Following on the heels of the much lauded 2009 vintage, the 2010 Northern Rhones are being offered all over the place, with both high scores and high prices as well. A historically small crop resulted from a cool wet spring, that then enjoyed alternating periods of heat and freshness throughout the summer of 2010 producing wines that promise to bring both power and elegance to the table.

2009 is probably a more powerful, and perhaps initially impressive vintage based on a growing season that imbued the wines with huge power and concentration, though perhaps some cooked flavors as well, but 2010 promises to be different. How different? Well that was the question me and one of my tasting groups set out to answer when we put together a small tasting of wines from 2010, following up on last year's dip in these waters.I've always been a big fan of Syrah, particularly when grown in the northern Rhone, though my interest has waned over the years as the wines began to taste more like SYRAH! and less like the Northern Rhone. More power, alcohol, oak and sweetness have been creeping into my Northern Rhone Syrahs each vintage, and frankly that is not what I'm looking for.

Syrah should combine some fruit with all the savory goodness it's capable of. That savoriness has been deemed defective by many of the powers that be. Not just in Syrah, where olive and game flavors should be treasured, but also in Cabernet Franc and Carmenere, which evidently should taste like pencils ground into blackberry jam rather than the blend of fresh currant and herb that I enjoy.

The world has in fact gone a little mad when it comes to the wines that can celebrate savory, and I was hoping to discover some holdouts during this tasting, and indeed I did. A much debated Texier!  His Dom. Pergaud Brezeme Vielles Serines was the standout wine of the tasting for me, though admittedly it was second from the last for the group as a whole!

For the most part the wines tasted broke down into three groups. The top four wines, which were excellent and full of Northern Rhone Syrahiness, the next three wines which suffered a bit from extraction or were just a bit lacking in excitement, and the last wine which was dreadful! Offensively oaky and just abysmally bad. And that just might reflect the state of the Northern Rhone wine industry, though in different proportions. As is typical around the world, there are too many extracted wines and too many massively oaken wines for my palate, but just like my skilled wine friends did here, with careful selection you can still find some winners out there.

2010 Texier Dom. Pergaud Brezeme Vielles Serines

Produced from 60 to 70 year old vines

My 1st place wine, the group's 7th

Funky on the nose at first with some diesel notes then this turns pepper with green peppercorn notes over grilled meat topped with some crushed juniper and a hint of wood. This is savory right off the bat with layers of cut cherry, peppercorn, boysenberry and mineral flavors that are supported by a lean, tight framework of crisp acidity and polished tannins. Long not he finish and with a restrained power this just makes me want to keep drinking it, though in truth the best is to come. Give this 2-5 years in the cellar. 92pts

2010 Burgaud Cote Rotie

My 2nd place wine, the group's 1st

Wide open and full of black pepper dusted black cherry fruit on the nose this smells sweet, clean and a touch modern. A bit soft on entry and then fairly tannic with a chewy, inky  mineral and blueberry palate that shows excellent balance and density, again in a slightly modern style. 91pts

2010 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Ampodium

My 3rd place wine, the group's 4th

Tight and a bit reduced on the nose, this opens slowly to reveal a nice white pepper top note over fresh mineral flecked raspberry aromas. Elegant and refined in the mouth with an appealing transparency to the mulberry tinged fruit that is framed with nuanced mint and balsamic notes. This is a bit front loaded in the mouth with high toned fruit and a moderately long finish that shows peppery edged to the modestly dense fruit. 90pts

2010 Franck Balthazar Cornas Chaillots

My 4th place wine, the group's 2nd

Just beautiful on the nose with fresh aromas of violets, black pepper and sweet crushed fruit. Perhaps a touch soft on entry, this firms up in the mouth with fine grained tannins and good acidity supporting slightly gamy and slightly astringent red berry fruit that has a slightly inky feel on the backend and shows fine persistence to the fruit through the moderately long finish. This needs some time to find better focus. 90pts

2010 J. L. Chave St. Joseph

My 5th place wine, the group's 5th

Clean and high toned on the nose with a hint of wood sweetness and spice accenting nice black cherry fruit. Rich, fleshy and dense on entry, this shows good power and length to the concentrated black fruits in the mouth though it does turn a bit flat and dull on the backend before hitting a wall of tannins that clips the finish. Ultimately a bit simple and trying to make up for it with power. 87pts

2010 Clusel-Roch Cote Rotie

My 6th place wine, the group's 6th

A bit simple on the nose with some reduction blowing off revealing simple red cherry fruit framed with notes of meat and earth and topped with some new wood sweetness. This stats out tight in the mouth with faint if transparent raspberry fruit then softens with air. This does have a natural feel to it and once one looks beyond the woody accents there is a classic, if small scaled Cote Rotie here. 87pts

2010 Clape Cornas Renaissance

My 7th place wine, the group's 3rd

This has a wonderful nose filled with meat, floral mint, and green olive aromas all topped with a nice dash of cracked pepper. On entry this is filled with dusty tannins supporting stiff fruit that shows a nice blend of concentration and minerality but this does lack some acidity and finishes fairly quickly showing some heat and clumsy extraction on the finish. 85pts

2010 Domaine Garon Cote Rotie Les Rochains

Smelling of suntan lotion, ginger, toast and coconut this is offensively oaken. On entry this is all about sweet oak and the mid-palate is matte as night and packed with wood tannin and toasty flavors. One senses that there might be a fine base wine here but this is abysmally over-oaked. 70pts