rouge

Another hot vintage, which is not almost becoming a sort of criticism as we worship at the alter of the fresh and the elegant. But in the Rayas style, so super-elegant, cherry infused light in colour. Really very good indeed and with some years to go.

1994 Haut Brion

Pretty good but a bit unexciting to be honest. I think I’ve had this before and enjoyed it more, so maybe a bad bottle, or maybe a bit too subtle at a tasting like this.

1990 Lafleur Petrus

Really vegetal and with not much in the way of elegance. A real disappointment in such a good vintage. Not really sure how you get so much green character in such a dry and hot vintage.

Unidentified vintage Barolo Riserva Brunate M.Marengo

I brought this from the local wine shop (100 Euro) in Morra. No neck vintage, but from the style of the label it is at least pre 1995 or so. Thoughts odds were decent on this one. Very useful producer, great levels, the guy in the shop was telling me how he was considering buying it for himself. Er…no, absolutely shot to bits. Poor storage? Not even in the ball-park of being drinkable.

1996 Barolo Faletto Red Label Riserva Giacosa

I feel perhaps I didn’t give this wine enough time. There is a Giacosa style that is hard to find elsewhere. Reminds me of Pinot Noir in the same way that Reynaud’s wines do. It was getting better all of the time, but I’d drunk most of it by then. Even so, I was expecting to find a bit more to like.

1964 Barolo (Alba) Unidentified producer

Buggered

1961 Barolo Oddero

Really nice – showing very freshly and smoothly. Excellent wine.

1964 Barolo Riserva Oddero

Buggered.

1947 Tokaji Szamorodni Dry Budafok

Sweet – not a lot of complexity but very nice.

1960s Barolo Chinato Cappellano

I quite liked this, but very developed – the restaurant owner thought it was buggered, but I don’t know what his credentials are with old Chinato – better than mine no doubt.

 

Joe GilmourControversy

Clape 1979 – 2015 with Olivier Clape

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

It’s very easy when writing about wine to fall into the habit of wittering mindlessly about how great everything is.

This guy is passionate, this persons wine is fantastic, on and on and on and on… I heard Tim Atkin talking about Klein Constantia on Radio 4 the other day. Great wine no doubt, but the whole thing had the feel of a thirty minute advertorial. It makes me want to write a wine column where all I do is slag-off wines. I think there could be a gap in the market since the Wine Advocate started basically giving every wine 88-100 points. The omission of a domaine is the only sign they are doing things right (Or I’m yet to get to them) – I might call it the Wine Antagonist.

Happily, or sadly depending on your perspective, one name you would never see me write about is Clape.

I am sadly though, not the only one to have come to this realisation. The paucity of older vintages on the market is testament to how well these wines are prized. We were very lucky to get the chance to try the vintages below. Olivier mentioned as an aside that they have less then 12 bottles of most of their older vintages. Still – you imagine they’ve had some good dinners over the years.

John Livingstone-Learmonth puts it well when when he says: “There should be a stone to Auguste Clape in the northern Rhône. A stone would suit more than a statue – it would be more fundamental and less pretentious. The legend on it should read something like ‘Wisdom, Integrity and Humanity.’ For this is an exceptional person.”

The first producer in Cornas to bottle his own production, Clape moved his production over from selling in barrel to offering in bottle in 1955. Throughout the next decade he moved towards bottling the entire lot and in 1969, there was none sent out. Following his leadership, local doyens Noel Verset and Robert Michel soon followed suit.

2015 St-Peray

The Clape family own 1 hectare St-Peray. They work hard to keep the freshness, particularly in a solar vintage like 2015. Aged 1/3 foudre, rest concrete, no battonage. Although it was hot, there was rain at the right moments says Oliver, but you sense this is not one of his favourite vintages. A little unformed at the moment, but thankfully without any pearey character, as you sometimes find. Not developed that much of interest in the moment, behind a wine like Cecillon for example in 2015 I think. Pretty good freshness. Give it a bit of time.

2015 Vin des Amis

From plains of Cornas town, all Syrah, 44 hl/ha. 50 yo vinyeards. 500 cases or so.
Really fresh, bright fruit. Exuberant and somewhat new-worldy at the moment although I suspect that will fade with time. Very forward. Touch of balancing green and tannin on the finish, discreet but there.

2014 Cotes du Rhone

More savoury, more tannin, crunchy, still family resemblance. Sees more cask as opposed to the VDP which is just concrete. This will be beautiful in a few years. Also about 500 cases.

2012 Renaissance

Picking up a bit of age and with it some nice, leathery notes. Still pretty fresh though. Very nice wine, a step up, but not a massive step up from the CDR though. 1/3 of their Cornas is Renaissance and it’s usually a somewhat tough sell on the marketplace, stuck as it is between their early drinking CDR and their ageworthy Cornas.

2010 Cornas

A slightly tarry note, really packed with tannin, and structure. Not too difficult now as it also has a lot of ripe fruits. Very powerful with lovely balance. Olivier puts this in the league of 1978 and 1990. The heat of the days and coolness of the August nights were one of the reasons for the strength of this exceptional vintage.

2005 Cornas

Drinking really nicely at the moment, still on the tannins but with a great sense of balance. Much better drinking then the 10 at this point. 1995 / 1985esque.

1996 Cornas

Interesting as a less good vintage. Shows with less focus and purity than vintages like 2005 and 2010. Quite green and stemmy, towards the more earthy style of say, Robert Michel.

1991 Cornas

Still really, really grippy. To me maybe just not ready yet, I would put it behind the 2005 in terms of drinking. Really incredibly structured for a wine this old. Olivier says it is drinking beautifully and has always been open, so who am I to argue. Maybe I just like them really old.

1979 Cornas

Very elegant, not a wine of power like the 1991. Finishes really nicely and doesn’t fall-in on itself at the end. That said, no room for improvement one feels. Great old soldier. Can’t be much of this around. It seems the group’s preference was for the 1991 which was incredibly powerful and vital. For me the faded 1979 was the most feminine and soulful of the lot.

Joe GilmourClape 1979 – 2015 with Olivier Clape

Le Grand Patron – George Vernay

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

Condrieu as an appellation does not generally enjoy the favour of the cognoscenti. The condescension towards Viognier was caused by the exaggerated character of many of the wines and an over-expansion of vineyard land, that when planted on inappropriate slopes, was massaged by winemakers into an over-blowsy wine of little acidity and tropical fruit.

But amongst all that, there remained a man of total seriousness, Georges Vernay, whose wines deserve total respect and close scrutiny.

With the expansion of vineyard area, and growth in places that aren’t really appropriate, new growers pushed the yields up from an average of say 25 hl/ha in the early 1980s to about 50 hl/ha in  2004. Vernay is doubtful quality can be maintained over 30 and in doing so with dubious amounts of battonage and residual sugar, they have created a perception that Condrieu is not a serious wine. The blowsy aromatics and loose acidity have created a sort of exaggerated style, like a man dressed as a woman in pantomime.

That wines like the hyper-mineral Roulot and PYCM are in vogue at the moment have thrown this into contrast like never before.

Proving the opposite and making a wine that has all of the stuffing and poise of any of the worlds great wines is George Vernay’s Coteau de Vernon. The greatest Condrieu of them all.

The Coteau de Vernon is formed of one main plot, a convex, south-east facing hill composed of mica-filled granite. At just under 1.7 hectares it produces around 400 cases a year. It is vinified at a maximum of 18 degrees in cask, 25% new, the rest up to 5 years old, it’s ageing is typically 12-16 months.

2014 Coteau de Vernon

Fresh and bright, both in colour and in composition, discreet aromatics which is something the whole range share, in comparison to one’s mental image of Condrieu. Nice minerality and length (+2)

2012 Coteau de Vernon

More powerful than the 2014, and the better for it, still perhaps in a middle place between youth and maturity. (+3)

2011 Coteau de Vernon

A bit herby, lighter than the 2012, nice elegance (+1)

2010 Coteau de Vernon

Incredibly powerful in the mouth, with outstanding persistence. Premier league wine that only doesn’t get a higher mark as it lacks maturity in my mind (+4)

2006 Coteau de Vernon

Quite a different character on this wine, reminds me a bit of a Jurancon sec, a kind of sour apple flavour. A deeper colour as well. It seems a bit poorly crafted in comparison to the other vintages. Our sommelier commented that it could be that this was the last vintage that Georges himself consulted on – I don’t know if that’s true. (-3)

2002 Coteau de Vernon

Not a great vintage, but I thought this was incredible. Really nice balance and development of subtle aged character. What I like as well is that as the wines get older they seem to lose the Viognier top notes and taste more of the granite terroir. Also, the first wine of the line up that I thought was truly mature. Christine Vernay says the wines should be drunk at about 10 years, but based on this, I would say more like 20 in good vintages. (+4)

In sum, these wines offer up a lot more subtlety than I think most people were expecting, and the framework for ageing is a lot more extensive then you might assume. In fact, I would not really look at anything younger than 2010 for drinking now. Problem is, I suppose almost zero availability of the older vintages. They get snapped up pretty quickly, and for good reason.

Whilst Christine Vernay is the winemaker through our series of wines, the legacy is George’s and his was the vision for the domaine. Christine’s efforts with the reds are a new direction and one we didn’t the chance to explore this time.

When tasting these wines you’re aware just how different these wines are to anything that is produced in Condrieu, with the possible exception of Perret’s Coteau de Chery.

As John-Livingstone Learmonth rightly observes: “The debt to him from anyone who loves Condrieu or even Viognier wines is enormous, he is Le Grand Patron”

He didn’t just safeguard the region through the dog-days of the 1950s and 60s when no-one wanted to work the vines, he points at what is possible with the right land and the right winemaking. Not just serious wine but great wine, every bit the equal of Grand Cru Burgundy.

Post-Script – A nice photo we saw at the estate of Georges Vernay working the Coteau de Vernay vineyard in the 1970s.

 

Joe GilmourLe Grand Patron – George Vernay

Edmunds St-John

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

“If Randall Grahm brought the flash to the Rhone movement, Steve Edmunds brought the soul” Patrick Comiskey, American Rhone.

When Jean-Pierre Perrin of Chateau Beaucastel was weighing up whether to invest in establishing the Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles, he asked to meet Steve Edmunds so he could taste his 1986 Brandlin Ranch Mouvedre. They met and tasted, and Perrin recalls being so impressed with this wine, he cites it as a tipping point for going ahead with the project.

The more you read about Steve Edmunds, the more you realise, that he, Forest Gump-like, seems to enter in multiple episodes throughout the Rhone movement in the US.

Indeed, if not his words directly – he claims it comes from the owner of a local wine store, he certainly was the first to use the term “Rhone Ranger” to band together the early enthusiasts. From a modern perspective it seems strange that Rhone varietals took so long to catch on in the US, but they did. In the mid 1980s they were not an easy sell.

His own epiphany occurred when eating at Chez Panisse, the the epicentre of a new movement in wine and cuisine. He was handed a glass of 1983 Qupe Syrah, Bob Lindquist’s first vintage. Taking the glass away from his lips, he thought of bacon fat, violets and all of the interesting Rhone markers and said “My god, this guy’s onto something. Maybe we can do this here”.

Steve, like his fellow Ranger Sean Thackrey has always been a roving chef, finding fruit sources where he could. In the early days, he sourced a bit from Gary Eberle’s landmark Estrella vineyard (then one of the few places to find Syrah in California). His breakthrough was finding a parcel of Mouvedre on Mt Veeder, which met with acclaim from Francis Peyraud of Domaine Tempier. It was like picking up a jewel in the dirt. The old Mataro was a legacy of early Californian plantings that were often field blends and accidental happenings.

When he started making wine in the mid 1980s you could count the number of US wineries making Rhone blends on the fingers of two hands. It was a pretty niche business. Cabernet , there was a legacy of some kind, but there was no track-record of making Syrah or Grenache at this point. Everyone said the climate could and should be ideal, but not many people were staking their reputations on it.

His first vintage was 1985, where he made just a hundred cases. He shared early bottles with his friend, fellow musician and local wine merchant Kermit Lynch, who encouraged and helped circulate the wine to the local community.

The early Rhone Rangers like Steve, Sean Thackry and Randall Grahm weren’t fussed about following the crowd. So being praised, criticised then ignored by Robert Parker for ignoring the movement towards big flavour, probably didn’t bother him that much. Whilst Randall Grahm was wearing all kinds of marketing hats to publicise this new direction in varietal wine, Steve kind of sat back and focussed on making his wines better. He knew he was doing something right. They tasted great on release and aged beautifully. All done whilst keeping production low and prices keen. His wines have always been a bit like him, original, understated and thoughtful. At a time most American winemakers wanted more and more, Steve had the sense to know when enough was enough when it came to making his wines.

As his early fruit sources became unavailable, Steve has branched out into several other interesting projects, including Vermentino and Gamay, the latter from a plot in the Sierra Foothills also utilised by Arnot-Roberts. These reflect also a rare American desire to make drinkable wines, not the ‘Great American Wine’. That mind-set has been the downfall of many wines and winemakers.

I’m very excited to say these wines will be coming into the UK very soon, give me a shout if you want more details.

Joe GilmourEdmunds St-John

Jurassic Park

Joe Gilmour Uncategorized

The Rhone Valley’s viticultural dinosaur” was how Robert Parker described St-Peray in 1987.

The appellation blurs its boundaries with the sprawl of Valence, and it can be difficult to spot where the town ends and dinosaur territory begins. The village itself remains rather down at heel, spottily pretty, like the off-beat charm of its wide-ranging wines. Today 60% is still, 40% sparkling. I have no real knowledge of the area, my only experience was battling the Sat-Nav to try and find the cellar of Hirotake Ooka, a natural producer whose brilliant wines en cuve didn’t quite seem to survive the experience of being put into bottle

In the appellations heartland, the hillside slopes, there is exceptional exposition, old vines and some of the very best Rousanne in the whole of the Northern Rhone.

All Northern Rhone white wines of genuine quality are under-rated and undervalued by the market. Still, even within this context, St-Peray shows a special talent for ‘going missing’ in the mind of the wine buying public.

In 1889, the order book of a local merchant show the prices fetched for the still St-Peray (3 Francs) matching those of Corton and Pommard, besting those of Cornas and Crozes and just below those of White Hermitage (3.5)

Is some of the problem that two very different styles of wines are produced? The quirky, full-bodied sparkling wines, that largely find the mouths of the local French market and the still version, from old vines on hill-side vineyards.

No one seems to be articulate a bright future for the sparkling wines. It just doesn’t really fufill the modern requirement of sparkling wines to be fresh, uplifting and acidic. Phillipe Jaboulet remarks that even as early as 1960: “People lost the habit of sipping wine at 4pm with their cakes, or taking it as a desert wine. It slid from view”.

There are only four domains making sparkling St-Peray, which remains now rather a local tradition. Of the still style, there are about a dozen small growers making and bottling their own wine

Of those, St-Perays from producers like Clape, de Tunnel, Lemenicier, Gripa, Cecillon, Grand Colline and others, are the last best secrets of the Northern Rhone.

Joe GilmourJurassic Park