Vinisud is vast, bigger even that its closest neighbour, the Montpellier International Airport. There’s no point in wandering in and taking pot luck. If the visit confirmed one thing for me, it was that there is a hell of a lot of mediocre wine out there, with the rare anomaly of something so brilliant it beggars belief (I finally got to taste the otherworldly Domaine Tempier from Bandol). Pit stops with our handful of producers, mercifully, bucked the trend of mediocrity. Preignes le Neuf got us off to a good start, showing that entry level wines can have decent character and structure (particularly good was the 2011 Preignes le Neuf Chardonnay, Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Libron).
Next, Magali at Saint André de Figuѐre took us through her impressive range of Provençal wines. Particular stand outs were the Valérie Blanc 2011, which is a peachy, concentrated blend of Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Semillon, and the top selection range, ‘Confidentielle’, AOC La Londe, with vines grown on the isolated patch of schist in the Provence region.
The second day saw us focus on the Rhône, starting with Domaine Belle of Crozes Hermitage. Robert was introduced to Philippe Belle by Yves Gras of Domaine Santa Duc in Gigondas, with whom he has worked for many years. Belle’s balanced, deep syrahs have always appealed, but I think the tasting at Vinisud rather astonished Robert in its level. For me it was my first chance to taste through the whole range and get to grips with the viticulture and winemaking with Philippe.
With the winery in Larnage, Crozes Hermintage, the Domaine has vines in Crozes, St Joseph and the much lauded Hermitage. The La Roche Blanche 2010, made from old vine Marsanne grown on kaolin (white chalk) was brilliantly perfumed and had delicious concentration in the mouth. Tasting the 2009 and 2010 Hermitage Blancs next to one another it was interesting to see the stark elevation of the 2010’s complexity. This theme continued with the reds.... the 2009s were all well balanced, well made, with lovely fruit character and supple length, but the 2010s just had something more, some other dimension I don’t even know how to describe. It really was a revelation tasting thought the three Crozes Hermitage blends (Les Pierreles, Cuvée Louis Belle, Roche Pierre), the St Joseph Les Rivoires, as well as the Hermitage.
An exploration through the Chateauneuf-du-Pape stand turned up disappointment after disappointment, which I have to say I wasn’t expecting. The praise from the press for the Southern Rhône 2010s has been effusive, and if Belle’s Northern Rhônes were anything to go by I thought we’d find some knockouts in Chateauneuf. We tried boring wines, dirty wines, and some downright weird wines until finally we did stumble across a bit of a gem. I’ll mention no names at this point, but this Chateauneuf producer might be finding its way onto the RR lists soon. They make the most unusual, but completely delightful and more-ish Côtes du Rhône Blanc made from a ancient native variety (the effect was uncannily like a top class Vouvray Sec) , and the 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape that had Rob hopping with excitement.
We’ll be getting together a 2010 offer for Domaine Belle et al. soon, so get in touch if you’d like to be contacted with prices. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org