There is no lack of depth in colour to Sorrel's 2007 Le Gréal. The nose reveals terrific ripe cassis-laden fruit, with a marked note of white pepper. The palate boasts expansive, layered fruit, deep, juicy and wonderfully ripe. The underpinning tannins are so well masked here, behind copious quantities of dark, dusky peppery fruit. Notes of a slightly savoury nature lend complexity to a dense yet more supple Hermitage. Very appealing, this will offer enjoyment in youth, yet still possesses the structure to reward cellarage.
A confident wind is blowing through the Rhône valley; Syrah, Grenache and Viognier are the grapes of the moment, and the Mediterranean diet has been adopted around the world as the mark of a good life, further energising sales of Rhône wines. From Côte-Rôtie through to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there is a sense of optimism and forward motion.
While united by the presence of the river, the two halves of the region couldn’t be more different. The northern Rhône consists of a narrow band of vineyards that follow the course of the river as it heads south. The vineyards are dramatically steep in parts, and the climate is continental, similar to that of the southern extremes of Burgundy. In terms of the wines produced, Syrah reigns supreme as the only red varietal, while white wines invariably consist of a proportion of both Marsanne and Roussanne.
Other than the river, the south shares very little with the north. Flatter and much more Mediterranean in climate, it is Grenache that features most heavily for red wine production, supported mainly by Syrah and Mourvèdre. White wine production is equally as varied; Grenache Blanc, Bourbelenc, Clairette, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are all found here. With such a wide base of varieties, styles and wines can and do vary dramatically.
2007 - Rhône
Growers in the South had the confident smile of success when talking of their 2007s. Great vintages such as 1990 are quite quickly brought up in conversation, and with some justification. 2007 was
characterised by a seriously hot onset of summer, which initially gave rise to fears of it being a replica 2003, only for conditions to ease and the summer to progress without extremes of heat. It was a dry year – far drier than 2003 in fact – and, when the rains did return in September, they were welcome and unproblematic. It should also be noted that the Mistral blew strongly through the summer months,ensuring a healthy crop. Ripeness was no issue, with the higher than usual number of hours of sunshine allowing Grenache, Syrah and the late ripening Mourvèdre to be harvested at perfect maturity.
Years like 2007 are straight-forward, and natural balance is easily translated from fruit in the vineyard to wine in the cellar. It is vintages such as this that are able to excel over time.
There is more than a grain of truth in the cliché that a great wine tastes like a great wine at an early stage – harmony is evident from the outset – and the balance is there in 2007, with the structural components easily veiled by copious ripe fruits. The freshness that the vintage has captured is also most welcome and is attributable to the fact that temperatures never became excessive, and cool evenings allowed the vines some respite. This has led to the retention of a fine aromatic profile for the Grenache that is often lost in hotter vintages.
One of France's noble red grape varieties, responsible for some of the Rhône Valley's best wines and a component in many others. A small-berried, thick-skinned grape which needs the warmth of the Midi sun to ripen fully, Syrah produces deep coloured, perfumed wines with refined tannins that permit long ageing. Notes of violets can be found in the best northern Rhône wines, together with dark berry fruits and frequently coal tar. With age secondary aromas suggest leather and game. Its depth and structure are frequently exploited to beef up the softer Grenache in southern Rhône and Languedoc blends.
Synonymous with Syrah, Shiraz has become hugely influential in Australia. Once regarded merely as a workhorse, the quality of old-vine productions has changed perceptions forever, and now it is Australia's most planted quality red variety. The 'Oz' version is richer and more muscular than its Rhône cousin, frequently attaining alcohol levels in excess of 15%. In the Barossa, the best Shiraz are fruit-laden and brimming with spice and toast with a rich, creamy palate. In South Africa, Chile and New Zealand too the variety has shown significant potential to cause excitement.