June 14 Saturday
By now we're operating like a well-oiled machine; we were all on the coach at 7.25am sharp and en-route to Tain L'Hermitage and our appointment at M. Chapoutier. It was fortunate we left early as the weekend traffic on the motorway built in intensity as we approached Lyon; I typed feverishly to complete the previous day's blog so that I could watch the All Blacks vs. England Test, which was to play out during the second half of our 3-hour drive to Chapoutier. Cathy MacKinlay had her i-phone and i-pad linked up and a group of us were watching it although reception came and went as we went through various low spots and were frequently surrounded by large trucks. The second half of our journey passed by in a flash given we were so engrossed in the test and before you knew it we were pulling up outside the cellar door of M. Chapoutier in Tain L'Hermitage. Our host Nelly France was still 30-minutes away (coming in especially on a Saturday to receive our group) so we crowded around Rex Howe's mobile on the street corner listening to the radio stream; it must have looked a bit astonishing to the locals to see this group of people huddled around a mobile on the street corner and everyone now and then cheering loudly. Nelly arrived several minutes before full-time and graciously allowed us to hear the last of the transmission while she prepared our tasting.
Nelly had lined up 11-wines for us to try that showcased the various appellations of the Rhone plus a couple of wines from their vineyards in Roussillon. The two ‘Pays d'Oc' wines from the 2013 vintage were both very bright with pure fruit flavours and balanced acidity, a window to the wines from the vintage that we will see in NZ later in 2014. The white was a Vermentino/Terret blend and the Rosé made from Grenache. The 2012 ‘Invitare' is made from 100% Viognier and was very typical in flavour with a moderately oily texture. Two Marsanne wines followed… ‘Chante-Alouette' from the 2012 vintage, which was again very typical and our group found its creamier flavours and generous texture very appealing. The 2nd Marsanne was the famous ‘De L'Oree' from Michel's legendary ‘Sêlections Parcellaires' range; it was a serious step up in terms of concentration, flavour definition, structure and texture… the complete package, which did not escape the attention of our group; in particular Royce Everret who emptied his water glass and tipped the residual De L'Oree into it to save for the end of the tasting (good thinking Royce). Now it was time for the reds… six in total. We began with the ‘Belleruche' Cotes du Rhone 2013, which was brightly fruited with spicy Syrah underpinning the 70% Grenache component rife with fruitcake and bright red fruit flavours… excellent vintage and example, which will be well received when it gets to NZ. Followed by ‘La Bernadine' Chateauneuf du Pape 2010, which unlike most styles is made solely from Grenache; it's generous and not lacking in complexity and mirrors Michel's penchant for crafting single vineyard wines. Next was ‘Les Meysonniers' Crozes Hermitage 2011 made from 100% Syrah, bright, spicy and juicy with black fruits and delicious savoury notes… superb value Syrah! ‘Monier de la Sizeranne' Hermitage 2011 was more robust and more tannic Syrah with strong spice, pepper, black fruits and grainy tannin/textural feel with a bright acid lift. The final two reds came from the highly sought after ‘Sêlections Parcellaires' range and are rarely ever offered to visiting groups so we all felt rather special to be tasting such rare and august wines. First ‘Les Granits' Saint Joseph 2010… from a small 2.5 hectare single vineyard. Typically Saint Joseph in that it was very taut and mineral with strong tannin and quite restrained flavours, it will need to be cellared for at least 10-years before approaching and likely to evolve over 20-years plus if well stored. The 2006 ‘La Pavillion' Ermitage (actually Hermitage red but Michel prefers the use of the allowable name ‘Ermitage' when identifying his single vineyard Syrah) – now 8-years old it was developing a very mellow texture and ripe/savoury secondary flavours and complexities were unfolding though it still retained some brighter primary fruits. The tannin was fine and grainy… a bit like cocoa powder in its feel. Overall a beautiful experience and well appreciated by the group.
The tasting over Nelly led us off down the road to the hill of Hermitage, which overshadows the town of Tain L'Hermitage and is directly to the rear of M. Chapoutier cellar door. Completely covered in vines this 120-hectare crème of the crop of Rhone's Syrah appellations is almost priceless land and 25% of the hill is owned by Chapoutier.Given we were late for lunch and Nelly had a special family commitment we proposed to stand at the foot of the hill in the Chapoutier ‘Les Greffieux' single vineyard and Nelly would point out their other vineyard holdings on the hill. However once there the temptation to go up the hill proved too strong so Nelly set off at a good clip and we all followed her; a compromise was reached to climb to a small natural plateau approximately 60% of the way up where we could take in a magnificent vista of the town and across to the appellation of Saint Joseph with sweeping views of the lower Rhone and river. If you ever get there you must make the climb as the views are amazing and nurturing to one's soul. It was here Virginia seized the moment to express the gratitude of the group to Nelly for her generosity in taking time away from her family commitments to receive this enthusiastic group of Kiwi wine lovers… and to have shared the great ‘Sêlections Parcellaires' wines with us. Beautiful and heartfelt speech Virginia… nicely done!
Of course many pictures were taken including one of the group before we made the careful descent back to the bottom, thankfully without incident. Although late for her family commitment Nelly walked through the town with us to our restaurant to explain to the owner our lateness and apologise. He seemed rather unfazed and soon we were seated in the front courtyard drinking Saint-Peray white and a quite delicious 2013 Cotes du Rhone while consuming a variety of local cuisine well served by our waitress Chantelle; she spoke very good English apropos her 2-years of time studying in Scotland.After lunch we walked 200-metres to visit the famous Rhone based chocolate maker ‘Valrhona' where we all enthusiastically sampled (they offer an unrestricted supply of samples for public consumption so one needs to be sensible not to over indulge) before loading up with a selection of chocolate goodies then boarding our coach for an hour's drive to ‘Beau Rivage' (by the river) our hotel located on the banks of the Rhone River in the town of Condrieu. We all had generous sized rooms with balconies offering views up/down the river and the surrounding countryside...Virginia had again chosen well! Post an aperitif on the hotel patio we enjoyed a superb group dinner – as usual the food was plentiful and the quality excellent with the asparagus and goats cheese entrée proving the highlight among a selection of very fine dishes. A Saint Joseph Blanc (Marsanne/Rousanne blend) that came with the recommendation of the sommelier and a 2007 Cote Rotie served from magnum both proved tasty and ideal accompaniments to our dinner. We were all a little weary and keen to rest up for our stay in Avignon so the dinner did not go too late.