2010 turns out to be a bit of an anomaly for the Southern Rhône
, one in which yields were tiny, on average down by a third, in some places less than that due to a difficult crop set. Weather during the spring interfered with flowering and the resulting small crop had to deal with an exceptionally dry summer (that fortunately was not excessively hot). September drifted along with usefully warm weather before rainstorms hit towards the end of the month—an event that could threaten a crop with both dilution and mold if the weather doesn’t cooperate, but cooperate it did. October continued the part set during the summer months with dry, relatively warm weather that allowed the vineyards to recover from the rains and afforded vignerons a rather wide window to pick through.
The small yields of the vintage—and small berries in some cases—should endow the wines with great richness and power, though the long hang time did allow producers ample opportunity to fully ripen the tannins. And with it’s cooling September and October nights and lack of heat spikes, the long season allowed or the fruit to be harvested with slightly higher than normal acidities. The result should be wines of great depth and richness, well structured for the cellar but also be quite charming and attractive today. In short, they should be classic wines, and while the prices are perhaps a touch higher than previous vintages, if they live up their promise one would expect the prices to increase due to the short crop.
All in all, the vintage really did seem attractive, but there’s only one way to find out, and that of course is by tasting the wines. What I found met, with some exceptions, my expectations. There was no shortage of alcohol here, but that was to be expected and has always been part of the Châteauneuf package. Several of the wines really stood out for me, in particular the Beaucastel, Clos des Papes, and Texier Vielle Vignes, which were my top three in that order.
Other wines were both impressive and enjoyable, but fell a little short of my expectations. The Vieux Telegraph in particular was a surprise,showing off notable clove and spiced oak notes that I did not expect from this heretofore traditional producer. Vieux Donjon seemed to under-perform, a little soft and loose and yet unforced, finishing with a long leanness that bodes well for future development. I would not be at all surprised to find out I have under-rated it based on its performance tonight. Of all the wines it reminded me most of the wines produced a decade or more ago, which is probably a good thing.
And finally there were the Vacqueyras, which showed well in a slightly oaky modern style, and the Gigondas, which showed the excesses of that style, plastered as it was with extraction and dry tannins, proving that even in the best of vintages there will be wines that don’t appeal to one palate or another.
Of course this was a small sample set, though with some significant names, so any comments on the vintage can only be broad-stroke generalizations, the tools of the trade for a wine writer. I would say that there is a lot to like here, though the pricing for the wines makes it difficult to recommend any but the very best and most attractively priced. One caveat is that these are ripe wines with much of the fresh red fruit typically found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape replaced with more powerful black fruits, a distinction worth noting. If you like Châteauneuf-du-Pape then very definitely start trying these wines. They are certainly attractive and may never be more affordable, but for those of you with but a passing interest in the wines of the Southern Rhône, the prices for these wines might be prohibitive. Turning your attention to the less expensive appellations such as Vacqueyras, Gigondas and the Cotes du Rhône Villages
might be a better strategy. Now on to the wines.