Red Rhone 2008: Drink now
Difficult, late vintage, 25% smaller than normal. Those who waited for full ripening have created fresh, mineral, balanced wines for early drinking.
Excessive rain and temperature fluctuations made Rhone 2008 an extremely challenging vintage. Flowering was late and difficult, especially among southern Rhone’s Grenache vineyards, and growers faced massive sorting due to uneven ripening, rot, mildew and even some late hail damage in southern appellations.
August was grey, early September rainy – September 3-4 alone was enough to deluge northern Rhone’s Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. Syrah grapes swelled, diluting flavours, and disease was rampant. Many feared disaster.
Sunshine finally arrived mid-September, persisting well into October, while the cool Mistral sent health-giving winds down the valley, arresting rot and at last concentrating the berries. Even late-ripening Mourvèdre got a move on. Some growers picked quickly, concerned for grape health after such heavy rainfall, but those who waited (and waited) were rewarded with full ripeness.
Rather than appellations, success was about patience and experience, and individual location (better-drained sites had an easier time of it). No easy vintage to manage, 2008. Those who got it right saw berries come to full maturity and alcohol levels higher than expected. There’s good balance between sugars and acidity.
Best wines are fresh and mineral, though they’ve less extraction and softer tannins than usual and red (not black) fruit flavours dominate. Many will beat the 2007s to drink-up status. A pleasing ‘old-fashioned’ feature – terroir often comes through on the palate.
The decision of many Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers to withhold a prestige cuvée reflects the mediocrity of the vintage. That said, the standard ‘tradition’ wines are sometimes better than expected, though still early drinkers. Gigondas is reliable, Hermitage too; Cornas and Crozes struggled. Rate Côtes du Rhone on producer-by-producer basis.
CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE: Cuvée du Vatican, M Chapoutier, Domaine de la Janasse, Tardieu-Larent, Domaine de la Charbonnière, Olivier Hillaire, Roger Sabon, Château de Vaudieu, Le Vieux Donjon, Clos des Papes, Domaine Monpertuis, Château Rayas, Domaine de St-Préfert; COTES DU RHONE: Caves Saint-Pierre, Vidal-Fleury, Pascal Chalon; HERMITAGE: J L Chave, Tardieu-Laurent, M Chapoutier; CROZES-HERMITAGE: Alain Graillot; GIGONDAS: Domaine Les Pallières, Château de St-Cosme, La Cave de Gigondas, Domaine La Garrigue, Domaine Brusset, Pierre Amadieu.