• Which Northern Rhône wines offer best value in 2014 and 2015

    In part 2 of The Buyer’s wine odyssey through the Rhône Valley, Dr Bart Feys concentrates on the Northern Rhône and the appellations of Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu and picks out a selection of the top wines he tasted during the four-day travelling wine fair that is the Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône 2017.

    In part 2 of The Buyer’s wine odyssey through the Rhône Valley, Dr Bart Feys concentrates on the Northern Rhône and the appellations of Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu and picks out a selection of the top wines he tasted during the four-day travelling wine fair that is the Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône 2017.

    mm By May 10, 2017

    Although the top single lieu-dit wines from the Northern Rhône now command high prices, you don’t have to look far to find top quality wines where you won’t have to remortgage the house.

    Northern Rhône

    The 2015 vintage in the Northern Rhône has been widely acknowledged as having produced some of the best wines of the last 50 years. The growing season was exemplary and for most vignerons this was an easy vintage to make as the raw materials were impeccable.

    Overall the red wines show a ripeness and density, allied to a fresh but deeply concentrated palate with ripe velvety tannins. The consistency and quality of the 2015 Northern Rhône vintage expresses itself from humble Côtes du Rhône Syrah to the top tier Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie cuvées.

    Northern Rhône
    Vines in AOC Lirac

    Luckily, a number of top growers whose small production and highly-rated wines are now outside the reach of most wine lovers, produce Syrah-based wines from just outside Côte-Rôtie including Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin’s 2015 La Champine, Domaine Stephane Ogier’s 2015 La Rosine or Domaine Jamet’s 2015 Côtes du Rhône. These wines are worth seeking out as they offer a glimpse of the quality of the top Côte-Rôtie wines produced at these domaines.

    Northern Rhône
    AOC Cornas

    Cornas – no longer the poor man’s Hermitage

    At around 136 hectares, Cornas is by far the smallest of the Northern Rhône AOCs, producing just over 50,000 cases of red wine, the output of a few large Bordeaux cru classés put together.

    Northern Rhône

    Traditionally described as a vigorous and virile expression of pure Syrah, hewn out of the steep terraced vineyards facing the Rhône river, and sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Hermitage, these days Cornas produces wines that can easily hold up their heads amongst their more illustrious brethren from Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage, especially in a quality vintage such as 2015.

    The best examples from producers such as Alain Voge, Vincent Paris, Domaine Courbis and Domaine Clape show a wonderful aromatic mélange of herbs, blue fruits and meaty notes allied to an energetic, fresh and deeply concentrated palate with rounded, velvety tannins.

    These are wines that will age gracefully and are unmistakenly rooted to the granite soils of Cornas.

    The Buyer’s recommended Cornas wines

    Northern Rhône

    Domaine Vincent Paris 2015 Cornas La Geynale

    A quality range of wines from this small 7ha domaine

    Domaine Courbis 2015 Cornas Les Eygats

    Impressive range that also includes a classic 2015 Saint-Joseph Les Royes

    Domaine Alain Voge 2014/2015 Cornas Vieilles Vignes

    Great success in both vintages at this address

    Northern Rhône

    Domaine Clape 2015 Cornas

    Masterful example of traditional Cornas; assembled from various lieu-dits to make single Cornas cuvée

    Domaine Jean-Luc Colombo 2014 Cornas Les Ruchets


    Northern Rhône
    AOC Crozes-Hermitage

    Crozes-Hermitage from better addresses well worth seeking out

    Moving further north and on the Eastern bank of the Rhône river, we find the large AOC of Crozes-Hermitage which produces 90% red wine, and whites made from Marsanne and Rousanne.

    Northern Rhône

    When conditions are as optimal as they were in 2015, overall quality is very high and producers such as Domaine du Colombier, Domaine Pierre Gaillard, Domaine Alain Graillot and Domaine Michelas Saint Jemms fashion intense, wonderfully concentrated wines that are typified by balance and freshness.

    Northern Rhône

    The 2015 Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude, a barrel selection in the cellar of Alain Graillot, is a standout wine in 2015, showing a mineral intensity married to pure blue fruits and a spice note.

    Another highlight was the 2014 vintage of Crozes-Hermitage rouge Domaine de Roure from Jaboulet, a testament to the potential of this vineyard on granite soil which was bought by Jaboulet in the 1990s, and proof that 2014 Northern reds produced at the better addresses are certainly worth seeking out.

    I came across many examples of 2014 bottled reds in Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie which were exquisitely terroir-driven and beautifully made, and proudly presented by the winemaker no doubt because of the skill and hard work involved.

    Northern Rhône
    Tain l’Hermitage

    Hermitage from individual lieu-dits are some of the best wines in the Northern Rhône if not France

    The venue for the Hermitage leg of the Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône 2017 fair was situated at the bottom of the spectacular Hermitage hill that rises majestically from and follows the curving river Rhône. It brings into sharp focus how the 136 hectares currently under vines in the Hermitage AOC are draped over this iconic granite outcrop which first harboured vines in Roman times.

    Total wine production is similar to Cornas, but approximately 25% is white wine made from Marsanne and Rousanne. Both white and red Hermitage can be assembled or blended from several individual lieu-dits – for example, Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, Guigal Hermitage Ex-Voto, Chave Hermitage and Sorrel Hermitage Le Greal.

    Alternatively, Hermitage can be an expression of individual terroirs or lieu-dits – such as Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal, Delas Hermitage Les Bessard and Sorrel Hermitage blanc Les Rocoules. These wines are indisputably some of the greatest made in the Rhône Valley, indeed the whole of France, and have deservedly developed a cult following across the world.

    Producers preferred to show their bottled 2014 wines as the 2015 wines were still going through their élevage.

    The Buyer’s recommended Hermitage wines


    Domaine M. Sorrel 2014 Hermitage rouge Le Gréal

    Domaine M. Sorrel 2014 Hermitage blanc Les Rocoules

    Very concentrated 90% Marsanne with remarkable freshness.

    Delas 2014/2015 Hermitage Les Bessards

    Grand vin in both vintages

    Jaboulet 2014 Hermitage La Chapelle 

    Northern Rhône

    Jaboulet 2014 Hermitage blanc Le Chevalier de Sterimberg

    Domaine du Colombier 2014 Hermitage

    A classic fresh example; grapes were sold to Guigal until the early 1990s

    Chapoutier 2014 Hermitage Le Méal

    Northern Rhône
    AOC Côte-Rôtie

    Some of the most exquisite and thrilling expressions of Syrah today are produced in Côte-Rôtie

    And so our vinous journey continues meandering northwards along the Rhône River to reach the town of Ampuis, home of the Côte-Rôtie AOC producing some of the most unique Northern Rhône wines, albeit in minuscule quantities.

    Up to 20% of the white grape variety Viognier may be added to the Syrah grown on sometimes impossibly steep slopes of 60% gradients, which were mostly carved out and terraced during Roman times. The Viognier tends to soften the impact of the Syrah and impart a degree of floral perfume to the wine.

    Today’s frantic worldwide clamour for the wines of Côte-Rôtie, with vineyards totaling less than 300 hectares in size, is in stark contrast to the situation in the late 1960s when it was at times more profitable to grow apricots, rather than farm the vineyards. This was due to the low prices generally achieved for Côte-Rôtie wine and the labour involved to work the steep vineyards, resulting in the total area under vines dropping to below 70 hectares by the early 1970s.

    How times have changed! Some of the most exquisite and thrilling expressions of Syrah today are produced in Côte-Rôtie. The fractured nature of the granite rock beneath the vineyards on the ‘Roasted Slope’ ensures that the vine roots have access to water during hot periods thereby avoiding hydric stress and retaining freshness in the grapes.

    The 2015 vintage has produced some stellar wines in Côte-Rôtie characterised by power and freshness coupled to aromatic complexity, resulting in balanced terroir-specific wines of real depth and complexity. Some of the best on taste are highlighted in

    The Buyer’s recommended Côte-Rôtie wines

    Domaine Corinne, Jean-Paul et Loïc Jamet 2014/2015 Côte-Rôtie

    Masterfully crafted elegant wines in both vintages

    Northern Rhône

    Domaine de Bonserine 2014 Côte-Rôtie La Viallière

    Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin

    Outstanding range ranging from the humble 2015 La Champine Vin de France to the majestic 2015 Côte Rôtie La Landonne.

    Northern Rhône

    Delas 2015 Côte-Rôtie La Randonne

    Domaine Jasmin 2015 Côte-Rôtie

    Single cuvee made at small family domaine

    Vignobles Verzier 2015 Côte-Rôtie Indiscrète



    2015 produced intense but balanced Condrieu

    The true home of Viognier in the Northern Rhône lies in the AOC Condrieu where it is the only permitted grape variety, currently covering around 190 hectares at an altitude of approximately 250m.

    Viognier is particularly suited to the acid granite soils of Condrieu and produces wines that are generous, with complex aromatics that may include floral honeysuckle notes, sometimes mango, peach or apricot overtones, but above all are capable of retaining freshness.

    The 2015 vintage produced successful wines in Condrieu with intense, rich and rounded wines with good freshness and a touch of minerality.

    The Buyer’s recommended Condrieu wines

    Northern Rhône

    Julien Pilon 2015/2016 Condrieu Vernon

    Top wine from eclectic range made by talented white wine maker

    Domaine Pierre Gaillard 2015 Condrieu and 

    Domaine Pierre Gaillard 2016 Condrieu L’Octroi

    Domaine Andre Perret 2015 Condrieu Chery

    Northern Rhône

    Domaine Georges Vernay 2015 Condrieu Coteau de Vernon

    Fresh and complex example from one of the top vineyards in Condrieu

    Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin 2015 Condrieu La Loye

    Some thoughts after 600 producers and four days of tasting

    One of the most satisfying aspects of a week long tasting across the whole spectrum of Rhône wines, both geographically and in monetary terms, is the realisation that quality, typicité and individuality can be had in all the AOCs without having to remortgage the house.

    Tremendous value can be had at all price levels, and indeed, compared to current market prices for top Bordeaux and Burgundy, one can easily argue that some of the very best Rhône wines are remarkably good value in today’s fine wine market.

    Another bonus is that many of the excellent value Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph wines age beautifully and deliver a top pleasure per pound ratio ten or more years down the line. And for any newcomers, what better time to start than with the currently offered 2015 vintage and the highly anticipated 2016 vintage in the southern Rhône!

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