The 2006 vintage
After a string of vintage successes in both the north and the south – apart from the washout of 2002, one has to go back to 1997 to have much to complain about – the news of another fine vintage in 2006 risks being perceived as over-gilding the lily. The season was not without its hazards, notably early drought, mid summer heat and finally September showers, but growers up and down the valley completed their harvests with much to smile about.
In the south September’s Mistral played a key role, not only blowing away any lingering moisture from the grapes but also slowing down the pace of ripening. The unrushed harvest played into the hands of properties with significant plots of Mourvèdre such as Château de Beaucastel, which picked right up until 13th October, taking full advantage of the cool, fine conditions.
In the north, the picture was similar, though Syrah is harvested later on the steep slopes of Côte Rôtie and Hermitage than in the south where it is the first variety to be picked. After the cool August the crop ripened steadily to give a classic vintage characterised by well-defined red and black fruits. Condrieu is particularly fine this year, with clear flavours and clean acidity.
Given the abundance of good vintages, where does 2006 sit? Chapoutier is already on record as a champion of 2006s, comparing the côte rôties with the splendid 1991s. In the south comparisons have been made with 1999, another year of beautifully crisp wines. And many experts have noted the elegance of the tannins this year, in contrast to those 2005s marked by drought-stress. Daniel Brunier’s summation is of a blend of 2005 and 2001, the latter a magical year for a number of châteauneuf-du-papes.
Apart from the ultra rare super-cuvées, the Rhône is not a blue chip investment prospect though keen buyers will usually benefit from favourable prices, and from early-bird pickings of scarce wines. There is always a scramble for the top en primeurs such as Beaucastel and Télégraphe. That said many of the rarest single vineyard bottlings are released only once in bottle (see below).
En Primeur releases
Unlike Bordeaux there is no formal en primeur timetable for Rhône wines. The majority are offered for sale around the time of bottling, in the case of the 2006s, in Spring 2008. That said, some of the top Hermitage and Côte Rôtie remain in barrique or cask for much longer: Guigal, for example, has yet to send its top 2004s to the market. But for over a decade a band of Châteauneuf-du-Pape estates, and some northern growers, have released a proportion of their crop (around 25%) as primeurs twelve months after the vintage. This allows for the assemblage of the component varieties to take place: press and merchants chasing too early are often required to visualise the final blend from components tasted in cask.
Hugo Rose MW
Decanter’s pick of the early releases
Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
An estate celebrated for employing each of the 13 permitted varieties across its châteauneuf range, notable for its relatively high use of the Mourvèdre grape. Le Coudelet is a product from a contiguous côtes-du-rhône vineyard. Almost as good! Two special editions are made, Hommage à Jacques Perrin and the white Roussanne Vieilles Vignes.
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Daniel and Frederic Brunier’s wine sits midway between traditional and modern, with elegance and underlying strength. The product of organic winemaking and a wine which acquires a leather and spice elegance with age. A crisply-refined, oak-matured white châteauneuf is also released.
Domaine Paul Avril, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Clos des Papes
One for connoisseurs. The epitome of châteauneuf in terms of depth and richness, and a wine for the long term. A long-lived white is also made.
Domaine La Roquète, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Elegant, spicy châteauneuf from the sister estate to Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe
Domaine Font de Michelle, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Harmonious and light on its feet. Cuvée Etienne Gonnet is the limited edition from this organic estate.
Chapoutier, Côte Rôtie La Mordorée
An almost bewildering raft of wines is made by this famous northern Rhône house, and the top wines are available en primeur. In addition to the well-established labels like Monier de la Sizeranne (Hermitage) Chapoutier has in recent years been celebrated for its rare ‘selection parcellaires’, single vineyard wines grown according to biodynamic precepts. Quality across all appellations is high. Check the lot sizes as both 6 and 12 bottle cases are offered.
Etienne Guigal, Condrieu la Doriane
Guigal’s top condrieu, made from Viognier vines grown on steep terraces. Fermenting and aging in new oak barrels gives a toasty sheen. We will have to sit it out for the remainder of the gems from Guigal’s 2006 stable.
Marc Sorrel, Hermitage Le Gréal
A grower of rising stature. Le Gréal is assembled from the Gréffieux and Méal vineyards. Look out for the white Hermitage Les Rocoules, a wine of silky depth.
Michel Ogier, Côte Rôtie
A blend of different parcels from the Côte Rôtie slopes. Since Stéphane Ogier took over in 1997 there is a new-found purity to the wines, a pleasing grip and typically a discreet savoury finish. A wine to watch.
André Perret, Condrieu Coteaux du Chéry
A barrique-aged Condrieu from this dedicated grower offering spice and floral charm. Also produces a deep-scented saint-joseph.
René Rostaing, Côte Rôtie, La Côte Brune
A thoughtful winemaker regarded as one of the top in the appellation. Three variants of côte rôtie are bottled, Côte Brune, Côte Blonde and a generic wine. His exotic Condrieu La Bonnette is worth seeking out.
The next two months will see offers of 2006s from merchants including
Berry Bros & Rudd (www.bbr.com)
Corney & Barrow (www.corneyandbarrow.com)
Farr Vintners (www.farrvintners.com)
James Nicholson (jnwine.com)
Justerini & Brooks, (www.justerinis.com) * cask sample tasting in London on 27th November
Lay & Wheeler (www.laywheeler.com)
The Wine Society (thewinesociety.com)
Genesis Wines (www.genesiswines.com) * 2006 cask sample tasting in London on 14th November