Excitement is building for the Rhône 2015 wines one year after harvest, especially in the north of the region. Here, expert John Livingstone-Learmonth gives his take on the vintage from his initial tastings...
Update March 2017: Read our full overview of the 'excellent' Northern Rhône 2015 vintage
Social media, high profile endorsements from luminaries such as Marcel Guigal; buzz by word of mouth – all is in place for a much hyped Rhône 2015 vintage, certainly in the northern Rhône. So are the wines worthy of such praise? The answer is yes, just about.
Read John’s early vintage report below the wines
Five of the top Rhône 2015 wines so far:
Stylish, classy, wonderful, with supreme balance. The complete package, confirmed by tasting twice. Nature's Child...
Brilliant Hermitage richness. Complex and provocative, this is in a different league.
Juicy Gigondas with a thread of saltiness and animal fat. Potentially complex, it is deep, elegant and extremely long.
Delicious fruit, classic and classy. This demonstrates charm and finesse with a spherical feel. True Châteauneuf, as it should be.
A well-knit Côte-Rôtie that holds a sustained juiciness. It is long and full-blooded with good potential.
Having tasted the wines from their first weeks, the surprise was how fulfilled they were so early on – ample, long, with tannins usually a snug fit. Coherent rather than barely formed. After one year of raising, they are still in good shape, strutting their number with some peacock-like flair.
Côte-Rôties are rich, resplendent, bear great quality fruit, and lean towards the south, perhaps a little like 1999. Their balance is very good, and they will live long.
It’s also an excellent year at Hermitage, where the red wines have savoury depth, and proper foundation, with all the sites across the hill performing well. The Hermitage whites are also rich, and very well put together – they bear the glycerol foundation that will allow a long life.
Cornas is ripe and fulsome, so the vintage isn’t quite typical of the terroir – yet. It’s a top year there, but will take time to blend the influence of vintage and soil origins.
St-Joseph is more of a mixed bag, with the southern zone around Tournon very good, and some of the northern wines likewise. However, some of the northern wines are overworked, too hard on extraction, and difficult to appreciate. Perhaps time will sort them out.
Crozes-Hermitage has a joyous vintage this year, both in red and white. They fulfil their premise of giving plenty of abundant fruit which surges hither and thither, while the whites have a real terroir imprint, and the depth for la table, more than serving as an aperitif.
Among the other whites, 2015 Condrieus are big wines, with a risk of headiness, while Saint-Péray presents scaled wines, with some achieving a tinkle of clarity that helps to extend their length.
The vintage is a little behind the north, and I would term it very good. Châteauneuf-du-Pape has performed best in its Tradition red wine range – cheaper than the Prestige range. The wines are plump, grounded, more so than the airborne 2014s, long and full. They also bear freshness in the best cases; perhaps they are like 2009 in that sense.
However, the Prestige Châteauneuf reds can fall into the trap of accentuating high degrees of alcohol and more inner punch. Although they can be smooth and elegant, they are not always worth the extra money.
Across the southern Rhône, the vintage has produced full reds. For the Côtes du Rhône and Villages reds, it is a good vintage, very good in places, with a lot of fruit, well absorbed tannins and dark colours.
2015 is the first vintage when Cairanne can be sold as cru, although some growers have elected to stay as Villages. The reds are thorough, backed by generous content, with several approachable from mid-2017.
The late year suited Gigondas well, and the wines there are well packed and fresh, with excellent length in the leading cases. Along with the best of Vacqueyras, they will live for 15+ years. Across Rasteau, Vinsobres, Lirac and Beaumes-de-Venise, the reds are also well built, and will age well over 10+ years.