Vacqueyras 2011 and 2010

At prices generally only slightly higher than most high-quality Cotes du Rhone-Villages bottlings, Vacqueyras offers some of the finest Rhone Valley values in the market today.  During my annual tasting tour of the Rhone in November, which covered the 2011 and 2010 vintages, I was struck by the consistently high quality that these wines displayed, especially from the dodgy '11 vintage.  And 2010 almost universally confirmed the promise I glimpsed last year:  this vintage has produced dozens of deeply flavored, firmly structured wines that should reward at least another five years of cellaring, if not more.

The 2011s, on the other hand, lead strongly with their fruit and can show the dilution of the abundant crop that defined the vintage.  But the best wines boast noteworthy vibrancy and clarity, along with strong upfront appeal and gentle tannins.  It's the rare 2011 that will reward extended aging, though, and I wonder if more than a handful will even be better in a couple years than they are right now.  This is not a vintage in which gratification needs to be deferred, which makes the '11s superb wines to order in restaurants over the next couple of years.

As we have reported in the past, Vacqueyras is seriously undervalued compared to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and, in most cases, to its neighbor Gigondas.  Broadly speaking, most examples of Vacqueyras lack the sheer mass of those from Chateauneuf and show a bit less flavor intensity than most Gigondas, but there are plenty of exceptions.  This region is north of Chateauneuf, so its wines tend to be higher in acidity and, some would argue, a bit leaner.  That is far from a pejorative for the many wine lovers out there who can find Chateauneuf-du-Pape to be too much of a good thing, especially in the the warmer vintages that have pretty much become the rule in the last decade. 

This isn't to imply that Vacqueyras is weak-kneed, particularly when considering vintages like 2010, 2009 and 2007.  Still, compared to a 16+% alcohol, low-acid Chateauneuf, most versions of Vacqueyras can seem almost svelte.   As Louis Barruol, whose family has been at Gigondas for almost 500 years, explained to me, "the style of the wines here [in the greater Gigondas/Vacqueyras neighborhood] reflects the northern Rhone as much as Chateauneuf, which a lot of people consider as Provencal, anyway.  We share the grapes, but the texture, weight and expression are different, a bit more austere, less ripe and heavy, which is the difference between the Rhone and Provence."