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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.