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.

2017 Hervé Souhaut Syrah

Time seems to pass so quickly, the first vintage of this quintessential natural wine that won my heart was 1999. A discovery at that Paris haven of real wine, Caves Augé. Some years later and it seems as if the wine making just gets better and the results appear finer, more perfumed and poised. There’s that floral, smoky raspberry thing typical of the Northern Rhône and perhaps also characteristic of whole grape Syrah ferments? Amazingly perfumed, that typicity plus brown baking spices, a riot of autumn berries and rocks. Rich fruit floats on supremely ripe but crisp acidity. Tannin to support, gently. The essence of flavour ripe Syrah on featherweight frame. Just so clean and focused, brilliant craft. Low alcohol too, liver approved.

12.5% alcohol. Nomacorc Green Select. $40 at auction which was good as the RRP is rising most unfairly.

94 points.

A 2019 was just as good. The note above serves well. Saves repeating myself. Beautiful natural wine in the true sense.

2005 Domaine de l’Oratoire de Saint Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias

The domaine’s top of the range label, still at retail for less than most CNdPs, is normally a blend of 60% old vine Mourvèdre with equal parts Grenache and Syrah making up the rest. It’s always with some trepidation that I risk a bid at auction for something well past its tenth birthday but here’s a well cared for bottle. No ullage, good cork of some length, always a relative term, no leakage and no taint, phew. Starts off with those dusty old bottle of wine smells, no surprise, swirl and air, then gloriously clean plumes of old leather couches, sweet kirsch cherries, blackberries, garrigue and spice, all deep, warming and rich. The fruit power and sweetness backed by an umami glycerol blanket of game meat pan juices, all those caramelised delicious bits. An earthy bass line of clay soil broken up with chalky stones, really. Remarkably all that richness is cooled by perfect fine pixel acidity and the ripest sweet tannins. The label may not be cutting edge fashion but this is great natural wine, biodynamic, no additions apart from some sulphur, I think and so clean and pure. A smile on the face of old Bacchus and me too.

14.5% alcohol. Cork. $33.80 bid.

95 points.

2015 Domaine de l’Oratoire de Saint Martin Cairanne Réserve des Seigneurs

Château Neuf du Pape may get all the tourists and good prices but when it comes to hanging around the southern Rhône the smaller villages like Cairanne and Rasteau get my vote. This great producer has been a favourite since last century. Now biodynamic, this is the property’s entry to its range of Cairanne made up with 80% Grenache, the rest Syrah. Opens with clean aromas of balsamic infused berries, kirsch and the most attractive bits of that Mediterranean scrubby garrigue. Smoothing out with age but still crisp and for want of a better word, smooth, maybe suave even. Just a glide through with just ripe tannin and enough acidity. Real depth of fruit. Great clarity and focus. Warm and generous too. Really ripe in line with hotter and hotter Rhône summers but in no way porty or leathery. It’s entirely subjective but there does seem a better definition to organic and woo woo biodynamic wines. Maybe it’s just more time and care in the vineyard or it’s humans working with the biosphere rather than against. This result is just delicious.

14.5% alcohol. Cork. $39 at auction.

93 points.