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Reviews of HERMITAGE estates have recently been posted, the emphasis on 2011 and 2010, with one or two 2012s tasted at MARC SORREL and CAVE DE TAIN. Other visits to DELAS, BERNARD FAURIE and JEAN-LOUIS CHAVE have been written up, along with the full range of FERRATON and CHAPOUTIER wines. The fullest 2011 NORTHERN RHÔNE REDS come from the area around Tain, including CORNAS, CROZES-HERMITAGE and HERMITAGE, while the southern area of SAINT-JOSEPH around Mauves and Tournon has served very drinkable wines as well. For full reviews of 2011 HERMITAGE RED, HERMITAGE WHITE and CROZES-HERMITAGE RED, see LEADING WINES BY VINTAGE and scroll down to 2011 NORTHERN RHÔNE, then across to THE LEADING WINES.

EARLY JANUARY 2013: the outcome of the Brussels deliberations on allowing unlimited planting rights has been satisfactory for the broad mass of French vignerons and viticulteurs. Europe has now proposed a system of regulation across all countries and across all categories of wine, which has come as a big relief to the Rhône growers, even if details remain to be finalised.

Morale is also up thanks to the current pricing of Rhônes; at the grass roots CÔTES DU RHÔNE level, the current price of €115.90 per hectolitre (100 litres) for the 2012 represents a rise of between €6 and €7 for the third consecutive year. This is testament to the success, not only of the extremely drinkable 2011 vintage, but also the recognition already of the superior quality of 2012, a vintage of greater structure and body than the 2011.

2012 will be an interesting exercise in judging whether the Rhône has started to shake off its junior partner status, behind the heavyweights of BORDEAUX and BURGUNDY, regions that struggled for crop and ripeness in 2012. The tradition is for perception of Rhône quality to slavishly follow judgments coming out of Bordeaux, which in vintages such as 1991, 2007 and 2008 cast excess shadows over the Rhône.