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Domaine les Hautes Cances, Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne (Rhône Valley, France) Cuvée Vielles Vignes 2013 ($25, Vintage ’59 Imports)
 Succulent and lip-smacking, this robust Rhône charmer delivers a burst of fruit and spice to the palate, plus a long and firm finish.  The estate was founded by the current owners’ grandparents in the 1890s, and the vines are organically raised (though not certified).  Folks, this delicious wine is a bargain!   
93 Marguerite Thomas


Posted by Michael Franz on April 17, 2019 at 11:10 AM

An Embarrassment of Rhône Riches

AVIGNON, France – I’m halfway through a week involving tastings of more than 500 wines in both the northern and southern portions of the Rhône Valley, and the news is almost entirely good…so good as to be almost embarrassing.

Naturally, the news from France can’t be all good in a week that included the very bad burning and near destruction of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, though the prospects for successful rebuilding now look pretty promising.  Another fly in the proverbial soup is the indisputable fact that a remarkable string of excellent vintages for the Rhône has coincided with an alarmingly even ascent in average temperatures.  This would turn from good vinous news to extremely bad news for the Rhône if the trend line doesn’t level off, even though vintners do have some counter-measures at their disposal.

But let’s get back on the upbeat.  To find a bad vintage in the Rhône, you’d need to go all the way back to 2008.  As for the intervening years, you could find some purists who are less enthusiastic about some years than others, but for the red wines that remain by far most important in both the north and south, 2009 and 2010 were fabulous; 2015 was great in the north and very good in the south; 2016 was stylistically marvelous everywhere; 2017 looks sensational in the north and excellent in the south, and 2018 shows wonderful promise based on the young wines I’m tasting (admittedly unfinished in most cases, but wonderfully packed with pure fruit).

Indeed, the last four vintages look so strong that wine lovers who didn’t stock up on the many great wines made in 2009, 2010 can simply laugh off what would have looked like a colossal blunder in almost any other vinous historical context.

I bought 2015 reds, though mostly from the north, as heat and dryness in that year produced many wines in the south with a lot of alcohol in relation to acidity.  That problem was greatly reduced by the weather in 2016, which included a long end to the growing season with even daytime temperatures and cool nights, letting growers patiently await exactly the time they got the balance of flavor components they desired in their grapes before picking them.  The 2016s are “smaller” wines than the ‘15s, but also more harmonious in structure and pure in flavor.  They’re easier to enjoy young, but are so balanced that they’ll last (and improve!) for years.

Although 2017 was clearly hotter than 2016, the results look better to me at this point than in 2015, and I’m tasting the wines at exactly the same point in their development as when I was last here in April of 2017.  I’ve still got a lot more wines from the south to taste before the week is over, but regarding the wonderful wines of Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage, let me say this:  The wines are fabulously generous without seeming overbearing, and though they are too big to fit everyone’s definition of “classic” in style, they will be among the most generous and delicious wines ever made in these appellations.

Probably closest to 2009 in general profile among recent vintages, the 2017s are (generally speaking, of course) extremely dark in color and very densely concentrated.  They are packed with fruit, but importantly, the fruit us almost always pure in character rather than “cooked,” which is the risk in any warm growing season.  As for balance, most show very pleasant freshness at this early juncture, and sufficient acidity is really the flip-side of the fact that the wines don’t taste “cooked” or “raisined” or “candied.”  One last note of importance:  The 2017 reds from the north are remarkable in that these things just absorb oak like they were eating it for breakfast.  Even producers whose wines are usually too oaky for my taste got the balance right in 2017, perhaps despite themselves, due to the great depth of fruit they were working with.

My advice for consumers?  If you didn’t buy the 2015s from the north when they were plentiful and a bit less expensive than they are now, you can laugh that off, too.  The 2017s will be similar in style…probably just as good…and conceivably even better.  But if you like fresher, more stylish Syrah from the north, don’t pass on the 2016s while waiting for the 2017s.  They are wonderful as a group, and easy to enjoy even now.  Moreover, some wines that are often rather wild and forbidding in their youth, like from Cornas for example, are just marvelous.  They still have lots of intensity and power in 2016 due to baseline growing conditions in the appellation, but the growing season imparted a freshness and stylishness that they don’t display in many vintages…and may not display at all if the climate continues to warm in the decades ahead.

Sorry for that last downer.  The overall report remains remarkably delicious, and I’ll publish dozens and dozens of specific tasting notes as well as a couple of columns in the months ahead.

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Terroir in Bordeaux
Michael Apstein

Part of my enthusiasm for wine, and I'm sure other's as well, is that the character of the wine is, or at least should be, a reflection of where the grapes were grown. For me, this is a fabulous expression of Nature and an almost magical one at that. Wines made from the same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards, separated sometimes by only a narrow dirt path, can often taste very different. This concept can be difficult to appreciate because the producer's winemaking technique can overwhelm the influence of place. When tasting two wines from different locales made by different producers, the question becomes, is it the producer's hand or the locale that is speaking? So, for consumers to appreciate and understand the potential of what is known as terroir, or what noted wine writer Matt Kramer called, 'a sense of place,' it is essential to compare wines from different places made by the same producer.
Postcards from the Road: Alentejo Take-Aways
Jessica Dupuy

Just back from a week in Alentejo, Portugal, one of the country's hottest wine regions--and I mean that literally, considering they were in a steamy heat wave while we were there. Hosted by the Wines of Alentejo, the trip was an eye-opening deep dive into the power and quality the wines from this historic area can deliver. With more than 250 indigenous grape varieties, Portugal has the highest density of native grapes per square mile of any country in the world, including Italy. Just more than an hour east of Lisbon, the region of Alentejo (ah-len-TAY-zhoo) accounts for one-third of Portugal's land mass and is considered one of its star regions
Wine With
WINE WITH…Swordfish with Mint-Ginger Butter

Last winter was so cold that the mint in our garden, which is planted in pots to keep it from spreading and taking over the world, didn't survive. This year, however, the mint wintered over beautifully and was the first thing to pop up when the days began to get longer. The burst of mint's fresh flavor is one of the most evocative harbingers of spring, whether in a julep, in a salad with cucumbers and tender lettuce, or as we discovered a few weeks ago, in this luscious garnish for swordfish. We were very surprised by the versatility of this dish when it came to choosing wines.
On My Table
Cabernet Franc, the Underdog
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Are you someone who likes to root for the underdog? If so, you might want to focus your sights on Cabernet Franc. In 2015 -- the growing season of this particular, fine Cabernet Franc wine --only 0.5 percent of all the red grapes grown in California were Cabernet Franc, while Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 22 percent of California's red grape tonnage. In Napa Valley specifically, Cabernet Sauvignon owned 59 percent of the red grape action, compared to Cabernet Franc at only 3 percent. That's underdog status. The quality of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is acclaimed worldwide. But increasingly, Cabernet Franc is also impressive in its quality. This Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Franc 2015 serves as an example. This wine hails entirely from Mondavi's legendary To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.