Like most of my Wednesday features, this post is aimed at the two thirds or so of MidWeek Wine's subscribers looking to discover a bit more about wine.
In short, it goes beyond recommending what to buy and tries to underline why you should buy it.
Today’s look below that surface turns the spotlight on the Rhone Valley and the 2018 vintage in particular.
Reports on that year seem to vary appreciably.
Some contend that it was “outstanding” and suggest that it “must count as one of the great vintages” while others were less positive – especially about yields (which, almost certainly, will mean higher prices for consumers).
The year actually started well with a wet winter replenishing water reserves and good fruit set in the early spring.
However, disaster struck in June when heavy rainfall led to serious attacks of mildew wiping out up to 50% of the potential crop in the worst cases.
The Southern Rhone experienced something of a “double whammy” – the weather seems to have been wetter there and the mildew appeared to affect grenache more than syrah.
Grenache is a major player in the Southern Rhone whereas the North is almost exclusively syrah.
Things picked up in both parts of the Rhone from July onwards though with a very hot summer and sunny (and, in the Northern Rhone, especially quick) harvest time.
Heat means ripe fruit and, thus, rich juicy flavours and softer tannins but, on the other side of the grape equation, higher sugar levels from the ripening process often coincides with a reduction in the concentration of acids.
Frequently, the result is intense, rich fruit but only limited acidic zing – and it can also mean that wines are ready earlier but may not keep well.
However, to celebrate all the good points of the vintage, The Wine Society have created an Everyday Rhone promotion which, provided stocks last, will run through to 8 March.
Here is one great value option from that promotion.
2018 Grignan-les-Adhémar, Delas (£8.50 at The Wine Society and 13.5% abv)
Dark and complex, this has bright and smooth black cherry, plum and loganberry fruit with firm tannin, a savoury backdrop that also includes touches of clove, eucalyptus and black pepper but – despite its ripeness – good acidity too.
These guys are sited at the northern end of the Southern Rhone – which, presumably, is why there is no (heat loving) mourvedre in the blend – and thus may have escaped the worst of the weather.
They also have vineyards in the Northern Rhone and, hence, may have particular expertise with syrah.
Good but inexpensive 2018 options can also be found elsewhere and here are three.
2018 Chateau de Ruth Cotes du Rhone (£10 at the Co-op and 14.5%)
Good acidity is also a feature here where it enlivens the wines soft, medium bodied plum and cherry fruit which, in turn, is accompanied by suggestions of clove and liquorice and by nicely balanced tannin.
2018 Cotes du Rhone (£6 at M&S and 14.5%)
With damson and bramble fruit, this is a great value choice that combines savoury edged depth with hints of mint and baking spice and firm tannin. It represents an excellent introduction to the vintage.
And for whites
Very hot weather does not always suit grapes destined for white wines but that does not seem a major issue for 2018 Rhones – although low yields may limit supply.
To get a sense of the quality on display, take a look this blend of white grenache and viognier.
2018 Les Dauphins Cȏtes du Rhȏne Blanc (£8 at Tesco and 13%):
Enjoy this fragrant and textured white with quince and ripe melon fruit, evolving zesty, orange influenced acidity but contrasting touches of peach and a herbal, nutty finish.
SO, IN SUMMARY:
- Keep a sharp look out for 2018 vintage Rhone.
- Its reds should be rich and ripe but may have limited acidity.
- These wines may be best drunk young.
- Northern Rhone should be spectacular but, inevitably, expensive – Crozes Hermitage may the best option for those with tight budgets.
- Lower yields may make Southern Rhone reds dearer this year.
Keen students of this site’s Comments section will know that Lidl recently had a promotion in some parts of the UK on its Rastau red.
I had not sampled it at that stage but have now put that right.
It is excellent fare and justifies being included in this look at the Rhone even though it is two years older than the wines that form today’s primary focus.
Rasteau is a Southern Rhone village north east of Chateauneuf du Pape that was only promoted from Cotes du Rhone Villages status to having its own appellation in 2009.
Concentrated and with firm tannin, 2016 Domaine de la Combe Dieu Rasteau (£10.99 at Lidl and 15%) has blackberry, cherry and mulberry fruit with good acidity and attractive clove, oregano and mocha components but, above all, with really impressive mineral depth.
Back on Friday folks with a couple of good value suggestions to brighten your weekend.
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