The Buyer
Ravishing Rhône: the first impressions of 2016 vintage

Ravishing Rhône: the first impressions of 2016 vintage

While Southern Rhône vignerons were launching their 2015 wines last year they were talking just as much about the 2016 juice they had in their barrels. Now the Rhône 2016 vintage is upon us, it is indeed a spectacular year with the extended growing season proving key to the freshness of the Grenache and the ripeness of the Mourvedre. Rhône expert Dr Bart Feys took his tasting glass to the first annual tastings at Thorman Hunt and H2Vin and reports back with his top tips on reds to buy.

Bart Feys
23rd November 2017by Bart Feys
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

The combination of the quality of raw materials with a more restrained wine making approach in many instances has allowed vignerons to capture the essence of grape and terroir. As a consequence, the wines come across as wonderfully poised and approachable but with the stuffing to develop into memorable wines.

In 2015, Syrah in the Northern Rhône ruled supremely and produced some of the most exquisite wines that growers had seen for at least a generation. General consensus is that many a majestic Hermitage and spellbinding Côte-Rôtie will develop into modern day legends.

While 2015 proved very successful in the Southern Rhône, winemakers were last year brimming with excitement about the potential of the fermenting 2016 juice in their cellars.

The extended 2016 growing season allowed grapes to reach full phenolic and physiological ripeness with cool nights during the Indian summer imbuing them with great freshness, key to the success of the Grenache variety which easily attains overripe and alcoholic characteristics.

The long growing season also proved key to the success of the slow ripening Mourvedre, an important blending partner in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines such as Clos des Papes, Château de Beaucastel and Domaine Saint-Préfert Charles Giraud.

The H2Vin Rhône tasting, London, November 2017

Tastings organised by Thorman Hunt & Co and H2Vin gave me the chance to form some early impressions of the quality of the 2016 Rhône vintage.

Tasting examples from appellations Cairanne, Lirac, Ventoux, Rasteau, Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhône, it is immediately evident that the reds have an amazing fruit intensity, a density without heaviness, allied to a freshness and ripe tannic structure that gives the wines exquisite balance.

The combination of the quality of raw materials with a more restrained wine making approach in many instances has allowed vignerons to capture the essence of grape and terroir. As a consequence, the wines come across as wonderfully poised and approachable but with the stuffing to develop into memorable wines.

I remember being equally impressed when trying the 2010 Southern Rhône wines en primeur, a vintage that is now generally considered to be one of the all time greats. Rhône enthusiasts who had the good fortune of trying the 1990 vintage at a similar stage, feel that 2016 may well share some of that vintage’s dense and ripe fruit character.

The advantage of today’s wine world is that we have seen an energetic Rhône renaissance over the last 10 or more years resulting in tremendous quality across the AOC board, from humble Vin de Pays to the top prestige bottlings. Indeed, many a bargain Côtes du Rhône will develop and improve in bottle for five to 10 years, especially when they come from well regarded terroirs lying just outside the more prestigious appellations.

In the Northern Rhône, 2016 is a more classic and restrained vintage compared to 2015. As in the South, wines are marked by a freshness and fine tannic structure with excellent aromatic interest and compact fruit. In fact, certain winemakers prefer the stylistic character of their wine in 2016 over 2015, and I would certainly want both vintages in my cellar.

With two great plentiful vintages in the Rhône in 2015 and 2016 (and another great one coming in 2017 apparently) now is the time to discover new producers, stock up on all time favourites or indeed revisit producers who have made recent changes/improvements in wine making.

My personal standout red wines from both tastings are summarised below.

Southern Rhône:

  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Les Safres”, Domaine Clos du Caillou. A Domaine that has been on top form for many years with one of the most consistently brilliant ranges from the great value Côtes du Rhône Bouquets des Garrigues to their top Châteauneuf-du-Pape ‘La Reserve”. The ‘Safres’ is a great example of the crossover between old and new style Châteauneuf. (H2Vin)
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Hautes Brusquieres, Domaine de la Charbonniere. A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah; traditional garrigue, red fruits, very structured. The ‘Vieilles Vignes’ cuvée made with 90% century old Grenache was equally impressive. (Thorman Hunt)
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Prestige, Domaine Roger Sabon. Classic, Provencal herbs, intense and long. (Thorman Hunt)
  • Côtes du Rhône ‘La Sagesse’ , Domaine Gramenon. Very concentrated 100% Grenache; black fruited, coffee note, tremendous structure and balance. Very consistent range of wines. (H2Vin)
  • Châteauneuf-du-Pape Piedlong, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. First made by the Bruniers in 2012; 90% Grenache and 10% mourvedre from specific lieu-dits including Pignan. Very aromatic, lush red fruits. 2015 was also very successful here. (Thorman Hunt)
  • Lirac Rouge ‘La Reine des Bois’, Domaine de la Mordorée. Blend of 35% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 30% Mourvedre. Structured, dark fruited and ageworthy. Consistently high quality at this address with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Reine des Bois usually one of the top Châteauneuf-du-Papes. (H2Vin)

Northern Rhône:

  • Saint Joseph rouge ‘Clos de Cuminaille’, Pierre Gaillard. Always one of the best value Saint Jo’s. Complex, dark and gamey aromatics. Fresh, intense and balanced structure. (H2Vin) His Côte-Rôtie ‘Rose Pourpre’ is a very classic, beautifully proportioned wine with lovely violets perfume.
  • Crozes-Hermitage rouge ‘Clos les Cornirets’, Domaine Fayolle. Small domaine located in the original Northern part of the appellation producing classic and elegant terroir-driven wines. The top Cornirets cuvée comes from 60 year old Syrah vines grown on granite soils. Also very successful whites here in 2016 (Thorman Hunt)
  • Cornas La Geynale, Domaine Vincent Paris. Top Cornas vineyard producing standout wine; intense and brooding nose, coffee, brambles all wrapped in a fresh and ripe tannic frame. (Thorman Hunt)