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First Impressions – Rhone 2006


Each year we descend to the Rhône Valley to taste the latest vintage. In this case, it was 2006 which will become our next En Primeur offer to be released in November. The 2006 vintage is looking fabulous in both the northern and southern Rhône with the red wines having lots of fresh, succulent fruit, good acidity and velvety structure. Many winemakers describe them as “˜gourmand’ or wines that make you want to drink more. The whites tend to be richer and rounder than their 2005 counterparts and have wonderful density. It was also an opportune moment to taste through some 2004s which we still have in stock. I was delighted by their quality and finesse and some are ready to drink now.

This year, I started in the northern Rhône in Condrieu. My first visit was to Guigal. As we received our first allocation of 2003 La Turque this year giving me an excuse to investigate a little deeper.

Côte Rôtie Vineyards
Côte Rôtie Vineyards

They have the largest ageing cellars in Côte Rôtie (covering over 3 hectares!) and state-of-the-art bottling facilities which even the Bordelais would be jealous of! A quick tasting through various qualities and appellations stressed the high quality of this estate. They produce miniscule amounts of “Lala” wines (i.e. La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque) and he offered me a tasting of all three cuvées from 2005. I opted for their 2004s (crazy, non?) which will be released next year. They were fabulous and had wonderful complexity and depth reflecting their individual characteristics. I nonetheless look forward to tasting the 05s on next year’s trip!

My second visit was with Christophe Bonnefond, a vigneron located high into the hills above Ampuis.
He produces three Côte Rôties – a “˜classic’ cuvee which is a blend of parcels, a Côte Rozier, from the larger “˜Côte Blonde’ area and a Rochains, a parcel from the larger “˜Côte Brune’ area. All were delicious with ripe, plump fruit yet meaty at the same time.

One always has the luck of the draw of visiting the charismatic Stéphane Montez. So often he is out in the vineyards or even tasting with Robert Parker. Stéphane arrived with pipette in hand and in a sparkling mood about the quality of the 2007 harvest showing me some of his ripe, deeply coloured Syrah from a nearby vineyard. But I was eager to try his 2006s…they were everything I hoped for. His Condrieu Grandes Chaillées was glorious, full of fresh zesty fruit and his reds were punchy with a good core of fruit and velvety structure.

The day finished with an enjoyable tasting of the Burgundian-styled Clusel Roch wines and the concentrated, fruit-driven cuvées of Stéphane Ogier, who was also beaming about the quality of his harvest.