In early March, I make my annual trip to the Southern Rhône Valley. There, I take the opportunity to taste the wines that you'll start seeing for sale in the coming months, in this case the 2004s and 2005s.
Every trip is exciting, but this one could be a notch above the norm. Right now, the atmosphere in the Southern Rhône is like that at spring training for the baseball season—everyone is optimistic. The region has been on a roll since 1998 (with the exception of the 2002 vintage), and both 2004 and 2005 look to be excellent.
The 2004 vintage offers a return to more balance and elegance after the full-throttle but occasionally clumsy wines from 2003. The 2005 growing season also provided the region with dry weather, but with cooler nights than in '03 and '04, allowing for an exceptional Grenache harvest.
During each trip, I make regular stops to see some of the region's best vignerons, as well as first-time visits to other domaines. By doing preliminary tastings at their cellars, I get a read on a vintage as well as a feel for which vignerons, which grapes and which specific appellations may have excelled, or not. Later I report back to you; recently I previewed the 2004 vintage in the Northern Rhône and last year I filed reports on the 2003 and 2004 wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
I also like to kick the dirt in the vineyards. Tasting is one thing, but there's no better way to understand a wine than to be shown where it's from by the person who tends the vines day in and day out.
This trip, I'll be spending all my time in Châteauneuf-du-Pape—call it an immersion class, if you will. You can check my Forums posts for periodic updates on who I visited and what the buzz is. And I may even provide highlights from a truffle dinner or two—all in a day's work.