Red Rhone 2003: Keep
Chunky wines with high but ripe tannins meant for laying down
Only those whose nickname is Olympic Flame (never goes out) can have failed to realise that summer 2003 was one long, hot event. The Southern Rhône’s vineyards stood the heat well. The water table was high after the deluges of autumn 2002 so areas with clay subsoil were fine. More draining soils suffered, but often can be irrigated up till mid-August. Old vines – deeper root systems – fared better than young ones.
The Gard area – Lirac, Tavel, Laudun – was the hottest, driest zone; storms at Rasteau, Cairanne and Gigondas – all with clay – dropped around 80mm (3+ in) of rain, but Châteauneuf-du-Pape was drier.
The Northern Rhône heat was quite exceptional: early August’s 42°C in the villages – 10°C above normal – meant 60°C+ in the hillside vines. This baking led to early harvests everywhere: ‘I started the 26 August – two weeks early – and was among the last to pick,’ comments August Clape at Cornas. ‘We had finished all picking by 31 August,’ states Philippe Guigal, Côte-Rôtie. At Châteauneuf, La Nerthe started cropping the reds on 23 August, Vieux Télégraphe 25 August. These are extraordinarily early dates. In the best cases, this meant incredible concentration. It’s a triumphant year for the southern Syrah, a good year for the Mourvèdre. Everyone talks of a healthy harvest, not a trace of rot.