Stage 15 of the 2013 Tour de France. © Presse Sports.

LONDON - Stage 15 of this year’s Tour de France finished on the famous ‘Géant de Provence,’ Mont Ventoux, a climb I tackled back in Easter 2010.  At just under 2000m, Mont Ventoux rises high above the Rhône Valley, its limestone peak seemingly snow covered all year round and visible from many miles. The road into the foothills of the Mountain from Bedoin meanders through beautiful lavender fields and of course the vineyards of Côtes de Ventoux. At a slightly higher elevation than many of the Rhône appellations and with limestone subsoil, the wines from this AOC are fresh, lively, and relatively light (compared to the other more robust, powerful AOC’s such as Vacqueyras, Rasteau or Chateauneuf-du-Pape). I was unaware as I pedalled my way through the vineyards to the lower slopes of the climb, quite how fantastic a vintage 2010 was going to be, preoccupied as I was with the thought of cycling uphill for the next hour or so!

The 2010 vintage in the Rhône Valley (both north and south) is quite simply one of the greatest vintages of any region I have encountered throughout my career. The reds have that magical balance between ripe, powerful fruit with a freshness and lift that allow the character of each appellation to show through. The whites are equally poised and balanced. If you’ve never tried Condrieu (made from Viognier, the only approved white grape variety in the appellation), this vintage offers some wonderful examples. The 2010 Rhônes I have tried were fresh and balanced as soon as they were bottled with plenty of concentration and depth to allow them to develop over the ensuing years. The village’s wines are enjoyable now (although many stockists will have moved on already to the 2011/2012 vintages). The wines from the Northern Rhone (Hermitage, Côte Rôtie, etc.), whilst approachable in their youth, will certainly benefit from a few more years in bottle.



Stage 15 of the 2013 Tour de France. © A.S.O. / B.Bade.

Year on year the Rhône Valley has been my ‘go to’ appellation for dependable, honest, well-made wine that more often than not punches above its weight in terms of quality. The 2010 vintage is a real showcase for the region with wines at all levels performing brilliantly.

As for the climb; at 21.4km with an average gradient of 7.4% there is no let up at all. However, all that uphill does lead to a spectacular view over the Rhône. I was guided to the weather station at the very top by five-foot walls of ice on either side of the road, slowly melting as the sun beat down in the late morning. There are no roads or hills in the UK that can prepare you to take on the giants of the Alps, Pyrenees or Dolomites. Following in the wheels of great cyclists, Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain and Wiggins is one of the draws of this wonderful pastime. Doing so through the beautiful countryside and vineyards of Europe is a privilege. And to all those who have conquered the Giant of Provence; I raise a glass to you. Chapeau!

Wines:

 

La Rosine’Syrah’ 2010, Michel and Stephane Ogier, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes

·       Fabulous example of Northern Rhone Syrah. Dark, savoury fruit with a beautiful silky, elegant mouth feel. Better than many producer’s Côte Rôtie. Lovely now, will improve over a year or two and keep for another six to eight years.

 

Condrieu 2010, Pierre Gaillard

·       Powerful, exuberant, richly aromatic with classic apricot and peach flavours. Despite its opulence, this wine shows considerable finesse. From a great wine maker.

 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos des Papes, 2010, Paul Avril

·       Fabulous, full-bodied, multifaceted Châteauneuf with the ‘freshness’ that is the trademark of this vintage. I have been following this wine for many years and thought it would be quite a while until a vintage came along to surpass the 2007 and 2008. This may just be it.