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Rhône AMA with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams!



Welcome all to our first Ask Me Anything Q&A of the year! And it’s a very popular one indeed.

Last year we asked you who you’d like to see take part in one of these sessions and the results were conclusive: a Rhône-a-thon with Marcel Orford-Williams! @owmarcel has been with us since 1986, and is responsible for buying some truly delicious wines from Rhône, southern and regional France and Germany. With our Rhône en primeur offer now live, it also seemed a very good time to do this! Thanks so much to everyone who sent in questions and who were patient after we had to postpone this last week.

I’m delighted to confirm that Marcel is sitting down with @laura and I right now, and he’ll be starting to answer your questions very shortly. He’s already bumped into one of you already, though, I see - here he is yesterday with Community mentor @Leah!

Please note that Marcel and the buying team cannot guarantee to be able to answer all questions posted in the community every day, so having key members of the team available ‘live’ is a great opportunity for those who aren’t able to pop along to the tastings to meet them in person. Of course, if you have any important questions or issues to raise, you can always send these via Member Services at any point.

We will start with those questions you’ve already sent in at 1pm, but do feel free to ask any follow-up questions or to post new questions below for Marcel, and anyone who joins us.

POSTPONED! Ask Me Anything with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams
Invite: AMA with new CEO Steve Finlan, Head of Buying Pierre Mansour & Head of Member Experience Liz Cerroti (23rd May, 1-2pm)

Gigondas and Visobres do spring more to mind, but I’m not sure I agree with the critics – 2017 might be less consistent overall but from a point of view of intrinsic quality, I’d beg to differ. The style is a bit different, though. The short and easy answer is all the wines that are in the offer!


If you had to choose between the two, 2017 is a northern vintage overall – I’d give it a 9 out of 10, whereas the south probably gets an 8. I’ve mentioned Gigondas and Vinsbores above but would also mention Crozes-Hermitage.

2018 certainly had its problems and some growers didn’t make any wine. But from the point of view of quality, I definitely wouldn’t call it catastrophic! There will be some wonderful wines.


We are listing indicative alcohol levels in the en primeur offer this year, which I hope helps. Generally, the northern wines are less alcoholic than the southern wines in 2017.


I should stress I’m no longer Alsace buyer, but I was for about 25 years. Alsace producers tend to release wines when they’re ready to drink; they’re also quite prepared to keep their wines as stock. That said, this might change.

It is a memorable wine. We have done it in the past and may do again. My colleague Jo Locke MW now buys Alsace. Hopefully she’ll do an AMA soon and you can ask her!

In terms of experiences, I think my very first wine trip, probably: it was with Sebastian Payne MW. We went all over France – Bordeaux, the Loire, Languedoc, Alsace, Jura, and we ended up in Champagne. That was quite something.

I buy Saint-Josephs for myself – sorry if this doesn’t quite answer your question, but there’s certainly nothing in the offer I wouldn’t buy myself if I had the means.


We are hoping we’ll be able to get an AMA scheduled with Jo later this year! :smiley:


They are all different and are all marked by different climate events. I haven’t tasted anything from 2018 yet but of the last few years, for me 2015 is the standout. 16 and 17 are both very good but they’re not quite in the same class. The 2016s are quite light (nothing much was made above Kabinett level) while the 2017s are richer. 2015 on the other hand is just an all-round sensational vintage.

I suppose they all do. There are some very good wines and they are different: those from slatey soils do taste different to those that come from chalky soils. To that extent terroir is very much a feature, but I’m struggling to answer fully. We have some plans to do a selection of them in a Fine Wine List very soon, so do look out for it!


You’re absolutely right – the answer actually isn’t Châteauneuf but further east: you’re really getting standout whites in Gigondas and around. The secret is the clairette grape, and the exciting news for me is that in a few years we may well see a legally approved white Gigondas label - long overdue.


Very good question, which I do ask everybody. Things have changed for sure, and those changes are likely to continue. The real question is the future of the grenache grape – it’s so hot and grenache 1. doesn’t ripen particularly well and 2. produces a lot of sugar.

Syrah is not the alternative, though – it’s too hot for it – but mourvédre is perfect and cinsault copes well and in some hot and sunny years produces superb results. If you’re a Châteauneuf producer, mourvédre is the future and one of these days someone will come out with a 100% mourvédre wine. That’s probably also true for places like Cairanne and Rasteu, but in Gigondas grenache is still working very well, and the Ventoux as well. The problem is that the appellations are too strict and they insist on grenache being the majority. That might have to change.

Rosé wines are also increasing (and the great thing about that is you harvest earlier so you don’t get high alcohol) and more whites are being produced. The south has some really good grapes that produce less alcohol.

White production is still small of course, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it has more than doubled in size during my time buying for the Rhône.

It’s complicated!


There are still some moderately priced Cornas to be found but I agree that some do make expensive wines these days. I think the answer is Saint-Joseph: it really is a future appellation for me (even if some of that is getting expensive too).


This is great so far !! Thanks for all these informative answers :blush:


It’s a bit more complicated! The geology of Hermitage is at least as complicated as that of Châteauneuf, even though physically you’re right about there being a big obvious hill! There are distinctive sites in Châteauneuf that tend to be on slightly higher ground and they make the best wines. The thing to bear in mind is Châteauneuf is much larger – it’s bigger than all the northern Rhône put together and produces about the same amount of wine. Not all of it is good, of course. But the good stuff is seriously, seriously good, and that comes from high ground – places like Mont Redon and there’s a plateau called La Crau, for example. There’s some outstanding Lirac, and they tend to come from areas that have exactly the same soils as Châteauneuf. But even the best Lirac will never be as good as the best Châteauneuf.

I think it is about personal taste. But in general I’d say southern Rhônes don’t need to be kept in the same way the northern ones do – the tannic structure is not the same.

It’s not the next Cornas, at least not in style: it’s closer to Crozes-Hermitage. It’s also tiny! Quality is very good and it’s likely to become an appellation in its own right but that will take some time yet. They don’t have the greatness of Cornas but there are good wines here.

There are plenty! Thierry Allemand is as good as Clape in my opinion, and from Cote-Rotie I’d go for someone like Bernard Burgaud – a traditional producer to head to if you like Jamet.

I think they make excellent wines, as with all négociants the big thing they bring to the party is consistency as they’re able to even out the highs and the troughs in every vintage. I think Ferraton are fantastic, and Delas are getting better and better. But it’s a choice between buying a wine from one producer or a blend of different ones – and that’s a personal choice.


The answer is that it is indeed a great hunting ground with some fantastic wines. Is it better value? It’s a good question and it’s worth bearing in mind that the southern Rhône is very good value too. Basic Côtes-du-Rhône is still incredibly cheap and the top wines of the Languedoc are no longer that cheap, but the style is different – and I need both in my cellar!


Northern Rhône = everything’s good. The best in the south come from the places that harvested the latest. Gigondas is absolutely outstanding and I’d definitely look at Vinsobres, the Ventoux too – that sort of neck of the woods: mountain areas.

I have to say whatever’s in the offer! I worked hard to select the best.


Château Pesquié from the Ventoux – in our en primeur offer for the first time this year. A seriously good wine.


The 2017s are heavy: they’re very traditional old-fashioned whites, high in alcohol and low in acidity. I think they’ll keep well though. Clos des Papes is sensational – I love Châteauneufs that haven’t been oak aged. There’s a Cairanne in the offer for the first time as well and I thought that was extremely good.


Start with both! But you can’t not have 2016: it is a great vintage.


Both Trevallon and Gassac went through some difficult times but they’ve both come out making jolly good wines thanks to the new generation. Styles have changed though, particularly at Gassac, which you used to need to keep for 10 years. You don’t anymore thanks to cleaner winemaking. Trevallon is just fantastic.

I’d rather not go into why we don’t list those other wines, sorry!


Delighted to confirm that the 2017 is also stellar – it’s brilliant and you should buy it!

Clos Romane would be one of them.

The Lirac from Mont Redon too; it always sells out, but it’s fantastic value.

Anything from Saint-Estève too – they’re super wines.


The issue is quantity, not demand, sadly!

The wines I tend to choose do have freshness because I can’t stand wines that don’t. But you’re right – if you’re thinking ‘freshness’ along the lines of something like Sancerre, you won’t find it here: the 2017s do have low acidity in general, but that’s not to say they won’t keep.