The last in a run of good Rhône vintages, 2001 has produced wonderful wines both in the north and south of the region. JOHN LIVINGSTONE-LEARMONTH picks out the year's best.
THE 2001 vintage here is another successful, long-lived year, Rhône fans will be delighted to hear. In the north, excellent tannins mix well with ripe core matter. Many wines merit ageing for five to seven years. The northern whites are excellent. In the south, the best triumphs were at Vacqueyras and Gigondas. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, some wines are wonderful, while others may take time to integrate tannins with their mid-palate flavours. The cooler areas of the southern Rhône have produced wines that can be edgy.
Watch out for prices, though. The indifferent 2002 vintage succeeds it, and, aware that their revenues are threatened, growers have been steadily nudging 2001 prices upwards. Add on the currency pressure of rapid rises in the euro, and these wines are starting to look expensive.
2001 is the last in a run of top northern Rhône vintages from 1998. The summer was fine and hot. Rain fell at occasional intervals, and one of the only defects was slightly too much crop.
‘We had great weather from mid August till the end of the harvest,’ recalls Philippe Belle of Domaine Albert Belle at Crozes-Hermitage. ‘2001 was not a risky year – there was a lot of concentrated juice, and the combination of heat and wind with reserves of water worked well. We even had to cool the harvest – it was 25–30?C in the vines in September.’
Around Tournon, opposite Hermitage, there were a couple of days of rain in early September, then two weeks of north wind, which cooled and concentrated the grapes.
‘The southern area of St-Joseph has been very good,’ says Jacques Grange, at Delas Frères. ‘Fruit and maturity combine with good tannic balance. But once you hit high crop levels, that tannic structure falls away a little. I would have liked to have seen 10–15% less crop.’
While such idealism is laudable, there are many fine red and white St-Josephs from the old heartland of Mauves, St-Jean-de-Muzols and Tournon. In the whites, note Pierre Gonon’s Les Oliviers, the Coursodon Paradis St-Pierre, the Delas Ste-Epine and Ferraton’s Les Oliviers. At St-Péray the still whites are often great, notably Les Figuiers from Bernard Gripa.
‘Around 25 September was the time to harvest,’ asserts André Perret, a leading light at Condrieu, whose St-Joseph is in the northern part around Chavanay. ‘Rain fell afterwards and hurt the St-Joseph red winemakers who had waited too long.’
The red St-Josephs are led by the Gripa Berceau and classic, Delas’ Ste-Epine, Pierre Gaillard’s Clos de Cuminaille, Gilles Barge, Emmanuel Barou, J-L Chave’s Offerus, Pierre Finon’s Rocailles, Coursodon’s Paradis St Pierre, Alain Paret’s 420 Nuits, and newcomer Jean-Pierre Monier’s Les Terres Blanches.
Cornas usually ripens well, even in poor years. The 2001s are full, with a good mix of depth and live tannic presence. Strong runners here are Thierry Allemand’s Chaillot and Reynard, Paul Jaboulet’s St Pierre, Chapoutier, August Clape, Dumien-Serrette, and Delas Chante-Perdrix.
Hermitage has also been very good, in both red and white. The reds are rich with sound underlying tannins, and often the gently spiced, leathery tone of the vintage. They can certainly live for 20-plus years.
The maestro of Hermitage, Gérard Chave, is keen on the white: ‘It’s rare to achieve 14% and still have freshness in the wine, no heaviness at all,’ he says. ‘It reminds me of 1991.’ Chave’s red promises to be a wine of great style and longevity.
The triumph of tannins is well demonstrated in the excellent Ermitage Le Méal of Chapoutier; though its price is rarified. On a more accessible level, the Hermitage Sizeranne is also very good. All the top Chapoutier single-vineyard wines have done well in 2001. The same applies to the Delas Frères range: its Les Bessards is a mighty wine, but the Marquis de la Tourette is also fine and typical. Paul Jaboulet has recovered its poise with the 2001 La Chapelle, which has some southern character and packed black fruit.
The Crozes-Hermitage reds have done well in both the early-drinking, fruited category, and the more structured, wood-aged area. Wines from domaines such as Entrefaux, Château Curson, Graillot, Chapoutier, Delas, Paul Jaboulet, Combier and Domaines du Pavillon and Murinais are all worthy of note.
The white Crozes have sufficient rich matter to handle the oak this year, and are showing their usual early flourish now. Expect them to close up and return in flamboyant middle age around 2007/08.
At Condrieu, Christophe Pichon has been working quietly towards a top position for a few years. His 2001, be it direct from him or via Laurent Charles Brotte, is excellent wine. Note also the Georges Vernay duo of Chaillées de l’Enfer and the sumptuous Vernon, Les Chaillets and Vertige from Yves Cuilleron, André Perret’s Clos Chanson and Chéry, Domaine du Chêne, Yves Gangloff, Louis Chèze’s Cuvée de Brèze and François Villard’s Le Grand Vallon and De Poncins. Several of these can live for six or seven years.
Côte-Rôtie’s 2001s have improved after an uncertain start: time has mellowed the acidity, and revealed enough matter to make them complete in the best hands. Pre-bottling wines of note here are the Côte Blonde and Belle Hélène from Michel and Stéphane Ogier, the Côte Blonde of René Rostaing, Bernard Levet’s Péroline, all the Marcel Guigal wines, Patrick Jasmin, Jamet, Bernard Burgaud, Gilles Barge, C Pichon, Duclaux, and Clusel-Roch.
2001 was a vintage that rewarded the diligent, and those located in the warmer areas of the southern Rhône. The spring– summer cycle was orderly, with a fine May and June. There was a touch of fruit malformation at flowering, so crop levels were a little reduced. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there was a storm of about 50mm of rain, around 10 July, and another 15mm towards the end of July – both well timed.
As usual, the stakes started to rise in August. Dry, hot weather pressurised the vines and in some places produced a block in ripening. The sugars ran ahead of the tannins, so while Grenache levels rose past 14?, their stalks and pips were not ripe.
As Dany Chastan, a good biodynamic producer at Gigondas and Vacqueyras says, ‘There were no holidays in 2001 – different plots were at different stages of evolution, and needed close watching to prevent bugs. Even then, despite the good ingredients, it wasn’t easy to vinify.’
Nuances on this theme abounded over the area. At Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the free-draining southern zone’s alcohol levels were at least 2? behind the clay areas. In both cases phenolic ripening of tannins lagged behind, and it was essential to wait.
In the northern, cooler areas of the Rhône villages, even greater patience was required. Growers at villages such as Visan, Valréas and Vinsobres, and those in the Coteaux du Tricastin, had to be careful to avoid too much extraction and a green edge to flavours. Likewise, too much oak and the risk of hard textures shows itself. There is also a lack of finish in many cases.
The big question is whether there is enough flesh for many of these cooler-area wines to move on and broaden, to surprise the early doubters. Despite the experience of vintages such as 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1992, the ability to do so is still in doubt.
The best of these “northern” Rhône Villages wines carry cool, well-defined dark fruit, laced with pepper. This makes them old fashioned, their relative subtlety a welcome respite from the powerhouse syndrome. Domaines such as La Cabotte, Fond Croze (Cuvée Vincent de Catari), La Guicharde (Cuvée Genest) and Château du Grand Moulas have all made good Villages wines. Other reliable names are Domaines La Bouvaude and Treilles, and Châteaux d’Hugues and St-Estève d’Uchaux.
On a higher status, some good cru Villages wines are the Vinsobres from Domaine du Coriançon (Cuvée Claude Vallot) and Château de Rouanne, and Visan from Domaine Roche-Audran.
At Tricastin, Domaine de Grangeneuve has triumphed with its 2001s. The Bour family produced two exceptional wines here, way above their label standing – the Cuvée Truffière and the Vieilles Vignes. Quality at Tricastin overall was uneven, with perhaps one good wine among three or four. Specific successes include Domaine des Agates’ Le Grand Luas, Montine’s Emotion and Château La Décelle, Cuvée S.
Sitting more comfortably are the wines from the heart of the Vaucluse, the best villages being Beaumes-de-Venise, Cairanne and Séguret, with Rasteau doing well, too. There is plenty of fun to be had with these well-composed wines, their core matter often juicy, their tannins (grape) providing support for their length and clear-cut finish. 2001 is a great year for the extra, embedded dimension that grape tannins bring to any genuinely made red wine.
Here the list of suspects is long and varied. Away from the core area, Domaine Chapoton at Rochegude, Aphillanthes at Travaillan, and Deforge at Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne all made interesting, tasty Villages wines.
At Séguret, note Domaines Cabasse, Le Camassot, Garancière, Montagne d’Or and Pourra: a healthy strike rate for this often underestimated village where the style is closer to Cairanne than Rasteau – well-modelled fruit with sinewy tannins. Next door at Sablet, two good names are Cabasse and the good-value Domaine de Piaugier.
Beaumes-de-Venise’s reds have started to come together. There is really good tannic structure on these wines, giving them at least eight to 10 years of life. There is a strong showing here – not surprising, given the excellent quality of neighbours Vacqueyras and Gigondas. Domaines de Cassan, Durban, Fenouillet, Les Goubert, St-Amant and Châteaux Applanats and Redortier are all worth a look.
Cairanne’s leading lights are the ever great Domaine Daniel & Denis Alary, the other side of the Alary family’s Domaine de l’Oratoire St-Martin, Nick Thompson’s Ameillaud, Amadieu (Cuvée Vitalis), Brusset’s Chabrille, Corinne Couturier, Escaravailles (Le Ventabren), Richaud (but high priced), Rocher and some of the Cave de Cairanne’s wines, notably Les Salyens.
Rasteau is led by Domaines de Beaurenard, Gourt de Mautens, Grand Nicolet, Château Courançonne, the Yves Gras négoce wine, Santa Duc, made by his cousin, and the Beaucastel family Perrin & Fils’ L’Andéol. Yields needed to be watched.
If there is a distinction between 2001 Vacqueyras, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is that the first two’s tannins seem better integrated, as if the blockages of ripening were less severe away from the fiercest heat. All three appellations should show better as they age, with wonderful bouquets and sappy, mineral-tinged flavours around the five- to nine-year mark.
Vacqueyras has done extremely well in 2001, led by the usual duo of Serge Ferigoule at Sang des Cailloux and Christian Vache of Domaine de la Monardière. In good support have been Domaine des Armouriers, Le Colombier, L’Espigouette, La Garrigue, and Montirius.
At Gigondas, Domaines Bosquets, Cayron, Font-Sane, Les Goubert, Piaugier, Santa-Duc and Château Redortier have all performed well.
At Châteauneuf, notable wines at this stage are Paul Autard’s Cuvée la Côte Ronde, Cellier des Princes’ Les Hauts des Coteaux, Chapoutier Barbe Rac, Charbonnière Hautes Brusquières, Pierry Chastan’s La Fagotière, Grand Veneur’s Les Origines, Père Pape’s Crau de ma Mère, Relagnes, Sénéchaux, P Usseglio, Versino’s Félix, Vieille Julienne’s Vignes/Réservée, Vieux Donjon, and Châteaux Beaucastel, Fortia Baron, La Nerthe and Vaudieu, plus a wonderful, expensive, rare Hommage Jacques Perrin from Beaucastel. But these wines’ tannic content will need at least two to four years to settle.
Across the river in the Gard, the wines can be a little heady; it’s a big year for Tavel rosé, which shows all its chunkiness and needs to be matched with substantial food such as paella. Some are fading a little early.
Many of the regular West Bank names performed well in the red wines, again with the proviso that the integration of flesh and alcohol is not guaranteed: Domaines Clavel, Marie-Blanche, des Moulins, Romarins, Pelaquié, Réméjeanne (Arbusiers), Ste-Anne, Châteaux Montfaucon, Signac and Terre Forte, the always good Cave des Vignerons d’Estézargues and the understated charm of the Domaine Saladin in the south of the Ardèche. Top red Liracs in 2001 are Domaines du Joncier, Lafond and Château de Bouchassy.