The 2016 vintage in southern Rhône
A new benchmark! The best of the century! Unmissable! These are just a few of the accolades garnered by the, already it seems, mythical 2016 vintage in the southern Rhône - and so it was with a sense of trepidation that I finally got to taste some of the best in the Regional Wines tasting room last month. Surely they couldn’t live up to the expectation fluffed up in us all by the hype and frenzy of the wine press in full pomp? But they did. The wines were amazing.
This is a vintage that offers it all and seemingly defies the laws of nature. Many of the wines were concentrated yet with delicate florals, ripe yet fresh with an electric acidity and somehow balanced and immensely approachable. In 2016 the darker broodier fruits of Syrah and Mourvedre are in check and seemingly play second fiddle to the pinot-esque red fruits and spice of the Grenache, creating wines of real drive. Yet, the florals of Syrah are still strikingly there, as too is the underpinning dark tannic foundation offered by the Mourvedre - creating wines of structure that build in the palate. You might be tempted to stylistically compare Châteauneuf with Bordeaux in a typical vintage, big full bodied wines that aren’t shy, but if anything, these wines had me thinking of ripe and floral Cabernet Franc from the Loire in a decent vintage, or even Burgundy. And so, are these typical southern Rhônes? Absolutely not in many cases in my opinion - but then that is their charm, and their sheer uniqueness and age-worthiness will make this one to have in the cellar, for the next twenty years.
Here’s a few of the highlights - available either in store or online here.
2016 Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape - $86.99 - The closest to what might one call typical Châteauneuf but still with fragrant raspberry that combines with cassis and autumnal herbs and spices on the nose. The palate is rich, dark and opulent - silky even - with fine ripe tannins helping the dark fruits glide over the length of the palate.
2016 Domaine de la Charbonniere Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix - $95.99 - A wine that flirted with being “overripe” but managed to keep just on the right side. Compote and caramelised red berries are lifted further by mulled spices and a deft grind or two from the pepper mill.The palate has fantastic acidity that balances well with ripe tannins and red and black bramble fruits. Finishes long and elegant. A few more years will draw it all together.
2016 Domaine des Espiers Gigondas Les Grames - $49.99 - a beautifully perfumed nose with aromas of doris plums, kirsch and black forest gateau that seem to be emanating off a platter served in the very heart of the garrigue strewn hills of the Rhône as the sun beats down. The palate is clean and crisp and dark fruited.
2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau - $153.99 - Wow. I bought a case of the 2001 vintage when I lived in London many years ago, and this is absolutely nothing like that. This is definitely Burgundy meets Châteauneuf with that amazing contradiction of concentration meets delicacy. Absolutely electric - with raspberries fusing with spice and pepper to create a new fruit that does not exist in the mundane relaity we typically live in, and has me coming back to the glass time and time again, as if out of fear that it might disappear and I’ll never have the chance to smell it again. Beguiling...
2016 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape - $86.99 - One of the big names of the region and this is a big wine. Everything dialled up but with immense acidity and some savoury stalkineess to boot. Bubblegum and strawberry florals on the nose lead to a palate that is cassis and red fruits with a graphite edge. This will need a couple of decades but has immense promise.2016 Domaine Les Grands Bois Cairanne Maximilien - $30.99 - Midnight deep in the glass but still offering red fruits that combine with the black doris of the Mourvedre. Sumptuously ripe and full bodied in the mouth and stood proud due to its high proportion of Mourvedre. The cheapest of the tasting and absolutely fantastic value.