Rhone 2018: First Impressions


Having recently returned from tasting the 2018s across the Rhône Valley, I wanted to share my immediate thoughts and give you a brief overview of the vintage. We will be sharing a full vintage report and tasting notes with our offer in mid-November.

The 2018 vintage in the Rhône is another very small crop. Yields were down in the north due to a dry summer, but it was the South that suffered from particularly low yields due to a wet spring. It wasn’t so much the volume of rain that was the issue but rather the persistence: it rained for 21 days out of 28 during the month of May meaning that the vines just couldn’t dry out. This rain, combined with the humidity, resulted in mildew ripping through the vineyards. Warmer vineyards such as those of Châteauneuf du Pape saw losses of up to 60% and some estates were so badly affected that they haven’t produced a 2018 vintage at all, most notably Château Rayas. The slightly higher altitude appellations such as Gigondas were slightly less impacted and yields were down approximately 30%.

This is not, however, bad news for the quality of the wines. Quality is consistent across the board, with some excellent wines from both North and South. Despite the issue of mildew, the wet spring did have the benefit of providing good water reserves. This kept the vegetative cycle in full flow through what was a very warm and dry summer and harvest took place in ideal conditions. The net result is that 2018 is a small but very high-quality crop.

Here is a brief precis of the domaines we visited, from North to South:

Brothers Patrick and Cristophe Bonnefond at Domaine Bonnefond have crafted a very good range of wines with a flamboyance and warmth to them. Although on the higher side of alcohol degrees, the wines are balanced and made a strong impression on us.

Domaine Clusel-Roch’s 2018s are beautiful and very Burgundian in style, reflecting the estate’s whole bunch vinification policy. They have lovely balance and lower alcohol degrees than other examples.

The wines at Domaine René Rostaing are today are made by René’s son Pierre but they still possess the very polished edge for which the domaine is famous. In addition, the 100% stainless steel Viognier beautifully reflects the variety.

Domaine Andre Perret had a stunning selection of white wines. The Marsanne/Roussanne blended Saint Joseph Blanc has tremendous appeal and the two Viognier Condrieu cuvées are beautifully aromatic and embody this unique appellation.

Domaine de Colombier’s wines were a little reserved on the day we tasted. The straight Crozes Hermitage from was showing particularly well out of the barrel and will give great pleasure.

Bernard Faurie has given his 11 hectares of Saint Joseph vines to his daughter and son in law, so he now cultivates a modest 3.5 hectares of Hermitage. There is just one single cuvée in 2018 but it’s an absolute cracker…

At Domaine Alain Voge, 2018 was Albéric Mazoyer’s last vintage overseeing the harvest and vinifiaction. New technical director, Lionel Fraisse, took over and watched over the wines’ maturation in barrel. These excellent Cornas reds continue their upward momentum with great energy and definition.

Château de Beaucastel offers a faultless range. The Coudelet wines are exceptional and the Beaucastel Rouge was a true highlight of our trip to the South. Superb.

Guillaume Gonnet of Domaine Font du Vent makes terrific wines. Formerly known as Domaine Font de Michelle, the price-quality ratio of Font du Vent’s Châteauneuf Cuvée Tradition Rouge is the best in the market.

Le Clos des Cazaux’s Vacqueyras and Gigondas are superb examples of the best of the southern Rhône grape varieties when vinified and aged in tank. The wines don’t see any oak and have a lovely expression of fruit.

Vieux Télégraphe’s high altitude Gigondas from the Terasse du Diable vineyard at their Les Pallières estate was excellent. The Châteauneuf du Pape was also very good indeed.