Rhône is where the heart is
Author: Adam Holden
It’s fair to say that 2013 was not a stellar year for Bordeaux, so, how accurately does this reflect on the rest of France? It is a big country (398,099.474 square miles), with an awful lot of vineyard (849,000 hectares), so to make too many generalisations in a given year would be erroneous. The best way to get to grips with the character of the vintage is to taste it for oneself, and I was fortunate to be on such a trip with our esteemed Rhône Buyer, Simon Field MW. When the Rhône brochure hits your doormat you will have the benefit of a more comprehensive evaluation, but for now I will focus on just two domaines – my white and red highlights.
I have admired Mouton’s wines since we began working with them on the 2005 vintage; they have always been striking because of their broad nature, concentration and power. The last few vintages have seen the style evolve, and there is a sense now that Jean-Claude is balancing the exuberance of his wines with brightness and vitality. The lip-smacking richness remains but the wines are marked by a purposeful finish which makes them deliciously moreish.
2013 Condrieu, Côte Bonnette
From vines on typically granitic soil which vary greatly in age, the vineyard is south-west facing but slightly on the flat. In 2013 Jean-Claude’s volumes are down, and as a result the Bonnette is all in vat. The aromas are strikingly bright but ripe all the same, with a slight gun-flint quality. On the palate there is terrific concentration with a pleasing weight of peachy fruit. The finish though, is one of freshness, vivid and crisp with under-ripe pear.
2013 Condrieu, Côte Chatillon
Not so much a senior wine but a different one, the Chatillon is arranged on a steep slope with a south-easterly exposure. The depth of concentration engendered by its privileged position and 25-year-old vines has led Jean-Claude down a path of using new oak here; in 2013, 15 percent was vinified thus. This nonetheless has a greater sense of saline minerality, while on the palate the star anise and honey are lifted by crisp citrus.
Joël Durand strikes me as a precise and thoughtful individual and certainly keen to show us the intricacies of the way he and his brother Eric work. Another recurring theme of 2013 is the late harvest, yet Joël suggests that being obliged to wait has meant they achieved excellent maturity whilst retaining freshness.
We enjoyed a very instructive dégustation here, tasting the different components of the final blends. I’m focusing on a couple of reds here but the quality of the whites (and other reds) should not be overlooked, the wines possessing a cool serenity throughout.
2013 St Joseph, Les Côteaux
We tasted three vinifications of this south-easterly-facing hillside in the south of the appellation. The first is a little pruney, yet still retains freshness and has savoury notes of tobacco and graphite. The second is darker, in colour and character, with nimble acidity; the structure though, is more heavyset. The third illustrates the buoyant elegance of their 25-year-old Syrah vines; the bright menthol notes and blue fruit. The blend of the three makes for a multidimensional and well-proportioned wine.
2013 Cornas, Empreintes
With 25 percent new wood employed in the casks, the two cuvées respectively show a brooding density of dark fruit, with black pepper, tobacco and, astonishingly, finely-grained tannins. The fruit here is more blueberry than black and there is a spicy high note of clove. The resulting wine has luxuriant fruit but with a sophisticated structure, both in terms of the millefeuille of aromas and the way it presents itself to the palate. Eric and Joël retained 30 percent of the stems, and the fact the wine has this degree of polish demonstrates perfectly the high level of maturity achieved.
To crudely summarise the 2013 vintage in the Northern Rhône, it is a success. The wines may not have the power of 2009 for instance, but for a cool, complicated year the wines are pretty, showing wonderful purity. These are classy, elegant wines to enjoy – in most cases – in the short to medium term.
Tickets are still available for our Rhône 2013: En Primeur Tasting on 25th February; come along to taste the wines, meet the producers and make up your own mind about the 2013 vintage.