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2016 SOUTHERN RHÔNE CLOSE-UP

2016 LIRAC REDS

Another slam dunk SOUTHERN RHÔNE vintage occurred at LIRAC with their REDs in 2016. The wines hold major richness, properly good body, are long, really well extended, and also carry flair in their delivery. It is a cracking vintage, one of deep colour, gusto, racy fruit, lovely suave richness. I recommend it thoroughly.

The growing conditions were pretty serene, although MARINE ROUSSEL of the biodynamic DOMAINE DU JONCIER told me: “the extremely mild winter of 2015-16 encouraged black rot, and there was also flavescence dorée [a bacterium whose vector is a grasshopper; it hits yields and can kill vines, origin Armagnac, the grasshopper USA] circulating. The trouble is people are demanding insecticides be used against it, but you should be putting life into the vines, not the reverse.”

EARLY YEAR RAINS HELPED OUT THE VINEYARD DURING DRY JULY-AUGUST

The summer saw good weather, with the rain more early than late, which helped the vineyards get through July and August. PASCAL LAFOND of the organic DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-EPINE related: “the balance is the main thing this year, and the ripeness very interesting. Rain at the end of June helped the vineyard through the dry conditions of July and August; it was starting to suffer from drought stress just before the harvest. The wines are complex, have a lot of finesse and elegance. 2016 has less tannin than 2015, and better balance.  2016 is a year that is good for LIRAC as a whole, since the wines can be drunk now, in 2018, so there’s no need to wait, unlike 2015.”

HIGH DEGREES APPARENT

There was one interruption to harvesting in mid-September, when a rain storm produced 65 mm [2.6 in], but otherwise there was a smooth transition from vineyard to cellar. High degree was apparent here and there, which has resulted in many wines putting 15° on their labels – indicating over 15°.

This was confirmed by THIÉRRY USSEGLIO of DOMAINE PIERRE USSEGLIO & FILS, whose wines always carry good, bustling fruit: “we ended the harvest on 22 September,” he recounted. “The GRENACHE came in at 15° to 15.5°. The year was similar in profile to CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE – no hail or anything, and no rain between 14 July and 15 August.”

CINSAULT INCLUSION HELPFUL IN BALANCING OUT HIGH DEGREE

There’s enough of the wines’ richness to take care of such degrees often at 15°. I also noted the adroit use of CINSAULT – 10% can be useful – in wines such as the **** DOMAINE DES MURETINS THE **** CLOS DES SERÈNES [20% CINSAULT] and the **** CHÂTEAU DE BOUCHASSY QUATUOR. There was also notable finesse in the tannins from the ****(*) DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-EPINE LA FERME ROMAINE and **** CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON BARON LOUIS.

MAGNIFICENT MOURVÈDRE

All varieties performed well this year, and with the late beautiful weather, the MOURVÈDRE came through with great maturity. PATRICK BRUNEL of the stylish CHÂTEAU SAINT-ROCH pointed this out: “it’s a very beau vintage, with the MOURVÈDRE magnificent – the land is well suited to that, the limestone deposits [éboulis] at SAINT-GENIÈS-DE-COMOLAS are good for it.”

2016 NEXT TO 2015

Several growers made comparisons and offsets with the 2015 vintage. First of all, JEAN-FRÉDÉRIC BISTAGNE of the biodynamic DOMAINE DES MARAVILHAS: “2016 will be good; it connects to 2015, is flattering, has spine, and a firm freshness.” This domaine is one to note; JEAN-FRÉDÉRIC works in the old biodynamic DOMAINE DUSEIGNEUR cellars. His wines are well-fruited, have ageing potential, and the interesting range includes CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, though that is 100% SYRAH, which makes me hesitant.

Next, RICHARD MABY of DOMAINE MABY: “2016 is very beau,” he told me. “The 2015 reds are great, I adore them, and I note they have been well marked by the Americans. The 2015s are robust wines with more concentration than in 2016, which is more on the finesse, and which has better balance, along with less tannin, and more supple tannins than 2015. Both vintages can live well, 2016 with the freshness that characterises it, and I actually think it will age further than 2015, though that is not an obvious statement.”

2016 IS A CLASSIC VINTAGE

RODOLPHE DE PINS of CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON was also enthusiastic: “2016 is a classic vintage; it has very good intensity, with ripeness and freshness at the same time. I worried that the reds would have a jam side to them, but the tannins are fresh – I had been fearing a re-run of 2003. There’s a good balance between fruit, tannin and freshness, a silken side to the wines.”

DOMAINE COUDOULIS

Among the names that readers may be less tuned in to, I highlight the DOMAINE COUDOULIS, their vineyards on galet stone covered clay-limestone soils at SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES.

There are now three cuvées, starting with the DÉDICACE, a vat raised wine for drinking young, which I first tasted in 2016, then the authentic ***(*) EVIDENCE, which is the big volume wine [40,000 bottles], up to 70% GRENACHE, and lastly, the ****(*) HOMMAGE [10,000 bottles], a wine of impressive length, the 2016 just on the sipping side of town, but capable of showing well over nearly two decades. This is 65-70% mid-1960s GRENACHE, with 30-35% SYRAH, that part of the wine raised in one-year old casks. The EVIDENCE and HOMMAGE 2016s were a step up in quality over the 2015s.

CLOS DES SERÈNES, JULIEN DAUMAS

Someone who started in 2014 is JULIEN DAUMAS who has named his 2.7 hectare domaine the CLOS DES SERÈNES. He is not from a viticultural or agricultural milieu, but always wanted to work the land. Having done wine studies, he has worked at the biodynamic DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE for the past few years – and continues to do so.

His vineyard was planted in 1966, all with GOBELET training of the vines, on classic SAINT LAURENT DES ARBRES sandy soils. There is no SYRAH, the four variety blend being 60% GRENACHE, 20% CINSAULT, 10% MOURVÈDRE, 10% CARIGNAN. Wild yeasts, only pumping overs, SO2 only applied at bottling, no fining or filtration – this is good, “quiet” wine that for now is sold locally.

“The sandy soils give wines that are en finesse, which suits my style,” he tells me. “I want my wines to be simple, elegant and digestible. 2016 is very rich, concentrated, on alcohol and heat. 2014 was a lot more Burgundian.”

When one observes the mildew challenges of 2018, and the coulure deficit engendered on the GRENACHE in 2017, it is right to rejoice in the mighty bounty of a vintage such as 2016. THESE YEARS DO NOT COME ALONG LIKE LONDON BUSES – THREE AT A TIME! Balance and harmony, and deep filling - it’s as much as one can wish for, so these wines should be stocked somewhere in your cellar, with the magnum size a great move, allowing a really long life over 20+ years.

LEADING 2016 LIRAC REDS

****(*) Domaine Coudoulis Hommage 2032-34 10/18 soaked, smooth, very long
****(*) Dom Lafond Roc-Epine Ferme Romaine 2028-30 08/18 expressive, iron, nerve, length
****(*) Dom des Maravilhas Pierre Josette 2031-33 09/18 suave, stylish, cool, gt length
****(*) Domaine de Marcoux La Lorentine 2038-40 05/19 delicious fruit, harmonious tannins, V
****(*) Dom de la Mordorée Reine des Bois 2034-36 10/18 vigour, bounty, engaging, long
**** Castel Oualou Signature 2022-23 07/17 copious, fleshy, unctuous 
**** Château de Bouchassy Quatuor   2027-29 08/18 lithe, fresh, intricate, character 
**** Château La Genestière  2027-29 09/18 gourmand, spice, polished, tasty 
**** Chât de Montfaucon Baron Louis  2030-32 08/18 aromatic, finesse, detail, balance
**** Chât Montfaucon M Le Baron de Montf 2032-34 08/18 elegant, cool, floral, expressive 
**** Château Mont-Redon   2030-32 10/18 tasty, modern, lively bustling 
**** Château Saint-Roch Palmes  2027-28 08/18 natural energy, pedigree fruit 
**** Clos des Serènes   2027-29 10/18 wholesome, genuine, local, long 
**** Domaine Amido Hommage  2030-32 10/18 fluid gras, sunny texture 
**** Domaine Coudoulis Dédicace  2027-29 10/18 stylish, juicy, shapely, enjoyable 
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine   2028-30 08/18 discreetly robust, long, detailed 
**** Domaine La Lôyane Elie  2027-29 09/18 suave gras, ample, oaked 
**** Domaine La Lôyane Marie  2027-29 09/18 big, filled, oaked, authentic 
**** Domaine Maby Nessun Dorma  2030-32 09/18 savoury, tasty, detailed length 
**** Dom des Maravilhas Canto-Bruno  2030-32 09/18 full, gourmand, enjoyable, long 
**** Domaine des Maravilhas Pradau  2032-33 09/18 crisp Syrah, inner strength 
**** Dom de la Mordorée Dame Rousse  2031-33 10/18 vivid, vigour, balanced 
**** Dom Moulin la Viguerie Falaises Braise 2028-30 08/18 aromatic, silk, shapely, restraint
**** Domaine des Muretins  2024-25 08/18 smashing fruit, zest, w.o.w. 
**** Plateau des Chênes Le Temps…  2031-33 08/18 suave richness, oaking, long 
**** Rocca Maura Terra Ancestra   2025-26 08/18 free, juiced, generous, oaked 
***(*) Château d’Aquéria   2027-28 09/18 fine fruit, juicy, polite 
***(*) Château de Montfaucon  2028-29 08/18 fluid, squeezy, gentle, charm 
***(*) Château Saint-Roch  2027-29 08/18 juicy flow, quiet close 
***(*) Château Saint-Roch Confidentielle  2031-33 08/18 full, gourmand, fat, stately 
***(*) Chât de Trinquevedel Le Sablon  2029-31 09/18 stylish, dark, fine, long 
***(*) A Jaume Dom du Clos de Sixte  2027-29 08/18 spice, grounded, thorough, power 
***(*) Domaine Coudoulis Evidence   2027-28 10/18 rolling fruit, keen tannin, authentic 
***(*) Domaine La Font de Notre Dame  2025-27 09/18 appealing sweetness, pleasure, genuine 
***(*) Domaine Maby Bel Canto  2031-33 09/18 rich, weighted, spiced, oaked 
***(*) Domaine Maby La Fermade  2030-32 09/18 vivid, immediate, disjointed, fresh 
***(*) Roger Sabon Lirac by Roger Sabon  2026-28 09/17 enjoyable, savoury, refined
***(*) Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils  2028-30 09/18 spiced, close-knit, power 
***(*) Plateau des Chênes  2028-30 08/18 soft, ample, Redondo, plush 
*** M Chapoutier   2027-29 08/18 swish, supple, high degree  
*** Dom des Causses Reserve Syrah  2024-25 10/18 aromatic fruit, mild, escapist 
*** Domaine Corne-Loup Gouverneur  2029-31 09/18 savoury, quiet, bit plain 
*** Domaine Pelaquié  2022 08/18 suave, supple, instant, OK 
*** Gdes Serres Dom des Cigalouns  2022 06/18 instant juice, bit high degree 
*** Ogier Lou Caminé  2024-25 10/18 squeezy content, plump 
*** Vignerons Tavel Hauts d'Acantalys  2024-25 08/18 dark fruit, oak on top 
**(*) Château de Ségriès  2024-25 09/18 country wine, dry end 
**(*) Dom Castel Oualou Réserve Chêne  2024-25 10/18 oak toffee, plain, bit thin 
**(*) Ogier Héritages  2026-27 10/18 savoury, spiced, but dour 
**(*) Vignobles Boudinaud La Saumière  2021 08/18 supple, sweet, top heavy 

 

2016 LIRAC WHITES

2016 is hailed as a great vintage at LIRAC, both for the REDs and the WHITEs. The latter are rich and shapely, with a touch more freshness than the concentrated 2015s, more body than the free n’easy 2014s and a superior balance to the sometimes intense, low harvest 2017s.

RICHARD MABY of DOMAINE MABY favours 2016 over 2017, albeit stating that 2018 for LIRAC BLANC is “exceptional, its perfumes lighting up my cellar.” RODOLPHE DE PINS of CHÂTEAU DE MONTFAUCON holds a similar view: “2016 is a very GRANDE ANNÉE,” he states, a little less heated than 2017, with better acidity.”

Note the length on the best wines, and their ability, as usual from LIRAC, to accompany a good, wide range of dishes that can take in spices, garlic-based dishes – their southern fat up to those influences, while also pairing well with steamed fish dishes, pure flavours – the elegance achieved by the best domaines suitable for those.

I would venture that the 2016s can evolve pretty well over eight to 12 years, as well, so don’t worry about forgotten half cases in a corner of the cellar.  

LEADING 2016 LIRAC WHITES

****(*) Chât de Montfaucon Vin Mme la Comtesse 2025-27 09/17 old vines class, truth
****(*) Domaine Maby Casta Diva 2024-25 06/17 very stylish, fab length
**** Château de Bouchassy Magnolia 2019 09/17 fresh, immediate, enjoyable
**** Chât de Montfaucon Comtesse Madeleine 2022-23 09/17 delightfully mineral, stylish
**** Domaine Maby La Fermade 2021-22 06/17 lovely fat, juicy, fun, V
**** Domaine des Carabiniers 2022-23 08/18 nutty, lithe, intricate, naked
**** Dom de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois 2028-29 10/18 gutsy, weighted, full, long
**** Plateau des Chênes 2023-24 05/18 pleasing fat, dance, style
**** Domaine La Rocalière le Classique 2025-27 05/18 care, style, compact content
**** Cave des Vins du Cru Lirac Tradition 2019 06/17 charming, shapely, gd detail
***(*) Château d’Aquéria 2023-24 10/18 good depth, fine, tender
***(*) Château La Genestière 2022-23 08/18 savoury, delicious, oaked
***(*) Château Saint-Roch 2020-21 05/17 pears, gas, southern texture
***(*) Château Saint-Roch Confidentielle 2023-24 05/17 tight, cool, dumb, oaked
***(*) Domaine Corne-Loup 2021-22 05/18 plump heart, quiet quality
***(*) Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine 2021-22 08/17 zesty, grippy, local body
***(*) Mas Isabelle Blanc Roc 2023-24 10/18 firm, chunky, nutty, one-off
*** Domaine Castel Oualou 2019 09/17 easy, spiced, genuine
*** Rocca Maura 2019 08/17 mild, low-key, escapist


2016 VACQUEYRAS REDS

 

IRRIGATION OF YOUNG GRENACHE NEXT TO 1955 GRENACHE OF CHÂTEAU DES ROQUES ON LES GARRIGUES SUD

VACQUEYRAS is a frustrating appellation, given that it ascended to cru status as long ago as 1990. It still lacks a really solid bedrock of reliable domaines, where quality is assured from one year to the next. CAIRANNE, by contrast, only three years’ old as a cru, can offer around 25 domaines of trustworthy standards. After all, they were the top two CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES in 1989, but CAIRANNE took forever, amidst local arguments, to deposit its application.

GIGONDAS, cru from 1971, did not hit the ground running, either, but I feel there is way more than 19 years’ worth of extra expertise and accomplishment between the two appellations, and also more of a noticeable sense of togetherness across the vigneron and vigneronne community of GIGONDAS. Impetus there has come in the form of a terroir map several years ago now, consciousness of different soils across the appellation, tourism [admittedly from a beauty and allure angle, it’s GIGONDAS 5 VACQUEYRAS 0], outdoor picnics and food events, walks, cycling, even the book on GIGONDAS with which I collaborated. VACQUEYRAS has very few runs on the board in comparison.

2016: VERY SUCCESSFUL

While starting on a downbeat note, therefore, it is worth stating that 2016 is a successful vintage for VACQUEYRAS. The leading names have done well, and peeking out are some names off the usual track that are promising. From a merchant’s point of view, there was sound enough wine available to allow the likes of CHAPOUTIER to present accomplished, **** level wine in 2016.

HELD BACK BY UNEVEN CO-OPERATIVE QUALITY

Every southern appellation needs a thriving, high grade CO-OPERATIVE, and for decades VACQUEYRAS has been let down by the indifferent quality of the CAVE DE VACQUEYRAS, along with a real muddle for the consumer over its many different cuvées that seem to change identity almost every vintage. The name VIGNERONS DE CARACTÈRE was a joke, for starters.

Harvesting policies that have allowed cropping far too late for the SYRAH in some instances, and a general lack of precision in approach have weighed it down. I have long thought that marketing drove its business model rather than the pursuit of good wines with all the beneficial consequences that they can bring. The share of the wine from the CO-OPERATIVE has fallen from a historic 55% to under 40% now, by the way, an indication of the number of people exiting it and setting up on their own.

RHONÉA, VACQUEYRAS & BEAUMES TOGETHER: A NEW DAWN?

Whether the fusion with the superior quality CAVE DE BEAUMES-DE-VENISE into one entity called RHONÉA has been the catalyst, but hey, presto, in 2016 some better quality wines have emerged from RHONÉA, and my sincere hope is that this is not just a flash in the pan thanks to a very high calibre vintage. Two are even STGT wines! We shall see, since 2017 was a testing vintage in the vineyard, as has been 2018 thus far.

The President of the GROWERS’ UNION, the SYNDICAT DES VIGNERONS, is JACKY BERNARD of DOMAINE LA LIGIÈRE; he was a Co-operateur until 2010, and his domaine now covers nearly 60 hectares in the hands of his son PHILIPPE. They work with VACQUEYRAS, BEAUMES-DE-VENISE, GIGONDAS, CÔTES DU RHÔNE and IGP VAUCLUSE vineyards. They are also organic, the level of official organic practices being around 20% across VACQUEYRAS.

TOTAL VINEYARD AREA

According to JACKY, the vineyards run to 1,420 hectares, with 70-80 hectares always being replanted. It can go up to 1,600 hectares with 1,500 of those planted. So the area is not far off being full up.

TOTAL VOLUME, MERCHANT INVOLVEMENT

In terms of quantity, in 2017, a low harvest year, there were 39,000 HL of VACQUEYRAS, while 2016 produced 46,000 HL. About 15%, or 8-10,000 HL, is sold in bulk to the merchant trade. Leading names in the négociant trade are, from the NORTHERN RHÔNE, CHAPOUTIER [**** in 2016], DELAS ***(*), and VIDAL-FLEURY **(*), with PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ historically one of the better sources.

From the SOUTHERN RHÔNE, merchants include ARNOUX VIEUX CLOCHER CLASSIC [30-40% purchased crop] ****, SKALLI BONPAS GRAND CARTULAIRE ****, MAISON BOUACHON PIERRELONGUE ****, GABRIEL MEFFRE SAINT-BARTHELEMY ****, LAVAU ***, BASTIDE ST DOMINIQUE RÉSERVE ***(*), and TARDIEU-LAURENT VIEILLES VIGNES ****. To have *** to **** wines across this group is testament to the high quality of 2016.

CHEAP PRICING DETRIMENTAL TO IMAGE

However, pricing is a contentious issue, with a negative impact on the image of the appellation thanks to VACQUEYRAS red at €6 in supermarkets from the RHONÉA CO-OPERATIVE, and that cannot be good for the standing of the appellation.

2017 VINTAGE PRICE COMPARISONS VACQUEYRAS-CAIRANNE-GIGONDAS

In terms of comparisons, VACQUEYRAS stands between GIGONDAS and CAIRANNE in price, the differential with CAIRANNE more surprising than the scale of that with GIGONDAS. In JULY, 2018, the bulk price per HL [100 litres] of the three for the 2017 vintage of red wine was CAIRANNE €264, VACQUEYRAS €483, the VACQUEYRAS ORGANIC price €509, with GIGONDAS 2017 at €715.

2016 VINTAGE PRICE COMPARISONS VACQUEYRAS-CAIRANNE-GIGONDAS

For the 2016 vintage, the comparison of prices from APRIL, 2017 was CAIRANNE €252, VACQUEYRAS €437, VACQUEYRAS ORGANIC €474, GIGONDAS €654 per HL. For 2015 at the time, the prices were VACQUEYRAS €430, GIGONDAS €649, CAIRANNE still being partly a VILLAGES for that vintage, so not quoted on its own.

VACQUEYRAS SLIGHTLY HIGHER RISE THAN GIGONDAS

As for trend, the VACQUEYRAS price 2015 to 2017 has risen by 12.3%; the GIGONDAS price 2015 to 2017 has risen by 10.2%.

ORGANIC VACQUEYRAS

Noting that ORGANIC VACQUEYRAS sells for a small 5-8% premium, there is now a good groundswell of organic work at VACQUEYRAS, an unofficial estimate from the growers being 20% now organic.

In this group feature LE CLOS DE CAVEAU [very longtime organic, I harvested the 1974], DOMAINE DES AMOURIERS, DOMAINE CAROBELLE [part of the CAVE DE VACQUEYRAS], DOMAINE LE COLOMBIER, DOMAINE LA GARRIGUE, DOMAINE DE LA GANSE, DOMAINE DE LA JAUFRETTE, DOMAINE LA LIGIÈRE, DOMAINE DE MONTVAC, DOMAINE D’OURÉA, DOMAINE LA SOLÉIADE [part of the CAVE DE VACQUEYRAS], MONTIRIUS [biodynamic also], ROUCAS TOUMBA [does biodynamic treatments, not all, isn’t official], MAS DES RESTANQUES, LE SANG DES CAILLOUX [also biodynamic since 2011], LES SEMELLES DE VENT. Without being officially organic, the CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL work their vineyard well and correctly.

THE VINEYARDS

Regarding the lie of the vineyards, I favour the zones close to the village, North and West of VACQUEYRAS, where there is limestone and compacted sandstone and some brief slopes that allow varied contours. Domaines of note here are CLOS DES CAZAUX, LA FOURMONE and MONARDIÈRE, with East of the village towards MONTMIRAIL the attractive CLOS DE CAVEAU organic vineyard a good venue.

NORTHERN END TOWARDS GIGONDAS

At the northern end towards GIGONDAS, LES DÉBATS [LA FOURMONE has 12 hectares] is sandy with good limestone, with LES AUGUES [sandstone]. Near the Village are LA PONCHE [flat land, strong clay-limestone, DOMAINE DE LA TOURADE, DOMAINE DU PESQUIER, DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE], CAVEAU [stony-limestone, CLOS DU JONCUAS LA FONT DE PAPIER, DOMAINE DE LA JAUFRETTE]. Naturally, these often GIGONDAS-based domaines bring a high standard of winemaking to the table, although their quantities are low. 

Another good name is CABRIDON of DOMAINE DE LA GANSE - 1967 GRENACHE, on clay which gets very hard in drought conditions, with limestone. “There is a good micro-ecological system above the RIVER OUVÈZE,” states CORALIE ONDE of DOMAINE DE LA GANSE. It is one of the first sites to be harvested.

JUST NORTH OF THE VILLAGE

The soil is sandstone, compacted sand or SAFRE near the MONARDIÈRE cellars, its draining effect offset by the presence of blue clay undersoils, extremely helpful in dry years. The seam of sand moves into clay on LES SAINTES PAPES, where MONARDIÈRE own 4 hectares. MONARDIÈRE have under 2 hectares on the PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES, with 5 hectares of COTEAU or slope vineyards, half of them facing EAST or the rising sun, towards the village of VACQUEYRAS, half of them facing WEST, and the setting sun towards the RIVER OUVÈZE.

DAMIEN VACHE OF LA MONARDIÈRE ON THEIR LES PENDANTS VINEYARD

Their vineyard on the slope of LES PENDANTS is 30% clay, strongly so, thus doesn’t fear drought. CLAIRETTE BLANCHE features there, with the usual GRENACHE and SYRAH. ERIC BOULETIN of ROUCAS TOUMBA cultivates three plots on LES PENDANTS, grey clay, marl soils that are very hard to work. His 1987 SYRAH was deliberately placed so as to be protected from the high heat of the late setting sun.

ERIC BOULETIN''S VINEYARD PLOTS ON LES PENDANTS

ERIC also grows 0.58 hectare of vineyards on LA GRAMIÈRE, whose crop goes into his interesting VIN DE FRANCE LES GRANDS CHEMINS; that allows him to work with VACCARÈSE, TERRET NOIR, ALICANTE, CINSAULT, CLAIRETTE ROSE and GRENACHE GRIS to complement his 1970s GRENACHE, 1953 CARIGNAN and 1980 SYRAH. His plantation is at a maximum of 5,000 plants per hectare. ERIC’s average yield is 18-25 hl/ha over the years.

GOBELET TRAINING FOR 1923 GRENACHE OF ROUCAS TOUMBA, ERIC BOULETIN, ON ARCHIMBAUD

DAMIEN VACHE of LA MONARDIÈRE plants a lot with GOBELET, stand alone training of his vines: “Gobelet training does best in high heat, since there is shade within the foliage, and less blockage as a result compared to being trained along wires.” LES GRÈS, where MONARDIÈRE also have vines, is stony limestone with sand, the heavy galets of the OUVÈZE present. “It is very easy to look after,” according to DAMIEN; “it dries very quickly after rain, even 50 mm (2 in) in one sharp fall, and isn’t subject to blights.” There is deep limestone on MORNAS at VACQUEYRAS, where ERIC BOULETIN grows his trio of NORTHERN RHÔNE varieties, MARSANNE, ROUSSANNE and VIOGNIER.

RIVER OUVÈZE MICRO-CLIMATE

The northern end also receives the greatest influence of the micro-climate of the RIVER OUVÈZE as it makes its way to the SOUTH-WEST and on to BÉDARRIDES, part of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. In the south of the appellation towards SARRIANS, an old fruit and vegetable town, is the furthermost end of the large, 6 kilometre, sun-drenched PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES.

NICOLAS CAMALLONGA ON THE STONY DEEP CLAY SOILS OF DOMAINE DE LA VERDE

CLAYS IN THE NORTH

VACQUEYRAS is a precocious appellation, and its wines used to be invariably chewy and robust, the tannins coarse rather than refined. With closer regard to soil variations than in the past, there has come more finely tuned vineyard care and harvesting. The NORTH of the PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES holds in places deep, rich, brown clay, under the influence of the RIVER OUVÈZE, notably at DOMAINE DE LA VERDE, which is obviously crucial in years of drought such as 2017. MOURVÈDRE is suited to these clay soils.

GUY RICARD STANDING ON THE GALET STONES ON COUROULU WITH A 1920 GRENACHE PLANTED BY HIS GRANDFATHER CLEMENT

On the way to VERDE, and nearer the village of VACQUEYRAS is COUROULU, which is the oldest vineyard of GUY RICARD’s DOMAINE LE COUROULU [THE CURLEW]. On COUROULU, there are galets roulés, rolled stones, of the OUVÈZE [which is 1.5 km away], red clay below, 1919-1921 GRENACHE the star feature, forming the heart of the treasured VIEILLES VIGNES cuvée. “There’s never a fear of drought there, even in 2003 it was OK”, states GUY. It’s a very precocious site.

FURTHER SOUTH

South of the ROUTE DES ROQUES which traverses the plateau the land is a lot drier, and there is more gravel in the SARRIANS direction, 30-40 mm of it, which has an impact on domaines such as CHÂTEAU DES ROQUES, the organic LES ONDINES, and the organic DOMAINE LA SOLÉIADE, part of the CAVE DE VACQUEYRAS. This part of the plateau was wooded until 1955, which is the date of some of the CHÂTEAU DES ROQUES GRENACHE. The last massale, hand grafted off prized old stock, plantings at VACQUEYRAS are thought to have been between 1965 and 1970, before the universal adoption of clones.

The clay stretch from COUROULU runs as far as the very stony organic DOMAINE DES AMOURIERS at the northern end of the PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES – there, the galet stones are larger on LES GARRIGUES DE L’ÉTANG’s yellow clay with limestone. I associate beefy, sun-fuelled wines here, the old vines bearing commendable sève or sap, whose beneficial oily texture acts well within the encasing of wine at 15° at least. The PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES NORD then descends into the plain of the OUVÈZE, which is all VIN DE PAYS land.

The PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES SUD or SOUTH at SARRIANS gives wines with less intricacy than the more northerly sites in my view. The PLATEAU overall – NORD and SUD - forms 60% of the appellation. It is covered with galet stones on iron oxide soils, and predominantly yellow and white clays; “that iron oxide contributes, literally, to a sense of iron in the wine, as in the CUVÉE DU LOPY 2016,” comments FRÉDÉRI FÉRIGOULE of DOMAINE LE SANG DES CAILLOUX. The PLATEAU is 6 km long all told. The last, most southerly domaine of the PLATEAU is the CHÂTEAU DES TOURS, under EMMANUEL REYNAUD of CHÂTEAU RAYAS.

HOT TOPIC: IRRIGATION

The CANAL DE CARPENTRAS runs across the PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES. I state that because it is now part of the irrigation process. It’s a contentious subject. Let’s start with GUY RICARD of LE COUROULU: “in 2017 20-25% of the vineyard was irrigated, and maybe that contributed to the dilution that I have found in some of the wines I’ve tasted so far. Around 100-150 hectares are run on drip by drip systems, or they deviate water from the CANAL DE CARPENTRAS and therefore gorge the vines, or, thirdly, they use a maize canon sprayer going to and fro and roundabout.”

SERGE FÉRIGOULE, LE SANG DES CAILLOUX, is never short of an emphatic standpoint, and he concurs with GUY, spluttering: “200 hectares of the vineyard are now irrigated by drip by drip irrigation. There’s a project of irrigation of the PLATEAU DES GARRIGUES using water from the RIVER RHÔNE, water that is polluted! 60% of vignerons of VACQUEYRAS will irrigate in 2018 if they have to. If we irrigate, we make the roots rise, the opposite of the effect of our biodynamie, where we feed the soils.”

A MONTH AHEAD OF GIGONDAS

The usual harvest date at VACQUEYRAS can be a full month ahead of GIGONDAS, and the wines could not stand in greater contrast given they are exact neighbours. The full-on immediacy and heartiness of VACQUEYRAS and its overt spicing is the polar opposite of many of the cool, loose-limbed GIGONDAS reds, wines that gradually develop over the course of decades in some instances.

GIGONDAS is notable for performing well in tricky vintages such as 2008 and 2014 or even the rainswept 1991, but VACQUEYRAS can also step forward when the harvest has been complicated. 2013 recently has been a very good vintage, full of vitality and clear flavours, a small crop, less GRENACHE than usual, but wines with a cooler vintage quality about them, a tempering of the usual fire.

TWO 2008s TO NOTE

Another satisfactory vintage, a write-off for the Grandiose Wine Journalists of this world, is 2008. Ten years on, both the 2008 PIERRE AMADIEU LA GRANGELIÈRE and the 2008 DOMAINE LA LIGIÈRE – their very first vintage – were in excellent shape, really delightful table wines. Any forgotten bottles in liquor stores: try them – they will be cheap.

2016, LIKE 2015 AND 2017: HOT AND DRY

2016 joins 2015 and 2017 as a hot, dry vintage. On 2 July 2016, CHRISTIAN VACHE of DOMAINE LA MONARDIÈRE told me: “the bunches are already very fat and expanded, so we don’t want rain now. It will be a late year if it doesn’t rain – rain will be catastrophic. It could be very grand year in the style of 1995 or 1998, thanks to a beau, dry summer, temperatures around 30°C and a North wind to come.”

There were minor rainfalls leading into the harvest, with growers under no pressure to hasten their harvest. However, as SERGE FÉRIGOULE of SANG DES CAILLOUX points out, waiting for the polyphenolic ripeness – pips, skins, stems, tannins – is an error because it unbalances the wine. He gave this resumé: “it was a very hot, very dry vintage, and across the appellation there’s a lack of balance in some of the wines, which were too burnt due to being harvested too late. You had to harvest early. Some large entities started their harvest on 9-10 September, their SYRAH already at 15°.

For us, it is a more hot vintage than usual, but has super potential, and volume of 30 hl/ha, too. It is balanced, despite our extra degree, or nearly that, the wine straight, comes with belle matter and joli fruit. Tannins are present, but aren’t dry.”

SERGE’s son FRÉDÉRI, who loves to be in the vineyards, summed up how he saw things: “2016 is similar to 2015 in both having dry and hot conditions. The first SYRAH we harvested was on 1 or 2 September, which was already a couple of days too late for us. The first bucket was 14.5°, 30 hl/ha of it, with the rest moving into higher degree and over-ripeness.

We should have harvested it over the weekend before. That added 0.5° to the wine. If you wait for ripe polyphenols [skins, pips, tannins] on the GRENACHE, you are into 16.5°, and that’s because of the clones in use. You needed patience for the vinifications this year – it wasn’t a straightforward year. 2016 is the middle of three years of large wines.”

2016: FANTASTIC QUALITY OF HARVEST

The quality of the harvest was underlined by growers, with JEAN-FRANÇOIS ARNOUX of VIEUX CLOCHER stating: “both the 2015 and 2016 crops were very good, with no rot. There was abundance in 2015, but in 2016 we had just what we needed – balance, freshness.”

JACKY BERNARD of DOMAINE LA LIGIÈRE agreed: “I thought 2015 was exceptional, that we had hit the heights. So along came 2016 with a more than perfect harvest. It’s difficult to know if the final wine will pass 2015, but the 2016 crop was superior to that of 2015.”

PHILIPPE ARCHIMBAUD of CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL stood outside most in terms of quantity, however: “I am apart from the rest this year in that my yields were low due to coulure (flowers not converting into fruit) on the GRENACHE,” he related, “but the quality is very, very high, the fruit joli and the wines rich. However, there is a lack of GRENACHE, meaning more SYRAH and MOURVÈDRE. By plantation, we have 60-65% GRENACHE, but in the wine in 2016 there is only 50% GRENACHE. The drought also played a role, leading to a lack of juice. We are down 30% in 2016 compared to 2015.”

Referring to his wife’s organic DOMAINE DE MONTVAC, PHILIPPE CARTOUX of DOMAINE DES ESPIERS preferred to stay his hand on the harvest, although he is usually one of the very first given his liking for fruit over deep substance: “it’s a beau vintage, especially if you waited, similar to the quality of GIGONDAS in 2016,” he reported. “There’s elegance with volume – you think it’s residual sugar, but it’s the gras that is speaking. It’s elegant, on power as well.”

2016 RATED SUPERIOR TO 2015

Growers generally rated 2016 ahead of 2015. Take PIERRE AMADIEU: “whereas 2015 was a bit too hot and on the alcohol, the 2016s have better balance and less degree. There’s a moment when the freshness is greater than 2015’s, even though it was hotter and drier than 2015. The aromas are fresher in 2016.”

HIGH GRADE FRUIT

MARIE-THÉRÈSE COMBE of DOMAINE LA FOURMONE pointed to the finesse of 2016 alongside 2015: “I like 2016 a lot; it’s a solar year, holds very joli fruit, and there’s good quality across the appellation, with attractive acidities, fresh wines, too. The 2016s fermented longer for us than the 2015s, both at 14°. It has a bit more finesse than 2015, which is more concentrated, against the fruit stamp of the 2016s.”

GUY RICARD of DOMAINE LE COUROULU also emphasized the fruit angle of 2016, telling me: “it’s a gourmand year, the wines full of small red and black fruits. There’s a lot of licorice and power in the VIEILLES VIGNES cuvée. The vintage is a bit less on power than 2015, and has a bit more fruit than 2015. It can keep well, and is perhaps on a bit more balance than 2015, with fruit, roundness and tannins that fit in; the 2015 tannins are more marked.”

CORALIE ONDE, DOMAINE DE LA GANSE, was another grower content with the year’s fruit: “2016 delivered fruit, was what I wanted, small red fruits with spice behind them, typical VACQUEYRAS in other words,” she commented.

THIÉRRY FARAVEL of DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE liked 2016’s freshness: “there is more cut in the 2016 than the 2015, but I compare the two vintages, with a straight down the line style in the 2016,” he said, while PIERRE SEROUL of CHÂTEAU DES ROQUES was pleased with the depth of matter: “there is a base of robust matter, the wines have good filling,” he observed.

39 WINES AT **** OR ABOVE: GOOD CHOICE

After tasting around 85 reds, most of them bottled, there is a good seam of **** wines and better – 39 in total. That represents a good choice for the drinker. Attributes that I highlighted in my notes were fruit that lasted all the way though the palate, the leaders full of gentle, sweet appeal, really gourmand.

TANNINS SHOW THE GOOD FROM THE, WELL, LESS GOOD

Tannin quality is a differential between the best and the laggards this year, without doubt. The best: ripe tannins that are fully integrated. The backmarkers: rugged, dry tannins, concern attached to the second half of the palates, the dry conditions and hot sun stepping in the way of a free flow of fruit and content all along the palate.

There are plenty of wines that really deliver pleasure this year, where the fruit is well present and the tannins fit in well. The best have prolonged, lingering finishes, good late drive. There are also garrigue charms here and there, so local truth. A good number of **** wines indicates the generally good quality of the vintage. You have to set aside some that fall short of that.

2016 is also a vintage where some of the superior cuvées seem to have performed well ahead of the regular cuvées. I cite CHÂTEAU MAZANE [ALAIN JAUME, DOMAINE GRAND VENEUR], CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL ERMITE, DOMAINE DES AMOURIERS LES GENESTES and DOMAINE CHAMFORT LES 2 LOUIS.  

DODGY WINE FAULTS

On the deficit side, there were tired wines, lacking freshness, being droopy, very short-term, dull. The school report reads: “must do better, much better, given a very healthy crop.”. In this group, with the hope that I received poor samples, but bottling had already been done, were DOMAINE LA GARRIGUE **, DOMAINE DU TERME **(*), DOMAINE JULIEN DELHOMME LOUIS H **, the last-named a start-up.

RICH ENOUGH FOR EVEN AMPLE OAKING

Looking at the cellar, those who have overtly oaked such as DOMAINE DU BOIS SAINT JEAN and ARNOUX 1717 have got away with it thanks to the natural richness of the 2016 crop. In a less unctuous vintage, I would question their policy on that. The LAVAU wine, however, presented the habitual borderline clash between GRENACHE and oak.

6 X STGT IN 2016

Lastly, it’s always pleasing when a number of STGT wines come forward – this year, six in total:

****(*)

CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL ERMITE 50% GREN (early 1970s), 50% SYR (early 1980s), vat raised

RHONÉA FONTIMPLE 83% GREN (1950s), 12% SYR (mid-1980s), 5% VARIOUS, vat raised

****

DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE 48% GREN (1960), 36% SYR (2000-03), 16% MOURV (1993-94), used cask raised

GABRIEL MEFFRE LAURUS 60% GREN, 40% SYR, 70% vat, 30% young cask raised

FAMILLE PERRIN LES CHRISTINS 80% GREN (late 1970s), 20% SYR, vat/large barrel raised

RHONÉA DOMAINE DU GRAND PRIEUR 55% GREN (late 1980s), 45% SYR, vat raised

2016 lines up, therefore, as a notable vintage for VACQUEYRAS, one that will be good value when drunk in eight to ten years’ time – or more. The passage of time will enhance the wines’ complexity, and they will reward drinking in cool or cold weather with game and red meat dishes, for example.

LEADING 2016 VACQUEYRAS REDS

***** Alain Jaume Château Mazane 2032-34 02/18 style, appetising, impressive length
***** Domaine La Monardière Vieilles Vignes 2040-42 02/19 grounded, bounty, interesting
***** Domaine Les Ondines Passion 2028-29 02/18 spherical, very pure, a treat
****(*) La Cave de Gigondas Beaumirail 2032-34 02/18 full, rich, power, character
****(*) Château de Montmirail Ermite 2032-34 02/18 glove-like, tasty, classy, STGT
****(*) Clos du Joncuas La Font de Papier 2031-34 02/18 full, wavy; tangy tannin
****(*) Dom des Amouriers Les Genestes 2030-31 02/18 elegant; good heart, flair
****(*) Domaine de Longue Toque 2032-34 02/18 well charged, grabs imagination
****(*) Rhonéa Fontimple 2030-32 02/18 silken, savoury, class, STGT
****(*) Le Sang des Cailloux Cuvée de Lopy 2037-39 02/18 generous, serene flow, nourishing
**** Arnoux & Fils 1717   2029-31 02/18 enerous, rolling, sweet, long 
**** Arnoux & Fils Vieux Clocher Classic 2027-28 02/18 genuine, spiced, honest, local 
**** Maison Bouachon Pierrelongue  2029-31 02/18 tight, genuine, honest, character 
**** M Chapoutier   2030-32 02/18 oily content, local, insistent 
**** Château du Trignon  2030-31 02/18 virile, tannic drive, upbeat 
**** Domaine du Bois Saint Jean Ballade 2031-34 02/18 grounded, muscled, sustained 
**** Domaine La Bouïssière   2029-31 02/18 drive, harmony, tasty, STGT 
**** Domaine Chamfort Les 2 Louis 2030-32 02/18 genuine, trad, rich waves 
**** Domaine de la Charbonnière Tradition 2031-33 02/18 rich, filled, dense, genuine 
**** Le Clos de Caveau Fruit Sauvage 2030-31 02/18 cool, balanced, elegant, sure
**** Dom Clos des Cazaux Les Templiers 2031-33 02/18 sturdy, spiced, thorough, southern 
**** Domaine de l’Espigouette 2029-30 02/18 gourmand, silken, innate power 
**** Dom Fontaine du Clos Pince-Lapin  2027-29 02/18 rounded, stylish, enjoyable 
**** Dom Fontaine Clos Reflets de l’Âme 2029-30 02/18 suave matter, deep juice 
**** Domaine La Fourmone le Poète  2029-31 02/18 garrigue impulse, wild, time 
**** Dom Grand Veneur Grande Garrigue  2030-32 02/18 tasty, replete, engages well 
**** Dom La Monardière Les 2 Monardes  2034-36 02/19 vigour, life, cut, depth, superior
**** Domaine de la Pigeade   2032-33 02/18 generous, free, spiced, balanced 
**** Domaine Saint Laurent  2030-31 02/18 abundant juice, elegant, clear 
**** Le Sang des Cailloux Floureto  2032-33 02/18 gourmand, stimulating, potential 
**** Dom Semelles de Vent Vlles Vignes  2030-32 02/18 tasty, juicy, balance, detail  
**** Domaine de la Verde Ora 2029-30 02/18 tasty, singing, life, local 
**** Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2031-33 02/18 gourmand, generous, true, STGT 
**** Gabriel Meffre Saint Barthelemy  2029-30 02/18 juicy abundance, sunny, free 
**** Montirius Le Clos  2030-31 02/18 tasty, rolling, cool length 
**** Montirius Garrigues  2028-29 02/18 minted; live tannins, gd Grenache
**** Famille Perrin Les Christins  2026-28 10/17 STGT nose; spiced, brisk 
**** Persephone Demoiselle Suzette  2030-31 02/18 good fat, garrigue lands 
**** Rhonéa Dom du Grand Prieur  2029-30 02/18 pure fruit, character, STGT 
**** Skalli Bonpas Grand Cartulaire  2030-32 02/18 close-knit, local feel, time 
**** Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes  2031-33 02/18 sleek matter, garrigue, character 
***(*) Pierre Amadieu La Grangelière  2026-28 02/18 honest, quite stylish, early 
***(*) Arnoux Château Lestours Clocher  2028-30 02/18 oaked, plenty, crowd pleaser 
***(*) Arnoux & Fils Seigneur de Lauris  2029-30 02/18 grounded, compressed, pesky 
***(*) Bastide St Domnque Réserve St Dominique  2029-31 02/18 style, authentic, fruit bursts 
***(*) Château de Montimirail Deux Frères  2028-30 02/18 shapely, easy matter, peppery 
***(*) Le Clos des Mourres Milord 2026-28 02/18 streamlined, interest, character 
***(*) Delas Domaine des Genêts  2029-30 02/18 med weight, cool, agreeable 
***(*) Domaine Chamfort  2028-29 02/18 genuine, natural; menthol tannins 
***(*) Dom Charbonnière Cuvée Spéciale  2030-31 02/18 inner vigour, wire, time 
***(*) Le Clos des Cazaux Saint-Roch  2023-25 02/18 neat, gentle, natural 
***(*) Domaine Le Couroulu Vieilles Vignes  2028-30 02/18 honest, open, tasty, gourmand 
***(*) Dom Font Sarade Hauts de la Ponche  2029-30 02/18 sturdy heart, sleek fruit 
***(*) Domaine La Fourmone Les Ceps d’Or  2028-29 02/18 easy matter, serene, unhurried 
***(*) Domaine de la Ganse  2030-31 02/18 spiced, fleshy, rugged, rocky 
***(*) Domaine La Ligière Mourre de la Caille 2024-25 02/18 spiced, easy run, instant 
***(*) Domaine Les Ondines  2028-30 02/18 sound heart, authentic 
***(*) Domaine de Saint Paul  2030-32 02/18 spiced, rugged, needs refine 
***(*) Dom Semelles de Vent Séduction  2031-32 02/18 concentrated, spiced, sunbound 
***(*) Domaine Santa Duc Les Aubes  2027-29 03/18 lithe, peppered, typical 
***(*) Domaine de la Tourade Euse  2029-31 02/18 instant spice, rocky, rugged 
***(*) Domaine de Verquière  2026-28 02/18 authentic, soft, neat sweetness
***(*) Mas des Restanques  2028-29 02/18 fat, expansive, spiced, trad 
***(*) Rhonéa Domaine de la Curnière  2023-24 02/18 measured, steady, supple, soft 
*** La Bastide Saint Vincent Pavane  2027-29 02/18 stretched, grinds along, dense 
*** La Cave de Gigondas Dom L’Atelier  2026-28 02/18 sweet, straightforward, tame 
*** Château Bois d’Arlène Origine  2028-29 02/18 peppery, trad, taut, stubborn 
*** Chât Lestours Clocher Les Pénitents  2023-24 02/18 spiced, bit plain 
*** Château des Roques Cuvée du Château  2025-27 02/18 ripe, gushing, copious, instant 
*** Domaine des Amouriers Signature  2027-29 02/18 juicy; crunch tannins, disparate 
*** Domaine de Boissan  2025-26 02/18 swell, gourmand, grapiness 
*** Domaine Le Couroulu Classique   2029-30 02/18 dips, highs, thick juice 
*** Domaine Font Sarade Prestige  2027-29 02/18 robust, oak, some extraction 
*** Domaine La Ligière Point G  2023-24 02/18 early action, tapers 
*** Domaine La Roubine   2027-28 02/18 spiced, oaked, bit clumsy 
*** Domaine de la Verde Prélude   2029-31 02/18 savoury, needs integration 
*** Lavau  2028-29 02/18 oak-Gren clash, direct 
**(*) Domaine Le Colombier Vieilles Vignes  2026-27 02/18 brewed, stewed, dry tannins 
**(*) Domaine d’Ouréa  2023-24 02/18 stewed, with furry tannins 
**(*) Domaine du Terme  2021 02/18 sweet, pastille, fades, dull 
**(*) Vidal-Fleury 2026-27 02/18 compressed, strength, dry finale
** Domaine Julien Delhomme Louis H  2022 02/18 uneven, dry, lacks freshness
** Domaine La Garrigue Tradition  2021 02/18 downbeat, plain, rather dull 

2016 VACQUEYRAS WHITES

The whites of VACQUEYRAS tend to be underestimated, perhaps not surprisingly given the limited quantities. However, they have always been good table wines with the stuffing to pair well with solidly flavoured dishes, Asiatic cuisine, Provençal cuisine, Latin American or African cuisine. They are formed around the traditional RHÔNE varieties of CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and GRENACHE BLANC, which invest good fat and body into the wines.

Examples that I have enjoyed over the years include the CLOS DES CAZAUX LES CLEFS D’OR, whose heart is 50-70% CLAIRETTE planted in 1952, a wine fermented and raised only in vat, no oaking. It can live for over seven years, past 10 years quite often, such as 2013. Likewise, the DOMAINE LA FOURMONE LE FLEURANTINE centres on 55-60% CLAIRETTE dating from the mid-1970s, with 35-40% GRENACHE BLANC from the late 1980s. This is around half 600-litre cask [so less obvious oak than 228-litre], half vat prepared. The COMBE family have recently introduced 10% ROUSSANNE planted in 2013, aiming for an enhancement of finesse. This is a wine that can show over six to eight years.

A third example is the robust, fully flavoured LE SANG DES CAILLOUX UN SANG BLANC; this is about half GRENACHE BLANC & GRIS with CLAIRETTE BLANCHE & ROSE, the other half composed of 15-25% ROUSSANNE, with VIOGNIER, BOURBOULENC and some MARSANNE. FRÉDÉRI FÉRIGOULE has cut back the new oak [450 and 600-litre casks] proportion from 33% to 10-15% since the early 2010s. The malo is completed on this wine, after a raising of a year, and its glycerol base sets it up for sauced dishes in a **** vintage such as 2017. I rate this as likely to perform well over ten years at least.

I emphasize the relative longevity of these wines since there is much reward in allowing secondary influences, and their trail of complexity, to enter them. Then the palette of dishes that can be suited to them widens well.

2016 in the SOUTHERN RHÔNE is very good to excellent across the board, and the VACQUEYRAS 2016s are good, full whites with sustained length notably, good fat interiors. They are well worth a try.

LEADING 2016 VACQUEYRAS WHITES

**** Domaine La Fourmone Fleurantine 2023-24 02/18 refined, local drive, cut
**** Domaine Les Ondines Passion 2025-26 06/18 authority, length, nicely complete
**** Le Sang des Cailloux Un Sang Blanc 2027-28 02/18 glycerol, full, gourmand, table
***(*) Château des Roques Cuvée Blanche 2024-25 02/18 weighty, solid, trad, table
***(*) Pierre Amadieu La Grangelière 2025-26 07/18 solid, balance, style, table
***(*) Domaine La Ligière Le Chemin Blanc 2022-23 07/18 butty, knit, trad, table
***(*) Montirius Minéral 2025-26 02/18 discreet, charming, detailed
***(*) Maison Ughetto Audoin 2020-21 06/18 pleasure bundle, plump, tasty

 

2016 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

Sometimes a great red vintage can mean heavyweight whites at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE – 1990, for example, although vinification in those days counted with less temperature control, and generally less cellar attention, resulting in thick whites.

The 1978 whites were accomplished, good and tight, however – it was a fresher year than 1990 - and 2016 joins it as a really successful vintage for the whites, offering balance and length, with verve and freshness also in the mix. The balance will allow the wines to show consistently well without too many hidden moments or dips and throughs, and the top notchers will live well into the 2030s.

CROP SIZE HELPFUL

The abundant crop was a factor in aiding the sparkle in the wines, as explained by the new winemaker, a man on whom hopes for a revival rest, at CHÂTEAL LA NERTHE, RALPH GARCIN: “I am delighted, the wines naturally fresh with high yields to help that,” he told me. “Small yields with their concentration and phenolic-tannic style aren’t for me. There is a pH OF 3.4. We didn’t drop any leaves so the grape skins weren’t scorched.” Such finessing of the canopy management would not have occurred 15 to 20 years ago, by the way.

“Hence the white is very crystalline,” he continued, “with good purity, very clear and citrus-leaning. The BEAUVENIR [the special cuvée] is usually 70% ROUSSANNE, 30% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE, but this year the GRENACHE BLANC was superb, with fresh expression, and so we made BEAUVENIR from 78% ROUSSANNE, 22% GRENACHE BLANC.”

The challenge in this precocious year was to avoid excess degree, and to retain freshness. Juggling the different ripening profiles of the four main white varieties, the ROUSSANNE, the GRENACHE BLANC, the CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and the BOURBOULENC, certainly kept growers on their toes. The earliest harvester I spoke to was ISABELLE SABON of DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE at COURTHÉZON in the North-East of the appellation, who told me: “we started the harvest on our white crop [including CÔTES DU RHÔNE] on 31 August.” The JANASSE PRESTIGE BLANC [limited issue, about 1,000 bottles, based on 1980-82 ROUSSANNE] was a first class ****(*) wine this year.

Likewise, ISABELLE FERRANDO of DOMAINE SAINT-PRÉFERT in the South of the appellation, who stated: “my CLAIRETTE BLANCHE was wonderful, and the ROUSSANNE also very good - I harvested it on 31 August at 14.2°.”

The first week of September was a common date for many harvesters this year. FRANÇOIS PERRIN of CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL told me: “we started the white harvest on 3-4 September.” Their VIEILLES VIGNES ROUSSANNE is exceptional this year.

The grapes of the ROUSSANNE have a tendency to turn golden, and to concentrate their sugars very rapidly, which is why it was near the top of the batting order for the harvest. XAVIER ROLIN of DOMAINE ROGER PERRIN: “the 2016 white is magnificent, with the CLAIRETTE BLANCHE the last variety harvested on 14 September, at 13.5°. We picked the ROUSSANNE on 1 September, the GRENACHE BLANC on 8 September.

Some GRENACHE BLANC crop was at 15°, meaning apricot jam, quince flavours. The lack of rain had concentrated them. But it’s surprising and welcome that there is acidity also. The presence of 40% CLAIRETTE is vital for the blend. The BOURBOULENC came in at 13° to 13.5°, which was also helpful for the balance. The wine ended up at 14°.”

FRANCK MOUSSET of DOMAINE DES SAUMADES felt the heat got the better of his ROUSSANNE, however: “I harvested my ROUSSANNE at 16° on 6 September – it was too hot for it this year, while the CLAIRETTE on PIGNAN [sandy, warm soils] was blocked in its ripening.”

PIERRE PASTRE of CHÂTEAU FORTIA, which, despite being a neighbour of the early ripening CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE, has a less full sun exposure, was happy with his ripening cycle, however: “the ROUSSANNE, GRENACHE BLANC and CLAIRETTE all ripened in tandem,” he informed me, “with a perfect ripening for all three. We harvested on the 18 September, a bit earlier than usual.”

NICOLAS BOIRON of BOSQUET DES PAPES pointed to the benefit of early September rainfall in easing some of the pressure on the crop. “It is a very belle year for the whites that came with very good ripeness,” he related. “The weather was ideal – quite a hot summer, a bit of drought in August, then good early September rains which did a lot of good. That rain helped to spur ripeness, notably in the southern zone. The white vintage is clearly above 2015.”

2016 BLANC SUPERIOR TO THE 2015

Growers spoke in unison about 2016 being superior to 2015, with SOPHIE ARMENIER of the biodynamic DOMAINE DE MARCOUX telling me: “the 2016 white is very joli, a bit more ripe and rich than 2015.” VÉRONIQUE MARET of DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE, always a stylish white these days under the two sisters, recounted: “the white is based on minerality, like a Burgundy. The balance is similar to 2015, with 2016 perhaps richer than 2015.”

THOMAS MAGNI is moving into the driver’s seat at DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI, and he was delighted with the white vintage: “the yield was correct this year. The acidity level was natural, and the wines have degree, richness. They are complete, exceptional.”

EXCELLENT GRENACHE BLANC, FULL OF INNER FAT

From my tastings, my attention was firmly caught by the GRENACHE BLANC this year. An example is the ****(*) CHÂTEAU DE VAUDIEU CLOS DU BELVEDÈRE, which bears lovely inner GRENACHE fat. Such stylish gras really sets these wines up for great pleasure à table, but also for a long life, with complexity coming through as they move towards 10 years’ old, and beyond. It will definitely pay to cellar these wines, and if any magnums are spotted, they should be snapped up. The most outstanding 1934 DOMAINE ROGER SABON BLANC that I drank with the late and much missed JEAN-JACQUES SABON in the mid 1990s – oxidised on opening, major, fabulous revival after two hours’ open – remains one of the top three white RHÔNES of my career.

There are New Wave wines this year, so those can be drunk early, but the pleasing aspect of this vintage is the number of **** wines and above – adjectives such as “solid”, “nourishing”, “plump”, “stylish” and “genuine” frequent their notes. Hence there is plenty of choice.

LEADING 2016 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE WHITES

***** Château de Beaucastel Vieilles Vignes 2031-33 10/17 stylish gras, concentrated juice
***** Château Rayas 2045-47 10/17 great sap, depth, length
***** Domaine des Sénéchaux 2040-42 10/19 great length, top class
***** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau 2036-38 10/17 complex, fine, rich, long
****(*) Château de Beaucastel 2028-30 10/17 juicy, stylish, balance, length
****(*) Château de Vaudieu Clos Belvedere 2028-30 07/17 juicy appeal, Gren fat, length
****(*) Clos La Roquète 2030-32 10/17 soft, genuine, true, STGT
****(*) Clos des Papes 2035-37 10/17 generous gras, structure
****(*) Le Clos du Caillou Les Safres 2025-27 10/17 rolling gras, balance, STGT
****(*) Domaine de la Janasse Prestige 2028-30 12/17 authentic, stylish, calm depth
****(*) Domaine Saint Préfert 2025-27 08/17 stylish, great finesse, length
****(*) Domaine Saint Préfert Clairettes 2028-30 10/17 gracious gras, bounty, v long
****(*) Domaine de La Solitude Barberini 2038-40 10/18 stylish, oily, sensuous, striking
****(*) Raymond Usseglio et Fils Roussanne 2036-38 10/19 top suave feel, complete, resounding
****(*) Les Cailloux 2034-36 02/19 fleshy, fresh, complexity, STGT
****(*) Mas Saint-Louis 2026-28 03/18 full hearted, genuine, provocative
**** La Bastide St Dominique Chapelle 2026-27 05/18 supple texture, serene depth, style
**** M Chapoutier La Bernardine   2022-23 07/17 tasty, plump, joli length 
**** Château de La Font du Loup    2024-25 03/18 stylish ease, finesse, serenity 
**** Chât de la Gardine Marie-Léoncie  2025-27 09/17 good 2016 gras, suave  
**** Château Gigognan Clos du Roi   2022-23 12/17 fat, lissom, stylish 
**** Château Maucoil Trésor des Papes  2023-24 10/17 naughty, Nature-esque, character
**** Château La Nerthe Clos de Beauvenir  2024-26 07/17 ball of finesse, suave  
**** Château Sixtine   2026-28 07/17 bounteous, style, balance, length
**** Château de Vaudieu VV Roussanne 2032-34 02/19 buttery, tasty, sustained, glow
**** Domaine Pierre André   2029-31 02/18 genuine, fleshy, serene, STGT  
**** Domaine Paul Autard   2026-28 01/18 well filled, upbeat, oaked
**** Domaine du Banneret Le Secret   2027-28 03/18 ready richness, saltiness 
**** Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard   2030-32 01/18 solid, grapey, smooth, oaked 
**** Domaine Chante Cigale   2025-27 09/17 genuine, full; fresh tang  
**** Domaine Chante Cigale Extrait   2025-27 10/17 soft richness, fleshy 
**** Dom Chante Perdrix Etienne Pecoul 2029-31 10/17 classic Clair gras; strong heart
**** Dom Clef Saint Thomas La Clef St T 2020-21 07/17 juicy, spherical, elegant, w.o.w.  
**** Domaine La Consonnière   2024-25 01/18 balanced, refined, suave, local 
**** Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange   2025-27 09/17 true sud gras, gd freshness  
**** Domaine de Cristia   2023-24 09/17 lusty, wholesome, sustained  
**** Domaine Croze-Granier Elise    2027-28 01/18 honest, sturdy, natural, deep  
**** Domaine Duseigneur Catarina 2027-29 05/18 squeezy gras; appealing purity
**** Dom Georges-Lombrière Cuvée Thaïs  2022-23 08/17 detail, harmony, refined 
**** Domaine Giraud Les Gallimardes  2024-25 11/17 gourmand heart, authentic 
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel   2024-26 09/17 gd heart, texture, plump, STGT  
**** Dom de la Graveirette Font de Crau  2024-25 11/17 thorough, sturdy, wholesome, local 
**** Domaine de la Janasse   2027-29 04/18 enjoyable, plump, fresh, la table 
**** Domaine de Marcoux 2025-27 12/17 enjoyable gras, interest, offers well
**** Domaine André Mathieu   2022 12/17 soft richness; detail, joli  
**** Domaine La Millière Vieilles Vignes  2025-26 09/17 genuine, nourishing, gd heart  
**** Domaine L’Or de Line   2021-22 09/17 genuine, heart, discreet complexity 
**** Domaine du Pegau Cuvée A Tempo  2026-28 02/18 fat, tangy, fresh, long 
**** Domaine Roger Perrin   2027-29 08/17 generous, character, true southern
**** Domaine Roger Sabon Renaissance  2026-27 03/17 stylish, detailed, suave  
**** Domaine de Saint Paul   2025-27 09/17 solid, thorough, character 
**** Domaine de Saint Siffrein   2023-24 12/17 plump, spherical, velvet  
**** Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils   2022-23 10/17 tasty, elegant, w.o.w.  
**** Le Vieux Donjon   2026-28 09/17 juicy, fluid; elegant gras
**** Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2024-25 05/18 fat, spiced, genuine, flair in length
***(*) La Bastide Saint Dominique 2022-23 05/18 plump gras, likeable, easy
***(*) Le Cellier des Princes 2020 09/17 soft gras, upfront, easy 
***(*) Château Fargueirol 2024-25 12/17 tasty, serene, tight, has detail
***(*) Château des Fines Roches  2022-23 09/17 tasty, fresh, enjoyable  
***(*) Château de la Gardine   2023-24 09/17 refined, delicate 
***(*) Château Jas de Bressy   2028-30 07/17 tight, inner fat, la table  
***(*) Château Simian Le Traversier   2022 12/17 plump, tasty, textured 
***(*) Château de Vaudieu   2023-25 09/17 soft gras, stylish 
***(*) Clos du Mont-Olivet 2025-26 12/17 tight, streamlined, New Wave
***(*) Clos Saint Michel   2023-24 11/17 steady richness, subdued 
***(*) Clos Saint Pierre Orbi   2022-23 09/16 charming fruit, fine  
***(*) Cuvée des Sommeliers  2023-24 09/17 lively, spiced, racy 
***(*) Domaine l’Abbé Dîne   2022 10/17 cosy gras, grapey, open  
***(*) Domaine La Barroche Pure   2026 10/17 fine, smooth, stylish 
***(*) Domaine de Beaurenard   2025-27 07/17 plump gras, zesty, time 
***(*) Domaine La Boutinière   2024-25 10 17 expressive early, bit dour, time
***(*) Domaine Charvin 2025-27 05/18 comfy texture, good fat; spiced
***(*) Domaine Condorcet   2025-27 03/18 steady gras, long, trad 
***(*) Domaine Duclaux   2026-28 10/17 rich roll, fine freshness 
***(*) Romain Duvernay   2025 01/18 tight, steel, freshness 
***(*) Domaine Font de Michelle   2023-24 01/18 soft, gentle, grapey, New Wave 
***(*) C & J Mestre Garrigues de Pierrefeu 2023-24 05/18 elegant, unshowy, good detail
***(*) Domaine Albin Jacumin La Bégude  2022-23 08/17 mild gras, skims, oak 
***(*) Vignobles Alain Jaume Le Miocène 2025-26 12/17 tangy, spinal, modish tension
***(*) Dom Patrice Magni Roussanne    2024-25 01/18 authentic, smooth, rich, dumb 
***(*) Domaine Julien Masquin 2021 08/17 gourmand, easy, good apero 
***(*) Domaine La Mereuille 2029-32 02/19 nutty, free, zesty, can gain flesh
***(*) Domaine de Nalys Eicelènci   2024-25 10/17 elegant, streamlined, juicy gras  
***(*) Ogier La Reine Jeanne   2023 02/18 agreeable pleasure, easy, shapely 
***(*) Domaine du Père Caboche   2021-22 09/17 mild gras, jolly, racy  
***(*) Dom Pères de l''Eglise Calice St Pierre 2025-26 04/18 tight, crisp, needs time 
***(*) Domaine des Saumades   2021-22 09/17 joli apero, fine, enjoyable 
***(*) La Fagotière   2022-23 09/17 supple, character, la table 
***(*) Famille Perrin Les Sinards   2024-25 10/17 elegant, tasty, New Wave  
***(*) Domaine Le Pointu Feuilles d’Or   2022-23 11/17 thick, tangy, grapey, oak
***(*) Ravoire Olivier Ravoire   2022-23 10/17 well filled, spiced, la table  
***(*) Domaine des 3 Cellier Alchimie   2021 11/17 cosy roundness, fine
***(*) Xavier Vignon 2026-27 05/18 plump heart, direct, oaked
*** Bosquet des Papes Tradition   2022-23 07/17 zest, direct, low-key  
*** La Celestière Tradition   2021 07/17 soft centre, fresh, quiet   
*** Château La Nerthe   2020-21 09/17 soft, mild, bit simple  
*** Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes   2021-22 11/17 attractive, but New Wave 
*** Domaine Juliette Avril   2021-22 11/17 weighted, smooth, bit clumsy 
*** Domaine de la Charbonnière   2024-25 12/17 smooth, comes + goes 
*** Domaine Durieu   2025-26 01/18 soft gras, dumb, plain 
*** Domaine Giuliani Flora   2023-25 11/17 tight, spinal, fresh 
*** Domaine de Nalys   2020 10/17 risk free, rather tame 
*** Saje  2021-22 09/17 supple, fleshy, asleep  
*** Domaine des 3 Cellier Insolente 2021-22 11/17 tangy, near bitter, grippy 
** Château Maucoil   2020 10/17 lacks body, spritzy 
** Vignobles Mayard Crau de ma Mère   2020 10/17 loose, thin, fizzy  


2016 GIGONDAS REDS

THE DOMAINE SANTA DUC AUX LIEUX-DITS GIGONDAS RED IS PARTLY RAISED IN 36 HL BARREL, THE 2016 A SPHERICAL ****(*) WINE WITH SOUTHERN HEART

2016 is a very good vintage at GIGONDAS. I rate it as a notch behind CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, however. Because the year is so exuberant, some wines can be heady, and the usual cool tenor of GIGONDAS can be overtaken by the effect of the growing season’s weather, notably the high heat and drought conditions of late summer.

The best wines hold pure fruit, fine tannins, are very well filled. Their harmony is on the button. Elsewhere, there can be examples where the richness manages to camouflage the power in the wines, which is fortunate. A gauge of the vintage quality is that the selection of wines bottled within a year of the harvest were superior to most recent vintages – indicating the fruit-forward, ripe tannins profile of the year. 2016s will grace any cellar, and they will reward buyers for many years to come.

TRICKY SPRING WEATHER

The year got off to an unsteady start. MATHIEU BOUTIÈRE of DOMAINE DU PESQUIER on the lower levels, the more garrigue zones, gave me this report: “the spring was very cold and also very dry. The weather wasn’t great at first, and there was some mildew. Then the summer was very hot and dry, and things improved. We had drought pressure, with only small pockets of rain, around 5 mm only during August. The rain that we like in mid-August every year never came.”

For some, yields were hit right at the outset - DANIEL BRUNIER of LES PALLIÈRES: “we had a lot less crop than 2015 due to coulure [flowers failing to convert into fruit] with bad spring weather.” An echo came from FRANÇOIS PERRIN of FAMILLE PERRIN: “coulure hit our yields this year.”

Then THIÉRRY FARAVEL of DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE: “we lost half our crop, close to the situation in 2013, being very badly hit in the DENTELLES – there was nothing there after the most severe coulure.” High up on GRAND ROMANE, the AMADIEU vineyard was another sufferer, with PIERRE AMADIEU reporting “our yield was just 21 hl/ha on GRAND ROMANE - we were very badly hit.”

HIGH ZONES CROP LOSS IMPACT ON THE BLENDED WINES

The high zones that were hammered in 2016 were the copious zones in 2017, by contrast, when the cool weather coincided with flowering on the precocious zones around the village and down towards the RIVER OUVÈZE. The impact of the damage to the high zones in 2016 was a drop in the ratio of cooler crop in the vats, meaning the final wines were more garrigue-like, with attendant higher degrees and strength.

PIERRE AMADIEU takes up the story once more: “the very small crop due to the coulure on the high vineyards, the later ones in the cycle, also applied to VENTOUX and BEAUMES-DE-VENISE, their late vineyards. Our yield of 21-22 hl/ha was comparable to 2013, unfortunately. The lower zones close to the village had a full crop, though.

I’d say that high up lost 40% and lower down lost 20% against 2015. As for the drought, that hit the young vines the most, but what remained was joli. With some nights not too hot, colour and aroma were achieved, while that freshness didn’t mean green tannins were generated, as they were in 2003. It’s not a usual vintage, nor is it like 2007, which was so dense.

With some blockages, and the vines not moving in the late season, we started our harvest on 20 September, a couple of days later than 2015.”

SOME HIGH DEGREES, BOTH CLIMATE AND WINES

The last days of August saw days at 30°C to 35°C, and drought stress climbed in the areas around the village. Harvesting at the same time as AMADIEU with another low yield was DÉLPHINE FARAUD of DOMAINE DU CAYRON, whose 2016 is exceptional. She reported: “it’s very good this year. The degree is higher than 2015 at 15°, but the crop was lower than in 2015 – 26 hl/ha. We started the harvest on 19 September, and finished on 28 September – a shorter span than usual because we took a big team of pickers to accelerate the harvest – that was because the degree was high, and there were weather concerns.”

MATTHIEU BOUTIÈRE of DOMAINE DU PESQUIER pointed out the nature of the bunches this year, when telling me: “the grapes are very small, concentrated, very healthy, with very dense juice: that meant gentle extractions when vinifying. Judging by the weight of the bunches, we were 25% to 30% down in yield compared to 2015.”

LOVELY HARVEST CONDITIONS

JUSTINE SAUREL of the biodynamic MONTIRIUS spoke of the freedom the weather afforded their harvest in 2016: “it’s a fresher year than 2015,” she said. “The weather was great, so we could harvest when we wanted – we stopped the harvest and waited a week for the MOURVÈDRE, then picked that, at 14°5 to 15° - they are at 300-350 metres on L’ANCIEUX, behind LES PALLIÈRES – it’s always fresh there. No sorting or discarding was needed.”

DANY CHASTAN, whose family have worked organically for decades at CLOS DU JONCUAS, underlined the importance of timing in the vineyard this year: “the date of harvest was very important – to be precise on the dates, you had to go very far with the ripening in the vineyard, also in the vinification, so you could achieve detail. It’s a beau, very complete vintage; the wines are a bit on alcohol, are extremely full, also opulent. They have a deep colour, plenty of tannins and complexity.”

HIGH QUALITY TANNINS IN 2016

Praise for the quality of the tannins in 2016 was pretty widespread. THIÉRRY FARAVEL of DOMAINE LA BOUÏSSIÈRE gave this appraisal: “the wines have a lot more noble matter than 2015 – it’s a very beau year. The tannins are silken, more fine than 2015 – they are velvety, rounded and not heavy, and fit in well into the wines. Balance is coming through now [after almost one year of raising]. The wines are a bit more aromatic than 2015, the fruit a lot more frank, more pure than 2015. There’s no lack of volume. The colour in 2016 is a bit less deep than 2015, but is more live, brilliant, while the 2016 fruit is more red than the black fruits of 2015. The wines are harmonious. 2015 is a more a Rebel Child.”

PIERRE AMADIEU also enthused over the 2016 tannins: “there was extreme drought at the end of the ripening season, August-time, but the nights being fresh was very helpful. As a result, there was a fear of dry tannins, but as they have been raised, a lot of fresh fruit has been revealed, which was a surprise. Tannins are present this year, but they are elegant and well entered into the body of the wines.

Acidity levels are quite good,” he continued. “The fruit is very marked, colours are bright, the fruit young and appealing. Degrees are normal. The wines have turned out aromatic and powerful, have young, fresh aromas. The spring after the harvest they are often jam-like, but not in 2016. Ripe tannins are present, with a lot of chewy matter. We feared the tannins would dominate, but they didn’t – the wines are balanced. The chewy depth of matter can overcome the alcohol.”

PHILIPPE CARTOUX of DOMAINE DES ESPIERS always seeks stylish, sensuous styled wines. He told me: “2016 is the third most beau vintage I have made. The tannins are silken, and there is a lot of gras. The other two top years are 1999 and 2001. There is elegance, ampleur to the extent of almost being sweet, and super balance. A pH of 3.50 is ideal, and we had that in 2016 with the total acidity also very good. It’s a very long-lived year.”

MOST GROWERS PREFER 2016 TO 2015

Most growers were emphatic in preferring 2016 to 2015. DAMIEN BURLE related: “it’s a good and attractive year, a bit better than 2015, with a smaller crop than 2015. The wines have more concentration and better colours than 2015. My top vintages are 2016, 2015, 2012, 2007 and 2010.”

DÉLPHINE FARAUD of DOMAINE DU CAYRON agreed: “personally I prefer 2016 to 2015: it is more unctuous, has elegance, charm, the fruit resembles blackberry, which is rare, and there is freshness also. I reckon 2016 holds more overt fruit and also more fruit than 2015.”

Likewise, YVES GRAS of DOMAINE SANTA DUC, who in recent vintages has moved right away from big wines to tight, taut, stripped back wines on a Burgundian trail: “we are in a series of years since 2012 which have been very hot and powerful,” he told me. “Balances are attractive. 2016 is a beau year, has a bit more about it than 2015, though it’s a bit less subtle 2015. 2012 was magnificent, and 2014 was beau here, more so than at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE.”

ANNE-MARIE GAUDIN, unassuming vigneronne of DOMAINE DU TERME also gave 2016 the nod, when stating: “I am optimistic about the year. I like the elegance, finesse, while the tannins are well founded over the solar years such as 2015. The extent of the fruit aromas was rare when I was vinifying.”

PHILIPPE ARCHIMBAUD of CHÂTEAU DE MONTMIRAIL was also in the 2016 camp: “2016 is more profound than 2015, but the acidities were inferior to 2015, so I expect both vintages to live for about the same time,” he opined.

LOUIS BARRUOL of CHÂTEAU DE SAINT COSME gave me a full rundown on events from his perspective: “I have to admit that 2016 is better at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE than at GIGONDAS – the quality at CHÂTEAUNEUF is extraordinary, exceptional. However, 2016 is extremely good at GIGONDAS, its basic level of quality superior to that of 2015. Both 2015 and 2016 at SAINT COSME are major vintages, which is rare – perhaps like 1998 and 1999 [the latter very good], or 1989 and 1990. 2015 is a bit more solar than 2016, and was less regular across the appellation than 2016. The high level all over in 2016 is similar to 1990. Both 2015 and 2016 are keeping vintages.

HIGH LEVEL OF BASIC QUALITY IN 2016

Every year in July we, the growers, taste through all the wines of the current vintage. With 2015, some weren’t good, and there were mediocre wines. With the 2016 vintage, when we inspected it in July, 2017, there were only three or four wines across 80 that weren’t good – and that, for me, is the sign of a GRANDE ANNÉE.

For me, 2016 here resembles 2010. The balance is super, and the wines are more openly fruited than 2015. I reckon the 2016s have better balance and structure than 2015 - they have ripeness, a lot of freshness, good texture, architecture, and come without a high degree. The spot of cool weather in September 2016 was very interesting, helpful. I had a little coulure, though the final yield was good.”

TWO IMPORTANT CONTRARIANS: 2015 PREFERRED TO 2016

There were a couple of dissenters to the 2016 over 2015 view, however - two highly seasoned voices, with vineyards in similar zones on the village-plateau route. First, DOMINIQUE AY of DOMAINE RASPAIL-AY: “it’s a bit lighter than 2015; the crop was super ripe, healthy. The year is correct. The wines are fresh, with fruit, but have less structure and body than 2015. The 2015 tannins are a bit more present and make the wines longer than the 2016s, and I expect 2015 to live longer. We had a full crop, like 2015, 36 hl/ha.”

BERNARD CHAUVET of DOMAINE DU GRAPILLON D’OR backed this up: “we had a maximum crop; it could resemble 2013. For me, 2015 is superior to 2016 – 2016 is closed, has less gras than 2015, whereas 2015 is profound, has gras, is very round, the tannins silken.”

An unconditional supporter of 2016 was STÉPHANIE FUMOSO of DOMAINE DU GOUR DE CHAULÉ, who has been trying the inclusion of a few more stems recently: “it’s magnificent, the most joli year I have vinified,” she said, “and the best quality crop I have had in 10 years. There’s balance at all levels – skin, pulp, pips, stems.”

2016: A VINTAGE THAT PLEASES

The first comment about the vintage is that it is a pleasing one; the wines are not tucked up or complicated. They do not resemble tight 2013s, pleasantly fruited 2014s, nor tannic 2015s. They stand on their own, with plenty of filling to entertain, and tannins that are usually well ripe enough to slip into the mainframe without too much of a murmur.

Hence the cheaper and more mass produced wines – a supermarket’s selected brand, for example – ought to be OK this year. They can be drunk earlier than the more tannic years such as 2015, and show the vintage roundness in the mild tannins and plump, sometimes fat content. Tasting of 17 bottled wines one year after the harvest showed that this category was better than the usual lot - more integrated and enjoyable, with better depth also.

Occasional faults among these early bottlings were the questionable balance between alcohol and content, and some rather dry tannins in wines that weren’t necessarily as fused as they could be.

SUNNY, DISCREET, FINE WINES ON THE ONE HAND, ROBUST, INTENSE, VERY LONG-LIVED WINES ON THE OTHER

Among the nearly 100 wines tasted before their formal bottling, there was plenty of quality. Perhaps there are two groups – the first corralling wines that are discreet, enjoyable, sunny and open, the second involving wines of genuine stature and potential, properly filled with robust, layered content, and likely to live for 25 years or more occasionally. The second group is intense, the first offers more shade and light.

Examples of the first group are the ****(*) Burgundy meets Gigondas CHÂTEAU DE SAINT COSME LE CLAUX, the ****(*) LE CLOS DES CAZAUX LA TOUR SARRASINE, ****(*) STGT DOMAINE LA FONT DE NOTRE DAME, the en finesse ****(*) DOMAINE LES TEYSSONNIÈRES, the handsome ****(*) DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE, the airborne, aromatic PIERRE AMADIEU ROMANE MACHOTTE, ****(*) the **** DOMAINE LA FOURMONE LE SECRET, the fleshy, rolling **** DOMAINE DU GOUR DE CHAULÉ, **** RHONÉA LES PIERRES DU VALLAT and the ***(*) DOMAINE DE CABASSE JOCUNDITAS.

On the second group feature wines such as the marvellous ****** STGT DOMAINE DU CAYRON, the ***** MOULIN DE LA GARDETTE TRADITION and their ****(*) VENTABREN, the ****(*) DOMAINE LA BOUISSÏÈRE FONT DE TONIN, the “chase you round the room” ****(*) DOMAINE LES GOUBERT, the ****(*) MAS DES FLAUZIÈRES TERRA ROSSO, ****(*) CHÂTEAU DE SAINT COSME, the ****(*) STGT DOMAINE DU PESQUIER, and the chunky, genuine ****(*) DOMAINE DU POURRA LA RÉSERVE. These are striking, ground force wines that will live a very long time.

MENTHOL, DETAIL, GOOD MANNERS

Other observations this year include the presence of menthol in many of the wines, very clear definition on the bouquets as well - real detail; at its best, this is a vintage of detail. A prime example of this is the ****(*) DOMAINE SAINT DAMIEN VIEILLES VIGNES. Purity exists both on the bouquets and in the palate fruit. I would suggest that 2016 is a very well mannered year at GIGONDAS: it says bonjour, bonsoir et bonne nuit, all at the appropriate times.

NINE STGT WINES: A SIGNAL OF A TOP VINTAGE

Beyond the purity, there are aromas that can quite often be on liqueur style fruit, and are coated in style, showing the extreme ripeness in play. The intensity of the vintage is also apparent from the largely black, not red, fruits on the palates. Even with such a big vintage, there are plenty of STGTs this year [nine in total, already], the terroir coming through the sunshine even at this early stage, the sign of a well superior vintage.

MOURVÈDRE: ANOTHER SUCCESS

Just as the MOURVÈDRE performed with great flair and success at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE in 2016, so it did at later ripening GIGONDAS, the ****(*) MONTIRIUS TERRE DES AÎNÉS a good instance, around 25% MOURVÈDRE, its finish really well prolonged thanks to the MOURVÈDRE in tandem with its heart full of quality GRENACHE.

SAINT GAYAN MORE ACCESSIBLE THAN IN THE PAST

In terms of specific domaines, an end of term report would mention that the 2016 wines of DOMAINE SAINT GAYAN are more accessible earlier than usual, with finesse very much forward, over obvious depth, and the tannins very smooth. Two of their absolute top years have been the still going strong 1990 and the robust, full of fireworks 2005.

On the slightly more questionable side of the equation, there are some innately heady wines this year; that sensation is given, though the alcohol is mostly camouflaged by the richness. There are also some more pumped up, glossy wines than in the past, CHÂTEAU RASPAIL an example.

PRICING

GIGONDAS now walks a delicate line between lurching into being too expensive, notably in the restaurant trade given three times mark-ups, and remaining a wine that is affordable to all, a superior SOUTHERN RHÔNE with lots of local pedigree. 2016 will rightly be a popular vintage. On the bulk market the HECTOLITRE of GIGONDAS is about double the price of RASTEAU, and 50% higher than VACQUEYRAS, which seems pretty fair. Any higher, though, and consumer resistance could start to come through.

LEADING 2016 GIGONDAS REDS

****** Domaine du Cayron 2039-42 10/17 immense character, exciting, STGT
***** Pierre Amadieu Le Pas de l’Aigle 2036-39 10/17 v joli Gren, pure, striking
***** Château de Saint Cosme Valbelle 2040-43 10/17 well bodied, southern intensity
***** Domaine La Bouissière Tradition 2036-39 10/17 copious, flair, truth, STGT
***** Domaine Les Goubert Florence 2037-40 10/17 powerful content, mystery, local
***** Dom Longue Toque Homge Gab Meffre 2039-42 10/17 unctuous, gracious, shapely, balance
***** Moulin de la Gardette Tradition 2036-39 10/17 thick, musky, genuine, character
***** Perrin Domaine Clos des Tourelles 2036-39 10/17

genuine, complex, stylish

***** Dom St Gayan In Nomine Patris jar 2046-49 10/18

intense, solid, gd heart, class

***** Dom Santa Duc Les Hautes Garrigues 2043-45 10/17

handsome, broad, nourishing

****(*) Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte 2039-42 10/17 stylish, aromatic, spiced, airborne
****(*) La Cave Gigondas Le Primitif  2035-38 10/17 thick juice, fleshy, cool
****(*) Château de Saint Cosme 2038-40 10/17 thorough heart, impressive, v long
****(*) Château de Saint Cosme Le Claux 2039-41 10/17 fine quality, spice, Burgundian
****(*) Château de St Cosme Hominis Fides 2039-42 10/17 broad, abundant, dark, solid
****(*) Château de Saint Cosme Le Poste 2039-42 10/17 fresh, mineral, firm thickness
****(*) Clos des Cazaux La Tour Sarrasine 2033-35 10/17 shapely gras, racy, pedigree
****(*) Clos du Joncuas 2030-32 10/17 sturdy, intricate, pedigree, STGT
****(*) Domaine La Bouissière Font de Tonin   2035-38 10/17 spicy, dark, thick, complex  
****(*) Domaine de Coyeux Impéris   2033-36 10/17 spherical, stately, genuine south  
****(*) Domaine La Font de Notre Dame   2032-35 10/17 fine, v persistent, gd Gren, STGT  
****(*) Domaine de Font-Sane Tradition   2035-38 10/17 fluid content, sparky, STGT  
****(*) Domaine Les Goubert  2035-38 10/17 big, sturdy, unbridled, spiced 
****(*) Dom du Gour de Chaulé Eugene   2035-38 10/17 gd attack, inner concentration 
****(*) Domaine de Longue Toque   2036-38 10/17 dark, smoky, detail, handsome 
****(*) Le Mas des Flauzières Terra Rosso   2036-39 10/17 thorough, meaty, express finish 
****(*) Montirius Terre des Aînés   2037-39 10/17 thick, well packed, striking  
****(*) Moulin de la Gardette Ventabren   2035-38 10/17 big; gd local strength, integrity 
****(*) Dom Les Pallières Les Racines   2038-41 10/17 thick, fluid, garrigue, complex 
****(*) Famille Perrin La Gille   2031-34 10/17 pedigree Grenache, style, balance 
****(*) Domaine du Pesquier   2037-40 10/17 close packing, sunny, STGT  
****(*) Domaine du Pourra La Réserve   2037-40 10/17 character, thorough, genuine, local 
****(*) Domaine Raspail-Ay   2038-40 10/17 tasty content, ensemble, STGT
****(*) Dom Saint-Damien Vieilles Vignes   2037-40 10/17 style, precision, detail, appeal 
****(*) Domaine Saint Gayan Origine   2034-37 10/17 harmony, detail, intricate, STGT  
****(*) Domaine Santa Duc Aux Lieux-Dits 2038-40 10/17 suave, spherical, southern
****(*) Dom Santa Duc Clos Derrière Vieille 2041-43 10/17 vigour, length, good control
****(*) Domaine Les Semelles de Vent   2035-38 10/17 beefy, scaled, balance, length 
****(*) Domaine Les Teyssonnières   2033-35 10/17 charm, finesse, balance, STGT  
**** Pierre Amadieu Dom Grand Romane 2034-37 10/17 spiced, clear, fleshy, joli 
**** Bergerie de la Plane  2031-33 10/17 vigorous fruit; big, grapey  
**** Brotte La Marasque   2030-32 10/17 dark, gusto, spiced, genuine 
**** Cave Gigondas Le Brut du Foudre   2033-35 10/17 pugnacious, firm, broad, spiced 
**** Château Redortier   2034-37 10/17 liberal, clear fruit, power 
**** Château du Trignon 2031-34 10/17 concentrated Grenache juice; long 
**** Domaine des Bosquets   2036-38 10/17 copious, fresh flashes, power 
**** Domaine des Bosquets La Colline   2037-40 10/17 imposing, wholesome, ground force 
**** Domaine des Bosquets Le Plateau   2038-40 10/17 enjoyable fruit, power, strength 
**** Domaine Brusset Hauts de Montmirail  2033-35 10/17 suave Gren gras, potential  
**** Florent & Damien Burle Les Pallieroudas 2029-32 10/17 lively fruit, coating, local  
**** Domaine des Espiers Les Blâches   2032-34 10/17 upbeat, racy fruit, rocks well 
**** Domaine des Espiers Les Grammes   2031-33 10/17 free fruit, smooth, bouncy  
**** Dom Font Sarade Les Pigières   2027-28 10/17 attractive, local, spice, fresh 
**** Dom de Fontavin Combe Sauvage   2033-36 10/17 grounded, wholesome, packed-in 
**** Domaine La Fourmone Le Fauquet 2034-36 10/17 sturdy, thick, sweet, long  
**** Domaine La Fourmone Le Secret   2035-37 10/17 silky smooth, inner strength 
**** Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Tradition 2032-35 10/17 ample, fat, rolling, good heart
**** Grandes Serres Combe Marchands 2029-31 10/17 spicy, well presented, fleshy 
**** Domaine du Grapillon d’Or 2035-38 10/17 sturdy, thick, compressed
**** Dom du Grapillon d’Or Excellence   2034-37 10/17 heart, width, rolling matter 
**** Alain Jaume Terrasse de Montmirail   2030-33 10/17 lip smack, genuine, varied 
**** Le Mas des Flauzières Grde Réserve  2031-33 10/17 thick juice, sturdy, hearty  
**** Montirius Confidentiel   2036-39 10/17 sinew, concentration, strength 
**** Ogier Dentellis     2030-33 10/17 sleek, well mannered, floral 
**** Domaine d’Ouréa   2034-37 10/17 rich, rolling, smooth, heart 
**** Domaine Paillère et Pied-Gû   2032-34 10/17 natural, genuine; agile fruit 
**** Domaine Palon   2029-31 10/17 dense, free gusto, long 
**** Dom Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable   2037-39 10/17 rich, generous, freshness 
**** Famille Perrin L’Argnée V Vignes  2033-36  10/17 thorough richness, bit baked
**** Rhonéa Pierres du Vallat   2030-32 10/17 well-juiced, local, thorough 
**** Domaine La Roubine   2034-37 10/17 suave content, glossy, sipping  
**** Dom Saint Damien La Louisiane   2030-32 10/17 mild, easy, plump, facile  
**** Domaine Saint Gayan Fontmaria   2033-36 10/17 gracious, en finesse, stylish
**** Domaine du Terme white label   2035-37 10/17 nicely stylish, coated, rounded 
**** Dom Les Teyssonnières Alexandre 2034-37 10/17 strength under smooth top  
**** Domaine de La Tourade   2033-35 10/17 fluid, compact, good body 
**** Domaine La Tourade Font des Aieux   2034-36 10/17 broad, thorough, local colour 
**** Domaine Tourbillon Vieilles Vignes   2030-33 10/17 genuine, ground force, inky  
**** Vidal-Fleury   2025-27 10/17 modern, stylish, easy drinking 
***(*) Cave de Gigondas La Référence   2032-34 10/17 thick content; sun-filled 
***(*) Chât La Croix des Pins Le Parpaillon 2031-33 10/17 firmly sealed, menthol, glow  
***(*) Domaine des Bosquets Le Lieu Dit   2035-37 10/17 clear fruits, smooth, heady 
***(*) Dom Brusset Secrets de Montmirail    2032-34 10/17 savoury, lively, oaked 
***(*) Dom Brusset Tradition Grand Montmirail  2027-29 10/17 streamlined, glossy, round 
***(*) Domaine de Cabasse Jucunditas    2031-32 10/17 stewed fruits, thick, pleaser 
***(*) Domaine Cécile Chassagne 2027-29 10/17 busy fruit, flashy style  
***(*) M Chapoutier   2029-31 10/17 close-knit, bit strict 
***(*) Domaine des Florets Les Florets   2026-28 10/17 suave, sealed, enjoyable  
***(*) Dom Font Sane Terrasses Dentelles   2035-37 10/17 rich, power, insistent, oak 
***(*) Dom du Grand Montmirail V Vignes 2037-39 10/18 easy richness, safe, some local
***(*) Lavau   2032-33 10/17 restraint, sinew, local clarity  
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2036-38 10/18 dense, gourmand, savoury
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Sainte-Catherine   2028-30 10/17 well endowed, juicy, refined 
***(*) Moulin de la Gardette Petite Gardette   2026-28 10/17 fruit forward, baked 
***(*) Notre Dame des Pallières Les Mourres  2028-30 10/17 sweet, fleshy, pleasant 
***(*) Ogier Héritages     2030-32 10/17 New Wave, shiny, floating  
***(*) Domaine des Pasquiers   2028-30 10/17 sunswept, good length 
***(*) Dom Saint-Damien Les Souteyrades   2029-31 10/17 free fruit, sleek, orderly 
***(*) Domaine La Soumade   2028-30 10/17 good juice, fresh tannin 
***(*) Bertrand Stehelin   2032-34 10/17 kind juice; sound foundation 
***(*) Terranea Nobles Dentelles   2028-29 10/17 lithe, restrained, local integrity 
*** Arnoux Vieux Clocher Nobles Terrasses  2028-30 10/17 compact, sturdy, time to arrange 
*** Louis Bernard   2029-30 10/17 obvious, copious, modern 
*** Chât La Croix des Pins Dessous Dentelles  2027-29 10/17 unctuous, fleshy, ponderous 
*** Château Raspail   2032-33 10/17 modern, savoury, high power 
*** Romain Duvernay   2026-27 10/17 fat Grenache, power, dryness 
*** Dom Grand Bourjassot Cuvée Cécile  2029-31 10/17 high octane, much oak 
*** Domaine La Ligière Les Bergines   2027-28 10/17 wiry essence, sinew, sunswept 
*** Marrenon Les Belles Échappées   2027-28 10/17 wavy fruit, tough finish 
*** Mas des Restanques   2025-26 10/17 coated content, agreeable, safe 
*** Domaine de la Mavette Traditionelle 2028-29 10/17 rugged, punchy; concerted fruit 
*** Rhonéa Domaine des Capes  2028-29 10/17 gourmand, open; liqueur style 
**(*) Arnoux Seigneur de Lauris   2028-30 10/17 much sweetness, oak-toffee 
**(*) Boutinot  2028-29 10/17 pushy tannins, dry, extraction 
**(*) Le Mas des Flauzières Four Danuga   2026-27 10/17 mild content, coated, wobbly 
**(*) Vignobles & Compagnie Sources Montmirail   2026-27 10/17 spiced, middling, bit tough 
** Vignobles & Compagnie Clos du Bois de Menge  2024-26 10/17 plain; dry, stretched tannins 
NR Domaine La Bouscatière     10/17 dense, punchy, baked, curly 
NR Montirius La Tour    10/17 husky, sweet 
         


2016 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

IMPECCABLE TERRET NOIR ON GRAND PIERRE, DOMAINE DU BANNERET, 28 SEPTEMBER, 2016

2016 is a fabulous vintage at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE. The Royal appellation of the Southern Rhône can truly strut its multi-coloured, fascinating robes this year, a dazzle of pleasure to the eye and to all the senses. The wines are full of bounty, are aromatic, possess certain content, ripe tannins, and, hallelujah, are BALANCED. So I don’t want loose talk from slapdash journalists who should stick to BURGUNDY waffling on about high alcohol degrees. Those lamentable scribblers should buy a knife and fork instead of relying on a teaspoon.

When a great vintage comes along, it is rare that it is a surprise. Perhaps, in my experience back to 1971, I can think of 1981 that started as an ugly duckling, and turned out to be a swan. Its trump card was its acidity, and once that had settled, the wines went on a spur of generation, binding themselves, but also expanding. But their shape and feel were never similar to the relative neighbour of 1978, that had announced itself as extremely good, rich and fresh from the off.

In that respect, 2016 aligns itself with 1978 more than 1981, and notably with 1990, which was a sun-filled vintage with a high yield, just like 2016. However, winemaking was more rudimentary in 1990; investment in cellars has been widespread in the past 26 years, cleanliness is much improved. One only has to look at the standard of white wine making between now and then to gauge what has been going on.

When comparing to other vintages such as 1990, realism about the changes since then is necessary, according to FRANÇOIS PERRIN of CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL. As he puts it: “bottling techniques, vineyard care, the date of harvest are all more precise. We put in temperature control in the cellar around 1998, so the wines were kept more freshly after that.”

There has indeed been a leap forward in vineyard work, which is much more detailed than it was in 1989-1990. Beyond more accurate harvesting dates, come improved control of the ripeness of different varieties, and cooling systems upon reception, with optical sorting and so on, much more in place. BEAUCASTEL have been organic for decades, but there is greater working of the soils these days, which growers pointed to as a benefit in 2016 – if done pre-season, and not so as to withdraw humidity if done during the growing season.

Of course, the laugh is that in a vintage such as 2016, all the technical knowledge in the world, all the heaviest investment in the latest gizmo are really rendered almost null and void because the harvest quality was so outstanding. “Make me lazy, give me a garage, and in 2016 I can make top wine” could be a refrain for the year. I went around the vineyards in September, 2016, the third and fourth weeks of the month, and wherever I went, and whatever the variety, red, white or rose, the grapes looked wonderful, and also tasted wonderful.

This is therefore a vintage that will give enormous amounts of pleasure and will live extremely well. Because the terroir is so fine, I am adamant that it is a pity to drink such wines, however gourmand they may be, in their immediate youth. They are nearly all capable of becoming stimulating, provocative and complex as they evolve, so rushing in to drink them, however instant the squelchy pleasure, before around 2020-21 is a wasted opportunity.

TWO KEYS TO THE PAPAL PALACE: FRESH NIGHTS, MID-SEPTEMBER RAIN

2016 is actually a dry, sun-filled vintage, but there were two factors that dragged it back from being a close cousin to 2003 – fresh late summer nights and one mid-September rainfall. The fresh nights factor held an important role in forming the beauty of the wonderful 2010 vintage, a vintage, incidentally, that has more lithe features than 2016: the greater density and thickness of the 2016 content is what aligns it more with 1990 than 2010.

PIERRE PERVEYRIE assembles a hand made wine at CLOS ST PIERRE, situated in the north-west of the appellation. He recounted: “there was a good quantity at budding, but there was some coulure (flowers not converting into fruit) here and there, some millerandage (seedless berries). June was rainy, then July and August dry. The heat provoked concentration and the Mistral wind contributed a bit of that concentration as well. I only had to do six rounds of treatment – this area is wonderful for organic working. I rate 2016 as exceptional, superior to 2015.”

In mid-summer there was one instance of hail, with a storm on 28 June that came through on LA NERTHE, and stopped just before BEAUCASTEL. It hit SORGUES, BÉDARRIDES, LA CRAU, and BOIS DAUPHIN.

DRY CONDITIONS – VERY LITTLE BLIGHT

Otherwise, the dry conditions meant that the vineyard did not require large amounts of retrieval work. Talking in early August to the talented JULIEN BARROT of DOMAINE LA BARROCHE, I was informed: “things are impeccable, and the potential is good. There is a slight fear about drought, we need rain, and without rain there may be a blockage in ripening. There’s been no mildew, oïdium nor black rot. The veraison is happening now – the grapes changing colour – and we may start the harvest around 15 September. The yield is good so far, similar to 2015.”

At the same time, across the road at CLOS DES PAPES, VINCENT AVRIL told me: “the harvest looks very joli, with no blights at all because it’s been very dry; the vines are resisting well. There aren’t many weeds because of the dry conditions. Overall, we have had just 260 mm (10.2 in) of rain since early January. The bunches aren’t too tight knit and look fine. The grapes are small, and there isn’t a lot of juice in each grape – but that’s good for quality. We do need rain, though.

The veraison started around 18 July, and is going quite quickly, 70% completed in some places. Harvest could be around 12-14 September, not before. It all depends on August. It’s a normal year vis-à-vis ripening, and we are running at 22-25 hl/ha, before discarding, which beats our recent averages.”

By early September, the pips were squeaking with regard to the need for rain, with JULIEN BARROT reporting: “from 20 August to 15 September, we had very hot days, but super fresh mornings; even the CINSAULT ripened, and was exceptional for quality. Thanks to the fresh nights, the skins remained stable, not cracked.” Overnight freshness started to exert its influence, just at the moment of growing stress, therefore.

On 5 September, the STGT practitioner LAURENT CHARVIN of DOMAINE CHARVIN, in the north of the appellation, was full of beans: “MAG-NI-FIQUE . .  you know this word?”, he asked me. “It’s the best crop since I started in 1990. There is great potential, unbelievable health in the vineyards. Working organically has posed no problems this year, neither from mildew nor oïdium, for example. My vines aren’t suffering from drought. The grapes are concentrated.

2016: A YEAR WHEN WORKING THE SOILS REAPED FRESH DIVIDENDS

Working the soils paid off in acting against the stress that some areas have known. We had only 2-3 mm of rain during August, and the forecast is for weather that is warm, around 28°C, and dry until the second weekend in September. I will start on my white grapes on 7 September, the SYRAH at the end of the week, and the GRENACHE the week commencing 12 September.”

THE VITAL MID-SEPTEMBER RAIN

Then, along came the ace card to render the vintage quite exceptional: a band of rain, not a trickle, that swept across the appellation, bringing 40 to 45 mm mostly (1.6-1.8 in), with 30 mm (1.2 in) in some places.

CAROLE ARNAUD is part of the CABRIÈRES family, and works eight hectares at CLOS ST PIERRE: “we had 45 mm (1.8 in) of rain on 15 September on our vineyards in the south of the appellation, notably LES GALIMARDES, whereas BÉDARRIDES and CAMARET near the PLAN DE DIEU only got 4-5 mm,” she told me.

Young XAVIER ROLIN of DOMAINE ROGER PERRIN applauded the rain: “a rainfall of 45 mm (1.8 in) on 14-15 September made us stop harvesting for four and a half days; the MISTRAL wind got going after the rain, which was of course very helpful. I’d say that we had had under 30 mm (1.2 in) of rain from early June until then, so the rain was welcome. Ripening was a lot more heterogeneous than normal this year – it was hard to follow the cases of previous years, with some plots a lot more precocious than usual. For example, some CÔTES DU RHÔNE VILLAGES vineyards were ahead of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, not after them, this year. GRENACHE on the VILLAGES was expected to take seven days to fully ripen, then – wham! – it was done in just two days.”

THIÉRRY USSEGLIO of DOMAINE PIERRE USSEGLIO & FILS also praised the rain: “this year the 45 mm on 14 September was very beneficial, and served well to lower the degree, diluting things a little,” he related. “The yield is similar to 2015, perhaps a touch more this year. The bunches are handsome, the grapes not enormous. It’s a hot, dry, Mistral wind vintage with very little discarding or sorting needed. We harvested the southern area on GRANDES SERRES and GALIMARDES on 8-9 September. By contrast we only harvested the GRENACHE on LES ESQUEIRRONS, on the limestone north-west of the village, on 27 September.”

MID-SEPTEMBER RAIN AVOIDED A 2003 VINTAGE

Another grower to comment on the vital role of the mid-September rain was the motivated and busy FLORENT LANÇON of DOMAINE DE LA SOLITUDE, who, in his CUVÉE CORNELIA CONSTANZA, has made one of the wines of the vintage: “it’s been a perfect year,” he reported. “30 mm (1.2 in) of rain on 14 September unblocked the ripening – otherwise it would have been like 2003. The top heat was 36°C to 38°C at the end of August, while the nights then were warm, 24°-25°C.” The rain avoided a lack of balance vis-à-vis the alcohol levels. The late ripening zones did well, ones such as FONT DU LOUP (E), VAUDIEU (N-E), RAYAS (N-E), the COURTHÉZON area.

Also relieved that a 2003 vintage had been avoided was THIÉRRY USSEGLIO of DOMAINE PIERRE USSEGLIO & FILS, who remarked: “the GRENACHE and SYRAH had very dark colours, and we have brought in more crop at 15° to 15.5° than at 14°. The wine was very joli at the end of fermentation. In 2003, also a drought year, there was less juice in the grapes.”

DRY, DRAINING SOILS = CONCENTRATION

The spring had been dry and not very warm”, he continued, “and at that stage it was shaping like a late ripening vintage. Our first harvest this year was the SYRAH on COSTE FROIDE (E, very close to the village] on 6 September, and we ended three weeks after that. The MOURVÈDRE was very much helped by the September rain – the leaves were greener after that, and the bunches were good and loose. Terroir will come through – meaning the dry soils will give wines of concentration, for example. The musts were quite fresh. I have found that there is very good acidity in the wines, even on ripe, concentrated GRENACHE at 15° to 16°, with a Ph OF 3.4 – I’ve never seen that.”

FRANCK MOUSSET who makes well-fruited, enjoyable wines that reflect his upbeat nature at DOMAINE DES SAUMADES was firmly content with the rain, telling me: “the 40 mm of rain in mid-September was a big help. I have never seen such a crop – it was ripe, but also had a very good pH. 2016 beats the records of years on levels such as pH – 3.40 – total acidity – 4.00, polyphenols, anthiocyanes.”

RAIN LOOSENED UP THE SKINS, AIDED THE TANNINS

President of the Growers Union, the hard working THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET also commented on the mid-September bonus, pointing out: “you had 15° to 16° on the crop, but also thick, underripe skins. The rain in mid-September allowed the plots to get over that obstacle. In the vinifications there was a risk of residual sugar – it was difficult to end the alcoholic fermentation this year.”

The pristine quality of the crop was outlined in an anecdote from CATHERINE ARMENIER of the outstanding, longtime biodynamic DOMAINE DE MARCOUX: “our tractor broke down on 21 September, but we had it repaired that day, with no worries,” she told me. “As for our table de tri (sorting table) – look at my clean clothes – it wasn’t really necessary. There was a good yield, with juice and degree.”

Her sister SOPHIE ARMENIER gave a thorough rundown on how she saw 2016: “the reds have a lot of colour, really deep, and belles acidities, good pHs; I did no acidification because the reds held a very interesting balance. Freshness will keep the wines together, and going for a long time. The old timers say they have never seen such a fine vintage crop before. The degree is 15° to 16° and a bit more, up 1° on 2015. There is also a lot of tannin, more than 2015.

Nights in July and August were fresh, which was crucial after the high daytime heat, so the wines aren’t hot. I would call 2016 a year of facility – you can have an easy year in the vineyard, but the wines don’t all turn out well, and you are faced with rising Volatile Acidity and vigilance is needed in the cellar – that was the case in 2003. 2016 was facile on both fronts, and the wines are superb.

Yields were good for us – 25 hl/ha, the same as 2015. My SYRAH yield was a little down – 2% to 3% - on 2015, but was more joli than 2015, which was hurt by the late August hydric stress. The 2016 MARCOUX VIEILLES VIGNES has a different style to the 2015; it’s more based on power, like 2007, whereas 2015 is more about finesse and elegance.”

FRESH NIGHTS A WINNING FACTOR

The freshness of the late summer nights was an active contributor to the quality of 2016. As PASCAL LAFOND of DOMAINE ROC-ÉPINE said: “the fresh nights in August were very helpful. The heat in September – 29°C on 29 September, for example, was very rare. The tannins are fine, already at the end of vinification, which is unusual, a very belle surprise.” This was re-iterated by JEAN-PAUL DAUMEN of the excellent, stylish DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE near ORANGE: “August was marked by hot days, with very helpful fresh nights,” he recalled.

GREAT MOURVÈDRE, GOOD BUT NOT GREAT SYRAH, TANNIC DENSITY

Growers constantly referred to record levels – colour, tannins, acidity – this year. JÉRÔME MATHIEU has named his domaine SAJE since the split with his brother ANDRÉ [his wife SAbine and him JErome]: “it’s a beau vintage. It was dry so I was cautious, but it was easy to work with. The wines are abundant, have a lot of qualities; they’ll be tough, and will take a long time to come together. It was a record year for tannic density – the GRENACHE was as coloured as the SYRAH this year. The wines also have fruit balance, happily. If you ask me, I prefer 2016 to 2010, but it’s close between 2009 and 2016, for me.

The rumbustious NICOLAS BOIRON of BOSQUET DES PAPES also talked about the high tannin index, when stating: “it is a magnificent, keeping vintage, all grapes varieties did very well. There was exceptional MOURVÈDRE – I have never seen it as ripe and good. The SYRAH was joli, but not impressive – it suffered from the heat. Colours were very intense – I have never seen the index so high as in 2016. Balance is very good.” The phenolic ripening [the tannins] was very, very good. The wines were 15.5° to 16°.”

Across the board, the plethora of grape varieties performed with dash this year, with, as pointed out by NICOLAS BOIRON, the SYRAH the one variety about which reservations were expressed – no surprise, since it is palpably ill adapted to the hot climes of the Mediterranean basin. The INAO advice, near urging, that it be widely planted is ludicrous, completely wrong headed.

STEMS AND PIPS RIGHT ON THE MONEY

So complete was the ripeness this year, that reference was made to the quality of stems and pips. FRÉDÉRIC DE VILLIERS from the ruggedly traditional DOMAINE LUCIEN BARROT & FILS stated: “we started our harvest on 6 September, ending on 28 September. The stems had started to go yellow, and the pips were brown, not green – both good signs. It’s a very sympa year, with clean grapes, no vinification problems. The vinifications took three weeks, and we are very happy with the GRENACHE and SYRAH.”

PATRICK BRUNEL of CHÂTEAU DE LA GARDINE, west of the village, was another to recognise the high quality of the harvest, when telling me: “the quantity was small, but the crop marvellous, with the Fire of God colours and robes. I have only see that quality of fruit five or six times in my life. The GRENACHE suffered a little coulure, the MOURVÈDRE was ready very early, so could be blended with the GRENACHE and the SYRAH, which we like to do. In terms of style, we have always sought to find fruit, fruit, fruit – but it’s not easy to sell CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE that isn’t 15.5° and massive.” An interesting final observation, there: are the days of Body Builder wines really over?

FRANÇOIS PERRIN of CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL also used the M adjective when discussing the crop: “the grapes were magnificent, the ripeness good. The days were hot in August, but the nights cool. There is a lot of colour and acidity, the alcohol OK, a bit higher than 2015. The vintage made itself, on its own. There is charm and balance in the wines. Our vineyard at BEAUCASTEL performed well in the drought thanks to the clay-limestone soils, especially for the GRENACHE. The SYRAH suffered a bit, and the MOURVÈDRE was very good.”

VERY GOOD VACCARÈSE

From the north-west towards ORANGE, PHILIPPE BRAVAY, who makes full-blooded wine at DOMAINE DE FERRAND gave this rundown: “there is good density, but also a good Ph of 3.5 to 3.6, a natural acidity, very joli. We were down 10% in juice terms, though the crop yield was good – pointing to density in the grapes. The VACCARÈSE were magnificent, really ripened well, and taste well, unlike they were in 2014 which was a catastrophe. As for the CINSAULT, it was the first time I have thrown nothing away - a dry year is great for the CINSAULT. The vintage is more masculine than 2014, and 2015, has foundation, tannin. They will be keeping wines.”

JEAN-FRANÇOIS MÉRY of LES CLEFS D’OR, the old JEAN DEYDIER domaine, also remarked on the quality of the MOURVÈDRE, and of one of the less well-known varieties, the VACCARÈSE: “our harvest ran from 12 September to 27 September. Our yield was low with a bit of coulure on the GRENACHE and the VIEILLES VIGNES, then drought. That led to small grapes. Our last cropping was on LA CRAU – we picked some on 20 September at 14.5°, the last at 15.5°. The MOURVÈDRE was magnificent this year, 14.5° to 14.8°. We don’t have much SYRAH – that was 12.8° this year.

Very rare is it to have VACCARÈSE at 14.5°, as we did this year. It dates from the 1950s on PIED LONG, a late ripening sector, so we took leaves off the vines to help its ripeness. We ended up with 26-28 hl/ha, against 32 hl/ha in 2015.”

Longtime organic, biodynamic practitioner JACQUELINE ANDRÉ of DOMAINE PIERRE ANDRÉ also reckoned the conditions had been immaculately timed, with an explanation for the strong performance of the VACCARÈSE. “2016 is a good year, attractive, she ttold me. "We had what was required at the right time in the vineyard – the timing of rain, the sun, the fresh nights. The volume of 30 hl/ha we hadn’t seen for a long time. There’s belle balance, matter and appealing freshness. The VACCARÈSE benefited from the 2016 freshness."

A CINSAULT TRIUMPH, WHICH IS INFREQUENT

LUC CHARVIN of DOMAINE CHARVIN joined in on the praise for the smaller varieties: “I have never known what I had in my sector of the appellation – all the varieties did well, acidity levels were good and it was homogenous quality across the board. The SYRAH was very ripe, as were the CINSAULT, VACCARÈSE, and all the CARIGNAN for my CÔTES DU RHONE.

It’s the same quantity of crop as 2015, but with less juice this year. There was no drought, even in plots that might normally fear such conditions. The working of the soils at the end of the season counted. It’s the first time that I can say I am very, very happy with my SYRAH [LUC has three plots totalling 1.5 hectares]. The GRENACHE was magnificent.”

Just as PHILIPPE BRAVAY and LUC CHARVIN, who are relative neighbours in the North-West of the appellation, praised their CINSAULT, so did JULIEN BARROT of DOMAINE LA BARROCHE: “from 20 August to 15 September we had very hot days, but super fresh mornings; even the CINSAULT ripened, and was exceptional for quality. Thanks to the fresh nights, the skins remained stable, not cracked.

“It’s a magnificent vintage,” he went on – “all my blends are high quality. It’s the best year since I started in 2003. I adored 2010, but the satisfaction with 2016 is the quality along with a good quantity of wine, luckily a full crop. Had yields been lower, the wines could have been over concentrated, so as it is, the balance is good.

In terms of vinification, the malolactic on the 2016 MOURVÈDRE I have never known so delayed; if it is late, it’s usually in the spring after the harvest, but 2016 took until the end of the 2017 summer. That was due to the charge of tannin being so high, and the lactic bacteria didn’t develop. I also had to wait for the sugars on PURE – they were stuck at 7.5 gm for a while, and by October 2017, I still had 4.9 gm to go. The Ph is 3.60 to 3.65, similar to 2015. I started the CLAIRETTE on 12 September, the reds the next day, also similar to 2015.”

Joining in on the applause for the less frequent varieties in 2016 was FRANÇOIS PERRIN, who, as an indication of the quality of the vintage right across the board, showed me a 50 hl barrel of BEAUCASTEL COUNOISE (1982) at 12.4°, Tasting Note: red robe. Has a prominent spice-clove aroma with rose, musky tones, black pepper, real good clarity. The palate stretches out well, has a keen freshness, and beau red fruits, with nerve. It ends on fine red juice, is a serene wine. “The COUNOISE was abundant this year, and this is the opposite of an extraction wine,” he commented.

2016 WELL SUPERIOR TO 2015

2015 was a tricky year at CHÂTEAUNEUF, with sometimes edgy ripening, and I concur with growers who place 2016 well ahead of it. JEAN-PAUL VERSINO of DOMAINE BOIS DE BOURSAN signalled 2016 as some way ahead of 2015, when observing: “2016 has more alcohol, body, structure, colour and tannin than 2015. It’s a great vintage because of its balance.”

XAVIER ROLIN of DOMAINE ROGER PERRIN agreed with JEAN-PAUL VERSINO, pointing out, “there has been lots to discover in 2016, which is fascinating and passionate. The 2016 reds will be well above 2015, especially if the vigneron adapted well to the climate. There is more structure, more richness, more tannic richness, more polyphenols. Our 2016 vinifications are like being on holiday compared to 2015.”

JULIEN BARROT also preferred the 2016 tannins, when remarking: “the 2016 tannins are less firm than 2015’s, and are more wrapped into the wines; 2015 was a solar vintage, which then suffered some dilution from September storms.”

JEAN-PAUL DAUMEN of the biodynamic DOMAINE DE LA VIEILLE JULIENNE also strongly favours 2016 over 2015. He told me: “2016 is an extreme year; it has the concentration, power of 2015 with a lot of freshness, finesse, the pH levels good. It makes me think of 2001 in its balance, but is more profound and noble than that vintage. I much prefer 2016 to 2015.”

THE FRESHNESS CARD: LOWER THAN USUAL pH

Like several growers, VINCENT AVRIL of CLOS DES PAPES spoke about a healthy pH in 2016: “the pHs were very, very good in 2016, which was an advantage, and the tannins are very ripe. The pH is often 3.80 to 3.90, but this year it’s 3.70; it’s superior to 2010’s, by the way. The wines are past 15.5°, but I don’t let myself be influenced by the sugars – I judge by the skins.

We made 25 hl/ha – which is my marker yield for a normal crop here; 2015 was 22 hl/ha, 2014 15 hl/ha and 2013 13 hl/ha, by the way. I love the MOURVÈDRE, but it needs clay, not sand. In 2017, the sand based MOURVÈDRE wouldn’t have ripened, from a lack of humidity. Both 2015 and 2016 are GRANDES ANNÉES; 2016 has power, concentration, is of the stature of 2010 and 1990.”

COMPARISON TO OTHER TOP GRADE VINTAGES

FRANÇOIS PERRIN and I have virtually grown up together, and he is very well equipped to give a long view on 2016. He commented: “2016 is juicy, on fruit, ripe fruit without excess. It is a Grande Vintage – everything is good. It’s among the top years of BEAUCASTEL – 1989, 1990, 1978. Perhaps the 2016 style reminds me most of 1989. By contrast, 2015 holds less obvious fruit, is more Nordic than 2016.” His nephew MARC PERRIN also enthused about the vintage at BEAUCASTEL: “the wines are pure, balanced – everything was in balance. Cool nights aided the vintage all through the ripening season.”

2016 and 1990

I consider 2016 comparable to another sunshine year of great, gourmand appeal, namely 1990. When I mentioned this while tasting the CLOS DES PAPES with VINCENT AVRIL, he was 200% in agreement with that assessment, feeling that 2016 was perhaps ahead of 1990, because 2016 held great freshness, a pH lower than 1990’s. “It will really close down. Above all, you had to not chase extraction in 2016,” he told me.

LAURENT CHARVIN of DOMAINE CHARVIN [just one red, brilliant] up in the North-West of the appellation towards ORANGE, was another wise grower to refer to 1990. He informed me: “I am very happy with 2016. It’s a very beau year, better than 2010, with better balance, more freshness. The nearest vintage is possibly 1990, with the harvest less abundant in 2016 compared to 1990.”

THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT OLIVET, agreed about 1990, stating “2016 is a Grand Vintage, comparable with 1990. The reds stopped fermenting with the sugars not finished, have high degree, but matter, concentration, aren’t heavy, are very, very jolis. You had to avoid the aspect of jam and dried grapes when vinifiying. There was ripeness, but also freshness, with the tannins well embedded into the matter. A year later, in October, 2017, I still had two vats to finish their sugars.”

The status of a GRANDE ANNÉE was also accorded by ALEXANDRE FAVIER of DOMAINE CHANTE CIGALE, who testified: “2016 is super – even what we sorted and discarded hit a good level. The weather was great, it rained when we wanted, and there were no blights in the vineyard. The wines are powerful, balanced, a bit more complex and full than 2015. It’s possibly a Grande Année.”

2016 and 2010

Growers are often ready to look ahead rather than back when praising the current vintage – “this year is much better than last year”, etc, so I am happy to listen to two views from the young generation comparing 2016 with 2010. However, they are different in profile from my point of view, the younger year much more obviously and fully charged.

At DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE, VÉRONIQUE MARET made these observations: “I would compare 2016 to 2010, with both vintages having good yields. Small rainfalls unblocked the GRENACHE, so there was just enough rain for that. Like 2010, the nights were fresh. There was good phenolic ripeness.

There is a lot of class in the wines, combining power and strength with freshness, lots of tannin and good length. Since 2015 we are working with PHILIPPE CAMBIE; I think that has brought more finesse, helped by more oxygen during the vinification, that brings perfumes. We are also using more stems – we have gone from all destemmed to 25% to 30% inclusion in 2015, and 50% inclusion in 2016.”

JÉRÔME GRIECO, who achieves fruit with flair at DOMAINE DE LA BISCARELLE gave this commentary: “our yields were low this year across the QUARTIER DU GRÈS because it was hit by the drought. There were a lot of grapes but not a lot of juice. 2016 will be more stable than 2015, which can show well one day, then not the next.

I rate 2016 above 2010. There’s freshness in the context of all the density and concentration, and a super balance. For me, the freshness this year came from the stems, the menthol side that brought the freshness. The stems hide the degree a bit. That could have meant a very over concentrated vintage, but the final outcome was more freshness. There are similarities with 2017 – they are both fresh vintages.”

Another grower to place 2016 ahead of 2010 was FRÉDÉRIC NICOLET of the Southern zone DOMAINE CHANTE PERDRIX, always a source for full-blooded wines: “the 2016 crop was very marvellous, superior to 2010. We had good rain at just the right moments. The tannins are very jolis, very silken.”

THOMAS MAGNI of DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI, with a natural leaning towards punchy wines, also noted the freshness within their deep wines. He told me: “the reds have a solar imprint, high degrees, but the quality is good, and they will live a long time. They have sucrosity and length. We may extend our raising before bottling. The GRENACHE is fabulous, exceptional. It’s a complete year – the wines aren’t heady, they are fresh.”

2016 IS WELL BALANCED

The all-important freshness within 2016 is a major heartbeat of the vintage – without it, too many wines would veer towards the ponderous. You will also have noticed that the word BALANCE is present in descriptions, and that is the key ingredient in judging any vintage as excellent.

PIERRE PASTRE, who runs CHÂTEAU FORTIA, was one person placing 2016 alongside 2010: “I hope it will be a very good year, in fact I think it could be phenomenal, with all the varieties equally ripe, none better than the others. I compare it to 2010,” he told me in October, 2016.”

RALPH GARCIN, the welcome new broom at CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE, which needs to get back to making wines with character, also rated 2016 close to, or better than 2010: “it’s a dream vintage, above 2015, perhaps 2010,” he stated. “There is balance and primary matter, juice, so I am delighted. The wines aren’t alcoholic, and have natural freshness, ripe tannins without heaviness. It’s an accessible vintage which hasn’t needed much active work.

2016 has a lot more balance than 2015 – I find the 2015 has a solar side coming through with time. Perhaps 2015 is like 2009 and 2016 on the lines of 2010. The 2016 crop was bigger than 2015, and was helped by rainfall when we needed it.”

The MAS SAINT-LOUIS vineyards are in one block in the South-East, towards SORGUES – a hot zone. MATTHIEU FAURIE-GRÉPAN has contributed to a rise in quality and consistency there. He gave me this take: “the wines are very jolis, very concentrated, have a lot of colour and tannin. The essential was not to extract so as to avoid bulked up wines. It’s superb. We had to wait longer than some for phenolic ripeness on the GRENACHE.”

2016: STIMULATING BOUQUETS

When assessing a vintage such as 2016, I do of course draw on experience that goes back to tasting the 1960s years when they were young. One of the first impressions that CHÂTEAUNEUF made on me then was how wonderful were the aromas on those wines – baskets full of varied stimulants, mixed herbs, cedar, pine, dark fruits. The growers have not much commented specifically on the bouquets this year, but, for me, they are marvellous, even wondrous.

Floral airs feature, including on TRADITION wines, which are the most direct comparison with the vintages of long ago, pre all the micro-cuvées; the CLOS DES PAPES is floral, while FRANÇOISE and ANDRÉ BRUS at the traditional DOMAINE LUCIEN BARROT & FILS, home of sturdy CHÂTEAUNEUF, pointed to the fact that “the grapes were small, there was a lot of perfume, and a good colour; it’s more perfumed than rich (gras), with good small tannins.”

A cornucopia of varied delights comes forward on the bouquets, while, on the palate, a very big vintage often brings black fruits; not necessarily so this year with red fruits in the frame – testament to the balance of the wines, and an underlying brightness, harmony.

HIGH STGT COUNT IN 2016, OLD VINES GRENACHE ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL

It’s a major vintage for old vine GRENACHE truth and expression, hence a lot of STGT wines in 2016  - 17 in all [a world record!]. One of the neatest is the rollicking VALUE wine from the small DOMAINE PORTE ROUGE, by the way. If you had 80%+ GRENACHE and old vines this year, you were in clover – you could make the wine of your ancestors. “The old GRENACHE gave a good crop this year, so their percentage in the wines is healthy,” remarked THIÉRRY SABON of CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET. If you raised the wines in vat, you were even better placed than raising in the clash of young oak and old GRENACHE, as well.

Along these lines, I point to the ***** LES GRENACHES DE PIERRE of DOMAINE GIRAUD, oldest GRENACHE 1900s, vat only raising, the ***** DOMAINE MOULIN-TACUSSEL HOMMAGE A HENRY TACUSSEL from 1904 and older GRENACHE, the ****** DOMAINE DE LA SOLITUDE CORNELIA CONSTANZA, made from 1910-1920 GRENACHE, mostly vat raised, the biodynamic 95% GRENACHE ****** RAYMOND USSEGLIO & FILS CUVÉE IMPÉRIALE, made from 1901-1902 GRENACHE and all concrete vat raised, and the ****** DOMAINE DE MARCOUX VIEILLES VIGNES, made from GRENACHE ranging from 1900 to 1935, and all concrete vat raised. Then there is, of course, the 100% GRENACHE ****** CHÂTEAU RAYAS, raised in neutral old casks, another emblematic performer in this top vintage. These are all mighty wines.

A WORTHY SET OF EN FINESSE WINES

It was encouraging to encounter a good set of wines where finesse was more on the agenda than the broken CHÂTEAUNEUF record of power, and more power. One of the low profile triumphs, and well worth seeking out, is the refined, hand made ***** DOMAINE PORTE ROUGE, a bargain at €17.

Restraint and balance feature in the **** DOMAINE DE LA CÔTE DE L’ANGE. An en finesse style, tipping a hat to BURGUNDY came from the **** DOMAINE FONT DE MICHELLE TRADITION, where GUILLAUME GONNET is very much a name to watch. His trio of GUILLAUME GONNET wines are full of dash and imagination, with the ****(*) BEL AMI a wine of cool, precise harmony, for example. He is also involved in the venture with long standing [nearly as long as me, donc a veteran] British wine agent CHARLES BLAGDEN at LES BOIS POINTU.

Other domaines on a good trail of finesse this year include the charm by stealth ****(*) DOMAINE DE BEAURENARD, the subtleties of the ****(*) DOMAINE DE LA CHARBONNIÈRE, the ****(*) STGT CLOS ST ANTONIN [the SABON family of JANASSE], the lucid, neat **** JÉRÔME MATHIEU SAJE, the **** LES CAILLOUX from ANDRÉ BRUNEL, always one of the most truthful and best value CHÂTEAUNEUFs, the **** DOMAINE SAINT PRÉFERT, **** DOMAINE DES SÉNÉCHAUX and **** DOMAINE DU GALET DES PAPES.

BUT, SIPPING ONLY WINES AS WELL

Going across to the other end of the spectrum, there were still some wines plonking themselves into the “only for sipping” category. Here I cite the **** 16° GRAND TINEL HERES – style, truth, but sipping; the ***(*) MOURIESSE VINUM TOUR D’AMBRE – sipping; the ***(*) CHÂTEAU GIGOGNAN CARDINALICE [a bit sticky], the ***(*)  DOMAINE DE PIGNAN CORALIE ET FLORIANE LE SOLEIL DE NOS VIGNES – sipping, and the *** DOMAINE JEAN ROYER LES SABLES DE LA CRAU - sipping, 16°.

A DRY VINTAGE, SO SOME WINES BAKED

Given the drought conditions, it’s not actually a surprise that some wines can be a bit dry on the finish, delivering a compressed, at worst baked, feel from the drought: *** ROMAIN DUVERNAY.  The gradual ripening and cool nights tempered that feature of dry conditions, but it’s still present in the wines, most often buried under the abundance and richness. In some cases, it is less well buried, example two from the TOUR SAINT MICHEL – the *** DEUX SOEURS and *** L’EXTRAIT [baked finish].

Also bearing signs of the drought were wines such as the ***(*) DOMAINE PATRICE MAGNI LE PRESSOIR - dry tannins, a bit baked – and, for now, the **** CHÂTEAU FORTIA TRADITION [compressed for now, can emerge], likewise the **** DOMAINE BERTHET-RAYNE, from free draining soils.

MOURVÈDRE: A STARRING ROLE

In terms of glory beyond the old vines of the GRENACHE, step forward the MOURVÈDRE. I note increased planting of this really accomplished variety, which knocks the pedestrian SYRAH into a cocked hat at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE.

The MOURVÈDRE role was very important this year, beyond the length and stuffing it brings – that of toning down the excess degree, the headiness of the GRENACHE. What I term a MAJOR FRENCH WINE is the 60% MOURVÈDRE ****** CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL HOMMAGE A JACQUES PERRIN, which bears the unctuous fruit of old vines, the oldest from the late 1940s. Handsome MOURVÈDRE also came in the shape of the ****(*) VIN DE FELIBRE DOMAINE ANDRÉ MATHIEU – 80% MOURVÈDRE, giving the wine a firm, controlled presence. Another good example was the ***** CLOS DU CAILLOU LA RÉSERVE – 45% MOURVÈDRE with 55% GRENACHE; also the ***** DOMAINE DE CRISTIA RENAISSANCE, 40% MOURVÈDRE.

Then there was the 100% MOURVÈDRE ****(*) LES SEMELLES DE VENT from CHRISTOPHE GALON and his 0.228 hectare of 1974-75 vines on LE COTEAU DE L’ANGE, and a regular success, the 85% MOURVÈDRE ***** MAS DE BOISLAUZON LE TINTOT. Even though it is only 20% MOURVÈDRE, I found that its presence lit up the ***** MAS SAINT-LOUIS GRANDE RÉSERVE, forming a great team with the 80% GRENACHE. Another wine to parade the qualities of the MOURVÈDRE was the **** DOMAINE DE L’HARMAS, the late palate well lined thanks to it, bringing in a liqueur cherry, spiced, lip-smacking finale.

SYRAH ONLY AT CHÂTEAUNEUF: NOT A SUCCESSFUL FORMULA

On the debit side were three 100% SYRAH wines, not a trend I would encourage at all. They were the *** DOMAINE DE SAINT-PAUL L’INSOLITE, a monochrome wine, the **(*) DOMAINE DES MARAVILHAS ESPIRITO - atypical and too mild, though I suspect the sample wasn’t a great one, and, lastly, the **(*) DOMAINE LA MEREUILLE CUVÉE D’AURÉ, bearing sweet, dry oak, and raising questions about its balance.

DOMAINES ON GOOD FORM

Casting my eye across end of term reports on the domaines, I would say that the relatively low profile [certainly in GB] CHÂTEAU BEAUCHÊNE was in very good form in 2016. DOMAINE DE LA SOLITUDE and FONT DE MICHELLE are performing with renewed energy and accomplishment from the thirty-something generation, while DOMAINE GIRAUD was also in excellent fettle this year. As an item of parish news, I convey the fact that at DOMAINE DE LA COTE DE L’ANGE, from 2016, YANNICK GASPARRI and team have decided to revert to just one wine, with no special cuvées. Good for them.

MUST DO BETTER ESTATES

However, at CHÂTEAU LA NERTHE, more character is needed. The mark of a good estate is always the base of the pyramid wine – look at the GUIGAL trio of exemplary CÔTES DU RHÔNEs – so the fact that the NERTHE CUVÉE DES CADETTES 2016 was a swaggering ****(*) wine is not strictly relevant - it has to be set alongside the low character ***(*) CHATEAU LA NERTHE, the core wine produced in much greater quantity. Another domaine which isn’t near the glories of vintages such as its splendiferous 1978 is CHÂTEAU FORTIA; there are two **** wines, one ***(*), but the wines lack inspiration, are solid, but fail to fire the imagination pre-bottling. Finally, at L’ABBÉ DÎNE, I feel bottling was done too early.

LONGEVITY: 25 YEARS PLUS

I reckon that I may have under-estimated the longevity of these often wonderful wines when tasting through them, so wines that can live 20 years can often go to 25 years, I feel, providing they have been well cellared, and well loved. Don’t be in a hurry, I implore readers. You can drink some from 2020-21, but a wait until 2024 will be more fruitful.

THE WISDOM OF EMMANUEL REYNAUD

There are some monuments, such as the CHÂTEAU RAYAS, that will live into the 2050s, so be prepared for what the remarkable EMMANUEL REYNAUD mentioned to me, with great sagesse: “2016 will be very good, a very GRAND VINTAGE blessed with alcohol, tannins and fruit. It will be very long-lived. You need a year like that, so our children and grandchildren can drink them, and discover wine.”

LEADING 2016 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS

****** Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire 2056-59 05/19 striking balance, maxi elegance
****** Chât Beaucastel Hommage J Perrin 2048-51 10/17 calm, unctuous, winning, major
****** Château Rayas 2054-56 10/17 crazy high quality, character
****** Dom de Marcoux Vieilles Vignes 2038-41 10/17 wholesome, swell, balance, musky
****** Dom la Solitude Cornelia Constanza 2040-43 10/17 calm, great finesse, STGT
****** Dom Raymond Usseglio Impériale 2055-57 10/19 silken, balanced, top pedigree, major do
***** Bastide St Dominique Secrets Pignan 2038-40 10/17 perfumed intensity, savoury, STGT
***** Bosquet des Papes Chante le Merle 2038-41 10/17 stylish, scented, interesting, STGT
***** M Chapoutier Barbe Rac 2040-42 04/17 aromatic concentration, deep, long
***** Château de Beaucastel 2039-42 10/17 fleshy, deep, tuneful, stylish
***** Château Beauchêne Odette Bernard 2038-40 10/17 fine detail, naked, integrity
***** Le Clos du Caillou La Réserve 2036-39 10/17 seamless, gd ensemble, v long
***** Clos des Papes 2045-48 10/17 unctuous, beau, sap, v long
***** Clos Saint Jean La Combe des Fous 2054-57 05/19 bountiful, toned, textured, with restraint
***** Clos Saint Jean Deus ex Machina 2052-54 05/19 manly, thorough, exuberant, smooth
***** Domaine Pierre André 2043-45 02/18 sumptuous, mega tasty, elegant
***** Dom de la Biscarelle Les Anglaises 2046-48 05/19 en finesse, velvet with iron, vim, vigour
***** Domaine Chante Cigale V Vignes 2038-41 10/17 thick, fluid, perfumed
***** Dom Charbonnière Vieilles Vignes   2035-38 10/17 swell matter, harmony, clarity 
***** Domaine Charvin   2045-47 05/19 intricate strength, fresh, assertive, time 
***** Domaine de Cristia Renaissance   2037-40 10/17 glossy, silken, local, charm 
***** Domaine de Ferrand   2044-46 10/19  complexity, authority, iron, mineral
***** Dom Font Michelle Elegance Jeanne 2036-39 10/17 charm, perfume, serenity   
***** Dom Font Michelle Etienne Gonnet   2038-41 10/17 spice, gusto, high interest, STGT 
***** Dom Giraud Grenaches de Pierre 2039-41 10/17 tasty, balanced, spherical, pure 
***** Domaine Giraud Tradition   2035-38 10/17 complete, nourishing, flair, fresh 
***** Guillaume Gonnet Homge Maryline  2038-41 10/17 wide, firm, local, very long 
***** Dom Grand Veneur Vieilles Vignes 2037-40 10/17 swell, luxury, silken 
***** Dom de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes 2040-42 10/17 thorough, complex, character  
***** Domaine La Millière Vieilles Vignes   2036-39 10/17 wholesome, gt balance, lux, STGT 
***** Dom de la Mordorée Reine des Bois 2038-40 10/17 v full, serious, gusto, spicing 
***** Dom Moulin-Tacussel Henry Tacussel 2035-38 03/18 gourmand, silken, true old school
***** Domaine Porte Rouge   2033-36 10/17 generous, hand made, STGT, V   
***** Dom Santa Duc Les Saintes Vierges 2037-39 10/17 fluid succulence, silken, STGT
***** Dom Pierre Usseglio mon Aiëul  2040-42 10/17 abundant, handsome, very long  
***** Dom de la Vieille Julienne Réservé 2046-49 02/19 harmony, spherical, true Gren, fresh
***** Le Vieux Donjon 2047-50 05/19 vivid, licence to thrill, oily truth, STGT 
***** Mas de Boislauzon Le Tintot   2039-42 10/17 sturdy, firm., balance, cool 
***** Mas Saint-Louis Grande Réserve   2038-41 10/17 handsome, thick, dark, long  
****(*) La Bastide Saint Dominique   2032-34 10/17 dark, smooth, with style   
****(*) Bastide St Dominique Crous St Martin 2036-39 10/17 thick, spiced, thorough, large
****(*) Bosquet d Papes Gloire Grand-Père 2038-41 10/17 deep, good punch, STGT  
****(*) Frederic & Dan Brunier Piedlong   2039-41 10/17 serene, silken, oily, true 
****(*) Chapelle St Théodoric Le Grand Pin 2037-40 10/17 cosy, perfumed, naked, complex 
****(*) M Chapoutier Croix de Bois   2039-41 04/17 harmony, bright depth, textured 
****(*) Château Beauchêne Grande Réserve 2038-40 10/17 generous, deep, verve, STGT 
****(*) Château de la Gardine Peur Bleue   2023-25 10/17 entrancing fruit, pure, w.o.w.  
****(*) Château de Nalys 2043-45 03/19 v stylish, savoury, innate power
****(*) Chât La Nerthe Cuvée des Cadettes  2038-40 10/17 sumptuous, generous, swagger 
****(*) Clos des Brusquières   2036-39 10/17 trad, character, spicy, STGT  
****(*) Le Clos du Caillou Les Quartz   2046-49 10/19 weighted, stately, concentrated, long   
****(*) Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes   2035-38 10/17 thick, mobile, interest, variety 
****(*) Clos St Antonin   2036-38 10/17 savoury, curvy, finesse, STGT 
****(*) Clos Saint Jean 2047-49 05/19 savoury, rich, sustained; fresh darts
****(*) Cuvée des Sommeliers 2043-45 10/19 rolling intensity, pliant; saline end
****(*) Domaine Paul Autard   2035-38 10/17 layered, sleek, big, long 
****(*) Domaine Paul Autard Cuvée Juline  2039-41 10/17 dashing fruit, sizzling, oak  
****(*) Domaine du Banneret   2053-55 10/19 perfumed, serious, solid, STGT 
****(*) Domaine La Barroche Signature  2040-42 10/17 elegant, deep, length, flair 
****(*) Domaine de Beaurenard   2036-38 10/17 effortless, charm by stealth  
****(*) Domaine de la Biscarelle   2045-48 05/19 naked, compact, interesting, potential 
****(*) Domaine Chante Cigale   2036-39 10/17 tasty, rich, authentic  
****(*) Dom Chante-Perdrix Étienne Pécoul 2038-41 10/17 muscle, strength, bold, STGT 
****(*) Dom Chante-Perdrix Henri Perges  2039-42 10/17 wholesome, much juice, 100 Mourv 
****(*) Domaine de la Charbonnière   2034-36 10/17 wholesome, thorough, subtleties 
****(*) Dom Charbonnière Mourre Perdrix  2038-41 10/17 big matter, bold, sustained  
****(*) Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange 2046-48 10/19 expressive, energy, serene, heartlands
****(*) Domaine de Cristia Vieilles Vignes   2038-41 10/17 generous, textured; natural sap
****(*) Domaine Durieu l’éperdu   2036-39 10/17 stylish matter, thick, oak, time  
****(*) Dom Eddie Féraud Raisins Bleus 2036-39 11/17 weighty, deep heart, time 
****(*) Dom Galet d Papes Vieilles Vignes  2030-33 10/17 stylish, silken, cool, balanced 
****(*) Domaine Galévan Saint-Georges   2035-38 11/17 tasty, fulsome, big, mobile  
****(*) Les Girard du Boucou Tradition 2035-37 11/17 tasty, detail, fresh, hand made, STGT 
****(*) Guillaume Gonnet Bel Ami   2035-37 10/17 bountiful, precise, cool, harmony 
****(*) Dom du Grand Tinel Alexis Establet  2037-40 10/17 full, complete Grenache, character 
****(*) Dom Grand Veneur Les Origines   2036-39 10/17 stylish, long, fresh, balanced 
****(*) Domaine de la Janasse   2037-40 10/17 broad, stylish, spiced, deep   
****(*) Dom André Mathieu Vin di Felibre  2036-39 10/17 stylish, deep, gusto, length 
****(*) Dom de la Mereuille Les Baptaurels 2035-37 03/18 natural, welll crafted, gourmand
****(*) Dom Mordorée La Dame Voyageuse 2035-38 10/17 smooth, long; munchable quality 
****(*) Dom du Pegaü Cuvée da Capo  2038-41 10/17 expansive, deep, big, controlled  
****(*) Domaine du Pegaü Cuvée Réservée 2037-39 10/17 character, genuine, rich, varied 
****(*) Dom des Pères de l’Église Le Calice 2035-38 10/17 smooth, hand made, STGT 
****(*) Dom Roger Perrin Galets Berthaude  2036-39 10/17 free, cool fruit, character   
****(*) Famille Perrin Les Sinards   2035-37 10/17 very true, sing-song wine  
****(*) Domaine Roger Sabon Prestige    2039-41 10/17 local virility, convincing, fresh   
****(*) Dom Roger Sabon Secret des Sabon  2041-44 10/17 solid, crunched, intense juice 
****(*) Domaine de Saint Paul   2036-38 10/17 wholesome, v persistent, true, genuine
****(*) Domaine St Prefert Auguste Favier   2036-39 10/17 rich, savoury, well packed  
****(*) Saje 1600   2036-38 10/17 clear, genuine, intricate, character
****(*) Domaine Santa Duc La Crau Ouest 2044-45 10/17 solid, silken, good authority
****(*) Domaine Santa Duc Pied de Baud 2042-44 10/17 plump generosity, stylish, long
****(*) Domaine des Saumades   2036-39 10/17 broad, coated, thorough, genuine  
****(*) Les Semelles de Vent   2035-38 10/17 thorough, graceful, integrity, Bandol
****(*) Domaine Serguier Révélation 2041-43 10/19 poise, integrity, v clean, Burgundian 
****(*) Dom de la Solitude Barberini  2038-41 10/17 thorough Grenache, full richness 
****(*) Dom de la Solitude Réserve Secrète  2039-42 10/17 graceful, tasty, flair, oak 
****(*) La Sousto   2035-37 10/17 delicious fruit, nourishing  
****(*) Domaine Raymond Usseglio et Fils   2035-38 10/17 expressive, delicious, genuine, STGT 
****(*) Dom Raymond Usseglio Part des Anges 2049-51 10/19 smoked, dark, vigour, stylish potential
****(*) Dom de la Vieille Julienne Hauts-lieux 2044-47 05/19 generously filled, solid heart, scale
****(*) Dom de la Vieille Julienne Trois Sources 2043-45 05/19 bright, nerve, structured, time
****(*) Dom du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau 2041-43 10/17 concentrated, dense, grounded 
****(*) Dom de Villeneuve Vieilles Vignes 2035-36 10/17 authentic, nourishing, lovely length 
****(*) Mas de Boislauzon Tradition   2036-39 10/17 authentic, handsome, local, spiced
****(*) Mas de Boislauzon Cuvée du Quet  2039-41 10/17 tight, intense, dark, spiced 
**** Bastide St Dominique Hespérides   2034-36 10/17 squelchy, fleshy, flashy, obvious 
**** Le Bois Pointu 2040-42 12/18 gleaming fruit, clear, engages well
**** Bosquet des Papes La Folie   2035-38 10/17 broad, full, chunky, grounded  
**** Bosquet des Papes Tradition  2035-38 10/17 full, rippling content, genuine  
**** Chapelle St Théodoric La Guigasse 2037-40 10/17 chunky, thorough, smoky, time 
**** Chapelle St Théodoric Les Sablons 2038-41 10/17 juicy abundance, density, sip 
**** M Chapoutier Collection Bio 2037-40 10/17 bounteous, lusty, thorough
**** Chât Beauchêne Vignobles Serrière  2033-35 10/17 lustrous Grenache fruits, jolly 
**** Château Cabrières Tradition   2035-37 10/17 tight, solid, dense, local  
**** Château Fargueirol   2035-38 10/17 spicy, dark, trad, STGT 
**** Chât Fargueirol Cuvée Antonin  2036-39 10/17 firm, sustained; naked Grenache
**** Château Fortia Cuvée du Baron   2032-34 10/17 solid operator, restraint, power 
**** Château Fortia Tradition   2035-37 10/17 spiced, compressed, tannic clench  
**** Chât de la Gardine Gaston Philippe  2035-38 10/17 streamlined, sleek, handsome 
**** Chât de la Gardine L’Immortelle   2037-40 10/17 clenched, tight, scope, Mourv  
**** Chât Gigognan Clos du Roi   2033-36 10/17 authentic Gren, spicy, silky  
**** Chât Maucoil L’Esprit de Maucoil  2033-36 10/17 shapely content, heart, fresh 
**** Château Mont Thabor   2033-36 10/17 rolling density, generous, ample 
**** Chât Simian Grandes Grenachières 2036-38 10/17 compact, muscled, intricate 
**** Château Sixtine   2035-38 10/17 joli, juicy, swish, balanced  
**** Château de Vaudieu   2034-36 10/17 perfumed, bright, savoury, polished 
**** Château de Vaudieu Amiral G 2035-38 10/17 redondo, giving, fleshy, pleasing  
**** Château de Vaudieu L’Avenue . . .  2036-38 10/17 restrained, oak, serene, stylish 
**** Le Clos du Caillou Les Safres   2035-38 10/17 rolling, rich, gourmand, power 
**** Clos l’Oratoire des Papes Chorégies  2039-42 10/17 spiced, tenacious, oily, lift  
**** Clos Saint-Michel Tradition   2033-36 10/17 smooth, sleek, fresh 
**** Clos Saint-Michel Réservée   2036-39 10/17 silken, seamless, finesse  
**** Dom Paul Autard La Côte Ronde   2036-39 10/17 wavy content, clear, oak 
**** Domaine Juliette Avril   2027-29 10/17 joyous, perfumed, vigour, w.o.w.
**** Domaine La Barroche Pure   2040-43 10/17 coated, stylish, very full 
**** Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils 2036-39 10/16 generous, balanced, gd heart
**** Brotte Domaine Barville   2032-35 10/17 generous, immediate, genuine, sweet 
**** Domaine Berthet-Rayne   2033-35 10/17 wrapped up, spiced, concentrated  
**** Dom Berthet-Rayne elixir des Papes 2034-36 10/17 savoury fullness, finesse  
**** Dom Bois de Boursan des Félix   2037-39 10/17 Gren gras, Mourv spice; interest 
**** Dom La Boutinière Grande Réserve 2036-39 10/17 full, drive, thorough, genuine 
**** Domaine du Caillou Tradition   2041-43 10/19 thorough, abundant, vivacity, genuine
**** Les Cailloux   2035-38 10/17 authentic, unforced, finesse, enjoyable 
**** Cellier Princes Prestige Princes Résrve  2030-32 10/17 generous, well presented, round 
**** Domaine Chante-Perdrix 2035-38 10/17 tenacious, compressed, v southern
**** Dom Clef de Saint Thomas La Clef  2033-35 10/17 dense, thorough, concentrated 
**** Dom Comte d Lauze Rés Comtesse 2033-35 03/18 garrigue; sturdy, trad, honest
**** Dom Croze-Granier Ancien Dom Pontifes  2032-34 10/17 smoothly rich, Gren heartbeat 
**** Dom Durieu Réserve Lucile Avril   2034-37 10/17 modern, mobile; pleasing fruit   
**** Domaine Durieu Tradition   2036-39 10/17 big, intense, rich, spiced   
**** Domaine Duseigneur Catarina   2031-33 10/17 cool reserve, subtle, tight 
**** Féraud et Fils Tradition   2035-37 11/17 sturdy, dark, genuine, long   
**** La Ferme du Mont Capelan 2035-37 10/17 streamlined, racy, modern 
**** La Ferme du Mont Vendange 2033-36 10/17 spiced Grenache, richness 
**** Dom Font de Michelle Tradition   2034-36 10/17 tasty, opulent, en finesse  
**** Domaine de Fontavin Trilogies   2033-36 10/17 fleshy, good heart, core
**** Domaine du Galet des Papes   2030-32 10/17 neat, charming, genuine, tasty  
**** Dom Giuliani Galets de Jeanne   2031-33 12/17 serene, nourishing, detail, vibrancy
**** Domaine Galévan   2032-35 11/17 smoky, dark, well tuned 
**** Domaine Giraud Les Gallimardes 2035-38 03/18 rich, thick, "impressive", sipper
**** Guillaume Gonnet La Muse   2033-36 10/17 weighty, succulent, concentration 
**** Domaine Jérôme Gradassi   2033-36 10/17 thorough, delicious, raw charge 
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel   2033-35 10/17 pretty fruit, tasty, genuine  
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel Heres   2035-38 10/17 style, truth, dense, silken, sip 
**** Dom Grand Veneur Le Miocène   2036-38 10/17 crunchy content, smoky, genuine 
**** Grandes Serres Dom St Patrice VV 2031-33 10/17 enjoyable, authentic, well made  
**** E Guigal 2039-41 12/19 gourmand, gliding, crowd pleaser
**** Domaine de l’Harmas   2033-36 10/17 good filling, genuine, long  
**** Dom de l'Harmas Caprice de Mathys 2036-38 10/19 balance, wholesome length, mystery
**** Dom Olivier Hillaire Petits Pieds 2033-35 03/18 ripe, abundant, oak, after dinner
**** Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin   2036-39 10/17 crunchy content, spark, punch  
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine   2033-34 10/17 tasty, enjoyable, aromatic  
**** Domaine Lou Fréjau Cuvée XIII 2030-32 11/17 genuine, rugged, dark, understated
**** Dom Patrice Magni Sensation   2033-35 10/17 gourmand, large, sucrosity 
**** Domaine de Marcoux   2034-37 10/17 fundamental, large, near sip  
**** Dom Julien Masquin Mémora   2032-35 10/17 streamlined, spinal, inner strength 
**** Domaine André Mathieu   2034-36 10/17 sparky fruit, pure, character  
**** Dom André Mathieu la Centenaire  2036-39 10/17 rich, fluid gras, fresh  
**** Gabriel Meffre Laurus   2035-37 10/17 stylish, suave, savoury 
**** Domaine L’Or de Line Paule Courtil   2033-35 10/17 fleshy, sweet, some freshness
**** Dom de Panisse Confidence Vigneronne  2033-36 10/17 accessible, genuine; noble Gren
**** Dom de Panisse Noble Révélation  2034-37 10/17 open fruits, poised, modern 
**** Domaine Père Caboche Tradition  2032-34 10/17 fleshy, savoury, obvious 
**** Dom Père Caboche Elisabeth Chambellan  2034-37 10/17 expressive, immediate, perfumed, bright 
**** Dom Roger Perrin Réserve V Vignes 2038-40 10/17 lithe, crunchy, naked, fresh 
**** Domaine Le Pointu Aeternalis   2032-34 11/17 firm, full, persistent, glow 
**** Le Puy Rolland Vieilles Vignes 2032-34 03/18 smooth elegance, gourmand, STGT
**** Olivier Ravoire   2033-35 10/17 chunky, thick, ground force 
**** Domaine Jean Royer Prestige   2035-38 10/17 sturdy, tight, content, time 
**** Domaine Jean Royer Tradition   2032-35 10/17 rich, dense, high degree, sip 
**** Saint Cosme   2033-36 10/17 stylish, plump heart, tasty  
**** Domaine Saint Prefert Classique   2033-36 10/17 elegant, rich, genuine, natural  
**** Domaine St Prefert Charles Giraud   2035-38 10/17 sleek, detailed; rich wheel 
**** Domaine de Saint-Siffrein 2034-36 10/17 ground force, grilled, sturdy  
**** Dom de Saint-Siffrein Terre d’Abel  2037-40 10/17 tight, oaked, spiced, time 
**** Saje  2029-31 10/17 smooth content, lucid, finesse 
**** Saje Marquis Anselme Mathieu   2034-37 10/17 fluid, wavy, integrity, fresh 
**** Dom Santa Duc Habemus Papam 2037-39 10/17 cosy roundness, finesse; strength
**** Domaine des Sénéchaux   2033-36 10/17 gourmand, soft, polished 
**** Domaine Serguier 2034-36 10/19 sparky nose, elegant gras, naked style
**** Domaine de la Solitude   2035-38 10/17 big, plentiful, thorough, silken 
**** Dom de la Solitude Commandant Ducos  2038-40 10/17 slow gain, lithe, time 
**** Domaine des 3 Cellier Eternelle   2033-35 10/17 stylish, natural, time 
**** Dom Pierre Usseglio Deux Frères  2037-40 10/17 stylish richness, strong oak  
**** Domaine du Vieux Lazaret   2031-34 10/17 wavy fruits, rounded, sleek 
**** Dom du Vieux Télégraphe Télégramme  2036-39 10/17 cosy gras; garrigue, heart 
**** Mas Grange Blanche font Bessounes 2031-32 10/17 joli content, quiet crescendo 
**** Mas Saint-Louis   2034-37 10/17 full, tasty, unctuous, serene  
**** Mas Saint-Louis Arpents Contrebandiers  2035-38 10/17 generous, gourmand, spiced  
**** Vignobles Mayard Dom du Père Pape   2036-39 10/17 flair, interest, can be complex 
***(*) Bouachon La Tiare du Pape 2030-32 10/17 easy gras, concentrated, oak 
***(*) M Chapoutier Dom La Bernardine   2034-37 10/17 solid, dense, sturdy Grenache
***(*) Château de la Font du Loup 2030-31 03/18 sturdy richness; intensity, power
***(*) Château Fortia Réserve 2029-31 10/17 tasty tune, flattering, simple 
***(*) Château Gigognan Cardinalice   2032-35 10/17 sweet succulence, dense, sip  
***(*) Château Grande Gardiole   2032-33 10/17 fleshy, large; true Grenache
***(*) Château Jas de Bressy   2032-33 10/17 suave, polished, easy, sound  
***(*) Château de Manissy   2029-31 10/17 live fruit, lithe tannin, local  
***(*) Chât Maucoil Privilège de Maucoil  2031-33 10/17 sweet, sappy, spice, oaking 
***(*) Château Maucoil Tradition   2029-31 10/17 genuine, uncluttered, garrigue  
***(*) Chât de Nalys Saintes Pierres de N 2040-42 03/19 soft texture, mild, some CdP fuel
***(*) Château La Nerthe   2031-33 10/17 sleek, suave, low character 
***(*) Château Sixtine Manus Dei  2028-29 10/17 suave matter, safe style 
***(*) Chât de Vaudieu Val de Dieu   2033-36 10/17 modern, polished, oaking, tame 
***(*) Domaine L’Abbé Dine   2030-32 10/17 rich, fluid, suave, sip 
***(*) Louis Bernard   2027-28 10/17 easy, mild, open, pleasing 
***(*) Dom Berthet-Rayne Fut de Chêne 2034-35 10/17 stiff from oak, firm 
***(*) Domaine Bois de Boursan Tradition   2032-35 10/17 compact content, bit dry 
***(*) Domaine La Boutinière Tradition  2032-35 10/17 steady Gren, Solid Operator  
***(*) Cellier Princes Dom Les Escondudes  2032-34 10/17 rich, thick, power glow 
***(*) Cellier des Princes Dom Le Mourre   2029-31 10/17 eau de vie; liqueur, smooth 
***(*) Cuvée du Vatican   2028-30 10/17 juicy, spiced, straightforward
***(*) Domaine des Chanssaud d’Antan   2031-33 11/17 rather stylish, very sound 
***(*) Dom Charbonnière Hautes Brusquières   2035-37 10/17 plush, sunswept, sipping 
***(*) Domaine Comte de Lauze 2031-33 03/18 wavy matter, honest, grounded
***(*) Domaine Condorcet 2029-31 03/18 concerted, sunfilled fruit, trad
***(*) Domaine La Consonnière   2030-32 10/17 tasty centre, spiced, oak 
***(*) Delas Haute Pierre   2030-32 10/17 juicy, easy, rounded 
***(*) La Fagotière   2030-31 10/17 easy texture, ripe tannins 
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils Le Parvis 2033-35 01/18 neat, tasty, restrained, pleaser
***(*) Dom Georges-Lombrière Marie  2029-31 10/17 lithe, warm; rugged tannins 
***(*) Domaine Olivier Hillaire 2032-34 10/17 muscular upright, inner force   
***(*) Dom A Jacumin Bégude des Papes 2031-32 10/17 muscular, naked, compact, degree 
***(*) Dom Patrice Magni Le Pressoir   2033-36 10/17 sturdy, fleshy, bit baked  
***(*) Dom Julien Masquin Montplaisir   2031-33 10/17 clear fruit, pure, charm 
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Saint Théodoric   2031-33 10/17 cosy, soft, Gren squeeze 
***(*) Domaine La Mereuille Prestige   2033-36 10/17 downhome, trad, strength, spiced 
***(*) Domaine Moulin-Tacussel 2031-33 03/18 elegant, floral, savoury, restrained
***(*) Mouriesse Vinum Tour d’Ambre   2032-35 10/17 soaked, oaking, sipping 
***(*) Domaine L’Or de Line   2028-29 10/17 stylish, floral; eau de vie 
***(*) Domaine de la Palud   2028-31 10/17 gentle, suave, fulsome, perfumed 
***(*) Domaine de Pignan   2032-34 10/17 nicely wavy, bonny sweetness   
***(*) Dom de Pignan Coralie et Floriane  2034-36 10/17 copious, spiced, sipping 
***(*) Domaine Le Pointu Mathieu   2030-32 11/17 good attack, old vine gras   
***(*) Dom Roger Sabon Réserve   2034-37 10/17 condensed, compressed, strength 
***(*) Christophe Semaska Calixte II 2036-38 12/19 brewed, grounded, trad, genuine gras
***(*) Les Terriens 2036-38 02/20 ripeness, packing, sturdy, traditional
***(*) Dom Tourbillon Vieilles Vignes   2029-31 10/17 volume, savoury, honest, dryish 
***(*) Domaine des 3 Cellier Alchimie   2031-33 10/17 vibrant fruit, life, unforced 
***(*) Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils   2033-35 10/17 savoury, big, inner density 
***(*) Xavier Vin   2031-34 10/17 redondo, perfumed, ponderous, sip 
***(*) Xavier Vin Cuvée Anonyme   2034-36 10/17 thick, vintage depth, oak  
*** Brotte Les Hauts de Barville   2029-31 10/17 brothy, stewed, plain  
*** Caves Saint-Pierre Préference   2028-30 10/17 thick, sweet all through 
*** Le Cellier des Princes   2028-30 10/17 nervous energy, pebbly tannins 
*** Cellier Princes Hauts des Coteaux  2030-31 10/17 suave content, tar-oak 
*** Domaine des Chanssaud   2029-30 11/17 buoyant fruit, bit plain 
*** Domaine Charité Fleur Capucine   2030-32 10/17 raw, oak versus Gren, power 
*** Romain Duvernay   2028-30 10/17 charged, soaked, power, dry 
*** Domaine Giuliani   2027-28 12/17 weighted, coated, bit limited 
*** Dom l’Harmas Réserve de Félicien 2037-39 10/19 supple gras, not ensemble post raising
*** Domaine Lou Fréjau 2028-30 11/17 tarred, exerted, angular
*** Dom Le Pointu Cuvée Clément   2029-30 11/17 spice, perfume, low body   
*** Dom Jean Royer Sables de la Crau  2034-37 10/17 thick, sweet, dessert vin 
*** Dom Roger Sabon Les Olivets   2032-34 10/17 some energy, baked 
*** Domaine de Saint-Paul L’Insolite   2030-33 10/17 fluid, wavy; monochrome Syrah 
*** Dom Tour St-Michel l’Extrait   2028-30 10/17 brewed, baked, bit rustic 
*** Dom Tour St-Michel Féminessance   2027-29 10/17 peppery, oak, dry end 
*** Dom Tour St-Michel Deux Soeurs  2028-30  10/17 sturdy, southern, dryness
*** Vignobles & Cie Les Combelles   2028-30 10/17 stewed, open, easy 
*** Vignobles Mayard Clos du Calvaire   2030-32 03/18 pure fruit, late dryness - barrels?
**(*) Domaine des Maravilhas Espirito   2029-30 10/17 discreet; husky tannins 
**(*) Dom La Mereuille Cuvée d’Auré 2029-30 03/18 sweet, dry oak, balance?? Syrah
**(*) Domaine Tour St-Michel le lien   2028-29 10/17 crunched, good core, but dry 
NR Domaine Roger Perrin   03/18 extremely dry; tasted pre, post bot
NR TO BE RETASTED POST BOTTLING      
NR Dom Tour St-Michel Cuvée du Lion     10/17 stewed, clumsy, dry 
NR Dom du Père Pape La Crau de Ma Mère     10/17 full but dry 
NR Domaine Valmont de Peronny     10/17 dry, baked 
         


2016 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

2016 is a glorious vintage for CÔTES DU RHÔNE reds, which are choc full of fruit and richness. Tannins are often tasty, very well embedded, and the wines are long. There are plenty of garrigue notions, mixed herbs seasoning the flavours. There is little more that one could ask for.

Yields were down here and there, but overall there was a decent crop, much larger than 2017’s. MARTIAL ARNAUD, one of the two brothers at the FERME DES ARNAUD at VILLEDIEU, where the vineyards are high up, told me: “coulure this year lost us 30%+ on our plots north of the village, which ripened later than the vines south of the village – that zone actually had less coulure than normal this year.”

It was also reported that some growers were said to have quit organic practices in the GARD DÉPARTEMENT (30) this year after black rot in 2015 and flavescence on their vines, a high mortality rate, as well.

JEAN-LUC TRANCHART of DOMAINE DE RHONANCE near AVIGNON also referred to a little coulure: “there was coulure on the old vines at GADAGNE, with quite important mildew pressure. The vineyards can be stressed if you haven’t worked your soils. Water reserves are very low - my well is dry for the first time since 1936,” he informed me during the summer.

This year I have concentrated on tasting the CÔTES DU RHÔNE reds from domaines headquartered at CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, with some based at TAVEL and LIRAC. The CHÂTEAUNEUF estates always represent good value on a price-quality axis, and all that matters is that sage winemaking has prevailed, and that the wines haven’t been chased into being bigger and burlier than they naturally are.

The vineyards of many of these estates virtually border the CHÂTEAUNEUF vines and possess old GRENACHE, as is the case for domaines such as LA MILLIÈRE, CHARVIN and LA VIEILLE JULIENNE, all in the North-West of the appellation, and also for CHÂTEAU DE BEAUCASTEL, LE CLOS DU CAILLOU, DOMAINE DE CRISTIA and DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE in the North-East, where there is more sand and more galet stones.

Note the number of w.o.w. wines this year – testament to the natural bounty of the vintage. This renders them great for parties and get-togethers, and also will allow them to drink well in both hot and cold weather, wines for All Seasons, and a multitude of dishes.

LEADING 2016 CÔTES DU RHÔNE REDS

***** Clos du Caillou La Réserve 2038-40 10/18 very rich, more CdPape than CdRh
****(*) Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet 2033-36 10/17 gourmand, tasty, bright, long
****(*) Clos du Caillou Les Quartz 2034-37 10/18 gourmandise, stimulus, bold, long
****(*) Domaine Charvin 2027-29 07/17 genuine, persistent, STGT
****(*) Corinne Depeyre Terres Cabassole 2024-25 09/17 v gd gras, balance, length
****(*) Dom de Ferrand Vieilles Vignes 2037-39 10/19 rampant, aromatic, much character
**** Abeille Fabre Réserve Mont-Redon 2027-28 10/18 abundant, rolling, finishes up
**** André Brunel Est-Ouest 2024-25 05/19 succulent, savoury, inviting
**** Château de Manissy 2020-21 07/17 fruit fest, verve, long, w.o.w.
**** Clos du Caillou Bouquet Garrigues 2033-35 10/18 muscular, heart, depth, plunge
**** Clos du Caillou Nature 2021 09/17 charm, pleasure, w.o.w.
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Épine 2022 05/17 tasty, genuine, delicious, w.o.w.
**** La Celestière   2020-21 06/17 go go juice, appeal, w.o.w. 
**** Dom Corinne Depeyre Style   2020-21 09/17 character, charm, purity, w.o.w.
**** Dom des Favards Grandes Terres 2027-29 03/19 fleshy, sultry, pleasing, VALUE
**** Domaine de Ferrand Mistral 2026-28 10/19 authentic, carefree delivery
**** Domaine du Grand Tinel   2022-23 08/17 full, persistent, near CdPape 
**** Dom du Joncier L''O de Joncier 2024-25 02/18 packed, aromatic, character
**** Dom des Maravilhas Le regalant   2021-22 08/17 character; great fruit, clarity 
**** Domaine Julien Masquin Humeur   2022-23 08/17 gourmand, spiced, rugged inner 
**** Famille Lançon La Solitude  2030-32 10/18 smoky, thrusting, serious, full
**** Famille Mayard Confidence   2022-23 07/17 thorough, dark, spherical  
**** Domaine La Millière Vieilles Vignes 2023-24 07/17 fat, plump, spiced, STGT  
**** Dom Roche-Audran sans soufre  2021-22 08/17 intricate, spherical, gourmand
**** Saje  2021-22 09/17 heart, rock n’roll, w.o.w.  
**** Domaine du Trapadis 2024-25 02/18 v good purity; tangy, STGT
**** Domaine Vallot 2025-26 02/18 active fruits, expressive, V
**** Domaine de Villeneuve La Griffe   2024-25 11/17 structure, intensity, Big Boy 
**** Mas Grange Blanche   2022-23 08/17 great purity, tasty, stylish  
***(*) La Cabotte Colline   2021 08/17 pure, juicy, wholesome 
***(*) Cellier des Princes Gde Réserve   2021 08/17 fluid style, much Grenache  
***(*) Château Saint-Roch Brunel   2021-22 08/17 soft, juicy, spherical, polished 
***(*) Clos des Mourres Novice 2022-23 02/18 grapey, naked, streamlined
***(*) Clos du Caillou Le Caillou   2021-22 09/17 fat, plump, suave  
***(*) Domaine de la Biscarelle 2021-22 10/17 lively, pure, nourishing, w.o.w.
***(*) Domaine Nicolas Boiron   2024-25 08/17 tight-knit; floral aspects 
***(*) Domaine des Carabiniers   2021-22 07/17 naked, spinal, expressive  
***(*) Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange  2021 08/17 fulsome fruit, local, up tempo 
***(*) Domaine de Cristia   2022-23 09/17 local grounding, spiced 
***(*) Dom des Favards les bons moments 2023-24 03/19 peppy, up, naked, long
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils Samorens 2022 01/18 bright, tasty, has character
***(*) Dom Albin Jacumin Les Bédines   2022 08/17 restraint, gd structure, local 
***(*) Ogier Artesis 2024-25 02/18 solid, sturdy, closely packed
***(*) Ogier Oratorio 2022-23 02/18 redondo, savoury, fragrant
***(*) Domaine du Père Caboche   2020 07/17 juice fest, dash, w.o.w.  
***(*) Domaine des Pères de l''Eglise 2020-21 12/17 silky, wholesome, savoury
***(*) Domaine Richaud Terre de Galets 2025-26 10/17 good build as it goes, firm feel
***(*) Chât Manissy Dom Terre Davau   2020 07/17 fine juice, spice, dust 
***(*) Famille Perrin Nature Perrin  2023-24 10/17 wavy fruit, naked, natural 
***(*) Famille Perrin Réserve Perrin  2022-23 10/17 gd richness, firm tannin 
*** Maison Alexandrins Terrasse Eridan 2023-24 03/18 easy, sturdy, spiced, OK length
*** Château d’Aquéria   2019-20 06/17 easy drinking, grills  
*** Château du Bois de la Garde   2020 08/17 insistent, cool, bit brittle  
*** Domaine l’Abbé Dîne   2020 09/17 spiced, suave country wine 
*** Domaine de Ferrand La Ferrande 2025 10/19 tight fruit, easy texture, bit short
*** Dom Fontaine du Clos Confidences 2020 02/18 trim fruit, clear, inner strength
*** Domaine Giraud Sables d’Arène   2022-23 11/17 succulent, power, on limit 
*** Dom André Mathieu Seriziers   2021 11/17 ground force, garrigue 
*** Domaine Roger Perrin Fruité 2020-21 12/17 plump, succulent, now tightening
*** Domaine Richaud Terre d''Aigles 2021 10/17 jolly fruit, primeur style
*** Roger Sabon Rhône by RS  2021-22 07/17 compact depth, thick, yeasty 
**(*) Domaine des 3 Cellier "3" 2019 11/17 easy, but skims, 15°, too high
         

 

 

VIEW FROM LES VESTIDES EAST TOWARDS CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

2016 TAVEL

2016 is a very good vintage at TAVEL, full of many delicious, generous wines that are perfectly suited to dining, be that Provençal or Mediterranean, Asian or classic cuisine. Although growers reported that all varieties performed well this year, instead of a more usual profile when one or two let the side down, I find the GRENACHE and the CINSAULT to be the star performers this year.

The GRENACHE has brought plump features and texture, while the CINSAULT at this excellent level of ripeness is capable of furnishing the wines with admirable, soft finesse. Their partnership in the engine room of the wines has been aided by the oily richness of CLAIRETTE BLANCHE when that has been included.

The wines are therefore bright and open, and make an immediate impact, pleasure firmly on the agenda.

DROUGHT, SOME BLOCKAGE OF RIPENING

An explanation on matters on the vintage came from GUILLAUM DEMOULIN, who makes stylish TAVEL at the CHÂTEAU DE TRINQUEVEDEL. He told me: “we lacked rain in the winter 2015/16, and to some extent it was a bizarre year, with a very dry August, and therefore some blockage in the ripening, which happened later than we had expected. It’s a good year, but not one of my favourites, since I find the wines lack a bit of freshness and vivacity.”

They are good and aromatic, though,” he continued, “and have a very fat roundness due to a very belle ripeness on the polyphenols, the tannic content [this also happened in 2017]. You could have made red wine from the GRENACHE in both 2016 and 2017.”

GOOD COLOUR, BIT LESS CROP THAN 2015

PASCAL LAFOND of the high class DOMAINE LAFOND ROC-ÉPINE gave this take on 2016: “we had 5% to 10% less juice than in 2015. The wines have a lot of colour, they are perfumed and a bit more robust than 2015. The skins were thicker, and the wines have structure. There was zero rain from early May to early September, which therefore was like 2003 – it was drier than 2009, too. The only extreme high heat occurred over four to five days at the end of August. But the wines don’t resemble 2003’s, when the nights were hotter.”

FRÉDERIC LAVAU also remarked on the dry conditions intensifying the wines, stating: “the summer was very dry, with some stress on the vines. The crop for our TAVEL gave concentrated and aromatic juice.”

PLEASING AROMATICS IN 2016

ANNE FLANDRIN of DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE, on good form in 2016, also mentioned the pleasing aromatics of this vintage. “There is attractive content, and the wines are aromatic,” she observed, “and have both volume and length, are fine. There was 20% to 30% less juice than in 2015.”

RALPH GARCIN at PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES pointed to an adaption of their vinification in pursuit of increased aromas and finesse, when explaining: “because our vineyards are on sandy soils, we were fearful of drought in 2016. We have changed the vinification – it used to be half direct press, half a maceration of 24 hours. Now we have changed the maceration: we have a lot of white grapes such as GRENACHE BLANC, and what we do is put them in the bottom of the vat, then come the lighter colour red varieties of GRENACHE NOIR and CINSAULT to sit on and crush the white crop, then on top of them we place the darker SYRAH and MOURVÈDRE. We find this gives very clear, aromatic juice with very little tannin, and it also sustains the mid-palate.”

RICHARD MABY of DOMAINE MABY was content with his vintage: “the wines are very beaus, although our two wines come in markedly different styles this year. I actually prefer the LA FORCADIÈRE, which is fine against the more opulent PRIMA DONNA. All the varieties did well this year, and the yield was also good, even if less than 2015.”

WINES IMPROVED POST BOTTLING

SÉVÉRINE LEMOINE of DOMAINE LA ROCALIÈRE, an address for wines en finesse, is enthusiastic about 2016, after what she regarded as a shaky start. She told me: “I like 2016 a lot – the wines held more acidity and were more “sparkling” than usual, and need a bit of time to come together. Hence when they were released in the early spring part of 2017, their reception was tricky. They will be very, very pleasurable in the autumn of 2017, a classic TAVEL vintage for gastronomy, with a lot of freshness and a certain elegance, minerality.”

GOOD MERCHANT WINES IN 2016

Another good feature and litmus test for the quality of a vintage is how good the négociant or merchant wines are. 2016 shows that buying a merchant TAVEL – ****(*) TARDIEU-LAURENT VIEILLES VIGNES, **** M CHAPOUTIER BEAUREVOIR, **** ALAIN JAUME LE CRETACÉ, **** OGIER ÉTAMINES, ***(*) LOUIS BERNARD, ***(*) GABRIEL MEFFRE SAINT-FERRÉOL, etc – is a pretty good bet. Sources for these wines are reliable.

THE TOP THREE

Top of the class this year are three wines whose pedigree as properly deep, well founded rosés conform to the ideal of TAVEL. They are the aforementioned TARDIEU LAURENT VIEILLES VIGNES [merchant wine, a long-term contract], the STGT DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE LA REINE DES BOIS and the STGT DOMAINE CORNE-LOUP, all three ****(*) wines. Whereas the style of TAVEL when I first visited in the 1970s was full, one of the issues was excess alcohol and lack of balance. I recall one of the great estates in those days as DOMAINE DE LA GENESTIÈRE, which I placed in my first book on the RHÔNE, written in 1973-1975, as “one of the very finest wines in the CÔTES DU RHÔNE, and by logical extension, amongst the greatest in FRANCE.” This was something writers didn’t do in those days – give clear opinions, and refer to a hierarchy, but it has of course been common these past few decades.

The other wines were: CÔTE-RÔTIE LA MOULINE, E GUIGAL; CONDRIEU GEORGES VERNAY; CHÂTEAU-GRILLET; HERMITAGE LA CHAPELLE, PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ; HERMITAGE J-L CHAVE; CORNAS A CLAPE; CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, CHÂTEAU RAYAS, LOUIS REYNAUD; MUSCAT DE BEAUMES-DE-VENISE DOMAINE DES BERNARDINS, LES ENFANTS DE LOUIS CASTAUD.

The wine of GENESTIÈRE I described as “outstanding. Beautifully pink in colour, it has a perfect balance of fruit and finesse which makes it a joy to drink. So delicious and easy to drink is it, though, that one bottle never seems enough.” While several TAVELs were raised in [old, poorly maintained] oak in those days, the GENESTIÈRE was purely raised in vat.

GENESTIÈRE was recently sold as the old owner, JEAN-CLAUDE GARCIN, who had bought it in 1994 from the BERNARD family, had lost his son in a tragic accident, and there was no willing successor. JEAN-CLAUDE, whose father was a milkman, had come to TAVEL as a young man as a lowly vineyard worker, in 1965 starting to rent vineyards. From there he built up a fruit and vegetable empire that financed his purchase. So I hope what appears to be investment by a Finance Group will resurrect its qualities.

YO HO STGT

There is a flurry of STGT wines in 2016 - five in all - another excellent sign for the vintage quality. There is enough clarity and ping in the wines for terroir to tumble out of the glass, and I would advise purchase of these "speaking" wines. The ****(*) DOMAINE DE LA MORDORÉE LA REINE DES BOIS conforms very closely to my 2016 vintage ideal, by the way, its composition led by 60% GRENACHE NOIR, 15% CLAIRETTE BLANCHE and 10% CINSAULT on the sand with some clay, galet stone soils of VALLONGUE.

2016 is a vintage that parades flair in the leading TAVELs, and I warmly recommend what is an out of fashion wine for your table. They will taste very well right into the months of 2019, and a 2017 Christmas turkey with a TAVEL 2016 would indeed be a good marriage.

LEADING 2016 TAVEL ROSÉS

****(*) Domaine Corne-Loup  2019-20 07/17 fine, balance, pleasure, STGT 
****(*) Dom de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois 2022-23 06/17 abundant, great depth, STGT
****(*) Tardieu-Laurent Vieilles Vignes 2022 05/17 plump gras, solid, true  
**** Château de Trinquevedel   2019 08/17 charm, restraint, finesse   
**** Domaine Amido Les Gourmandines  2019-20 07/17 tasty, juicy, STGT, enjoyable 
**** M Chapoutier Beaurevoir   2020 07/17 balance, depth, vigour  
**** Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine  2020 05/17 pinpoint fruit; refreshing  
**** Domaine Maby Prima Donna   2020-21 06/17 serious depth, bright, STGT  
***** Dom de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse 2020 06/17 jaunty, pure, good weight
**** Moulin la Viguerie Falaises de Braise 2020-21 07/17 long, plump, intense, fresh 
**** Domaine La Rocalière Perle de Culture  2020 06/17 dashing fruit, expressive 
**** Alain Jaume Le Crétacé   2019 06/17 free, fresh, aromatic, w.o.w.
**** Ogier Étamines   2020 07/17 tight, depth, gras, local  
**** Vignerons de Tavel Terroir des Sables 2020 05/17 juicy, racy, wholesome, STGT 
***(*) Louis Bernard   2020 06/17 fine fruit, fleshy content  
***(*) Château d’Aquéria   2019 07/17 gliding wine, Asian dishes 
***(*) Château de Trinquevedel AutremenTavel 2019 08/17 tangy, fine, bright 
***(*) La Cie Rhodanienne Les Combelles   2019 06/17 sweet, plump, expressive  
***(*)  Domaine de L''Anglore Vintage pink label 2027-29  05/19  wall of fruit, structure, interest 
***(*) Domaine des Carabiniers    2019-20 06/17 tight; fine acidity, apero 
***(*) Ferraton Père & Fils Les Lauses 2020 01/18 authentic, bright; liberal fruits
***(*) Lavau  2019  07/17 neat fruit, good package  
***(*) Domaine Maby La Forcadière   2020 06/17 cosy gras, en finesse 
***(*) Domaine Maby Libiamo   2021-22 06/17 sweet concentration, smooth
***(*) Domaine des Muretins   2019 08/17 discreet gras, fresh  
***(*) Domaine La Rocalière le Classique  2019 06/17 gentle, squeezy, soft fruits 
***(*) Gabriel Meffre Saint-Ferréol   2019-20 06/17 live fruits; grounded   
***(*) Prieuré de Montézargues La Crosse   2019 07/17 bright, airborne, fresh  
***(*) Les Vignerons de Tavel Différent   2020-21 05/17 brisk fruit, carb gas, length  
***(*) Vignerons de Tavel Les Lauzeraies   2020 05/17 zingy, direct, neat   
*** Château La Genestière   2019-20 07/17 firm, solid, with power 
*** Domaine Amido Les Amandines    2019 07/17 free, mild, fine, easy  
*** Brotte Les Eglantiers   2019 07/17 sweet, neat, bit plain 
*** Cellier Chartreux Dom Hautes Roches 2019 05/17 soft, easy, pleasant  
*** Domaine Florence Méjan Les Muses  2020 05/17 neat, strength, power  
*** Rocca Maura Domaine Laurent   2019 05/17 bracing, tangy, soft with air 
*** Les Vignerons de Tavel Cuvée Royale 2019 06/17 gourmand, squelchy, bit sweet