Where 2003 Was A Very Good Year

By Robert Parker

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Growing grapes in the colder latitudes, such as France's Northern Rhône appellations, is dicey. In cool summers, the fruit may not fully ripen, which can lead to thin, harsh wines. Blistering heat can result in overripe fruit, another challenge to the vintner. But in 2003, hot weather and deft winemaking in the Northern Rhône teamed up to produce the best red vintage since 1978. These reds are made from syrah, the same varietal we featured last week in wines of the Central California Coast, where the weather is usually ideal for grapes.

E. Guigal 2003 St.-Joseph

90 points. The straightforward St.-Joseph exhibits a deep ruby color along with plenty of black cherry and currant fruit, as well as notions of herbs and wet rocks. Medium-bodied, pure, and rich, it is best consumed over the next seven to eight years. $27

Albert Belle 2003 Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Louis Belle

90 points. Soft, broad, and heady, this wine reveals some wood influence, but it is dominated by black fruit. Full-bodied, velvety textured, and outstanding, it should be enjoyed over the next five to six years. $30

Paul Jaboulet-Ainé 2003 Crozes-Hermitage Thalabert

90 points. This brilliant Crozes-Hermitage Thalabert boasts a deep purple hue as well as gorgeous aromas of tapenade, blackberries, cherries, incense, and licorice. Voluptuous and full-bodied, with low acidity, ripe tannin, and gobs of fruit and glycerin, it should be consumed over the next 10 to 15 years. $33

Delas Frères 2003 St.-Joseph François de Tournon

91 points. An outstanding effort, the mineral and floral-scented wine has a dense purple color, followed by a beautiful nose of minerals, white flowers, crushed rocks, crème de cassis, and blackberries. This tannic wine ideally needs two to three years of cellaring, and should keep for 10 to 15 years. $36

J.L. Chave 2003 St.-Joseph

93 points. One of the finest St.-Josephs I have ever tasted. Revealing gorgeously thick, rich notes of raspberries, crème de cassis, licorice, black truffles, and spice box, it boasts superlative fruit, a voluptuous texture, medium to full body, and silky tannin. This beauty should drink well for 10 to 15 years. $40

René Rostaing 2003 Côte-Rôtie

93 points. The deep ruby/purple-colored wine possesses great concentration in addition to notes of licorice, white chocolate, bacon fat, blackberries, and cassis. This unctuously textured, fleshy, low-acid wine begs for consumption over the next seven to eight years. $50

Patrick et Christophe Bonnefond 2003 Côte-Rôtie Côte Rozier

96 points. This cuvée boasts an inky/purple color along with an extraordinary perfume of graphite, bacon fat, melted licorice, crème de cassis, raspberries, and tapenade. Although extremely full-bodied, even huge, with massive concentration and an unusually intense style, it reveals surprising freshness and definition. Moderately tannic and deep, it requires four to five years of bottle age, and should drink well for 20 to 25 years. $70

Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average to very good

Visit www.eRobertParker.com for the Internet's most active wine bulletin board, tens of thousands of tasting notes, or to order his recent book, The World's Greatest Wine Estates: A Modern Perspective. You can also subscribe to Parker's newsletter, The Wine Advocate. Request a sample copy at: The Wine Advocate, P.O. Box 311, Monkton, MD 21111

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