Jonathan Ray

Wine Club 13 October

Wine Club 13 October
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Everyone loves the wines of Maison M. Chapoutier, one of the great names of the Rhône Valley. The company was founded in Tain-l’Hermitage in 1808 and has passed from father to son ever since, with Michel Chapoutier the current boss.

The company makes excellent wine in almost every appellation in the Rhône and — Michel, being a proud lefty keen to ensure that the good things in life are accessible to all — Chapoutier’s wines are always among the most keenly priced in the region.

Michel is also dynamic, forward-thinking, obsessive, outspoken, mercurial, innovative, single-minded, easily bored and just a little bonkers. Some years ago I spent a few days with him and simply couldn’t keep up with whatever was fizzing around his head. His conversation ranged between the intricacies of biodynamic winemaking (he was an early adopter), the nicety of putting Braille on his wine labels (‘Why doesn’t everyone?’), the merits of Saint-Saëns over Franck and Baudelaire over Verlaine, the beauty of a fine cassoulet, the wickedness of the Taliban and why nobody should ever ask the alcoholic strength of a wine (‘It’s as bad as asking a lady her age’). By day two I was quite exhausted. Exhilarated but exhausted.

I’ve forgotten much of what Michel Chapoutier told me but one thing did stick in my mind: ‘Our sole aim,’ he told me, ‘is to make great wines that please our customers.’

Thanks to the good offices of Mr Wheeler we are delighted to offer here six excellent entry level and above examples of what Maison M. Chapoutier is all about. The wines were well priced to begin with and, thanks to some generous pruning here and there by Mr W, they are now rock bottom. Fill your boots!

The 2017 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc (1) is a Côtes du Roussillon Villages of real style. A hand-harvested, cool-fermented blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu, it’s lemon-fresh and zesty with a keen acidity, a tight mineral core, a whisper of cream and a long, ever so slightly saline finish. It’s a perfect introduction to both region and producer. £10.75 down from £12.50.

The 2016 M. Chapoutier La Compte Pilate (2) might only be categorised as a humble IGP Collines Rhodaniennes but it’s a Viognier of astonishing style and elegance made just yards from the fabled Condrieu appellation and thus a fraction of the price, although no less fine. It boasts every-thing that a fine Viognier should boast: honey-suckle, peach and apricot on the nose, a delightfully creamy, oily texture, delicate, restrained white stone fruit and fresh herbs in the mouth backed by a long savoury finish. £16.50 down from £18.50.

The 2017 M. Chapoutier, Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge (3) is the red counter-part to our first wine but maybe you’d twigged that already. Made from Syrah and Grenache Noir with just a splash of Carignan, it’s a glorious deep red and full of ripe bramble fruit on nose and palate. It’s succulent, soft and ripe with the silkiness of the Grenache and the robustness of the Syrah combining perfectly with the freshness and slight earthiness of the Carignan. If you want a wine to help see in the winter whilst reminding you of late summer, this is it. £10.75 down from £12.50.

If you know of a better entry-level Côtes du Rhône (particularly at this price) than the 2016 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône (4), I would be astonished. It’s spot-on: fresh, lively, juicy, slightly peppery and extremely drinkable. £11.25 down from £12.75.

The 2017 M. Chapoutier ‘La Ciboise’ (5) from the Costières de Nîmes is similarly approachable. A blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan, it’s typically complex and full flavoured with ripe red and dark berry fruit, spice and herbs, enclosed in soft, smooth tannins. It’s a crazy price too: £10.50 down from £12.

Finally, the 2016 M. Chapoutier Lirac (6), a big beast of a wine (it’s 15%) from the Southern Rhône, made from a blend of Grenache Noir and Syrah. It’s dark, brooding and powerful. It’s still young and the rich, ripe fruit — intense and concentrated with hints of liquorice, black pepper, truffles and even dark cocoa — needs time to open up. Given the great price, though, it’s one to snap up and tuck away. £14.50 down from £17.

The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.

Written byJonathan Ray

Jonathan Ray is the Spectator's wine editor.

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