Wed 30 Sep 2015

Rhône 2014: Impressions From My First Tastings

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I visited the Rhône recently for a week to begin tasting the 2014s, taking in the northern whites in particular.

Growers were in the middle of picking the 2015 fruit and cellars were busy. Wellington boots were much in evidence, essential footwear for cellar work during this time. It is often said that to make wine you need to use a lot of water. Very true. After a busy day everything gets hosed down from floors, tanks and wine presses; everything needs to be spotless for the next truckload of grapes. Good hygiene is every bit as important as the quality of the grapes.

André Perret, Condrieu

André Perret, Condrieu

Distances are not much of an issue so going from one cellar to the other: around six or seven in a day is quite possible. The first two days centred on the two small towns of Ampuis and Condrieu. Such is their proximity and fragmented ownership of vineyard, that most growers make wines from at least two appellations and often three.

First was Christophe Pichon, who has clearly benefited from having sent his son to make wine in Australia. New ideas such as sulphur-free vinification have given this estate a real boost. Theyhave made lovely 2014s, especially the Condrieu which I thought was one of the best.

The next two meetings were up the hill, on the plateau were temperatures in winter can be significantly lower than down in the valley and were wines often age just a little more slowly. Emmanuel Barou was delighted with 2014, as he was with 2015 which he was still picking. For once, his yields were normal. ‘My banker will be pleased,’ he said. So will members, because both his Condrieu and Viognier vin de Pays are clearly outstanding.

Côte-Rôtie

Côte-Rôtie

Highlights in the afternoon continued with Côte-Rôtie from two top estates: Domaines Duclaux and Barge. Gorgeous reds from both. I’ll try to encapsulate the style of 2014 a little later, save to say that this is a vintage for pleasure.

There was more from Condrieu the following day, from three iconic growers, François Villard, André Perret and Robert Niéro. All made delicious whites and these will be available to members in the January en primeur offer.

And so the tour progressed, ending up in Saint-Péray and Cornas, a couple of days after the great Noël Verset had been laid to rest. In some ways the best was served up last. This was a visit to Domaine de Tunnel and for the first time actually visiting the tunnel which Stephanne bought several years ago. In fact his interest then were fore the old marsanne vines that happened to grow on top of a disused railway tunnel. The railway closed in 1930 and so the tunnel came cheap. A couple of years ago, Stephanne took the plunge and built a new cellar within the tunnel. I thought his were among the classiest tasted during the week, both white and red.

I go back to the Rhône in a fortnight and undoubtedly will have more so to say on both the 2015 and 2014 vintages.

But there already things that can be said about 2014:

Condrieu

Condrieu

Firstly, it is clearly exceptional for whites from all grape varieties. In some ways the whites are similar to 2013. There is the same precision, freshness and grip but with a little more roundness and flesh. These are really winning wines that will give pleasure early. For fine drinking next summer, the 2014 Condrieus will be outstanding.

The reds too are delicious. There the accent is on fruit and charm. The wines have plenty of colour and vibrancy and have sweet-tasting tannins. I was very pleased by the way the 2013s are turning out but the best of these will need keeping a while. The 2014s will be more immediate and give pleasure much sooner.

One always tries to talk vintage comparison with growers but such discussion seems to get harder as every vintage seems so different to anything that might have happened before. And so it is the case with 2014, where there was enough heat to ripen the grapes. Spring had been especially hot and summer relatively cool and sometimes wet.

And then there was the unwelcome visit of Drosophila Suzukii, a pesty little fruit fly with a predilection for ripe, healthy black grapes. So growers spent agonising extra hours in the vineyard, getting rid of affected bunches, even berries. Hard work often pays and it has done so in this 2014 vintage.

Wines of the week?
Condrieu from Domaine Pichon and Saint-Péray from Domaine de Tunnel for the whites. As for the reds, Cornas Vieilles Vignes from Domaine Voge.

And I can’t wait to get back.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Comments

  1. Guy Dennis says:

    Very interesting to read, and thanks for posting. Sad to hear about the passing of Verset. It would be fascinating to hear which wines, from Cornas or elsewhere, are most similar to his legendary ones, very traditional in style and long-lived, requiring age to be enjoyed. I’ve heard people say that Jamet and Clape are among the last makers of really traditional, terroir-expressive Northern Rhone wines, following changes at Jaboulet, the retirement (and now passing) of Verset, and the end of Gentaz-Dervieux and Trollat in St Joseph. Even Chave has changed style since the mid-90s they say. It’s hard to know what to make of this (I hope it’s not true, and of course Jamet and Clape are very expensive), but would be fascinating to hear your perspective if ever you have time. But I certainly don’t expect any kind of answer in a short blog response!

    • Marcel Orford-Williams says:

      Thanks. The answer is definitely. You are right about Clape and Jamet, and I would add Thierry Allemand who after all inherited some of Noel’s vines (as did Clape).
      I would also mention Gonon in Saint-Joseph, a must buy in my opinion, who makes very traditional wines and who took over some of Trollat’s vines. During the 90s, methods of vinification changed in the northern Rhone in relation to stems. Traditionally, grapes were crushed and fermented with stems. There were advantages but also disadvantages especially in weaker vintages were ripeness was not fully achieved. True enough, vintages like 1992 or 1993 were very difficult and those who did better did so by removing the stems. Unripe, green stalks can make wines taste vegetal and hard. And so the fashion began to change. Noel Verset of course doggedly maintained the old ways even if it meant that his wines invariably needed longer.
      Today the situation is reversing, which I think is good news. This is partly to do with a warmer climate and partly to do with people understanding the need to wait for full physiological maturity of the grape berry. Today, growers are less prescriptive and more readily able to act according to the vintage, destemming only in part or even very little.
      I think people are very aware of the legacy left but the great names of the past and are keen not to lose it..
      I forgot to mention Louis Barruol of Saint Cosme who apart from making very good Gigondas also produces brilliant northern Rhones. And for Louis, Gentaz is his model and he often succeeds in recreating the style.

  2. Guy Dennis says:

    If I may make a second comment, I really enjoyed Marcel’s words here: http://www.drinkrhone.com/the_rhone

  3. Guy Dennis says:

    Marcel, thank you so much for such a fascinating reply. I organised a St Jo dinner here in London, and was impressed by Gonon. Also very interesting to read re Barruol. I bought some e.p. from you on the basis of your notes, despite my puzzlement about the King of Gigondas buying negoce grapes in the north and apparently making wonderful wine. They’re in storage, of course… but one day. Seriously, thank you so much for this reply – it’s incredibly kind and generous and I hope other readers enjoy it. My wife is from that part of the world (Pierrelatte, though, so hardly glamorous!) and it’s lovely to enjoy wines that remind me of the area. And thanks to the web team, too – you’ll have guessed that I didn’t see Marcel’s excellent Verset tribute until after posting.

  4. Lindsay Holman says:

    “…to make wine in Australia. New ideas such as sulphur-free vilification…”
    As an Aussie I am offended. Not I, nor anyone I know has used sulphur in the vilification of anyone. 🙂

  5. Guy Dennis says:

    I’m curious: there was relativley little Saint Cosme northern rhone wine in the offer this year… Just wondered why, and if this is likely to be the case in future years?

    • Marcel Orford-Williams says:

      Not at all – merely that their 2014s will be appearing later. All are good, and we will continue to buy their wines. Hope this reassures!

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