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Recap of Hospice du Rhone 2011 - Day Two

They Have a Dream - Pursuing Great Wine in Roussillon

The second day of Hospice du Rhone started out with a spirited seminar introduction by moderator Patrick Comiskey of Wine & Spirits Magazine. The seminar, "They Have a Dream," focused on producers of the Roussillon. Patrick started out with the necessary and expected: facts, characterization of the wines and an explanation of where in the heck Roussillon actually is. [Sidebar: The Roussillon we’re talking about is not the singular, ochre-colored, beautiful at sunset stony peak rising out of nowhere in the Luberon (Provence) and topped with a picturesque village. It’s an area in the Languedoc (south of France near Spain) with picturesque villages and multiple craggy peaks overlooking vineyards and Mediterranean beaches while the Pyrenees loom in the distance. But it’s also beautiful at sunset.

It's not this Roussillon. Photo by Nikater

It's this Roussillon. Photo by Mick Stephenson

So, anyway, Patrick lulled us with information and then launched into a simultaneously rousing, inspiring and humorous adaptation of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. My words couldn’t do his speaking justice, but I had my video camera rolling...

After that, it would have been a let-down if the wines were not good. Fortunately, they held up their end of the bargain. We tried 12 wines.

2009 Domaine Madeloc Collioure Tremadoc Blanc (floral and pretty with notes of yellow apple, peach and baking spice)
2007 Domaine Thunevin-Calvet Hugo (80% Grenache and 20% Syrah giving plum and black cherry with thick, talc-like tannins and a character that Patrick Comiskey called “unrelentingly intense”)
2007 Domaine Madeloc Banyuls Cirera (candied cherries, warm and sweet spices, herb and leather)

Astoundingly, nobody imports Domaine Madeloc to the United States. I’m tempted to get into the business myself just to get some of their Banyuls Cirera. Because, yum!

Drew Noon, Noon Winery. McClaren Vale

The day’s second seminar was completely different but no less charming (and delicious). It was the smallest and most personal of the seminars. One can’t really moderate a one-person panel and John Alban didn’t try. He had a conversation with Drew Noon of Noon Winery in McClaren Vale. The topic was Noon’s 2011 vintage. The seminar had been planned well in advance as Drew had video clips of himself at each important milestone of the vintage, describing how the vines were progressing, how they had been affected by weather and how he hoped the vintage would progress. We smiled with him at the excellent flowering. We shared both his concern and hope through mid-season weather variations. And we were devastated to hear that late season rain brought rampant rot which ruined his Langhorne Creek grower’s entire crop of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Fortunately for Drew Noon, and all of us, his ancient vine Grenache in McClaren Vale came out just fine. While you’re waiting a couple of years for that wine to be released, try to find yourself some of the 2008 Noon Eclipse McClaren Vale. It has a nose of oak, spice, cured tobacco and plum with a mouthful of sweet cherry and plum, cured tobacco, oak and spice on the creamy palate. John Alban called it “lively, elegant, graceful.” My notes say “Highly Recommended” and “Buy!” By the way, blistering heat wiped out his 2009 crop of Grenache —he can’t catch a break — so the ’08 will have to hold you until the ’10 is released.

The Live Auction

Saturday lunch at Hospice du Rhone means good food, very good wine and a rousing live auction. As usual, auctioneer Todd Ventura kept the auction fast and fun, playing with the crowd, wheedling donors out of just a bit more, and bidders out of quite a bit more. He was aided by winemaker/restauranteur Cris Cherry.

The Hospice du Rhone live auction is not something you participate in to get “a steal.” The cause — funding for the next year’s Hospice du Rhone — the lots and the generosity of the bidders is too great for that. What you do get is the opportunity for once-in-lifetime experiences or truly unique collections of wine. You could have gotten one of only ten magnums made of 2004 Noon Eclipse, plus a 750ml to keep you from opening the magnum too soon. Or you could have won a dinner for four at John Alban’s house [repeating for emphasis: dinner at John Alban’s house] with he and Vicki Carroll helping chef José Dahan in the kitchen and their spouses keeping your glasses full. And you could have helped choose the old and new world wines to come out of his cellar. Or you might have wowed your friends, and eventually your own palate, with a hand-painted 3-liter bottle of 2008 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard. It was Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year for 2010. Justin Smith signed the bottle and took a picture with the winning bidder. There were 22 auction lots in all. The pace was good and the tasty lunch disappeared quickly.

Media/Trade Tasting & Grand Tasting

At the end, there was just enough time to fantasize about an espresso while wandering over to the big hall for the Grand Tasting or, in my case, the smaller hall for the self-pour media and trade “speed” tasting. Normally, big tastings aren’t a very good way to properly evaluate wine. Even this self-pour event isn’t blind or sufficiently “controlled” for uber-serious reviews. However, it was quiet, uncrowded and allowed me to taste everything swiftly and effectively. I got a good sense of a broad range of Rhone varietal wine.

I’ll post a full recommendations list separately but, in the meantime, here’s some stuff you should go out of your way to try:
2007 Westerhold Syrah (deserving winner of the Syrah Shootout)
2008 Wrath Doctors Vineyards Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands
2007 Torbreck The Factor
2009 Domaine Gaillard Rose Pourpre Cote Rotie (it’s not a rosé)

After the media tasting, I headed into the main hall to try more wine. I found a lot to like.

I’ll have more details from the seminars later, along with that long list of recommended wines. In the meantime, check out the photos below and think about making hotel reservations for next year’s Hospice du Rhone. And, if you haven't done so, take a look at the recap of day one.

Photos of Hospice du Rhone 2011, Day Two

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