The 2008 vintage in the Rhône Valley has had to carry three handicaps before it has even been properly assessed; the outstanding quality of 2007 wines, the rumoured excellence of 2009 vintage and the talk of the torrential rain in early September with implied intimations of the similar conditions of 2002.
Wines in the 2008 Rhône vintage have a lot of the charm of the 2004s and 2006s, both of which I like, but 2008 is, overall, superior to them both. Rhône wines are still, in the grand scheme of things, reasonably priced and the 2008s, in the context of this vintage, are fairly priced indeed.
Vintage Report The season was, to put it mildly, somewhat challenging. A late and difficult flowering ensured a small crop, to be followed by mildew problems in spring, a lacklustre August when the skies were seldom any other colour than battle-ship grey, and an early September which was marked, quite dramatically in the North, by rain. At that point, according to Stéphane Ogier, ‘disaster’ was on the cards, but then nature took a benevolent turn and the following weeks were warm and dry, with just enough of the Mistral wind to ensure that the worst of the rot was banished and the vines were dried.
According to the byronic Michel Chapoutier, this vintage ‘required patience, courage and pugnacity’. Yves Cuilleron points out, interestingly, that it marked a return to more traditional old-fashioned styles of wine. The juice had less colour and extract but, paradoxically, the wines often had more of a sense of place, of belonging to the Rhône’s rich vinous heritage. Beyond the poetry and the nostalgia, however, 2008 was in point of fact quite hard work, especially given the incredibly low yields at the end of the process.
Only those who undertook rigorous work in the vineyard and then multiple selections, both in the vineyard and at the cellar door, have achieved a satisfactorily inverse relationship between quantity and quality. Late developers, such as Mourvèdre, often had a difficult time to ripen (not helped by late hail in Châteauneuf-du- Pape), high alcohol varieties such as Grenache may have bemoaned the lack of direct sunshine, and sensitive creatures such as Syrah may have struggled for full phenolic ripeness.
May have done and, of course, in some instances did. In the case of the best growers, however, savoir faire and foresight came into play; Daniel Brunier describes 2008 as ‘un millésime de terroir, mais aussi d’experience’. We could not have put it better. As for the whites, the conditions were potentially ideal to counter the complaints usually levelled at white Rhône, namely of a lack of elegance and freshness.
Indeed, according to Stéphane Robert, 2008 is a ‘fresh mineral vintage’, and for white wines this is a statement equally valid in the North and the South.