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Rhône Vintage Report 2011

Southern Rhône 2011

Published 8th February 2013


It seems that each Southern Rhône vintage of late brings different character traits to the fore. 2009 showed terrific exuberance straight out of the blocks. 2010 showed uncommon freshness, superb density and considerable structure. Now, with 2011 we have a vintage that possesses seductive, juicy fruit allied to a striking suppleness, a vintage that invites earlier consumption than either of the previous two blockbuster vintages.

Just how will points’ chasers make up their mind with three diverse yet fascinating vintages to contend with? Rather than being an ugly duckling, 2011 looks set to find favour with both drinkers and collectors as the wines will show well from an early stage, in most cases, allowing the 2007s, 2009s and 2010s to age undisturbed in the cellar.

As regards the vineyard conditions of 2011, the flowering period was particularly successful due to warm weather in late spring. Early summer temperatures and a significant heat spike in late August meant that the grapes achieved generous sugar levels (between Jun 10th and September 10th, 2011 recorded 72 days over 30 degrees Celsius, compared to only 55 days in 2010) and therefore good alcohol levels of between 14 and 15%. Rainfall in the same period was also generous, at 135mm compared to the paltry 30mm recorded in 2010, meaning vine stress was not a problem either.

These factors lead to the prospect of high yields, particularly on the Grenache-dominant plains of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The anticipated heavy crop of 2011 was welcomed by those who chased more return than 2010 had delivered. However, in terms of quality, such a large harvest could pose problems. Bunches could struggle to achieve phenolic maturity (i.e. the ripeness of the tannins held in skins, pips and stems, which rarely coincides with sugar ripeness). Quality-conscious growers such as the Girauds and Julien Barrot of Domaine La Barroche performed a green harvest (removing some unripe bunches to ensure concentration in the fruit that remained on the vine) and stringently discarded any unevenly ripened bunches at harvest.  There followed a meticulous sorting of the fruit on receipt at the cellars. Under Indian summer conditions there was comparatively little pressure on growers to harvest on anything other than their desired date; Domaines such as La Barroche started on 9th and finished on the 29th September.

In a vintage such as 2011 our policy of buying from ‘five star’ domaines that we know well, and have followed over the past years, has paid off. Not only do these wines taste wonderfully juicy and supple but they have already garnered impressive reviews from numerous critics, not least from self-proclaimed Rhône aficionado Robert Parker. For possibly the first time we can recall, Domaines La Barroche, Giraud and Domaine de Pegau have all made wines that Parker considers to be the finest of the vintage. Indeed Julien Barrot’s ‘Pure’ is possibly his overall ‘wine of the vintage’ from the entire Southern Rhône.

Stylistically the wines are more forward and appealing than in the preceding two vintages with early to mid-term drinkability (up to 8 years) for Tradition level wines but with the ‘prestige’ cuvées capable of ageing further (15 years and sometimes more). The overriding impression is of plushness of fruit allied to sleek, fine-grained tannins. The wines from the growers we are privileged to represent are extremely successful, showing an admirably ripe Southern Rhône accessibility and early drinkability that will help you to leave undisturbed those recent, more structural vintages. The consistency of quality from this region continues to astound.

Victoria Stephens-Clarkson
Buying

Domaine La Barroche

The Barrot family have been making wine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape since the 14th Century. Since the family purchased more Syrah and Grenache vineyards from friends in 2012, the estate now totals 12.5 hectares (c.30 acres).  Their holdings are mainly situated in the northern part of Châteauneuf. The vines are around 60 years old, with the hundred-year-old Grenache bush vines being reserved for Julien’s top cuvée, ‘Pure’. The depth and richness of this particular wine is a testament to the potential of Grenache as a ‘stand-alone’ grape variety.

Julien vinifies his wines traditionally, using old oak ‘foudres’ (large, 3500 litre barrels) and demi-muids (600 litre barrels) to age the wines. This gentle method of ageing integrates the tannins and promotes complexity of flavour. It also ensures the wines are not marked by overt new oak – something which is rarely successful at more modish Châteauneuf estates that seem to use new oak as a replacement for better quality fruit.

Having made outstanding wines in 2009 and 2010, we were eager to see how Julien Barrot fared with the more taxing conditions of the 2011 vintage. We are delighted to confirm that his 2011s are a triumph, showing excellent concentration and all the pure, juicy succulence of this vintage as a result of considerable efforts in the vineyard to limit yields. This is even more impressive given Julien’s relatively short tenure at his family’s domaine, where he took over the reins in 2002. Along with Marie and François Giraud, he is already acknowledged as a leading light of his generation.

Domaine la Barroche, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Signature’ 2011
Predominantly Grenache from 65-year-old vines planted on sandy soils, but with a larger percentage of Mourvèdre (15%) than most estates, and 15% of Syrah.

Julien’s wines successfully marry freshness (which is rare in such a southerly, warm region) with powerful fruit concentration and intensity. This 2011 is no exception, with its enticing, fresh cherry and violet notes on the nose and intense cassis, black cherry and chocolate flavours on the lingering palate. The tannins are persistent yet supple, providing the perfect backbone to the juicy 2011 fruit. A very classy wine that delivers all the richness of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with an elegance uncommon to this area. 2014-2020

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Domaine la Barroche, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Pure’ 2011
‘Pure may be the wine of the vintage. It boasts terrific intensity as well as a majestic perfume’ (Robert Parker).

This highly sought-after wine is made solely from 100-year-old Grenache (rather than a multi- varietal blend) from the sandy soils of the Grand Pierre vineyard.

‘Pure’ 2011 is as fresh and fragrant as any of Julien’s wines. However, the supreme density of the wine, from its huge concentration of fruit, gives ‘Pure’ added depth and dimension. The mouth-filling cherry, blueberry and herb flavours are framed by compact tannin and fine acidity. While the overall impression is of a youthful, primary-fruited wine, this has the taut structure, brooding intensity and long, powerful finish that promises considerable longevity and complexity as the wine develops. 2015-2026

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Domaine de Pégau, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Cuvée Reservée’ 2011
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 6% Mourvèdre and the remainder mostly Cinsault from her 0.5 hectares.

Laurence has made an elegant, silky-textured wine which has an almost ethereal character compared to the denser, more compact 2009 and 2010. The classic black pepper character from Syrah allied to the floral complexity of Cinsault ensures both complexity and an open, drinkable quality from early on. On second tasting, the tannins are firmer, giving support to the approachable fruit, and ensuring very successful mid-term ageing if required. 2014-2020

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Domaine de Pégau

Domaine de Pégau has been in the same family since the late 17th century. Laurence Feraud, who is surely the most energetic and dynamic of all Châteauneuf characters, took over from her father Paul in 1987. She has invested considerably in the Southern Rhône, both in vineyard holdings and in quality improvements, making her a tour de force amongst both wine marketeers and arbiters of absolute quality.

Laurence now owns 21 hectares in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, spread across 11 different plots of vines. She has important holdings in some of the high-pedigree sites such as La Crau, Grand Pierre (where Julien Barrot’s ‘Pure’ is grown) and Pialons. The winemaking is, like Barrot’s, fairly traditional, with focus on fruit quality and ripeness rather than the imposition of flashy, new-oak characters on the wines.

For us, Cuvée Reservée is usually a contender for the finest ‘standard’ cuvée of any given year, something with which Robert Parker concurs, describing the 2011 as ‘one of the stars of the vintage’. The style of Pégau is solidly structured yet with elegance and finesse as well as considerable ageing potential. 2011 shows again why the domaine’s excellent reputation is so richly deserved.

Domaine de Pégau, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Reservée 2011
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 6% Mourvèdre and the remainder mostly Cinsault from her 0.5 hectares.

Laurence has made an elegant, silky-textured wine which has an almost ethereal character compared to the denser, more compact 2009 and 2010. The classic black pepper character from Syrah allied to the floral complexity of Cinsault ensures both complexity and an open, drinkable quality from early on. On second tasting, the tannins are firmer, giving support to the approachable fruit, and ensuring very successful mid-term ageing if required. 2014-2020

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Domaine Giraud

Marie and François Giraud are the 6th generation of their family to run Domaine Giraud. Over that time, the vineyards have increased from 4 hectares to 19. The plots are in very good locations across the appellation. There is a site on the La Crau plateau, another at Terres Blanches and additionally some vines in the sandy soils of the Pignan and Rayas areas. However, almost half of the domaine’s holdings are on 8 hectares of Les Gallimardes, at the very southern end of the appellation. Here, the famous ‘galets roulés’ (the large round stones that radiate heat onto the vines during the ripening process) confer such power and taut minerality on the Giraud wines.

The 19 hectares are split into 60 different micro-plots. Each is picked and vinified separately. The Girauds keep intervention in both the vineyard and the cellar to a minimum, allowing the natural fruit quality to shine through. There are no fining treatments for any of the cuvées but there is a very light filtration prior to bottling. The overall impression of the family’s wines is of absolute purity and richness, almost as though the fruit has been pressed straight from the vine into your glass. 

Domaine Giraud, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Tradition’ 2011
The Tradition is made from vines which are all over 50 years, split roughly between 60 % Grenache, 35% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre. The Syrah is aged in 1 year old barrels and the Grenache in tanks.

This 2011 seems to match the 2010 in terms of sheer fruit concentration and ripeness though it has slightly less compact tannins, meaning it will be ready to drink sooner. It is full and flavoursome, with cherry and chocolate notes. There is all the satisfying richness and luscious texture expected of top Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with beautiful, pure berry flavours that last long on the finish. 2014-2020

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Domaine Giraud, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Les Gallimardes’ 2011
90% Grenache from 100-year-old vines, matured in tank, and 10% Syrah, aged in barrique.

Les Gallimardes has darker fruit character than the Tradition, with Morello cherry and cassis fruit intensity. It is concentrated and assertive, but silky-edged from some exceptionally fine-grained tannins. The combination of fine tannins and a mid-palate resplendent with berry fruit and herb complexity mean this will drink well in the next couple of years, but has considerable life ahead. 2014-2025

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Domaine Giraud, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ‘Grenache de Pierre’ 2011
100% Grenache taken from the Crau plateau, Rayas and Pignan vineyards. Very limited quantities available.

This has a freshly-pressed berry character and unwavering purity. The fruit profile is dark cherry and cassis, similar to Les Gallimardes, but the tannins are denser, giving a slightly more austere structure that will deliver at least 5 years additional ageing potential. As with all these wines, it is dry, but the opulence and lushness of fruit is such that there is a sensation of sucrosity and generosity that will add to the ever-increasing appeal over the long-term. 2014-2028

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Should you have any questions about the wine, please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Atlas team on +44 (0) 20 3017 2299. 

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