There was little doubt about the enthusiasm of US critics, notably Robert Parker, for the 2007 Southern Rhônes. In the Wine Advocate, Parker awarded 10 100-point scores, beating the previous record of 2000 Bordeaux with nine and 2001 California with eight.
‘The most compelling vintage of any region I’ve ever tasted,’ Parker raved.
Meanwhile, the difficult 2008 vintage barely got a mention; although some ‘good to very good’ wines were made, Parker said, even the best struggled to reach 90 points.
Other critics have been similarly underwhelmed by the 2008 Rhônes (both north and south) offered en primeur by some merchants. ‘They are decidedly muted,’ said Jancis Robinson MW.
The problem, said Jason Yapp of UK merchant Yapp Brothers, is that the 2008 Rhônes were sandwiched between two really good years. His view is that 2008 will be a classical vintage in which the best and most diligent growers will stand out. But Yapp is unlikely to offer the wines en primeur. ‘I just can’t see the demand being there. We will trade them as drinking wines once they are in bottle.’
Nevertheless, some merchants have forged ahead with a campaign. Robyn Kick, buyer for Goedhuis & Co, said the 2008s had been very well received and although they hadn’t sold out at the beginning of December, they were selling well. ‘They aren’t as great as the 2007s, but there is good concentration in the best regions like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Cornas,’ she said.
‘Personally, I think Parker didn’t give the ’08 Châteauneufs enough credit. Moreover, no cuvées spéciales were made in 2008, so some of the regular bottlings are very good indeed – and much less alcoholic than in recent years.’
Another difficulty is that 2008 prices are up on the 2007s, mainly because of the weakness of the pound against the euro. But perhaps the biggest problem is the 2009 vintage, also stacking up as another barnstormer in both northern and southern Rhône. At the top end, many buyers may well decide to stock up on 2007, hold off on the ’08s and then wait for the ’09s.
Where would this leave the 2008s? According to Parker, one possible scenario is that it may end up being ‘dumped onto the market at distressed prices’. But Yapp believes this is far too pessimistic: ‘It won’t be an easy sell, but I don’t think we should be writing it off just yet, particularly if the wines are sensibly priced.’
Look out for our full review of the Rhône 2008s in our May issue
Written by John Stimpfig