Northern Rhone - Easter 2011

This year our vineyard tour was in the week before Easter – that holiday being right at the end of April. The largest group we have had for these visits (35 people) gathered on the Monday evening at the Pavillon de l’Ermitage in Tain L’Hermitage for a reception with a Kir Ardechoise - made with sparkling St Péray and Crème de Chataigne (chestnut). This was followed by a robust local meal in the hotel’s restaurant “Le Sud”.

The first visit on the Tuesday was to the Cave de Clairmont, a medium-sized co-operative owned by seven families. It was bottling day so the visit was somewhat curtailed, but Carole Devaux gave a splendid explanation of Crozes-Hermitage and its vignoble.

We crossed the river to Tournon for lunch, taking advantage of its host of riverside bars and restaurants. A short drive took us to St.Jean-de-Muzols and the impressive winery of Délas Frères to be greeted by Bruno Gonnet. Délas is an old established company, now owned by Deutz Champagne which is in turn owned by Roederer. They own good parts of the hill of Hermitage and have excellent Côte Rôtie and St. Joseph and many other Northern Rhône wines. They also have vineyards in the Southern Rhône and we were intrigued by the huge tanker disgorging wine from there for bottling in the very modern facilities here. The tasting was held in a very modern, well appointed tasting room where we were entertained by Monsieur Gonnet’s commentary.

This visit overran so we were late at our third appointment at the offices of Jean-Luc Colombo in Cornas. Monsieur Colombo, winemaker extraordinaire and much sought after consultant was away but his wife and his staff presented a range of wines including a superb Cornas and a fine St Péray.

The first visit on the Wednesday was to Yves Cuilleron at Chavanay, We were too large a group to visit the winery but tasted a range of his wines, notably Côte Rôtie and Condrieu, presented by his assistant Audrey Autagne.  The lunch stop was in Ampuis, the village for our next visit was to the winery of Jean-Michel Gerin, a rising star of the region. We were welcomed by Madame Gerin and her son. Jean-Michel himself was away on other business.  It is a small winery but with excellent wines, Their Côte Rôtie was superb and many of us agreed that the Condrieu was among the best we had tasted. A surprise was the Priorat from Spain, made as part of a joint venture between Jean-Michel and two other Rhône winemakers.

Wednesday evening was left free and the group divided between two restaurants in the town apart from a few more adventurous who crossed the footbridge to Tournon,

On Thursday morning we walked the few hundred metres to the foot of the Hill of Hermitage where a representative of m. Chapoutier pointed out the various sites on the hill and explained the history sn philosophy of one of the great wine houses of France. She then led us back to the tasting room at the main Chapoutier building for a well made and interesting video about the company, The tasting that followed included some of their best wines and, for interest, one from their Australian winery.

The final evening meal was at the Michelin-starred “Michel Chabran” in Pont de l’Isere.

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