Northern Rhône Visit – Marché-aux-Vins d’Ampuis 2019

by Charles Lea

L&S’s Rhône Ranger Derek Robertson visited many of our growers in their cellars in January. He also attended the 2019 Salon d’Ampuis, in the company of Tim Smith, open-minded Aussie winemaker who was recently awarded Barossa Winemaker of the year. This is Derek’s report:

The Northern Rhône is on a bit of a roll at present, with yet another brilliant vintage in 2017 and quickly on the back of 2016 & 2015, a trifecta of good vintages. It is easy to see why there is an air of contentment about the place and another reason why people are yet again talking of the majesty of the Rhône Valley, but for the purpose of this trip we are talking Northern only.

L & S Rhone Ranger Derek Robertson and Barossa winemaker Tim Smith at the 2019 Salon d’Ampuis

Armed with all the good press the Rhône is having, it was with a sense of anticipation and much excitement when visiting the Northern Rhône for the Marché-aux-vins in January.

The local sports hall in Ampuis is converted into a small salon for the growers and winemakers of Côte Rôtie and Condrieu along with a small smattering of Cornas, St Joseph and Crozes Hermitage to show their wares.  With over 70 stands to visit, it really is the best chance to taste so many estates and domaines in one room, you can really assess a vintage. This year nearly all were showing their 2017s and the insider information and hyperbole is well worth it, the wines of Côte Rôtie in 2017 are very special indeed.

We arrived early on Friday morning to be greeted with a queue around the block full of excited members of the public, wine trade professionals, sommeliers and wine makers from all over the world. The long wait in the cold, I have to say was worth every minute.

Krystel and Rémi Niero at the 2019 Salon d’Ampuis

Not everything went to plan in 2017. A bit of frost during flowering and some resulting ‘coulure’ led to a relatively small harvest. In Côte Rôtie some are saying they are 20-30% down on production. I think, if truth be told, somewhere in the middle would be more accurate and as always with a good vintage, low yields, high demand and less volume, we can expect a little increase in pricing but nothing too off-putting.

There are some truly delicious Côte Rôties, the very best being particularly elegant, pure and precise and will reward a little patience, but for those who like refined Syrah that isn’t particularly high in alcohol, these are great wines, many of which drink well young on the youthful fruit, but will also age gracefully for ten years or more.

For the whites in Condrieu, the Viognier grapes suffered a little more, with production down some 40% on previous years, but again the quality is excellent. Whether you prefer a little extra ‘hang-time’ on the vine for fruit with added richness, or the brighter, fresher style, there is something to keep all Viognier fans happy.

It is an oft-repeated claim of mine to my long-suffering colleagues but in pure monetary value, it is extremely hard to beat the Rhône Valley for value when it is on song. Consider this, the very best wine from Benjamin & David Duclaux, the majestic and pure 2016 Côte Rôtie Maison Rouge, will set you back £59.75 a bottle by the case. With only around 2000 cases made, it illustrates not only how limited in quantity these truly ‘artisanal’ wine are, but also what great value they represent. This isn’t limited to the top cuvées of Côte Rôtie, there are plenty of other great value wines to be found like the 2017 Crozes Hermitage Cuvée Papillon from Domaine Gilles Robin, weighing in at £17.75 or the outstanding and penny saving 2017 Syrah ‘Terres de Mandrin’ IGP Domaine Jeanne Gaillard which will set you back a mere £11.95.

Whisper it quietly, but there really is a bit of a Rhône renaissance taking place as a younger generation of winemakers emerge with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm for these great wines.

Read more in our Spring 2019 offer of Northern Rhônes.