Rhône 2018: where to find value


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Look beyond the Rhône’s most famous names and appellations to find serious value, says our Buyer Fiona Hayes. Here, she offers her tips on wines that offer serious quality at much less serious prices

I believe that it is always possible to find value in any region. We all have different interpretations of what “value” actually means, but the wines I have selected below demonstrate that you can still drink affordable, everyday wines from the Rhône. Most importantly, they don’t need to be cellared for years before being enjoyed. If you deviate just a little from the well-trodden track – of well-known producers or famous appellations, you will be justly rewarded.

Biodynamic pioneers

This holistic as well as ecological approach to viticulture, first spoken about by philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the early 1920s is becoming increasingly more common amongst winemakers. Although some of the practices involved may seem rather far-fetched (such as burying a cow horn filled with manure for six months), some of the most famous wine estates in the world are adopting biodynamic principles. Over the last 10 years more vignerons in the Rhône have been embracing biodynamics, but Domaine la Cabotte and Domaine de Marcoux were converted long before then and are well worth exploring.

2018 Côtes du Rhône Villages Rouge, Massif d’Uchaux Garance, Domaine la Cabotte: Full of black cherry, redcurrant and violet aromas, this Côtes du Rhône has a supple core of fruit with fine-grained tannins.

2018 Lirac, La Lorentine, Domaine de Marcoux: From the little-known village of Lirac, this is rich and inky, approachable with attractive blackberry and dark cherry supported by garrigue and sweet spice.

Ripe and ready

Fine wine isn’t always better with age. Some styles and grape varieties are really meant to be consumed when they are young, fresh and vibrant. Condrieu, for instance, makes some of the best white wines in the world, but I would certainly recommend opening these wines within a few years. There are also certain styles that are more accessible in their youth, such as a Côtes du Rhône; their juicier fruit profile and integrated tannin structure is far more approachable after a year or two than those from nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Having said that, choose your growers and wines well and you won’t be disappointed in the ageing potential of some of these “lesser” wines.

2018 Viognier, Collines Rhodaniennes, Domaine Mouton: This entry-level bottling comes from one of Condrieu’s top growers, offering a slightly lighter style of this typically voluptuous region.

2018 Côtes du Rhône, Visan, Garrigues, Domaine Dieu-le-Fit: Violets, lavender and herbs fill the nose, leading to a juicy palate that nevertheless has the backbone for a stint in the cellar.

Franck Balthazar in Cornas. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Family first

We are proud to be a family business and whenever possible, we are always grateful at the synergy of being able to work with family-run wineries. In the same way that the ethos behind shopping locally and supporting smaller businesses is so important to many of us today, so are the relationships we forge with smaller producers. They are relying on us to tell our valued customers about their wines, their story, rather than being lost on some supermarket shelf.

2018 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Domaine des Saumades: This tiny operation produces Châteauneuf-du-Pape of extraordinary complexity. Available only in minute quantities after a tricky vintage for Grenache (which normally forms 100% of the blend here), this is layered with plum, violet, bramble fruit and sweet spice.

2018 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine Franck Balthazar: Franck Balthazar makes top-tier Cornas, and his Côtes du Rhône offers incredible value, as well as an introduction to his style. A juicy core of fruit is complemented by powdery tannins and herbal complexity.

Northern soul

The North accounts for a mere 5% of the Rhône’s total wine production. Volumes in the North are more limited due to its size, as well as its steeper aspects compared to the South. Its cooler temperatures, higher rainfall and rockier terroir are in stark contrast to the landscape further south. Helped in part by its dominance of Syrah and Viognier, the wines have a different character and soul. The wines from the North can command eye-watering prices due to their scarcity, but look to earlier-drinking styles from St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage for a seriously good deal.

2018 St Joseph Blanc, Domaine Pierre Gaillard: This is a really exciting wine – the pithy grapefruit and salinity of the palate contrasting with a sensuous nose of peach, orange blossom and candied peel.

2018 Crozes-Hermitage, Les Trois Chênes, Domaine Emmanuel Darnaud: From three different plots, this is vivid in colour and aroma. A rich, juicy core is complemented by firm tannins and savoury notes.

Read more about Rhône 2018 here, or shop our full range En Primeur on bbr.com