As 2019 marks the fifth consecutive vintage in which the wines can be considered very good or even truly exceptional in both the Northern and Southern Rhone Valley. It was yet another vintage marked by an intense summer heat wave, however, with hardly any other viticultural challenges to contend with most growers were able to embrace yet another “solaire vintage” and ushered in a sizable crop of beautifully healthy and balanced grapes.

Dunnuck offered early insight to the character of the wines in his reports, describing the wines of the South to be “a step up over the 2018s and offer more depth, concentration, and richness, all while showing considerable purity of fruit and elegance” while finding those in the North to be, “rich, opulent wines come from a hot, dry year and have the same purity of fruit and freshness that marks the 2018s yet might be even more concentrated. Acid levels are good to moderate, the wines have beautiful tannins, and as with the 2018s, they have a sense of power paired with freshness.” Simply put, the 2019s are a show-stopping set of wines that effortlessly toe the line between blockbuster and ballerina.

THE GROWING SEASON

The 2019 vintage had an auspicious start with a cold, dry winter and a delayed but ultimately even budburst. The Spring was also smooth sailing, with a successful and even flowering and fruit set without any of the threat of mildew, which plagued the Grenache vines in the previous few vintages. The only meteorological trouble that arose would be in the North where Crozes-Hermitage suffered significant losses due to a brief but intense hailstorm in June and a particularly violent bout of the famed Mistral wind damaged early growth on the Hermitage vines. July was well remembered for the intense heatwave that made its way across most of Europe, however most growers were well-prepared to confront this hot and dry period with techniques such as canopy management to shield the grapes and by August, they were rewarded with just enough rainfall to prevent the vines from shutting down their growth from hydric stress and instilling a crucial level of freshness in the grapes.

THE WINES

Moving on to the wines, they are immediately captivating from the glass with a markedly intense and vibrant colour. This can be credited to the higher skin to juice ratio in 2019, which required an especially gentle pressing to avoid over-extracting too much tannin from the skins. Another benefit of this optimum level of ripeness which extended to the stems, encouraging greater levels of whole bunch fermentation for greater aromatic complexity and increased perception of freshness in the wines. Despite the scorching growing season, the wines we have been able to taste soundly avoided the possible peril of over-ripeness and instead revealed intoxicating aromatics, pure and focussed fruit, and perfectly ripe tannins, the latter ensuring that they are already immensely inviting even in their infancy. In the Northern Rhone, the Syrah was gorgeously ripe with small, concentrated berries resulting in fantastic wines whether in Hermitage or Cote-Rotie, Cornas or Saint Joseph with only Crozes-Hermitage with dramatically reduced yields of up to 80% due to the hailstorm. Moving to the South, most producers were thrilled to have their first full crop of Grenache allowing for a more “classic” Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the higher proportion allowing its silky red fruits to shine through. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the vintage is the near uniform excellence of the white wines which boast a powerful concentration and density of fruit, an intoxicating complexity and mouthfeel, all which is deftly balanced by a mouth-wateringly vibrant acidity. Both Marsanne and Roussanne were hugely successful in the North and South, as evidenced in the North by M. Chapoutier’s triple 100-point feat from Jeb Dunnuck for each of their three single vineyard Hermitage Blancs and in the South by Beaucastel’s 99-point Châteauneuf du Pape Roussanne Vielles Vignes, which Dunnuck finds, “beautiful freshness, full-bodied richness, and ample power,” descriptors which apply to a great number of the fantastic whites in 2019. Despite the intense heat, Viognier also thrived in 2019, with the best examples displaying opulence and elegance.