2010 in the Northern Rhône – A great vintage blessed with balance and complexity


A week spent tasting the 2010 vintage proved to be a joy, despite an inauspicious beginning on Monday morning under leaden skies with the lunar calendar telling us it was a Root Day, not deemed propitious for tasting.

Stéphane Ogier the Acrobat D'Ampuis After the opulence of the easy-to-read 2009s the growing season in 2010 was more challenging, with less heat in the crucial months of high summer but with the benign influence of dry, warm September days balanced by cool nights. The harvest was later than usual and the combination of factors referred to above led to the grapes achieving perfect ripeness, good concentration and, crucially, maintaining an excellent level of acidity and thus freshness.  The wines are, in consequence, beautifully balanced.

The reds have abundant tannins but as they are ripe they do not intrude aggressively onto the palate, and the flavours are layered and the textures supple. The whites are blessed with excellent ripeness, precise, floral aromas and a beguiling freshness.  Both colours display wonderful length.

The only negative appears to be a small crop.

Our first two days were totally given over to visits to Condrieu and Côte Rôtie producers, with fabulous examples of the former from Robert Niero and Stéphane Ogier setting a high standard, then Jean-Michel Gerin and René Rostaing maintaining the pace before the tasting at Domaine Georges Vernay  yielded perhaps the finest wines. In terms of the reds, it was a virtually unbroken record of superlatives, with the words “minerality, structure, balance and length” recurring with great regularity.

Tuesday brought us a morning of stark contrast, from the self-effacing Jean-Claude Mouton to the ebullient, extrovert Francois Villard, whose boundless enthusiasm is directed at us in machine-gun-like volleys of information. The mercurial Yves Cuilleron delivered his usual impeccable range in which I reserved particular praise for his trio of red St Joseph along with the more southerly crus of Cornas and St Peray.  The high standard of the Côte Rôties tasted became almost monotonous, or would have done if  it hadn’t been so enjoyable.

Wednesday saw us an hour further south in the village of Mauves. Jérôme Coursodon demonstrated just why he has been elevated to star status by the prestigious Revue des Vins de France by showing a stunning array of St Joseph, and virtually next door, it would be heretical to suggest that the component parts of Jean-Louis Chave’s 2010s, tasted individually from barrel, were anything other than awesome.The Gerins do 'la vaiselle'

A comprehensive tasting chez Chapoutier proved one of the high points of the trip; the sheer concentration and quality of the various Sélections Parcellaires” was, in the immortal words of Derek Trotter, “blinding”, and it was such a pleasure not to see an excess of oak featuring in the tasting notes, with none of the wines receiving more than 20% new wood in their maturation.

The range at négociant Ferraton was more mixed but, as ever, there were enough gems to excite admiration, while at Domaine Emmanuel Darnaud we were secretly relieved to learn that his 2010 had just been bottled, sparing us the usual multi-barrel tasting of the components to which the charming, dynamic and loquacious Emmanuel normally subjects us, anxious not to make our job “trop facile,” as he puts it.

Gastronomic highlights were, unusually, few and far between this time around but Wednesday stands out for a wonderful meal at Mangevins, a tiny, 22-seater bistro in Tain which now serves, by common consent, some of the most imaginative food in the region, accompanied by a stunning wine list.

Thursday featured a brisk look at Marc Sorrel’s impeccable Hermitages, more of the same from the towering, pony-tailed, flu-ridden Florent Viale at Domaine de Colombier, and surely some of the most extraordinary Crozes-Hermitage of the area from Laurent Combier at his eponymous domaine.

Further south at St Peray Domaine du Tunnel’s reputation continues to grow, and Stéphane Robert is another young grower in the limelight, now elevated to 2-star status by France’s premier wine publication. Stéphane Robert faces the axeHis trio of white St Perays demonstrated wonderful varietal character and freshness, while his Cornas, all three of them, are benchmark examples in the modern idiom. A very kind invitation to lunch allowed us to see his wife Sandrine demonstrate a deft touch with Blanquette de Veau, liberally laced with cream and St Peray, washed down with Cornas 2006.  A quick visit to another master exponent of Cornas, Vincent Paris, rounded off the week in appropriate style, with tasting notes featuring, for the umpteenth time, highly complimentary comments about quality of tannins, minerality, concentration and length.

We will be offering these wines in our major Rhone 2010 offer at the end of February 2012, at which time our buyer Simon Field, MW, will write detailed and copious notes on all the wines offered, rather than this brief overview. All indications are, however, that this is an outstanding vintage in the Rhone, with several highly-respected producers, not renowned for hyperbole, declaring it to be the finest for decades.