Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a Southern Rhone AOC, translates to “new castle of the Pope.” History tells us that the second Pope to call Avignon home after the Papal Palace was moved from Rome fell in love with the place and built a summer home there. It is just as easy to fall in love with their wines, and it was no different for me at the tasting of the Alain Junguenet Selection of the 2010 vintage held Monday, January 16, 2012 at Benny’s Chop House in Chicago.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are authorized to use up to 13 different varieties in production to apply the AOC. The three dominating names are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Grenache is used for its berry fruit flavor, Syrah for its color and tannin, and Mourvedre for added tannin (structure) and acidity. The wines are full bodied and fragrant, with concentrated fruit flavors and characteristically higher alcohol levels. Winemakers here are creative with their production techniques. For example, it is not uncommon to see a wine made from a blend of wine fermented in cement or stainless steel tanks with wine that has seen some oak treatment. Oak used here is largely going to be previously used so as not to mask the fruit flavors of the wines.
While there were many great samples present, the following represent my favorites of the day, by producer.
Chateau-Fortia: This estate has been making wine since the 17th century. Lawyer, proprietor and wine grower Baron Le Roy de Boiseaumarie was nominated in 1923 to draw up guidelines all producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape were to follow. These guidelines later served as a base on which the AOC system was drawn and Chateauneuf-du-Pape became the first official AOC in France. With such rich history, you would expect their “Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge ‘Tradition’” would deliver the most expressive sample present. It did not disappoint. Medicinal, dark cherry and barnyard aromas were followed with a complex and truly traditional long finish. The formula here is 60% Grenache / 40% Syrah. It was difficult to move on....but I had to. The “Cuvee Du Baron” followed with its barnyard floor meets lavender. It drank like there was an aromatic white in the blend, but it is 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre. We ended with the “Reserve Speciale.” At 85% Syrah, 15% Grenache there was a great deal of red fruit up front.
Domaine Olivier Hillaire: Olivier’s winemaking career began nearly 30 years ago and was polished while working for his then father-in-law at Domaine des Relagnes. When the estate was sold in 2005, Olivier was able to retain control of the best parcels to create wines under his own label. The grapes from these coveted parcels hit the glass in the 100% Grenache “Les Petits Pieds D’Armand.” There is a beautiful nose on this wine, with deep notes of violet, dark cherry and plum, ending in another long finish it is hard to walk away from. His 90% Grenache, 10% Syrah “Cuvee Classique” offers a little softer wine, with delicate violet and the 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah Cotes Du Rhone Rouge“Vielles Vignes” has a lighter body, a little barnyard and all the aromas of the other wines, just not as intense.
|Taking a break with Daniel Chaussy|
Mas de Boislauzon: Daniel Chaussy and his sister now represent the fifth generation making wines at this estate. While not clear knockouts, the four wines presented do pack quite a punch. The 70% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 5% Syrah “Tradition” had a lot on the nose, leading with lavender, and some solid tannin up front. “Quet,” named after the area’s prior moniker is made from 90 year old vines and consists of 70% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre. “Tinto” is titled after the area’s old name of Mourvedre and is appropriately composed of 85% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache. I was so impressed with his Cotes Du Rhone Villages Rouge “Deux Chenes” that I went back for more. Higher acid and pleasing with violet and raspberry, its recipe is 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 5% Carignan and 5% Mourvedre.
My personal favorite wine of the day was the “Feminessance” of Domaine Tour Saint-Michel. The epithet could not be more appropriate. Not only is it made by female winemaker, Mireille Porte, but it has a bouquet so amazing I did not want to drink it for fear of ruining the experience. It did not. This very expressive example of 65% Grenache, 35% Syrah hails from 70 year old vines and is produced adding another blend to the mix - 50% new oak and 50% year old oak. Simply beautiful.