Back in September we assembled a brave group to taste through a small, but classic assortment of wines from the storied region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the highly-touted 2016 vintage. We tasted two whites and eleven reds and not one disappointed. In a scene reminiscent of tasting the 1998 vintage, it seemed like each bottle delivered even greater enjoyment as the afternoon carried on.
Before we look at the wines, let me provide some background to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is by far the most famous region within the larger region referred to as the southern Rhone valley in France. Its name translates to “Pope’s new castle,” which is derived from the period in Papal history when the Pope’s summer residence was located in this region of France, under Pope Clement V in 1309. While he made his home here, Pope Clement V did not cultivate the vine. It was under Pope John XXII when serious viticulture began to take place.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape is quite distinctive for a variety of reasons.
- The wine has the highest minimum strength of any French wine (12.5%).
- The wine has thirteen (13) allowed grapes in its cepage (grape blend).
- Chateau de Beaucastel is one of the few wineries in the region that actually still use all thirteen in their wine.
- As a region, Chateauneuf-du-Pape has some of the most varied soil, ranging from large, rounded, heat-absorbing stones (galets) to more traditional clay topsoil.
- In 1923, Chateauneuf-du-Pape was the first region to initiate the Appellation Origine d’Controllee system that would become the standard for French wine law.
- Chateauneuf-du-Pape also doesn’t allow chaptalization (the addition of sugar to grape must to increase total alcohol in the finished wine), which is unlike many other regions in France.
The region is located at about the midpoint of the overall Rhone Valley, just south of the city of Orange.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape – Grapes
- Picpoul Noir
- Terrent Noir
- Grenache Blanc
The traditional cepage, or blend, allows for all thirteen of the aforementioned varieties to be used in making the wine. Traditionally, the high alcohol of Grenache often gives many Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines their prodigious 14% alcohol. Mourvedre and Syrah add structure, while Cinsault and Counoise add flesh and body to the wines. The white grapes were often used to further soften what can sometimes be extremely tannic wines.
About 6% of the wines made in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are made entirely from white grapes, wines that are very rare indeed.
2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wines
The following are the wines in the flight.
- 2016 Domaine de Vieux-Lazaret Blanc: Bright lemon and citrus nose with hints of peach and wet stone. Grapefruit on the palate – refreshing with little oak.
- 2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Le Crau Blanc: Grassy with wet stone and grapefruit on the nose. Medium weight on the palate with hay, citrus, chalk and light vanilla notes.
- 2016 Bosquet des Papes: Dried currants, saddle leather, vanilla and black pepper in the nose. Tannic, structured with a deep, dense core of black fruit. Should age well.
- 2016 Chateau-Fortia: Earthy nose with hints of molasses and dried plums. Well rounded palate with red currants and tobacco leaf.
- 2016 Clos des Brusquieres: Earthy with dried herbs and light campfire smoke. Blackberry fruit on the palate, closed.
- 2016 Clos du Mont Olivet La Cuvee du Papet: Fruit forward nose with black cherry and blackberry hints, some smoke. Tannic, structured, but lacking a strong fruit core. Higher than expected acid.
- 2016 Domaine de 3 Cellier Alchimie: Cedar and bramble in the nose with light vanilla and caramel. Dried cherry and saddle leather on the palate. Complex finish.
- 2016 Font de Michele: Cedar, cigar humidor and dried stone fruits in the nose. Gorgeous and seductive. Blackberry, black cherry and black pepper with hints of vanilla on the palate. Spectacular.
- 2016 Le Vieux Donjon: Soft nose with hints of red berry and wet stone. Tannic and structured with a tight core of black fruit. Black pepper on the finish. Lovely.
- 2016 Mas de Boislauzon: Classic. Jammy nose with dried herb, wet stone and black pepper. Well-balanced palate with more jammy fruit and silky tannins. Should age magnificently.
- 2016 Domaine Olivier Hilaire: Phenomenal. Another classic. Fruit forward nose with black cherry and black pepper notes. Well-balanced with a solid core of almost Port-like fruit. Seemingly endless on the palate. Stunning.
- 2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Le Crau Rouge: Tight nose – Port-like with stewed fruit hints. Tannic with a good core of fruit. Cherry and dried herb on the palate.
- 2016 Chateau de Beaucastel: Tight nose with faint hints of blackberry and wet stone. Fruit forward palate – very young – firm tannin with a tight finish. Needs lots of time.
- The flight – Overall – impressive and each bears examination in the coming years.
A superb tasting, which will be repeated in another five years to see how the wines are evolving. One of the best arguments for purchasing multiple bottles is the ability to study the wines over their life…