Today I'm heading to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to start a fortnight of tasting the 2016 vintage across the entire Rhône Valley. I will be writing tasting notes (approximately 1,000 in total) and reports for JancisRobinson.com - the first time I've covered the region in this way.
I've always loved Northern Rhône Syrah - in fact, this is my default answer to the question 'what's your favourite wine' - but have only come to love the Grenache-based reds of the south more recently. Since Jancis asked me to cover Rhône en primeur for JancisRobinson.com, I've paid much more attention to southern Rhône reds so that I have better understanding of them.
The last time I visited the region was 2014 (I took the above photograph in Cornas) but thankfully I'm travelling with somebody who goes much more frequently. Matt Walls is an experienced Rhône expert, and I've been able to piggyback on the schedule he has put together, based on the programme he has followed for several years now. The basic format is generic tastings every morning, where samples are sent by producers to be tasted en masse, followed by visits to specific producers in the afternoon. We've got some great names lined up: Jamet, Chapoutier, Sorrel, Chave, Guigal, Vernay, Rayas, Clos des Papes and more.
Lots has been written about the benefits and pitfalls of tasting en primeur. Tasting in excess of 100 wines every day is certainly not ideal, but it is something you get used to with practice. Besides, intensive tasting is the best way to get a comprehensive impression of the vintage.
Thankfully, 2016 has produced some great wines in the Rhône, and I'm looking forward to being able to discover them all in greater detail.