It's a Golden Era for French Red Wines | Wine Enthusiast
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It’s a Golden Era for French Red Wines

A succession of superb vintages from 2015 to 2017 has produced some of the best red wines in recent decades throughout the southern and northern Rhône. Wine­makers and critics will be debating for years which vintage reigned supreme. Meanwhile, for consumers, it’s simply an unmissable opportunity to drink up.

The 2015 vintage will be remembered for its power and structure. The Grenache-based wines of the south are intensely ripe and concentrated, while even in the north—where Syrah is known for its elegance and cutting acidity—the reds are uncharacteristically hedonistic. In both cases, cellaring before opening is recommended, as massive tannins make these wines ­exceptionally ageworthy and almost unapproachable when young.

The 2016 vintage was marked by ripeness and intensity calibrated by freshness and detail. In the south, wines are ripe and deeply concentrated but keenly balanced by minerality, acidic cut and structured tannins. In the north, a cooler and more classic vintage produced wines with exceptional fruit purity and sleeker tannins.

Wine­makers and critics will be debating for years which vintage reigned supreme.

Reds from the 2017 vintage are just hitting the market, but are already exhibiting a fantastic mix of ­concentration and elegance.

Here’s the bad news: Maladies like frost, hail and mildew devastated yields in the southern Rhône in 2017. Prices have undoubtedly crept upwards for iconic appellations like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. However, excellent value can still be found in the crus of Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Lirac. Treasures also abound in regional bottlings of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages and underappreciated appellations like Costières de Nîmes and Luberon.

Recent yields in the north have been healthier than the south, but the north produces less than 5% of all Rhône Valley wines by quantity. In recent years, prices for Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas have all risen. Remarkable values are still found from less expensive appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph.

Delas Frères 2015 Seigneur de Maugiron (Côte-Rôtie); $67, 94 points. Ripe, juicy blackberry and mulberry flavors are muted by darker shades of dried garrigue, bramble and earth in this bold but balanced Syrah. It’s black-fruit flavors are luscious and youthful still, vibrantly edged with acidity and briskly textured tannins. Enjoyable now it should improve through 2035 and hold further. Maison Marques & Domaines USA. 

Alain Jaume et Fils 2016 Domaine du Clos de Sixte (Lirac); $30, 93 points. Fleshy plum and black-cherry flavors are juxtaposed by dark shades of anise, crushed granite and sage in this bold, richly textured wine. Polished and penetrating, the wine is lifted by tangs of crushed mineral on the midpalate. It drinks beautifully now but should continue to improve through 2026. Kysela Père et Fils.

Domaine des Coteaux des Travers 2016 Mondona (Rasteau); $22, 92 points. Pretty violet and pristine blackberry aromas are touched by crushed earth in this plush, fruit-forward blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. It’s primary and pure in fruit character but deeply concentrated. Fresh acidity and ripe, chalky tannins mark the finish. Enjoy now–2024. Charles Neal Selections.

Louis Bernard 2015 Gigondas; $35, 92 points. Intensely ripe black-cherry and mulberry aromas are muted by shades of forest floor, porcini and dried violet in this full-bodied wine. The black fruit flavors are lavishly fruity but balanced by complexities of earth, leather and charcuterie. This inviting but stately wine should drink well through 2025. Boisset Collection.

Pierre Henri Morel 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape; $47, 92 points. Ripe black cherry and raspberry are accented by sweet spice and whiffs of banana bread in this Grenache-dominant red. Fine, feathery tannins mark the finish. Full bodied and opulent, it’s already approachable but has enough concentration to improve through 2026 and hold further. Saranty Imports.

E. Guigal 2015 Crozes-Hermitage; $28, 91 points. The nose is subtle on this elegant Syrah but the palate opens gradually to introduce layer upon layer of silky, sun-kissed blackberry and plum flavors. It’s ripe but restrained, muted by a granitic mineral tone and crisp red-currant acidity. The long finish lingers on fine, framing tannins. Ready now it should improve through 2025, hold further. Vintus LLC.

Brotte 2016 Création Grosset (Cairanne); $15, 90 points. This well-priced Grenache-blend is buoyantly perfumed, offering loads of ripe black-cherry and blackberry notes shaded with thyme, wild mint and juniper. It’s a rich and spicy sip with a long, juicy finish. Enjoy now–2024. Best Buy. Monsieur Touton Selection Ltd.

Famille Perrin 2016 Red (Côtes du Rhône Villages); $15, 90 points. Inviting black-cherry and plum flavors are nuanced by layers of bramble, garrigue and forest floor in this impeccably balanced wine. Black-fruit characteristics are ripe and pristine, finishing on fine-grained tannins and a peppering of sweet anise. It’s a fantastic value to enjoy now through 2021.Vineyard Brands. Best Buy.

M. Chapoutier 2017 Belleruche Red (Côtes du Rhône); $17, 89 points. Intensely ripe blackberry and plum flavors are pristine and lip smacking in this fruit-forward yet elegant wine. Soft and plummy on the palate, it has a hint of granite minerality. Ripe, feathery tannins accentuate its rounded appeal. Enjoy now–2021. Terlato Wines International.

Tortoise Creek 2015 Le Charmel (Costières de Nîmes); $12, 88 points. Made from 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache, this rich, meaty wine juxtaposes rich black-cherry and plum flavors against layers of charcuterie, coffee grinds and bramble. It’s plump and mouthcoating, enveloped in fine, easy tannins offset by welcome briskness on the finish. Enjoy now–2021. Winesellers, Ltd. Best Buy.