On April 20th my co-director Tom Ashworth and I embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the Rhône valley in the august company of the Weekend Telegraph’s globe-trotting wine-hound Jonathan Ray. The aim of the trip was to get a broad overview of both the Northern and Southern Rhône and an insight into recent vintages and developments.
After touching down in Marseilles and picking up a hire-car, our first port of call was Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape, conveniently located adjacent to the Autoroute du Soleil just south of Orange. Here, winemaking legend François Perrin conducted us on a tour of his extensive, pristine and recently renovated cellars before indulging us in a comprehensive tasting of the entire Perrin canon. All of the wines were impressive, even the entry-level La Vieille Ferme offerings. Space precludes writing too much here but noteworthy points are that the Perrins were early pioneers of organics (they have farmed without pesticides since 1960), they champion Roussanne and Mourvèdre respectively as important (and underrated) grapes in their white and red Châteauneuf du Pape and that the 2007 vintage has yielded cracking wines across the Southern Rhône. Interestingly, François observed that vintage variation is more significant for their humbler Côtes du Rhônes than their flagship wines, as these wines rely more on natural conditions than manipulation in the cellar. [Note to self: stock up on 2007 Côtes du Rhônes and Côte du Rhône Villages].
Our next stop was with another renowned Châteauneuf du Pape producer, Lucien Michel, at Le Vieux Donjon. Lucien is a man of few words preferring to let his charming wife Marie-José front the operation and his wines speak for themselves. However he does become animated when discussing vineyard politics or hunting, both of which are subjects close to his heart. Here, the soon to be bottled 2007 was hugely impressive with a wealth of juicy black fruit and ripe tannins and the newly bottled white 2008 showed youthful promise.