La Tour du Rhône: Day one

La Tour du Rhône: Day one

Tuesday 29th September 2009
by Giles Burke-Gaffney

Monday, 28th September

Don't let the title concern you, the Justerinis buying team haven't taken to the bicycle just yet, though that might have been preferable to the beaten up Mazda Hertz tried to force on us at Toulouse airport.

An early start this morning as we headed along the windy roads of the Rousillon hills. Our destination was Clos des Fées. The beautiful, tranquil almost otherworldly scenery surrounding their village, Vingrau, is truly something to behold. The difference between here and the low plains of the Roussillon is stark, not only in terms of beauty but also in temperature. A distinct chill in the air attested to this. 8.30 am and my mouth was awash with old vines carignan, grenache and syrah. The cellar/garage is tiny. How they produce 3000 cases here is a miracle. Vintages are pretty consistent up here, so not surprisingly 06, 07 and 08 were all impressive. 07 was the richest and silkiest, 06 much more serious and classic with 08 somewhere in between, and perhaps the most lifting of all. These wines really show what greatness the relatively unchartered waters of the Roussillon hills can achieve.

We leave uncharacteristically on time and bat east accross the Roussillon towards Pezenas - a quick pit stop to see our old friends at Domaine Montrose. Having seen the success of their flavoursome and elegant looking rosé magnums, they seem to have caught the large format bug. They now produce some quite stunning looking jeroboams - we'll be shipping these in as early as we can in 2010.

After a minor disagreement between myself, Hew and the rather authoritarian French lady on our navigating system that takes us through some less than salubrious parts of Montpellier, we end up at Mont-Redon in Châteauneuf-du-Pape a little late. We taste a fantastically fresh white 2008 Châteauneuf. The red is admirably complete with good body, fruit and freshness. It does not have the power of 07 but will prove to be a very good drinker. We revisited the red 2006 Châteauneuf, a vintage I adore, but this seems to be going through a closed phase and needs to age for a good two years or so. We also took a fresh look at the 2005, and how this has come on. Brooding and surly for years this is now sumptuously rich, velvety and starting to drink very well indeed.

Across the village to our next stop, Pierre Usseglio. There will just be one red Usseglio Châteauneuf in 08 - but what a beauty. Ripe, floral, teaming with lush opulent fruit. Once again there is not the density or raw power of some more recently celebrated vintages but you certainly wouldn't turn this back in a restaurant. And it's no weakling either showing a nice touch of stuffing that should see it through to the mid term.

Onto our final tasting at Pegau where there was a flurry of activity as usual. A throng of Far Eastern tourists, German private customers and two weary British merchants all waiting in anticipation. Laurence Ferraud eventually arrived, closely followed by a tractor with 09 grapes from one of the last parcels to be picked. It seems that most in Châteaneuf are finishing harvest today, in glorious baking-hot sunshine. We watched as the 09 Pegau grapes were transferred to vat, and when offered by Laurence a testube of free run 09 grape juice Hew accepted with remarkable alacrity. Luckily he left some for me - nectar. Juicy sweet and packed with fruit.

2008 followed and while there will be no Da Capo a decision is yet to be made on the Laurence. The regular cuvée will please Pegau followers enormously. Classic, not heavy with plenty of fruit and savoury character in equal measure. After dropping off our bags at the hotel we headed back to Mont Redon for dinner. We were greeted by 100 delirious, singing and dancing portuguese pickers who were celebrating the Féte de Vendange, the last day of harvest. We escaped before being caught up in an increasingly raucous congo. Over dinner we tried some excellent bottles with the Fabres and Abeilles, who run Mont-Redon, the highlights of which were an excellent red Châteauneuf 1998 that is really starting to open up beautifully after so many years in the doldrums and an incredibly rich and spritely 1967. Mont-Redon make honest pure wines, they aren't flashy and don't get big press but they are wines you get immense pleasure from drinking. And what more can you ask? Well, an early night for one thing... more Châteaneuf, Gigondas and Vacqueyras awaits tomorrow.