In July this year I spent a week travelling between producers in the Rhone Valley tasting 2015s, a year that I am confident will unequivocally wear the badge of a great vintage as the years pass and corks are pulled. Up and down the valley - from Condrieu to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from Ardeche Vin de Pays to prestige cuvee Cote Rotie, from Syrah in the north to Mourvedre in south - and across both reds and whites, thrilling wines have been made.
For my palate, 2015 rivals the outstanding wines of 2010 – ahead of the 2005s and superior to the over-hyped 2007s. When Michel Chapoutier came to London to present his range in April, he told us that 2015 is the best vintage since 1990. Michel’s neighbours at Guigal are making comparisons to 1961 and 1947. Whilst neither my memory nor cellar extend quite that far back, this is unquestionably a year that hits extraordinary heights in the Rhone. Since returning, I have been squirreling away funds in preparation for the releases.
My first experience of 2015 in the Rhone came in July of that year, 12 months prior to my tasting visit, just as the vineyards were undergoing veraison - when the juvenile grapes change colour and start to ripen – whilst tasting the 2014 wines. It was hot. In fact, it was furnace-like, with a run of days over 40c – conforming to the official definition of a heat-wave – and a prolonged dry spell, causing the vines to struggle. Especially in the north, where Syrah is particularly vulnerable to extreme conditions, growers were starting to worry about hydric (water) stress leading to wines with insufficient acidity and dry, leathery tannins.