The pitch-perfect 2016 Southern Rhône vintage does not require much more explanation, and today's duo embodies the regions' best overachieving appellation, Gigondas. Commonly known as Baby Châteauneuf, Gigondas has the elevation and steep slope grade to induce a seriousness to these Grenache-dominant blends that are in another league of terroir from neighboring zones.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Les Pallières Terrasse du Diable and Gour de Chaulé Cuvée Tradition.
2016 is a replay of the 2010 vintage in Southern Rhône—high ripeness, and superior finesse, cut, and definition. A perfect storm for classic-leaning palates, one that we're only rewarded with a couple of times each decade.
Terraces cut into the Dentelles de Montmirail hillsides give us Gigondas from the 15th century-founded Domaine Les Pallières. Of the two cuvées produced by the Brunier brothers (also owners of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf du Pape), it is the Terrasse du Diable (Devil's Terraces) that has always struck a chord for me. These are the highest elevation plantings on the estate, bringing the essential brisk structure to balance Grenache's forward-baked strawberry and white pepper profile.
Gour de Chaulé, like Pallières, focuses on extremely high percentages of Grenache in their blend, not relying on the dark and muscular tones of Syrah and Mourvèdre to impress. (Both domaines are over 85% for these two cuvées). While Pallières partially de-stems, GdC always sees 100% whole cluster fermentation. Here, there's an extra element of tension and a more reserved fruit profile that always reminds me that this gives one of the most disciplined frames of any southern Rhône red. Josh Raynolds of Vinous captures why this more reticent personality is greatly rewarding:
"In great vintages like 2016, this 15-hectare (10 of them in Gigondas and mostly composed of very old, low-yielding vines) domaine’s wines have proven that they can age remarkably well and better than most others from the region. Twenty years is usually the outer limit for cellaring Gigondas, to my taste, but plenty of two-decade-old (and even older) bottles of Gour de Chaulé over the last three decades have proven themselves worthy. [...] and the wines here, which have long been among the standouts of the appellation (especially for those whose tastes run to the traditional and unadorned), have never been better."
The southern Rhone valley is home to Grenache-dominant blends, and it's Châteauneuf-du-Pape where these wild strawberry, white pepper-spiced, and gamey reds reach their apex. 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 entire 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 hanging clusters 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. And, in these small zones few producers have garnered more respect and praise than Laurent Charvin.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape & 2017 Côtes du Rhone Le Poutet.
* 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. But, 2016 is simply a dream year for the southern Rhône, and not since 2010 have we seen something this pitch-perfect.
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 an elusive purity not often found in CdP. 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 very limited.
Ethereal and Côtes du Rhone does not really fit, let's be real. Sun-soaked blends based on Grenache have long provided those plum and strawberry jam-inflected wines long lusted for their fleshy and hedonistic traits. A hint of white pepper and game can bring complexity that separates these from other notable value competitors, but acid-driven these are not. Having said all that, Clos du Mont-Olivet has long stood out for me as the ideal destination for palates that crave a necessary lift and brightness to the CdR category.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Clos du Mont-Olivet Côtes du Rhone Cuvée Vieilles Vignes for $26 per bottle, and down to $24.33/btl on 6-packs.
First thing first: 2016 is the real deal - hype is valid in the southern Rhone. We're now out of the Parker-dominated spell where vintages like 2007 gained so much attention, yet proved their lack of acidity and freshness would ultimately be their undoing as those Châteauneuf du Papes rested in dark corners of cellars, unwinding into alcohol-dominated monstrosities. Were there successes? Of course. But, overwhelmingly that lauded vintage has proved best to be drunk in years past.
Unlike the 100% Syrahs of the Northern Rhone, the southern Grenache-dominant blends largely show up for work on day one and provide serious pleasure. There are examples of mesmerizing, aged Châteauneuf du Pape from the likes of Henri Bonneau, Chateau Rayas, Vieux Télégraphe, and Clos du Mont Olivet (such as the 1985 we offered earlier this year). But, largely, this region's strength is in its youth. One of the reasons Grenache is supplemented by more hearty varieties here is because it's prone to oxidation and naturally produces rather high ripeness levels leading to higher alcohols - each of these greatly inhibit a wines ability age gracefully and retain freshness. OK, back to Mont-Olivet.
Côtes du Rhone's immediacy is its strength, and Clos du Mont-Olivet has long stood as a leading figure in the more understated and elegant section of the category. Freshness is the leading sensibility at Mont-Olivet. This special Vieilles Vignes cuvée comes from vines planted in the 1950's in lieu-dits Montueil and La Levade. The blend is 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 10% Carignan. 2016 has it all because there is simply no shortcoming to be found: Ripeness, structure, energy - everything's in ideal balance.
This special bottling always has concentration coming from these old vines, but it's the grace and refinement that leads it to rival Châteauneuf du Papes. In 2016 it's simply the single greatest overachiever of the valley, and I've created special 6-pack pricing today to make planning for Thanksgiving and the rest of the winter an easy choice.
Back-vintage Chateauneuf du Pape is always a category I'm on the hunt for, but the pool of domaines that deliver what I'm looking for is limited. As the predominant variety of CdP, Grenache has a propensity for oxidation, and although varieties like Syrah and Mourvèdre bring needed backbone I still find you have to be surgical in selecting wines. Domaine's that take a traditional approach and aim to preserve acidity and structure have the greatest success.
That's why I was so happy to finally land two favorites from the excellent 1985 and 1989 southern Rhone vintages. As avid CdP collectors know, Mont-Redon and Mont-Olivet are prime examples of CdP at their most old-school and soulful. When bottles have been stored at cellar temperature the wines unravel into beautiful expressions of the region where 13 grape varieties comprise blends.
Mont-Redon was recognized as a vineyard in 1344 as part of the Pope's holdings. (Chateauneuf du Pape translates to "New Home of the Pope"). The estate has continued with tradition, utilizing all grape varieties: Grenache (red and white), Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Muscardin, Vaccarèese, Terret Noir, Clairette, Viognier, Picpoul, Roussanne, Bourboulenc. All red grapes are destemmed.
"The 1989 Mont-Redon is a stunning example of this outstanding Châteauneuf du Pape vintage...Just a lovely bottle of Châteauneuf and one of my favorites in the last couple of decades at Mont-Redon."- John Gilman, View from the Cellar (4/11)
Mont-Olivet's Sabon family are larger-than-life figures in the southern Rhone. The Mont-Olivet domaine was officially founded in 1932, and today focuses on a high percentage of 60% Grenache in their top CdP. Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault make up the bulk of the remaing blend and bring backbone to meld with the fleshy, baked strawberry and white pepper notes of Grenache. Whole clusters are used here for fermentation, adding spice, but perhaps more importantly, another layer of tannin and structure.
“One of the benchmark producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape…the consistent results have always been classic Châteauneuf-du-Papes that stand the test of time.”
- Robert Parker, RobertParker.com
“Clos du Mont Olivet, which is now run by Thierry Sabon, is a brilliant estate that fashions traditional, age-worthy Châteauneuf du Papes that have incredibly broad drink windows.”
- Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com
1989 Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape
$83 per bottle.
1985 Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf du Pape
$113 per bottle.
4x 1999 Vieux Télegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau
$99 per bottle.
2x 2001 Vieux Télegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau 1.5L
$228 per bottle.
9x 1999 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape
$149 per bottle.
2x 2007 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Reine des Bois
$179 per bottle.
4x 2009 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Célestins
$489 per bottle.
4x 1988 Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf du Pape Réserve des Célestins
$1,199 per bottle.
Walking a fine line in Châteauneuf du Pape between elegance and rusticity is a tall task, but Domaine Pégau embodies the precision of this balance like none other. Their progression over the last 10 years to highlight a more lifted style while still maintaining a sense of opulence is a hot topic for lovers of the Southern Rhone Valley. While the estate produces several cuvées, hitting over $400 per bottle, it's their benchmark Cuvée Réservée that fulfills the best value and also provides the very sharpest focus on this fabled terroir.
Laurence Féraud works with her father Paul in carrying on a steep tradition that was started by their ancestors in 1607. Laurence focuses on the cellar, and Paul is dialed into the vineyards. The backbone of the estate is their old Grenache plantings dating back to 1907 in the famed La Crau vineyard,where limestone mother rock sits below the iconic, round galet river stones.
Pégau is unapologetic about their traditional approach in the cellar, and never succumbed to pressures in the era of 100-point scores to alter methods. Whole clusters are used for vinification and wines are aged in large foudres crafted 90 years ago. Both elements are crucial in preserving a sense of vibrancy in their Grenache-dominant blends, ones that otherwise could easily show stewed fruit and oaky notes that regrettably mark so many of the appellation's wines today. The Reservée has always been the prime CdP for value, but Laurence's recent move to raise the Grenache and lower the Syrah percentage in the blend has done wonders for it's clarity and persistence.
Licorice, dark fruits, woodsmoke, game, and wild garrigue are hallmarks of every bottle of CdP. Pégau captures these notes with an impressive mineral streak and fine-grained tannins that stand out from the pack. A rack of lamb alongside Pégau has developed into one of my ultimate pleasures.
Truth be told, it was the Southern Rhone that originally pulled me into France way back when I was finishing college, as fascination with wine seemingly expanded daily. Today it's rare that I pull bottles from the region with much regularity. So much of that has to do with producer's chase of power with eyes on points. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to be able to rely on a select group that still produce wines they love to drink, and wines their families before them would be proud of today. Pégau is everything that's sacred about tradition, and should be celebrated as often as possible.
2013 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$59 per bottle.
2014 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$59 per bottle.
Special Mixed 6-Pack (3 of each vintage)
Regularly $354, Down to $336!
2001 Domaine Du Pegau Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Réservé
$134 per bottle.