And To Your Left, The Rhône Valley

by Chuck Hayward

And To Your Left, The Rhône Valley

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 3rd, 2011

Tasting the Wines of the Rhone...      Begins Here

This week saw plans put into action at JJ Buckley. Co-owner Shaun Bishop, fine wine specialist John Sweeney, and I recently arrived in Lyon to explore the wines of the Rhône Valley. And what brought us out to this striking region of France other than the scenery? First, it is clear that the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape hold significant sway among JJ Buckley customers, especially if sales of the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage are any indication. Second, early word from several wine critics indicates Rhône enthusiasts should be particularly excited about the 2009 syrah dominant releases from the north. Therefore, when we found out about the bi- annual Decouvertes en Vallee du Rhône event, plane tickets were booked, appointments were scheduled, and we were off!

The Decourvertes tastings bring the global wine trade to the Rhône Valley to taste current and upcoming releases along with a smattering of older vintages.  Instead of a "big box" event held in one location, these tastings are arranged by region, beginning in the small, northern hamlet of Ampuis—home to Côte Rôtie—and ending with the grande finale a week later with a sampling of Chateauneuf du Pape in the southern Rhône district.  It was a fantastic opportunity, since despite the popularity of Rhône wines in the American market, members of the wine trade do not often find themselves traipsing the steep slopes north of Tain or gazing upon the stones that serve as the foundation for the great wines of CdP.

Preparing to Attack the 2009 Côte Rôtie from Vignobles Verzier

Day One found us knee deep in the first trade tastings held by the growers and wineries of Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, among others. We focused on the 2009s, which are just beginning to be released into the market, but were also able to taste previous releases and a few barrel samples from 2010 to truly assess where the '09s fit in.  Considered one of the best harvests in the northern Rhône over the last fifteen years, 2009 lives up to the hype!

What we have tasted so far has shown great purity of fruit with focused flavors that properly reflect the characteristics of their respective terroir. As we continue our trip in earnest with comprehensive looks at wines from Crozes Hermitage and Hermitage proper, we expect to confirm these initial impressions.  And we can't wait to be impressed! Returning here and diving into the region's wines  has already provided fresh perspective, as well as fodder for an upcoming report.

More installments to follow...