The southern Rhone valley is home to Grenache-dominant blends and its Châteauneuf-du-Pape where these wild strawberry, hearty, and spicy reds reach their pinnacle. The perfect exposition and drainage from vineyards perched high on the hill in Châteauneuf-du-Pape make for the most thrilling and age-worthy wines of the southern Rhone.
The style of CdP has been one of ever-growing power and ripeness. The hot temperatures here have a tendency to give these blends roasted fruit notes. The prominent gallet river stones have a large role in this, as they absorb daytime heat and reverberate it upward to the vines even through the night. This is where sand enters the equation. Rare pockets of sand-dominant parcels give a decidedly different quality to the wines - one marked by elegance, racy structure, and a more quiet purity, void of any sense of stewed or baked fruits.
Today, we take a close look at two certified legends of the region, Laurent Charvin and the brothers Brunier. Both domaines work with these unique and celebrated sandy soils.
* The appellation originally received its name when Pope John XXII relocated in 1309 from Rome to Avignon and constructed "the new home of the pope", or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At this time the wines of Burgundy were more likely served to the pontiff, but things quickly changed when the pope familiarized himself with the Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah blends from Avignon's most revered hillside vineyards.
Laurent Charvin took over this 6th generation domaine in 1990 and that's when the magic truly started. Unlike most producers, Laurent chose whole cluster fermentation and has stuck with bottling only one Châteauneuf-du-Pape - no reserve, no spéciale cuvée, no old-vine bottling. Why should an estate's hallmark wine suffer by taking the best components out to bottle on its own? So, the sole CdP bottling here is always a masterpiece year in, year out.
The domaine is located in the northwest of the appellation. With sandy soils and northern exposure (mitigating the sun's influence), the wines here take on a different quality than is the norm in CdP.
Farming of these 60-year-old average vines is organic, with a blend usually of 85% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre, 5% Syrah, and 5% Vaccarèse. The wines are fermented with stems and aged in concrete tanks. This approach to elévage works really well to preserve brightness and verve in the wines that otherwise may easily fall by the waist side.
Laurent's wines are seamless, spicy, and posses a regal purity. They always show of dark raspberry, asian spices, with smokey and wild floral notes. These are absolutely singular expressions Châteauneuf-du-Pape and each release quickly sells out from importer Weygandt-Metzler. Quantities are limited.
2014 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$52 per bottle.
2001 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$99 per bottle.
Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1.5L
$239 per bottle.
Frédéric and Daniel Brunier are the 4th generation to farm their family's parcels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Their famed Vieux-Télégraphe is one of the truly revered estates in all of France. However, it's their smaller and more recently acquired Piedlong vineyard that impresses the most. The story here is again one of the influence of sand.
The famed Piedlong vineyard was purchased by the brothers in 1986. It sits at the very highest elevation in all of CdP. These cooler temperatures coupled with sandy soils endow an unmistakably racy quality to the wines that's simply exhilarating. Wild strawberry, boysenberry, white pepper, and lavender meld here in an incredibly silken frame. This kind of fine-ness is just so rare to find in the southern Rhone. Immediately called to mind are the sensibilities of Chateau Rayas.
Piedlong is a blend of 90% Grenache (70-years-old) and 10% Mourvèdre (50-years-old). The grapes are 50% de-stemmed. Fermentation and first year of elévage takes place in concrete, and then moves to the large foudres (pictured above).
2014 Domaine La Roquète Piedlong Châteauneuf-du-Pape
$58 per bottle.
1990 Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau
$154 per bottle.