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The inner doings of the ruined castle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Today has been a cycle of pleasure and pain, a brief description of which will give you some insight into the daily experiences of a wine merchant on a buying trip to France.

I headed out to Chateauneuf after breakfast and had an extremely fine visit to Clos des Papes. Vincent Avril was his usual relaxed self, only too eager to talk about everything from the vintages, his wines and the weather, to the rugby and some of the recent meals he has enjoyed with his friends, many of whom live and make wine in Burgundy (where Vincent learned his craft).

We tasted 2009s, 2010s and 2011s, including Le Petit Vin d'Avril, the estate's bread-and-butter wine from vineyards close by the river. and both red and white punch well above their weight. It was, however, the comparison of 2009 and 2010 Chateauneuf that I found most of interest. It seems that, whereas the '09 vintage has thrown up wines of great richness and structure, destined to age for, well, an age, 2010 offers something altogether more elegant and fresher. And there are merits - considerable merits - to both. This stylistic vintage difference I have found common to all the wines I hvae been tasting.

Second tasting and I was met with completely blank faces on arrival. No record of my appointment and no, no one would be able to show me the wines. I became a little firmer at this point. "I have, " I pointed out, "driven down from England to taste the 2010 wines of the region. Is there absolutely no chance of me trying the wines before I return home?". A further 'phone call took place, after which I was informed that I could come at one o'clock and taste the wines, but only for ten minutes.

We lunched in Chateauneuf and I thought at that stage that I probably deserved steak/frites. One super-pink piece of meat and a handful of skinny chips later, I headed back and duly tasted the wines. And they were fabulous, as I suspected they would be, their lustre only marginally tarnished by my earlier rebuttal.

Next visit, a 2pm slot arranged but four days ago. The dogs were present, the owner not. I waited 40 minutes in the sun, started the makings of a doomed suntan, took a photograph of a red beetle with black spots, the dogs, some trees, the dogs again. Then I left.

Another tasting ensued at which I was unable to taste the full range, due to the two top wines being prepared for bottling. And then lastly, I head out into the sticks to meet Julien Mus, a very amiable young man but a handful of vintages into his wine making career. The fruit of the family vineyards was sold off to negociants until very recently and Julien is on a steep learning curve. It appears to be curving in all the right places, too, for his wines are sensational. His style of Chateauneuf is like no other than I know of. These are elegant, crisp, floral wines of pronounced minerality. They are also, most importantly, very delicious indeed.

So a day of mixed fortunes, the luck becoming better and better as we drove into Sorgues this evening for a meal at Alonso. The "menu" one is handed as one takes one's seat is simply a list of what will be forthcoming, the only choice one has to make being between two main courses. We have dined very well. And we drank Beaujolais. There's a thing.
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