Southern Rhône: An equation between longevity of season and inherent quality is somewhat risky, and yet not without merit given an inference of latent complexity and structural harmony. Such is the case in 2014, a chronicle of precocity foretold and then re-written, at times with a rhetorical flourish, to reflect a mid-season torpor and an increasing requirement to venture into the vineyards to combat latent humidity and the threat to the integrity of the vines.
Unlike 2013, which both started and finished late, 2014 in Rhône appeared set for an early harvest, with 40 degrees during the flowering period in June recalling 2003 and igniting ( a not inappropriate verb) anxieties of hydric stress and somewhat over-indulgent sugar levels.
This anxiety proved ill-founded; indeed the key features of July and August were cool conditions and sporadic rainfall, with the occasional bout of localised hail thrown in for good measure. What had promised to be a laissez faire vintage was quickly transformed to one requiring industry and great vigilance with canopy management.
Such things require effort and cost money but naturally those who were prepared to make the sacrifices, to thin the leaves and sort, repeatedly, in the vines, were those who were able to benefit from the more benevolent September and to bring in what was, in both quantity and quality, a more than respectable crop. In summary, a triumph for the white wines and a very commendable effort by the reds. The best examples glory in approachable red fruit charm, yet do not lack for savoury depth and that classic herbal ingredient that has always made Châteauneuf-du-Pape so attractive.
Northern Rhône: The 2014 vintage left the blocks with great speed, energised by a rainy winter which had topped up water reserves, and then by a dry and exceptionally mild spring. The pace calmed down thereafter, and thoughts of precocity eventually gave way to a relatively late harvest. Challenges were imposed by a mid-season which was by turns rainy and unseasonably cool, with rot a far from negligible danger, and the somewhat unusual prospect of September being the warmest month of the year.
The slightly atypical combination of humidity and then warmth brought as an unwelcome visitor the rather irritating vinegar fly (labouring under the somewhat unlikely name of the Drosophila suzukii) which targeted the fattest and ripest grapes and caused the more conscientious vignerons to reduce their yields by percentages which were often close to 35 and even 40.
The equation was further disrupted by mid-September rain, somewhat undermining our usual rejoinder in praise of the courageous growers who waited for complete ripeness. These last two complications were of little relevance, however, to the whites, most of which had already been harvested. These wines, accordingly, have poise and finely etched fruit, glorious freshness and plenty of personality.
The more challenged reds have broadened the qualitative spectrum more than is usual, which in itself explains why our offer is a little more modest in scope this year. Those which made the cut, no pun intended, are forward, fruity and beautifully crafted, a real testament to the skill of the winemakers and the quality of their vines.
Simon Field MW, Wine Buyer