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Pond-smooth water does move - just slowly - by
The day dawned grey; very overcast and promising rain. It was a promise that was fulfilled!
The journey up the péage to Ampuis was completed in short order and we were soon driving up the extraordinarily narrow and tortuous road out of town that offers one stunning - yet slightly gut-churning - views of the town below and the expanse of lazy, wide river that slides past and rather greasily disappears from view in either direction.
Once up on the welcome flatness of the plateau above, it's but a five minute drive to the isolated homestead that is the Domaine Bonnefond. Christophe Bonnefond met us as we parked and we soon had tasting glasses containing samples warming between our hands.
Here in the northern northern Rhône (the double epithet intended), it appears that the story re 2007 and its predecessor is broadly similar to that in Burgundy i.e. the new vintage is less fat, more pure; is crisper and shows off its terroir more convincingly.
And how fascinating it is to go directly from the cellars of Bonnefond to those of Gilles Barge back in Ampuis. The style of the wines produced by these two domaines could not be more different, Bonnefond's examples being modern, deeply coloured, subtly oaked, whilst those of Barge are thoroughly traditional in all the best ways.
"We believe Côte-Rôtie should not be so deeply coloured" stated Julien Barge, Gilles's son, as he poured nips of his '07s for us to examine. Tasting his fascinating, complex wines, how could one argue…unless one has recently come from sampling the midnight-hued Côte-Rôties at Bonnefond?
Then it was onto the péage and a 20 minute blat down to Tain l'Hermitage, over which rises that eponymous hill. Across the bridge lies Tain's twin, Tournon, joined by a pair of man made structures, yet separated more completely by the dogged Rhône.
We stop for lunch. The restaurant in which I wanted to eat was closed Monday lunchtime, so we made do with a modern bistro, the time racing so we suddenly realised it was time to stride back to the car, snap off a few quick pictures and then speed off to Châteaubourg where the Domaine Eric and Joel Durand is to be found.
Eric was absent, attending a wine fair in the Loire Valley and I was not altogether sorry, not because he's not personable, as he is, very. But he is garrulous in the extreme and one feels guilty writing tasting notes whilst someone so convincingly amicable is chattering away, dispensing useful titbits of information.
Here in the southern northern Rhône, the vintage picture seems to have been somewhat reversed. 2006 was the racy one, the harvest that produced crisp, terroir-driven wines. '07s thrown up some brooding, rather monolithic monsters that'll require, in many cases, long keeping. I was pleased, over dinner, to see that Hugh Johnson has listed Durand among the best producers of Cornas in his Pocket Wine Guide. I wholeheartedly agree.
We were early for our last appointment at the Domaine des Remizieres in Mercurol, but it didn't seem to matter. Philippe Desmeures, proprietor here, is always welcoming and we were quickly installed, enjoying an extensive tour through the domaine's range.
Philippe markets 2 white Crozes-Hermitage, a white Hermitage, a St Joseph, 3 red Crozes and, in decent vintages, 2 red Hermitages. What a lip-smacking marathon! This is a range that demands attention. Some wines are oaked, others not. Everything is thought provoking; much simply brilliant. Philippe's a relaxed man and a joy to visit. His wine making hand is an assured one, the confidence of generations during which has come an intimate understanding of vineyard and soil. We will offer these.
Leaving Remizières, we found the heavens opened, not with the snow falling on the UK but heavy drops of rain that stayed with us for the duration of the tedious drive down to Orange. We've dined at length. The walk back to the hotel prompted an observation that the weather has turned much warmer: to be expected, since we have moved from a continental climate into one moderated by the proximity of the Mediterranean.
A bath beckons, as do exciting tastings in Châteauneuf tomorrow. I will read a chapter or two and sleep deeply.