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Second Look: 2016 in the Southern Rhône

Back in France for more tastings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's potentially benchmark 2016 vintage
Photo by: iStock
Is Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the road to another benchmark vintage?

Posted: Jun 28, 2018 12:00pm ET

Summertime. Two weeks in the Rhône. And they call it work.

Well, it is. It's time for my annual trek through the Rhône Valley. This time I'll be focusing on the south, with a quick jaunt into the north.

The Rhône has been enjoying a nice run of late, with two stellar vintages in 2015 and '16. The short version is this: 2015 is really, really good, with the north in particular having a special vintage. The wines are on the rich and ripe side of the stylistic spectrum, but have the structure for balance. 2016 is really, really good too, but it's the south that gets to claim that special status. At first glance, the wines are dark and brimming with fruit, as if they were marked by a warm vintage. But they're remarkably fresh on the palate, with floral aromatics and beautifully defined finishes, as if from a cooler year. It's a dramatic combination.

When I passed through the Southern Rhone this time last year, I was frankly stunned by the wines at a number of domaines—and these are darn good domaines to begin with. The wines at St.-Préfert, Giraud, Beaurenard, Beaucastel, Mounir Saouma and others were some of the best young Southern Rhônes I've ever tasted. The wines were so good, I figured I better come back and try them again.

I've been tasting the first wave of 2016s to arrive in the U.S. (in my official blind tastings in Wine Spectator's New York office). But I need to come back and have another peek at the wines from some of the top domaines whose 2016s have yet to hit U.S. shores. I'll be starting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, then settling in Gigondas for a few days to dive deeper into this fascinating appellation. Then I head up to the north for a couple of days to check on a few benchmark estates there.

After that I should have a final picture on what should be the finest vintage in the Southern Rhône since 2010 (and may even best that benchmark), as well as a not-too-shabby year for the Northern Rhône. Then I'll head back to New York for more official tastings before filing my annual report for our upcoming Nov. 30 issue.

In the meantime, you can follow along here via my blog for notes and insights on the domaines I am visiting (as always, wines tasted during these visits are not formally reviewed, as the wines are not tasted blind).

Cheers and, as always, thanks for reading.

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1, and Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

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