Among many nuggets of opinion offered in your answers to our recent brief survey were niggles about the timing of UK merchants' offers of the latest Rhône vintage. Some visitors to JancisRobinson.com complained that our tasting notes were published too long after some of these offers were made.
Until this year I have tended to make one long trip to France at the end of the year, taking in tasting the latest vintage in both Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. This gives the long-suffering Tamlyn Currin (just about) enough time to upload my burgundy notes before the onslaught of burgundy primeur tastings in London at the beginning of every January. The trouble is, however, that the Rhône notes tend to get rather lost in all those Burgundy ones.
An additional problem for UK-based enthusiasts for Rhône wines is that, although all the burgundy offers are concentrated - arguably too concentrated - into 10 frantic days in January (see London's Burgundy overkill in January), there is no such co-ordination of Rhône offers, which tend to be spread over several months.
My guess is that, with the short 2012 vintage and burgundy in general becoming of greater and greater interest to Asian and American wine buyers, the Rhône will become of increasing interest to wine lovers everywhere - not least because the 2012 vintage was apparently very promising in the Rhône, too, certainly the southern Rhône.
I accordingly wrote to all the UK merchants I could think of - Berry Bros, Genesis, Goedhuis, H2Vin, J&B and The Wine Society - to see whether it would be possible to co-ordinate timing a little more. Here's what I wrote:
'One of many topics raised in our recent rather overwhelming survey (we had to stop it after two days for fear of being unable to process more than the 1,500 detailed responses) was the timing of UK Rhône offers.
'So far there has been wide disparity between the dates when various UK merchants make their offers. I wonder whether it would be at all possible to have more accord on the timing? This would make life easier for consumers and commentators. It would be great to have them not too close to Jan and burgundy ideally. Late November or late February perhaps?
'Just an idea...'
I had to laugh at the responses, which were, in summary, unanimously as follows:
'We always make our Rhône offer in [month X]. We will always make our Rhône offer in [month X].'
The only one to show any possible flexibility was Philippa Wright of Goedhuis:
'Firstly, thank you for taking the time to get involved in this. It will be very interesting to see how people respond - as I am sure you know, J&B, Genesis, Lay and Wheeler and Goedhuis are all in the autumn. Goedhuis used to be in the spring but as we have a certain overlap with J&B, once we started doing a tasting it made sense for the growers to come over once for consecutive events. We also found that as the start of the year is so busy with Burgundy, Brunello, Barolo, Bordeaux and then Germany that having the Rhône later (or in fact earlier) in the year allows us to focus on it rather better.
'So our preference would be to stay with a November campaign as we find this works well for us. However, we would be prepared to accept the majority decision if consensus could be reached.'
Vicky Williams of Berry Bros sent one of the more detailed replies:
'Thank you for your email, I have consulted with both Simon Field and Mark Pardoe on this subject.
'As you know from our past campaigns, Berry Bros & Rudd has gone for late February for its Rhône offer, and it seems to have worked. Those who offer in November tend to do an abbreviated offer of the big hitters, in any event. "Serious" bigger offers, including Wine Society, are in the New Year. Before that it is hard to get prices and in addition the wines, in terms of a consumer tasting, are hard to taste. The Goedhuis and H2Vin offers, for example, are far smaller than ours.
'The other side of the debate is whether it is actually in the merchant's interest if all the offers come out at the same time. It works with Burgundy where there are more issues with stock restrictions, but it may be counter-productive in Rhône. That said if there is a move for a known annual Rhône release timing, we would welcome a campaign for the end of February.
'I hope this is of some use.'
Meanwhile, Hew Blair of their big rivals Justerini & Brooks wrote:
'We prefer mid November as has been our timing for many years . We believe that February is too close to the January Burgundy releases. If customers receive their invoices for Burgundy during a Rhône campaign it would have negative impact on Rhône sales . No such problem with November.'
And then there is The Wine Society, which goes its own way and often has some of the best value. Ewan Murray wrote on the Society's behalf:
'We were among the first to offer large-scale en primeur of Rhône and timing-wise we chose mid-January ie before our February Burgundy en primeur - which is later than everyone else's - and after Christmas. It's true that Chapoutier and some of the Châteauneufs come out earlier in September or October and some merchants base their offers on those releases but then tend to offer fewer wines. Some merchants do things as and when wines are released. We wait and put the whole thing in one big pot.
'When we surveyed our members about this there was strong support for having all the wines in one place / document rather than coming out in dribs and drabs. While a few would rather we weren't later than other merchants, the majority prefer to wait for the printed all-at-once approach. So on balance we'll stay as we are for now. If we could deliver sooner and more comprehensively, it would be great, but we believe that any earlier than our mid-January would be very be hard without reducing or changing the offer. We have thought about splitting the white and red offerings and putting the whites out sooner, but Rhône ain't Burgundy, and a solo white Rhône offer might not work as well.'
So… the upshot is that UK Rhône offers of 2012s are likely to be - ahem, remain - as below:
November 2013 - J&B (mid), Averys, Goedhuis, Lay & Wheeler, Genesis (late)
January 2014 - The Wine Society (mid)
February 2014 - Berry Bros (late)
Meanwhile, I have decided to make separate trips to the Rhône and then Burgundy towards the end of this year and we will do our utmost to publish our collection of tasting notes on Rhône 2012s as soon as possible after my return from the Rhône on 23 November (nearly 700 on the much less exciting 2011s in our database), and notes on 2012 burgundies in January (over 1,900 on the 2011s in our database) as usual. We hope this will give the Rhône wines the spotlight they deserve.