Friday, August 10, 2012

Tasting Report: 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Anyone who has shared a glass of wine with me or talked to me for more than two minutes knows I love Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These red blends from France’s Southern Rhone Valley are made from a mix of grape varieties, mainly grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault, although 13 different varieties are technically allowed in the blend. The grape vines, many of which are knotted and gnarly from decades of work, grow in a uniquely diverse range of soil types: clay, sand and rocks that have been tumbled smooth by millennia of geological chaos. (The whites, made from grapes like roussanne and marsanne, are great too, but there are no blancs represented in this post.)

Every year, Mother Nature, in conjunction with growers and vintners, offers a new interpretation of these world-class wines. And as a wine nerd I like to try as many CdPs from a new vintage as possible. Stylistically, wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are all over the place, but wines of the same vintage tend to share a lot of similar characteristics. The 2010s are just hitting the shelves in some U.S. stores, so I was thrilled when Phil Bernstein of MacArthur Beverages invited me to a tasting of some 2010 Chateauneufs. MacArthur’s imports a wide array of Rhone wines, and their Châteauneuf-du-Pape selection is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Phil invited a bunch of fellow wine bloggers and nerds, and we had a great time tasting through the wines, discussing the nuances and sharing stories. 

Going in to the tasting, I’d heard a lot of hype about the 2010 vintage. Gauntley’s, a British wine importer that specializes in the Rhone Valley and imports big name Châteauneufs like Domaine du Pegau, Clos St. Jean and Clos Mont Olivet, speaks very highly of the vintage: In the 20 or so years we have been visiting and working in the Rhone, it is quite possible that 2010 has the potential to be the finest vintage we have seen.” Wow, that’s quite a statement, especially considering the recent run of spectacular and diverse vintages in Châteauneuf, from the structured and rich 2009s, the fruit-bomb 2007s, and the long-haul 2005s. “The one cloud on the horizon,” says the importer, “is that the harvest in 2010 was extremely small – upwards of 40% less wine has been produced than in 2007.” Jancis Robinson, a British Master of Wine and one of my favorite wine writers, describes the 2010 vintage thusly: “As in 2009, this vintage's quality and characteristics are due to the climatic conditions: a rainy springtime and a dry summer enabled the grapes to be healthy and have an interesting tannic structure.”

Well, let’s get down to the wines...

2010 Château de Saint-Cosme Gigondas - France, Southern Rhône, Gigondas
This wine comes from the region of Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s northeastern neighbor. The wine was tasted blind. Very interesting aromatics: smoke, tar, tight cassis fruit, lavender, hemp, just a bit of toasted oak. I absolutely loved the aromas, although it is evident that this wine was very compact and young, and the aromas need years to develop. Tightly-wound tannins on the palate with medium acid. I love the plum skin, charcoal, sweet black licorice and leather flavors. There’s a creaminess to the mouthfeel, which made me think this wine spent time in at least some new oak. Lovely peppery kick to the finish. This wine is nice now, but I would give this a good five hours in the decanter if you’re drinking it soon. Otherwise, this wine will reward patient cellaring. A blend of  60% grenache, 20% syrah, 18% mourvèdre and 2% cinsault. (91 pts.)

2010 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
A vibrant purple color in the glass with thick legs. The aromas are rich and seductive: boysenberry sauce, fig paste, hints of pepper. The palate is jammy with black cherry and boysenberry fruit and accented with smoke and grilled meat. The tannins provide solid structure. I found this wine to be quite approachable young, but I imagine it will be better in two-to-five years. (91 pts.) Price: $34.99

2010 Brotte Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes
This wine is an anomaly. If I tasted this blind I would probably have guessed it was a Paso Robles cabernet or something because it’s just so rich, oaky and sweet. It smells of blueberries, vanilla, oak and chocolate. It has none of those herbal or earthy aromas that I crave in Châteauneuf. The palate tastes like a mix of vanilla cream and overcooked fruit. Lots of blueberry and boysenberry fruit, but the low acid makes it feel goopy and overdone. Where’s the elegance and freshness? There are some nice silky tannins and flavors of jam and licorice, but overall this does not taste like a Châteauneuf. Of course, wine critic and kingmaker Robert Parker rated it 92-94 points, but I disagree. If I wanted this style of wine, I’d buy a Washington State cabernet. It does taste good, but maybe it needs more time before it shows any sense of nuance or distinction. (84 pts.) Price: $34.99

2010 La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Les Secrets de Pignan"
Wow, we are dealing with a serious Châteauneuf-du-Pape here. Opaque purple color. The aromas are so seductive and elegant, showing cassis, violets, wild raspberries and a hint of rocky soil. The aromas are tight and compacted and will take at least a few years to unwind, but this wine shows tremendous potential. On the palate this wine is all about precision and focus. Tight tannins and sharp flavors of blackberries, raspberries, incense sticks and sage. Hints of toast and vanilla linger on the long finish. This wine is built to last, and I imagine it will evolve wonderfully over the next decade. (94 pts.) Price: $49.99 

2010 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Vieux Donjon is one of my favorite Châteauneuf producers and in 2010 they are really kicking it up a notch. This wine is young but surprisingly expressive. Aromas of pure blackberry fruit, roasted herbs along with a shot of green pepper and dried seaweed. I can only imagine what this wine will smell like with a few years in the cellar. The palate shows strikingly pure flavors, fine tannins and fresh acid. It's full of smoke, game, strawberry and fig flavors, which are complex and perfectly woven together. There’s a nice herbal kick on the finish that lingers for a very long time. I really think this wine needs 10+ years to develop, and it will probably drink wonderfully for another decade at least. This was my favorite wine of the night. A blend of 75% grenache, 10% mourvèdre, 10% syrah and 5% cinsault. (94+ pts.) Price: $49.99

2010 Domaine Grand Veneur Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Les Origines"
This wine is very primal right now, as are all of the 2010s. The aromas of blackberry and savory spices are bold and dense, packing serious depth. The tannins are strong, but there's a velvety mouthfeel to the wine, more so than the others in the tasting. Complex flavors of fig, bay leaf and cedar. It's just a bit too low on the acid for me, but maybe that's because the wine is so young. This wine needs a decade of age, but it will surely evolve into a thing of immense beauty. A blend of 50% grenache, 30% syrah and 20% mourvèdre. (93 pts.) Price: $52.99

2008 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The last wine of the tasted was served blind. Immediately, it was evident that we were dealing with a different vintage. I actually guessed this as a 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and was surprised that it was only a 2008, a vintage that has been much maligned. I don't have as much experience with this vintage, but I thought this was wine was very impressive. Lovely smooth aromas of plums, smoke, meat and spiced stew. The palate shows great balance and elegance. Fresh acid and fine tannins, along with red plums, wild strawberries and rhubarb flavors. It finishes with flavors of herbs and tinge of fresh acid. I think this will continue to evolve for another five years, but I’m not too sure about it’s long-term potential. (94 pts.) Price: $79.99

Overall, I’m quite excited about the 2010s. Despite what I’ve heard from many people about these wines being approachable young, I really think a few years of bottle age is a good idea with any of these Châteauneufs. As far as comparisons to other vintages go, these wines remind me a bit of the 2009s, but with grittier tannins. They also remind me a little bit of the 2007s I tasted on release, although the 2010s show less ripeness and more freshness. One thing’s for sure: this won’t be the last word I have to say about 2010 Châteauneufs.



  1. Isaac, I am glad to read about your enthusiasm for the Vieux Donjon. It really was a lovely bottle with a strong future.

    1. Aaron, it was great to meet you last night. I agree, and I wouldn't touch this wine for at least another five years. I had a 2006 Donjon a few months ago and it was so tight and compressed. But with age, Donjon's do wonders. Cheers, and I hope to see you again at a future event.

  2. Hi Isaac,
    It was a pleasure meeting you at the tasting.
    Great post.
    I particularly liked your takes on the Vieux Donjon, Brotte and Clos des Papes.
    Hope to cross paths again soon.


    1. Paul,
      Thanks for reading. It was nice meeting you as well. Hopefully we'll see each other at another tasting soon.