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The vintage before the storm: Rhône 2016 primeur tasting

Published:  16 November, 2017

Yesterday’s Thorman Hunt & Co Ltd Rhône 2016 en primeur vintage tasting made overtures of incomparable quality, promising the likes of which tasters have not seen before.

And indeed there was much quality to enjoy – the sign of a largely untroubled year which wasn’t tested in the same grueling way by the weather as 2017.

Wines from the Northern and Southern Rhône were represented from the much talked about vintage.

In the north, which is dominated so by Syrah, winemakers often straddle their vines over several appellations, such is the case with Cave Yves Cuilleron.

A prolific producer of single variety Syrah, this estate grows across Saint Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Condrieu, and Côte Rôtie.

In each appellation, further differentiation is achieved by producing three different wines to show varying degrees of aging potential.

“One is made from young vines, to keep the fruit fresh and able to drink young,” vineyard manager Yann Menager, said.

“The second is more structured, to keep for a little while. The third has deep concentration and more oak and will age very well.”

Each is a blend of land parcels, or an ‘assemblage’.

Cave Yves Cuilleron is also the producer of the single vineyard range, including Crozes Hermitage Les Chassis (ex-cellar price 16.90 euros), Cornas Les Cotes and Côte Rôtie Bonnivières.

Meanwhile in the much larger Southern Rhône, historic Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Domaine de la Charbonniere, which owns 17.5 ha of vines in the appellation and four in neighbouring Vacqueyras, has been investing in the future of late.

The renowned Domaine, which is still in the hands of the Maret family 90 years after it was bought by Eugene Maret, has been planting a substantial mixture of red (including Mourvèdre and southern France grape Terret) and increasingly, white.

“The vines need 10 to 15 years to produce the quality we need, so we are thinking really ahead,” winemaker Veronique Maret, daughter of Michel Maret, said.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in 15 years, so we are investing more in white.”

A lot of this white is intended, and is already being used, in reds.

“In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, around 5% of plantings are whites grapes, and 2% of that will be used in blends with red grapes,” Maret explained.

Next year’s vintage may prove more difficult.

At Cave Yves Cuilleron, yields were down 25% in Côte Rôtie.

Saint Joseph was largely spared, as was Crozes Hermitage, but a large proportion of the Rhône – as indeed was the whole of France - was affected.