Dive into the Northern Rhône

The drums are already beating for the 2015s, but for fans of the Northern Rhône, there’s no reason to wait.
Photo by Stefane Chalay / Courtesy of E. Guigal

The Bordelais are masters of building up vintages, kind of like baseball’s New York Mets and their numerous “five-tool prospects.” (Who remembers Alex Escobar or Fernando Martinez, a k a F-Mart?)

But other regions have answered, including producers in the ­Northern Rhône, who are touting 2015 as a great year. As early as ­November, a press release from Maison M. Chapoutier called it “Grandiose and Exceptional!”

Importers have piled on. Lyle Fass of Fass Selections crowed on Facebook about one wine: “First 15 and you are not going to believe how great this is. The length.”

By all accounts, the 2015s will be something to look forward to when they arrive. I plan on visiting ­later this year to taste and report on them. But if you love wines from the Northern Rhône, particularly the beguiling perfumes and seductive textures of Condrieu and Côte-­Rôtie, there’s no compelling reason to wait for the 2015s.

For Condrieu, 2015 can’t be much better than the two vintages currently available. Both 2013 and 2014 are chock-full of stellar wines. When I blind-tasted 31 examples from the 2013 vintage during my last Rhône visit, I rated 20 of them 90 points or higher. Ditto for 11 out of 16 samples from the 2014 vintage.

“The ’13s are great,” says François Villard. “The ’14s are good, but more simple than ’13.”

Either way, it’s difficult to go wrong in this microappellation of approximately 420 acres planted exclusively to Viognier. Both the ’13s and ’14s are beautifully poised, featuring ample bouquets and balanced alcohol levels.

In Côte-Rôtie, the classic, long-aging 2010s are largely sold out. The 2014s suffered from a cool summer marred by rain. But other recent years each have something to offer.

Philippe Guigal calls 2011 “a nice surprise. Its only weak point is that it follows 2010.” The wines are classic Côte-Rôties, eerily reminiscent of the 2001s and 1991s.

The 2012s are ripe and supple, maybe a touch lacking in structure at first glance, but seductive in the extreme. Guigal calls them “­welcoming,” and compares them to the 2007s, a vintage that has always been open and yet continues to age well.

The 2013s are more irregular. Some of the wines are tough, ­combining high acid and high ­tannin levels.“In ’13, the density is there, but the maturity maybe not,” says Jean-Paul Jamet. “I think it’s a vintage that will close up after bottling and need a long time.”

In that respect, they may be similar to the 2005s or 1995s, ­vintages that needed a decade or more to open up.

For wine lovers who can’t get enough of the unique Syrahs that come from these steep French slopes, there’s no reason to wait for the next vintage of the century. Good choices already abound.

Top Recent Drops from the Northern Rhône

Condrieu

Delas Frères 2014 Clos Boucher

Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2014 Domaine des Grands Amandiers

Domaine Faury 2013

E. Guigal 2013 La Doriane

Côte Rôtie

Domaine Barge 2013 Coeur de Combard

Domaine Christophe Pichon 2013 La Comtesse en Côte Blonde

Domaine Duclaux 2012 La Germine

Saint Cosme 2012

 

Published on April 8, 2016
Topics: Rhône Valley, Wine Trends
About the Author
Joe Czerwinski

Czerwinski has been a wine journalist, editor and taster for over a decade and is a regular wine panelist, speaker and educator for events and organizations worldwide.




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