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As elsewhere across France and Europe, the Rhône Valley vineyards can’t count on high volumes this year. But quantity aside, and based on the excellent balance seen so far, industry professionals predict an outstanding vintage - particularly in terms of ageing potential.

Limited harvests following a hot, dry summer

For several months, temperatures were higher than the norm while rainfall was exceptionally low, stimulating ripening and leading to a very early harvest. Southern appellations began harvesting their white grapes on August 16th, while the first Syrahs were picked on August 21st, a full two weeks earlier than in 2016, - the earliest harvest on record for a good number of the Rhône appellations. Consistent hot, dry weather ensured that grapes remained in perfect health.

In the northern part of the vineyards, the ripening period coincided with stormy weather at the start of August. The drop in Syrah harvests is less marked here than in the south, and harvesting started at the end of August (around August 20th for St Péray sparkling). The 2017 vintage looks very encouraging, and should prove similar to 2015 but with even better balance.

Ideal conditions for great red wines

The first Syrahs are showing a deep blackcurrant-purple colour, making them as inviting to look at as they are to taste. The first juices are well-flavoured with excellent balance, leading Françoise Dijon, Manager of Inter-Rhône’s Quality Observer to predict that, “...even though it’s still a little early to tell, 2017 is likely to be one of our best vintages ever.”
The weather remained completely stable throughout September. Nights were cooler, providing the perfect conditions for grapes to reach phenolic ripeness.

Stable conditions also meant that harvesting could continue right through into October, giving every grower a chance to pinpoint the best possible moment to pick their fruit.
Françoise Dijon commented that “excellent [grape] health gave everyone an opportunity to make their own choices in terms of ripeness”.

Clusters tended to be small this year; berries were also small, with thick skins and well-ripened stems – perfect for making great red wines. With their moderate alcohol levels and good acidity, this year’s wines show excellent balance – an early sign of good ageing potential.

High-quality grapes and problem-free vinification

Vinification went without a hitch. Alcoholic fermentation was, by and large, very quick; and despite low levels of malic acid, malolactic fermentation also progressed smoothly and rapidly.

“Syrahs are showing the delicious violet and liquorice notes typical for this varietal. Alcohol levels aren’t excessive, texture is superb and there’s plenty of flavour,” says Françoise Dijon, referring chiefly to the Cornas appellation.

Overall, Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Crus show excellent quality across all their wines, red, white and rosé. Whites and rosés both show marked floral aromas. Rosés are generally delightfully aromatic, and certain whites feature notes of citrus.

Reds meanwhile, display intense colour and rich tannins. Their appearance and structure are already admirable, and their tannins beautifully molten.

“We’re already tasting reds with floral notes - of peony, or other white flowers such as acacia,” continues Ms Dijon.
Although quality in the Rhône Vineyards is unquestionably excellent – as it is across the rest of Europe - quantities are uncommonly low. Initial forecasts predict 1.4 million hectolitres for Côtes du Rhône Regional appellations and Côtes du Rhône Villages, a drop of around 25% compared with 2016. These figures still need to be confirmed by the official Harvest Declaration, as results across the different sectors are very variable. They will also include results for the Crus, and the remaining Rhône Valley AOPs.

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