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


Given the hot temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003,  the red wines from the Rhone Valley have been anticipated cautiously by some tasters in New Zealand.  Might the wines be Australian in style,  tending over-ripe and over-weight,  and lacking in freshness,  aromatics and varietal definition ?  This is the first of three tastings of Rhone wines assembled for a tasting group in Wellington,  New Zealand.  Each time a dozen were evaluated blind by 20 + tasters.  Nett impressions of the three batches are reassuring.  There are a worthwhile number of delightful wines which are still floral and fragrant and fresh,  with the best showing no sign of being dull or unduly fat.

The reviews below include the background notes available to tasters,  to broaden the appraisal of the wines.  They are mostly drawn from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate,  to whom acknowledgment is made.  His appraisal of Rhone wines is particularly good,  mostly because he is sensitive to the vital floral components which at best can lift these wines to near-burgundian levels of complexity and majesty.  Sadly,  many reviewers either ignore this component of Rhone wines,  or are insensitive to it.  Parker is also the most convenient source of systematic background info on the producers of the Rhone Valley:  Parker,  R.M. 1997:  Wines of the Rhone Valley   Simon & Schuster,  685 p.

Apart from Guigal and Jaboulet imported by big players such as Negociants and Glengarry respectively,  these selected small-grower Rhones may be hard to source in New Zealand.  But in truth,  we have a wider selection of Rhone wines than many countries,  and often at favourable prices.  The importer / distributor is therefore indicated.  Some of these wines are imported in lots of a few cases only.  Though most importers have websites,  only Wine Direct keeps theirs up-to-date and with a faithful indication of what is in stock at a given moment.  Keeping in touch directly with the firm is therefore the best approach.  Details White Pages.  


2003  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne
2003  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne La Font d’Estevenas
2003  Domaine la Brunely Vacqueyras
2003  Domaine Brusset Gigondas Tradition Le Grand Montmirail
2003  Domaine de Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape
2003  Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Cuvée Tradition
  2003  Domaine Lafond Cotes du Rhone Roc-Epine
2003  Domaine Lafond Lirac Roc-Epine
2003  Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras
2003  Domaine de la Renjarde Cotes du Rhone Villages
2003  Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone
2003  Chateau du Trignon Gigondas

2003  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne La Font d’Estevenas   19  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $32   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Sy > Gr,  Mv,  Co;  This is the domaine’s luxury cuvée,  new oak.  Parker 156:  "Revealing loads of Syrah as well as the influence of barrique aging, the 2003 La Font d’Estevenas exhibits pure blackberry and cassis characteristics along with espresso, chocolate, and new oak. Deep, full-bodied, and more internationally styled than its peers, it is a different animal altogether. 4-5 years. 88-90" ]
Dense carmine,  ruby and velvet,  so carmine one is dubious,  and the darkest wine of the set.  One sniff and the relief,  for here is a glorious wine epitomising the Rhone:  sensational florals of violets and wallflowers,  wonderful cassis berry grading through into blackest plum,  and great freshness on bouquet.  No hint of hot year distress here.  Palate is just the bouquet liquefied,  glorious,  oak almost invisible.  At this stage the wine is totally syrah dominated,  and blind one would think it an exceptional Cote Rotie,  totally remarkable.  Palate richness is superb,  the alcohol is beautifully hidden,  acid balance is sufficient to maintain freshness,  and the oak is the perfect condiment.  Great wine.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine Alary Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $25   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  approx. Gr 85% and Sy 15;  the standard wine;   Parker 156:  "One of the reference points for proving how good Cotes du Rhone-Villages Cairanne can be is the family estate of Alary … their 2003s, a challenging vintage outside Chateauneuf du Pape, are impressive.  The 2003 Cairanne offers classic, dusty, loamy, earthy, and kirsch liqueur notes presented in a medium to full-bodied, ripe, nicely concentrated format with some noticeable tannin.  4-5 years. 88-90" ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet,  a fraction of the depth of the Estevenas,  yet still a good colour.  Bouquet is wonderful:  it is hard to imagine how two wines from the same winery could better display the contrast between a syrah-dominant one (Estevenas) and a grenache-dominant one (this village Cairanne).  Bouquet is more complex than the Cristia,  the cinnamon edge on the grenache almost including nutmeg,  and the syrah is detectable too,  via a subliminal floral component.  Palate is a perfect blend of grenache soft berry,  and syrah and counoise complexity,  with the cinnamon on the finish showing textbook varietal definition.  Not quite as rich as the Cristia,  though,  and purists might notice a trace of brett,  totally positive.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine de Cristia Chateauneuf du Pape   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $40   [ cork;  Eurowine;  Gr 70%,  Sy 10,  Mv 10,  Ci 5,  Muscardin 5;  24 months in old oak;  production a few thousand cases only. Parker 156:  "Complex aromas of flowers, incense, ground pepper, raspberries, and cherries emerge from the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape  … dense, full-bodied, firm tannin, loads of freshness, superb concentration, and an earthy, powerful yet elegant finish. The Grangeons are potential new superstars from Chateauneuf du Pape, and this is representative of the sensational wines that have emerged from their vineyards over the last three years. This wine is a structured, tannic, somewhat backward effort that goes against the tendency of this vintage to produce fleshy, opulent, succulent Chateauneufs for early consumption. Give it 2-3 years of bottle age, and consume it over the following 12-15. 90-92" ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet.  This is a totally different wine from the Alary Estevenas,  the bouquet showing the sweet raspberry and cinnamon of grenache dominant,  in a wine of exceptional purity,  but quite spirity.  Palate builds body and richness into the berry,  more depth and complexity than mere raspberry,  the cinnamon expanding to become a most attractive spicy and sustaining finish.  Acid balance is attractive,  and oak is low,  yet the wine has a structure and complexity suggesting ripe stalks,  maybe.  The best of old and new worlds.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Chateau du Trignon Gigondas   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $36   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Gr 60%,  Sy 20,  Mv 10,  Ci 8,  misc. 2.  Parker 156:  "This is a successful effort for this appellation in 2003. A dark ruby/purple color is accompanied by a layered palate impression revealing notions of Provencal herbs, blueberries, raspberries, and black cherries. Medium to full-bodied, elegant, pure, and well-balanced, it should drink well for 7-8 years.  89-91" ]
Ruby,  one of the lighter.  Bouquet is much lighter and more fragrant than several of the wines,  with an overt raspberry character reminiscent of early-picked South Australian grenache,  plus florals from syrah.  Palate is light too,  the berry fruits beautifully melded,  palate weight and style very close to the Cristia,  but  with just a little boysenberry on the tail.  By lighter I mean in style,  not weight – the wine is still quite rich.  This will mature into a very pleasing bottle,  showing no sign of the hot year.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine Lafond Lirac Roc-Epine   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $25   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Gr 60%,  Sy 30,  Ca 10,  some Ci;  4 – 5 months in old oak.  Parker 156:  "With a bigger structure, firmer tannin, and more concentrated black fruits, the 2003 Lirac Roc Epine is not as seductive and charming as the Cotes du Rhone, but there is more to it. Bigger and more tannic, it requires another year of bottle age, and should last for 4-5.  88" ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper ones.  Initially opened this wine is a little disorganised,  with berry and fruit the overwhelming impression,  deepest omega plums stewed,  and some suggestions of sur maturité.  Palate is a velvety rich and densely plummy fruit,  the spicy complexity including nutmeg,  but all a bit massive.  The whole wine  is more clearly a very ripe year wine alongside the top wines,  the acid a bit  low,  the style tending heavy.  As with most of these Rhones,  oaking is superb,  totally complementary,  augmenting the fruit instead of dominating it,  as in so many Australian wines of this style.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine Brusset Gigondas Tradition Le Grand Montmirail   17 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $36   [ cork;  Peter Maude;  Gr 70%,  Sy 25,  Ci 5,  some Mv,  not de-stemmed;  this is the less-oaked Brusset Gigondas,  commonly 18 months in old oak only.  Parker 156:  "The dense saturated ruby/purple-colored 2003 Gigondas Cuvee Tradition exhibits a big, sweet nose of graphite, black cherry liqueur, licorice, and earth. Medium to full-bodied, with impressive depth, concentration, and harmony as well as some unresolved tannin, it will benefit from 1-3 years of bottle age, and keep for 10-14 years.  88-90" ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper.  Initially poured,  this wine is a bit estery and disorganised,  overtly fruity,  not the finesse of some years of this label.  Berry characters range from boysenberry to darkest plum,  a coarse hint of elderberry,  and a little brett.  The next day the wine is much more mellow,  foretelling good development in bottle.  Flavours are very ripe and rich,  like the Lafond Lirac more clearly a hot-year wine,  attractive furry tannins under the rich fruit,  gentle oak.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine la Brunely Vacqueyras   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  Gr 60%,  Sy 30,  Mv 10;  Eurowine;  Parker 156:  "One of the top performers in my Vacqueyras tastings, this 2003 exhibits a dense ruby/purple color along with a sweet, pure nose of kirsch liqueur, black currants, licorice, and earth. Savory, full-bodied flavors reveal low acidity, considerable concentration, a multilayered texture, and a persistent finish that lasts over 40 seconds. This brilliant Vacqueyras should drink well for a decade. 89-92" ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet,  middling in weight.  This wine shows a big bouquet more clearly in a grenache-dominant style than most,  with some suggestions of ruby port.  There is a very attractive resin-related component in the bouquet reminding of New Zealand's silver pine or pink pine,  or (more generally) cedar.  Palate too shows only the grenache,  the syrah invisible,  softly raspberry-fruited,  gentlest oak.  This will become a very fragrant lighter wine,  in bottle.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $28   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Parker in his Rhone book notes Montvac:  "is quickly emerging as one of the most serious in Vacqueyras … proprietor an oenologist … the style a blend of the rustic traditional with modern,  rich,  fruity.  Elevage mostly in concrete vat,  supplemented by old oak sometimes."  No reviews. ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  of middling weight.  This is the most distinctive wine in the set,  with a dominant bouquet quality akin to the browned outer face of roasted beef topside crosscut,  with broad beans as a side dish.  This met with a very mixed reception,  further complicated by there being some brett too.  Palate is very rich,  good darkest plum and dark fruit,  but very dry,  and old oak only.  The very savoury and tannin-furry aftertaste would be superb with a dark rich venison casserole.  The contrast between these two wines from Vacqueyras could hardly be greater,  the Montvac richer and rustic,  the Brunely more elegant and varietal.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine de la Renjarde Cotes du Rhone Villages   16 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $23   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Gr 60%,  Sy 20, Ci 10,  Mv 5,  Ca 5;  same producer as Ch de la Nerthe,  Chateauneuf du Pape;  no reviews. ]
Ruby,  the second lightest.  Clean fragrant red fruits in a lighter style dominate this wine,  all more straightforward and like some South Australian grenache.  Palate follows perfectly,  raspberry and suggestions of red plums,  slightly stalky as if early-picked,  well-balanced,  no sign of the hot year,  straightforward.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $21   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Gr 60,  Mv 20,  Sy 20;  no reviews. ]
Ruby,  the lightest of this bracket.  This is a very fragrant wine,  with a prominent floral note not as attractive as carnations,  more assertive jonquils plus a grassy note,  all bespeaking green-picked grapes.  Below are good red berryfruits,  red currants and raspberry.  Palate and mouthfeel are better than expected,  with attractive red fruits,  quite light,  and slightly stalky.  Perhaps the body is from normally-ripened grenache,  and the bouquet is from early-picked syrah and/or mourvedre.  This is more refreshing than several of the wines,  but the specific kind of florals on bouquet will not appeal to everybody.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine Lafond Cotes du Rhone Roc-Epine   16  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $20   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  no info on cepage,  but perhaps similar to the Lirac.  Parker 156:  "Great value, the beautiful 2003 Cotes du Rhone Roc Epine offers sexy, ripe cherry, plum, and raspberry scents which soar from the glass of this medium-bodied, lush,  supple-textured, gratifying red.  Readers looking for generously-constituted, rich, flavorful, impeccably pure, well-made wines should check out  Lafond … the quality of their reds has risen significantly over the last 2-3 vintages.  1-2 years.  87" ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is clean,  sound,  a straightforward Cote du Rhone,  showing plum and some stalks.  Palate shows its spirit more than some,  the fruit flattening somewhat to a boiled sultana richness,  lacking exciting flavours.  Sound rich soft southern Rhone,  clearly of a hot year,  which will cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 09/05

2003  Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Cuvée Tradition   14 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $39   [ cork;  Maison Vauron;  Gr 85%,  Sy 15,   no de-stemming;  Parker in his book describes this winery as tiny,  c. 1000 cases off 2 ha,  the wines traditional.  Parker 156:  "Among the most successful wines of this appellation in 2003, Espiers’ impressive 2003 Gigondas Tradition exhibits a dense ruby/purple color, serious concentration, loads of floral-infused blue and black fruit flavors, medium to full body, moderate tannin, and excellent to outstanding depth. To 2015.  88-90" ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  a dubious quite dense colour.  And the bouquet confirms the doubts,  showing a maceration carbonique style,  and an H2S level which is worrying,  on juicy red and black plummy fruits.  Palate is rich,  more oaky than most,  darkly plummy,  but also tending metallic / bitter – presumably correlated with the H2S.  A quite big wine which will appeal to some.  Not worth cellaring unless sensitivity to sulphides is low.  GK 09/05