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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
independent
analytical
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

REDS OF THE SOUTHERN RHONE VALLEY,  2001 – 2003


The last few years have been exciting for those who love southern Rhone wines.  And it is hard not to love them,  for they are some of the most aromatic,  savoury,  enticing,  and food-friendly reds on earth.  At best they offer much of the charm of good pinot noir / burgundy,  at a fraction the price.  Since 1998 the vintages can be superficially characterised as:  1998 big,  rich and tannic;  1999 crisp and aromatic,  lighter;  2000 rich and fleshy,  softer;  2001 the best features of the previous three,  ripe,  aromatic,  firm;  2002 floods and washed-out;  2003 drought and reduced crops,  but the promise of some fine big wines,  if not too 'hot-climate' and broad in style.   October offered a first taste of some minor 2003s,  but currently the 2001s are of most interest for cellaring. The best are becoming scarce however  –  to judge from websites,  only First Glass in Takapuna still has any 2001 Domaine Charvin,  for example. The reviews below are centred on an October blind tasting,  but splice in some of the other southern Rhones tasted during 2004.  Some details from Robert Parker,  Wines of the Rhone Valley,  and The Wine Advocate.

GRENACHE,  SYRAH,  MOURVEDRE & RELATED BLENDS

2003  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cotes du Rhone
2003  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne
2001  Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape
2001  Domaine Brusset Gigondas Tradition le Grand Montmirail
2001  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape
2001  [ Perrin] Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone
2001  Domaine des Relagnes Chateauneuf du Pape
2001  Guigal Cotes du Rhone
2001  Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras
1998  Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac Cuvee de la Reine des Bois
2001  Domaine de Mourchon Seguret Tradition Cotes du Rhone Villages
2001  Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape les Sinards
  2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve
2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Peyre Blanche
2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau l’Andeol
2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Vinsobres les Cornuds
2001  Perrin Gigondas  la Gille
2001  Perrin Vacqueyras les Christins
2003  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone
2003  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion
2002  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion
   nv  Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press
2001  Domaine du Trapadis Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau
2001  Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Ventoux


2001  Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape   19  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $115   [ Mv 30%,  Gr 30;  Sy 10,  Counoise 10,  Ci 5,  8 other permitted Chateauneuf varieties 15%;  must pasteurisation;  12 months large older oak;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Good ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  but no great depth.  A deeply fragrant and berry-rich bouquet in the modern style of Beaucastel,  grapes first.  Among them,  mourvedre seems dominant on bouquet at this stage,  with its raisiny black plum and black olive characters showing.  Berry qualities are remarkably complex,  with (unusually) a hint of Australian boysenberry,  as well as darker cassis-like notes.  Palate is clearly southern Rhone,  with herbes de Provence complexity on considerable fruit richness,  long flavours,  and oak understated and so much cleaner than 20 years ago.  Alongside Coudoulet,  however,  the role of oak is more apparent,  the grand vin being much more aromatic.  This is not an unduly rich or overpowering wine,  or designed to impress as some contemporary Chateauneufs are.  It just has quiet power,  and great length.  One can imagine in 20 years time it will be enchantingly burgundian,  and Cote de Nuits at that.  Exciting but understated wine.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 07/04

2001  Domaine Brusset Gigondas Tradition le Grand Montmirail   19  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $39   [ Gr 70%,  Sy 25,  Ci 5;  18 months in older,  big oak ]
A good ruby with some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is the most complete and enchanting in the set,  soft,  full,  and fragrant in a spectrum from floral via dark berries to savoury,  very beautiful.  These wonderful smells totally express the southern Rhone Valley in an aromatic vintage.  Palate is silky,  rich,  spreading out all the qualities of the bouquet in a satisfying long palate,  with superb acid and tannin balances,  and merely the subtlest oak.  Only a bigot could object to the savoury complexity a trace of brett brings to this magical wine.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $70   [ Gr 90%,  Mv 5,  white vars. 5 ]
Good ruby,  not a fraction of the weight the winewriters would have one believe.  To have this in a blind tasting was an exciting prospect,  for it has had rave reviews in America,  yet from the descriptors one would think the authors were tasting different wines.  Wine Spectator speaks of it being dark and dense,  with chocolate and tar,  and a long core of fruit.  Robert Parker,  for whom smell is more important,  speaks of gorgeously scented kirsch liqueur,  plums,  raspberries … and Provencal herbs.   Our thoughts were the wine is at present dominated by sweet syrah,  with a floral component ranging from carnations to violets (and yes,  herbes de Provence)  in a bouquet which would put many a Cote Rotie in shame.  Below is crisp berry.  Palate is likewise extraordinarily fragrant and crisp for the southern Rhone,  blending syrah aromatics with grenache silky body and a touch of cinnamon,  plus a hint of new oak.  This will be wonderfully confusing wine in 10 years,  with qualities spanning not only the north and south Rhone,  but Burgundy as well.   The last 5 years from Charvin have been superb,  essential in any cellar.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Domaine de Mourchon Seguret Tradition Cotes du Rhone Villages    18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $24   [ Gr 60%,  Sy 25,  Ci 10,  Ca 5;  no new oak at all ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the kind of colour one imagined (from reading) that the Charvin would be.  This is a big wine,  and like the Charvin,  syrah is dominant at this stage:  carnation florals,  cassis berry,  even a hint of black peppercorn,  plus all the aromatic complexity hoped for in good southern Rhone.  Palate is rich,  dark and plummy,  with finegrain tannins reflecting grapes more than oak.  The Mourchon is a richer wine than the Charvin,  perhaps not the ultimate finesse,  but heaps of flavour.  Rhone-styled wines without obvious oak are at best just so infinitely more complex and sensual than Australia's spirity,  oaky offerings in the same nominal style.  Cellar 10 – 20 years,  despite what the pundits say.  GK 10/04

2001  Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape les Sinards   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $64   [ Gr 70%,  Sy 15,  Mv 15;  part of must pasteurised;  100% in casks 12 months;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is archetypal grenache,  soft and 'sweet' raspberry and red plums with cinnamon spice,  and complexity from fragrant herbes de Provence aromatics.  Palate marries all these into a silky classical Chateauneuf de Pape,  richer than the weight of flavour would suggest,  scarcely oaked and little if any new,  a hint of savoury complexity building interest through the palate.  The wine reminds of an understated Chateauneuf such as Clos des Papes,  but more old-fashioned.  This is the best les Sinards in recent years.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 07/04

2001  Perrin Gigondas  la Gille   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $48   [ Gr 80%,  Sy 20;  no de-stemming,  13 days cuvaison;  30% in one-year barrels,  70  in older oak;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Ruby,  deeper than the Sinards or Coudoulet.  Initially opened,  there are some rustic odours which demand splashy pouring from jug to jug.  Thus decanted,  the bouquet is brilliant,  with spicy nutmeg and cinnamon on rich dry redfruits and grenache.  Palate shows excellent savoury herbes de Provence complexity on tongue,  and long soft berryfruit which combines cassis,  blackberry and plum, and is more aromatic all through than Coudoulet.  The wine is dry,  mellow,  scarcely affected by the newish oak,  long on skin tannins,  spicy,  not quite the body of great Gigondas maybe,  but there is good complexity and typicité,  with smoky and bretty grilled beef suggestions which are delicious.  A more traditional wine,  therefore.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 07/04

2001  [ Perrin] Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley (actually adjoining Chateauneuf),  France:  13.5%;  $43   [ Gr 30%,  Mv 30,  Sy 20,  Ci 20;  must pasteurised;  cuvaison 12 days;  6 months in older oak;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Ruby,  fractionally redder than les Sinards.  Bouquet is beautifully traditional southern Rhone:  soft,  fragrant,  lots of red berries,  real vinosity,  herbes de Provence complexity,  beautifully integrated and reminiscent of Chateauneuf du Pape proper.  It is less vibrant and 'varietal' than some more modern interpretations of Cotes du Rhone,  softer and more harmonious.  Palate is astonishingly rich,  to the extent it is extremely hard to tell it from les Sinards – maybe there is no new oak in the Coudoulet,  versus a trace in the other.  This is much the cleanest,  sweetest,  richest and most fragrant Coudoulet de Beaucastel I have ever seen,  a wine which all too often over the decades has been grubby,  trading on the reputation of its namesake.  Cellar 5 – 15 years and maybe longer,  to make fascinating comparisons both with the grand vin,  and with numerous other Cotes du Rhone of this excellent year.  GK 07/04

1998  Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac Cuvee de la Reine des Bois   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $ –    [ Gr 60%,  Sy 20,  Mv 20;  barrels and some new oak ]
Older ruby and velvet.  Already some complexity of age on bouquet,  quite developed, a roti character on big fruit reflecting the vintage,  hints of farmyard,  clear herbes de Provence complexity,  in other words,  good southern Rhone.  Palate is very rich,  quite Australian in one sense,  but lovely furry tannins,  and 'sweet' dried sultana fruit and moist prunes,  yet bone dry.  This is an attractive example of a rich ripe year in the southern Rhone Valley,  perhaps a little one-dimensional on the hot-year component.  Good now,  or will cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 11/04

2003  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $20   [ Sy 40%,  Gr 30,  Mv 10,  Ca 10,  and 10% clairette (co-fermented with the syrah);  not de-stemmed,  50 day (?) cuvaison ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  youthful.  Initially opened,  a youthful and disorganised bouquet,  as if rushed into bottle too early.  It is dominated by slightly estery and obvious boysen / blackberry and dark plum aromas from very ripe to over-ripe fruit,  Australian style.  Palate continues the rich fruit and obvious berry,  with some aromatic and spicy grape tannins creeping in.  The wine lacks the aromatic,  floral and spicy complexities which syrah and mourvedre achieve in the southern Rhone in more normal years,  and thus raises fears that some of Europe's 2003 drought-year wines will be more new world in style than old.  Nonetheless it is very rich,  and makes an interesting weighty and contrasting companion to the superbly aromatic 2001 release of this wine.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Guigal Cotes du Rhone   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $26   [ Sy 50%,  Gr 30,  Mv 15 and oddments @ just over 2 t/ac,  15 – 21 days cuvaison,  one year old wood;  production exceeds 225 000 cases;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby.  This wine smells like the archetypal southern Rhone,  not standing out in any particular.  There are suggestions of florals which grade into herbes de Provence,  a mix of berries centred on red plum and raspberry,  and slightly leathery clean old oak.  Palate is berry-rich,  flavoursome,  aromatic now,  but potentially soft and slightly velvety.  An ideal 'sighter' for any southern Rhone tasting.  Keeps up its reputation as one of the most reliable and affordable good wines in the world,  AND one of the best with food.  Cellar 5 – 10 + years.  GK 10/04

2003  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne   17 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $20   [ Gr 55%,  Ca 25,  + Mv,  Sy and clairette;  vats plus oak,  a little new ]
Bright ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Like the Deux Albion,  initial impressions of this wine are of fat,  juicy,  somewhat estery fruit,  newly bottled.  It settles down in glass to a deeply plummy and lightly spicy southern Rhone,  a lovely weight of ripe fruit.  But it is just a little too soft,  plump and one-dimensional on blackberry for complexity,  lacking aromatics or herbes de Provence excitement.  There is however subtle oaking just how it should be,  seasoning the wine.  Not quite as weighty as the Deux Albion,  but similar in total achievement,  with the same caveats applying.  Tasted twice.  Cellar  5 – 10 years.  GK 11/04

2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne Peyre Blanche   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $27   [ Gr 60%,  Sy 30;  Mv 10;  20% in barrels,  balance in vats;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Cairanne seems to me the most exciting of the emerging Cotes du Rhone villages,  these days.  This wine is bright ruby.  A distinctive bouquet,  with herbes de Provence so strong as to hint at an Australian mint aromatic,  plus dry spicy and nutmeggy qualities,  on quite dark berries.  Flavour is more the raspberry of grenache,  but with added cassis and plum complexity from the more aromatic syrah and dark mourvedre.  These all linger attractively with a newish oak component,  leading back to the nutmeggy notes on bouquet.  The wine seems very dry on this spicy note,  but it is not lacking in richness.  Has many flavours in common with the Perrin Gigondas,  but it is slightly more bretty and is not as rich.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 10/04

2003  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $20   [ Sy 100%,  vats only ]
Ruby, carmine and velvet.  A clearcut floral carnations bouquet,  with dark berry below.  Flavour is classic straightforward southern Rhone syrah,  seeming to have good initial cassisy berry,  but then going quite stalky on the later palate.  The wine is pure,  but perhaps shows the perils of a monocepage  –  some grenache to fatten the palate would be good.  Conversely,  more of this fragrant floral and stalk component in the Deux Albion would have complexed that wine more attractively.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 10/04

nv  Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press   17  ()
Southern Rome Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $20   [ Gr 100%;  understood to be all 2003;  concrete vats;  sometimes $15 ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as bright as the Deux Albion.  One sniff,  and this has to be the best $15–20 grenache on the New Zealand market.  It is also the best Little James so far,  reflecting the quality of the 2003 vintage.  Bouquet is voluminous on redfruits including raspberries,  and marvellous cinnamon spice,  all complexed by a little brett.  Palate is velvety,  gorgeous grape tannins attractively furry – this is what is meant by ripe tannins – and complex in flavour.  In a few years the wine will finish a little dry on the brett component,  but meanwhile it is delicious (except to technocrats).  Cellar 5–8 years.  GK 11/04

2001  Domaine des Relagnes Chateauneuf du Pape   16 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $48   [ Gr 85%,  Mv 8,  Ci & Sy 7 ]
Lightish older ruby.   A fragrant wine,  but in the fragrance is a leafy / stalky note which is disappointing,  considering how good the 2001 vintage was in Chateauneuf.  One would think there is a lot of syrah,  from the bouquet – but apparently not so.  Palate is fragrant and lightly aromatic on berryfruit,  not rich but pleasing,  and showing beautiful oak handling as so many Rhones do.  Great food wine,  but not rich enough to cellar for long though,  maybe 5 – 8 years.  GK 11/04

2001  Perrin Vacqueyras les Christins   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $33   [ Gr 75%,  Sy 25,  average age 50 + years;  30 days cuvaison;  50%  in oak,  balance tank;   website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Bright ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Light VA augments the floral,  spicy,  and herbes de Provence bouquet on this wine,  all very upfront and suggesting some maceration carbonique.  The wine smells more of syrah than the cepage suggests,  and there is some brett.  Palate is quite rich,  very dry,  somewhat tannic,  with peppery flavours,  cassis and some plummy fruit.  At this stage the wine seems raw relative to some of the others,  but it is potentially a pleasant Cotes du Rhone.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/04

2002  Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone les Deux Albion   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $25   [ Sy,  Gr,  Mv,  Ca,  ± clairette ]
Good ruby.  This wine too shows up as clearly Cotes du Rhone,  with marked fragrant boronia-like florals on good berry,  plus a clear leafy / marcy note.  Palate is soft with fair red fruits,  some savoury brett complexities,  reasonable length,  but all finishing a little stalky.  Considering all we have heard about the floods at vintage in 2002,  this is a pretty pleasing achievement,  in its leafier Cotes du Rhone style.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 10/04

2003  Domaine l'Ameillaud Cotes du Rhone   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $15   [ Gr 60%,  Sy 25,  Ca 10,  Mv 5,  10% in oak 4 months ]
Bright ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  A fat plummy bouquet,  much too ripe for florals and herbes de Provence.  Palate likewise is soft,  plump and juicy berry,  veering towards the populist boysenberry Australian style for $10 supermarket reds.  There is some subtle oak spicing in the flavour,  but not a lot of complexity by Rhone standards.  A good rich QDR.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 11/04

2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve   16  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $26   [ Gr 50%,  Sy 25,  Mv 25,  mostly vat,  some old oak;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Light ruby.  Light,  fragrant,  slightly lifted red berry inclining to raspberry grenache fruit and a touch of cinnamon on bouquet.  Palate exactly the same,  classical grenache,  fair fruit,  food friendly,  as typical a Cotes du Rhone as Guigal's,  but not the substance.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras   16  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $27   [ Gr 60%,  Sy 30,  Mv 10;  a little old oak ]
Lightish ruby.  Light,  clean,  fragrant Cotes du Rhone on bouquet,  clearly a blend of grenache and syrah,  the red fruits and a hint of cinnamon from grenache,  suggestions of flowers from syrah.  Palate is more the grenache side,  tending raspberry,  like a lighter version of the Guigal,  a little lighter than hoped for in 2001.  There is an intriguing hint of cedar and ripe grape stalk tannin on the finish.  Cellar 3 – 6 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau l’Andeol   15 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $27   [ Gr 80%, Sy 20;  must pasteurisation;  extended cuvaison;  10% in older oak,  balance s/s;   website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Older ruby.  Initially opened,  a bit closed / reductive,  but breathes quickly to a more developed southern Rhone style.   Bouquet is reasonably berried,  but also fairly rustic,  with  a quite high Brettanomyces count.  Palate shows good fruit in a brown,  leathery and savoury way,  all consistent with the bouquet.  A love or hate wine,  noting I am relatively tolerant of brett.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 03/04

2001  Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Ventoux   15 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $15   [ Gr 80%,  Sy 20.  Now a subsidiary of Guigal ]
Lightish ruby.  Slightly estery raspberry grenache on this one too,  fragrant and straightforward.  Flavour is lighter,  juicier and more 'popular' than Perrin Cotes du Rhone,  but the flavours are similar.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/04

2001  Domaine du Trapadis Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau   15  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $25   [ Gr 70%,  Ca 15,  Ci 8,  Sy 7;  mostly vat,  a little old oak ]
Ruby.  This is a love or hate wine.  Bouquet is very mixed indeed:  either horsey and brett on the one hand,  or lavender and aromatic shrubs in the sun to others,  plus grilled beef either way.  Palate is quite rich,  plenty of berry,  savoury,  yet drying on the brett component.  Best described as a very traditional style,  and hard to score therefore.  Not such a good cellar prospect beyond 3 years or so,  for it will dry out.  GK 10/04

2001  Perrin Cotes du Rhone-Villages Vinsobres les Cornuds   13 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $28   [ Gr 50%,  Sy 50;  300m asl,  a zone suited to syrah;  20% in 2-year barrels,  balance in s/s;  website requires password entry;  www.perrin-rhone.com ]
Big bright ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Initially opened,  and for many hours after,  this wine is reductive (H2S) to excess,  muting anything it might have to say.  With vigorous decanting back and forth,  it does open up somewhat.  On palate it becomes one of the richer wines of the set,  showing big berry,  but in a dark and dull way.  Syrah in s/s is prone to this sort of thing.  Too reductive to be worth cellaring,  in my experience,  but useful teaching wine.  GK 03/04