A classic Pégau style, with soft-skinned hedgerow fruits melding with smoky, savoury notes on the nose. More streamlined than opulent on the palate, this is not a heady Grenache-led wine, but more restrained. Cool, focused and linear in style, there is lovely fruit, terrific elegance and vibrancy. The Pégau hallmarks of leather and liquorice are discernible on the finish. It is easy to see why winemaker Laurence Féraud is proud of her 2008s; this is long, elegant and reminiscent of the 2004.
A confident wind is blowing through the Rhône valley; Syrah, Grenache and Viognier are the grapes of the moment, and the Mediterranean diet has been adopted around the world as the mark of a good life, further energising sales of Rhône wines. From Côte-Rôtie through to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there is a sense of optimism and forward motion.
While united by the presence of the river, the two halves of the region couldn’t be more different. The northern Rhône consists of a narrow band of vineyards that follow the course of the river as it heads south. The vineyards are dramatically steep in parts, and the climate is continental, similar to that of the southern extremes of Burgundy. In terms of the wines produced, Syrah reigns supreme as the only red varietal, while white wines invariably consist of a proportion of both Marsanne and Roussanne.
Other than the river, the south shares very little with the north. Flatter and much more Mediterranean in climate, it is Grenache that features most heavily for red wine production, supported mainly by Syrah and Mourvèdre. White wine production is equally as varied; Grenache Blanc, Bourbelenc, Clairette, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are all found here. With such a wide base of varieties, styles and wines can and do vary dramatically.
2008 - Rhône
After a run of outstanding vintages in the Southern Rhône, 2008 was a much more challenging growing season for the producers. Cool and rainy weather dogged the season, reducing the crop size and making ripening difficult.
It was the mistral (the strong north wind that blows down the Rhône valley) that saved the vintage, arriving at the end of August, bringing warmer weather and drying out the vineyards throughout September and into October. With grapes ripening slowly under these new conditions, vignerons waited anxiously for full maturity in their grapes.
"It was the year of the vigneron and patience," said Daniel Brunier, who owns both Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe and Domaine La Roquète in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well as Domaine Les Pallières in Gigondas. "In the vineyard we had to take risks and wait for the good ripening."
It was a gamble worth taking for some producers, particularly those who were able to capitalise on the health and maturity of the late-ripening Mourvédre. The balance between alcohol and acidity is very good, the degree of alcohol normal and the concentration in tannins are lower than the powerful 2007.
Yields are markedly lower around the region, as crop set and berry size were small and quality-conscious growers performed rigorous bunch and berry selections during harvest. Low volumes of wines were produced – at Clos des Papes just 17 hl/ha were produced, following strict selection and green harvest at the end of July.
One of France's noble red grape varieties, responsible for some of the Rhône Valley's best wines and a component in many others. A small-berried, thick-skinned grape which needs the warmth of the Midi sun to ripen fully, Syrah produces deep coloured, perfumed wines with refined tannins that permit long ageing. Notes of violets can be found in the best northern Rhône wines, together with dark berry fruits and frequently coal tar. With age secondary aromas suggest leather and game. Its depth and structure are frequently exploited to beef up the softer Grenache in southern Rhône and Languedoc blends.
Synonymous with Syrah, Shiraz has become hugely influential in Australia. Once regarded merely as a workhorse, the quality of old-vine productions has changed perceptions forever, and now it is Australia's most planted quality red variety. The 'Oz' version is richer and more muscular than its Rhône cousin, frequently attaining alcohol levels in excess of 15%. In the Barossa, the best Shiraz are fruit-laden and brimming with spice and toast with a rich, creamy palate. In South Africa, Chile and New Zealand too the variety has shown significant potential to cause excitement.
A variety with a growing number of references. The principal component of the elegant, long-living wines of Bandol in Provence, Mourvèdre has a growing following in the south of the Rhône where it provides backbone in several serious châteauneuf-du-pape blends, a tannic counterpoint to the softer Grenache. And, as Monastrell, it is the second most planted red grape in Spain, enjoying a strong reputation in the wines of Peñedes and Jumilla. Also grown in Australia where it is known as Mataro. It offers a wild, gamey taste, with a blackberry overtone in youth.
A late ripening grape which can achieve high alcohol levels, Grenache is the mainstay of the southern Rhône, contributing more than half of a typical blend, and up to 100% in the wines of Gigondas. Unless picked at low yields, from old vines, it can lack concentration so that it is often mixed with the deep-pigmented Syrah or the more tannic Mourvèdre. The sweet-tasting, raspberry-scented Grenache provides the heart of the blend in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and is also used extensively in the wines of Provence and in the Languedoc. Known as Garnacha in Spain. The variety offers a spicy, aromatic profile that has proved increasingly popular: bush-trained, old-vine Grenache today has a cult following amongst Australian producers.
Under the synonym Garnacha, this variety is found in numerous northern Spanish wines, where its sweet, raspberry fruit notes and gentle tannins contribute warmth to the blend. It is an important component in many a rioja, coming from the warm, Baja district, providing an earthy richness. Known in France as Grenache.