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Featured Wine Tasting: Châteauneuf du Pape 2006


Yesterday, I posted a broad introduction to the wines of Châteauneuf du Pape and a preliminary report of the excellent 2006 vintage, which will be showing up in stores over the coming months. In this second part, I’m posting individual notes from the tasting of the Alain Junguenet portfolio, which includes some of the appellation’s greatest wineries; the tasting was held at the Tribeca Grill on Feb 6. All wines reviewed are Châteauneuf du Pape 2006 unless otherwise stated.

The entertaining Pierre Pastre of Chateau Fortia, the long-standing Châteauneuf du Pape winery whose founder, Baron Le Roy, first proposed the “rules” for the appellation in 1923, and with it, established the blueprint for the whole French AOC system.

Pierre Pastre of Chateau Fortia was conveniently stationed at the first table; I say “conveniently” as he was enormous fun to meet and learn from. The Fortia Blanc ($28) was 60% Clairette, 30% Roussanne and 10% Grenache Blanc. White wines from Châteauneuf du Pape can be an acquired – and expensive – taste: with a crisp lemony texture and a solid mineral flavor, this one was perfectly passable but there were better white wines at other tables. I enjoyed the Cuvée Tradition ($29), 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre: very forward and fruity, quite soft but with good body and a strong finish. A bargain price too. The same can be said for the Cuvée du Baron ($32), which ups the Syrah content to 30% in exchange for less Grenache. There was clearly more meat on this wine, but the fruit remained forward. Sexy and succulent, and very drinkable right now, this would be a great, if slightly atypical, wine to sell someone who’s new to the appellation. It was probably my QPR wine of the day. Pierre clearly likes his Syrah; the Reserve Speciale ($60) has a whopping 85% Syrah to 15% Grenache, very unusually for the appellation. (Indeed, this is its first year.) I loved the idea, but I was not the only one who found it somewhat harsh and overbearing in the glass, like an alcoholic, fruit bomb Ozzie Shiraz. Pierre suggested this Reserve Speciale would reward after 15 years cellaring, and he may be right, but I thought it instead confirmed why we don’t see many single-varietal Syrahs in the southern Rhône. And at $60, I’d sooner buy one more of each of Fortia’s more proven Grenache-dominated reds and drink it young.

The fruit jumped from the Domaine Pierre Usseglio Cuvée Tradition ($46), poured by Mr, Junguenet himself, like it was literally trying to escape from the bottle. I even caught some strawberry in there amidst the more familiar plums and black fruit flavors, and the tannins were pure velvet; this was just an incredibly delicious, approachable, upfront wine. (It’s got a quite typical 20% smattering of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault to balance the Grenache.) It was actually so soft and fruity that it reminded me more of a Côtes du Rhône, and sure enough, the winery’s Côtes du Rhône Rouge, 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, while offering plenty forward fruit of its own, had enough earth flavors and complexity as to pass for a mini-Châteauneuf du Pape. (It’s priced accordingly, at $23.) The Cuvée de Mon Aieul, almost exclusively old vine Grenache with just 5% Syrah to flesh it out, presented the other side of Châteauneuf du Pape: that deeper color, the more restrained nose, the solid herbal flavors and the minerality and earthiness, complete with dense tannins, a “backward” wine that suggests it will merit long-term cellaring. It’s $100, which is way beyond my reach, but if you have that money to spend, and a cellar to boot, you may well feel it’s money well spent.

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Domaine Olivier Hillaire is a relatively new estate carved out of an old one. The wine-maker, seen above, bought a minimal three hectares of the now defunct Domaine des Relagnes two years ago from his father-in-law, who owned the estate (the remainder was sold to Chateau Calissanne, from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence), but included in that deal was a noted vineyard in La Crau, with its 107-year old Grenache vines planted in sandy soil. A wine from that vineyard, Les Petits Pieds d’Armand ($93), Olivier’s second vintage on the job, was understandably restrained on the nose, but quite delicious on the palate, and not as concentrated as one might imagine. I’m sure I’d feel just as positive about this one at home. By comparison, the Cuvée Classique (80% G, 15% S, 5% M, $49), which effectively replaces the Domaine des Relagnes’ Cuvée du Vigneron, was a little more herbal, with very strong tannins; I was more impressed with Olivier’s Côtes du Rhône Vieilles Vignes, also 80% Grenache (with 20% Syrah), which had a vibrant fruit presence and a friendly texture. At just $13, this one struck me as the best bargain of the day. Some would say “buy by the case” but there’s too much wine, too little time for that approach.

The first wine I sampled all day was the Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf du Pape blanc 2007 – yes, an ‘07 already – which was very light in color, and had a lovely floral aroma to it, which I might assume came from the Roussanne (the wine also has Grenache, Clairette and Bourboulenc, percentages not given), and attractive lemon notes too. This was probably the best of the white Chateauneufs I tasted all day, but the $60 tag was off-putting, especially when the winery’s famed red retails for the same price. As you may know, Le Vieux Donjon has just the one red bottling, a Cuvée Tradition which is typically made for ageing. (Alain recommended I keep my ‘98s another five years or so.) 70% G, 20% S, and 10% Mourvèdre and Cinsault, the Cuvée Tradition Rouge managed therefore to surprise me: with good black fruit on the nose, it had a juicy forward attack, followed by a well-rounded and surprisingly soft body with the tannins kept well in check. Though this will surely be worth cellaring as usual, this may also prove a great wine to drink young. All in all, one of the best on show. Alain Junguenet is shown below pouring from this estate, as he did some of the other most well-known names of the Appelation.

img_6172.jpgAlain Junguenet, a former race car driver by the way, pouring from Le Vieux Donjon and Clos des Papes, the two most heralded wineries of his considerable portfolio.

On to another powerhouse, Clos des Papes, only to discover that the red was not yet ready for tasting. (Most, if not all of the other reds, were barrel samples to be released from April onwards.) Paul Avril’s Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc 2006 was intriguing for including all available six white grapes, in equal proportion: Grenache Blanc, Roussane, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Picardan. As such, it was a must-taste wine and I got to it early, but I found the nose a little harsh and unattractive, and the finish somewhat sharp, even though, inbetween, there was a delightful finesse to the actual palate. A curio, for certain, but not a curio to justify its $96 price tag. (Nor was I enamored by the price of the red, when it comes to market: $102. That’s what we get for the Wine Spectator naming the 2005 their Wine of the Year last year.)

I was intrigued by the Domaine Pontifical Cuvée Tradition ($35), 75% Grenache, with the balance including some Counoise as well as your more typical Syrah Mourvèdre and Cinsault. It’s extremely old-fashioned: there’s no destemming and the wine is drained off, using natural gravity, from cement vats above ground into small oak barrels in the cellar, where the wine stays for twelve months. Yet the wine was, again, very forward and extremely luscious, silky and without protruding tannins. A solid buy at that relative bargain price.

Pascal Lafond of Domaine Lafond, which some of us know well for its Lirac and Tavel, was on hand, pouring pretty much the whole portfolio, which includes just the one, 6-vintage old Châteauneuf du Pape ($44, 80% Grenache, 10% each S&M). This wine had that leathery gingerbread aroma rather than the dark fruits or herbal textures elsewhere on show, but in the process offered up more than a whiff of sensuality. I liked this a lot.

Alain’s son John Junguenet was pouring for Domaine Moulin-Tacussel, a vintner I haven’t come across before, somewhat ridiculously given that the husband and wife team are in their late seventies and have been making wine all their lives. They offered a Châteauneuf du Pape blanc 2007 ($44), with a hefty chunk (45%) of Roussanne). The wine was almost crystal-clear in “color,” more like a simple Italian white to look at than a rich Châteauneuf du Pape. This was compensated for by some lovely lemony floral aromatics, but it was ultimately too one-domensional to get excited about. The Cuvée Tradition ($40) is, name aside, a little unusual for utilizing some of the “lesser” red grapes, including Muscardin and Vaccarese, in its 75% Grenache-dominated wine. Aged in foudres and barrels for a year or more, it was one of the wines that leaned towards the herbal profile, with some austerity that bordered on aggression. I notice now I’m looking at the program notes that it scored lower with the critics accordingly. I was much more taken with the Hommage a Henri Tacussel, a brand new Cuvée that’s only a touch more expensive, at $55, dominated by Grenache with a 7% splash of Syrah. Apparently the juice for this wine was worked over and over, with some of it aged in small barrels. The dark berry fruit definitely advertised itself accordingly, very alluring, really quite luscious, extremely rich and yet very well textured. A gorgeous wine and one I might well choose to pick up. Besides you can’t argue with a couple who can still get around to creating a new Cuvée at such an old age.

Domaine de la Cote de L’Ange is another winery I hadn’t tasted before, though this one is run by a much younger couple, Corrine and Yannick Gasparri, currently in their mid-thirties. Their Cuvée Tradition (a common blend, $35) is aged in foudre and cement; I found it forward and lush but with a real meatiness to it. A solid wine. The Cuvée Vielle Vignes, ($47, 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre), aged in demi-foudres, from different pacels of older vines, had much more of a ginger type thing going for it, very intense, with some cassis flavors in there. I liked both these wines a lot.

You can never have too many maps of the Rhone, that’s what I say. This one come from the Official Site of the Cotes du Rhone.

Cuvée du Vatican presented two reds. The Cuvée Tradition ($34, a typical blend aged in old foudres) gave up a chunk of game on the nose, and also that distinct “purple” aroma that I use as a personal descriptor for classic southern Rhône wines. Very forward on the palate, but the tannins soon presented themselves with a certain harshness. The Reserve Sixtine, only 55% Grenache, with some 30% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre ($55), and which sees quite a bit of new oak, was not giving up much right now on the nose, but there was a lovely balance of fruit, acidity, body and structure on the palate. The oak may have had something to do with the wine’s soothing profile, for the power represented itself at the back end. I was thoroughly intrigued by this wine.

Christine and Daniel Chaussy from the ten-hectare estate Mas de Boislauzon had come all the way over to pour their wines; considering that they speak almost no English, I’m not quite sure I understand why! And I have to confess, I was not in love with their wines, though I allow that I may have tasted them just at the point that my palate went on strike. The Côtes du Rhône Villages (15% Carignan in with the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, $13) had that slightly awkwardness that cheap Grenache can give off. The Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Tradition (70% Grenache, equal balance Syrah and Mourvèdre, $33), is aged in old foudres and concrete vats, and I found it austere in the extreme. The Cuvée du Quet ($75) is two-third Grenache to one-third Mourvèdre, from old vines, and I didn’t think it was giving up much right now. But I see from the program that both Parker and Tanzer rated it 92-95pts and while I don’t put a ton of faith in the former critic, I somewhat respect the latter; I also take note of consensus. I wish I could have tasted their pure Mourvèdre Tintot cuvée, of which 2006 is the first vintage, but although it was listed, they had not brought it. Another time, perhaps.

I probably tasted the wines of Bosquet des Papes too late to make worthy notes, too. The Cuvée Tradition ($35) appeared raisiny at first, but then the fruit came announcing itself alongside some lean tannins. And the Cuvée Chante Le Merle ($60), made predominantly from 100-year old Grenache, with 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Syrah, was muted up front but silky on the palate; I’m sure it will come around. Finally, I can say little more about the Clos Des Brusquieres than what I read about it: until 1996 they sold to negociants; since then they’ve been bottling as an estate. The Cuvee Tradition wine is ultra-traditional, with the Grenache (60%) matured in cement tanks and the Syrah (30%) and Mourvedre (10%) in barrel. They only produce the one red; it was priced here at $38.

img_6188.jpgSo much great wine, so little ability to taste it all in depth in such a short time.

It was a delight meeting producers and importers alike, fascinating to note the nuances between these different traditionalists, and exhilarating to taste such quality across the board. There was one excellent producer from Cairanne on show and a handful of other Southern Rhône producers; I’ll write them up separately.

Thanks to Le Dû’s wines of Washington Street in Manhattan for hosting the tasting (and inviting me). All prices are according to their “advance sale” price on the program notes.

For another perspective on this tasting, visit the winetastingguy.com site
Other excellent Châteauneuf du Pape resources:
www.chateauneuf.dk/
Vins-Rhone.com

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