2008 Rhone: how do you like your eggs in the morning?

The replacement bottle of Coursodon was excellent.  Cool classy pepper.  Syrah can be very classy.  Also, for a more detailed look at thoughts on 2009 Bordeaux, click here.

My employers like to send me places.  Partly maybe to get me out of the office but mostly so that I know what I’m talking about which is not only a good thing but, if not quite a rare thing in my business, not necessarily the norm.  It’s generally Bordeaux and Burgundy: the former being what I sell most of, the latter being my specialist subject.  It’s a good thing (for my customers, maybe not my employers) that I find it very hard to sell wine that I haven’t tasted.  Last year I managed Rioja and Piedmont as well as Bg & Bdx.  This year I went to the Rhone (and I’m still holding out for my trip to sample the rums of Martinique).

The vintage that we were most interested in tasting from a commercial point of view was the 2008 vintage, one already panned by some critics, one in particular (not Big Bob).

I like tricky vintages for many reasons.  For starters, they’re generally cheap (02 & 04 Bordeaux, for example), they generally have a more classic style than blockbuster vintages (02 & 04 Bordeaux, for example), and they separate the poetry from the prose, the amateurs from the pros, the men from the boys (and again).

The Rhone has two tragic flaws, which are also its key strengths: marketing, and the excellent quality of the lesser wines.  If you are looking for a decent bottle of French wine for five or ten quid then the Rhone is your answer.  It also matches pretty much any dish save for fish.  And these wines have been well marketed for the past ten years: no other region in France has impressed its brand on the public anywhere near as well as the Australians.  The Rhone has been the only one to play ball: I was being invited to trade tastings for this region almost immediately I started in the business.  That the lesser wines are so good (whereas most cheap Bordeaux is good for the casserole, and even then at a push) makes it harder for the serious guys to stand out, to get their message across, to have the balls to make wines of terroir as opposed to just stuff that sells.

Back to the vintage.  2008 was a very, very tricky vintage.  Too much rain, not enough sunshine, and rot if you didn’t look after the vines.  But vintages like these are often my favourites as they allow the best domaines to show why they’re the best.  This is usually a combination of having the best sites and the best winemaking.  In 2008 this was clear.  Jean-Louis Chave’s 2008 Hermitage (or at least the component parts – he blends just before bottling) is ethereal.  Beaucastel’s 2008 Chateauneuf just whispers “terroir” in your ear whereas the 2007 SCREAMS: “SUNSHINE!”.   There are a few more notable successes: the previously mentioned Domaine Coursodon and Domaine Roger Sabon come to mind, along with Pegau and Vieux Telegraphe.  Rene Rostaing, the Rhone’s version of Jacques-Frederic Mugnier with his quiet wisdom, impressed greatly (Jean-Louis Chave a younger version) and discovery of the week was the higely amiable Jean-Michel Gerin (proper, proper Cote-Rotie).  I like vintages like these because I can taste the soil, the character and not just the heat.

Follow the wrong critic and miss some diamonds in the snow.  Difficult vintages are the ones where the classy can show their class.