guide for quality wines from the Rhône valley


John Livingston’s post


Eagle-eyed subscribers will have noticed that a running theme this year has been the focus on organic domaines, their stories and their wines. I feel that the world of wine has entered a phase of homogenisation across the board, with capital and big spenders pushing their way rapidly to the front of the queue to obtain the kudos and the means of production of top named estates. The installation of managers, and therefore distance between the true owner-producer and the resultant wine, is a bye-product of this.

The squeezed middle is those domaines who cover four or five different appellations and run perhaps 40 to 100 hectares – sometimes children who took over the reins of the domaine more out of duty than passion. The estate is on a seemingly comfortable footing, but their wines can lack inspiration, and little by little they are slipping out of the limelight.

“Completing the range” is another factor; this has been an excuse in my lifetime for poor expansion decisions by formerly soundly financed, well running Châteauneuf-du-Pape domaines as they ventured into Ventoux or Côtes du Rhône vineyards – a trading downwards, in effect.

However, small domaines with just a few hectares are preserving their identity with guerrilla style tactics for their sales and marketing – social media much to the fore, backed by boutique, quirky wine importers who can sell a human story to their customers. Colour rather than monochrome prevails here, and it is on those that I have been focusing recently.

At the same time, wine journalism is in a pretty dire state if one regards the main organs of yore, the likes of The Wine Advocate, The Wine Spectator, Decanter. There are the poor practices of British journalists – instructing the bemused Vacqueyras growers to take off all the anonymous covers to their 2016 tasting, and then discarding half the bottles submitted – as indicative of this Big Business, 100-point obsession outlook. How on earth any small domaine will become better known given such lamentable behaviour is a good question.

The endless notes of 90-100 point wines [an 89 pointer was described to me by one US winemaker whose wine I reviewed when I still wrote for Decanter a while back as a “disaster”] do not really engage the switched on drinker like they used to, either, with these organs wanting to focus a vintage report on the fact that their taster has entered the most illustrious portals of the region, awarded 98-100 points to the wine, and patted himself on the back, which is covered with a “I have been there” T shirt. What purpose this serves the reader is unclear.

I return to the word that matters more for me than any other in journalism: INTEGRITY. It’s a word that also applies to these Questor vignerons on their organic vineyards as they battle crop shortfall, but still keep going, sticking to their principles. Dry vintages are OK, but years such as 2014 and perhaps 2018 carry large mildew threats. Fluff around the edges, frankly, are aspects such as whether they ferment whole bunches or apply minimal amounts of SO2 – they are all very interesting, but risk falling into the trap of modish behaviour. The underlying wine must still be well balanced, whatever the route to its conclusion.


A mail dated 25 June 2018 to all subscribers from John Livingston ( )