The arrival of the 2018 vintage marks yet another resounding success in a series of four vintages which can all be considered truly exceptional, and one would struggle to recall a single year that could even be considered an “off-vintage” in the past decade. While the most iconic and sought-after cuvees of the region have seen their pricing surge accordingly, there remains a shocking number of affordable wines in this powerhouse region, leaving consumers absolutely spoilt for choice when deciding how best to fill their cellars for the next several decades to come.

Due to the sunny nature of the vintage, 2018 is by far the most approachable of recent vintages, with endless amounts of plush, generous fruit that can be enjoyed in their youth. Josh Raynolds of Vinous aptly summarises the vintage as, “a marriage of the richness of 2017 to the energy of 2016,” but despite their precociousness he makes sure to clarify that, “the ’18s will outlast their 2017 siblings thanks to their balance and relative freshness.” Jeb Dunnuck the most revered Rhone critic is verbose about the exceptional nature of the 2018s declaring that “I think the 2018s are richer and more concentrated than both 2016 and 2017”. Thus, 2018 even in its nascent stage competes to be the finest of four great banner years, saying this “is another sensational vintage for the region”. It is clear therefore that the 2018s are special, the only pressing issue is the drastic reduction in yields which affected many producers in the Southern Rhone (of up to 65% in some cases) which makes it all the more crucial to secure any cases from your favourite growers immediately upon release, while the scant quantities remain available.

THE GROWING SEASON

Both the Northern and Southern Rhone regions experienced a rainy winter at the start of 2018, which provided a welcome replenishment to the water reserves, which had been depleted by the drought of 2017. However, the warm, wet spring which followed provided the ideal conditions for mildew to flourish so meticulous vineyards management was crucial, particularly on the flatter stretches of the Southern Rhone. Thankfully by the end of June, the rain had finally subsided, and the summer which followed was intensely hot and dry. The conditions in September and October were picture-perfect, allowing growers their window of choice of when to begin the harvest. While many producers in the South saw a reduction of yields as drastic as 65% due to mildew, those in the North were often blessed with higher yields than both 2016 and 2017. However, unlike in preceding vintages, 2018 cannot be as neatly labelled as a “Northern Rhone Vintage” or a “Southern Rhone Vintage” as there are exceptional wines to be discovered in each regardless of the size of their yields.

THE WINES

Considering that the greater Cotes du Rhone AOC spans 40,000 hectares and includes over 6,000 wine growing properties, it is never an easy task to succinctly summarise a singular character of any vintage, and the diverse 2018s are no exception. In the South, producers such as Beaucastel who saw their Grenache yields reduced from an average of 28 hectolitres per hectare to a mere 8 hectolitres per hectare compensated by increasing the amount of Mourvèdre in the blend resulting in a beautifully spicy and hedonistic wine that is entirely unique to any of their other recent vintages we have tasted. Meanwhile in the North, the Syrah positively thrived under the copious sunshine of 2018 producing higher yields than the previous 2017 and 2016 vintages and producing impeccably ripened and seductive wines. Finally, lower alcohol levels in the region’s white wines have allowed a greater level of freshness and precision to shine through than in previous vintages.