A first look at 2010 Rhône


Rhone 2010 tripA week in November spent tasting the first samples of the 2010 vintage proved to be not only highly enjoyable but also, in the context of all the doom and gloom pervading every facet of life at present, an uplifting experience. Listening to weather reports in the days before the start of the harvest there was no evident reason to believe that a great vintage was in prospect, as the conditions throughout the crucial month of August had not been particularly hot. In September, however, the temperatures had shot back up, and a welcome burst of rain between the 20th-25th freshened up the vines pre-harvest and put paid to fears that they would shut down because of drought.

The dry spell had imbued the wines with impressive concentration, the warm weather in September had brought the grapes to perfect ripeness, and the relatively cool August nights had helped to preserve their vital acidity. All was in place, therefore, to create a glorious vintage for both white and red wines.

Ogier Rhône 2010The Rhône growers with whom we work are not people prone to hyperbole, preferring to keep their feet on the ground, recognising full well the ups and downs which are part and parcel of the life of anyone who works in viticulture. Nevertheless, it was hard not to delight in their quiet confidence as they showed us their wines, and each successive visit unearthed the opinion that this was, just maybe, the finest vintage in the region for decades.

The comparison with 2009, another outstanding vintage, was fascinating because of the stylistic differences; 2009 was a year of wonderful opulence, the sheer ripeness producing richly-textured wines with immediate appeal; 2010 seems more cerebral, appealing because of its sublime balance, concentration and, crucially, its freshness. Time after time my tasting notes mentioned these attributes, along with intensity. Never did I find myself using words such as ‘heavy’ ‘ponderous’ ‘over-oaked’ or ‘unbalanced’. The wines are also highly representative of their terroir, and in that context it’s a joy to pick out the nuances which define a Cornas from a Côte Rôtie, a St Joseph from a Crozes-Hermitage.

Yields are in most cases slightly down on 2009, partly because of the drought, but fear not, there will be plenty of good wine to go round, and don’t overlook the whites, too. The huge progress in recent years in the quality of the region’s white wines continues apace. The aromatic varietals display wonderful floral, stone-fruit characteristics, while the wines made predominantly or totally from the Marsanne grape boast the textural richness of White Burgundy allied to a honeyed, beeswax bouquet.

It is unusual to find the North and South both declaring a truly great vintage at the same time, and although we don’t have prices yet all the early indications are that the growers, recognising the realities of the global market, will broadly favour stability, which is reassuring.

Alun Griffiths MW