November 2014 saw the second Rhône Wine Week extravaganza in Ireland, hugely expanded on the already successful inaugural Week in 2013. The expansion was both geographical and in terms of the number of events – it would have been physically impossible to get to all of them, even just the Dublin ones. Kudos to my team mates Morgan, Diarmuid and Suzanne of Team Slapshot, together we came a creditable joint 3rd in the Big Rhône Quiz.
This post (and the next) will concentrate on the Big Rhône Tasting held at Ely Bar and Brasserie in the IFSC, Dublin. A former 200 year old tobacco and wine warehouse in Dublin’s Financial district, it has spectacular vaulted cellars. My smartphone pics below of the tables set up for tasting really don’t do it justice!
So now onto a few of the white wines that really stood out for me:
Château la Canorgue Pays du Vaucluse Viognier 2012 (Le Caveau, €18.45)
Viognier isn’t a grape I tend to pick off the shelf very often. Some of the examples I’ve tasted have been too dry and not flavoursome enough to be enjoyed on their own; while I applaud the continental practice of drinking wine mainly at the table, the reality is that I’m far more likely to pop a cork sat in the lounge rather than the dining room.
However THIS is a Viognier that drinks very well on its own, and at a very reasonable price. It has ripe stone fruit and an oily, rich viscosity that make it a real pleasure.
Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “La Fontaine” 2012 (Mitchell & Son, €48.99)
White Châteaneuf-du-Pape can be made of any or all of the six white grapes in the list of eighteen permitted grapes for the AOC. It’s pretty rare though, making up only around 5% of total CNDP production – and even rarer is it cheap!
Made from 100% Roussanne grown in the wind-swept northern slopes of Châteauneuf, the grapes are hand picked and gently pressed. Fermentation and maturation is carried out in oak barriques, 50% new and 50% one year old, for ten months.
Surprisingly, oak doesn’t dominate the palate – Roussanne gives a rich and fat body plus plenty of fruit which can stand up to the oaking. As a youngster the main fruit flavour is pear – but not the pear drop flavour which is common on many modern cool-fermented whites. Instead, imagine that you’ve been lost in a desert for a few days with nothing to eat or drink and then you find a few fresh, juicy pears – it’s that intense!
The vineyard’s windy aspect helps maintain acidity and this comes through in the freshness – it’s rich but not at all flabby. White Châteauneuf needs a good while before it starts to develop tertiary flavours – we tasted a 2006 at the Big Rhône Quiz which was only just approaching middle age!
Eric Texier Opâle 2012 (La Rousse Wines, €21.90)
And now for something completely different! This is the first time I had come across anything like this from the Rhône – it’s a sweet Viognier, not made by fortification as with Vins Doux Naturels, but rather by reducing the temperature to stop fermentation once the must has reached 7% alcohol. The grapes were picked early to maintain acidity so the resulting sweetness has a balance – it’s not at all cloying.
While this wine does reveal some varietal characteristics, stylistically it reminded me of a Mosel Riesling – and thankfully that’s what Monsieur Texier is aiming for. Being fairly low in alcohol also means you can have a small glass and still drive afterwards!
Part two will be the main course – the Rhône Reds!