A week in the life of a Rhône correspondent during en primeur…
Monday 2 October
I start the week with a particularly challenging tasting: 120 samples of 2022 Gigondas, tasted blind. It’s challenging not just because of the number of wines (though high), but their tannic intensity this year. Picking them apart requires sustained concentration. Some are very good this year, others really not: a refrain of the vintage.
Dinner at Les Florets near Gigondas with some friends from the London wine trade who happen to be in town. The restaurant has a great wine list: I order a Domaine des Tours Grande Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône 2014. On paper it might not look exciting: a generic appellation in a weak vintage. But this is Emmanuel Reynaud’s Vacqueyras, declassified in 2014 just because of its pale colour. It’s fabulous – one of my wines of the year so far.
Tuesday 3 October
An early start today at the Vacqueyras growers’ association to taste a similar number of samples from this appellation. It tastes like a different vintage here compared to Gigondas: juicier and more accessible. Considering the heatwave and drought conditions I didn’t expect such balanced wines.
In the afternoon, I meet with Frédéri Férigoule of Le Sang des Cailloux. His reds are lovely, but he had to discard his white cuvée Un Sang Blanc in 2022 because of the difficulties he faced during vinification. It’s a big loss, as his 2020 and 2021 are among the best white wines of the southern Rhône. If you’re a fan too, snap up these back vintages while you wait for the 2023.
Wednesday 4 October
I begin three days of tasting Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the mistral whistling through the courtyard outside. A new discovery for me is Mouriesse Vinum, a tiny estate established by Serge and Brigitte Mouriesse. Serge was a consultant winemaker for many years and gradually amassed some small parcels of Grenache on sand. It’s a deliciously old-fashioned Châteauneuf. Dinner at La Mère Germaine in the village is seriously good – a must-visit if you’re in the region.
Thursday 5 October
Tasting more Châteauneuf today, followed by a visit to Vieux Télégraphe, which had planned to pick its whites on 16 August in 2022. Two days before, however, a band of hail tore through its vineyards on the La Crau plateau. ‘There were no more leaves, no more grapes, nothing – a catastrophe,’ winemaker Nicolas Brunier said, when he visited the vines afterwards. It’s the first time in Vieux Télégraphe’s long history that it’s made no red or white Vieux Télégraphe. Fortunately, the other wines in its Rhône portfolio are on good form.
Later on, I take a look around Château de Beaucastel’s impressive new cellar, which is taking shape now and should be finished by summer 2024. César Perrin opened a 1957 Beaucastel; not a great vintage, but the wine is still in impressive shape. It will easily last 80 years – a reminder of Châteauneuf’s preternatural longevity.
Friday 6 October
I finish the Châteauneuf samples in the morning, then visit Vincent Avril at Clos des Papes. After tasting his 2022s, he offered to open some older vintages. Perhaps perversely, I asked if we could taste his 2008 – the worst vintage of the past 20 years. It was beautifully drinkable and complex, confirming my belief in the peerless consistency of these wines.
Afterwards, Château Rayas. Tasting with Emmanuel Reynaud is always enlightening. Whites are rich and opulent this year, reds fresh and precise. He recommends opening bottes of red Rayas well in advance of drinking; certainly one or two days before, even three or four (just pulling the cork then leaving the wine to stand in a cool place, around 15 ̊C, and not decanting). He’s had good results with 10 days prior opening. I’m not sure I’m that brave!
Monday 9 October
After a weekend spent in Avignon, I travel to the Institut Rhodanien to taste in the lecture theatre, an unglamorous but efficient setting to work through samples of the remaining six Rhône crus: Beaumes de Venise, Cairanne, Lirac, Rasteau, Tavel and Vinsobres.
My en primeur visit to the Rhône has clashed with harvest dates at Domaine Gourt de Mautens these past few years, but Jérôme Bressy kindly finds an hour to meet this evening. His wines remain under the radar, but there’s no doubt they’re among the best in the Rhône. A man with strong opinions and wines of immense character.
Tuesday 10 October
I wake up to fog, which cleared as I reached the Institut. It felt like a rather obvious metaphor – the questions I had over the 2022 vintage in the southern Rhône are now largely clarified. There are some extremely tannic wines in 2022, but also some elegant, juicy ones with moderate alcohol. Grenache has performed well, as has Mourvèdre.
Wednesday 11 October
A drive up to the northern Rhône today to mop up a few key producers that I missed the first time around. I visit Paul Jaboulet Aîné, who has created a new distinct estate, Domaine de la Chapelle. From the 2022 vintage, this will be the home of Hermitage La Chapelle red and white. Full article to follow on Decanter Premium.
Thursday 12 October
The day starts with an early tasting at Domaine Jean-Louis Chave. It’s never too early to taste with Jean-Louis. The difference between the clay-based Hermitage terroirs and those grown on granite couldn’t be more marked this year. A strong case for blending.
I finish the day with a great honour: the first journalist to taste the inaugural vintage of E Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie La Reynarde – the new, fourth ‘La La’. It’s very good and will feature in my full 2022 vintage report, which will be published in a few weeks’ time.
I write this last entry at the end of a long day, sitting in the Paris Eurostar terminal, computer on my lap, eating a packet of Lay’s bacon flavour 3D Bugles (god-tier crisps) and half a battered baguette. Tomorrow I’ll start writing in earnest. That’s when the real work begins!