by Tim Atkin

2010 Rhônes: still time to flash the plastic

“They are both for sale.” The response of the Bordeaux château owner to my question about the relative merits of the 2009 and 2010 vintages was delivered with tongue lodged firmly in cheek. But then he paused for a second. “I think we will still be talking about these two vintages in 20 and even 50 years’ time, debating their contrasting qualities.”

I think we will too, and not just in Bordeaux. 2009 and 2010 were also great vintages in Burgundy and the Rhône. The regions do not always enjoy the same conditions (2007 is a case in point), but 2009 and 2010 will stand alongside 2005 as years that were excellent in all three areas.

I’ve already published my opinions on 2010 in Burgundy and Bordeaux, but have not done so for the Rhône. In part, this was because I didn’t sample the wines in the region, but also because I hadn’t tasted enough of them to make an informed judgment. But after seven tastings in London over the last couple of months, looking at more than 800 wines, I can’t keep silent any more.

This is a great vintage for the northern and southern Rhône, for whites as well as reds. The season was warm and even, rather than baking hot, and the wines are generally perfumed and well balanced as a result. They are also comparatively low in alcohol, most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Coulure in the southern Rhône reduced the percentage of Grenache (with its high sugar content and tendency to over-ripeness) and kept the wines in check.

In short, the best wines are brilliant. They are also comparatively well priced, especially when you set them alongside the top wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. They are as rich as the more sumptuous 2009s, but arguably finer and fresher, with lovely line and length. The wines will age well – and better than the 2009s in my view – but are drinkable now in some cases.

I’ve picked 45 of my favourite wines from the tastings I attended at Berry Brothers, Bibendum, H2Vin, Goedhuis, Justerini & Brooks, Lay & Wheeler and OW Loeb. None of them costs more than £1000 a case in bond and there are a number of real bargains under £100. What’s not to enjoy?

Gabriel Meffre cellar

Gigondas Cellar © Tim Atkin MW


Côtes du Ventoux, Cuvée Quintessence, Château Pesquié (13.5%, £110, OW Loeb)
There’s almost a Burgundian note to Alexandre Chaudiére’s white blend: fresh and minerally with flavours of honeysuckle, citrus fruit and wet stones. Fresh and lingering on the palate. 90 points

St Joseph Blanc, Saut de l’Ange, Domaine Pierre-Jean Villa (13%, £168, BBR)
In only his second vintage, the ex régisseur from Vins de Vienne is already making an impression. This pure Roussanne is creamy, herbal and lees-influenced, with acidity framing and lifting the wine on the palate. 91 points

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Domaine Grand Veneur (14%, £180, Bibendum)
An unoaked blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Clairette at an appealing price, this is a very modern style of CNDP white, with good acidity from the Clairette complementing the herbal spice of the Roussanne. 91 points

Condrieu, l’Octroi, Pierre Gaillard (£279, H2V)
A Condrieu that is typical of the vintage, showing freshness clarity and precision, this is intense and rich, but has lovely underlying acidity, a hint of fennel and some wild herbs. Good now, but should develop for 3-5 years. 94 points

Condrieu, Deponcins, François Villard (14%, £310, H2V; £342, Lay & Wheeler; £348, BBR)
The incomparable François Villard has made some of his best-ever wines in 2010, exemplified by this creamy, tangerine-scented Condrieu. Long, concentrated and rich, but with remarkable freshness and poise. 96 points

Condrieu, Coteau de Chéry, André Perret (15%, £320, Goedhuis; £335, J&B)
Despite the alcoholic richness of this wine, this is floral and beautifully poised with apricot and orange zest flavours, tangy acidity and a powerful, palate-coating texture. Drink this young, but what intensity. 95 points

Condrieu, Vieilles Vignes de Jacques Vernay, Michel et Stéphane Ogier (13.5%, £354, Lay & Wheeler)
Sourced from a small parcel of vines planted on granite in 1948, this is very fresh and racy for a Condrieu, with zesty, peach, apricot and citrus flavours, assertive minerality and a finish that lingers on the tongue. 96 points

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Clos des Papes (15%, £399, Lay & Wheeler)
You could make a case for saying that the white wine at this historic domaine is even better than the red. This is a delight: complex, herbal and lightly spicy, it carries its 15% alcohol with ease. Balanced and very fine. 95 points

Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc, Château de Beaucastel (14%, £420, Bibendum)
Dominated by Roussanne, with 30% of the wine fermented in oak, this is like a scaled down version of this estate’s famous Vieilles Vignes cuvee. Complex, spicy and beautifully framed, with a touch of vanilla adding to the elegant, honeysuckle, jasmine and fresh pear flavours. 94 points

Hermitage Blanc, Les Rocoules, Marc Sorrel (14%, £780, BBR; £816, Lay & Wheeler)
The prices of Marc Sorrel’s wines are at the upper end of the scale for the northern Rhône, but they are worth every penny. This cuvee of 98% Marsanne and 2% Roussanne is one of the great white wines of the vintage: floral pear and aniseed notes, a touch of vanilla and a nuanced, mealy, lingering finish. 98 points

François Villard © Tim Atkin MW


Vacqueyras, Garrigues, Domaine Montirius (14.5%, £79, OW Loeb)
From an old vine plot of mostly Grenache and 30% Syrah, this is appealingly perfumed and youthful, with notes of wild herbs, fine tannins and a sweet, rich, balanced finish. Should age for 2-5 years. 91 points

Cairanne La Brunotte, Denis Alary (£80, H2V)
I’d love to have a case of this Grenache-dominated red in my cellar. Backed up by 20% Mourvèdre and 10% Carignan, it’s spicy, concentrated and unoaked with black fruits and good texture. Honest, no nonsense drinking. 90 points

Crozes-Hermitage, Les Amandiers, Domaine du Murinais (13.5%, £92, OW Loeb)
Essence of Crozes-Hermitage, Luc Tardy’s wine is a smooth, smoky, refreshing Syrah with notes of graphite and aniseed and plush blackberry fruit. A wine that tastes as good as it smells. 92 points

Vacqueyras, Cuvée Saint Roch, Le Clos de Cazaux (14%, £96, Lay & Wheeler)
From vines close to the Dentelles de Montmirail, this is typical of the sort of the value the region offers in 2010. It’s a juicy, peppery, glugging red that puts a smile on your lips and song in your heart. 90 points

Lirac, Baron Louis, Château de Montfaucon (14%, £99, OW Loeb)
One of a number of impressive wines from Rodolphe de Pins in 2010, this is very tasty for a Lira, showing smoky, silky fruit, bags of perfume and notes of blackberry, fruitcake and liquorice. 90 points

Cairanne, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Les Hautes Cances (14.5%, £108, OW Loeb)
Showing the sort of concentration you expect, but don’t always get, from old vines, this is packed with black fruits, garrigue spice and clove and black olive undertones. Essence of Grenache at a very appealing price. 91 points

Vacqueyras, Les Clos, Domaine Montirius (14%, £110, Berry Brothers)
A single vineyard blend of equal parts Grenache and Syrah, this is a brilliant bio-dynamic wine at a price that is very reasonable. Ripe and spicy, but with silky tannins and sweet brown sugar and black olive notes. 91 points

Gigondas, Domaine du Pesquier (15%, £112, OW Loeb)
This is pretty supple and forward for a Gigondas, but none the worse for that. It’s perfumed and forward, with good underlying weight and refreshing acidity. You really don’t notice the alcohol on the palate. 91 points

Gigondas, Terre des Aînés, Domain Montirius (14.5%, £115, OW Loeb)
A blend of mostly Grenache with 20% Mourvèdre for added backbone and grunt, this is a wine for people who like to age their Gigondas: powerful and structured, with masses of tarry fruit and the concentration to develop in bottle. 93 points

St Joseph, Aléofane, Domaine Natacha Chave (13.5%, £125, OW Loeb)
One of my discoveries of the en primeur season, Natacha Chave’s reds are very fine indeed. This is smoky and a little reductive with minerally, granite-like flavours, bright acidity and palate-cleansing freshness. 92 points

Crozes-Hermitage, Les Lises, Domaine Maxime Graillot (13%, £126, Berry Brothers)
Maxime’s father, Alan, seems to have passed on his touch for making great value Crozes, because this is every bit as good. Scented, savoury and very fine, with 20% stems for extra structure and perfume. Smoky, meaty and long. 92 points

St Joseph, André Perret (13%, £135, Goedhuis; £145, J&B)
Perret’s reds are not as famous or celebrated as his Condrieu whites, but they are deliciously drinkable: refined pepper spice, crunchy acidity, youthful and complex with dark plumy flavours. A textbook northern Rhône Syrah. 93 points

Crozes-Hermitage, Cuvée Gaby, Domaine du Colombier (13%, £160, J&B)
Blended from six different parcels across this comparatively large appellation, with a touch of oak for added complexity, this is a deliciously gluggable Crozes with freshness, black cherry and liquorice to the fore. 92 points

Cairanne, Exigence, Domaine Boisson (14%, £132, Bibendum)
Bruno Boisson’s top bottling comes from hillside vineyards in Cairanne. It’s a traditional style, despite the presence of 30% oak, with lots of Grenache perfume, concentrated, spicy fruit and attractively tarry Syrah sweetness. 91 points

Lirac, Reine des Bois, Domaine de la Mordorée (14%, £162, Berry Brothers)
A GSM blend that was made without oak, this would outclass most Australian attempts at the style. Sweet, supple and complex with black fruits and liquorice to the fore and a fine, tapering finish. 92 points

Gigondas, Domaine de la Boussière (15%, £168, Lay & Wheeler)
This is the “basic” cuvee from this higher altitude property and the extra freshness, sap and minerality show in the wine, even at 15% alcohol. Complete and harmonious with focus, density and complexity, it’s ripe but not baked, with oodles of garrique spice and wild herbs. Should develop for 3-8 years, too. 93 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Cuvée Félix Versino, Domaine Versino (14.5%, £190 for 6 magnums, Goedhuis)
A big, bold, almost strapping southern Rhône red with lots of tannin but more than enough black fruit sweetness for balance. The wine needs some time to settle into itself and soften those tannins. 92 points

St Joseph, L’Amarybelle, Yves Cuilleron (13%, £180, BBR)
It might seem odd to recommend a red from a producer best known for his whites, but this oak-aged Syrah is superb. Rich and deeply coloured with masses of concentration and rich, sappy, tapenade-like concentration. Needs time. 93 points

Yves Cuilleron
Yves Cuilleron © Tim Atkin MW

Châteauneuf du Pape Père, Bosquet des Papes (14.5%, £180, H2V)
Bosquet des Papes makes some of my favourite value for money CNDP. This Grenache-dominated blend is dense and structured, relying on fruit rather than oak for its power. Perfumed and very classy. 91 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Clos du Calvaire, Françoise Roumieux (14.5%, £190, H2V)
This is a traditional CNDP, but in a good way, with Grenache at the centre of the blend, no obvious oak, some grip on the mid-palate and sweet fruit adding texture and suppleness to the blend. The price is appealing too. 91 points

St Joseph, Terre d’Encre, Georges Vernay (13%, £192, Berry Brothers)
The red wines are a bit of a sideline at this great Condrieu domaine, but they don’t taste that way. Fresh, delicate and pepper spicy this is a very understated style, with perfume and fine tannins. 91 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Domaine Font de Michelle (14%, £195, Goedhuis)
This domaine should be much more famous than it is. Year in, year out, it makes some of my favourite drinking CNDPs: fine, balanced, nuanced, Grenache-driven wines with fragrance, sweetness and balanced tannins. 94 points

St Joseph Reflets, François Villard (13%, £228, H2V)
François Villard didn’t make a mediocre wine in 2010, let alone a bad one. This dense, smoky, black pepper and granite-scented red is a dark, brooding Syrah that needs at least another five years in bottle. Long and well balanced. 93 points

Vin de Pays du Gard, Le Vin de Monsieur le Baron, Château Montfaucon (14%, £236, OW Loeb)
This is on the most exciting wines I’ve tasted this year: a mad, co-fermented red made from 15 different varieties, including four whites. The results in grainy, aromatic and fine, with heavenly perfume, clove spice, textured sweet fruit and intense, multi-layered finish. A brilliant wine at a very affordable price. 95 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Cuvée Chante Le Merle, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Bosquet des Papes (14.5%, £285, OW Loeb) Made in a traditional style, with the emphasis on ripe Grenache fruit and understated oak, this is punters’ Châteauneuf, with sweet, slightly raisiny fruit, appealing Asian spices and supple, well-integrated tannins. 93 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Les Origines, Domaine Grand Veneur (14.5%, £289, Bibendum)
A Grenache-led blend with 30% Mourvèdre and 25% Syrah as a supporting case, this is a very fine, aromatic CNDP, with good acidity, mid-weight tannins and sweet raspberry, plum and clove-like flavours. 93 points

Côte Rôtie, Clusel-Roch (13%, £295, Goedhuis; £325, J&B)
The cheapest of this biodyanmaic producer’s three Côte Rôties, but not the least good by any means. White pepper and subtle spice on the nose, with freshness, understated oak and refined tannins on the palate. Elegant and long. 93 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Cuvée Etienne Gonnet, Domaine Font de Michelle (14.5%, £370 for 6 magnums, Goedhuis)
This is one of the top cuvées from the Gonnet brothers and it’s worth trading up from the basic CNDP to enjoy it. It’s like a cross between a Grenache and a Pinot Noir: clove spice and heat meets fine-grained tannins and poise. Lots of more famous Châteauneufs don’t have anything like this much complexity, grace or palate length. 96 points

Côte Rôtie, Michel et Stéphane Ogier (13%, £384, Lay & Wheeler; £396, BBR)
This small domaine near Ampuis surpassed its own high standards in 2010, with a string of superb wines. This is fresh, focused and expressive, made almost entirely from Syrah and showing sweet, spicy, black olive concentration. 95 points

Châteauneuf du Pape, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe (14%, £395, J&B)
Vieux Télégraphe is one of the most consistent performers in the southern Rhône, making wines that never fail to please. This is dense, powerful and tightly wound at the moment, but give it another decade in bottle and it will shine. Grip, power and concentrated fruit flavours underpinned by sappy freshness. 96 points

Côte Rôtie, Ampodium, René Rostaing (13%, £395, Goedhuis; £396, Lay & Wheeler; BBR)
The cheapest of Rostaing’s reds by some way (most of the others are on allocation), this isn’t far behind the top cuvées in quality: white pepper and hint of stems, with plush, plumy fruit, good acid and plenty of structure. 94 points

Cornas, Les Vieilles Fontaines, Alain Voge (13.5%, £468, Lay & Wheeler)
This superlative modern-style Cornas comes from a parcel of 80-year-old vines, where the bunches were ripe enough to allow Albéric Mazoyer to use 10% stems. Perfumed and fine for a Cornas, this is elegant, fragrant, complex and long. 96 points

Côte Rôtie, Sereine Noire, Yves Gangloff (13%, £678, Berry Brothers)
With his rock start good looks, Yves Gangloff looks as if he belongs on stage as much as a winery. His wines are deeply complex, sensuous wines, typified by this 50-year-old vine cuvee. Made to age, with 30% stems, this is long, stylish and minerally, just beginning to emerge from its shell. A ten year plus red. 97 points

Hermitage, Le Gréal, Marc Sorrel (14%, £780, BBR; £840, Lay & Wheeler; £850, J&B)
Up there with the finest red wines in the northern Rhône, this is still in its infancy and will need at least a decade in bottle. Violet and blackberry-scented with well integrated oak, remarkable freshness and firm tannins. 97 points

Côte Rôtie, La Landonne, René Rostaing (13.5%, £840, Goedhuis; £925, J&B)
You might raise an eyebrow at the price here, but compare and contrast, as they used to say at school, with top Bordeaux. This is rich and multi-layered, with smoky, graphite and granite aromas, enormous focus and intensity, notes of black pepper and liquorice and fine, yet powerful tannins. Needs a decade. 96 points

Yves Gangloff
Yves Gangloff © Tim Atkin MW

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