New London wine merchant Genesis Wines (see the directory) has an offer of 2003 Rhône and Languedoc wines that really should not be missed by anyone looking for great wines at fair prices to put in their cellar and on their table. Christian Honorez of Hector & Honorez (which became the H & H of H & H Bancroft) has done what I wish more British wine merchants would do: scoured his native France looking for exciting wines to add to what's available here.
I'll be writing a full report of these 2003s from the North and South Rhône and from some handpicked stars of the Languedoc for purple pages very soon but for the moment, on the basis of the cask samples, I would recommend all four 2003s in the offer from Domaine Daniel and Denis Alary of Cairanne in the southern Rhône where son Denis, now in charge of the domaine, has been introducing gentler extraction techniques and a little bit of new oak to fine effect. And the best thing of all is the price, still delightfully moderate despite three short vintages in a row – 2001-2002 – in and around the village of Cairanne (where François and Frédéric Alary run another domaine altogether, L'Oratoire St-Martin).
The regular Côtes du Rhône 2003 is delicious – fresh, almost minty-fresh on the nose offering very supple sweet, round fruit that you could already drink now, although there is enough stuffing here to see it through the next couple of years at least. This is proper wine (Jonathan Nossiter of Mondovino fame would approve) based on Grenache but with about 25 per cent Syrah and about 15 per cent Carignan. The in-bond price is just £38 a dozen, which at current UK duty rates will work out at around £62, or a fiver a bottle – such a bargain that I have had to do the calculation several times to be sure this is correct.
Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne 2003 contains 25 per cent Syrah for added backbone to the obviously carefully-farmed Grenache and this is a wine to be tucked away for two or three years at least but has quite brilliant sweetness on the front palate already – the taste of 2003? (There are many, many 2003s in southern France with inconveniently, nay dangerously, high levels of residual sugar.) This will be £80 a dozen once the duty and VAT have been paid.
Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne 2003 Font d'Estevenas is very obviously Syrah-dominated with its 60 per cent of the Northern Rhône grape. It's peppery, scented, glossy and just tastes of ultra-ripe but savoury Syrah with great fruit on the mid palate. You could drink it now but you'd be mad to. Keep it for at least two or three years. This should work out at around £109 a dozen.
Côtes du Rhône Villages, Cairanne 2003 Jean de Verde is the Alary's answer to Châteauneuf-du-Pape – extremely rich and glorious from the Alarys' finest, presumably oldest, Grenache vines. So vivid is the fruit that it is easy to overlook the well-managed tannins lurking underneath to keep this wine going for many a year. Buy and keep – not too painful at £104 a case in bond, less than £140 a case including duty and VAT – extremely good value.
Genesis Wines expect to deliver these wines over the next 12 months. I should stress that the samples I tasted were not yet in bottle. Those who would rather head for recommendations based on already bottled samples should take a look at the Genesis offerings from Domaine Fondrèche in Côtes du Ventoux and Ch de la Négly in Coteaux du Languedoc.
Veritas Wines of Cambridge are offering the straight Côtes du Rhône by the single bottle, but for more than £8 each. If Genesis are indulging us in the classic manoeuvre of working on slim margins to get themselves noticed, then they have succeeded magnificently. Take advantage while you may.
Stockists of the Alarys' wines elsewhere include Circle Wine & Liquor of Washington, DC in the US and British Columbia Liquor in Canada. Or you can contact the domaine direct on fax no +33 4 90 30 74 71.