This report is Part 2 of the Southern Rhône coverage and focuses on appellations outside of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Cairanne, and Lirac as well as Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages. Readers should read the article LE MILLÉSIME… The 2016s from the Southern Rhône (Part 1) for an overview of the 2016 and 2017 vintages. To reiterate, 2016 is an extraordinary vintage for the Southern Rhône, and these wines should be snatched up by readers. All the wines reviewed in this report were tasted in June 2018, both at domaine visits and larger tastings.
Southern Rhône Appellations
GIGONDAS – Gigondas was created in 1971 and sits at the base of the limestone cliffs known as the Dentelles de Montmirail. As Louis Barruol of Saint Cosme told me once, this is limestone territory, and the appellation covers 2,500 acres with vineyards spread from the higher altitude, cooler limestone soils at the base of the cliffs to the gradual slope and more clay soils stretching out from the village of Gigondas towards the L’Ouveze river. This is a cooler appellation, and harvest typically runs upward of 1-2 weeks later than Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the warmer appellations of Vacqueyras, Rasteau, and Cairanne. The traditional wines from this region possess ample savory, cedar, spice and dried garrigue characteristics as well as a structured, tannic feel on the palate. In general, most Gigondas will benefit from short-term cellaring and have 10-15 years of aging potential.
VACQUEYRAS – The appellation of Vacqueyras lies to the west of Gigondas and covers 3,200 acres, mostly located on the Plateau de Garrigues just behind the village. This is a relatively homogeneous terroir consisting of rolled stones and pebbly, clay soils, and the appellation allows reds, whites, and rosés to be produced. As I’ve said in the past, the reds from Vacqueyras tend to share similarities with those from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, yet rarely possess as much structure, concentration, or depth. Nevertheless, the top wines are gorgeous, with approachable, voluptuous, and sexy profiles that drink beautifully for upward of a decade.
RASTEAU – Located on steep, south-facing slopes and mostly clay soils, Rasteau produces deep, concentrated wines that have distinct minerality to go with savory, chocolaty, earthy aromatics. While most drink well on release, the best can easily keep for 10-15 years. It’s worth pointing out that while the region was known in the past for making more rustic, alcoholic wines, that’s no longer the case, and the wines today show much more polish, elegance, and balance. The top wines are a match for anything coming out of the Southern Rhône Valley today.
CAIRANNE – Covering 2,300 acres to the west of Rasteau and north from Vacqueyras and Gigondas, Cairanne is a warmer region that has plenty of similarities to Rasteau with its vineyards on more gradual slopes and clay soils, with more silt and pebble soils as you get closer to the Aygues River. These fruit-loaded, ripe, sexy wines are mostly geared toward drinking in their first decade of life.
SABLET / SEGURET – Both Sablet and Séguret are located northeast of Gigondas and are located on the northwest facing slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The soils here can be slightly sandier around the villages but are dominated by limestone (very similar to Gigondas) as you move into the higher elevation vineyards. Both appellations produce reds, whites, and rosés.
LIRAC – Covering 1,900 acres on the western side of the Rhône River (along with Tavel, Laudun, Duché d’Uzès, Côtes du Vivarais, and Costières de Nîmes), Lirac is another appellation that produces red, white and rosé wines. The soils are similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and consist primarily of clay and rolled pebble soils, but due to its location closer to the Rhône River, it sees slightly more variable weather. While the wines here can be more erratic than in other appellations, the quality has continued to rise dramatically over the past 5-10 years, and there are more and more impressive wines coming from the region. Also, the whites from Lirac can be brilliant and hidden gems.
VINSOBRES – This up and coming region lies to the north of Vaison-la-Romaine and is a cooler, windy region that needs to be on the reader’s radar. While the wines have to include 50% Grenache, Syrah is more center stage in this appellation, and I always find a Northern Rhône-like quality in the acidity and tannins. Also, with the race to cooler terroirs in the Southern Rhône due to climate change, there are more and more top producers looking at Vinsobres (and Visan), and the best is yet to come from this region.
VISAN – Visan in located in the northern part of the appellation, not far from Vinsobres, and is a cooler, windswept region getting more and more attention from top producers throughout the region (both from the north and south).
VENTOUX – Ventoux is a massive region and covers 14,500 acres starting just east of Beaumes-de-Venise and going all the way to the south of Mount Ventoux. In general, this appellation produces spicy, peppery, at times cooler climate-styled wines which are based largely on Grenache and Syrah. It’s difficult to talk about similarities in the terroirs due to the diversity and size of the appellation, but it’s worth pointing out that Ventoux lies on the eastern edge of what’s considered to be Rhône-influenced. The more southern/eastern region is largely sheltered by Mount Ventoux, which can lead to very different weather and vintage characteristics than the other Southern Rhône appellations. There are some brilliant wines coming from this region as well as serious values.
COSTIERES DE NIMES – Costières de Nîmes is located on the western side of the Rhône River and borders Tavel and Lirac in the north, Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc in the west, and the sandy soils of the Camargue and the Mediterranean Sea in the south. The terroir here is primarily rolled pebbles yet includes plenty of smaller micro-terroirs. In addition, the more northerly part of the appellation produces a more masculine, Rhône-like style of wine, with vineyards located closer to the Mediterranean Sea yielding more fresh, lively wines. This is another under-the-radar appellation that is packed with serious wines that by and large are underpriced for their quality.
COTES DU RHONE / COTES DU RHONE VILLAGES – The Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages classification is impossible to generalize and includes cheap, generic supermarket bottlings all the way up to wines that would rival a top Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a blind tasting. As a whole, these appellations can be treasure troves of value-priced wines for the savvy shopper.
Looking at previous vintages from the Southern Rhône, the 2014s are charming, moderately concentrated, generally quaffable wines that are perfect for restaurants and drinking over the coming 7-8 years. They have drunk beautifully since release and very few have the depth and concentration for any long-term aging. The 2013s show more angular, concentrated profiles, without the charm and suppleness of the 2014s. These can be hit or miss, but there are certainly some impressive wines in the vintage. Nevertheless, this is not my favorite vintage for the Rhône Valley.
The 2012s are underrated in the market and possess a charming, upfront, concentrated style not too dissimilar from the 2006s. These have drunk well since release and most are starting to hit prime time yet have another decade of longevity. There are few true superstars in the vintage, yet the wines shine for their texture, balance, and sheer charm. An early maturing vintage, the 2011s come from a hot, incredibly sunny year, and the wines are packed with sweet fruit and beautiful Provençal characters. Similar in style to the more concentrated 2009s, drink these any time over the coming 4-6 years.
In contrast to the charming 2011s, the 2010s are serious, concentrated, classic wines built for the ages. Now at age 8, the classic and entry-level cuvées are starting to drink beautifully, with some maturity, and the top wines are just now at the early stages of their drinking windows and still youthful. These are fabulous wines readers should be thrilled to have in the cellar. Along with 2007 and 2016, 2010 is one of the greatest vintages ever for the Southern Rhône.
Another strong vintage, the 2009 vintage shares lots of similarities with 2011, although with an additional level of depth, richness, and concentration. I loved the wines from barrel, thought a little less of them from bottle, and now continue to waffle back and forth with each bottle I drink. Ahead of ’04, ’06, and ’08, These are incredibly Provençal wines loaded with sweet red fruits, garrigue, and herbes de Provence-like aromas and flavors. Most are mature and drinking beautifully today and are best drunk over the coming 4-6 years, although top wines will keep longer.
The 2008s are unquestionably the weakest since 2002. This vintage produced moderately concentrated, charming, forward wines that were best enjoyed in their first decade of life. Nevertheless, the wines aged nicely on their balance and still offer pleasure today.
Fully mature, the 2007s are spectacular wines that deliver everything you could want from the Southern Rhône. A cool, even vintage, the wines are as concentrated as the 2010s and 2016s, yet have an incredibly rich, expansive, and hedonistic style that’s truly singular. There’s no need to delay gratification (I’ve largely drunk through my stash) but the top wines will unquestionably continue evolving gracefully on their concentration and balance.
A vintage that flew under the radar, the 2006s today are fully mature (and they’ve shown spectacularly well since release) and offer classic, textured, incredibly Provençal styles that just beg to be drunk. I don’t see any upside here and would drink these over the coming 4-5 years. The 2005s can be hit or miss at this point, with a number possessing firm, angular tannins and a touch of austerity. Nevertheless, there are some brilliant wines in the vintage which will be very long lived.
The 2004s are fully mature and have fresh, vibrant, mid-weight profiles. Given their higher acids, these wines will certainly continue to keep in cold cellars, but there is no upside. The 2003s can be erratic at this point and are unquestionably fully mature. There are some true superstars in the vintage that have plenty of life ahead of them, but it’s another vintage with no upside. From a vintage devastated by torrential rains and floods at harvest, the 2002s are best drunk up.
One of the most classic, age-worthy vintages in the 2000s, the 2001s are fully mature today and drinking beautifully. This was a slightly cooler vintage and the wines have everything: classic aromas and flavors, beautiful richness, and notable focus and length. Don’t make the mistake of holding these wines too long as they’re at the end of the prime drinking window (at least for those that like fruit in their wines) and are not getting better. In comparison, the 2000s have always been more open, Provençal, and sexy compared to the more classic 2001. While the 2001s closed down after release, the 2000s have been open and accessible for the majority of their life. Today, these wines are fully mature, with most best already consumed. Still, the top wines offer pleasure and this is unquestionably a beautiful vintage.
A Word on Drink Windows:
One of the most common questions I’m asked is when to drink the wines. I struggle with this, as there’s no “wrong” time to open a bottle. Today, even the most serious, age-worthy wines offer pleasure in their youth due to better vineyard management and winemaking techniques. In addition, one person’s mature is another person’s over the hill. Nevertheless, I list a rough guideline below for the wines from the Southern Rhône:
Châteauneuf du Papes: While enjoyable on release, top vintages start to show well roughly 5-7 years after the vintage and can last for upward of 20 years. I know of no Châteauneuf du Pape (or any southern Rhône) that will continue to improve for 20 years or more after the vintage.
Gigondas: The more limestone soils and cooler climate of Gigondas result in wines that have more pronounced tannin than other appellations in the Southern Rhône. As such, most are best with at least 2-4 years of cellaring and will continue to drink well for a decade or more after that. As with Châteauneuf du Pape, after 20 years beyond the vintage, a few wines can certainly hold, but they’re not improving.
Vacqueyras: While the terroir of Vacqueyras is like Châteauneuf du Pape, the wines never have the underlying structure of that appellation (or Gigondas for that matter) and excel on their upfront, charming and fruit-loaded style. In general, these wines are best drunk within a decade of the vintage. Top years can be safely cellared for 10-15 years.
Cairanne: Cairanne shares plenty of similarities to Vacqueyras and produces a charming, front-end loaded style of wine best drunk within a decade of the vintage. Most are at their sweet spot starting 2-3 years after the vintage.
Rasteau: Consisting of more hillside vineyards and clay soils, the wines of Rasteau run the gamut from forward, fruity wines to serious, concentrated, age-worthy wines. The top wines can keep for 15-20 years after the vintage.
Ventoux, Sablet, Séguret: In general, these wines are best enjoyed in their youth, yet there are exceptions, particularly in the Ventoux and Séguret.
Lirac: Located just across the River from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, on the western side of the Rhône, Lirac produces charming wines that lack the tannin structure of its nearest neighbor. The clear majority are best enjoyed in their first decade of life.
Costières de Nîmes: This up and coming appellation produces charming, fruit-loaded wines that are best enjoyed in their first 7-8 years of life. There are a few serious wines being produced that can keep for a decade or more.
A Word on Prices:
It’s always a struggle to provide prices for imports that are tasted outside the United States, and too many producers in France have no idea what their wines sell for around the world. Below is a rough guideline for what you should expect to pay.
|Cairanne||$20 – $35|
|Châteauneuf du Pape||$40 – $75|
|Châteauneuf du Pape Special Cuvees||$60 – $150+|
|Costières de Nîmes||$12 – $35|
|Côtes du Rhône||$12 – $30|
|Côtes du Rhône Villages||$12 – $35|
|Gigondas||$30 – $55|
|Gigondas Special Cuvees||$45 – $100|
|Lirac||$18 – $35|
|Rasteau||$20 – $35|
|Sablet/Séguret||$12 – $25|
|Vacqueyras||$25 – $35|
|Ventoux||$12 – $35|
|Vinsobres||$18 – $35|
As I’ve written in the past, 2016 is an extraordinary vintage for the Southern Rhône Valley and you are going to want these wines in your cellar.