Article “The first ten years of Cru Rasteau” by John Livingstone-Learmonth


Copyright © – AOC Rasteau

THE FIRST TEN YEARS OF CRU RASTEAU

John Livingstone-Learmonth

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Rasteau’s furst ten years as a Cru, dining at the high table of the Rhône alongside Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, has produced a series of favourable vintages, with only a few setbacks. The decade has been marked by earlier, warmer springs, and a general increase in summer heat, with drought now more common than it ever was in the past.

Aided by vineyards behind the village at over 200 metres, and plenty of clay with limestone in the soils, Rasteau’s appellation area is able to cope with drought better than areas right down on the hot, draining plain near the River Ouvèze. The Ouvèze brought many of the stones from the Alps in its day, and gives the southern boundary to Rasteau’s vineyards.

The responsibility of managing a Cru has also had an impact on the growers, with an implicit need to keep searching for higher quality, be it in vineyard management, or within the cellar, with vinifications, raising and bottling methods improving as a result.

It is good to note that there has been an increase in organic viticulture during the 10 years. There is still an excess of oak in my view, and it is particularly mortifying to find really noble old vine Grenache content, with the most caressing sap or sève naturally at its heart, being doused in pushy oak, which completely detracts from the purity and elegance of the wine – the bounty of the vineyard.

The classic Rasteau red is a full-bodied, thoroughly filled wine, with definite tannic presence, but also a thread of freshness that can be derived from the depth of the soils. Such wines take time to come together, to smooth themselves out, and can live for 15 to 20 years without a problem.

In 2020, there are also more Rasteaus being made in search of elegance and restraint, no doubt partly influenced by the new prevailing fashion for “drinkability” and milder, earlier wines. These show what Rasteau can do in terms of lissom fruit, and suave texturing.

The challenge for the future will be to harness the climate in such a way that the wines can still have balance and freshness; the profound clay soils of the appellation will be a vital part of that solution, given the increased regularity of long, very hot, very dry summers.

I have given each of the 10 years a descriptive adjective, and drawn on a mixture of my own feelings about the wines and the vintages, with a wide range of sentiments expressed by the growers from one year to the next.

THE VINTAGES

2010: THE MAJESTIC VINTAGE

 

Well, there’s nothing like starting with a bang. Rasteau’s first full year as a Cru delivered the exceptional 2010 vintage, a classic that stands alone as the best year of the 2000s so far.

At the time, growers recognised its quality, Daniel Coulon of the organic Domaine de Beaurenard giving me a view with which I fully agreed. Beaurenard started the harvest on 27 September, with small grapes and thick skins, the sign of a hot year. Daniel reported: “I like 2009 a lot, but I marginally prefer 2010 for freshness – it is a year of good balance that was easy to vinify. The wines were aromatic, but also came with a high level of tannin, which meant we vinified with restraint, and then allowed time in large barrels [foudres] for the Tradition wine.”

2009 is a very good year, the wines more punchy than 2010, but 2010 – it’s extraordinary, a year that starts and finishes with one word, the most important word in wine: BALANCE. After ten years the wines have made serene progress, are very young, expressive, still have more to offer. The fruit-tannin pairing works very well, and the freshness is exemplary, as is the fruit definition. I hailed this as a great year at the outset, and see no need to change that opinion.

Up at Domaine des Escaravailles, Gilles Ferran was super happy, telling me at the time: “I adore 2010 – the acidity is a bit higher than usual, and there is about half a degree less of alcohol. The problem is the very, very small crop, my smallest since I started with my father in 1987 – it was 27 hl/ha across all my vineyards. It was the cold weather at flowering that hurt the most. We had very beautiful Syrah in 2010, which helped the wines a lot. I prefer 2010 to 2009 – the latter is more on alcohol.” Two-nil to 2010 over 2009, then!

Then President of the Growers’ Union Robert Charavin of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers also pointed out some of the helpful singularities of the year: “2010 is a good keeping vintage – it has all the elements needed for that, but there is a deficit of Grenache in some domaines, so some wines can lack sucrosity, the gras of the Grenache. Coulure [flowers failing to convert into fruit] was the reason for the lack of Grenache. Some cuvées can contain more Syrah and Carignan – these can be more strict, but on the other hand they hold less alcohol and have more freshness.”

 

On a technical note, a vintage such as 2010 – if it came along today – would probably carry slightly more refined tannins, given the progress in vineyard management, harvest timing and cellar handling that has generally moved towards a more detailed, less exerted approach.

 

TOP 2010 WINES AT THE TIME

*****  Domaine des Escaravailles Héritage 1924 confident nose, deeply fruited; properly filled, complete palate, tannins ripe, solid but also deft. Strong Grenache depth, is classy, a beautiful display of Grenache here. 15°. 2032-34

***** Domaine Gourt de Mautens fine, elegant bouquet. Very stylish, very clear palate, extremely long, carries mineral cut, floral touches. 14.2°. 2034-36

****(*) Domaine Les Aphillanthes 1921 full, really thorough nose; dashing fruit, top class gras richness on the palate, true wine, very long. 14.5°. 2028-30

TOP 2010 WINES IN 2020

****(*) Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes ****(*) dark red, firm, thorough robe. The bouquet has barely shifted since birth, presents a compact, firm aroma based on blackberry jam, is measured, dense. The palate carries the South in its veins, flavours of black olives, black berry fruits with drive in the chomping, rather traditionally styled tannins which propel the late stages, extend it well. This really covers the ground, is a thorough child of the garrigue, has good balance and grand length, the aftertaste lip smacking, intense, involving. It deserves a suitable dish of game, is still young, can be decanted. Its balance will allow longevity over more than a decade from now. 15°. 2033-35 Nov 2020

**** Domaine de Beaurenard Les Argiles Bleues very impressive robe, with bright red-purple at the top. The bouquet is settling down, is stylish, shows oak still, with black cherry fruit neatly aligned within. It’s a shapely, calm opening. The palate is also a serenade of lissom textured content, has a soaked black cherry – griottes – flavour with elegant juice, refined tannins on board, the balance is right on the money. It is fresh, crystal clear on the second half – a just tribute to the clay soils – and is a high grade, silken Rasteau, finesse to the fore. The one issue is that there is still oak along the palate – it advances with air, and I would have preferred less – indeed in the past five years, the Coulons have used larger barrels for less oak influence on Les Argiles Bleues. Hopefully the oak will gradually recede here, so take your time. This will live well and evolve slowly. 14.5°. 80% Gren, 20% Syrah, organic harvest. Bottle no 3,576. 2034-36 Nov 2020 Previously May 2012 ****

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*) Famille Perrin L’Andéol

**** Domaine de Beaurenard

**** Domaine Rabasse Charavin

2011: THE COSY VINTAGE

This was a more tricky vintage than 2010 or 2009, no surprise there. The wines lacked the stature of those two years, and it’s a year that, sandwiched between the majestic 2010 and cool, enjoyable 2012, never really received large acclaim. It’s a mild vintage, with accessible, attractive wines, but not ones that stop the traffic. As Patrick Brunel of Château de la Gardine said: “I prefer 2012 to 2011; prices are reasonable, though.”

Growers’ comments at the time pointed to the ease of the vintage, Gilles Ferran of Domaine des Escaravailles remarking: “In tannic years I extend the raising of my reds, but not in 2011 – 2011 is very tender, to drink now while you wait for the 2010s.” At the organic Domaine Gourt de Mautens, Jérôme Bressy thought that “2011 is more suave than 2010 – it has a bit of the unctuousness of 1990.”

 

From Domaine du Trapadis, Helen Durand observed: “2011 is like 2009, but without 2009’s excessive maturity, while Georges Perrot of Domaine La Collière told me: “the summer was hot, with occasional fresh nights. Ripening wasn’t homogenous. My yield is 25-30 hl/ha this year; my fear was that the crop would be too concentrated. Growers who sorted crop did well – it is a good vintage, with supple, fruited, nicely balanced wines – a year that I appreciate notably for its supple virtues.”

 

Jean-Pierre Meffre of Domaine Saint Gayan pointed out a challenge in the vineyards this year: “there was lack of magnesium in 2011, with dried bunches, and grapes still pink. There was the drought stress of the spring and the freshness of the summer, and in that period the magnesium had bad circulation, a poor export from the soil.”

 

For Elodie Balme, 2011 has similarities to 2015; she stated: “they are both quite hot years, which rendered balance a little complicated in the first years of its life, a solar imprint. 2011 was a bit more austere than the more fruited 2015. Both vintages have re-discovered some of their freshness as time has gone by.”

 

From my point of view, 2011 is a full, fleshy year, with quite high degree. By late 2020, the wines have developed well varied, well packed bouquets, with good charge on the palate, their vigour commendable. The interest given by the bouquets at this maturing stage is well worth pointing out – they are something of a secret weapon, with their connotation of beef stock, gravy, blood. It’s a vintage to decant, a move that helps to clarify the wines at this age, and to pair them with beef, game dishes, a real treat for the cold months of autumn-winter.

TOP 2011 WINES AT THE TIME

****(*) Domaine Gourt de Mautens fine fruit, attractive purity on the nose. The palate is rich, well structured, carries finesse, is long, stylish. 2032-34

 

**** Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Confiance the bouquet is earthy, with pine, plump blackberry airs. The palate is enjoyable, mixes attractive fat with a dentelle quality, a fresh siding, the length well varied on menthol, violet. 2025-27

TOP 2011 WINES IN 2020

****(*) Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes  ****(*) full, dark red-ruby toned robe; the bouquet is ample, reduced, needs air, is fuelled with turbo-charged, downhome plum-prune fruit, blood, carries inner sweetness. It is going to emerge well, with variety and stimulus. The palate has an intensity and charge about it that capture the imagination, the second half full of running. This ain’t no patsy! There is a sense of bull’s blood in its vivid, vigorous charge, the tannins dense and well integrated. It has the feel of a just unleashed wine that wants to make its mark, is calling for beef or venison. A big merit is the mineral, cool tone of the aftertaste. Decanting a must for this wine that is full of character, goes its own way, can’t be found on a supermarket shelf. It would scare off the white coat drinkers, it would. 15°. 2031-33 Nov 2020

 

**** Domaine Elodie Balme full, dark red robe, has held well. The bouquet has a beef stock, baked aroma, dried prune, chocolate, leather notes at first. The palate has a rich thrust on the attack, carries sure density, does most of its display on the attack, before a more tapered finale, with graininess there. There is a vestige of inner power beyond the pebbly content on the finish, one that I associate with this vintage. Air helps to clarify the nose, fruit moving forward there, and to freshen the palate, bringing extra detail, precision, so decanting will be a good option. It’s attractive Rasteau, showing well now. 15°. 2027-29 Nov 2020

2012: THE SPARKLING VINTAGE

2012 was a very good vintage, ahead of 2011 and 2013. Quality was well spread across the domaines, with wines that held plenty of life and also local terroir nuances, resulting in six what I term STGT – SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER – wines, those with local typicity. The best were marked by clear fruit, and fine grain tannins; clarity and clean drinking were the hallmark of the year, with lack of freshness a crime the DNA of the 2012s is freshness.

The crop was small, hit by coulure (flowers not converting into fruit) on the Grenache and by the dry conditions of the summer, which particularly hit those vineyards on the southern edge of the appellation on the Plan de Dieu. There was also a risk of mildew at first, which was dealt with by copper treatments.

 

As a result, the vineyard experienced two seasons – the wet of the early spring time, and the drought of the high summer, when there was just the odd rainfall – 20 mm [0.8 in] at the start of July, for example. The harvest was a few days later than in 2011, in the second half of September, although Eric Martin of Domaine Martin reported his harvest on 7-8 October, which followed 100 mm [4 in] of rain in three to four days around 20 September.

 

I consider that the best wines of 2012 came from the slightly higher, more northerly sector, but a common theme is the welcome one of moderate degree across the range, and an appealing freshness.

 

The growers have taken to the vintage over time, with more enthusiasm expressed than was perhaps the case at first. As Jean-Paul Bertrand of Domaine Grand Nicolet told me: “there is a good balance between alcohol and tannins and freshness in 2012. I would be happy with that each year, with a bit more crop, say 30 hl/ha, not the 24 hl/ha we had this year. There is a lot of freshness this year.”

 

Jean-Paul’s great buddy, Robert Charavin of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers also alluded to the agreeable nature of the 2012s. His first bulletin, nine months after the harvest, ran as follows: “2012 is very agreeable to drink, on its fruit; the vintage lacks a bit of foundation, is uneven in quality. On my Mourvèdre I didn’t have more crop but the bunches were double their usual size, so that went into the Côtes du Rhône, since the wine lacked its normal depth.

 

Certain plots on the Plan de Dieu came in at a tiny 12 hl/ha – some plants failed to nourish, others not. It is a fruit vintage above all. 2012 doesn’t show evident tannin – they are present, well installed. For now, the wines are not evolving or shifting.”

 

Robert’s second, more recent view, came in April 2015, when he informed me, with the benefit of 2013 and 2014 since then, “it is a very, very good, handsome year. The wines are quite facile, but have a lot of charm. They are very well fruited, and you want to drink them. The tannins are well integrated, aren’t very strong, nor are the wines too high in alcohol, unlike some of the 2011s. There’s very good balance in 2012 – the wines are a pleasure to drink.”

2012 was also regarded as superior to 2011 by growers such as Patrick Brunel of Château de La Gardine and Robert Charavin, while Paul-Émile Masson, the young man at the helm of Domaine Bressy Masson told me: “2011 is more powerful than 2012, which is very fruited, fresh vintage.”

 

In 2012, Domaines such as Grand Nicolet really provided access to the full-blooded warmth of these soils. In the modern style, at pretty much the other end of the spectrum, stood Domaine La Soumade, of André and Frédéric Roméro, advised by Bordeaux consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, the style smooth and sleek, their tannins particularly supple.

2012 is therefore a thoroughly likeable, engaging vintage, with more spark in then 2011. The signature of the wines is ease and clarity of drinking, and this has carried into 2020, with spice a-plenty and menthol freedom. The wines are on very good form now, some absolutely at their summit. Bouquets are varied, with a happy freedom of expression as well. It’s a joli vintage, very likeable, open to all comers.

TOP 2012 WINES AT THE TIME

****(*) Domaine Grand Nicolet Les Esqueyrons copious, inviting bouquet; firm crunch of black fruit with energy and freshness on an accomplished, stylish palate.

 

****(*) Domaine des Grands Bois Cuvée Marc sunny, southern bouquet, ripe black fruits. The palate is long, expressive, full of flavour, not shy, has an STGT nature. Good Value.

 

****(*) Domaine La Soumade Fleur de Confiance jolly bouquet, warm and generous. Tasty fruit, herbs on the palate, very precise, fresh tannins, very good drinking.

TOP 2012 WINES IN 2020

****(*) Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes dark red, full robe, in good shape. The bouquet has an air of blood, a tinkle of mineral to the fore, that riding above a more beefy, enclosed black fruit density, licorice in the mix. The palate is freighted, the attack bold, comes with a prune, stone-fruited flavour, has captured the essential freedom of the vintage well, with flair in its delivery, into a clear-cut ending, cool notes there. Its freshness is exemplary, and serves too heighten its appeal, with that fresh spine shaping the wine, too. It feels as if the vines’ long roots have successfully mined the depths of the soils this year. It’s STGT wine, very true to its origins. 15°. 2031-33

 

**** Cave de Rasteau, Ortas Les Hauts du Village dark red robe, little shift in its depth; the bouquet is well together, presents a black fruit jam aroma, a note of dates, cherries, black fruit lozenges, an underlying sweetness, licorice also. The palate is nicely broad on the attack, engages well, bears black fruited matter with a still sealed firmness about it. It continues into a solid, sure finale, the late moments benefitting from a fresh, menthol burst. This is ageing well, holding together with success. 14.5°. 2028-30

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*)         Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes

****(*)         Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Marc

****             Domaine des Escaravailles Héritage 1924

****             Domaine Saint Gayan Ilex

***(*)           Domaine de Beaurenard

***(*)           Domaine Combe Julière Cuvée Aimée

2013: THE UNRULY VINTAGE

From a professional standpoint, 2013 was a fascinating vintage, since it broke many rules and norms. First of all, the year was very wet in winter-spring, unusually so for those days of the early 2010s, so mildew hit some vineyards. Second, there was a heck of a lot of coulure that swept through the Grenache at flowering time, much reducing yields on the staple variety for the appellation. Third, ripening was very slow to happen, with some growers reporting under 10° when they would have expected 13°. Fourth, the wines bore high acidity levels, making them rigorous, Northern in style. But a drop of acidity never made a wine evolve faster – just ask the Burgundians – and over time, they have started to come together, to expand, to make progress.

2013 is often a furtive vintage at Rasteau. This means there are quite a lot of wines whose attributes are hidden or masked by the incomplete ripeness of the year. Wines that present a sunny, assured roundness are therefore at a premium.

There are definitely hollow wines this year. A few have good depth, but “generosity” is a little used word this year. The Grenache-centric wines can be lean.

Grainy tannins are a feature – tannins were definitely a challenge this year, few wines holding really snug fit tannins. Hence finishes can be dry, and attenuated. That can be sorted out for some wines by being drunk with country foods, stews, pies, but it isn’t a very satisfactory situation.

On the broader, mass market front, it was not an acclaimed vintage, since the growers were too exhausted by all the rigours and hard work and stress of the vineyard to acclaim it, while it was too tricky for newbie journalists, and deemed not sweet and easy enough for la grande publique.

Tight, tannic wines put people off it, the loss of Grenache displayed in a lowering of varietal richness – Elodie Balme’s Grenache proportion fell from 70-75% to just 50% this year, for example. But I bet some of the connoisseurs tucked away a few bottles in the hope and expectation that they would blossom over time.

As Frédéric Roméro of Domaine La Soumade, told me at the time: “we lost 80% of our Grenache this year, so there are only two red Rasteaus instead of four – the classic and the Prestige. On the classic, the Grenache fell from 70% to 50%, the Syrah rising from 30% to 50%”

 

Bruno Long of Domaine Fond Croze admitted that the conditions got the better of him, telling me: “2013 was too complicated, the crop struggled for ripeness, so eventually I decided to sell my Rasteau off in bulk.”

 

Mikaël Boutin recalls 2013 as follows: “winter 2012-13 was very cold, the spring of 2013 extremely wet; I lost half my Grenache mainly from mildew, and then had to contend with two small hailstorms at the start of the summer – their impact wasn’t too severe. The cool and damp summer kept delaying the harvest date into the start of October. I don’t mind saying, 2013 was a hard vintage both physically and psychologically. As for the wines, they carry fresh fruit aromas, green tea airs, with flavours on the palate resembling crushed wild strawberries, grape marc, licorice – they don’t have great body, are more airborne than grounded.”

 

Patrice Barbieri from Domaine de Crémone recalled that 2013 was a milestone vintage, since it was their first. He and son Thomas started with 16 hectares across Rasteau, Cairanne and Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes. “We pruned late, in mid-April, following problems with the vendor of the domaine – but we had a lucky break, since that meant we avoided the coulure [flowers failing to convert into fruit] on the Grenache. The Syrah was magnificent in 2013. The late summer season saw sunny weather, but even so, we only emerged with small yields of 16 hl/ha.”

 

2013 can therefore be classified as the unruly child of the first 10 years of Rasteau, but a vintage with character and its peculiarities, not mainstream or dull, one that I feel is in good shape now, moving quietly along, shrugging off its early acidity, capable of very good pairing with pheasant, gibier de plume, a pheasant casserole being an excellent idea for it.

TOP 2013 WINES AT THE TIME

**** Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Prestige confident depth from old vines on the elegant nose; tight fruit, iron on the palate, lithe tannins, good build into the finish.

**** Domaine Rabasse Charavin tangy darkly fruited bouquet; good structure with 35% Mourvèdre, a serious Rasteau, with firm, crunchy tannin, a high level 2013, time needed.

TOP 2013 WINES IN 2020

**** Domaine Mikaël Boutin MB red robe, a hint of ruby at the top; the bouquet has a woodsy aroma, a hint of plum fruit, with a spiced, herbal backdrop. It’s holding well. The palate shows the vintage’s clip, is upright, shaped around a frame that is well-defined, fresh. It’s a wine that is gradually growing into itself, expanding within that frame, carries interest from that point of view. There are menthol-fibrous late moments, and it’s a wine worth dwelling on, thinking about, given its low-key complexity. It’s genuine, hand made Rasteau. 13.5°. 2027-28 Nov 2020 Previously May 2016 ***(*)

**** Domaine Pique-Basse attractive, bright full red robe. The bouquet is well seasoned, nicely ripe and rounded, centres on raspberry liqueur, cassis fruit, is clear and appealing, rather sumptuous, has a floral energy about it. There is a note of reduction, so decant it. The palate is most pleasing, bears suavely textured content with a pedigree run of consistent delivery into a well furnished, precise finish. This is a real gentleman of a wine, nothing out of place, the smooth, serene flow highly engaging. It has softened well over the years, the plum fruits plump and tasty, the tannins an effortless fit, even velvet from them. It will be super with lamb. 14.5°. 80% Gren, 20% Mourv. 2027-28 Nov 2020 Previously Apr 2015 ***(*)

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

***(*) Domaine Combe Julière

***(*) Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes

2014 THE SIMPÁTICO VINTAGE

2014 was a second consecutive vintage which gave the growers plenty of work in the vineyards, and they had to be on their toes to ensure that the crop wasn’t too abundant given the pattern of rain during the growing season. However, Rasteau was spared the worst of the 2014 rains that notably hit Châteauneuf-du-Pape and areas further south in the Vaucluse, so there is harmony in the wines. They are much softer than the more cussed 2013s, and have always been ideal for the Restaurant trade, known in France as the CHR.

The 2014s are far removed from the robust virtues that these clay soils can give in a year such as 2009, and tame alongside 2010 and 2009, also 2012, I suspect, but the best hold pure fruit and snug, smooth tannins.

The best are deep in agreeable matter, and have perfectly assembled tannins in support. Indeed, the absorption of the tannins is one of the themes of the year. The best also possess veiled inner strength, and that discretion should not be taken for mildness. They will be excellent with refined game dishes, rather than full-on game stews, for instance.

Ripening on bunches wasn’t uniform, with Robert Charavin of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers telling me: “the first week of September tidied up quite a lot of bunches that had a mix of ripe and green grapes in them, without picking up a lot of extra degree. We avoided hail this year, and also had a bit less rain than elsewhere – when there was 40 mm (1.6 in) in the south of the Vaucluse, we had 15-20 mm (0.6-0.8 in) here, for instance.”

Morières-les-Avignon and Jonquières, for instance, had a storm of 60-70 mm (2.4-2.8 inches) in August, whereas Rasteau, along with Roaix, Séguret and Cairanne, received just 1 or 2 mm.

Discussing the wines in their immediate context, Robert Charavin observed: “2014 is similar to 2012, which was very, very good. It’s a vintage that lives quite a lot on its fruit, with a bit more tannin than 2012. It is a year with uneven quality across the wines. Some domaines had a lot of crop – too much in fact – and suffered from blight in the vineyard – oïdium, and later on, rot. This year you had to green harvest, drop bunches, and sort the crop as well. It is a lot more of an interesting year than 2013, which was atypical thanks to its low Grenache content in the wines.”

 

Marc Besnardeau of Domaine Les Grands Bois was categorical in preferring 2014 over 2013, telling me: “2014 is ahead of 2013, certainly. From one of our terroirs, the more draining site, we had fruited, gourmand wines, while on the other, from yellow clays and galet stones, we had structured and deeper wines. 2014 is more robust than 2013, has good pH and acidity levels, big colour. It is more fine and balanced, even if it is more powerful than 2013.”

 

Frédéric Julien of the Cave de Rasteau Ortas gave me this opinion: “there is less colour than usual. From the clay soils the wines are fresh, and have attractive fruit, and the wines are also appealing from the garrigue soils. Our yield was 38 hl/ha, almost at the 40 hl/ha maximum allowed.”

 

Robert Laurent of Domaine Combe Julière stated: “we harvested late this year. We started the Syrah on 23 September, then stopped until 1 October, and finished on 9 October. The Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre were all very joli. The wines have good acidity, colours have held up, but there was a lot of sorting needed on the Grenache. Vinifications went well. There is a lot of fruit, and the wines should keep well.”

 

Georges Perrot of Domaine La Collière was enthusiastic about 2014, informing me: “I like 2014 a lot – it’s similar to 2013, but is more harmonious. We had a lot less rain than Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is a very beau vintage, one with freshness. Sorting and discarding was needed because of the rain, and we had signs of rot near the harvest. As the quantity was there, you could afford to discard.”

 

Patrick Brunel of Château de la Gardine termed 2014 “a vintage of the vigneron, vineyard work counting for much all through the year. The rainy, low sunshine spring meant a battle against weeds, with canopy management to encourage aeration of the bunches. We started the harvest on 18 September, one of the latest dates of the last 20 years, and undertook severe sorting of the crop. 2014 produced very elegant, nicely balanced, ample, rounded, wines, with nicely supple tannins.”

 

It’s always well worth keeping back some wines from the supposedly smaller vintages, and 2014 is just such a case. It’s a vintage that extols fruit and pleasure. At six years, the wines have savoury appeal, neat richness, plenty of spicing, and are à point for la table, lamb and veal on the menu. Their overt spicing is typical of a less high sun-filled year, and they carry a little mineral thread that pleases.

 

2014 is a vintage that, if bought in magnum, would serve a real festive treat at 10 years’ old. At the time, it should have been liberally purchased by the restaurant trade, since a bottle could be opened and enjoyed without hesitation, there and then, something that isn’t possible with the large, acclaimed – and backward – vintages when they are young.

TOP 2014 WINES AT THE TIME

**** Domaine des Coteaux des Travers La Mondona round, neat nose, a winning simplicity; near Burgundian take on Rasteau in a soft, red-fruited palate, plump and enjoyable.

**** Domaine des Girasols Bienveillante fruit with enthusiasm on the bouquet, a spritely start; enjoyable bounty on the palate, classy juice, firm, long tannins. Good, genuine.

**** Tardieu Laurent Vieilles Vignes gourmand, varied bouquet, herbs on board, connects well with the supple, spiced palate, agile, lively tannins, good Grenache-Syrah marriage.

TOP 2014 WINES IN 2020

**** Domaine des Coteaux des Travers Paul plum red robe with an evolved hue, but still has lustre. The bouquet serenades via its cosy, perfumed raspberry-plum aroma, has a silky quality, a sureness of touch, is bien spherical. The palate sits well with an appealing roundness, an orb of red stone fruits, easy stroke tannins on board, scents of pot-pourri, dried flowers. Its delivery is most calm and winning. This extols the plump virtues of old Grenache, carries a note of oak late (new oak demi-muid/600-litre oak cask raising). The succulence on the aftertaste is attractive, gives good chomping. It’s really shapely, has blossomed and unwound since last tasted. It can be decanted. 15°. 2029-31 Nov 2020 Previously May 2016 ***

***(*) Château de la Gardine the robe has a plum red centre, tapers towards the top. The bouquet has a caramel, wild berry aroma, a note of juniper, herbs. It’s discreet, and quietly varied. Decanting would help to open it. The palate hits the mark on the attack, doesn’t hesitate, gives a gourmand ball of spiced plum fruit, a lip smacking tone, the finish rounded. Incense and small black berry fruit combine well, with the engaging plumpness of 2014 at its heart. It retains its neat gras into the finish. Bottle no. 09106. 14°. 2025-26 Nov 2020 Previously May 2016 ***(*)

***(*) Domaine de Crémone Premier Violon dark plum red robe, still very much in the game. The bouquet is dark, wide, spiced, mineral, meaty has a smoky note from oaking, an inner of blackcurrant jam. The palate has a savoury nature, a flavour of soaked red cherries or griottes, most of the running delivered by the attack; the finish is spiced, red-berried, gentle. There is a floral note of the aftertaste that clinches the deal for its appeal. This carries the charm of the 2014 vintage, is drinking well now, will be grand with a dish of lamb, veal. There is still a note of oak on the aftertaste. 15°. 2024-25 Nov 2020

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****   Domaine Grand Nicolet Les Esqueyrons

***(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Les Côteaux

2015: THE GENUINE VINTAGE

 

2015 was a vintage that gave well-packed, thorough wines that were striking and pretty open when young, possessing ground force and vigour – very genuine examples of Rasteau. It’s a Rasteau vintage par excellence, where the clay soils swatted away any demands from heat and dry conditions, allowing good terroir expression. There is good depth, also length in the wines, with bouquets that are deep, busy, varied. The best wines hold ripe, layered tannins that add to the late depth.

Some growers favoured freshness, and opted for clear-cut, expressive wines that were open for business early on, and easy to appreciate. Others sought more pronounced ripeness, leading to a more fleshy, suave style in other wines. The best held sunny balance, and were long and interesting, with local garrigue notes to the fore. There was little or no trace of excess alcohol this year.

Grower reaction was generally favourable at the time. Mikaël Boutin remarked: “2015 is very beau – it has the profound qualities of 2013, is very southern, has a handsome concentration of tannins with acidities that will take time.”

Another young man de Rasteau, Georges Perrot of Domaine La Collière, summed up the year as follows: “Rasteau 2015 has given fruited, mineral, digestible wines. Some people waited too long on the ripeness. The clay soils served well this year, and the inclusion of stems gave more oxygen in the must, and another dimension in the wine, a noble vegetal aspect, which helped its drinkability.”

Vasco Perdigão of Domaine de Verquière also spoke of good acidity: “2015 was very hot, with a sustained period of high heat. The harvest was in impeccable condition; it’s an exceptional vintage with some good levels of acidity that will allow it to keep well over time.”

From a more experienced standpoint, Jean-Pierre Bertrand of Domaine Grand Nicolet told me that he favoured 2015 over 2016: “the yield was a little higher than 2016. It’s a more tannic year than 2016, one that had fresh nights even in summer – that concentrated the tannins. By 2018, the wines are still making progress, have matter and concentration. 2015 has more tannin and everything, more heat and roundness, less acidity than 2016, and can live longer than 2016. It has more flair, is more complete.”

Jean-Pierre’s chum Robert Charavin of Domaine des Coteaux des Travers disagreed: “2015 is a bit rustic,” he informed me, “like all years ending in 5. 2016 is better balanced.”

At Domaine des Girasols, Marie-Elisabeth Joyet was pleased, saying “2015 is a generous vintage, both for quantity and quality. The wines are powerful, and will age well.”

With very old Grenache on classic clay soils, Daniel Boulle of Domaine Les Aphillanthes gave this rundown: “a cold winter was followed by sun and Mistral in spring, which sparked the vegetation into rapid growth. As the summer was hot and dry, the end of August rain gave the vineyards a burst of life after they had slowed down, and ripening then proceeded at a good, steady rhythm, with harvesting at the end of September. The wines have the notably ripe aspect of a summer of high heat, but they are also supple and elegant.”

Patrice Barbieri of Domaine de Crémone was still full of praise for 2015 in 2020, stating: “2015 is the most beau year for us since 2013. The winter was rainy, but that served to restore the water table. April was rainy, while flowering in early June was very homogenous. The summer had a typical Mediterranean tone, with some well-timed storms to help out. Harvest quality was magnificent, no discarding needed. We finished the harvest on 26 September.”

2015 is certainly not a vintage that is standing still with time – it is evolving extremely well, as witnessed by the good showing of wines tasted at the end of 2020. Elodie Balme supported this view, commenting: “it was quite a warm year, with balance not immediately present, and a solar feel in the wines. It has been gaining freshness over the time since it was made.”

There is a uniform feeling that the best 2015s will evolve and age well. It is a vintage when the old Grenache vines performed noticeably well, their deep roots bring forward threads of mineral along the palate, noticeable in a wine such as the Domaine Les Aphillanthes 1921, but also remarked upon in the Domaine de Verquière 1928. A classic STGT wine is the Domaine Combe Julière – coating on the outside, vitality on the inside, similar to the Aphillanthes and the Verquière.

A drawback from a personal point of view is the over use of oak, which detracts from wines with otherwise steady richness. Let les vignobles parler, pas les tonneliers!

TOP 2015 WINES AT THE TIME

****(*) Domaine Combe Julière rounded, expressive nose; bright fruits, fresh breeze on the palate, a natural, garrigue, Grenache-inspired STGT wine, very persistent

****(*) Domaine Rabasse Charavin Abel Charavin sturdy, compact bouquet with potential. Broad, filling palate, good charge, no heat, generous, thorough, energy in its length

****(*) Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Prestige concentrated, spiced bouquet; free fruit on palate, muscle, freshness, has authority, needs time

TOP 2015 WINES IN 2020

****(*) Domaine Combe Julière dark robe that has held well. The bouquet gives an ample but low-key expression of dark stone fruits, prune, has a serene and confident depth. It’s still young, more to come. The palate has doughty depth, presents an appealing, well textured wave of lissom content, is well orchestrated, all together, with deep persistence and a genuine length. There is inner vitality beyond the external coating, and it’s a top grade, manly Rasteau, STGT confirmed on this second tasting, a true child of its clay soils. It has definitely benefitted from being concrete, not oak, raised. 14.5°. 2031-33 Nov 2020 Previously May 2016 ****(*)

****(*) Domaine Les Aphillanthes 1921 dark red robe, little change in its hue. The bouquet achieves an artful balance between ripeness, depth – airs of stewed plums – and a floral, more airborne presence, comes with peppery out takes. The palate is savoury, rich, gives a lip smacking abundance, takes on some fresh tannins towards the finish, which help its clarity and drinkability. A thread of mineral serves it well, is a nuanced contributor. The bouquet reflects sunshine, warm lands, while the palate speaks of mineral in the soil. There’s lots here to study and enjoy, it’s a complex Rasteau. Decanting advised. 14.5°. 2032-34 Nov 2020

**** Domaine Elodie Balme dark red robe with a matt tone of evolution. The bouquet is nicely filled, savoury, can offer more, rests on spices, plum fruits, with a note of beef stock. It evokes Christmas by the fireside. The palate gives a good plunge of attractively rich, fluid content, reveals a tasty, Grenache-inspired moment, has an in-built persistence, the tannins and their graininess in line with the dry conditions of the summer. This is authentic Rasteau, with the live tannins typical as well. It’s set up to go with game dishes, red meats. The spiced aftertaste has some sparkle, clarity in it. Decanting will encourage its fruit to come further out. 15°. 2027-28 Nov 2020

**** Domaine de Verquière 1928 shiny, good looking dark red robe; the bouquet has an entrenched depth, a ripe mass of black stone fruit, with a plentiful depth. The palate has an excellent, striking attack, moves with serene flow, is very well supplied with old vine richness that acts as a natural couch to it. The tannins are well included, bring an extra layer to the close, where there is a note of oak with gorse flowers. This is proper good Rasteau with the virtue of the natural richness that can be found in these clay soils after a dry summer. It’s most engaging, has good balance, length, with a clear aftertaste, even if there could be less of an oak influence. It can be decanted. 15°. Bottled no. 1,493. 2,400 b. 51% Gren, 49% Syrah. €24.50 at the domaine. 2031-33 Nov 2020

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*) Domaine Combe Julière

**** Domaine du Trapadis Les Adrès

2016: THE STYLISH VINTAGE

If growers could encounter the quality of the 2016 harvest even every three years, they would be happy people. 2016’s harvest was superb, the result of a summer that produced rainfall just when it was needed, so the high heat was not a problem. Every variety did well, and harvesting took place in relaxed manner. With such wonderful crop, vinifications were straightforward as well.

2016 is one stylish year, uniformly praised by the vignerons and vigneronnes, some of them pointing to the great balance and good levels of acidity. For me, it is a more complete vintage than 2015 or 2017 either side of it, its noble equilibrium capable of permitting longevity in the bottle, a 20 years span in some cases.

Frédéric Roméro of Domaine La Saumade gave this view: “2016 is very powerful, and the wines hold better acidities, with a lower Ph and a bit more concentration, than 2015. Notably, freshness is prominent, and the wines are very live. The reds are more dense and tightly wrapped than 2015. Yields were 5% higher than 2015 – perfect, so it’s a vintage with quantity and quality.”

Helèn Durand of Domaine du Trapadis was in agreement: “there wasn’t much winter rain, but good spring rain came, so there was no shortfall on water reserves in 2016. Flowering went well, with very little coulure on the Grenache. The summer was very hot, very dry, with a spike of high heat in August.

Ripening took time, but we were blessed by rain every seven to 10 days in September and October, around 20 mm [0.8 in] each time, which brought the harvest to a perfect final ripeness. 2016 is concentrated, structured, fresh, well balanced, with very fine grain in the tannins. There are saline notes in the reds, which have high degree and high acidity, so they should live very well. It’s a top year for the Grenache.”

Daniel Boulle of Domaine Les Aphillanthes gave this run through of the growing season: “winter 2015-16 was mild, followed by a fresh spring with regular rainfalls that allowed the vines to obtain water reserves to enable them to deal with the heat of the summer. We were aided by fresh nights in August.

The result was that the vines did suffer from the drought, but in a moderated way, which led to the ripeness and concentration of this fantastic vintage. We harvested at the end of September. Our 1921 cuvée has a fabulous structure with very refined tannin, lots of aromas, freshness, balance, and keeping potential.”

Antonin Coulon of the biodynamic Domaine de Beaurenard spoke of the harvest quality in glowing terms: “the harvest quality was superb, with a good yield, too. Because things were so stable, we took our time, harvesting from 20 to 29 September, with absolutely no need to hurry. It’s a vintage that will rest in our memories, notably for the rare accessibility that the wine gave when it was in its first flush of youth.”

Laurent Robert of Domaine Combe Julière was another enthusiast: “2016 was easy to harvest, easy to vinify, with very good balance between alcohol and acidity, the first year when we tried the inclusion of 30% of the stems, and a lighter touch in the vinification – an infusion more than an extraction. This resulted in lots of fruit, a less tannic presence, and a gain in finesse. It was the best quality of harvest since 2010.”

Julie Paolucci of Domaine La Luminaille praised the balance and elegance of 2016, stating: “the mild winter was followed by a capricious spring then a very hot and dry summer, with little rain after 18 June. We looked like having a drought year on our hands, with very concentrated grapes by early September. Finally, the much awaited rain arrived on 15 September, so we delayed the harvest until 21 September to let its benefits to sink in.

There is lots of fruit and freshness in the wines, good aromatic complexity with ripe fruits, fresh fruits, spices. Looking at 2016 in late 2020, it’s confirmed as a top level year with good depth, fruit, acidity, elegance, a year that is still giving now, one of the best balanced years of the past five since I started.”

Jean-Pierre Bertrand of Domaine Grand Nicolet spoke of the ease of vinification, telling me: “we had a bit of rain at good moments – it was a lot less dry than 2017! There was a storm of around 35 mm (1.4 in) around 14 July, which curiously enough missed Sablet. We also had 20 mm (0.8 in) on 14 September, just before the harvest. There was no blockage of ripening. The yield was 30 hl/ha, a bit less than 2015, though 2017 was 40% down on 2016.

All varieties performed well, and vinifications were simple, even with high degree of 16° in places – they finished well. The wines aren’t overpowerful, and more easy to drink than 2015, have some drinkable qualities, like 2011.”

Robert Charavin of the biodynamic Domaine des Coteaux des Travers was another grower to prefer 2016 to 2015 with this comment: “it’s a good vintage, better balanced than 2015.”

Florence Quiot of Château du Trignon referred to the style of the vintage, remarking: “2016 is a year of elegance, delicacy and beautiful tannins thanks to the extremely good harvest; there is a subtle balance, with inner power matched by still very promising fresh touches. Along with 2017, it’s one of our best recent vintages at Rasteau.”

Gilles Ferran of Domaine des Escaravailles gave the year high praise, too: “2016 is absolutely a top vintage for us; both 2012 and 2016 are Great Vintages, with balance, structure, finesse and elegance. They are both the best La Ponce Rasteaus I have made.”

The 2016s are naturally rich wines, very full, very long on the palate. They are taking more time to come round than the 2015s, and it is still a year when vintage prevails over terroir: I would expect that influence to last towards 2024-26 or so, by which time more local terroir effects will have started to come through.

There is density in content, thickness in the tannins, and true fusion will still take time for several wines. It’s a year for a magnum, and patience, with drinking well into the 2030s. My last broad tasting of the 2016s was in March 2019, and by late 2020, few have changed to any degree – if anything, they have tightened up in that period. At present, 2015 is certainly the more terroir-specific vintage with an appealing openness now.

TOP 2016 WINES

***** Domaine Rabasse Charavin Abel Charavin healthy plum red colour; the nose is stylish, gives airs of damson plums that are nicely ripe and rather stately, along with bacon fat, black olives. It has good promise. The palate links very well, glides on its old vine sève/sap, really tasty heart, lengthening steadily as it goes. There is Rolls Royce continuity here, lovely length and late detail. This has super finesse, and very, very snug tannins, velvet from them. There is fresh spark on the close. This is a complete Rasteau de grande classe, great balance. Bottled three weeks ago, Feb 2019. “The clay adds to the wine, beyond the old vines, brings finesse. In a hot, dry year, you mustn’t miss the working of the soils to ensure there’s isn’t a thick crust on top of the ground,” Corinne Couturier. 14.5°. 8,500 b. 70% Gren, 30% Mourv. 2039-41

****(*) Domaine Bressy Masson Paul-Émile dark red, full colour. The nose is on raspberry fruit with a soft floral tone, concentrate of rose petal. It’s a curvy opening. The palate issues sleek, lissom content, red fruits with prompts of herbs, builds well, moves towards a good crescendo in the classic manner. The mid-palate is good and fluid, surges with plum red fruits. This is genuine, true, STGT Rasteau, which finishes on a chewy, smoky note. It will go very well with lamb dishes. 15.5°. 8,000 b. 60% Gren, 30% Syr, 10% Mourv. From late-2019. 2033-35

****(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Héritage 1924 dark red; the nose bears reduction, has a sweet tenor, a thick aroma of plum fruit, sustains well. The palate is tasty and full, with enjoyable persistence, rustles up herbes de Provence, rosemary, gorse flowers along its route. There is a smoky, slightly vegetal finish, a clear ping there. It’s genuine, STGT Rasteau, that carries true Grenache red fruits that last well. It’s all well wrapped together, and very long. Decanting an aid. 15.5°. 6,000 b. 100% Grenache, all concrete vat raised. €18.50 at the domaine is very fair. From late-2019. 2035-37HH

****(*) Domaine Grange Blanche Héritage dark robe; the nose is seasoned with blackberry fruit that is quietly sweet, carries an air of licorice, a backdrop of prune ripeness. Reduction demands it be decanted. The palate is weighty on the attack, holds rich content that persists fully, has tobacco, smoky outcrops, lines the palate fully, suggestive of old vines. It’s interesting, STGT, not an open book, with nudges and nuances within. The finish rests on spiced plum fruits, has local ground force. 14.5°. 8,000 b. 60% Gren, 25% Syr, 10% Mourv, 5% Carignan/Cinsault. From spring-2020. 2034-36

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*) Domaine Bressy Masson Paul Emile

****(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Héritage 1924

****(*) Domaine Grange Blanche Héritage

**** Domaine Coteaux des Travers La Mondona

**** Domaine Grand Nicolet Vieilles Vignes

2017: THE MUSCULAR VINTAGE

The drought in 2017 was something to behold, with growers reporting that crop loss came from coulure on the Grenache, then from grapes that were small, thick-skinned, and low on juice. Ripening was not straightforward, and that shows in the wines, which do not possess the charm, ready appeal and savoury aspects of the neighbouring vintages of 2015 and 2016. At heart, 2017 is a robust, muscular vintage, but there is room for elegance in some wines as well, and the latter will drink sooner than the charged ones that still demand time in 2021.

Robert Charavin of the biodynamic Domaine des Coteaux des Travers, with much experience behind him, told me: “I have never seen a year with such thick skins and so little juice. I started the white harvest on 25 August, the reds on 31 August, ending on 15 September. I was fearful of the tannins in 2017 because of the drought and quantity of skins versus juice. It was more unbalanced when you ate the grapes themselves before the harvest. But it turned out well.”

Helèn Durand of Domaine du Trapadis, also biodynamic, reported: “spring was dry after a few winter rains. Flowering wasn’t good for the Grenache, which suffered a lot of coulure. There was little summer rain, with a heat spike for a few days in July. A storm of 100 mm [4 in] on 10 August served to unblock the ripening of the vines, and there were some rainfalls at the end of September also. By early October there was some over-ripeness.

2017 Rasteau shows purity of aroma, is good, with less degree and less concentration than 2016, and tannins that are more supple than 2016’s. It’s got just a bit more fruit than 2016, is a gourmand, easy to drink vintage.”

Jean-Pierre Bertrand of Domaine Grand Nicole related: “we were down 40% on the 2016 harvest. The coulure started early, when there was water in the soils, so when the cold snap came, it stopped the plants, and when they got going again, the growth of vegetation and flowering occurred together, at the same time, and that didn’t go well. There had also been a very small budding to start with. The vineyard is tired – I trace that back to 2003 and the extreme heat of that summer.

The 2017 Mourvèdre and Syrah are better than the Grenache – their bunches were in good shape, whereas there were a lot of grapillons [grape-free bunches] on the Grenache. The wines are super good, but there isn’t much to go round. The alcohol level is lower than 2015 and 2016. Because there is less of all the varieties, the percentages of each in the wine will be similar to the norm. I started the harvest on 11 September, ending on 30 September. The Mourvèdre was good and ripe – I actually had one plot at 16.2°, but it wasn’t overripe.”

Karine Biscarrat of Domaine Grange Blanche gave this summary: “the winter was mild, which got the vines going early. Then we had spring cold, which brought the coulure to the Grenache’s flowers, while the Syrah budding was also feeble. The drought was broken by an August storm, and the harvest was spread out, the Syrah some way ahead of the Grenache. The wines have a good aromatic concentration along with elegant, fine tannins.”

 

 

Daniel Boulle of Domaine Les Aphillanthes told me about the heat causing a blockage in ripening: “the vineyard suffered a lot from the very dry and hot summer, with the ripening halted because of that. A mid-September rainfall helped to get things going again, and we harvested on 20 September. Our 1921 is profound, with jam-like qualities, bearing a belle finesse.”

Ogier, the négociant based at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, reported: “2017 is a year of concentration and power, in contrast to 2018. Harvest losses ran from 20% to 60%, the most affected being the early ripening zones and anywhere with a high proportion of Grenache. It was a record dry year with the last rainfall of any use in early May. Even September which usually has storms remained frustratingly dry; the one saving grace that month was some dawns at just 11°C.

Ripening became blocked in September until mid-month. Because of the drought, the harvest was healthy, no discarding required. The loss of harvest and the drought encouraged concentration, therefore powerful, strongly coloured, rich wines. We vinified with about 30% stems to encourage freshness.”

Frédéric Lavau of Domaine Les Evigneaux also referred to uneven ripening, commenting: “we had trouble with flowering on the Grenache, and the summer was of course dry, so yield varied from one place to the next. It’s a concentrated year from advanced ripening of the harvest. It’s a very beau vintage to drink within 10 years.”

Vasco Perdigão of Domaine Chamfort was pleased that freshness was possible: “it was a very precocious year, marked by coulure on the Grenache, so it is a low yield vintage with heat and concentration. Despite that, our Rasteau has kept a belle freshness and above all a good drinkability.”

Patrick Brunel of Château de la Gardine reckoned 2017 would keep well, stating: “2017 is excellent, but restricted in quantity. Because of the climate records – the cold and the drought – the harvest was precocious and small, the smallest of the past 20 years. Quality, however, was up to the mark, the wines with marked black fruits’ aromas, with long and silken palates, and a good keeping potential.”

Two domaines aiming for approachable wines for earlier drinking were Les Girasols and La Girardière, John Arum of Girasols telling me: “we decided on only one cuvée to be bottled this year, L’Arbre de Vie. It’s very elegant, flows well on the palate, is very drinkable.” At Domaine de la Girardière, Bernard Girard stated: “we had a small harvest, but one of very joli quality. The wine is balanced, can be drunk now, and can last five or six years.”

I found style and quality held a broad range in 2017, since there were some simple, basic wines at the bottom end – often bottled early, within a few months, then some elegant, fine-tuned wines, often encouraged by light touch winemaking, and then some properly filled wines. By contrast, quality in 2016 was more homogenous, and higher.

Given the drought, 2017 was an opportunity for Rasteau to show how well the clay soils cope with weather challenges, just as they did in 2009. For wines that were bottled towards the end of an 18 to 24 month period of raising, the impression received was that old vines performed extremely well, their roots reaching deep into the compacted clay for residual moisture during the drought. There are six STGT [Soil to Glass Transfer] or terroir wines this year, for example.

Many of the wines possess dark robes, a dense heart, carry spicing, are still cautious. Bouquets are full, not especially nuanced. Tannins can range from firm to demanding to dry – the harvest of thick-skinned grapes from the drought has transferred into the glass. Many wines need decanting, and patience in the cellar. They are not heady, which is a good feature. They are suited to autumn-winter drinking with game, red meats.

One drawback is the fact that good, naturally rich and suave fruit from old vines is being held back by excess oaking; 2017 was a year that shows that – the density is upscaled even more by the oak, whereas in 2016 greater natural richness and fluidity from a better balanced harvest led to less obvious oak.

TOP 2017 WINES

****(*) Domaine Beaurenard Les Argiles Bleues shiny red robe; the nose has good breadth, shows licorice, plums, good clear depth, a hint of violet. This has good structure, proper make-up, holds dark fruit, live tannin, good energy, goes long and has real spine. This is very promising, carries great lucidity in its fruit, is a good biodynamic wine. There’s detail on the finish, blue fruit, coolness. It’s very good. 14.5°. 4,000 b. €26 at the cellars. 2040-42

****(*) Domaine Brusset La Bastide healthy dark red robe; the bouquet is serious, promising, pretty stylish, gives raspberry fruit with white pepper seasoning, an underlay of musky flowers, violets. The palate holds serious content, all well wrapped together, mulberry and damson fruit at its heart. It’s long and genuine, STGT Rasteau with little prompts here and there as it goes, iodine, spice. The finish is complex, interesting, worth dwelling on. Great with lamb, way to go pairing, that. Decanting helpful. 13.5°. 4,000 b. Gren, Mourv. 2033-35

****(*) Domaine Saint Gayan Ilex dark red robe; the bouquet speaks loudly of the south, carries black olives, oiliness, has a definite grunt factor, beef stock, in with its black fruits. The palate gains charge as it goes, bustles, then rushes along, with a multi-layered close, full of freedom. There are peppery, smoke notes on the aftertaste. This has good pulse, is a big wine for red meats. 15°. 25,000 b. 65% Gren, 25% Mourv, 10% Syr. From 2021. 2035-37

****(*) Ravoire & Fils Olivier Ravoire dark red colour; the bouquet carries a deep raspberry aroma, has an oily presence, hints of black olives, the south. The palate is robust, well charged, delivers a really good glass of typical Rasteau, with a vibrant heartbeat. The flavour centres on black cherries, and the smoky tannins are ripe, bringing an extra couch to the finish. Much promise here, is an STGT Rasteau. 14°. 70% Gren, 25% Syr, 5% Mourv. From late-2020. 2034-36

****(*) Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Prestige full red robe; the bouquet is well together, expresses welcoming blackberry fruit with a sweet glisten. There’s a hint of rosemary in behind. It’s a confident, interesting start. The palate is attractively juiced, flows liberally, brings in powdered, lip smacking tannins, carries good energy. This will entertain, especially with a rib of beef off the barbecue. Its gras is stylish, and it’s well presented, genuine Rasteau. From late-2019 to open up the second half further, decanting helpful. I’d like this in magnum. 14.5°. 18,680 b. 60% Gren, 30% Syr, 10% Mourv. 2032-34

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*) Domaine Brusset La Bastide

****(*) Ravoire & Fils Olivier Ravoire

**** Eric Bonnet Réserve Saint Dominique

**** Château de la Gardine

**** Domaine Les Grands Bois Cuvée Marc

**** Famille Perrin L’Andéol

2018: THE COMPLICATED VINTAGE

If 2017 was extreme due to drought, 2018 was extreme due to constant rain in the early summer, which brought unstoppable waves of mildew in the vineyards. However, the mildew at Rasteau was less severe than it was at Cairanne and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it’s something of a miracle that there are very acceptable to very good wines to be found in 2018 – the vintage was by no means a write-off.

Vasco Perdiagao of Domaine de Verquière brought up the testing subject of trying to manage an organic vineyard in the face of such extreme challenges from Mother Nature. He told me: “the winter was pretty mild, but the all the spring rain made life difficult as an organic domaine. The harvest was severely diminished, and we had to sort and discard a lot. The final result was attractive concentration, and a decent balance.”

Karine Biscarrat of Domaine Grange Blanche also spoke of struggles with organic practices: “the mild and rainy winter was followed by spring weather switching between cold and hot, and resultant mildew. Our organic treatment products couldn’t deal with the mildew, which meant that by the end of June we had lost a large portion of our harvest. After that, the weather improved, and the grapes, what there was of them, were healthy, when we started to pick them on 17 September. The wines are supple, balanced, and rapidly achieved harmony.”

Ogier referred to the historical significance of 2018, stating: “2018 is all about delicacy and precision, as opposed to 2017. And it was so much wetter than 2017! There were ample reserves of water in the vineyards from the winter, which was followed by rain that lasted six weeks from early May.

Mildew was overwhelming – we lost half the harvest – with only a few weekends when we could attempt to work in the vineyards. The old timers spoke of 1948 being the last year like this. We had some luck, though – September was incredibly dry and hot, with weeks of temperatures of 30°C and above, but fresh nights as well.

We started the Grenache harvest on 20 September. The grapes were large this year, so the wines were lighter and less tannic than 2017, and carried fruit and freshness.”

The saving grace of 2018 was the rebound after all the early troubles, as referenced by Elodie Balme, who commented: “there was so much mildew pressure in the spring, which varied from one sector to another. After that, the summer weather became quite dry, which led to wines of a good quality, with a lot of fruit and a pretty supple structure.”

Domaine Galuval also spoke of the good second half of the ripening season: “after the very wet spring-early summer, we had heat and dry conditions, with precious rain on 10 August. It’s definitely the finest Rasteau from the last decade here.”

Frédéric Lavau of Domaine Les Evigneaux commented: “all the spring rain served one purpose, at least – that of restoring the shortfall in water reserves accumulated from the previous years. After the dry summer, conditions were good for the harvest. It’s an atypical vintage, the wine led by the Syrah rather than the Grenache. The wines above all have sapidity, a supple nature, which has been encouraged by the use of jars for raising them.”

Bernard Girard of Domaine de la Girardière did not foresee a long life for his 2018, remarking: “it became a dry year, with a small harvest, but good quality grapes. The wine is supple, very agreeable, can be kept for five years.”

The Cave de Rasteau gave this summary: “the Grenache took a long time to ripen, its phenolic ripening delayed. The Syrah and Mourvèdre were concentrated and full. The Tradition Rasteau is fruited, spiced, elegant.”

Patrice André of Domaine Les Banquettes gave a laconic overview of the vintage: “2018 was complicated, with the very rainy spring and attacks on the vines, and obstacles in getting to treat them. We fared better than some, though, with a small, but decent quality crop. The wines are fruited, with attractive structure, but you can’t escape the fact that 2018 isn’t the most promising of the past ten years!”

It’s no surprise therefore that 2018 is a tricky, complicated vintage, marked by clear difficulties in achieving fully and healthily completed ripeness on the harvest. High degree – 16° – and a lack of depth can be a problem. There can be a lack of stuffing, filling in the wines.

The best wines are attractively abundant, carry substance, genuine depth, without the open flair and nuance of the best vintages. They can be drunk into the early 2030s, whereas many are set for early drinking, capable of showing well over six to eight years or so, ideally suited to red meats.

TOP 2018 WINES

****(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Héritage 1924 ****(*) quite a dark red robe; spice, cloves feature on the nose, with a trim sweetness of plum fruit – it’s a measured, calm, good start, the old vines and their assurance over anything more pumped up. The fruit clarity is good. The palate connects well, gives a sensuous run of stylish content with intricacy, complexity, nothing too obvious. The length is beautiful, the tannins still shaping up, nuggets of parching from them still. It’s a serious Rasteau, a Thinkers’ Wine Take your time here – drink from 2023, decant it. 15.5°. €18.50 at the cellars. 2035-37

**** Domaine Elodie Balme dark red robe. The bouquet has an earthy take, an air of oxtail, macerated stone fruits with a floral, musky hint. It has a ripe nature, holds well, is a bit reduced, so allow it to breathe. The palate gives a solid concentration of plum fruit, with a liqueur leaning, has a ripe, seasoned abundance, speckles of pepper, and an internal vigour that interests – indeed there is some flair in its delivery. The finish is well rounded. It’s well suited to beef stews, red meats, is an honest, core Rasteau with good filling. 15°. 50% Gren, 25% Syr, 15% Mourv, 10% Cari. €14.40 at the domaine. 2026-27

**** Domaine des Girasols full, dark red colour; the bouquet is effusive, open, gives a good swirl of grilling, cooked red stone fruits, notes of sweet herbs. The palate picks up that baton of freedom with a good wave of engaging, savoury content, a nicely prolonged finale where the firm Grenache plum fruit comes through some robust, grainy tannins. This is genuine, untramelled Rasteau, STGT wine that reflects the sunny heartiness of its place well. From mid-2021 to allow greater infusion of the tannins. 14.5°. 51% Gren, 49% Syrah. Bottled June 2020. 2028-30

**** Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Confiance plum red robe; the bouquet carries a little intricacy, expresses soft floral tones with a stylish plum fruit from the Grenache. It has a round shape, is inviting, and will offer more. The attack is agreeably loose and free flowing, with bonny plum fruits and a deft freshness through it, the finish rounded and precise, the tannins fine grained. The shape here is good, and it’s an articulate old vines Rasteau with commendable balance. It favours refinement over strength, and is fluidly persistent. 14.5°. 5,500 b. 70% Gren, 20% Syr, 10% Mourv. €18 at the cellars. From mid-2021. 2033-35

**** Toque Rouge dark red robe; neat, nicely sustained air of red cherry fruit, with inner sweetness, a good and open start.  The palate bears stylish fruit and content, moves truly and freely, soaked cherries or red griottes in the equation. The tannins are flexible, and this is attractive, springy Rasteau for relatively early drinking. It carries charm, with some garrigue in its offer. The aftertaste is well juiced. From mid-2020, good to catch on the go. 2028-30

**** Domaine du Trapadis dark red; the bouquet is wide, not showy, has an inky density, with a hint of oak-varnish, black stone fruits present, a steady depth to it. The palate also reflects oaking, with a firm spine flanked by Grenache plum fruited content, is linear for now. It’s the sort of wine to expand as it evolves, to fill out further from within its frame. There’s a good heart of genuine local content, a solid depth, a true Grenache core to it. It’s a Rasteau of authority, conveys the appellation well. 14°. 80% Gren, 10% Cari, 10% Mourv. €16.90 at the domaine. From 2022, decant it. 2033-35

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

**** Domaine des Escaravailles Argilla Ad Argilam

**** Domaine des Girasols

**** Domaine Gramiller Les Marcels

**** Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières Les Ribes

2019: THE SUNNY VINTAGE

2019 at least provided a more stable year in the vineyards, which was no doubt good for growers’ morale. Sunshine levels and heat were high, but the vineyards did not show obvious signs of fatigue – perhaps the rains of early and late 2018 had given them succour beyond just the immediate moments.

It is shaping up to be an extremely good vintage, with plenty of body in the wines, a good level of tannic ripeness, and extended length. Glasses will be well-filled with the sunny optimism of the vintage, and drinkers will do well to cellar their wines, even though they are pretty open and full of beans from the outset. It’s certainly a year for tucking away a magnum or two if there is an anniversary to celebrate.

Laurent Brusset of Domaine Brusset commented: “at last we had a normal sized harvest after two historically small crops. Spring saw a little rain, then the summer was very hot, very dry. We started the harvest on 11 September – it was in mint condition, the skins very thick, pips and stems both ripe. The good weather meant we were under no pressure to harvest at speed. The wines are exceptional, concentrated, balanced and very aromatic.”

Frédéric Lavau of Domaine Les Evigneaux stated: “heat is the trademark of 2019, with temperatures above 40°C across several weeks in June and July, but nights were relatively fresh, which allowed the vines to regenerate. The summer heat ran into September and early October, and the harvest went smoothly. We worked on soft extractions in vinifying, in pursuit of quality in the tannins. It’s a very good vintage which can be cellared for another 10 years.”

Chapoutier, the long established négociant based in Hermitage in the Northern Rhône, reported: “there was a lack of rain, but reserves had been established by rainfall in the autumn of 2018. February was hot, which set the vegetation en route early, but that was followed by a cool spring. Luckily, flowering went well.

After the hot and dry summer, some rain in early September was welcome, bringing a little freshness, which was bolstered by a good differential between daytime and night-time temperatures. 2019 is marked by a strong incidence of tannin with powerful, deeply coloured wines; the tannins are supple given a light touch vinification.”

Laurent Brechet of Château de Vaudieu at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is now involved with Domaine Bressy Masson, and he related: “2019 is my first vintage with the domaine, and was, of course, a year with very little rain. As a result, the crop was very healthy, and allowed us to wait for a full phenolic ripening [tannins, skins, pips] on the Grenache notably, it had been behind due to some blockage after the grapes changed colour [veraison].

There was a little rain in September, which brought a touch of freshness, as well as a better day-night temperature differential. The grapes were small, with limited amounts of juice in them, so you had to go very easy on the vinification. The wines are very well coloured, and hold good acidity.”

Chapoutier, the long established négociant based in Hermitage in the Northern Rhône, also spoke of light touch vinifying, reporting: “there was a lack of rain, but reserves had been established by rainfall in the autumn of 2018. February was hot, which set the vegetation en route early, but that was followed by a cool spring. Luckily, flowering went well. After the hot and dry summer, some rain in early September was welcome, bringing a little freshness, which was bolstered by a good differential between daytime and night-time temperatures. 2019 is marked by a strong incidence of tannin with powerful, deeply coloured wines; the tannins are supple given a light touch vinification.”

For enthusiasm, there is no beating Ferran of Domaine des Escaravailles, who stated: “my first vintage, and what a year to start with! Everything was top grade, and the wine will live a very long time. It’s still very young, but full of promise.”

2019’s immediacy of fruit will certainly please, and we are back to a properly Grenache-centric vintage, which means plentiful richness and suave textures.

TOP 2019 WINES

****(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Argilla Ad Argillam dark red; the bouquet is sweet, shows stewed red fruits, with a note of reduction, a “high” note from that. It reflects a vintage of much sunshine. The palate is also generous, immediate, has an inlay of ripe, gummy tannins that bring an extra layer of depth, a little firmness, to the closing stages. The fruit finds an extra leg after the mid-point, which is most satisfactory. The effect of the clay in giving the wine its bounty comes through well, and the length is sure, sustained, with concentration in the juice on the finish that carries a little salt. It’s a nicely complete, typical, genuine, STGT Rasteau. 15°. From 2022, decant it. 2031-33

**** Domaine La Collière Esprit d’Argiles dark plum red; the bouquet is stylish, really classy, an accumulation of dark red fruits with a note of grilling, vegetal. The palate is direct, peppery, the fruit alert and stylish. It picks up ripe tannins on the second half, extends with freedom, extends into a menthol-infused finale. This has good style, clear delivery, good shape, will be a handsome wine around 2023. It speaks well of its place, even carries Burgundian elegance in its make-up. 15°. 80% Gren, 10% Syr, 10% Mourv. €13 at the domaine. From spring 2022. 2028-30

**** Domaine Combe Julière full red robe; the bouquet is charged with a resounding aroma of plum fruit, rather jam-like, has a lingering depth, some ripe sweetness. The palate wells up on the attack, gives a broad wave of Grenache-led plum fruit with enjoyable tannins on board, their layering working well. This is a heartlands Rasteau, very much a child of the clay, an STGT wine with notions of garrigue and wild plants on the second half. Its length is assured, persistent, the aftertaste properly lip smacking. From 2022. 2032-34 Nov 2020

**** Domaine des Coteaux des Travers Les Travès dark red, nicely full; the bouquet is enjoyably together, offers a salted note above its cosy cooked red fruits, red berries. The palate is soft on the attack, which gives savoury, nicely bright fruit; it plays a good texture card, has lapped up the sun rays this year, allowing a sweet, fleshy offer and munchy tannins, the shape spherical. It’s a pleasing, natural Rasteau aimed for earlier drinking given the open ease and the mild tannins. There is a pocket of late spice in the slightly compressed sign-off. It will do very well in the restaurant trade, will be versatile with many dishes. 14.7°. 50% Gren, 30% Syr, 20% Mourv. €11.50 at the domaine. 2024-25 Nov 2020

**** Domaine Gramiller Les Marcels dark red robe, a little see-through at the top. The bouquet reflects the presence of stems, so there is a herbal-vegetal top note above its comfortable raspberry aroma. It’s very much a child of the garrigue, shows gorse. The palate attacks well with red berry fruit, also has a cool tone, with an ash-like presence, and fibrous, chewy content that develops as it goes, cool red fruits giving a discreet pattern. This has character, will take its time, is STGT Rasteau, with a touch of rigour, a wine worth studying. There is an in-built concentration, and a note of menthol on the aftertaste. Decant it. 15°. From mid-2022. 2032-34 Nov 2020

STGT SOIL TO GLASS TRANSFER/TERROIR WINES

****(*) Domaine des Escaravailles Argilla Ad Argillam

**** Domaine Combe Julière

**** Domaine Gramiller Les Marcels

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