Tom and I are making a whistle-stop voyage down the Rhône valley this week to catch up with vigneron friends and get an insight into the Rhône 2009 vintage, of which we have heard great promise. After driving south from Lyon in heavy rain on Sunday evening we started tasting bright and early on Monday in Côte Rôtie with our old chum Patrick Jasmin. Tasting through the constituent parts of Patrick’s wine is always a pleasure, the 2009 shows huge potential with a wealth of violet and red berry aromas, a deep core of sweet black fruit, fine tannic structure and a bright acidity.  All the ingredients are here for a Grand Vin. Patrick only makes one cuvée of Côte Rôtie and the 2009 should be a tub-thumper.

A tad further north on La Viallière climat of the Côte Brune, Joël and Romain Champet’s single vineyard 2009 Côte Rôtie is already finished and ready for bottling. This is an Old School northern Rhône Syrah with no new oak and an attractive bouquet of blackberries and blackcurrants, a mid-weight palate of briary hedgerow fruit and supple tannins. This is a classic, traditional Côte Rôtie and, on past form, should represent cracking value for money.

After a welcome lunchtime pit stop at the winemakers’ favourite haunt, Le Chaudron restaurant in Tournon (great food, fabulous wine list) we drove down to Livron-sur-Drôme to sample Jean-Marie Lombard’s Brézème. Both of Jean Marie’s Syrahs were showing very well from cask.T he Grand Chêne is dense and dark with autumnal fruit aromas and tastes over pitchy tannins. The Eugène de Monicault usually exhibits a little more finesse, but is still a trifle closed at present – there is clearly lots of fruit and structure here but it needs time to integrate.

Beetling northwards back towards Cornas we rounded off a fine day’s tasting with a mammoth degustation with three generations of the Clape family (Auguste aged 85, Pierre 60 and Olivier 31). This is a dynasty given to modesty and the Clape’s seemed almost embarrassed at the exuberance of fruit in their 2009 wines. There are notes of the blockbuster 2003 vintage here but against a more restrained background, with a fresh acidity and greater phenolic ripeness. In short, the Clape’s 2009 wines are sensational.

Tomorrow we look forward to visits at Messrs Chave and Graillot.  Day One impressions are that Rhône 2009 is living up to the hype, bring it on!