France’s Triple Play, Part II

Steep vineyards of Northern Rhône. | Courtesy M. Chapoutier Wines

In my last column, we looked at the climate factors that made 2015 to 2017 a magical era for French wines, as well as three classic regions. Let’s thicken this information stew with the other factors that made for some truly Grand Vin.

Read Part I.

Beyond climatic blessings, human hands also had an influence on the wonderful wines of this era. The first human factor was after the dismal 2011 to 2013 vintage run and world-wide economic decline that preceded our magical trilogy of vintages. French winemakers realized consumers were not going to blindly shell out beaucoup bucks for just the name on the bottle. This led to some good old-fashioned humility and a resolve to up the game in the vineyards and wineries, not to mention more humble pricing. Then when Mother Nature blessed the climate, French wineries were locked and loaded to excel.

French winemakers realized consumers were not going to blindly shell out beaucoup bucks for just the name on the bottle.

Now, on to today’s wine tour.

Making wine in the top vineyard areas of the Northern Rhône Valley has always been an uphill battle, literally, since these are some of the steepest places on earth where wine grapes grow and figuratively, since the temperatures have historically been marginal to ripen grapes. The winds called mistrals, or masters, are so fierce that vines need to be tethered and the very, thin soils are blown downhill and have to be carried back up to the vineyards by workers.

2015 and 2017 Rhône gems. | Lou Phillips

In this magic vintage era all of that changed when temperatures were higher and winds were down. This increased both quality and yields to historic levels. The Southern Rhône prospered, as well, because the usually scorching temperatures were moderated and less volatile in their changes from month to month. Even the entry-level Côtes du Rhône wines are stellar.

The Loire Valley has always produced outstanding white wines from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, but even these had extra levels of complexity in 2015 to 2017 because the riper grapes gave vignerons greater leeway to add layers to their palates. Red wines, primarily from Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, had a reputation of being an acquired taste being quite lean of body and green in flavor. These wines needed their three-vintage sun bathing as much as any grapes anywhere. They feature real complex fruit components without any apparent loss of freshness and minerality.

2016 and 2017 Loire wines. | Lou Phillips

Even under the radar regions such as Alsace, Provence, Cahors, Languedoc-Roussillon and the Jura have ridden with the rising tide of France’s triple play of vintages.

Almost without exception, these wines have added fruit components without compromising their old-world charms. With these three vintages are still widely available and maybe the last of the pre-tariff French wines. There may never have been, or will be, a better time to visit the world of French wine.