The 2009 and 2010 vintages in France’s Rhône Valley provide consumers with the greatest buying opportunity in modern history.
BY JOE CZERWINSKI
Over the past decade and a half, good vintages have become routine in the South of France. Counting backward, it’s possible to click them off with almost metronomic regularity: 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998.
Although not all of these years were created equal, all merited consumer interest on release, and many of the wines from these vintages continue to drink well. Consult the annotated vintage chart for details about vintage styles, which parts of the valley fared best and when to drink the wines.
Many of the 2010s—particularly the top cuvées—have yet to be formally reviewed in blind tastings, but based on extensive visits and tastings with the winemakers, it’s clear that 2009 and 2010 are the best back-to-back vintages in memory.
Each year has a unique style and has strengths in different areas, so despite both vintages being enormously successful, it’s worth getting to know them in detail prior to making big purchases.
Sun or Soil?
The workhorse grape of the region, making up 50% or more of most wines. It is often high in sugar (and hence, alcohol) before its tannins acquire their classically silky character.
Less perfumed than when grown in the cooler climate of the north, Syrah adds color and structure to many blends.
A late ripener, used to add color and acidity to the blend.
Deeply colored but often tannic. Naturally high in acidity.
Popular for rosés. Spicy and aromatic, with soft tannins.
Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse
These rare, late-ripening varieties are sometimes used in blends to add fragrance and acidity.
Recent Rhône Valley Vintages
The Rhône Valley has been blessed by good weather over the past decade. Here’s a brief summary of the most recent vintages’ characteristics and advice on when most of the wines will be at their best.
Many of the grapes had reached good sugar levels prior to some autumn rains, so even if the wines are not intensely concentrated, they’re charming and fruity. Mostly for near-term drinking.
A terrific year for whites, reds and rosés in nearly all parts of the region. There’s ample concentration, balanced by good natural acidity. Some wines are drinkable now, but top wines will improve from 5–20 years.
A year of intense, powerful wines, with the warmth sometimes slightly too evident. Generally approachable now and relatively early maturing, but some northern wines may age terrifically well. Reds are better than whites.
An average year, marked by relatively cool temperatures and some rain. Few wines will cellar well past 2018, but many are pleasant now, with modest alcohol levels and refreshing acidity.
An elegant year in the north, with graceful, mediumbodied wines that are drinking well now. A blockbuster vintage for southern reds, with great concentration and high levels of ripeness.
A charming, early-drinking year in the north, with many wines now at their peak. Southern wines are well balanced, with top wines capable of aging another 10 years.
The wines were concentrated and a bit tough on release, but many of the wines are starting to shed those tannins and enter their primes.
Some excellent whites from Hermitage, which should age magnificently. Northern reds are more mixed. Southern reds are well balanced and now generally drinking well.
An irregular year because of the excessive heat. Some extremely concentrated wines built for the ages, while others looked impressive young but have developed too much dried-fruit character.
Pretty much a washout. Although some pleasant wines were made (particularly among the whites), most should have been consumed by now.
A classic, long-lived and well-balanced vintage in both north and south. Most wines are drinking well now, with some lesser wines past peak.
A decent year in the north, just not up to the standards set by 1999 or 2001. Southern wines are more uniformly successful, but relatively open knit and generally not for further aging.
This was the year in the north, at least until 2009. Despite huge concentration and ample ripeness, the wines retain their sense of place. Southern wines are a bit restrained compared to 1998 or 2000, but many are still aging well.
Variable in the north, but a full-bodied, superripe vintage in the south, with layers of opulent fruit on release. Some wines are already past peak, others just hitting their stride.