Côtes du Rhône Villages

21 May, 2021 @ 12:00 am 12:30 am BST

Côtes du Rhône Villages Masterclass hosted by Matt Walls who will explore and explain the subtleties of the individual Rhône Villages – from Plan de Dieu to Visan.

Members can apply for one of twenty new tasting kits to watch on-demand a pre-recorded masterclass about the wines of Côtes du Rhône Villages, hosted by acclaimed Côtes du Rhône expert Matt Walls.

You will receive a tasting kit by post and a link to download the presentation and tasting notes.

The masterclass is already available to watch (on-demand) on the VIDEOS page.

This is a relaxed and informal way for our members to join in one of a series of sommelier-focused Discovery Tastings and Discovery Courses we have hosted since launching last year.

You’ll come away from this entertaining one hour session much wiser.

A TASTING KIT with eight wines will be sent to you, so you can taste along.

Wine n°1
Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet 2015
Château du Trignon AOC

Wine n°2
Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2018
Domaine de Mourchon Grande Réserve AOC

Wine n°3
Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2019
Domaine Eyguestre Le Maupas AOC

Wine n°4
AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu 2018
Domaine de Longue Toque

Wine n°5
Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux 2019
Famille De Boel France Aleph AOC

Wine n°6
Côtes du Rhône Villages Visan 2019
RHONEA Notre Dame des Vignes AOC

Wine n°7
AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun 2020
Maison Sinnae Eléments Luna

Wine n°8
Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun 2019
Maison Sinnae Domaine Combe Ferréol AOC

Apply for tasting kit

SORRY, all tasting packs have now been snapped up!

These tasting kits were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

‘I Don’t Want To Employ People Who Move Every Year…’

The Social Company’s Executive Head Sommelier Laure Patry is one of the hardest working somms in the UK, with a full-time job on the floor and responsibility for myriad lists and openings all over the world. We caught up with her in late lockdown to find out how she got there, what she values in others and which wine regions she’s currently most excited about.

Did you always want to be a sommelier, or did you fall into it by accident?

I always wanted to work in a restaurant, but my parents tried to push me away from that, so I went to study literature, studying Russian, Spanish and English. But really I just wanted to work in restaurants so after two years I ended up going to catering school instead. I did that for two years in Le Mans. And then after I did one year of sommelier school in Angers.

But when you graduated you didn’t work in France…

My sommelier school offered me the chance for a year’s work placement in the UK, so I said yeah, why not? I never went back. In France you have to work a long time for the restaurant before you get promoted.  But, by the time I was 25 I was a head sommelier. That would never happen in France.

So how did your career start out?

I was at the Angel Inn in Hetton, near Skipton in the middle of nowhere in North Yorkshire. It’s got a Michelin star now, but it didn’t have one when I was there.

Starting in the UK gave Laure a much faster career progression

What was that like?

I was 20 years old so for me it was fairly difficult because I was young and I was used to living more in the city. Plus I’d lived in my own flat since I was 16, so to come back to a very small room living in a house with other people was hard at the beginning. But I made lots of friends and it was really nice. So I actually stayed two years.

Where did you go after that?

I went to Bath – a beautiful hotel, but the restaurant and the chef were not very good. So my ex-boss put me in touch with Ronan Sayburn. At the time he had a job in Claridges so I went for a trial and started there. This was 2003. It was very busy – we were doing like 150 covers. But I felt very comfortable with that, and after six months, they promoted me to assistant head sommelier.

Is that where you first met Jason Atherton?

He came to do a little bit of work in the kitchen, and he quite liked me and wanted to help me progress, so he asked if I could go and work with him at his and Gordon Ramsay’s new restaurant, Maze. We worked [there] together for six years.

Winning Riedel Sommelier of the Month in 2015

You’ve worked for some amazing venues. What advice do you have for young sommeliers on how to get ahead?

Finding a head sommelier that can teach you and having a good team around you is very important. But I stayed in the same place a very long time so I kind of grew up within the company. A lot of people move within a year or six months, and they lose the opportunity to get promotion within the restaurant where they’re working. When I look at CVs, if people move every year I don’t know if I want to employ them – it makes me feel that they are only going to be there for a year.

Provided you like where you work, Laure thinks a bit of patience can be good for your career.
Pic: Sarajulhaq786, Pixabay

Was there someone who inspired you?

It was my teacher, Patrick Rigourd at sommelier school. Before going to his school I liked wine, but when I did the course I really loved it. It was the passion that he transmitted. When someone has so much love for something it helps you fall in love with it as well.

What’s your current role within Jason Atherton’s organisation?

I’m Executive Head Sommelier. Basically I open all the restaurants around the world with Jason. One year after opening Pollen Street, he decided to open in Singapore, so I went in for a couple of weeks to help him set it up. I try to do the wine list from London. And then I go, do the orders, take the deliveries, so I can see everything is OK, then I do the first few services, and then I come back.

Sounds exciting – but a lot of work

It’s not easy when you have to work in the restaurant and then you have to do the wine list for four different countries as well! I was doing wine lists in the morning, and in the evening after service. It was quite tough. Now I’m working at City Social, but preparing for our opening in Mykonos at the end of May.

With the team in Shanghai

What do you think makes a good wine list?

Balance is all important in a wine list, says Laure

I think you just need to have balance. The content needs to be balanced; the price needs to be balanced. And having diverse styles is quite important – a mix of classic and upcoming producers to keep the guests and the sommelier excited. Obviously if you are a three Michelin star venue you’re going to have a big selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but I think you should also include some smaller regions or local producers. It’s always exciting to see that.

Are there any wine styles that you’re particularly excited by at the moment?

I love wine from the Loire because that’s where I’m from and I’m still discovering people that I don’t know. And I just think the value for money is amazing. And I would say the same for Alsace. I’ve just bought a lot of those because the value for money is amazing; lots of small producers, and everyone is working biodynamically or minimum intervention or organic.

Laure sees a brave new dawn for Alsace, with lots of organic and low-intervention producers. Pic: CIVA

Do you wish you’d done the MS?

I’ve never done it because I’ve always been working on the floor and especially with all the restaurant openings it would be too much for me. Of course it is good to have an extra qualification – it would be amazing to have the MS. But I’m not sure, I would do it now – I just don’t have the time. And I’m not so I want to learn every single appellation. If people know you and they know the way you work, I don’t think [having an MS] makes such a big difference.

Obviously the hours are tough in hospitality. Why should young somms stay in the profession?

Being able to travel to beautiful parts of the world is a major advantage of being a sommelier, says Laure. Pic: Chris Losh

First you need to love it. But you get to try wines that maybe you would never normally have a chance to try. That’s a big plus. But you can travel too. Every country has a restaurant so you can work anywhere in the world. But also you can visit producers and vineyards.  That’s a massive advantage for sommeliers as we are the link between the producer and the consumer. And of course, when you are a head sommelier the opportunity to do your own wine list – to make it your own, to be buying wine and also making your guest happy is very rewarding.

Provence – not just pink and not just for summer

Provence. It’s a region that always puts stars in guests’ eyes. When they realise that’s where I’m from they always want me to tell them what it’s like to grow up there.

Provence is a place where the scents of the garrigue and the singing of the cicadas lull your mind, where sun tans your skin. And yes, swimming pools and sea do make you dream of something cool and pink. It’s never long before the conversation turns to rosé.

From the Med to the Mistrale

We’ll come back to rosé in a minute, but first some basics.

Provence was the first French region where the Romans established vineyards. Today the French sub-region runs from the Camargue in the west to Saint-Tropez in the east, and from Mont Ventoux in the north down to Cassis.  Cannes and Nice, incidentally, are not in Provence – they’re part of the French Riviera.

The region enjoys a pure Mediterranean climate: hot, sunny and dry, with 300 days of sun, high temperatures in summer and a cold winter.

It gets cold in Provence in winter… pic Francois Millo

The famous Mistral wind is part of the landscape; so strong that it may interrupt the flowering or fruit set and after a few hours of being exposed to it we feel tired and light-headed. On the plus side it helps to reduce diseases in the vines.

Provence’s soils are composed of limestone and quartz, sometimes with sand gravel and flint. It’s a region that’s full of small valleys, the limestone bed is sculpted by erosion with the garrigues growing on the limestone between the curves.

Pinks are a mixed blessing

“Garrigue” is the degradation of what was the Provencal forest. Because of the frequent fires, forest disappeared and garrigue is the result: a mix of trees, plants and shrubs such as oak tree, juniper tree, olive tree, lavender, rosemary, sage, buxus…

Vines, garrigue, mountains… Provence scenery in a nutshell. Pic, Francois Millo

What you have, in other words, is poor soil that is well-drained with very low humidity.

It is a great environment for making excellent wines of all styles. But today rosé dominates. The AOC production is over 1.2m hectolitres per year, and just 7% is red and 4% is white wines, with rosé making up the rest. Rosé consumption and production has tripled in the last 25 years.

There are, of course, outstanding examples of small-scale volume rosé wines. Château Pibarnon in Bandol (Caves de Pyrene) with the cuvée “Nuance” aged in amphora is a food-friendly wine of great complexity.

Mas de Cadenet – one of the region’s best rosés

And Mas de Cadenet (ABS Wines), the oldest family estate from the Sainte-Victoire appellation near Aix-en-Provence produces stunning rosés with different ageing styles.

But let’s be honest, those complex, expressive saignée-method rosé wines are rare. Provence’s rosé wines are too often made with direct pressing, standardised and not very interesting.

The case for reds and whites

On one hand, this is understandable. After all, it’s true that this taste is popular all over the world as well as with the locals.

But equally, from my perspective, I find the red and white wines generally more expressive of the Provence terroir. The region can now offer great quality for the price and a long ageing potential too. 

Provence’s red wine industry might not be enormous as I mentioned earlier. But equally it’s not insignificant. Its 80,000hl a year is roughly the same as the total production of English wine. And with multiple grape varieties and diverse soils, there’s plenty worth exploring for both reds and whites.

It’s worth getting to understand the region’s reds. Pic, Francois Millo

Just look at this palette of flavours that you don’t find in the region’s famous pinks: garrigues, thyme, rosemary, green and black olives, cedar, poplar, smoky earth, bruised apples, fresh pear, hay, lavender, chamomile, persimmon, cherry, blackcurrant, gooseberry and so on.

Blends, power and herbs

White and red wines are always blended wines. I find the whites interesting for their roundness and fruity style; an attractive balance between the refreshing herbal notes and a medium to full body. Based on Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne and Roussanne, the whites are perfect to pair with goats cheese or fish in sauce.

Time for the region’s reds and whites to burst forth like the rosés. Pic: Francois Millo

The reds tend to be powerful, aromatic and deep red-coloured; a concentration of black fruits balanced by the freshness of the garrigue notes. Based on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, the reds are perfect to pair with “Tapenade” or a Beef Daube.

Still today, wine production in Provence is dominated by cooperatives. But every year when I go back to Provence, I can see more domaines’ signs along the road that weren’t there a few years before. Newcomers are popping up, the multiple “Bastides” transformed into potential châteaux. These small producers are shaking things up, making wines that are genuinely exciting.

Can we join the two food pix into a pairing?

It’s still quite rare to see Provence wines on restaurant lists, beyond a few big names that it seems to be compulsory to list (!). But I feel as though the journey from cooperatives to small scale producers is just at its start, which means that this is a good time for restaurants to take them on.

Food pics copyright Hervé Fabre, CIVP

The wines are affordable and diverse; both the whites and reds have their own styles and can take you and your customers on a journey of flavours.

Explore, and you will find that Provence can offer excitement to wine lovers all year round, not just in the summer!

Three favourite producers

Château La Sable

A hidden domain, historically one of the first independent wineries in the Luberon area. The estate was acquired in 2017 by Virginie and Jean-Marc Mercier who spent their career in London but their dream was to make wine in Southern France; 2018 was their first vintage.

The estate is situated at the entrance of one of the most beautiful Southern France villages: Lourmarin. The whites are based on Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and they recently replanted some Rolle (Vermentino). They are powerful and structured with thyme, peach and lemon notes.

The red is mostly Carignan with Grenache and Syrah. It has serious ageing potential – I’d say 50 years!

The vines are planted between 250 and 350m altitude, and the vineyard enjoys a continental microclimate with high diurnal range. It should be Organically certified from 2022.

Domaine Les Perpetus

Christine and her husband Robert Michel run this 300+ year old estate in the heart of the Luberon with the advice of the almost-90 Henri Queirel, and their three children. They produce Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino, Grenache Noir and Syrah plus excellent olive oil and truffles.

The white Luberon AOC is a blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. It is aromatic and rich – a combination of citrus fruit, green apple and tropical fruit with sage and rosemary giving freshness. An intense wine, it’s really delicious to pair with goat cheese spread with honey or stuffed courgettes.

Their “Sans sulphite” red wine is powerful yet delicate with notes of liquorice, wild blackcurrant, red and black cherry and green olive. The wine is vivace and “electric”, great for big occasions or a family get-together alike. Perfect with a lamb stew and ratatouille.

Both of these first two estates offer B&B – a great way of getting to grips with the whole agriculture and authenticity of flavours that you find in the region.

Mas de la Dame

This 15th century estate is in Les Baux-de-Provence, an appellation with only 11 producers, that is famous for its red wine. The founder’s great granddaughters, Caroline Missoffe and Anne Poniatowski farm 57ha of old vines (the oldest are 80 years old), and keep 4ha fallow.

The “Réserve du Mas” cuvée is dominated by Grenache with some Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I like this wine for its tenacity. Even though it’s a full-bodied wine, the lavender, thyme and rosemary notes give great balance to the black and red berries notes. Caroline Missoffe calls them “des vins chaleureux” and they’re great with cured meat and game.

The white, “Coin Caché”, is a subtle combination of flavours. Sémillon and Roussanne dominate, plus  Grenache Blanc and Clairette. They ferment on lees and give beautiful aromas of stone fruits, white melon and white flowers such as hyacinth. Great to pair with poultry and morels or creamy fish.

All three estates mentioned above are free of chemicals and fertilizers, using low-intervention and organic or biodynamic winemaking. All have stories and authenticity. The wines have a long ageing potential and a great quality/price ratio. For me, the best are between €9-40 ex-cellar.

Imported by Vin&Saveur, Philippe Tartier

Provence in a Nutshell

Provence is a delimited French sub-region including the wine appellations from Southern France, plus two appellations belonging to the Southern Rhône area that are Ventoux AOC and Luberon AOC.

They allow the following grapes: Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc, Viognier and Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Marselan.

Old vines in Luberon, pic: Alexia Gallouet

The Southern France appellation (Provence) includes:

  • Côtes de Provence (Sainte-Victoire, La Londe, Fréjus, Pierrefeu, Notre-Dame des Anges designations)
  • Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence
  • Coteaux Varois
  • Les Baux-de-Provence
  • Cassis
  • Bellet
  • Bandol
  • Pierrevert

IGPs, such as IGP Mediterranée, permit a large number of grape varieties.

The AOCs allow Rolle, Ugni Blanc, Bouboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Sémillon and Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tibouren.

Is the gate opening on an exciting future for Provence’s reds and whites? Pic: Francois Millo

Note: Counoise, which is a red grape variety found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is being considered as a way of mitigating climate change.

Grower champagnes, real wines from real people

In the UK, we call them ‘growers’. In Champagne they are officially known as a Recoltant-Manipulant – with a little RM on the label. These are producers who make Champagne from grapes sourced from their own vineyards, though they are allowed to buy in 5% of grapes.

What makes Champagne’s growers so fascinating is their experimentation, such as using solera system base wines in the blend, a high percentage of reserve wines or super-extended lees-aging. All these factors significantly increase the complexity and depth of Champagne in your glass.

Picking at Paul Dethune, Champagne

Because their vineyards are usually next to their house, or within the same village, there’s a regional focus, too, that makes their wines very different to the big houses. And while it’s not always the case, it is highly likely that these grower’s vineyards will be classified as Premier or Grand Cru.

Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few of them to see all the process of production and found these people to be super-modest, friendly and generous.

In 2018 I visited Paul Déthune during the World Cup and they disgorged a bottle of their Ambonnay Grand Cru for us which had been on its lees since the last time France won the competition in 1998. The fact that their vineyard is just outside of Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay gives you an idea just how special the wine was.

Pierre Dethune and Sophie

Arthur Larmandier Bernier, meanwhile, went to the cellar, picked a bottle of 1985 vintage and disgorged it just for us.

“Champagne with 35 years of lees ageing is not something you get to drink every day.”

Especially at the Grandes Marques ‘Eurodisneys’!

First Encounters

My first contact with grower champagnes was in Chez Bruce at the end of 2016 when I started working there. The house champagne at that time was a Guy de Chassey from the Louvois Grand Cru which had just beaten 25 other producers (including a very popular big house) in a blind tasting conducted by the Head Sommelier with the team. This despite the fact that it in was 30% cheaper than most of them. 

I decided there and then that I had to explore more growers since they seemed to be the best way of delivering value for money, provided I could find a style my guests would like.

It’s true that most guests like to see famous names on a champagne list. But experimentation is fun for them, too – they can come out of their comfort zone a bit and explore new things. And provided you explain clearly what is on offer, the reasonable prices and different styles actually make grower champagnes an easy sell – and one that never fails to put a smile on people’s faces.

Pinot Noir grapes in Champagne

Three Great Growers to explore

Delavenne Père et Fils, Bouzy

I’m going to pick three wines from these guys.

Supplier: Woodwinters

The Grand Cru Brut Nature (£30.37 ex VAT) comes from Bouzy and Ambonnay and its base wines are a 50/50 split from the 2013 and 2014 vintages. It’s a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with nearly 5 years on the lees. There is no malolactic fermentation, and despite prolonged lees-ageing it has a superb freshness and racy acidity, balanced by a pronounced intensity of ripe orchard fruits and citrus fruit on top of white truffle, brioche, almond biscuits and sous bois character. Some guests say it reminds them of Krug Grand Cuvee but at a quarter of the price – just £32!

Supplier: Woodwinters

The Brut Tradition Grand Cru is even cheaper (£26.68 ex VAT) and worth every penny as well. It has more roundness with 8 grams of residual sugar and, in my experience, tends to be preferred by ladies. Any richer tapas like tuna nigiri on potato croquet or tuna in soy sauce with scrambled eggs and truffle fits this one perfectly well.

Supplier: Woodwinters

The Rosé Grand Cru (£30.37 ex VAT) is absolutely unbelievable. It has 20% of Bouzy Rouge in the blend, which adds richness, depth and a firm structure with a hint of tannin on the palate. Flavour-wise, it is a charming mix of wild strawberries, morellino cherry, pink grapefruit, red roses petals and a bit of nuts, toast and biscuit. The structure makes it really food friendly, and it’s a perfect match for wagyu beef poached in rendered beef fat sprayed with kombu dashi on crystal bread or salmon sashimi with pickled rhubarb, ginger, white soy and creme fraiche.

Paul Déthune, Ambonnay

Their Grand Cru Brut is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and comes exclusively from their 7ha vineyards around Ambonnay. They produce only 50,000 bottles a year as they sell part of the grapes to Veuve Clicquot for La Grande Dame. This one you can have for a quarter of that!

Supplier: Thorman Hunt

Flavour wise, it’s a combination of ripe golden and red apple, yellow grapefruit with toast, brioche, biscuit and honey. It really is charming particularly for only £25 ex VAT from Thorman Hunt. Because of the ripeness and roundness of this champagne it goes well with slightly spicy iterations of seafood such as Dénia prawns in tikka spice.

What makes it special is that they use a really high amount of reserve wines – 50% comes from their réserve perpetuelle (like a solera system) which gives the champagne real depth. Thirty months on the lees adds further complexity and roundness.

Larmandier Bernier, Vertus

This Premier Cru in the Côte des Blancs is where you can find the steepest vineyards in Champagne with slopes up to 45 degrees. Larmandier Bernier specialise in Blanc de Blancs focusing only on Chardonnay with a tiny amount of Pinot Noir used solely for their Rosé de Saignée. All the base wines are aged in a mixture of casks of different sizes. They also started experimenting with concrete eggs and clay pots . When I visited there was one particularly oddly-shaped specimen that was a gift from Tuscany and would easily have fbeen just as at home in a museum as a wine cellar!

Supplier: Woodwinters

Their entry level ‘Latitude’ is very good but the one I find particularly great value for money is ‘Longitude’ 1er Cru extra Brut (£32.61 ex VAT). It’s only a few pounds more, but has really impressive depth and is still really well priced. It’s very citrusy and floral with lemon zest, grapefruit, golden apple, white blossom and acacia. It’s also pretty toasty with almonds and brioche. On the palate it is super mineral with a saline, chalky character, as if it’s crying out for oysters!

Supplier: Woodwinters

I also love their vintage Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru Extra Brut 2013 (£59.89 ex VAT). With more time on the lees and stronger oak influence it has more vanilla and nutty flavours and a superb concentration with a finish that goes on for ever. It’s simply amazing with hard cheeses like Gruyère, Etivaz or Challerhocker. (note: 2011 currently available)

Do you have any great Grower Champagnes you’d like to share with the Collective?