Northern Rhône Syrah

In the Northern Rhône, where Syrah is the lone red grape variety, the differences in style between the two years are dramatic. As Michel Chapoutier told me last year as we tasted through barrel samples of his 2010s, 2009 is a year that shows the season’s warmth and ripeness, while in 2010, the differences of terroir are more dramatic.

It’s an apt description that matches my impressions now that the majority of the 2010s are in bottle. If you are a fan of the Syrah grape, you will love the dark fruit and plush tannins of the 2009s from the Northern Rhône. If you are a fan of Northern Rhône terroirs, you will love the precision of the 2010s.

“I prefer a bit 2010, maybe because most people talk about 2009,” says Jean Gonon, who manages Domaine Pierre Gonon in Mauves (Saint-Joseph) with his brother, Pierre. “In fact, 2009 is marked by the climate more than the site,” he says.

At the nearby Domaine Coursodon, also in Mauves, vigneron Jérôme Coursodon concurs with this assessment, describing 2009 as “enormous and very concentrated,” but going on to say, “For me, the elegance of 2010 is better—it has no dried fruit aromas.”

As both of these producers boast vineyards having prime expositions and shallow soils of decomposed granite, it’s perhaps no surprise that they favor a vintage that showcases terroir over heat, but the story is slightly different in Crozes-Hermitage.

Crozes-Hermitage encompasses several different terroirs, but the majority of the appellation is not so well situated, being largely flat and possessing fairly deep soils. As a result, the 2009s from Crozes-Hermitage are almost uniformly attractive, with deeper-than-usual fruit because of the year’s small yields and intense heat.

As Carole Devaux, general manager of the Cave de Clairmont cooperative, says, “2009 is great, but quite tannic. Everyone has made good wines.”

At Domaine Alain Graillot, also located on the flat portion of the appellation, Alain’s son, Maxime, even prefers his 2011s to the 2010s, calling the latter vintage “concentrated, but a bit rustic.”

Vintage report: Northern Rhône 2009 and 2010

Elsewhere in the Northern Rhône, winemakers’ impressions of the 2009s and 2010s are similar, with preferences largely depending on their own winemaking styles.

Lionel Faury, who now handles the winemaking at his family’s Domaine Faury in Chavanay (Saint-Joseph), prefers 2010. “The 2009s are good to taste now, but I’m not sure they’ll last years and years,” he says.

It’s a sentiment mirrored by Jean-Michel Stephan, a producer of natural wines whose vineyards are in nearby Côte Rôtie. “I don’t like hot years,” he says. “I make wines for long aging, and if a wine is too good young…” his voice trails off.

Perhaps because of this, Stephan prefers to show me his 2008s instead of his 2009s.

His neighbor on the Côte Blonde and president of the local growers’ syndicat, David Duclaux, is more enthusiastic about 2009, calling it “a keeping vintage, with strong tannins.” Still, to me, his 2010s showed an extra measure of silky elegance.

But at Domaine Alain Voge in Cornas, partner and general manager Albéric Mazoyer cracks a broad grin when we taste his 2009 Les Chailles. “It’s ’09,” he says by way of explanation, as we admire its intensity and rich texture. Here, the 2009s are on at least the same level as the 2010s.

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