Rhône En Primeur 2017

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Davy’s Fine Wine team visited the Rhône in February to taste the 2017 vintage, and to check on the status of the 2018 harvest.

2017 follows two outstanding vintages in the Rhône, but does that mean 2017 will live in the shadows of two potential greats?

Despite challenging conditions that lead to lower yields, 2017 might still deliver the Rhône a trilogy of fine back-to-back vintages. Quality in the Rhône is good to very good, a hot vintage that was extremely sunny, lead to early picking, making it more like the 2015 vintage, with wines likely to be more approachable earlier than the much vaulted 2016 vintage.

The year is a story about continued quality but lower yields across both sub-regions.

Northern Rhône

Despite difficult conditions in the Northern Rhône; where an early start, was followed by a sudden cold snap that slowed growth; a very good quality seems to have prevailed. Hot and sunny conditions lead to more ripe darker fruit, silky tannins and a savoury character (rather like in 2015, and potentially to be seen again in 2018).

Syrah, what the region is most famous for, looks to be concentrated and in balance, and is likely to be more approachable earlier, but some fine examples could still age well for a decade, or longer. Alcohol levels in reds should remain at average levels of 13%, due to the lower yields, although Cornas might be the exception to this rule.

In Condrieu the story of lower yields is likely to hit producers hardest with some producers highlighting a loss of as much as 60% of their crop. Of what remains there is extremely ripe fruit in viognier driven white wines, but with high alcohol levels. Despite this, the 2017s still offer drinkers a lovely freshness, not normally associated with hot vintages.

Côte-Rôtie, which benefitted from consistent rainfall, wines are comparable to the stellar wines of 2015, showing ripe fruit and no signs of greenness.  St-Joseph saw yields down by 20%, but from mid-May it enjoyed a straight forward, yet dry, healthy growing season. While Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Cornas saw very little rain during the summer.

Southern Rhône

In the Southern Rhône, the weather proved more difficult throwing frost, rain and high heat at growers that lead to an early harvest that is one of the smallest in recent years. Cold weather in the spring lead to vines falling behind with a later flowering than in 2015 and 2016. To quote Richard Hemming MW: “It was all the right weather, but not necessarily in the right order.”

Hot weather that came on quickly in May made the vines work more vigorously than they should resulting in the issue of Coulure (a failure of grapes to form properly following flowering), in 2017 this was particularly prevalent in the South. The grenache grape can be more susceptible to this, but all varietals were affected in both the North and South in 2017. This issue in hot early-picked vintages often leads to smaller berries and thus to the lower yields seen. Interestingly Coulure has led: “some winemakers to have had to recalibrate their blends to include higher proportions of other grape varieties”, noted Matt Walls for Decanter.

Early picking began in the last two weeks of August, with yields as low between 30 to 50% down, but winemakers that waited into September, for optimum maturity faired best.

Despite the difficult hot weather conditions most winemakers rallied well, seemingly producing wines, particularly reds, with concentration that are ideal for aging. In the South some producers have gone too far with over-extraction and the over use of oak, the best wines are the ones where there has been a semblance of control.

In Châteauneuf-du-Pape some favourite top cuvées have not been made in 2017, with the grapes now destined for other blends, but the production of Tradition wines was down due to winemakers wanting to maximise their returns.

Other areas in the South to look out for, in terms of value for money are Cairanne, Gigondas and Vacqueyras. On the eastern side of the Rhone, Cairanne, at its higher elevation and with clay soils, has excelled in 2017 and offers great value according to Joe Czerwinski, of Wine Advocate, while Gigondas wines offer a natural freshness. Vacqueyras too gets special mention, as an often overlooked neighbour of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

2018 Snapshot

And could 2018 follow suit to join the aforementioned trilogy. All signs point to yes, but with the caveat that yields will be lower still, even after the heavily hit 2017 vintage.

Joe Czerwinski, from Wine Advocate, states that his trip to the region: “coincided with harvest for many of the producers I visited, and they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm as perfectly ripe grapes arrived at their wineries.”

Watch this space for more information on what 2018 might yield after we visit in February.

Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate
Matt Walls, Decanter
Richard Hemming MW, JancisRobinson.com


If you’re new to En Primeur you’ll find detailed information in our article ‘What is En Primeur?’

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