Last Saturday I attended a Chateauneuf du Pape themed dinner. The wines were almost uniformly excellent, reaffirming my love for the grandfather of southern Rhone valley wines. While I'm more of a Cotes du Rhone level drinker, and I do love the various villages of the southern Rhone including Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Lirac, there's no denying the supremacy of Chateauneuf. Being frugal, I sometimes forget this truth. Not after this night.
We started with a delicious 2006 Vieux Donjon Blanc, an equal blend of clairette, roussane, and grenache blanc. White Chateauneuf has the reputation in some quarters for being too rich and alcoholic, lacking nerve or grace. This lightly honied and floral wine shows the rousanne, but it's wonderfully fresh and lively in the mouth. Very nice wine.
Then on to several reds that showed the range of wine styles in this relatively large appellation. First, the 1993 Domaine de la Janasse regular bottling, from a lesser vintage that shouldn't be overlooked. This wine was Burgundian in profile, all perfume and seamless texture. Floral and bottle sweet aromas with pretty fruit, then a lovely medium bodied, peppery, resolved flavors that I simply loved. One person said it was his favorite of the night.
Next came the 1989 Guigal, which I'd had before in its youth. Never a great wine, this was surprisingly alive though fully mature. Bricking in color, with a meaty, ash and warm stone aroma, then a broad, bottle sweet, cherry, and old wood flavor, some iodine too. I preferred this with food, but it's ok on it's own. Some tasters really didn't like this one, but perhaps they wanted something fresher and more fruity.
The goal for this dinner was Chateauneuf from the '80s and '90s, but from here we had only wines from '98 or younger. Next came the 1999 Banneret, a producer I'd never heard of previously. Strong, monolithic new oak aromas here, with a rich, peppery, black cherry flavor. Finely tannic and nicer tasting than it smelled. Seemed better with some time, then turned oaky and rough again. This was one of my least favorites, though some people loved this wine. It's simply a matter of taste.
Then the 1998 Clos du Mont Olivet that was corked. My notes suggest this has been a problem with this bottling, though the good bottles have been quite nice. I brought this and wished I had a back up.
The 1998 Jaboulet Les Cedres was a pleasant, medium bodied wine, pretty but nondescript. This one set up the more rich and complex wines to follow.
I really liked the 1999 Domaine de la Cote de l'Ange Vieilles Vignes, a producer I'm not sure others at the table knew much of. This wine is still quite young, with a strong stony, peppery, and red stone fruit aromas, with some leather and also a little EA (nail polish) at first. In the mouth it was firm and yong, with cherry flavors, leather, fine tannin, and nice integration. Needs time though. I was surprised when others thought this was more ready to go. I have more of this, but wish I had lots more.
Then my favorite wine of the night, the 1999 Bois de Boursan Cuvee Felix. This was dark fruited and ashy, with complex earthy and floral notes, and a little new oak that distracted. Still, this is very nice wine. Tannic and young in the mouth, with dark fruit and some oak but great length and the structure to age nicely for years. Very tasty wine.
Then came the 1999 Chateau Beaucastel, showing its mouvedre component to me in a primary, hard raspberry aroma and flavor that seemed a little like young Bandol. Something notable here -- no horsey, farmy brett character. This was clean, but sealed tight. It needs lots of time, but it tasted good with rabbit ragu parpardelle and later the duck confit.
Next came the 2000 Pegau Cuvee Reserve, which smelled surprisingly open and mature, with a broad aroma of berries, earth, and spice. Full bodied in the mouth, the flavors were broad as well with floral notes and lively fruit. This seems more ready to go than, by comparison, the l'Ange, but others tonight saw more potential in this wine.
One diner brought a half bottle of a controversial wine for everyone to sample, the 2003 Clos du Papes. From the freakishly hot 2003 vintage, this wine has provoked strong reaction among critics professional and amateur. Some call it nearly perfect, others perfectly awful. Tonight the consensus was...it's pretty good stuff, not oh my god great, but hardly the stewed, overripe mess some people report. First, it was bright ruby colored. Certainly it's not over extracted. Then there's the strong, pure aroma that's appropriately mineral and red fruited, but also pretty alcoholic. In the mouth, it's tannic and hugely flavorful, with cherry, stone, and spice notes that are delicious and impressive. But, yes, it's hot. There's no shortage of alcohol here. Still, great Chateauneuf isn't light wine, and while the components here are a bit extreme, this still tastes like Chateauneuf. Others might disagree, but I'll be pouring more while they complain.
Finally the 2006 Clos du Caillou Les Quartz, a super-premium-luxury-etc. bottling that's interesting to taste, but definitely not something I'm looking for in Chateauneuf. Fresh and sweetly fruited, with intense but monolithic aromas. Perhaps it needs time, but this reminds me a lot of the recent Les Quartz Cotes du Rhone bottling for significantly less money. In the mouth it's all powdered sugar and jelly doughnut filling, with alcohol and otherwise a monolithic but over the top personality. What to make of such a wine?
For dessert, one diner suggested some Sherry. So we ordered the 1979 Albala Don PX Gran Reserva. It's the color of old motor oil, thick and opaque, with a lovely sweet floral aroma that reminds me of some old Rutherglen muscat from Australia. Treacle flavors, intense and reduced with a bright floral streak. I really liked this, but you don't need too much.
With that, the meal was done. Yes, we did take a cab home. That's a lot of Chateauneuf.