2010 Southern Rhones – A Vintage that is turning out to be as good as expected

I have talked a number of times before about the dangers of falling into the “Vintage of the Century” trap. By that, I mean the annual claims from at least one wine region around the world (and often more than one) that their upcoming vintage is the “best ever”.

Logically, of course, this isn’t possible — “ever” is a long time! Practically, you can also never generalize across all wineries and wines in a certain region, because even if the grapes are wonderfully ripe (the key characteristic of a good vintage), there is still the fact that the winemaker has to make the wine. And, like anything in life and business, some are better than others no matter what the circumstances.

So, unfortunately, the whole “vintage of the century” phenomenon is usually about selling as much wine as possible. And, at the highest possible price (justified, of course, by the so-called quality of the vintage itself).

But having said all that, there are rare times when it does seem that a great vintage means almost all the wines made at that time are also at least very good. And 2010 may be shaping up to one of those in the southern Cotes du Rhone based on what I have tasted to date.

Many of the most inexpensive 2010 wines (Cotes du Rhones, Cotes du Ventoux) have actually already come and gone from store shelves, making way for the 2011s. I was impressed by almost all of them in the $12 – $15 a bottle category. In fact, I can’t think of a single one that was disappointing, both in quality and – just as important – by the fact that I didn’t see any significant price increases from the 2009 (which was also reputed to be a very good vintage). Producers like Perrin, La Vieille Ferme and Delas Freres all made nice wines.

The next level up — $15 – $20 – has been even better, resulting in some of them flying off the shelves very quickly. The 2010 Cotes du Ventoux by Chateau Pesquie ($18.99 in B.C.) was amazingly ripe Syrah and Grenache, with some tannin built in for aging. It’s gone – helped no doubt by Robert Parker’s 94 point rating. But even the mid-level offerings from the producers referenced above are riper than usual, making them worth the extra few bucks.

Now we are starting to see the more prestigious wines show up – Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and single vineyard Cotes du Rhones. And while they have never been cheap — $30 a bottle and up, including way up for the single vineyards Chateauneuf du Papes – I also haven’t seen any significant price increases. Chateauneufs from Chante Perdrix ($44), Vieux Lazeret ($40) and even Vieux Donjon ($59) are the same price, even though highly rated (the latter is a 96 point Parker wine!). Same with the Gigondas – Domaine Brusset’s Le Grand Montmirail ($34) and Grand Montmirail ($49), both of which are 92+ wines. For those of us who like to buy wines that will age and develop for 10, 15 or even 20 years, than means some great deals (relatively speaking, of course).

Now, don’t get me wrong – that still doesn’t every high end Rhone wine is going to be great and worth the price (even if it hasn’t gone up). But it does give me confidence that if the wine is highly rated by a reviewer who I trust, that I am going to get what I paid for. And, in 2010, maybe even a little more than usual!




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