2020 has produced another outstanding vintage in Rhône, with superb, balanced white and red wines in all appellations, across both the North and the South.
The Rhône Valley has been blessed with a string of high-quality vintages over the last decade, especially in the Northern Rhône. As leading Rhône critic Jeb Dunnuck sums up, “The Rhône has had an unprecedented streak of great vintages over the past decade, and if you haven’t yet stocked up, now is the time!”
The growing season
Vineyards across both the North and the South benefitted from a good amount of rain in the early winter of 2019, which then continued as dry and mild. This meant that flowering and bud break took place early in the Spring. The North had no spring frosts to worry about whereas the west bank in the South was hit, but the rest of the area had a stress-free year.
After some more rain in April, especially in the South, it was a sunny, hot and dry summer, but importantly, there were no heat spikes as seen in 2019, which is one of the factors, both winemakers and critics alike are saying that is giving the wines in this vintage more balance. Younger vines were more susceptible to hydric stress due to the lack of rainfall, with the deep-rooted older vines faring better.
In contrast to the sun-baked days, the region experienced cool nights to help regulate the vines temperatures and retain acidity. The slightly windy weather also helped reduce fungal disease pressure, leading to excellent sanitary conditions at harvest time.
The harvest was one of the earliest on record since 2003, with most winemakers starting in early September, some even started picking at the end of August. The grapes were gathered promptly due to the heat but there was no pressure from rain or rot, leading to solid yields and healthy fruit.
As a result, the wines are less powerful than their predecessors, but certainly more poised and balanced. The beautiful acidity across the region, especially with the whites is the hallmark of this vintage.
Producers across the Rhône are praising its qualities, with renowned family-run estate M. Chapoutier noting that, “the 2020 vintage offers us wines full of elegance and pedigree, far from the excesses we might have expected. They have all the markers of great ageing potential because preserved acidity and remarkable phenolic maturity.”
Overall, across the region the wines are marked as fresh and balanced. Alcohol levels are lower than the three preceding vintages making for a more approachable wine. The fresh acidity, high-quality fruit and ripe tannins have allowed the wines to show well young, though they clearly have the depth to suggest great ageing potential.
Matt Walls from Decanter comments that “[this is] a return to classicism after a series of powerful years.” He continues to state that “This is a vintage to buy now and drink whilst you’re waiting for your 16s-19s to develop… These are wines that will provide huge amounts of pleasure, straight out of the gate. It is that rare thing – an excellent vintage for early drinking.”
As with other regions in France, the challenging 2021 growing season which has seen frost, mildew and heavy rain, will mean there will be much smaller yields and no doubt prices will increase. 2020 is clearly not a vintage to be overlooked and will be a great fit for the astute collector.