John Livingstone-Learmonth Rhône Wine Journalism
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Le Quai Tain L'Hermitage dinner with John Livingstone-Learmonth

Celebrating 50 years of Rhône wine journalism

Time to Read: 5 minutes

Evenings with John Livingstone – Learmonth involve dancing between diverse subjects: wine, horse racing wins and recollections of some of life’s finest moments eating and drinking in France with friends. He’s always armed with a story, and there are no plans to stop.

Who is John Livingstone-Learmonth?

John Livingstone-Learmonth is a dedicated English-based wine journalist focused on the sub-regions of Northern and Southern Rhône Valley. He uses his personal rating system to document his tastings on his website, Drink Rhône. John has been communicating and travelling to the Vallée du Rhône region since ’73 – longer than anyone else,” as stated on his Instagram profile

John’s career started on the steps of Maison M. Chapoutier as a twenty-something tasked with writing a book on the Rhône Valley wine region. At that time, his palate and wine vocabulary were yet to be discovered, whilst his knowledge of the nightclubs in the south of France? was well versed.

Meeting John Livingstone

Sometimes, my Rhôndanian adventures are well-timed with John’s wine-tasting visits. At John’s invitation, we often share meals together. The first of these was in 2018, on the weekend of the annual Cornas AOP Marché aux vins. He lugged his book The Wines of the Northern Rhône to Tain L’Hermitage, I paid for the book in cash. 

He wrote on the inside:

“Good to meet you and cover some terrain Rhodanien (Gateway to the wide world and Hermitage), Go well, be enthusiastic forever x from John Livingstone 30 November 2018 Chez Chaudron, Tournon Sur Rhône.” 

The message in the front of the Northern Rhône Book written by Jean Livingstone Learmonth

Restaurants in Tain L’Hermitage and Tournon-sur–Rhône – Rhône Valley

At this moment, we dined at Le Chaudron when the business was still trading. That night, he opened my eyes to a 2012 Domaine Clos Rougeard Samur-Chamigny.

Clos Rouged Samur Champigny

Since then, we’ve shared meals at a few of the other local restaurants, Le Cerisier, Les Mangevins et Le Quai. He insists on choosing a wine for me to drink (a half bottle of something), generally from a vigneron on his radar. These meals are his main sustenance at the end of a rigorous day of tasting. 

Rhône Valley Wine Journalism 

John is serious about his work; he claimed to be the first journalist to arrive in the region during La Pandémie. Protecting his health, he made the sojourn by taking a 3-day trip from the UK to France, staying overnight in the Loire Valley. I recall visiting John on one of his pandemic visits. He gave me bottles of Hermitage wines he’d tasted that day, 2019, Lauren Fayolle Les Diognières Hermitage blanc included, so that I could make my own assessment. 

John’s disciplined with his craft; he scribbles his tasting notes on Rhodia orange pads, each identical in size. John speaks the French language well enough to fire persistent questions toward winemakers, uncovering the grit of their stories and the nuances of each season. I’ve never not seen John without his Rhodia, it’s carried to every wine tasting and every dinner meal shared.  I can do little to return John’s support for my career, but I’ve been open to requests to organise bulk notepads before his arrival in the region. He says he’s recently transferred to using the laptop for some tastings. He’s trying to reduce the workload during an already busy time, taking care of his furry friends in the UK and preparing for Christmas.

Domaine Dard et Ribo 

Thanks to John, I tasted with François Ribo, one Sunday in 2021. François invited John to his winery to taste during the midst of the 2021 harvest period (période de récolte).  Distinctively remembering there were blankets wrapped around the marsanne and roussanne ferments, François hand plunging ferments barefoot. John and I then shared a meal at François’ house.  Entrée was oysters hand-delivered from the local Saturday markets (Marche de Tain L’Hermitage) consumed with butter and biodynamic rye bread, then a final ratatouille of the summer for the main with 1990, Dard et Ribo, Hermitage rouge. He’s the only journalist sincerely welcomed into the Dard et Ribo cellar. John and François’ connection was honest, I sensed, built on many years of trust. 

Cave Julien Cecillon & Family

Relatives of vignerons will sometimes come to taste with John.  When we tasted together at Cave Julien Cecillon Jean Louis Grippat, Julien’s uncle and John’s friend pulled up in his two-door Mercedes sports car just to say hello. Jean Louis Grippat is an icon of the Saint Joseph appellation, famously selling the vignes de l’hospice above Tournon to E.Guigal in the late 1990s.

I’ve never not seen John walk into restaurant’s without an engaging introduction infused with energy. He’s not a snob towards the wait staff regarding the wine served, simply curious! When we leave the restaurant, I drop John to his accommodation and I continue on my way home. He comments on how little the town of Tain L’Hermitage has changed since he stood on the steps of Maison M. Chapoutier for the first time, the walls and the architecture. He’s got an appreciation for life larger than John.

Drink Rhône

If you want to learn more about John’s work, consider signing up to his website Drink Rhone. A subscription is 25 pounds a year, cheaper than a bottle of some Saint Joseph AOC.