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2011 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Plan de Dieu, Le Temps Est Venu, Dom Ogier
Michel Ogier is a relative newcomer to the top ranks of the wine-making world: up until 1980 he sold his entire crop, on the vine, to Messrs Chapoutier and Guigal. Since then, he has invested an enormous amount of time and capital in his well-situated 2½ hectare vineyard and now, handed over to his ambitious and likeable son, Stèphane.
The wines themselves are not the huge, structured beasts typical of some other Côte Rôtie producers. They tend more towards a silky elegance with soft, subtle tannins. However, they retain that incredible ability to age that is synonymous with the best Côte Rôtie.
The vast majority of wines from the Southern Rhône are blends. There are 5 main black varieties, although others are used and the most famous wine of the region, Châteauneuf du Pape, can be made from as many as 13 different varieties. Grenache is the most important grape in the southern Rhône - it contributes alcohol, warmth and gentle juicy fruit and is an ideal base wine in the blend. Plantings of Syrah in the southern Rhône have risen dramatically in the last decade and it is an increasingly important component in blends. It rarely attains the heights that it does in the North but adds colour, backbone, tannins and soft ripe fruit to the blend.
The much-maligned Carignan has been on the retreat recently but is still included in many blends - the best old vines can add colour, body and spicy fruits. Cinsault is also backtracking but, if yields are restricted, can produce moderately well-coloured wines adding pleasant-light fruit to red and rosé blends. Finally, Mourvèdre, a grape from Bandol on the Mediterranean coast, has recently become an increasingly significant component of Southern Rhône blends - it often struggles to ripen fully but can add acidity, ripe spicy berry fruits and hints of tobacco to blends.
Wine has been produced in the Rhône Valley for over 500 years, with some of its vineyards being amongst the oldest in France. Syrah rules over the south with a mix of Mediterranean grapes, while in the north, the two stars are Hermitage – grown on an imposing granite hillside above the town of Tain and best put away in the back of the cellar for a decade – and Côte-Rôtie, a star appellation made famous by Guigal's single-vineyard wines, yet also home to dozens of fine producers as yet less well known. The sheer hillsides overlooking the river have to be terraced to make production possible.
St Joseph and Cornas also provide wines of weight and worth, but the best source for good value is Crozes-Hermitage, a satellite appellation which has come alive in the last few years with the arrival of young blood.
The river valley widens out south of Valence into Côtes du Rhône country on the windy alluvial plains and the lower slopes of the hills. It is a most imposing sight during the cold, clear, blue skies of Mistral conditions. The best of the wine villages of the Côtes du Rhône have been promoted to their own appellations - Vinsobres, Vacqueyras - close in quality to the better known Gigondas.
The king of the southern Rhône is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here the galets roulés, rounded rocks from the ancient river bed, provide the context for gloriously rich red wines that are redolent of the heat and herbs of the south, and enhanced by the complexity which comes from blending several grape varieties. Thirteen are permitted in all, but Grenache usually dominates, along with Syrah and Mourvèdre in support. A fine vintage needs eight to 10 years cellaring for best results.
If your taste runs to fuller, richer, relatively exotic white wines, then perhaps a white Hermitage or Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley would suit better, or else a marvellously perfumed, heady Condrieu - headquarters of the Viognier grape.