Finally, it’s time to head to the Rhône again. It’s been a year since my last tour through the region so I’ve got some catching up to do.
Since I began covering the region in 2004, it’s been an embarrassment of riches. The southern portion of the valley has cruised along with a string of outstanding vintages, though they have been quite different in style from year to year. The north has also been consistent, if not as spectacular, from 2004 through 2007. However, now comes the tricky part ….
The 2008 harvest wasn’t an easy one for Rhône vignerons. In the Northern Rhône, the bulk of the growing season was cloudy and rainy—not a recipe for success. Disease was an issue, and underripe grapes were still hanging as September approached, when some heavy rains fell. At the time, some growers thought they might not even make wine.
Luckily, after the early September rain, the weather cleared and the mistral<—the fierce, drying, northerly wind that sweeps down through the valley—blew for a four-week stretch through mid-October. The vintage was saved from apparent disaster, though severe selections had to be done for successful wines to be made. Yields are low.
2009 was a different story however. The growing season was warm and dry, sanitary conditions in the vineyards were ideal, and ripening came relatively early and easily. The colors, aromas and tannins are abundant in the wines, and the vintage looks to bear large-scale wines in a structure-driven style, à la 2005, with normal yields to boot. The key in 2009 was tannin management—are the wines too astringent, or were producers able to achieve balance in their wines?
I’ll be spending the next 10 days in the Northern Rhône, visiting domaines and touring the vineyards as I focus on the 2008 and 2009 vintages. I’ll be starting my trip with visits in Côte-Rôtie, arguably the most exciting Northern Rhône appellation today, before heading down through the rest of the northern half of the valley. For background on the appellation, you can reference my feature story from the Nov. 30, 2008, issue, which details the rise of a new generation of producers, along with a downloadable PDF map of the appellation, with some of its most important vineyard sites. In addition, I profiled more than two dozen producers in a two-part package, as well as reported on a horizontal tasting of the ’99 Côte-Rôtie vintage, with tasting notes, which may give you some context for how the wines age. (See the sidebar for a list of links.)
If you’ve followed along before, you’ll know to watch my blog over the next week and a half as I report regularly on the domaines I’m visiting. If you’re new to this space, here’s how I work:
• The domaines I visit are based on the results of my ongoing tastings in New York. There, I officially review wines via blind tastings of formal, bottled, properly labeled wines. From there, I head out into the field to meet with those vignerons who are producing the best and most exciting wines from the region. Some producers I see on a regular basis, though I always try to mix in new faces and discoveries as well.
• When I report on my cellar visits, I do not provide scores on the wines I taste. The wines are typically not yet bottled and are not tasted blind, so a formal score, even a range, is premature to me. Instead I describe the general quality, as well as the style of the domaine in question, explaining how they work and explaining what makes them interesting. If you’re looking to get in line for certain wines on a pre-arrival basis, you’ll be able to glean enough qualitative assessments from my barrel tastings to make your choices, despite the lack of an initial score.
• In addition to tasting through the two most recent vintages, I’ll also be taking the time to taste through some older wines as well, including a vertical of one of the Rhône’s true iconoclast producers. (Hint: His wines need time to show their best.) Notes on the vertical will be posted in my blog with ratings, since they are finished, bottled wines and those who may have them in their cellar may appreciate an update on their development. Likewise, I will also share some other notes and scores for older wines—such as those I have at dinner or during cellar visits—in our Tasting Notes forums. (Any wines rated from a non-blind tasting will be duly noted.)
If you have questions or comments, feel free to fire away during my trip. Though my days are long when I’m working in the field, I always try and respond to as many as I can.
James Molesworth’s previous Rhône trip blogs
Recent Rhône Vintages
More about Côte-Rôtie:
Côte-Rôtie: Syrah’s North Star