At the end of a challenging year across France’s wine regions, it’s great to hear that the Rhône valley has had a larger harvest than 2013, and early signs are that the 2014 wines will be ones to watch. One of the Rhône’s most renowned producers, Michel Chapoutier, has remarked that lower temperatures have contributed to the creation of wines that will demonstrate the individual character of the wines within each appellation.
Historically the Rhône has lagged behind Bordeaux and Burgundy in terms of the global popularity of its top wines but as prices have soared in both rival regions, many savvy investors as well as drinkers have turned their attention to the Rhône. Some of the appellations have become household names, widely associated with quality – wines like Châteauneuf-du-Pape can be found in any British wine merchant or even supermarket. Quality is generally high but there is great variation between wines and vintages, with 13 permitted grape varieties within the appellation. Grenache is often the dominant grape in the top wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Elsewhere in the Rhône, investment grade wines come from the historic Northern Rhône appellations of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, and Saint-Joseph. Some of the world’s finest examples of Syrah-based wines come from these regions. The practice of blending a small amount of white grapes into the wine originates from these regions, and this has been adopted most notably in Australia and California. Some amazing wines can be found from the New World, made in the Rhône style, although they won’t please every palate, in many cases the more showy and high-alcohol style wines that initially emerged have been toned down over the years.
Buying to drink
If you’re buying to drink, great value reds can be found in the Rhône as well as extraordinarily fresh aromatic white wines and rich, honeyed dessert wines. It’s worth diving in at the deep end to see what style you like – Syrah-based reds tend to have a deep, dark, berry flavour and a characteristic hint of white pepper, and they can age majestically. But if Syrah isn’t your style, there is plenty more on offer from the Rhône.
Watch this space
As an investor it’s undoubtedly worth keeping an eye on the region – Robert Parker turned his attention to the Rhône some years ago, demonstrating great passion for the region’s sultry, brooding reds. This inevitably placed the spotlight on the region, but prices have not inflated at the rate of Burgundy and Bordeaux. There are still relative bargains to be found. Producers are optimistic about what 2014 will bring, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on these wines when they are released.