Friday, 12 October 2012

Rhone 2011 & other vintages: The North

Posted by Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director

The sunshine and warmth still holds out as I travel north, and its approaching mid October.  The 2012 crop is all in, from Hermitage to Cote Rotie, and successfully bubbling away in the cellars.  After the stress and hard work growers experienced during the summer it is fair to say they are pleased as punch with results that, a few months prior, they did not think possible.  It should be a very good vintage, though at this stage it seems the south has the edge over the north.  However there is a long way to go, a lot now depends on fermentations and elevages. 

Back again to 2011.  My first tasting in the North was with the garrulous and affable Mathieu Barret of Domaine du Coulet.  Cornas for breakfast might not be everyone’s cup of tea however Mathieu’s increasingly refined style made tasting young Cornas from barrel at 9.00 in the morning an absolute breeze.  It was a sheer pleasure to sample these wonderfully fine, precise and intense wines, they must be pretty unique in the appellation. He is a seriously talented and dynamic winemaker, his 2011s are irresistible.

Meandering further north to Tournon and Tain L’Hermitage chez Faurie, Domaine du Colombier, Pochon and Delas.  The wines here were exquisite, fruit sweetness, power but with the finesse and smoothness that seem to characterise this vintage.  Hermitage seems an excellent match for 2011.

There are some very smooth, attractive Cote Roties in 2011.  Clusel Roch’s for me were the pick of a good solid bunch. One perhaps expects rather less of St Joseph, being a large and highly variable appellation in all but the most consistent of years, though it must be said when you hit on one from a good producer its quality, value and sheer drinkability is second to none.  I found the 2011 St Joseph reds at Perret and Villard highly successful, the latter producer has refined his red winemaking style over the last three years, his ‘11s seem to be the culmination of these efforts – thoroughly moreish, seductive Syrahs that mix ripeness, elegance and a Rhone typicity.  They bear little resemblance to the bigger versions of his early years.

Many of these 2011 Northern Rhone reds gave me immense pleasure, I found them a notch above the Southern Rhone wines and considerably more consistent.  It was potentially a large crop here, as with their cousins further south, so limiting yields was important but unlike Chateauneuf and the Southern villages, alcohol levels were restrained, averaging 13 degrees natural.  The resultant wines offer ripe, fresh flavours, round textures and tremendous overall balance. They will be very enjoyable in their youth over 3-5 years after bottling, though i suspect the top wines will still be drinking well from 7-10 years after, best normally to avoid the 4-7 year hole after bottling when some vintages can go into a closed phase.  Producers compare 2011 to 2004 (a vintage drinking exceptionally well now) or 2006 but with a little less structure and acidity than the latter.  Other Northern Rhone vintages drinking well now are 2008, 2001 and 2000.  In Hermitage they recommend the 2006s already, whereas in Cote Rotie they are a little more tentative about the readiness of this very fine vintage.