Vintage Report: Rhone 2016 - The Rolling Rhônes

20 November 2017

Giles Burke-Gaffney

There is no hesitation from Southern Rhône growers:  Vieux Télégraphe describe it as “magical”, Beaucastel as “idylllic and exceptional,” while Barroche’s Julien Barrot recalls picking berries at harvest:  “Cinema grapes, they were so beautiful to look at!” So why all the excitement? It was a dry rather than an excessively hot vintage.  By and large days were sunny and nights cool.  Flowering was successful so the crop was of good size and ripening homogenous.  Rain in mid-September ensured that the vines completed their ripening cycle before harvest at the end of the month. Certainly when tasting the wines you get no sense of a stressed season. For these 2016s are flowing and silken.  Notable for their incredibly fine tannins, belying a discrete intensity, the wines have a generous, alluring quality to them with enough of a pique of freshness to provide lift.  Comparisons have been drawn with 1990, 2007 but most of all 2010.  Though it is every bit as good if not better than the latter, we feel it is a very different vintage.  Acidities are as fresh as 2010 but the wines feel more charming in 2016 and alcohol, surprisingly, was lower ranging between 14 to 14.5%. Many growers have made their most abundant and what they believe to be their best vintage.  A great year to tuck away in the cellar or drink young, avoiding, of course, Châteauneuf’s infamous adolescent period between three and eight years after bottle.

Beware of letting the Southern Rhône take all of the plaudits.  For the North have been highly successful, the only blots on the copy book being early summer mildew and hail on the 17th April in Hermitage. This, unfortunately, reduced the crop in some parts by half.  However being early in the season and with the stones round and small, wood was not damaged and quality not effected.  The crop might not be quite as abundant here as in the South, even in areas outside of Hermitage not effected by hail, but the quality is not far off.  Guillaume Clusel lauds the “beautiful fruit” of 2016 while André Perret thinks it’s a vintage that is “all about finesse, with the structure to support.”  These are ripe, fresh, distinctly aromatic wines that have substance to back up their charm. They show remarkable harmony and style, factors which should stand them in good stead for the long term.  These will drink younger than the blockbuster 2015s, for sure, but their impeccable balance suggest great ageing potential.

As for the whites, they are open and attractive offering more finesse than the 2015s but not quite the vivid freshness of the 2014s, they sit somewhere neatly in between.  They will give a lot of pleasure but in the end it will be the great reds of 2016 that will deservedly make the headlines.

Giles Burke-Gaffney

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