Provence Wine – 2014 vintage review
Jamie Ivey chats to the locals to find out the truth about 2014 Provence wine
Over the years I have learnt to speak ‘vigneron’. It’s a complex language that combines extravagant gestures and many different layers of truth. The language changes with the seasons but it is at its most difficult to decipher around harvest time. At this time of year the body language is inevitably negative all shrugged shoulders and downward curved lips. Inevitably there is a contradiction between weather conditions and predictions for the final quality of the vintage. Despair is expressed at hailstorms, the lack of late summer heat, and the biting autumnal chill of the mistral yet whenever I ask about the final quality of the wine a note of optimism creeps into voices, ‘it will be difficult yes, but with the right amount of tender care, a quite marvellous wine will be produced, maybe not as good as the mythical 2005, but quand meme, not bad at all.’
Amid all these conflicting signals I have realised that harvest time is not the moment to make predictions about the quality of a particular year. I prefer to wait, and speak to as many people as possible in the following months. Vignerons, are useful, yes, but best of all are negociants (professional grape buyers, who make wine from other people’s grapes, as well as purchasing and blending wines). They are one step removed from the romance of working the fields and the obsession of coaxing every last bit of flavour old vines. They are clinical, commercial people, who know their stuff.
Recently I checked in at the offices of Laurent Tardieu in Lourmarin. Despite being located in the Luberon, Tardieu is one of the best known Rhone negociants selling to major international wine merchants such as Corney and Barrow. As always I asked about the most recent vintage, in Provence and the adjoining Rhone regions. Here’s a summary of the answer I received.
2014 was a very difficult year for vignerons. High humidity and rainfall early in the year meant abundant leaf and fruit growth on the vines. This created a dilemna for vignerons. The yields from previous years had been very low, and 2014 presented an opportunity to produce a high volume of wine. In doing so vignerons would sacrifice quality for quantity. To produce high quality wine in 2014 required an immense degree of work, pruning the leaves from the vines, and also an aggressive vendange verte – the practice of harvesting and discarding some grapes while they are still green, to increase the quality of the remaining grapes which are then left to ripen.
Initial tastings of 2014 provence wines have shown a huge divergence in quality with both very poor and very impressive provence wines likely to be available, reflecting the different routes individual vignerons have chosen – quality or quantity. Above all when buying a 2014 wine it is important to know the producer and their values, because it is a year when the temptation to sacrifice quality to short term commercial gain was strong.
To conclude, purchase the 2014 vintage from a vigneron you know and respect. A man or woman who not only makes the right noises about terroir and tipicite but has the dirt between the finger nails to prove the point, rather than a new 4×4 in the garage.
Provence Guru – The Insiders’ Guide to Provence, top tips:
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