A Tasting Trip to the Rhône Valley – Vintage 2008


Last week, I headed off to the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence, starting in Côte Rôtie and descending upon the beautiful and unusual Hérault Valley (Mas de Daumas Gassac) before moving eastward in the direction of Les Baux de Provence (Trévallon), Bandol (Tempier) and the Var (Château d’Esclans).

Needless to say, there were a lot of miles covered. I think around day 5 after spending 6 hours cutting through garrigue-laden hillsides as well as Montpellier, Marseille and Toulon, I started hallucinating about chaining myself to a tree next to the beach so that the ground would stop moving and so that I could be soothed by the sound of the sea. Here, I could think about all the delicious wines I had tasted throughout the week.

The 2008 vintage was a delicious surprise. It was a challenging vintage but the top growers worked very, very hard. The weather had been rainy, cool and overcast much of the summer. But the last 3-4 weeks before harvest, the sun came out and the wind picked up, encouraging ripeness and concentrating the berries.

Selection was most important and all growers produced less – an average of 30% for most, though some went up to 50%! To help produce the best wines possible, many growers will be integrating their “˜top cuvée’ with the main cuvée to make only one wine. This will make quite a noticeable difference. If anyone can remember 2002 Coudoulet (the year Beaucastel was not made but rather put into this wine), it was one of the best Coudoulet’s ever. So, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

From what I tasted, I really enjoyed them. The wines are focused and fresh and many tend to be fruit forward. They are what the French call “˜digeste’, that is wines that are refined and which effortlessly melt on the tongue. Next to the 2007s, they will be earlier drinking, yet still very enjoyable. Many of the 2007s are powerhouses which will require quite a bit of cellaring before they are at their pinnacle. One certainly would not want to go thirsty patiently waiting for the 07s to blossom! This is where 2008s will fit nicely into a drinking cellar.

Most of the 2008s will be available for tasting at our Rhône En Primeur tasting on 17 November, 2009 at the Saatchi Gallery. A full vintage report will be available as well. Mark it in your calendar!