Rhône 2018 EP: tasting the 2018s from the barrel


Our trip to taste the 2018 vintage in the Rhône was a welcome week of warm sunshine and blue skies. This was a much-awaited trip for me as it was my first time visiting the region and the winemakers that I love so much.

We started our trip in the north, landing in Lyon on the Monday afternoon and arriving in Ampuis in time to pay a visit to Domaine Christophe et Patrick Bonnefond. We were greeted by a very relaxed Christophe Bonnefond, he and his grapes were enjoying one more day of sunshine before the harvest frenzy. Much like everybody else we chatted with, Christophe was delighted that 2019 had provided an abundant crop after such a small yield in 2017 and 2018 (but more of that in our vintage report).

The top of the Côte Rôtie offers spectacular views of the terraced vineyards and the Rhône river

It’s always fun to visit wine regions during harvest season. Our first full day of tasting kicked off at Clusel Roch, a fantastic start. This domaine traditionally picks a few days earlier than anybody else in the Côte Rôtie and the 2019 picking schedule was already well underway. While tasting the legendary Les Grandes Places from the barrel, Gaëlle from the winemaking team explained to us that they had just harvested the 2019 Les Grandes Places the morning before.

Gaëlle and David Roberts MW
Gaëlle and David Roberts MW

The harvest was also in full swing at Domaine René Rostaing and as we arrived René pointed out the small figures in the distance busy picking in the Côte Blonde parcels. René insists he has retired and is too busy tending to grandchildren these days to tend to vines. Nonetheless, it was René who was keeping a keen eye on the incoming grapes and who greeted us while son Pierre was busy leading the charge in the vineyards. I thoroughly enjoyed the Côte Blonde which was showing beautifully out of the barrel.

David Roberts MW and René Rostaing
David Roberts MW and René Rostaing

At Domaine Perret, Andre and his daughter Marie were also busy receiving freshly harvested grapes when we arrived. Marie spent the first half of the year helping with the harvest at an estate in Chile, so this was her second harvest of the year and we all greatly admired her energy! After tasting the delicious and already complex 2018 samples of Condrieu, Marie brought us some freshly pressed 2019 Viognier grape juice from the harvest that morning, an explosion of juicy white peaches. The chef was busy preparing lunch for the hard-working harvesters and as tempting as it was to accept the kind invitation to join them, we had to press on. It’s a hard life.

Andre Perret looking forward to lunch
Andre Perret looking forward to lunch

Localised hailstorms in Crozes Hermitage had severely affected the 2019 crop at Hermitage producer Domaine du Colombier. But brothers David and Florent were nonetheless very satisfied with the quality of the grapes that had survived. They were also very pleased with how their 2018s were coming along in barrel and their Crozes Hermitage was showing particularly well at this stage.

We also paid a visit to the old-school garagiste Bernard Faurie and his weird and wonderful collection of garden gnomes. His 2018 Hermitage – a blend of his Bessards, Greffieux and Méal plots – is truly outstanding. Finally, we reached Cornas where we met Lionel Fraisse, the new winemaker at Domaine Alain Voge who has taken over from Albéric Mazoyer. 2019 will be his first solo vintage and the 2018s we tasted were the (delicious) fruits of both his and Alberic’s labour. They are accomplished examples of this hugely underrated appellation.

Day two was dedicated to the southern Rhône and here too the winemakers were pleased with the bountiful 2019. 2018 was plagued by mildew after a wet, rainy May seized Châteauneuf du Pape. While quantity was down, quality certainly wasn’t and our first visit of the day to Beaucastel was a prime example of this. In fact, 2018 was Francois Perrin’s 40th and final harvest before retiring in December of last year.

The famous galet roules, or pudding stones, at Beaucastel
The famous galet roulés, or pudding stones, at Beaucastel

The Gonnet Family at Domaine Font du Vent (previously known as Font de Michelle) have also produced a great Châteauneuf in 2018. Winemaker Guillaume has been very busy after acquiring 15 more hectares on the La Crau plateau two years ago and overseeing the conversion of the entire estate to organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Our final visit of the afternoon was to Clos des Cazaux in Gigondas. This appellation’s higher elevation spared it from the worst of the mildew that decimated much of Châteauneuf in 2018. With only 10% loss in the vineyards, their 2018 Gigondas is a great success and a delightful example of this unoaked style.

Before catching our flight from Marseille, we paid a morning visit to Vieux Télégraphe. This domaine is of course better known for its mighty Châteauneuf du Pape but their 2018 Gigondas from a high-altitude plot in the shadows of the Dentelles de Montmirail is another example of the talents of the Brunier family. A truly excellent finish to what was a fantastic few days tasting the 2018 vintage. With such superb examples, we’re sure that you will enjoy them as much as we did when you come to pop a cork in the future!