France’s Triple Play, Part I

2015 Rhône. | Lou Phillips

After the unholy trilogy of the 2011 to 2013 vintages, French vignerons rejoiced in 2014 at even the quite pedestrian harvest of that year. Little did they know that, like the Blues Brothers when Jake was released from Joliet, the band was about to get back together.

In the case of France where allowed grapes are regulated, it has most often been extra cold years that have been the most challenging — so the warming trend of 2015 to 2017 has been a blessing.

In every important wine region, or AOC, in France, 2015 to 2017 were perhaps the finest three consecutive vintages ever. Yes, the temperatures have been, well, more temperate, but there is so much more to this story. Let’s start with the bigger picture of climate, including temperatures, but also taking into consideration rainfall, humidity and hail.

Fine-wine grape farmers anywhere love a moderate, low-slope bell curve to growing season temperatures. Think of the vintage both coming in and going out like a lamb. In the case of France where allowed grapes are regulated, it has most often been extra cold years that have been the most challenging — so the warming trend of 2015 to 2017 has been a blessing. Concurrently, there have been minimal heat spikes and rainfall at inopportune times. Heat spikes wreak havoc on ideal ripening patterns and rainfall just before or at harvest leads to dilute flavors and humidity challenges. Bordeaux, with its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, is prone to excess humidity, which leads to vine diseases and fungi. This also necessitates the use of copious amounts of crop treatments that affect the quality of the grapes, as well as end up in the juice — not good.

2017 Burgundy. | Lou Phillips

Ill-timed rainfall can affect all regions, but in addition, Burgundy has an unpleasant history with crop-killing hail, especially in the northern areas, which is where the high-end vineyards lie. Although Burgundy has not been immune during this golden age, the frequency and severity has been well below average. With the bottle price of wines from top Cru starting at three figures and these vineyard sites being quite small to begin with, even a small increase or decrease in production can make or break a vintner’s year.

Both of these regions also benefit economically because consistently warmer growing seasons have also yielded wines in a style that more wine drinkers seem to enjoy.

Champagne stakes its name on consistency, so even though they rely less on ripeness for grape quality because the grapes are picked at quite low ripeness levels, the even-growing seasons and lack of catastrophic acts of nature have been a boon to quality and volume here as well.

Consumers benefit as well: the quality and delicious factor of these wines are evident at all price points.

I’ll look at a few other regions and present a buying guide in the next edition and at TheTahoeWeekly.com.

Vive la France.