On Day 2 of our Rhône trip, we schlepped north to Côte Rôtie for a protracted barrel tasting with our old chum Patrick Jasmin. Harvesting here was a tough job in 2008 and Patrick had to pick his grapes in 3 different stages to obtain optimum ripeness. An early sampling of Patrick’s 2008 revealed a lightish, elegant wine that I think should drink well when young. The 2007 is denser and firmer but the signature Jasmin ‘burgundian’ softness is clearly evident. This is a classic rather than blockbuster vintage and we look forward to tasting the final vintage.
A short hop down river to Condrieu took us to the hallowed premises of Domaine Georges Vernay where Georges’ daughter and head winemaker Christine and her husband Paul Amselem were waiting to greet us. Tasting Vernay is always a pleasure as this is the spiritual home of the Viognier grape - which Georges (who is an active octogenarian) championed, almost single-handedly, during the lean post-war years.
Despite depleted volumes, Christine is pleased with the results of the 2008 vintage which was hard work in both the vineyard and cellar. All of the white wines here are made from pure Viognier and all exhibit wonderful, clean, clear, almost tropical fruit and understated elegance and finesse. The star of the show is the flagship ‘Coteau de Vernon’ from Condrieu’s most prestigious vineyard, which has an amazing concentration and complexity and a long ageing potential. These days Christine is also producing some fine red wines including a fragrant and juicy Vin de Pays Syrah and some superb Côte Rôtie.
After tasting we adjourned to Condrieu’s famous Beau Rivage restaurant for a relaxed and convivial lunch overlooking the mighty river Rhône. Our meal was accompanied by a fine Condrieu from Robert Jurie and a mid-weight Côte Rôtie 2004 from Philippe Faury that was a perfect match for my Navarin de Chevreuil. I praised Christine’s modesty in not selecting her own wines but she pointed out that it hadn’t been an option as they had sold out of the entire Vernay range. We may be mid-recession but it seems that there is enduring demand for exemplary wines.
After bidding farewell to Christine and Paul we headed down to Tain l’Hermitage to visit the HQ of another Rhône visionary - Michel Chapoutier. Here the genial young Export Manager ‘Florent’ tutoured us through an extensive range of Chapoutier wines from a humble Tricastin to mighty single-vineyard Hermitages. Obviously this is a rather polarised portfolio varying from wines with a million bottle production to real rarities that are sold on a strict allocation basis. If there is a common thread here it is that all the Chapoutier wines have a true sense of terroir and a polished perfectionism which gives them their enormous commercial appeal.
That evening we dined well at ‘Le Mangevins’ a lively new Bistrot à Vins which is a cork’s throw from the Chapoutier premises. The food here is simple and well-executed with some interesting Asian twists courtesy of the patron’s Japanese wife, who presides in the kitchen. The wine list is a delight and very reasonably priced – we enjoyed a 2007 Condrieu from Domaine Vallet and a fine, earthy 2004 Cornas from Alain Voge before retiring to our modest but well-run billet – the Hôtel Les Deux Coteaux, right beside the Rhône in the centre of town.