Rhône 2016 vintage
Matt Walls reports on the Rhone 2016 vintage and tastes 300 wines for Decanter.com. 

Before I arrived in the Rhône in October 2017 to taste the 2016 vintage, I already had an inkling it was going to be special. When tasting the 2015s the previous year – itself a very good vintage – some winemakers couldn’t contain their excitement about what they’d just picked. “Yes, the 2015s are great, but try this!” said Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes, as he thrust a cloudy glass of freshly fermented 2016 into my hand. Since then I’ve tasted nearly 1,500 wines from the 2016 vintage, and it’s clear that this is a very good year in the northern Rhône – and truly great in the South.

Conditions were ideal in the southern Rhône – hot and dry, but without extremes, and a long growing season. The resulting wines have it all; ripeness, concentration, freshness, acidity and plenty of firm, ripe tannin. The whole of the southern Rhône performed well, particular highlights being Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Cairanne. The more accessible wines will drink well in their youth, but the best will be very long lived.

This is also a very good vintage in the northern Rhône despite the first half of the year being relatively cool and wet. August and September were largely hot and dry however, and a late harvest took place under good conditions. The resulting style is fresh and balanced, but without the concentration and intensity that the southern Rhône enjoys. In the northern Rhône, the 2016s are bound to be overshadowed by the powerful 2015s, but it is nonetheless a very good vintage, albeit in a more restrained, earlier-drinking style. This year Hermitage has the edge over Côte-Rôtie, with Cornas and St-Joseph also performing well.

The raw materials in 2016 were superlative but some wines were let down by overambitious winemaking – overextraction and excessive oak. Avoid these and there’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from – volumes are good and prices are largely stable. Whether you’re a fan of the succulent South or the elegant North, these are wines that deserve a place in your collection.