Wine articles

Rhone Olympics

As a student I got into a drunken argument with someone about who made the best Cotes-du-Rhone, Guigal or Chapoutier (it was in the bar of University College, Oxford, I was visiting.) I knew very little about wine at the time, in fact I had never tried the Guigal, I just thought the label was rubbish and therefore the wine must not be very good. Since then the Guigal has become a firm favourite of mine whilst I rarely buy the Chapoutier anymore.  I thought that it would be fun to put these two great names head-to-head to find out once and for all who is best and whilst I was at it try the cheapest wines from some of the other big names of the Rhone. There is one glaring omission: Jaboulet – I couldn’t find a bottle of their once-ubiquitous Parallel 45.

To make things more interesting we tasted all the wines blind and I threw in a Spanish red made from Rhone varieties. I asked my guests to give them a score out of ten but they ignored me and decided to guess how much each one cost. The tasting was not entirely scientific as the wines were of different vintages, different prices and we were eating cheese and quite spicy salami. Also there was no spitting. I’m not sure Michael Broadbent would approve.

The unanimous winner was: Cotes-du-Rhone Mon Coeur JL Chave 09 – this was easily the most expensive wine (£15.95 from Berry Bros) and everyone guessed this one at £15. It’s powerful stuff almost like a baby Hermitage with real structure and length. Really excellent.

Silver went to Pigeolet de Brunier 09 – if the Chave was a baby Hermitage this is a baby Chateauneuf: heady, spicy, mellow, raspberry fruit, very elegant with gentle tannins. Just the sort of thing you would expect from the second wine of Vieux Telegraphe. My guests said £12 – House of Townend have it for under a tenner.

Bronze went to Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva 07 (Co-op £7.99) I guessed this as the Spanish one probably because it was clearly the oldest.  We agreed that it tasted like £12’s worth of wine. Nose was rich and spicy and in the mouth it’s mellow with a very long finish. There may have be some nuttiness there too. I can’t read my handwriting. And in no particular order the other wines were:

La Veille Ferme 2010 – my wife guessed this one immediately. It’s like Rhone Beaujolais. Nice but completely different animal to the above wines and pointless to compare them. (£7.99 Majestic)

Cotes-du-Rhone, Belleruche, Chapoutier 2010 – I thought this was awful. A little green on the nose and then it was short rough, sweet and raw. I remember it used to be light and peppery. What’s going on here? Other people quite liked it. We guessed £7 (Majestic £9.99 on offer now two bottles for £6.99)

Cotes-du-Rhone Guigal 2009 – normally a favourite of mine. This one suffered from following the Chave. Nice meaty stuff with some brambly fruit but no real length. Perhaps it just needs a little time. We gave it a £9 rating. (£10 Waitrose)

Cotes-du-Rhone ‘Les Vignes Rousses’ Jean-Luc Colombo – tasted very young, very fruity, damsons and plums on the nose, light-bodied. I was very surprised to have something so light from this producer. £7 rating which I think is a little unfair. (Majestic £9.99 on offer two bottles for £6.99)

Cotes-du-Rhone Reserve Perrin 2010 – another one from the Perrin stable. Violets on the nose, light-bodied, some red fruit. Very nice stuff.  The team scored it at £9 (Wine Society £8.99)

Thanks to Berry Bros, House of Townend, Majestic and the Wine Society for providing the wines. Winners will appear in a forthcoming Lady column. Thanks for my guests for being Rhone guinea pigs. Finally here’s hoping that I don’t get arrested for using the words Olympics, bronze, gold and silver all in the same article.

By Henry

I worked in the wine trade and publishing before becoming a freelance writer and broadcaster. My work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. I now works as features editor on the Master of Malt blog. Ihave been on BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 and Monocle Radio, and a judge for the BBC Radio 4’s Food & Farming Awards and for the Fortnum & Mason food and drink awards 2018. My book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass won Fortnum & Mason debut drink book 2017. My second, The Home Bar, was published in October 2018.

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