2018 Domaine Georges Vernay Les Fleurs du Mai Syrah Des Collines Rhodaniennes IGP

One of the most respected Condrieu producers who also make great Côte Rotie which I’ve been lucky enough to drink just once. This bottle appeared on the Langtons auction site. To follow the old Clive Coates maxim that you should seek the colder sites in hot years I made a bid. It seemed oddly appropriate as November is our May in the inverted Southern Hemisphere. Maybe a flowery omen? Hopefully not the Fleurs du Mal of Baudelaire to be really pretentious. My $28 bid won to my eyebrow raising surprise as googling revealed you can still buy a bottle in Melbourne for $65, lucky me. Clean and extravagantly smelly on opening. Just so ripe raspberries, exotic spice bazaar fragrances and incense, blimey. Flowers and smoke. Hints of liquorice too. Just medium bodied, it tightens across the tongue and floats off on wisps of high resolution tannin with both the flavour and acidity of really ripe and dark blood orange. Incredibly good grapes coaxed into my lucky glass with no mucking about, great lightness of touch. Two words, clarity and focus. How good is their Côte Rotie these days?

13% alcohol. Diam. $28, like winning a lottery.

93 points to start, easy 94 to 95 as the bottle went down.

2029 Xavier Vignon Côtes du Rhône Grenache Vieilles Vignes

Say bonjour to M. Vignon from Avignon, maybe not from there really but close enough. There’s a natty photo of him on the web wearing a very stylish pink shirt with the classic French écharpe or foulard looped and the ends pushed through. Trés chic. Certainly a brand with an eye to self promotion. I do wonder which of those two words word do the French use most for scarf? Seems wearing one is de rigeur from September to June, so they must buy a lot of them. The label claims organic and vegan. Dead little yeast beasties and vineyard insects notwithstanding of course and by the look of him, I bet you M. Vignon’s not a vegan. The last of July’s Dan Murphy direct import random buy and again it’s no disaster. Spotlessly clean, fresh and bright. Lots of dried woody herbs, crunch of red berries and cherries, peanuts and that garrigue on a warm day thing. Second day and it’s a bit quieter but there’s good tart red fruit still, verging on rhubarb. The ripe stalks are more prominent, a touch of sourness rubbing up against the fruit well and carrying the end with a pleasant but firm astringency. Not quite a repeat buy but the bottle emptied at a steady rate with some good food. Didn’t wear my scarf though.

14.5% alcohol and not too prominent. Screw cap. $20.90.

90 points but probably 91 day two.

2020 Guillaume Gonnet Le Petit Reveur Côtes du Rhône

It seems the most read posts here are for budget friendly direct imports from the empire of Dan’s and the odd Aldi surprise. I try and make the pilgrimage to the old Alphington barn of Dan once a month for a six or so buy in an attempt to even out the budget. It’s a shame the recently opened and more local Collingwood version is so woefully stocked. As there’s always an odd compulsion to taste the unknown, the selection veers towards the new and possibly interesting. This month I managed to find seven untried bottles from Spain, France and Italy for a meagre $132. Third from right in the above line up and it’s 85% Grenache with the rest Syrah. This little dreamer hoped Le Petit Reveur wouldn’t turn into a nightmare. It didn’t. Initially jammy ripe with cherry, plum and Mediterranean scrubby flavours, it changed up a gear with a day’s air. The ripeness still as much as you’d want but the fruit’s deeper, kirsch and chocolate, spiced and carried on cocoa tannin, all trimmed with a good swish of satisfying ripe acidity. A special mention for how clean and tasty. Definitely think it’s at its best now. Time will only make things more dull and gummy maybe. Nonetheless, another one wouldn’t be a chore and you can’t say that about all my recent choices.

14% alcohol. Screw cap. $19.00

90 value points.

2016 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvée Confiance

In the early 2000s, I fell for the warm, rich and fruity embrace of Grenache blends from the villages just east of Orange. The deeply ripe summer pudding fruit in Marcel Richaud’s Cairannes was love at first sniff thanks to a wine shop in Avignon not letting me leave without a 1998 version. An inevitable holiday pilgrimage luckily led to a pretty bed and breakfast in Rasteau, just up the road from M. Richaud. Soumade was a recommendation from the list in a local bistro. Too late sadly to fit in a visit but a lasting impression. When this came up at auction, a relatively modest bid led to a happy meander down the retronasal lane of memory. 80% Grenache, the rest Syrah. A little reduction was quick to clear, leaving fresh liqueur cherry, sappy mint to freshen with a dusting of fine cocoa dryness. Of a whole but many parts, fennel turning to aniseed anchored by carbon darkness and meaty pan juices. Traditionally dry tannin, just enough acid to balance and meticulously clean. Love the simple old elegance of the label too.

14.5% alcohol but not hot. Cork. About $40 at auction.

94 points.

2016 Pierre Gonon Saint Joseph

I must admit to googling this label to see what others may have thought and, gulp, noticed how Gonon prices have climbed in recent years. This was a great swap for some Wendouree and I don’t think there will be another looking at those current prices. Enjoy this one then. It doesn’t disappoint, deep reductive Rhône Syrah. Smoke, flowers and berries or as someone sensitive to sulphides noted on Winefront, like a fart in a wetsuit. Nonetheless a tour de force of squishy summer berries, sweet plum over glistening quartz like tannin and acid sparkle tightly bound together. Simply beautiful fruit, precise ripeness and careful making. You can see why the price escalates.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. Swap.

94 points, maybe 95.

2019 Le Grand Roi Bouches du Rhône IGP

A Dan Murphy’s members’ special for $9 a bottle. Not sure what a knife wielding moose in a English gent’s hunting jacket has to do with the mouth of the mighty Rhône river? Caught the eye in a strange way though. In the words of Rob Brydon in one of those Trip to…. films with Steve Coogan, my bouche is amused. This is extraordinary for the money. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, it opened with a bit of bubblegum but the fruit emerged in an hour or so. Very ripe plum, cherry, into raisins and fruitcake. Bit syrupy and low in acidity but persistent with Mediterranean scrub and a tasty saline tannic end of surprising plushness. Some dodgy negotiant CNdP bottlings of yore weren’t as good as this, although that may be faint praise. Really quite a decent clean glass of wine. Might well be the Carignan adding character? Maybe not.

14.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $9.

90 points.

2015 Domaine Brusset Les Travers Cairanne

A GSM with a bit of C for Cinsault and from a favourite recent vintage. Unlike a less than sanitary 2012 version the invitation to sniff and drink here is clean and full of summer berries, dark chocolate with a cloud of Rhone violets and smoke. Deepens in the glass but never teeters into over ripeness. Blueberries, particularly their chewy skins and deep cherry liqueur emerge, touched with those old Mediterranean woody herbs. The shape is pushing the heroic with fresh acidity despite the ripeness and solid velvet tannin. Good enough to be confused with a good CNdP with a good rocky crunch. Very satisfying notwithstanding the last mouthful of sediment and bits. Teach me to drain the glass without looking.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. $32 at auction, sad there was only one bottle.

94 points,

2015 Domaine Coursodon Saint Joseph Silice

If memory serves this was one of the last two bottles from the much missed caviste, Les Caves de Marais which was a favourite stop on the number 96 Paris bus route. The most recent visit in 2019 found the shutters permanently closed on an empty shop. It would have been good to have one last chat with Jean Jacques. His English impeccable compared to my deficient French. One last recommendation from the eminence gris; as usual his choices open cleanly, scents of dark roast coffee over smoke and brown spices, smatter of green herb, then a deep raspberry and into blackberry swirl of fruit. Finishes with what gentlemen from the last century’s wine trade would call breeding. I’d say firm but soft cocoa tannins and well bound acidity. St Joseph, Jesus, this is good.

13.5% alcohol I think. Cork. Was about €30?

93 points.

2015 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas

An old favourite from the 1990s and rarely sighted in recent years. When a single and lonely bottle appeared on that desperately addictive auction website, well, budget be damned, here we go. Luckily, the label’s not as sought after as some and it came in under my bravest bid and normal retail. Initial impressions were good, nice new smart label, great vintage and sealed with a Diam. First sniff was off putting, horrible stink of sulphide and maybe some of the dreaded B word? Only thing to do was to stuff the better than a cork closure back in, put it in the fridge for twenty four hours and hope. The next day and all’s well. Now clean and sprightly smells of vibrant red fruit, a touch of balsamic lift, an attractive sweet herby spike, chocolate and plums add dimension. Profound and resonant in the mouth with a great depth of bright fresh fruit, a tar and earth richness and a tug of garrigue, a warming sense of place. Finally a firm but softly ripe flood of tannin and life extending acidity, the wine’s not mine, although it’s good to hope. Must say there’s an extraordinary freshness and no sense of tired old browning Grenache to prevent this staying a long and delicious course. Maybe it’s the unusual 15% Cinsault giving acidity helped by 14% Syrah which did so well in 2015 and the 1% Mourvèdre, a tiny bit going a long way? The 70% Grenache tastes extremely good though. Sad it was just a singleton.

14% alcohol. Diam. $65.

95 points but definitely not on opening.

2016 Tardieu Laurent Saint Joseph Vieilles Vignes

The Laurent part of the partnership has been notorious for extreme barrel action over the years and this does nothing to mitigate opinion. A haze of nutty vanilla oak floats high in the aromas but lurking below is some beautiful summer pudding fruit pushing the vanilla back to a mere seasoning. Then that over used French word terroir comes roaring through in blasts of smoke, rocks and minerals. Great depth and composure, no hard edges just round deep fruit, refreshing minerals, mouthwatering acidity and emery fine tannin. In the battle between timber and grapes, the latter take a comfortable win but why get in the fight in the first place?

13% alcohol. Long fancy cork. $50.09 at auction.

94 points.