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2005 in the Northern Rhône

No surprises here. The word about 2005 all over Europe is truly out and about, and the Rhône is no exception. Even for a generally cautious person like me when asked about vintages, I have at this quite early stage to place 2005 in the realm of 1978, although the rich intensity of 1978 and the consequent balance between content and tannins was superior in that fabled vintage.

It’s the fullness, but also the acidity and balance that win the day. There are plenty of tannins: I like their early prominence, but have every confidence that they will gradually meld into the wines. This is a wonderful year for lovers of Syrah. The best locations have delivered wines of probing depth but also a remarkable harmony.

I recall the 1978s as they came out. They were more evidently tannic, but they also possessed this grandiose combination of depth, persistence and balance. So much I did like them that I bought four cases of Guigal’s La Landonne and La Mouline for the princely sum of 80 Francs or GB£8 a bottle – those were the days, when these wines were not rationed simply because they were not known.

Now we have much to look forward to.

CROZES-HERMITAGE RED WINES

The fruit-forward wines from Crozes-Hermitage show well already. The oaked, older vine or granite location Crozes reds need a couple of years to come together, but as with any vintage of balance, can be drunk now by those desperate for a fast fix.

SAINT-JOSEPH RED WINES

The St-Josephs contain their usual quota of tannins and intense black fruits, and require a little longer in the cellar. Both northern and southern zones of this straggling appellation have done well. As the reds have aged, they show style and clarity, especially from the southern zones around Tournon, as witnessed by the Bernard Faurie 2005 in November, 2011.

Turning to the Big Three.

CORNAS

Cornas shows wines of structure, with the fruit well evident. Clape 1978 was more closed up in its youth. Winemaking standards are higher than in those days, and drinkers will be impressed by this year’s wines. They are not the blackstrap merchants of yore – there is greater refinement these days, what with destemming and better vigilance behind the ripening.

CÔTE-RÔTIE


Côte-Rôtie dances with delights, both in the standard cuvées and in the highly impressive, subtle and complex old vine, fine location wines. For lovers of Burgundy, this is a vintage to know. Put your dainty Pinot feet in the granite soil of the Rhône, dear northerners: you will feel at home, and will wonder why you didn’t stray south earlier.

HERMITAGE RED WINES


My first encounter with Hermitage 2005 was in early December 2005, chez Jean-Louis Chave, when I tasted just a few recently fermented vats. Even I, the Cautious One, was persuaded that this was indeed a Mighty Year. Nothing has deviated since then – the wines are classy, complete and suitable for a Year of the Comet or some such landmark. [All the 1811 Hermitage was shipped to Bordeaux as the Bordelais determined to ensure that they had a wine commensurate with that year of the Comet. Of course the Doctor’s work went unrecognised, but not any more!]

NORTHERN RHÔNE WHITE WINES


The Northern Rhône whites are solid, a little more intense and assertive than the fabulous 2004s, whose plentiful charm envelops the drinker. The Marsanne-led wines show quite well. This is an obvious Marsanne vintage – its character dominates the Roussanne strongly this year.

CONDRIEU


The balance of the 2005 Condrieus is less assured than the 2004s – ripening was not a harmonious affair between the sugars and polyphenols. They are not big show wines, but are full of compact flavour, and there is not too much alcohol on show. They are wines for food rather than aperitif, and can live.

CROZES-HERMITAGE WHITE WINES


The best Crozes-Hermitage whites possess content and harmony, and are more potent than 2004, but not detrimentally. Acidities are a little low, and the vintage is less aromatic than 2004 – the aromas are more earthy than floral in 2005.

HERMITAGE WHITE WINES


White Hermitage is also a mixed bag, with the best names performing best. White Hermitage these days is an oak-fest when the wines are tasted before five or six years of age. Add in the ridiculous notion of late picking to achieve extreme ripeness, and there is something of a dog’s dinner about some of these wines. Relax, chaps – you’re dealing in intrinsic richness already. Excess ripening and new oak: now which Toubib pedals that formula?

SAINT-JOSEPH WHITE WINES


The 2005 St-Joseph whites were a mixed bag when tasted in a group of 30 in December, 2006. My feeling was that they needed leaving until June-September 2007 to show their best side. Too many were cellar-imposed, with interventionist winemaking on display. The words ‘gentle’ and ‘graceful’ were mainly absent. The core of good domaines comes through well and their wines can evolve and live well.

SAINT-PÉRAY

The top St-Pérays have a solid heart and are long. They will start to show nicely from March-April 2007.

The close-up on the vintage and each domaine’s wines will be assessed in the subscription section of the website, due to be launched before April 2007.