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Justerini & Brooks
En Primeur Rhône

France’s wine growing “Rhone Valley” in reality covers two very distinct wine growing regions, separated by a vine-free gap of approximately 30 miles. Up and down the quality scale the Rhone stands out today for offering serious wines made by small quality conscious growers at very reasonable prices. A stellar run of recent vintages (barring the obvious 2002) and a wider pool of quality wine making talent than ever before has see the Rhone in recent years very much regaining its position front of mind for many of the world’s great wine collectors.

Rhône 2018

Sun-kissed Rhône seduction

Generalising about the 2018 Rhône vintage is difficult. Where it was a small crop it was tiny and where it wasn’t it was big! Equally paradoxical is the style of the wines – some of which are really attractive and seductive now, others are blockbusters that will require great patience. Nor do these differences divide neatly into the Northern or Southern Rhône. What is clear, though, is the pattern of the season: 2018 started with an intolerably prolonged wet period in Spring that was ended by a long bout of hot, dry weather that began at the end of June; there was an extremely hot August and finally a harvest period that was very warm throughout. One grower I spoke to described 2018 as “tropical.” Low yields or high, 2018 produced rich, ripe grapes that were in tip top health. Alcohols and tannic structures were relatively high and acids low. There are plenty of delicious wines to seek out, but whether they are for keeping or drinking before 2017s, 2016s and 2015s varies from Domaine to Domaine.

Rhône 2017

“A tale of the unexpected”

The 2017 season was characterised by drought that set in at an early stage and lasted throughout the summer. In fact it was one of the driest summers on record. However, as Julien Barrot of Domaine La Barroche put it, “the wines are not what you would expect from such a dry year. As long as you did the right things vine shut-down was not a big problem, I remember the vineyards being much more stressed in 2005, for example.” Flowering was not very successful anywhere in the Rhône, but Grenache was particularly affected by coulure, as it so often is. Drought and coulure have meant it is a small harvest across the valley, smallest of all in the South. The poor flowering may not have been music to the ears of producers’ bank managers, but it was a silver lining as far as quality was concerned. From the outset the vines were much less laden with fruit than they would normally have been and so were less inclined to stress, shut down and block grape ripening during the drought.

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