The 2014 Rhônes from the best slopes and the finest winemakers are silky and utterly seductive. It may not have been a plain-sailing vintage, but the results can be very good indeed. It is an approachable, mid-term vintage that will give immediate and immense pleasure to Rhône lovers and novices alike. For many growers in the North this is a greater version of 2012 and 2004; vibrant and energetic wines with a rounded, harmonious texture. Anyone fortunate enough to be drinking the ‘04s today will know what good shape they are still in, ten years on.
After a warm spring, vintage seemed all set to be early. However summer’s cooler and rainier than average weather delayed vine growth and grape maturation. In the end the Châteauneuf du Pape red harvest started in the middle of September and lasted until early October, whilst the bulk of the Northern Rhône’s hillside sites were picked during the last week of September. This meant that the grapes’ hang time was long and they therefore reached full phenolic maturity, resulting in wines that display incredibly silky textures and luscious, soft tannins.
Another feature of the vintage, thanks to it being cooler than average, is the tremendous vibrancy and relatively low alcohol levels – up to 1% below average in the Châteauneuf wines. This long hang time and a fine September really made the vintage. There was a downpour of rain on the 18th September and although the northern plains flooded, the slopes of Cornas, St Joseph, Hermitage and Côte Rôtie drained rapidly. The great terroirs really showed their worth in 2014.
If there is one major blot on 2014’s copy book, though, it is the wretched fruit fly. There was a strong attack of them as harvest approached which dictated that the strictest and most back-breaking of selections be carried out, (at least by those estates wanting to make good wine). Up to 30% of the crop was lost thanks to the rigorous sorting that was carried out. These wines may not have the concentration of the 2013s but they are a clear level up from 2012 in the northern Rhone. (By contrast 2012 in the south was one of THE great Grenache vintages). In general the 2014s absolutely thrill and charm with their elegance and ripe, refreshing fruit. It will be an earlier drinking vintage than most, but who cares; more pleasure sooner, so much the better! For the reds, there are no hard edges or pointy acidities, they deliver pure enjoyment. For the whites, particularly Condrieu, this is an excellent vintage that offers a rare blend of vitality, refinement and ripeness.