The Northern Rhone – is now the time? (Only red wines under review)

by Juliette Martin


Wine Owners

By Miles Davis

From time to time in the past, wine merchants and market observers have pointed to the Northern Rhone and proclaimed that its time has come, it is arriving, it is time to load up – this is with the view to making a few quid, of course. Always lagging the more powerful Bordeaux and Burgundy regions, I think this extraordinary piece of France where Syrah flourishes on the steep riverside slopes, has always been considered to be of a slightly lower, more rustic class. Certainly us Brits tend to be educated in the ways of Bordeaux first and foremost, then Burgundy, and then the likes the Rhone, Champagne, Tuscany and Piedmont etc. follow along in no particular order. As Bordeaux, then Burgundy prices headed skywards, people noticed, from time to time, that the Rhone was being left behind. Surely the clever money should have some of that? It has never quite happened. Sure, some producers have developed close followings from astute collectors and the likes of Jean Louis Chave, Jamet, Auguste Clape and Thierry Allemand to name a few have all seen demand for their wines shoot up and secondary market prices have reacted accordingly. But a lot of the bigger names, the biggest being Chapoutier, Guigal and Jaboulet just have not done very much price wise.

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Randomly selected, I compared three vintages of La Landonne from the Côte Rôtie Guigal powerhouse, ’90, ‘05 and ’10, over the last five years and price increases have been +14%, +27% and +14% respectively. These numbers do not include any trading and logistic costs, and in the context of a decent wine market, are disappointing.

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So, the question is, is this all about to change? Liv-ex recently reported their Rhone 100 sub-index is the second-best performing sub index (which covers both Northern and Southern Rhone) in their stable, trailing only Champagne, over the last eighteen months. That is quite some achievement and not to be overlooked. I have been commenting for some time how the wine market is broadening, ‘lesser’ regions becoming more liquid in the secondary market, making them more tradeable and easier to value – all important factors when considering investment. There’s no question there are a lot of critic’s points available for relatively little money and ironically, this most historic of regions offers the cheapest entry point into the ‘fine wine’ market. So, I do believe this is changing and I would certainly recommend having some Northern Rhone in a portfolio or collection. For investment purposes I would not risk really big ticket items such as Guigal’s La Las or even Jean-Louis Chave’s Hermitage as they are already relatively expensive and until we are fully convinced these are really investable items and/or Asia takes to the area more than in the past. For immediate consumption purposes I have had multiple buying successes on the Wine Owners platform in recent times, snapping up Chapoutier’s Hermitage Sizeranne from ’96 and ’99 for £30-33 per bottle (before tax), Côte Rôties from Gilles Barge (very fair value) from ’00 and ‘05, René Rostaing (prices have been moving), Clusel Roch (good value) and La Petite Chapelle from Jaboulet, all of which have given great pleasure.

And finally, you may have read this here before (!!), I think Hermitage La Chapelle from Paul Jaboulet Ainé (to give the full name) is one of the best bets around right now, and there are plenty of vintages to choose from, from 2009 onwards! Ship it in! Here are some relative value scores for some very high scoring La Chapelles. Remember you never see a first growth Bordeaux or a grand cru Burgundy in double figures, let alone in the 20s.

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Some of the most notable names to remember:

Hermitage: Chapoutier, Chave, Delas, Jaboulet

Cote Rotie: Chapoutier, Guigal, Jamet, Jasmin, Rostaing

Cornas: Allemand, Clape

St. Joseph: Chave

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Value, track and trade fine wine

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