A delicious and well-priced anomaly.
From €11, £14.95, 209.80 Norwegian kroner, $24.99, 30 Swiss francs
Rhône and Loire specialists Yapp Brothers came up to London from their base in Mere, Wiltshire, last month to show off their current finds. There were many exciting wines from around the world but one pair, a red and a white, stood out to me for the value they offer.
Brézème is an unusual, little-known district in the Rhône Valley south of St-Péray and well north of Montélimar at the northern end of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages territory.
I first came across it at very early Yapp tastings, as one of those unusual, off-beat names like St-Pourçain (then with the suffix ‘sur-Sioule’). One of Robin Yapp’s earliest suppliers was Gérard Chave of Domaine Jean-Louis Chave of Hermitage fame. In 1986 Chave took Yapp to Brézème and introduced him to Jean-Marie Lombard. Domaine Lombard was subsequently also signed up as a Yapp supplier.
According to Matt Walls in Wines of the Rhône, the wines of Brézème were first recorded in 1422 and the prices would regularly rival those of Hermitage to the north. Phylloxera wiped out vineyards in the district but in 1981 Jean-Marie and Sylvette Lombard planted one hectare (2.5 acres) of limestone and marl on a steep, south-facing slope above the River Drôme, and since has gradually extended the domaine to 23 ha (57 acres), certified organic by Ecocert.
In 2012 Lombard sold the domaine to Philippe Sapet. Julien Montagnon was the winemaker until he fell out with Sapet in 2020, when Sapet installed his son-in-law Jonathan Almeras instead (pictured with egg above). Tom Ashworth of Yapp brings us up to date: ‘Jonathan and a young, dynamic team (whom I met for the first time at the Millésime Bio wine fair in France a few weeks ago) have updated the labels and streamlined the range a little’.
The wines are usually labelled Côtes du Rhône Brézème even though there is not, strictly, an appellation of that name. The reds are made from Syrah while the Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette are responsible for the whites, which seem racier than many a northern Rhône white – perhaps the limestone helps.
I have not visited the vineyards of Brézème – just whizzed past signposts to it from the Autoroute du Soleil and seen the tower above from the road – but to judge from the picture at the top of this article, they are pretty amazing. Tiny terraces on vertiginous slopes that must be every bit as difficult to work as in Côte Rôtie, yet the wines sell for a fraction as much.
I recently tasted four current wines from the domaine, the 2019s made presumably by Montagnon and the 2020s by Almeras. I deeply admired them all. Both Ali and I were very taken by the 2019 white (£24), mainly Marsanne and Roussanne with a little Viognier, which has real citrus tang and tension as well as the perfume of northern Rhône whites. Just like white Hermitage, it promises to continue to develop in bottle for many a year.
I also tasted the 2020 Les Davids white (also £24) from a specific lieu-dit with some clay in the north of Brézème near the hill with a ruined tower that dominates it. It seemed a bit toastier but, like the other white, is well under 13% alcohol.
The 2020 Azalée red, from Syrah with a little Viognier, is not, strictly, a Brézème but is labelled IGP Drôme. Yapp sell it for just £14.95 a bottle and this was my note at their London tasting:
Bright pillar-box red. Round, smooth and charming. Definitely not trying to be a northern Rhône red! Real delicacy in winemaking. This wine is just so healthy and artisanal.
I marked it VGV for very good value and would very happily drink it any time over the next few years.
Yapp then sent me the 2020 Monicault red (£14.95) to taste, which is all-Syrah, aged in a mix of cask and concrete for 10 months, and is even more ambitious. (It used to be called Cuvée Eugene de Monicault before the new broom refined names and labels.) My note:
Bright transparent crimson. Wonderfully rich nose for such a light, fine-boned wine with beautifully managed tannins. Sweeter than a northern Rhône Syrah but very much more refined than most southern Rhône Syrahs. A self-confident mid-Rhône red! Not hearty and already a fine drink but with a fine future ahead too. It positively buzzes with health on the finish.
These reds offer a stunning halfway house between the savoury, dry classicism of northern Rhône Syrah and the flesh of a southern Rhône wine, while the whites are much tauter than those to the south and seem to have more structure than many of their counterparts to the north.
Altogether this is a district well worth looking into – and Domaine Lombard is by no means the only producer.
Domaine Lombard have an online shop from which they say they can deliver worldwide and, as well as Yapp in the UK, sell to The Wine Source and other importers (soon) in the US, Nouvelles Sélections in Japan, The Wine Merchant in Norway, Rufus Vin in Denmark and Vinlådan ApS in Sweden. Wine-Searcher.com list quite a few retailers in France, as well as some mature vintages with retailers in the US, Switzerland and Ireland.
They also have a négociant business, Maison Lombard, but I haven’t tasted any of the wines.