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Mulling over some red wines from the South of France for Christmas

The season of goodwill welcomes rich red wines from the southern Rhône in Provence to shine some sunshine into our winter

Marcel Richaud
Marcel Richaud

Rich red wines from the southern Rhône really come into their own at this time of the year to warm up our northern winter with a bit of Provençal sunshine.

One of the very best producers is Marcel Richaud. I visited him at his winery on the edge of the village of Cairanne, just after harvest, on an improbably hot October morning.

After a very small crop last year, 2014 though not the easiest of growing seasons, has turned out well, with a decent quantity of potentially very attractive wine. He was guardedly happy, a typical grape farmer.

Marcel is adamant that the though he has great admiration for other peoples’ wines, he needs to make wines that only he can do, making the most of the distinctively dry, windy hillsides of Cairanne.

As each village in the valley makes wines in its own distinctive style. I asked him what to look out for in a good wine from Cairanne. “It should be spicy, with notes of liquorice,” he suggested, “morello cherry and blackberry too, and then when it ages there should be bay leaf and yet more spice.”

To help achieve this, he cultivates his vineyards organically and protects them with the minimum amount of sulphur possible. Indeed he’s probably the most forceful advocate of not adding sulphur to wine I’ve ever met. Even the tank of his motorbike is on message, emblazoned with a ‘No Sulphites’ slogan.

From left, L'Esbrescade, Terre des Galets and Cairanne red wines
From left, L'Esbrescade, Terre des Galets and Cairanne red wines
 

But his is a carefully thought-out approach, and none of his wines show the slightest hint of the funky, oxidised cider aromas with which wines from less dedicated sulphur-deniers sometimes reek. His wines show instead all the rich fruity, spicy character that he talks about.

Crafted with enormous care, they aren’t cheap, but special occasions surely demand bottles. And any the three stocked locally by Carruthers & Kent would grace a Christmas dining table if red meat is on the menu. Come to that, they’d also be pretty good with turkey too.

His ‘Terre de Galets’ red Côtes du Rhône (£19.99 for the 2011) is named after the huge water-worn pebbles that cover some of the local vineyards. I tasted the 2012, not normally held in such esteem as the 2011, and was much impressed by its lovely concentration of black fruit flavours and excellent balance of tannin and acidity.

His Cairanne (£22.99 again for the 2011) truly shows all the spicy liquorice notes, Marcel attributes to the village. The ripe, firm tannins are also wonderfully silky.

Finally, his blockbuster, L’Ebrescade Cairanne 2011 from a single site, high on the hill behind the village, shows extraordinary concentration and power. At 15.5% alcohol it is no quaffing wine and will set you back £36.99. It would be sensationally good with venison.

If you find such prices a bit daunting. I warmly recommend the wines of one of my other favourite producers from the southern Rhône, the Domaine des Escaravailles. They quite don’t subscribe to the Full Monty of organic viticulture and do add a little sulphur to their wines, but they bring a similar level of care and skill to all that they do as that lavished by Marcel on his own wines.

Their Cairanne, ‘Ventabren’, a typical blend of Grenache, Syrah and old Carignan, has a delicious purity of fruit and fine concentration made, as is the house style, without the added distraction of any oaky flavours. The Wine Society has the now fully mature 2009 on their books at just £11.50. They also stock their Côtes du Rhône ‘Sablières’, 2012 at just £8.50, a snip if ever there was one.

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