We rose in the darkness before dawn. Opening the window of my stifling hotel room in Beaune, I expected an immeditate ingress of icy air; stars gleaming in the morning sky revealed that the night had been a clear one. Yet although the air was refreshing, it was not chill and I gained an inkling that the day, once it got going, was to be something special.
And here we are just arrived in Orange in 21 degrees Centigrade and at six o'clock in the evening. And all points between, from the leaving of Burgundy to the parking of the car in the southern Rhone, have been bathed in a sunlight that has become progressively less hazy throughout our peripatetic day.
First stop was Ampuis and tasting at two producers of Cote Rotie: Gilles Barge and Domaine Benetiere (the latter actually in a hard-to-find spot in Condrieu, the white-wine-producing twin town of Ampuis a short distance on the road south). And it offered an opportunity not only to assess the style of the vintage, but also to compare wines from very different producers.
The first sip at Barge reminds one that one is at a traditional address, yet traditional in an exceedingly welcome way. The wines are broad, a touch creamy, even a little funky. 2010 has lent them focus and intensity, yet they are unmistakeably the outpourings of this address.
I haven't been to Benetiere for a few years: the perfect excuse for me not being able to find the domaine. The wine here is neither traditional nor modern, yet it is really very fine indeed. There is perhaps something more intellectual about these, more beautiful. They lack the exuberance of the Barge wines, cannot match them for animal charm. Personally, I love them both. Which you open on any given occasion depends on one's mood, the food and most likely any one of a number of other factors. Choices, choices.
Lunch was hurriedly snaffled in Tournon, gazing out at the Hill of Hermitage. It was a rapid pitstop before heading to Mercurol, where I enjoyed a superb tasting with Emilie Desmeures, scion of the family that own Domaine des Remizieres. Lots of wine here: a "basic" Crozes-Hermitage, another, more senior cuvee, then a third - Christophe - that is given some new oak, plus the best Crozes Autrement (their super-prestige bottling) that I have ever tasted; two cuvees of white Crozes, one oaked, one not; two red Hermitages and one white. I made that eleven wines in all. I will make a selection from here. The wines are ravishing.
Lastly, to Chateaubourg to visit Eric Durand and taste his Cornas wines. Something is occurring in Cornas. It is becoming a modern wine. A new generation is spearheading a drive to change the reputation of this commune from that of a rather tired dinosaur to something altogether dynamic. The Durand brothers - Eric and Joel - are right there at the forefront of this movement and the wines are very good indeed. I love Cornas, terroir and wine. I will offer these.
And the vintage? I have found fresh, dense, pure and appetising wines all day. They are more elegant than the '09s and might drink a little sooner. I like them a great deal. And it looks as though 2011 is going to offer wines of real interest, too. Those who own cellars groaning with claret might want to check the price tickets of some of these Rhone wines, gulp in happy amazement and take the plunge!