Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Chateauneuf-du-Pape Birthday

On my birthday I like to get together with some close friends, pop some corks, drink some wine and tell some stories. And since it's my birthday I get an excuse to let my obsessive side cut loose, and I spend a lot of time gathering wines I think people would enjoy. Well, this year, as I turn 29, I've been thinking a lot about the South of France, and how I need to go there very soon. I'm busy as hell with work and I've got so many other travel plans in the works, but I must get away to Avignon, to Bandol, to Aix and to the Southern Rhone Valley, to the crazy soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I can't help myself when it comes to CdP. Year in, year out, they're just some of the best wines I ever drink. This tasting was a great time to check up some some various vintages within CdP. One thing I love about the wines of Chateauneuf is their ability to translate a vintage into a glass, to interpret each season in a truthful way. Each vintage has a character, an attitude, it's own voice. I know it sounds corny, but I guaranteee, if you taste several vintages of good Chateauneufs side-by-side, you'll get what I mean.

It was interesting to taste many different vintages and discuss the differences with friends. Wine nerds and novices alike attended the tasting, but I think it's fair to say everyone had a blast. Now, the wines...

Opening White
2008 Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc - France, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
We started off the tasting with this bottle I picked up from Weygandt Wines in Cleveland Park, DC. I picked this white Chateauneuf to kick off what would inevitably be a tasting dominated by reds. This wine is a blend of 40% grenache blanc and 20% each of roussanne, clairette and bourboulenc. On the nose: white flowers, papaya, hint of cotton candy, apricot, orange blossom. On the palate: fresh acid leads to a nutty, white peach feel with lemon zest and honey on the finish. Very acidic for a CdP, and my girlfriend said it was too much acid for her. For me, I was excited to see such a complex CdP blanc have so much freshness. It was even better after five hours of air exposure. A lot of white CdPs can be heavy, but not this one. 89 points

A Birth-Year Bordeaux
1983 Château La Croix du Casse - France, Bordeaux, Pomerol
I threw this Bordeaux into the tasting as a ringer of sorts. I approached this wine as an experiment, a unique drinking experience, and I had no expectations that the wine might actually taste good. Being form my birth year, I decided to pop this bottle and see if it had any life left. The color is a weird orange-red. The aromas are very pungent: rhubarb, garlic pickles, beef broth and wet mud. Soft tannins, medium acid (not too sharp). Lots of beef, leather and pickle juice flavors linger on the finish. This wine is totally crazy, and most people poured it out after one taste, but I give it points for insanity. My friend Tim described this wine as "D.O.A." I like to think I've aged better than this wine has. For a long time this Chateau La Croix du Casse was owned and operated by
Jean-Michel Arcaute, who also owned the famous Chateau Clinet estate. Apparently, Arcaute died in a tragic boating accident in 2001, and I can’t figure out who makes the wine now. It’s a blend of 80 percent merlot-20 percent cab franc.  75 points

Bring on the Chateauneuf-du-Pape
1994 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape - France, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
In 1994 Beaucastel used more mourvedre grapes (40% versus the normal 30%), which may have something to do with this wine’s theme of leather, mushrooms and farmyard soil. It supposedly possesses the lowest percentage of grenache (30%) of any Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the highest percentage of mourvedre. Whatever the final blend is, as soon as you open a Beaucastel, it's clear you're dealing with a unique wine. This wine stands up and announces itself proudly. Clear ruby color in the glass. The aromas are bright and alive, but also savory, showing peppercorn, bacon frying in a pan, bay leaf , all of which linger. The nuances and shifting nature of the aromas is really amazing. On the palate this wine is still bright and full of grippy tannins. The flavors are very complex and nuanced, showing grilled meat, sour cherry, dusty and snappy cranberry fruit, accented by licorice and charcoal. So pure, so fresh, really unbelievable. Several people chose this wine as their wine of the night. Tied with the 2001 Rayas for my favorite wine of the night. 93 points

2001 E. Guigal Châteauneuf-du-Pape
A blend of 80% grenache, 10% syrah, 5% mourvèdre, 5% other varieties. Pungent aromas of rhubarb, cherry skins, bitter coffee, raspberry greens. The wine still has a lot of grippy tannins and fresh acid. Flavors of red plums, coffee, peppered steak, cherry pits. This wine has a lot going on, and it shifted a lot over the course of several hours. This wine is nowhere near the end of its life. A lot of the people who attended the tasting thought this wine was a bit astringent, and I get that. For me, it’s an enjoyable CdP that has five more years ahead of it at least. Beautiful stuff. By the second day, the aromas were even more savory and I picked up some rose petal aromas as well. Finishes with hints of meat and dusty tannins. 90 points

2001 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve
A bottle of Rayas is a special thing indeed. They use no stainless steel,
no temperature controls, no new oak, and they age their wine in a mix of old school containers. The color of cloudy cherry compote in the glass. Bright aromas of cherries, cranberry, a whiff of white pepper. With time delicious aromas of bay leaf and rose petals came out. On the palate, the tannins are acid are so strong, but balanced perfectly. Red plums and snappy cranberry fruit on the palate, along with complex flavors of licorice, minerals and dried leaves. This is such a gorgeous, feminine wine, almost Burgundian. One of the most elegant Chateauneufs I've tasted in a long time. This wine was the group's favorite, and for good reason. Thanks, Ian, for contributing such a beauty. I’ve read that this wine is a minimum of 98% grenache, but sometimes 100%. 93 points

Domaine Les Cailloux is named after the Southern Rhone’s famous cailloux roulés, which are the large stones found scattered all over the Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards. The Les Cailloux blend, made by André Brunel, is usually a blend of 65% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 12% syrah and 3% of other varieties, all of which come from vines averaging 60 years old.

2003 Les Cailloux (Lucien et André Brunel) Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Bright ruby color. It was clear at this point in the tasting that we were dealing with a fruitier, more bombastic kind of wine. Some of the new world haters (Tim, I'm looking at you) didn't like the wine's jammy profile. However, I think it is one of the better 2003 CdPs I've had, and one that shows a lot of personality but also some balance. Syrupy fruit on the nose, showing red licorice, melted cherries and rose petals. The palate is bold and jammy, with medium tannins and low acid. The low acid is what throws this wine for me. I need more structure. Still, the flavors of game, spices and earth come out with three hours being open. Still a pretty and yummy wine. Val really enjoyed this, which was no surprise. 89 points

2006 Les Cailloux (Lucien et André Brunel) Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Ruby-cherry colored. Aromas of sour cherry, beef fat and leather. A dense wine on the palate with hard-line tannins but a lot of fresh cherry and raspberry fruit. I really like the flavors of white pepper, corned beef and soy, which add complexity. A lot more acid and structure than the 2003, and a good example of the quality wines of the 2006 vintage. 90 points

2006 Clos du Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape
I was surprised by how vibrant and full this CdP was. I'll say it again, 2006 is an overlooked vintage but a lot of producers put out solid wines for less money. This one's bright cherry colored in the glass. Aromas of plum skins, sour cherries, white pepper, roses and clove. Very complex nose, and it got better and better over the course of the evening. Bold structure on the palate of lively acid and fine-grained tannins. Wild cherry and cassis fruit mixes with flavors of anise and smoke. There's a meaty aspect to this wine that is delicious. This is a really opulent wine, but one that maintains a real purity of flavors. 90 points

2008 Domaine Jean Royer Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Tradition
It was nice having a 2008 red in the mix, as I've really come to enjoy this vintage. Stuck between the 2007s and 2009s, 2008 might get overlooked sometimes. Extracted cherry color. The aromas are really opulent: red plum, iron, purple Mr. Sketch marker, a hint of olive. Plush and sexy on the palate. Cherry fruit mixes with minerals, charcoal and fresh sod. It's that acid on this wine that's got me exited, it's so pure and focused. Very easy to drink now, but I'd like to try it again in five years to see what other complexities come out of this wine. 91 points

A Crozes and Some Dessert Wines
2010 Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage - France, Northern Rhône, Crozes-Hermitage
It was nice to have a Northern Rhone syrah thrown into the birthday tasting. For that matter, Northern Rhone syrah is welcome in any tasting. This is the best vintage of this particular wine that I've tasted. It has much more structure and depth than the 2007, the 2008 and even the 2009. An aromatically opulent wine, with aromas of plum, smoke, black berry and peppered steak. Medium-bodied with fresh acid and grippy, semi-sweet tannins. I love the meat, pepper and blackberry essence in this wine. 89 points

1983 Château Filhot Comtesse Durieu de Lacarelle Sauternes - France, Bordeaux, Sauternes
What a cool and nerdy wine. The cork was a bitch to get out, but we managed to decant it after fiddling with the cork for a while. It's the color of apricot and cherry juice in the glass. Initially reticent aromas, but opened up a bit to show apricot, lemon oil and marmalade. Packed with rich flavors and an oily mouthfeel. Flavors of fresh honey, applesauce and lamp oil. The acid is too low for me, making the wine feel a bit flat on the palate. Still, it was a fun drinking experience. Thanks to my buddy J for bringing this wine. A birth-year Sauternes is a cool thing. 86 points

2006 Miguel Torres Riesling Vendimia Tardía - Chile, Curico Valley
A Chilean riesling dessert wine is not something I come across often. Actually, this was the first. My buddy Kevin brought this bottle and it was a real crowd-pleaser. Golden honey colored in the glass with goopy legs. Aromas of lychee, white peach and a whole lot of honey and caramel. The palate is deep and full of apricot, honey, mixed nuts. There's a honeycomb and bourbon aspect to this wine, and it smells and tastes like this wine is close to fully mature. The acid is still there for freshness. Overall, this is a really solid dessert wine. Do I need to look for more riesling from Chile? 88 points

2009 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives - France, Alsace,
Pretty bright gold color. Aromas of flowers, lychee, yellow apples and a hint of white tea. Quite rich on the palate, with waves of pear, sweet peach and honeyed white tea. Sweet, with just enough acid for my tastes (although I'd prefer a bit more). Honey and almond linger with mineral note on the finish. 90 points

2001 Château Lafon Sauternes - France, Bordeaux, Sauternes
This Sauternes is in a really good spot right now. Golden color, with aromas of wildflowers, potpourri, apricot. Very intense aromas. Flavors of golden apple, honey, mixed nuts and flowers. Rich, nutty with a long finish. Lots of great flavors and a real sense of balance. 90 points

1999 Château de Jau Muscat de Rivesaltes - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Muscat de Rivesaltes
This is a decent dessert wine made from fortified muscat. Golden apple, honey and apricot jam on the nose. Rich and honeyed on the palate, with lots of baked pears and apples. The acid isn't high enough and the alcohol burns just a bit, leading to an unbalanced finish. That said, still decent stuff. 83 points

So, there we have it. I'm 29 now. Time to start planning my 30th birthday tasting, as wine and friends are the best parts of getting older.



  1. I love a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, it's such a lovely wine.

  2. As you can see, I love several bottles of Chateauneuf! Cheers!