Having packed coats, gloves, jumpers and scarves in our hand luggage, we touched down at Lyon airport in glorious sunshine. Our mission was to undertake extensive barrel tastings of the Rhône 2011 vintage and get a heads up on the recent 2012 harvest.
Our first port of call was at the celebrated Domaine Georges Vernay in the centre of Condrieu. ‘Mr’ Christine Vernay, Paul Ansellem, gave us a warm welcome at the Maison du Viognier where we tasted a pre-assemblage Coteau de Vernon and Chaillées d’Enfer from vat that will be bottled in December. For many observers this estate produces the epitome of Viognier and we concur.
Up the road at Côte Rôtie, Messrs Jasmin and Champet were surprisingly up-beat about the 2012 vintage and have produced fresh, ripe, forward-drinking Syrahs in 2011.
After a restorative supper at the reliable ‘Chaudron’ in Tournon, we were back in the saddle at 9am the next morning tasting 2011s from barrel and recently fermented 2012s from vat chez Alain Graillot. This dynamic domaine is firing on all cylinders with younger brother Antoine having recently joined Maxine and father Alain. The Graillot wines are always accessible and the 2011s are bien classique, another good, if not great vintage.
This was a theme repeated at Domaines J L Chave and Clape in Hermitage and Cornas, respectively. Our extensive barrel tasting preceded a certain R. Parker from Maryland by twenty-four hours, although we doubt he will have stayed for the cavistes’ working lunch in the Chave’s back kitchen.
As we headed south that evening, we were happy to reflect that 2011 is a fine vintage that will provide rewarding drinking before one broaches the blockbusters of 2009 and 2010.