Wednesday Wines – Episode 89 – A quintet of 2020 Rhône Reds from J&B

Episode 89 – 8th December 2021

2020 Rhône – Part One – Justerini & Brooks

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I have tasted a goodly number of 2020 Rhônes, and you will read about my Jaboulet exploits very soon.  For now, though, I would like to set the scene with a Justerini & Brooks ‘toe in the water’ event on Monday, which did little to convince me of this vintage’s hype.  In so many words and from so many merchants, you will read that this is a warm and glorious vintage.  While I would like to think that I know a little about Australian wine, and their exemplary handling of Grenache and Syrah under sunny Aussie skies, many Rhône wineries could learn a lot about handling their own fruit when the temperatures rise if they took a leaf out of the Aussie playbook!  It is a shame to report that there are a number of notable estates in the Rhône who haven’t a clue how to deal with particularly ‘solaire’ conditions.  I have already seen too many hot (alcohol), obviously oaky wines and dried out tannins.  This is depressing because unsuspecting palates will view these fruit bombs as generous and rich and worthy of purchasing, and yet they won’t spend enough time on them to spot just how out of balance these wines are.  So, taking all of this into account, here are a few reds that tickled my fancy – and please do not be tempted by my omissions. One more note – red wines are the way forward, and most of the whites are about as expressive and immediate as it gets.  Gamble, if you will, but the whites are already cartoonish enough for me!

It’s worth noting that the pricing on the J&B tasting sheet was a little ambiguous (and so I have assumed that the prices are in bond) but you can find this out when you phone J&B HQ

2020 Vacqueyras, Cuvée des Templiers, Domaine le Clos des Cazaux £130 per 12 bottles

I do not care what anyone says, but this is this vintage’s finest value wine in the J&B cellar. I gave it a higher score than all but the following wines. It tastes like the bloke on the label has stripped off his tabard and enjoyed a few days in the sun. I have bought many cases of this wine in my life, and it has never let me down.  It is bold, accurate, rather grand and also laughably cheap.

2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Raisins Bleus, Domaine Féraud & Fils £340 per 6 bottles

This is a very expressive and exciting wine. Unlike many Chnfs in this vintage, Cuvée Raisins Bleus is a wine that combines exoticism with control, and it is the control that makes me sit up and take notice.  I love the name, too – the blue notes are evident – and there is certainly some earthiness below the fabulous Grenache, and this must be Mourvèdre because it does an extraordinary job of tempering the majestic Grenache. If you are in the market for a super-flash 2020 wine, which retains a semblance of decorum, then this is it!

2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel £280 per 6 bottles

There is no doubt that this wine conforms to its legend as a multi-layered, multi-story, multi-flavoured Chnf. While many of us fell out with Beaucastel during the ‘occluded years’, these wines have never been brighter nor more energetic of late, and a sunny vintage like this one plays into their pocket. Fragrant, open, friendly and exciting, I remember buying 20 cases of the 1990 and selling them all within weeks of it arriving in the UK on my list at Bibendum Restaurant.  That wine is still amazing today.  This 2020 vintage, 30 years on, will do the same trick – you can either drink it now for maximum pleasure before it crawls back into its cave for a snooze, emerging in 15 years time.  I love this wine.

2020 Saint-Joseph, Les Grisières, André Perret £130 per 6 bottles

After wading through the extraordinary whites from this estate, which look good but are so forward I felt they were sprinting out of the door before my very eyes, I moved onto a couple of Perret reds.  Not a Perret skill?  Think again, because I have been a Perret red fan for a good long while.  Why?  If anyone can make red wines with white hands in a ripe year like 2020, you stand a chance of engendering some finesse in your creations.  Grisières is a beautiful wine and one which will drink well young as a generous, perfumed Syrah and then hold well, longer than one might expect.  Look closely at the price.  Then listen in – this is every inch a Côte-Rôtie-shaped wine, and I think that this wine, along with the Templiers, might be the bargain picks of the year.

2020 Côte-Rôtie, Le Champon, Clusel-Roch £685 per 12 bottles

So here we go, this is the most backward wine in my quintet, yet it is a seriously impressive beast. Exotic, floral, layered and deeply fruit-drenched, Champon is the only wine in 2020 from this illustrious estate to consider buying for your cellar. By all means, drink La Viallière in a brasserie down the line and let someone else carry the weight and cost of Les Grandes Places because Le Champon does more than both of these wines and in a more harmonious and balanced manner.