Rhone 2017 En Primeur

Rhône 2017 En Primeur: “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. Nonetheless ripening was not necessarily quick and although it was an early harvest (starting early September or even end of August, in some cases), more patience was required than originally expected; picking carried on throughout September and, for Mourvèdre, into October. Grape-health, from Lyon to Avignon, was pristine and the weather during September was beautiful. These were huge bonuses as, according to Jean-Louis Chave, “you could harvest when you wanted.” Though it is not always a homogenous vintage (the danger was shrivelled grapes resulting in confit flavours and dry tannins), proper vineyard husbandry and a well-timed harvest meant that excellent quality levels were very attainable.

Whereas 2016 was rich and powerful in the South yet elegant and classic in the North, and whilst 2015 was the reverse but equally contrasting, 2017 is one of those rare years where the vintage style and quality is the same across the Northern and Southern Rhône. There are some real gems in this vintage; wines characterised by richly-aromatic and alluring fruit profiles. They have a headily-scented sunny side to them but are even-keeled. Sweet but clear fruit counteracted by discernibly crisp, firm but not unwieldy tannins. Alcohol levels are on the higher side of the scale but largely well-balanced. They sit between, in the south, the more elegant 2015s and the headier 2016s and, in the north, between the fresher 2016s and the more powerful 2015s. Overall almost every grower I spoke to placed 2017, stylistically, between these two vintages.

A superb year of generous wines full of effusive ripe fruit but with strong structures robust enough to ensure good ageing potential.

Giles Burke-Gaffney
Justerini & Brooks’ Buying Director