This spring, the chatter is all about the wonderful 2015 vintages from the Rhone Valley, which have just been released to the English drinking public. And on this occasion, the hype appears to be justified. The Rhone wines of 2015 are the best in years – maybe even decades. This was a goldilocks year – not too hot, not too cold and just the right amount of rain.
From the northern banks of Côte Rôtie to the bleached southern vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape, these are wines you should stock up on for years to come, both reds and whites. While the plummeting pound has done nothing for our buying power, production volumes were high, keeping most prices within the bounds of sanity. Certainly you can drink magnificent wines along the length of the Rhone for a fraction of the price of their counterparts in Bordeaux or Burgundy.
In general the best Rhone wines are made by small, independent vignerons, so it’s no use looking along the shelves of Tescobury’s. It’s far better to browse the lists of independent wine merchants to see what they have to offer. Bear in mind that most of these wines will be sold in bond, so you won’t see a drop until later this year or even next, when you pay the tax and duty.
There are so many to choose from, but I’ve picked a selection of my favourites that represent value for money (listed from north to south). Prices are per bottle in bond, but please note you may need to buy a minimum case of six or even 12 – but well, why not?
Domaine Patrick & Christophe Bonnefond, Côte Rôtie Colline de Couzou (Goedhuis & Co, £25.83)
Goedhuis goes to a great deal of care to pick just a few Rhone producers for its 2015 offering and the Bonnefond brothers demand attention. These are serious wines from a serious region. And while no Côte Rôtie will ever be cheap, the Colline de Couzou is excellent value for the region and will keep for a decade or more.
2015 Condrieu La Combe de Malleval, Domaine Michel et Stéphane Ogier (Lay & Wheeler, £22)
This is everything you should expect from a Condrieu, filled with the musky, dried fruit and spice from the Viognier grape. One for long summer evenings after the gardening is finished.
2015 Le Passage, St Joseph, Domaine Michel et Stéphane Ogier (Lay & Wheeler £14)
The Ogier family is better known for making top class Côte Rôtie for £50 a bottle and more. This is their far more affordable wine from the broad vineyards of St Joseph to the South and a fine Syrah it is too, with plenty of sunshine and dark fruit.
Crozes Hermitage 2015, Domaine Alain Graillot (Yapp Brothers, £15)
One of the nice surprises of the 2015 vintage along the Rhone is that the sun shone and the rain rained on the lesser regions with equal munificence. So there are real bargains to be had in areas like Crozes Hermitage. Alain is a relatively small, careful producer which has created a wine this year that’s full of juicy blackberries.
Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine des Sénéchaux 2015 (Berry Bros, £21)
This wine, a regular in my cellar at home, is the essence of a velvety, powerful Chateauneuf. It’s made by the Cazes family, who also own Chateau Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux. So you’re buying into great expertise here at a fraction of the price of many of their other offerings.
Côtes du Rhone Selection Laurence Feraud 2015 (Gourmet Hunters £9.27 tax paid)
While this looks to be a common-or-garden Côtes Du Rhone, it is actually produced by the owners of Domaine du Pegau, one of the smartest producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. So it has their seal of quality and approval for a modest price. And it’s ready to buy and drink now, with all the freshness and ruby fruit of the rest of the vintage.