On Friday we went with friends to the Rhône Valley. The nearest vineyards, still in the Gard département but beyond the areas of the Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc and so on, are on the right bank of the Rhône and include some famous appellations - the best known are Tavel and Lirac, and our longstanding contact Richard Maby is one of the best makers of these wines at his Domaine Maby in the pretty village of Tavel. He warmly welcomed us despite the busy preparations for an evening function celebrating the bottling of the primeur wines of the Côtes du Rhône. The habit of bottling and selling red wine a couple of months after the harvest has spread from the Beaujolais Nouveau circus to many other parts of the south of France - obvious economic sense if you can sell part of your production straight away rather than storing it for a year or more. But it is a quite different product, as we found this weekend, drinking the delicious, light cherry-red wine Richard kindly gave us as we left. 14% alcohol all the same, so although it slipped down easily it is not for over-indulgence!
The traditional wines he makes are altogether more serious, and they have a long pedigree. Richard's family have been selling wines to the Wine Society in the UK for over 100 years, and a poster (on the wall of the tasting caveau) of the specialist merchant Yapp in Wiltshire showed they too have been buying Maby wines for a long time. With reason - the La Fermade red Lirac is a brilliant, solid village red, and they are beginning to add cuvées with operatic titles - Nessun Dorma for example for the high-end red Lirac. The whites (with the usual Rhône mixture of grapes, including some Piquepoul) are equally classy - we bought a little of the unoaked La Fermade and there is an operatic Casta Diva with some barrel fermentation. And the Tavel Rosé is a dry delight, perfect with food. All details on their website.
Richard recommended the nearby restaurant La Genestière, not far from the centre of Tavel, which offered a simple and inexpensive set lunch menu, and obviously has much more to offer in an old building which also houses a wine domaine - a real pleasure. After lunch we had a lovely drive back in the sunshine, but the tasting visits were less exciting. We tried the Château Saint Maurice which is, as you can see from the website, a major undertaking. Mary and I had found their wines in English supermarkets in the 1990s and had enjoyed a previous visit, but this time we felt rather like the sheep grazing among the vines - excluded from even a brief tasting because they were 'too busy' preparing for their own primeur event that afternoon. No mention of this on the website, and what a contrast from the kind welcome given us by Richard Maby. So we went on to the huge Cave Coopérative which now combines the village productions of Laudun and Chusclan. I'd enjoyed discovering the Chusclan rosé in the early 90s, supposedly the preferred tosé of the Kings of France, but although some of the wines are nice we were not excited, and so contented ourselves with a leisurely drive back through Laudun.
Viticultural relics - as interesting as many of the wines at this co-op