Vintage Report: Rhone 2014 and some words on '13 & '15

Vintage Report: Rhone 2014 and some words on '13 & '15

Monday 21st September 2015
by Giles Burke-Gaffney

The Rhone valley are just a few days away from completing what promises to be a great 2015 vintage.  

The growers were certainly all smiles last week and by the time I flew back home on Thursday, all that was left to pick were a few pockets of Syrah in the North and the red Grenache in the south.  The dry conditions throughout summer, thick skins and healthy ripe fruit already remind many growers of 2005.  The forecast is good for this week, so fingers crossed. 

2014 – Great terroirs, Great winemakers

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 Chateauneuf du Pape red harvest started in the middle of September and lasted until early October, whilst the bulk of the Northern Rhone’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% less than average in the Chateauneuf 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 Cote Rotie drained rapidly – the great terroirs really showed their worth in 2014. 

If there is one major blot on 2014’s copy book, though, 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 the more pleasure the 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.

A word on 2013 – a forgotten vintage? - and also what’s drinking now

Alongside my barrel samples of 2014 I re-tasted many 2013s in bottle.  What a vintage.  I remember rating the Northern Rhones very highly last year and they are every bit as good if not more so from bottle.  In the south I felt at the time it was a good vintage but nothing more – however having tasted them again as the finish articles I realise I underestimated them.  Their acidities are on the racy side but they have ample fruit concentration to cover them, and with relatively low alcohol levels these are beautifully balanced Rhone wines.  2013 is a great vintage, one that will age, one that you will want to drink.  On the subject of drinking, I tasted a few 2011s aswell.  Whilst this is not to be considered a great vintage, so many examples, particularly from the southern Rhone, are drinking very well at the moment, offering wonderfully ripe aromatic fruit flavours.  I also asked growers about which other vintages should be drunk at the moment and, alongside 2000 and 2001 which have been drinking well for a couple of years now, growers also mentioned how fine 2004 is looking at the moment.