Back to all articles
  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
4 Mar 2001

Lovers of French red wine - and I believe that even though Australia is set to overtake France as Britain's biggest wine supplier, such creatures do still exist - have a real problem.

There are just too many juicy combinations of vintage and region to choose from at the moment. By the time they have bought their '99 red burgundies (Weekend FT, Jan 20) and the '99s from further south described here, will they have any money left for the heavily touted bordeaux 2000s?

If they are paying with nice, strong American dollars, then they may, but us impoverished Brits may not - even though southern French wines are such relative bargains today. Bordeaux château-owners, currently setting your prices for the 2000s, please take note.

It looks as though the 1999 vintage was as successful in much of the southern Rhône Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon as its predecessor - and even better in Côte Rôtie and some other northern Rhône appellations. The word is that 2000 is yet another great year so that this trio will rival the 1988, 1989 and 1990s, except that this time around there are so many more skilled winemakers to choose from.

Many of the traditional and some not-so-traditional wine merchants are making special offers of the 1999 Rhône wines. The Wine Society already has. Ballantynes of Cowbridge in Wales is current. But the independents don't always offer the best deal.

Bibendum of London NW1, for example, has exerted considerable effort in putting together a fine collection of Rhône, Languedoc and Roussillon wines for its en primeur offer. But one of its best buys Ch Coupe Roses Minervois Les Plots is on special offer at Majestic Wine Warehouses at £5.59 a bottle until first thing Tuesday morning - which compares favourably with the Bibendum price of £55 a dozen bottles in bond, which would work out at about £5.75 a bottle without delivery.

The 1999 Crozes Hermitage from the well-run co-op at Tain l'Hermitage is a good example of a well-priced, archetypal sturdy French Syrah. Sainsburys sell one blend, Majestic another very slightly lighter one both at the regular price of £5.99.

One reason to choose Majestic's Crozes (provided you can run to its minimum purchase of 12 assorted bottles) is that the warehouse chain has consecutive special offers on French regional wines (until Monday March 19) and Rhône Valley wines (from Tuesday march 20) involving a reduction of 15 percent per bottle provided at least six assorted bottles in that category are bought.

So from Majestic this weekend buy Faugères Abbaye de Sylva Plana La Closeraie which is only £5.51 (£6.49 usually) and is really sumptuous. From Tuesday buy its Rhône wines such as the Crozes described above (which comes down to £5.09) or Vidal Fleury's seriously gamey Côtes du Rhône, Domaine le Pigeonnier, down from £5.49 (although this was only £4.99 in the run up to Christmas) to £4.67.

Waitrose, which works consistently hard at its selection of Languedoc wines, can field the reputable organic Corbières Ch Pech Latt from wild country and an unusually gentle Côtes du Roussillon Abbotts Ammonite made by an Australian couple resident in France, both at £4.99.

A much more characterful, though equally sweet and velvety, Côtes du Roussillon comes from what might be called the private sector of the wine trade. Domaine Ferrer Ribière is £7.25 from Yapp Bros of Mere (01747 860423).

John Armit Wines of London W11 have two juicy examples from the English-owned Domaine de l'Ameillaud of Cairanne. A warmly enveloping Vin de Pays is £62 a dozen while the straight Côtes du Rhône has another year or two in it and is an even better buy at £72 a case.

Serious 1999 Rhônes for the long term are to be found at the independents. One obvious star of Bibendum's current offer is the voluptuous Jamet's Côte Rôtie at £210 a dozen in bond and Bibendum also have allocations from the glorious likes of René Rostaing and (like Yapp) Chave who will doubtless manage to make very fine Hermitage.

Côte Rôtie is clearly the most consistently successful appellation of the northern Rhône however (the whites lack some of the concentration of the 1998s) and O W Loeb of London SE1 (020 7928 7750), UK importers of the substantial Paul Jaboulet Ainé range, is offering an elegant, scented Côte Rôtie Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Stephan at £114 for six (appallingly labelled) bottles. This merchant also has a wide range of delicious lesser red Rhônes in its 1999 offer with Domaine Les Hautes Cances of Cairanne once more a standout.

The most exciting bargains in the Bibendum offer include Domaine Gauby (great whites) and a range from the ever- underpriced Mas Champart, including an interestingly peachy white, the great regular St Chinian at just £45 a case in bond and the special, heady cuvée Clos de la Simonette without a rough edge but with great potential for £95 a dozen.

La Vigneronne of London SW7 has already made a Rhône offer and is about to offer some fascinating new Languedoc wines. Tanners of Shrewsbury have some good prices in their current offer. Berry Bros & Rudd of London SW1 (www.bbr.com) will make its Rhône offer soon, as will most of the traditional merchants. Less obvious but useful addresses for Rhône include AB Vintners of Brenchley (01892 724977), Gauntleys of Nottingham (0115 911 0555 www.gauntleywine.com) and Raeburn Fine Wines of Edinburgh (0131 343 1159 www.raeburnfinewines.com).

For a wide range of stockists outside the UK, and others within it, see winesearcher.

Detailed tasting notes