Rhone 2017 - A tale of the unexpected
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 25 October 2018

During a week of bounding up and down the Rhone valley I have tasted some truly delicious wines. My focus has been on 2017s from barrel but I have also been tasting 2016s and 2015s from bottle. 

Before I launch into the many surprises 2017 sprung on me, a word on 2015 Chateauneufs. These are in a very good place right now and it is clearly a superbly-balanced vintage, they may well go into the shut-down phase that most Chateauneufs do but right now they are a joy and what’s more they show the harmony to suggest excellent ageing potential, it can genuinely be considered a great year in the South. People may remember France being bathed  in sunshine throughout 2015 but in the Southern Rhône it was not too much of a heat-wave vintage, there was a little more rain and ensuing cooler temperatures than further north.  The results were wines of great allure, roundness and charm. For sure richer than a “cool” style vintage but less alcoholic than other hallowed years like 2016 and 2007, for example. If you missed these at the time, then don’t hesitate to snap up 2015 Southern Rhônes. 

Back to 2017. The season was characterised by drought that set in at an early stage and lasted throughout the summer. In fact it was of the driest summers on record. However, as Julian Barrot of Domaine La Barroche put it, “ the wines are not what you would expect from such a dry year. As long as you did the right things vine shut-down was not a big problem, I remember the vineyards being much more stressed in 2005, for example.”  Flowering was not very successful anywhere in the Rhône but Grenache was particularly affected by coulure, as it so often is. Drought and coulure have meant it is a small harvest across the valley, smallest of all in the South.  The poor flowering may not have been music to the ears of producers’ bank managers, but it was a silver lining as far as quality was concerned.  From the outset the vines were much less laden with fruit than they would normally have been and so were less inclined to stress, shut down and block grape ripening during the drought. Nonetheless ripening was not necessarily quick and although it was an early harvest (starting early September or even end of August, in some cases)  more patience was required than originally expected and picking carried on throughout September and, for Mourvèdre, into October. Grape-health, from Lyon to Avignon, was pristine and the weather during September was beautiful. These were huge bonuses as, according to Jean-Louis Chave, “you could harvest when you wanted.”  Though it is not always an homogenous vintage (the danger was shrivelled grapes resulting in confit flavours and dry tannins) but proper vineyard husbandry and a well-timed harvest meant that excellent quality levels were very attainable. 

Whereas 2016 was rich and powerful in the South yet elegant and classic in the North, and whilst 2015 was the reverse but equally contrasting, 2017 is one of those rare years where the vintage style and quality is the same across the Northern and Southern Rhône:  There are some real gems in this vintage, wines characterised by richly-aromatic and alluring fruit profiles. They have a headily-scented sunny side to them but are even-keeled. Sweet but clear fruit counteracted by discernibly crisp, firm but not unwieldy tannins. Alcohol levels are on the higher side of the scale but largely well-balanced. They sit between, in the south, the more elegant 2015s and the headier 2016s and, in the north, between the fresher 2016s and the more powerful 2015s.   Overall almost every grower I spoke to placed 2017, stylistically, between these two vintages.  A superb year of generous wines full of effusive ripe fruit but with strong structures robust enough to ensure good ageing potential. 

A New Year message: Letter from London
Chadwick Delaney - 04 January 2017

We will all certainly remember 2016 as the year of milestones. In the broader world 2016 was a year of quite some change, which has given us a lot to reflect on. Beyond careful planning for the future, at Justerini & Brooks it was a year we allowed a small focus on celebration. 

Firstly, we had a couple of important anniversaries. Our business, which started in St. James’s back in 1749, celebrated its 150th anniversary of doing business with the United States. The arrival of ocean-going steam ships allowed the rich and inquisitive of New York to come to London, and us to go there (Justerinis subsequently opened an office there in 1866). Yet records show the U.S. didn’t even house our first overseas customer – a lone Indian Maharaja beats the glitzy and more broad arrival of Manhattan by eight years. From that first customer we now service the needs of collectors across 49 different countries.

In 2016 we also celebrated the 40th anniversary of my pioneering predecessor Geoffrey Jameson opening up the Hong Kong market in 1976. As part of our anniversary celebrations in Hong Kong this year we recreated one of his opening events, and took the top floor of the Peninsula hotel for a fabulous party with many of our long-standing customers in attendance, as well as some amazing large-format wines.

Beyond celebrating some history, we had more current milestones to acknowledge. Cellarers Wines Ltd – our storage company which manages our customers’ reserves – has recently been growing at an extraordinary and unprecedented rate – taking in a further 44,000 cases of customer stock in just the past two years. It seems that increasingly major collectors value what Cellarers offers them, and which very few others do. Beyond the legal protection and extra security of a separate limited company managing one’s stock, it’s the knowledge that every case is landed with the owner’s name physically placed on it along with the date it entered the warehouse – proving each specific case belongs to its specific customer. At a time when so much customer stock is bulk-landed into warehouses to quietly save companies money, such peace of mind is invaluable. Please feel free to contact Cellarers at cellarers@justerinis.com for more information about storing with them.

So what has 2016 meant for us and our customers? Well, Burgundy continues to shine. Sales growing a further 24% on the year before. Thankfully with a slight drop in the average case price on that prior year (down from £961 per case to £869.) Disappointingly, it seems that the large gains of interest in Italy that we had been seeing in recent years took a pause in 2016, with Italian sales dropping 9% on the year before, mainly driven by a less exciting primeur campaign for Barolo. Even though the average case price of Italian wine sold at Justerinis being £1060 (down from £1179 the year before) which surprisingly still places the country’s top wines above our Burgundy average. With the highly anticipated 2013 Barolo releases coming this March it will be interesting to review these sales numbers again next Christmas. Conversely, after many years of seeming disinterest, Rhone took off in 2016 – growing a staggering 441% on the previous year. The average case price, at £572, showing the difference the top estates of the Rhone Valley offer compared with their more fashionable rivals elsewhere. Bordeaux, still by far the biggest region for us and our customers, continued to come back from its long period of stagnation – showing a second consecutive year of growth, but this time more accelerated. Bordeaux sales grew 65% on the year before, with the average sales price in 2016 being £1218 a case. We should touch on whisky – a rapidly increasing area of interest with our customers, and one which we’ve been putting a lot of work into servicing. Both the old, rare bottlings and limited bottling runs, but also even individual casks of some of the hardest to find Scotch whiskies getting bespoke-bottled for our private customers. All of this has meant that overall our whisky sales have almost doubled over the past two years, with this becoming a multi-million pound part of our business. The average bottle price now a heady £719, which shows the area of keenest focus amongst our whisky customers.

But we save the best to last. A region that Justerini & Brooks has been proudly importing and championing for many decades, but which fell out of favour more than forty years ago. The statistics for Germany this year are incredible. In fact only possible because the growth in demand is not only in the traditional sweeter styles but also due to the newer interest in the dry styles of Riesling, plus the widening range of superb Pinot Noir now being made there. Our Buyers also attended the famous Trier auctions this autumn and bought, for the first time ever, a large array of special, auction-only cuvees which were keenly taken up by our customers. In total it meant that Germany grew a staggering 576% on the prior year, with the average case price being easily the most attractive of all our key fine wine regions, at £363.

2016 has equally been a year to note for reasons beyond simple business. Our long association with the sport of polo continues (in both England and India). Not only, in more recent years, our involvement at a global level with supplying wines to British Polo Day as they tour their exquisite and spectacular polo events across ten countries a year. Most currently just three weeks ago with two incredible events in India, kindly hosted by the Maharajas of Jaipur and Jodhpur. (Please view the Polo section within the Discover area on www.justerinis.com/discover-justerinis to see more). But also back at home 2016 saw Justerini & Brooks title-sponsor the prestigious, high-goal Arthur Lucas Cup at Beaufort Polo Club. Rekindling our relationship with that great English polo family, twenty five years after Arthur Lucas’s grandson captained the J&B team to victory. (Again, a short video of that 2016 tournament is also on the Polo section of our website.) On more serious notes, we passionately continue our involvement in conservation and ecology, an area we first became involved in many years ago with the Care for the Rare programme in Africa. We remain proudly involved with Tusk Trust, and more recently 2016 saw us become involved in an important ecological project much closer to home – the visionary Garden Bridge concept across the Thames.

We start the New Year with a lot to reflect on. This business has always tried to be an example of the power and importance of personal, meaningful relationships. Many forged over lifetimes. Both with the growers we so proudly represent, and also with our customers who enjoy drinking their wines. In this hectic, ever-changing world, true, meaningful luxury is increasingly becoming something that simple.

- Chadwick Delaney, Managing Director of Justerini & Brooks

Interview: In the cellar with Jerome from Chateau Mont-Redon
Justerini & Brooks - 26 May 2016

Last week Justerinis welcomed Jerome Abeille from the famed Chateauneuf du Pape estate, Mont Redon to St James’s Street.

After a typically French breakfast of coffee and croissant, we tasted a mouth-watering selection of Mont Redon wines. Jerome explained his wines to our team and described the enormous effort that goes into producing the highest quality Chateauneuf du Papes.

Mont Redon has been in the Abeille family since 1923. Four generations later and the winery remains in the capable hands of Jerome’s father, Jean, and his uncle, Didier Fabre. This striking domaine is very much a family affair; sons and cousins are charged with all aspects of the winery’s upkeep, from harvesting to export and sales; there is no let up for an estate that boasts close to 200 hectares.  It’s hard to image that Mont Redon once started out with a relatively tiny 2.5 hectare plot.

Back in 1923 the Cote du Rhone was not the appellation it is today. “This system started only in 1935, with our first Mont Redon bottling being the 1950 vintage.” (Of which there are still a few bottles in Jerome’s cellar, although he assures us he is yet to taste it!)

“We are now the largest wine estate in the appellation.” Jerome informs us, “with 100ha in Chateauneuf du Pape, 28ha in the Cote du Rhone, 35ha in Cru du Lirac and 48ha in Cote de Provence.” Yet, expansion is still very much an ambition, “if the right opportunity comes along – of course. We hope to continue to develop across the appellations.”

Making the best quality wine is very much the Mont Redon ethos. At all stages of production, the best of cutting edge technology and traditional wine-making methods are utilized.

Jerome explains that before the harvest all the family taste the berries, but they do not taste the juice or pulp, “there is always enough sugar,” Jerome maintains, instead “we press the berry and remove the juice, tasting only the skin. This allows us to see the quality of the fruit and the tannins.” This is the same process for each plot, allowing an assessment on the maturity of the vintage, preserving the expression of terroir, balance and fruit. “We hand harvest everything - we have to by law - for six weeks 90 people join us at Mont Redon for the duration of the harvest. We completely de-stem by machine - by hand is painstaking. Then, we use the optical sorting machine. This system uses three cameras, the first removes anything green, leaves, stems etc., the second assess the size and colour of the grapes, and the third removes anything bad.”

Whilst the team always pick by hand, the use of the optical sorting system allows for much greater degree of efficiency and far less waste. “It only improves the wine,” Jerome enthuses, “we have noticed a big change since using the machine - the wines keep much more of the purity of the fruit and the colour. We have worked with a lab and conducted chemical analysis, so we know it is working.”

Terroir plays a vital role in the production of Mont Redon wines. Comprising: the round pebbles, or Galets Roulés, sand and clay, and limestone. Each terroir serves its own unique purpose, as Jerome explains, “Sand and clay is best for the aromatic Syrah’s, Limestone for the white grapes and a small amount of Syrah, and the Galets - all Grenache.” Jerome continues, “Having three different soils is a brilliant opportunity to make three distinct types of wines, unlike other producers who have only one terroir.”

And what of the 2016 vintage? “Everything is going well – we had a mild winter – very dry and no mistral. No frost. All very good for the moment – the light is green!”  

Justerinis’ quick fire round:

J&B: What Mont Redon wines do you enjoy drinking?

JA: I would say the 2000 in magnum. It is a perfect example that is at maturity. The 2005, 2006 and 2007 are also excellent. They have the fruit and the freshness, but also the beginnings of aromas. They are a great mix, not too old, not too young. But Magnums are certainly best.

J&B: What are you favourite food and Mont Redon combinations?

JA: I really enjoying hunting, so I find Woodcock and game go particularly well. Also, cheese, charcuterie and in Provence the lamb is just excellent.

J&B: When not drinking your own wines, what do you enjoy?

JA: I like Bordeaux and Burgundy, but prices are a little out of my reach! I drink wines from the North of the Rhone. I have a lot of that. I really like a very good Syrah. I used to drink German wines and Austrian wines, but now I would say 90% of what I drink is French. A little bit of Champagne, of course, and nice wines from the Loire.

J&B: What are you desert island wines:

JA: Champagne: Pol Roger, Winston Churchill, 2002. It is just excellent, a super Champagne. Red: Coche Dury from Burgundy. These wines are the best, exceptional. Of course the top Bordeaux (Haut Brion in particular), and for White: Burgundy – again Coche Dury.

Thank you so much to Jerome. You can discover more about the wines of Mont Redon, here

Harvest Report: Château Mont-Redon
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 29 September 2015

The Abeille-Fabre Family share with us their insights from the 2015 harvest at Château Mont-Redon, which reaches its end today, somewhat earlier than expected. 

“2015 has been a quite easy year on the climatic point of view all along the vegetative cycle, featuring a dry year with a hot summer marked by temperatures exceeding 40°C, thus accelerating the maturities and dropping acidity. This lasted until the beginning of September. We have had a crop with rarely equaled, healthy conditions, but experienced again a gap between alcoholic maturity and the phenolic one, therefore we had to wait quite a while in order to meet our expectations."

"We started our harvest with the white grape varieties, immediately followed by the syrahs. Some rains, but with no harmful consequences, have happened between the crop of our precious varieties and the grenaches. At the opposite, these rains have had a beneficial action by releasing the balances which had been stopped by drought and very high temperatures, thus allowing us to pick up our grenaches and mourvedres in ideal conditions, with a light and good mistral wind.

The first white and rosé wines are not yet finished, but we expect very beautiful results with an attractive and intense aromatic nose. For the reds, it is quite early to be accurate but we can already tell that we will get a very successful vintage, with deep color and full-bodied wines. The volumes should at last get close to the outputs of the different appellations.

In Cotes de Provence, at Chateau Riotor, we have had the same climatic conditions as in Mont-Redon, with rains of the end of August/beginning of September, followed by drought. This may have negative consequences on volumes. To sum up, the wines have a very nice color and an intense fruit profile but we blame a deficit in quantity.”

Vintage Report: Rhône 2013, "a silver lining" (and a quick word on 2012s)
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 17 November 2014

Walking through some Grenache vines in Châteauneuf –du-Pape at the end of September 2013 was glorious.  It was a bright, sunny and rather balmy afternoon, unusually so at that time of year even for the Southern Rhône.  

As I looked at the vines, sparsely dotted with the odd bunch, most of them grapillons (the second flush of grapes that are left on the vine after vintage because they never ripen and are not used to make wine). I imagined how glorious the crop would have looked and how gratifying harvest must have been.  So it was to my great surprise later that evening to learn that picking had not even started yet.  Nearly a year on, I travelled out( this week) to taste the results. 

Uneven weather before and during the 2013 flowering period resulted in the dropping of embryonic bunches, followed by aborted flowering of those that remained. Grenache was the most severely affected variety in the South and given that this makes up 70% of the typical Châteauneuf blend, was something of a catastrophe for growers.  A drop of 30 to 50% compared to a usual harvest was reported across the region, for many producers it was the smallest crop they had ever seen.  In the North, depending on the vineyard and individual terroir, Syrah was worse affected than it was further south and there were also tiny yields for Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Furthermore a very uneven wet and cold summer meant it was a late vintage, the latest in thirty years of wine producing for one particular Hermitage vigneron. 

However the small crop was very much a silver lining, particularly in the North. What grapes there were ripened well in the sunny, dry, end of September / early October conditions and good acidity levels were maintained.

Broadly speaking in the North this is a 2012 plus plus vintage. 2013 has a similar profile to ’12 but with more ripeness and concentration, whilst retaining an agile, refreshing quality. I tasted some juicy, classical, luscious Cornas and Hermitages but even better were the Côte Rôties, where growers generally recorded half a crop but were offered more than double the recompense by nature in terms of quality.  This is a great Côte Rôtie vintage.  The whites in 2013 are great, too, the Condrieus were some of the best I had ever tasted. They offered ripe, fruity flavours without the heaviness sometimes associated with these wines and displayed mineral, linear finishes. 

In the south the wines were uncommonly refreshing and relatively low in alcohol  (13.5 to 14 % rather than 15 to 15.5%)  However they could not trump the exquisite 2012s - I re-tasted many of these in Châteauneuf – my initial opinion of them last year was more than confirmed.  2012 is one of the very great Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintages with a refinement and subtle beauty that was largely missed or under-appreciated upon release. Snap them up while you can. 

Coming back to 2013: It was an extreme, marginal vintage that will certainly be variable in quality amongst less quality-conscious growers.  There was a fine line between good and bad.  However at the region’s quality-minded estates, on the right side of the line, the quality can be utterly brilliant.
26 vintages of Clos des Papes
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 03 October 2014

I have drunk more Clos des Papes in the last four weeks than the whole of last year, 26 different examples of red and white to be precise, but I am not complaining.  For this fine Rhône estate produces wine that, with age, challenges the convention that Chateauneuf du Pape is about power, richness and little else.  

Whilst the famous vintages of course get great journalistic scores and points, the last month has also proven how good Clos des Papes is in "challenging" vintages, indeed they are sometimes preferable.

Overall the wines were utterly graceful, sensual sweet but moreish, very refined but with a distinct sense of place.  My first tasting was with Vincent Avril himself in his cellars, the initial premise was to taste 2013 but Vincent's generosity extended to another eight additional wines.  The second occasion was a thoroughly convivial dinner earlier this week where the 1934 was rather decadently, but not incorrectly, served as an "apertif" - it was a memorable night.  

Overall I have tasted eight whites and 18 reds, amongst which were such lauded vintages as 1983, 1989, 1995 and 2000, however my absolute favourites were as follows.

2013 - White.  Less Grenache than usual, really clear and crisp without being aggressive excellent
Red - lots of Mourvedre (30%) and 15% less Grenache than usual.  Early days but promises so much, the freshness of 2008 with the fat of 2011.

2012  Red - One of the great vintages, intensity, depth ripeness and freshness with velvety tannins.  Edges ahead of the other great 2010 for its extra charm and harmony

2001 White - secondary character and complexity with youthful precision , keeps on giving. wonderful 
Red - a long life ahead of it very young and not ready but clearly very smart.  Lively strong but fine- boned.  Super.  Just edge out the very attractive plump and sensual 2000 it was paired with.

1997 White - stunning, a nose that smell distinctly of Saar Riesling.  This is a cooler edgier vintage and it shows in the wine, stony mineral with enough fat to balance

1993 White -  stony and even tauter than the 1997.  A little leaner than the 1997 but very moreish and enjoyable nonetheless
Red -  one of the wines of the dinner.  Wonderful to drink now so fresh and vital but seductive with it.  Floral, fruity and finely poised. Brilliant

1988  Red some secondary character and spice but still plenty of fruit, distinctly mineral too.  Perfectly weighted and drinking well now but there's no rush.  gorgeous. 

1984 - a very "cassis" nose, lots of dark fruit.  More mourvedre in this than usual, this is very impressive and youthful, it still has a good long life ahead of it.  Tense dark structured but velvety blackberries and currants. 

1971 Red this was paired with a '74 - which was lovely and drinking well now - but the 71 had the edge.  Serious dark but bright, almost slightly brooding still, very enjoyable indeed if still plenty to give

1934 Red.  Speechless.  The nose is a nice enough mixture of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, however this does not prepare you at all for the utterlty spellbinding palate  Silky sweet garriguettes strawberries slip accross the juicy palate, notes of leather and spice aswell but they are not too dominant.  Light-touched but persistent, so elegant and beguiling.  Most amazing of all is that it managed to taste not just like Chateaneuf but specifically like Clos des Papes after all these years.  A slickness and sweetness of fruit married to gently spiced characteristics... and it held on in the glass well. Extraordinary.
Harvest report: Château Mont-Redon's 2013 by Jerome Abeille
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 02 October 2013

'After a very cold and rainy spring which lasted until mid July, warm days have finally arrived throughout August and early September. 

However sunshine has not been sufficient enough to compensate the late summer arrival. Due to these very unusual weather conditions, the maturity of the grapes are approximately three weeks behind a normal year.

On Monday 23rd of September, a small team conducted by Yann started to harvest some whites and then the Syrah. The remainder of our small Portuguese team are arriving shortly to help with the harvest as well. The first vats of white are very aromatic and the Syrah show a very nice colour although it is still too early to judge.
Nice weather for the upcoming fifteen days will be necessary to reach a nice vintage. Either way this harvest will be small in terms of volume because of poor Grenache flowering; around 40% of it was lost.

At our Riotor property in Provence, harvest is much further ahead and we are about two-thirds of the way through. Quantities are more satisfactory than in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but will most likely stay at the level of 2012; i.e 25% under normal yield again

The qualities so far are very nice and the fruit has very bright violet hints. We anticipate this vintage will be as qualitative as 2012 and probably even better!'

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Masterclass – Monday, 18 April
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 12 April 2011

A celebration of Châteauneuf-du-Pape!

Justerini & Brooks are excited to host a tasting featuring Châteauneuf-du-Pape in all its glory at the fabulous French restaurant, Boundary, in Shoreditch. On offer will be an exquisite range of wines from Château Mont Redon, Domaine Jean Paul Versino/ Bois du Boursan, Vieux Télégraphe and Château de Beaucastel. The tasting will explore the varying styles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and will investigate the complexities of this historic appellation accross different vintages, all this around a selection of great Charcuteries and Canapés. Visit http://www.theboundary.co.uk/news/chateau-boundary/chateauneuf-du-pape-masterclass-monday-18-april-2011/index.php for further details and booking.
Robert Parker: France 2009 and Rhone 2007
Julian Campbell - 19 October 2009
A recent news letter from Robert Parker extolling the potential of the French 2009 harvest, and the realised (and bottled) greatness from the 2007 Southern Rhone vintage. We will be re-offering a selection of 2007 Rhones with our 2008 Rhone release.

"2009 in France
Having been in France in late August and early September, this is going to be a potentially great vintage in virtually every wine region. In thirty years of visiting France in the fall, and seeing how vintages unfold, I don't remember a better set of climatic conditions than those that occurred in the critical months of August and September as well as the early part of October, 2009. Burgundy, Loire, Alsace, Bordeaux, the northern Rhône and probably the southern Rhône as well appear to have had phenomenal vintages, which is certainly good news. If there is going to be any weaknesses, it may be because of the severe drought France suffered, which was abated somewhat in certain areas by some late rain in September. That may have caused some hydric stress and tannin issues with some wines, but we won't know for sure until the wines are tasted in the spring of 2010.

You can't buy enough of the 2007 Southern Rhônes
As my report that will be coming out the end of October states, from top to bottom, this is the greatest vintage I have ever tasted in any viticultural area. Most consumers who have already tried some of the generic 2007 southern Rhônes have already seen what they are in store for given the fact that these wines are well above their humble pedigrees. At the top level are the great wines of the finest appellation of the southern Rhône, Châteauneuf du Pape, but Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Rasteau are the real value picks as almost every domaine in Châteauneuf du Pape that has a noteworthy reputation is already sold out. The wines are just hitting the distribution channels in the United States and Europe, so move quickly. Despite the worldwide economic woes, these wines are disappearing at a rapid pace."