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Rhône 2009: Côte Rôtie to Cornas


Our final visit in Côte Rôtie is to Clusel Roch, who are described by John Livingstone-Learmonth, the foremost wine writer on the Northern Rhône, as “principled” and producing “supremely elegant wine, with the magic word “purity” in them”. Brigitte Roch is serious but smiling. She is a consumate wine maker.

The detail and care brought to every aspect of their work is exemplified in a discussion about barrels. They only use Tonnellerie Surugue, a family run small scale artisan business because, while completely trusting their skill and experience, Brigitte can be involved in every aspect of the barrel making from selecting the wood onwards.

Their 2009s are pure, supple and poised. The Grandes Places a work of art. These are some of our favourite wines – the serendiptous combination of an outstanding vintage and intuitive winemaking.

Syrah vines in Côte Rôtie
Syrah vines in Côte Rôtie

Forty five minutes on the autoroute and we hit Tain l’Hermitage. Our first visit is to the quietly charming Etienne Pochon at Chateau de Curson. The “chateau” is a provencale style bastide with a tower and is bathed in golden sunlight. Etienne is warm and welcoming. His 2008 Crozes Hermitage has changed a lot since last year, it is soft, fruity, feminine and ready to go. His 2009 is a big step up in intensity – always good value and a great success this year.

Florent Viale at Domaine de Colombier is on top form – relaxed, in ripped shorts and baseball cap, joking and smiling, And (OMG!) his wine is good. More brilliant 09s – both the Cuvee Gaby and his Hermitage got three stars from me. Florent said that the quantity was good in relation to the quality so we can only hope for extra allocations…

A spectacularly good lunch at Le Mangevin in the middle of Tain l’Hermitage – just next door to Chapoutier – a Japanese chef cooking French food with a lightness of touch all too often missing.

Driving through the back streets of suburban Tain l’Hermitage we pull up at a modest family home which conceals the Tardis-like cellar of Bernard Faurie. Our clients are not as familiar as they should be with Monsieur Faurie. He neither sends samples nor comes over for our En Primeur Tastings, as he feels his wines are not at an acceptably expressive stage to be shown to the public. This is a great shame as he is a truly talented winemaker and his wines are a real benchmark in this celebrated appellation. A major success: we persuade him to send samples for the November tasting. Hurrah.

Bernard Faurie in his cellar
Bernard Faurie in his cellar

White haired, softly spoken, incredibly amiable and meticulous in the cellar, Bernard has taken his family’s business from grape growers to one of the most sought after producers in Hermitage. 2009 was another successful year for him – both his St Joseph and Hermitage are exemplary – pure, rich and ripe yet fresh and balanced.

A quick detour to the Valrhona factory shop in Tain. I have been cooking with Valrhona chocolate for more than a decade and had never given a thought to its origins: there is however a hint in the name. A welcome break from wine, you can try out every concentration and nuance of chocolate imaginable. We came away loaded down with shopping bags.

Our final appointment is to catch up with Albéric Mazoyer at Domaine Alain Voge, to taste their delicious St Peray and Cornas.

Alberic Mazoyer at Domaine Alain Voge
Alberic Mazoyer at Domaine Alain Voge

They are based in a Cornas back street and are also mid building works. We go in through a discussion of barrels, vinification and other more spurious matters) emerge into a tasting room in an entirely different building across the road.

Voge's Cornas 2009
Voge’s Cornas 2009

Alberic is dynamic and enthusiastic, eloquent and amusing – the tasting room is simple, its walls hung with a series of stunning photos of the local flora and fauna. As evening falls and the light starts to soften it is impossible not to feel at one with the world. His 2009s are absolute block busters. I predict an excellent score from Mr Parker although they are a little too powerful for my slightly puritanical tastes.