Rhone 2011 – A Brief Glimpse

Last week, courtesy of the good folk at Goedhuis, the Vinetrade team were able to taste the first bottled samples of the 2011 vintage from the Rhone Valley, and we’re pleased to say it was not a disappointing tasting. Unfortunately the whites had only just been put in the ice when we arrived and as such we have not included them in this week’s post. Thankfully they’re as good as the reds in many cases.

The Growing Season.

As with all of France, 2011 was a growing season in reverse: Summer conditions in Spring and Spring in Summer. Certainly Spring was one of the driest on record and coupled with hot weather the vines developed quickly; with everyone anticipating an early harvest. Come July however, the consistency abated and the month was marked by warm sunny days interspersed with cold rainy ones (with up to 6cm of rain); thankfully this replenished the vines and restored them to a more normal development cycle.

Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy where the fluctuating weather continued into August and September, the Rhone Valley was fortunate to have their traditional hot and windy late summer days settle in. This coupled with an extended Indian summer meant many properties had a very healthy, ripe crop, if at times un-even and in some cases necessitated keen quality control. Marc Perrin at Chateau de Beaucastel said: “The grapes were very healthy and the crop yield was fairly large so we decided to carry out a ruthless green harvest to maximise the concentration”.

The Vintage Style.

Overall the vintage struck us as somewhere between 2006 and 2008 in quality, with none of the overtly “porty” richness of the previous two years, 2009 and 2010; one grower remarked that the sweetness and lightness was reminiscent of the 2000.

A decidedly pretty vintage, the wines have body, elegance and firm acidity but were surprisingly light in tannins; even amongst the more structured Cote Roties and Chateauneufs. The main feeling that we came away with was that despite their youth many of these wines were drinking very nicely now! This is definitely a customer friendly vintage that is early rewarding and eminently drinkable, unlike the blockbusters of the previous two years.

 The Wines.

Of the 30 or so that were available to taste, we thought that the below seven merited highlighting:

  • René Rostaing, Cote Rotie Ampodium  - Formerly known as Cuvee Classique, René Rostaing’s blended Cote Rotie did not disappoint this year, with a mixed nose of ripe blueberry and raspberry, greengage and scented violets. The palate is more complex than the nose hints at, with a mouthfeel that is both sweetness from the ripe fruit and savoury notes from the greengages at the same time, with good acidity and almost unnoticed tannins. A good wine, now.
  • René Rostaing, Cote Rotie La Landonne - More complex than the Ampodium and a more intense nose that leaves you with notes of clove and cedar spice, rolling tobacco, sweet plum and blackberry. The entry is really juicy, leading to a savoury mid palate as the mouth fills with the toasted spice notes that you get on the nose and warm finish.
  • Domaine de Colombier, Hermitage - At the moment the nose is dominated purely by sweet toasted French oak. Thankfully the palate is more rewarding than the nose at the moment with sweet, ripe and light red berry fruit notes, good firm acidity, light tannins giving an overall fresh and delightful mouth-feel. The best Hermitage on show.
  • Alain Voge, Cornas Vielles Vignes - Certainly the most interesting Cornas we tasted, with notes of Christmas Cake, clove spice, liquorice and blackcurrant. The entry is light and sweet with almost bracing acidity and a flavour profile that follows the nose, with more of that curranty goodness. The tannins are light and fine and well integrated, and this Cornas goes on for a while. Good stuff indeed.
  • Chateau de Beaucastel, Coudoulet de Beaucastel - Our first impression was reminiscent of tasting Bordeaux En Primeur with heady notes of sweet, gamy red berry fruit and cedar spice jumping from the glass. There is a raisined edge combined with hints of black pepper that give away the fact that this is Rhone. The palate was equally rewarding with similar flavours to those on the nose, a fairly weighty mouthfeel that’s carried by an almost tingly acidity, really light integrated tannins. An excellent example of why the 2011′s are so early drinking.
  • Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge - Unlike it’s baby brother the Coudoulet, the nose on the Chateauneuf was decidedly closed but deep, hinting at a richer, more complex heady flavour profile. The palate is wonderfully smooth with fairly high acidity giving it a succelent mouthfeel. What flavours are discernible hint at dark berry, pepper, perfumed violets and Provençal herbs. The tannins are there, but were almost unnoticeable and the finish was good and long. Drink this Chateauneuf once you’re out of 2008′s and waiting for your 2009′s to come around.
  • Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape Vieux Télégraphe - With a nose that is as dense and as closed as the Beaucastel, this was the other great Chateauneuf we tasted on the day. What flavours we could coax out of the glass were sweet cedar spice, ripe blackberry, blackcherry, tapenade and some hints of cooked game. An equally smooth entry leads to a full bodied palate with fruit notes that follow the nose with more pepper, cherry and sweet spice. All carried by a high acidity, soft integrated tannins and leading to a long finish. You could give this a year or two, but a serious decant should be enough to make this wine delicious now.

When these become physically available we look forward to including them on Vinetrade.