It’s a scorching summer evening in Regent’s Park and what is my glass is of premium importance. The fact that Britain is experiencing a thorough multi-day licking from the sun, is itself unconventional, as are the pourers at this evenings tasting: 4 wine producers from the appellation AOC Ventoux in the southern Rhone.
The story of Ventoux is historically one of table wines that barely grab the attention awarded to other parts of the Rhone, such as Châteuaneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas. Dominated by co-op's, the region has generally been overlooked but, as this tasting evidenced, the landscape in the appellation is changing.
James King, owner of Château Unang commented: “Historically, Cotes du Ventoux was harvesting their wine as soon as it was reaching 12 degrees making lighter weight fruity wine. That was the level of lightness they were able to achieve; they were harvesting before the autumn storms came.”
Climate of change
There are two ways to consider the impacts of climate: the first is the longterm trends that see temperatures going up. The result is that vines are prospering further north or at higher altitude.
The second is that there is an increased frequency of extreme weather events.
James King: “Climate change; it feels like it is making everything more variable. There is difficulties that come with it but we are definitely warmer. There are more extremes and everyone is dealing with it. If you are higher up the hill, you are more susceptible to drought than you would be if you are down the valley. So you are getting more extreme conditions.”
Because the Ventoux is at a higher altitude, they are on the benefiting end of the first longer-term trend. Thus more serious Ventoux producers are making higher quality wines.
James King continued, “Over the last 20 years, the average harvesting dates will have come forward by 2 weeks, maybe a little bit more. So we are able to push the ripeness of the grapes to get it towards what we would consider an optimal level rather than just taking them where they had got to an okay point before other issues like rot set in.”
Now we have the choice. Before, nature forced us to take things but now we have the maturity and the texture that we are looking for.”
The wines we tasted certainly bore this truth out. The Domaine de Fondréche, Persia, 2017 was fabulously aromatic with an attractive taste of pear drop and tropical flavours. A lively acidity maintained the freshness that paired supremely well with the waves of heat washing over Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.
There are also an array of delicious rosé wines to explore that actually make up 32% of production in the Ventoux region. If you like to drink pink then definitely seek out Chene Bleu, 2017 for elegant ripe summer fruits and a burst of acidity. Another really attractive rosé is the Ogier, 2017. A bursting compote of summer fruit accompanied with a clean dry finish that guarantees refreshment on days like these!
The reds on offer were all very young (2016 + 17) and very well made. The Chateau Unang had a lovely balance of dark fruit and spice with soft tannins that paired deliciously with the duck tasting plate.
Other notable reds were the Delas Ventoux 2017 and Ocres du Ventoux, 2017. Both showing attractive spiciness, dark fruit and gentle easy going tannin.
As we end the conversation, James King gives a wistful one-line summary: “The warming has a positive impact on what we can do up to now. If it continues, we’ll all be stuffed though. So, its made a difference but we don’t want it to push any further, thanks!”
My own view is that these wines offer great value and are getting better all the time. Look out for AOC Ventoux and put them on the watch-list for the next decade.
Nick Breeze Instagram and Twitter: @NickGBReeze