2010 and 2009 Northern Rhone Wines

Fans of the northern Rhone Valley's robust wines have plenty of attractive buying options from the 2009 and 2010 vintages, at least from a quality standpoint.  The catch is that prices for the best wines continue to rise, especially for the most sought-after trophy wines.  Then there's the fact that in the northern Rhone quantities are nearly always limited by the small size of the producers' vineyard holdings.  And these are wines that are tremendously popular in Europe, with demand far exceeding supply.  On top of that, 2010 had issues with rain during flowering, which resulted in crop levels that were often as much as 50% below normal, so there's even less to spread around the world.  Unfortunately, '10 looks to be a vintage where Rhone enthusiasts are going to have to move even more quickly than usual to acquire the most sought-after wines.

At most of the cellars I visited in November producers told me that they were completely sold out of their 2009s and had been since the spring, meaning that these wines were spoken for almost immediately after they were bottled.  Asia has apparently latched onto the wines in a big way and demand is also strong from the Scandinavian countries. Throw in a thriving restaurant scene that stretches from Lyon down to Valence, with sommeliers focusing heavily on the wines of the region, and you have a recipe for a rapid sell-out, and not just for the blue-chip wines.  "Demand is too strong from basic wines all the way up to the single-vineyard bottlings," Stephane Ogier told me.

Vintage 2010, broadly speaking, produced wines that offer a compelling blend of richness and vibrancy, with bright fruit and harmonious tannins.  More than a few growers told me that they think their '10s will be enjoyable at pretty much all stages of their lives, which should be long.  The 2010 whites tend to display excellent clarity and tension, which makes them appealing now to drink on their own.  They also have the depth and balance to reward at least mid-term aging, although few people seem to cellar these wines any more, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

The 2009s, both the red and the white versions, tend to be large-scaled, ripe and weighty by comparison.  It was a hot year that produced grapes high in tannins and the wines mostly show it.  If your quality measuring stick strongly emphasizes richness and heft, you've got plenty to choose from.  The white '09s are mostly weighty, round and ripe, with flavors that run more to the pit fruit than citrus spectrum.  My own preference is to drink such wines on the young side, before they loosen up too much, but a number of producers told me they were confident that the wines would age on their concentration and pointed to a number of older vintages of similar character that are still going strong.

Looking ahead, 2011 appears to be yet another vintage of fantastic potential.  Many growers are already describing '11 as a hybrid of 2009 and 2010--i.e., combining the earlier vintage's power and structure and the latter's vivacity.  I had the chance to taste a number of post-malo 2011s at many of the properties I visited and although these are still very early days the wines do show at least as much energy as the 2010s at the same stage; and they're definitely more vivacious than the '09s were in early winter of 2010.