This truly rare vintage is a new benchmark. The growing season was warm during the day but cool at night, with an unusually large diurnal swing that led to slow, even ripening across all varieties while maintaining acidity. Reds are laden with fruit, yet extremely racy and fresh in feel …
Wine Spectator website, annotations to the 2016 Southern Rhone Valley rating (99) on the Vintage Chart.
This tasting was assembled by Eugene d’Eon of Wellington, a new recruit to wine who shows every sign of falling seriously in love with the subject. At first Bordeaux grabbed his attention, but now the appeal of the Southern Rhone Valley red wines, particularly when 2015 and 2016 are demonstrably so good, has proved equally irresistible. This first tasting of 12 wines was assembled by Eugene, and presented to a dozen or so interested participants at the central Wellington city wine shop WineSeeker, courtesy owner Michael Hutton.
The wines provided a good introduction to the grapes and winestyles of the district, cepages ranging from grenache 100% via many grenache-dominant blends to one grenache 50% and syrah 50%, one grenache 50% and mourvedre 50%, and one intriguingly different wine at mourvedre 80%, syrah 20%.
The nett impression was that the enthusiasm of the Wine Spectator team (and in particular their Rhone man James Molesworth) for the 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley is well founded, the great colours, fragrant aromas, and beautiful acids of a number of the wines being generally commented on. Other Northern Hemisphere winewriters have expressed similar views to Wine Spectator, the thought being that 2016 fully matches, and likely surpasses, both 1978, and 2010 … the former benchmark years. But even in this vibrant year, the modern trend to higher alcohols is evident, only one of the wines showing a given 13.5% (but in fact probably nearer 14%), most 14.5% given, three 15%, one 15.5%, and one 16%. It is true that grenache hides alcohol freakishly well, but there would be greater charm in the wines (particularly at table) if the fruit flavours and tannin ripeness levels seen here could be achieved at lower alcohols.
The quality of the better vintages (from 1970 on) in the Southern Rhone Valley is summarised in my recent article reporting on a Library Tasting of the 1999 vintage (scroll down) in this district.
THE WINES REVIEWED:
Dark ruby, carmine and velvet, a glorious colour, the third deepest. Bouquet needs time, to reveal enchanting lightly aromatic dark berry notes, hints of nearly-cassis (rare in this district), a lot of dark plum, some raspberry / boysenberry. The fruit is complexed by fragrant but not quite floral garrigue aromatics, and subtle oak with a noticeable dark toasty note. This bouquet smells wonderfully exciting. Palate is rich, fresh, deep, long, nearly velvety, beautiful furry grape tannins, all the berry flavours extended on pure but not too obtrusive oak, and lovely fine-grained, soft, but good acid. The concentration here matches or exceeds good Chateauneuf-du-Pape norms. Four first-places. Cellar 20 – 35 years. GK 04/19
Dense ruby, carmine and velvet, phenomenal depth, the deepest colour. Bouquet is quieter, deeper, and riper than the Tardieu-Laurent Rasteau, and beautifully pure. There are hints of dusky garrigue aromatics, but scarcely any sign of oak. The next day the garrigue has an almost floral lift to it, surprising in a wine so dark. First impressions on tongue are sheer velvet, and a richness of fresh dark berry rarely encountered, beautiful. This is mourvedre at its most enchanting, the wine making a nonsense of all the me-too winewriters who mistakenly say mourvedre smells of brett. Oak is there, but the weight of fruit is so great, it is hard to tease the oak out, beautifully subtle. Alcohol seems higher than the figure on the label. This remarkable wine surpasses most Chateauneuf-du-Papes in richness. One second-place. Cellar 30 – 50 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, another sensational colour, well above midway. Bouquet on this wine has an unusual dusky sensuous florality, very deep, darkest roses and beyond, plus a near-lavender garrigue aromatic lift, just enchanting. Below is again unusually dark but beautifully fresh berry, near cassis, darkest plum, hints of blackberries in the sun, plus a zingy further lift from newish oak. Palate is not quite as rich as the top wines, but still ample, velvety tannins and plush texture, wonderfully long on berry tannins more than oak. This wine too challenges many Chateauneuf-du-Papes in richness: sad that the market is realising this, and the price for the best wines from these other ranked villages now matches many Chateauneufs. Like Hommage, this wine dramatically illustrates the beauty of mourvedre when perfectly ripe. What a dramatic contrast it is to the baked and plain mataro wines that generations of Australians so thoughtlessly made from this (by them, disrespected for so long) grape. No first- or second-places. A great study wine, to cellar 25 – 40 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, a beautiful colour, just above midway in depth. Bouquet on this wine is really singing, again dark berries nearly hinting at cassis, much dark plum, a lot of herbes / garrigue aromatic lift, and fragrant near-cedary newish oak. This bouquet has real zing. In mouth the fruit richness is nearly as deep as the Rasteau, astonishing freshness and flavour, not quite as rich as the top three but in some ways fresher and more uplifting. This wine shows benchmark-quality garrigue complexity, beautiful. It captures the qualities described for the vintage superbly. Two first-places. Cellar 15 – 30 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet just, another bright appealing colour, just below midway in depth. Bouquet here is an archetypal southern Rhone blend, clear raspberry-led grenache deepened by the blending varieties, some garrigue, just a trace of stalk, the alcohol all seemingly well-hidden. Palate shows the complexing of grenache flavour by syrah, beautifully fresh, with an attractive tannin structure from older oak. The oak is hardly tasteable, in the attractive medium richness and length. This shows great district typicité, but it is not quite as exciting as the top wines, more just a reliable example of one the better wines of the southern Rhone Valley, in a good year. No first- or second-places. Cellar 10 – 25 years. GK 04/19
Bright fresh ruby, the second lightest wine. This is not a big wine, but it is near-floral and very fragrant, absolutely piquant and singing, a wine of great beauty. It is as if Tardieu-Laurent have been very closely studying Guigal's use of oak in their Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and in this wine sought to match the Guigal one exactly. Fruit notes are centred on the raspberry side of grenache, but infinitely more complex and zingy due to the relatively subtle new oak. Alcohol is superbly well hidden. Flavours are marvellous, possibly a little light compared with some of the long-term cellar wines rated more highly, yet it is delightfully sustained in mouth, and exquisitely pure. It will be accessible sooner than most, and is bound to give many people much pleasure. Fractionally oaky, but a Chateauneuf for pinot-lovers. Two second-places. Cellar 5 – 20 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, exactly midway in depth. This wine reminds of the Tardieu-Laurent Chateauneuf-du-Pape, similar bright red fruits, a fragrant garrigue lift on raspberry and some plummy aromas, but much less new oak. Flavour follows pro rata, raspberry, hints of boysenberry and dark plum, good fruit ripeness and length, scarcely any new oak, good but not remarkable concentration, perhaps fractionally richer than the Tardieu-Laurent, with some slightly darker berry notes. It is classic fresh straightforward Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Two second-places. Cellar 5 – 20 years. GK 04/19
Dense ruby, carmine and velvet, a great colour, the second deepest. Bouquet is deeper and quieter on this wine, showing darker and riper fruits, dark boysenberry and plum, just a touch of prune / sur-maturité. There is only a faint garrigue lift, and no oak vanillin to add excitement to the bouquet. At this early stage it therefore smells a bit massive. Palate is better, rich berry, dark flavours, but not heavy or dull, with remarkable length ending on the darker berry and velvety tannins of mourvedre. This will cellar well, in its more straightforward big style. In one sense it is the ‘find’ of the tasting, showing heaps of grapes per bottle, yet being markedly more affordable than some of the others. It is an imported directly by WineSeeker, and is available only from them. Two first-places, three second. Cellar 5 – 20 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, a good colour, in the middle for depth. Initially opened, this wine was uncommunicative. It benefits from double decanting, to reveal a quite big wine with darkly raspberry and plummy fruit, and quite a marked essential-oil garrigue note, getting a little unsubtle. In mouth there is rich fruit, raspberry-led flavours with both a suggestion of stalks and tannin, yet also a hint of some sur-maturité, all at this stage lacking excitement. The alcohol intrudes a bit, even though the wine is not unduly oaky. Will probably look a lot better in 10 years. One first-place. Cellar 10 – 25 years. GK 04/19
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, below midway in depth. In one sense this was the mystery wine of the tasting. It seemed attractive at opening, but by the time of presentation to the group, it came across as awkward and unknit. With more air it settled down again, with the initially-opened qualities returning. It is more aromatic than the standard wine, and gives the impression of greater oak influence, though the available information does not admit to that. There is raspberry grading to boysenberry grenache-led berry, and some garrigue. In mouth the wine shortens up, even a stalky note appearing, fractionally less rich than the standard wine, plus elements of over-ripeness too, to confuse the issue. Oak is a little too prominent, exacerbated by the elevated alcohol. My score is a fence-sitting one: this is another wine I'm sure will look a lot better in 10 years. No first- or second-places. Cellar 10 – 25 years. GK 04/19
Medium ruby, one of the lighter wines. This wine definitely needs splashy decanting a few times, being sulky freshly opened. Later when breathed, it reflects a simpler kind of grenache-led Chateauneuf-du-Pape, all raspberry, slightly stalky, only trace garrigue or oak complexity, pleasantly straightforward. Palate matches, sufficiently ripe, but lacking excitement. Concentration and depth are moderate. Despite the alcohol, the suggestion of stalk freshens the wine. Not much agreement between the reported reviews, and the taste of our bottle. No first- or second-places. Cellar 5 – 20 years. GK 04/19
Light ruby, the lightest wine. This one too needs decanting several times, to clear light reduction. It opens up to a light but in one way complex bouquet, red fruits with a hint of jujube simplicity, quite marked garrigue aromatics, but also a bay-leaf note (which is negative, in my view). Palate is raspberry grenache, a bit stalky, markedly lacking ripeness and concentration (for the vintage), no oak noticeable. Price-wise, this wine would be shamed by quite a number of better Cotes-du-Rhones. One first-place. Cellar 5 – 15 years. GK 04/19