Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons

Conclusions from the the Tasting:
Two recent tastings in Wellington,  New Zealand,  have focussed on Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  and related Southern Rhone Valley wines.  The first was a retrospective,  a look back at the 1998 wines,  a sunny warm year,  now they are 20 years old.  The second tasting a week later explored some current vintages available for purchase,  mainly the highly-rated 2015 vintage,  to see if they offered good prospects for cellaring.  And in particular to see if they would be as worth cellaring as the 1998s.

The conclusion for the 2015s (and one 2016) is:  what a transformation !  Whereas in 1998,  maybe half the wines showed some measure of Brettanomyces complexity,  in 2015 only one wine (in the 12) showed this more traditional Southern Rhone Valley complexity factor.  This 2015 tasting was an absolute delight:  the best of these 2015s are simply beautiful wines,  which will give the utmost pleasure.  They can be cellared confidently.

The top four or five wines in this Worth Cellaring tasting were of a calibre to covet for one's cellar.  And the look-ahead to 2016,  via Charvin's Cote du Rhone (not illustrated) showed a wine that simply had to be bought by the case.  Of the Chateauneufs,  from the left,  both the 2015 Saint Préferts were remarkable,  and affordable,  the Reserve bottling Auguste Favier with new oak both modern and subtle,  18.5 +;  2015 Le Vieux Donjon showed a medium-dark kind of Chateauneuf,  subtly oaked,  beautifully complex,  19;  2015 Clos des Papes represented near-perfection,  in a fragrant garrigue-laden red-fruits style,  19 +;  and 2015 Ch de Beaucastel is the best young example of this famous estate I have seen,  epitomising a darker-fruits,  mourvedre-led interpretation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  19 +.

Mystery surrounds one aspect of a couple of the wines,  however.  Why in such a well-regarded year do some wines show stalky and under-ripe qualities ?  It seems important to me,  that though proprietors may now be reacting against the American-led call for ever bigger and ever-riper wines (rightly,  in my view),  nonetheless in a year like 2015 there is no case for stalky,  under-ripe,  early-picked or otherwise falsely 'delicate' wines.  Wine enthusiasts do look to the Southern Rhone Valley for warmth in the wine,   appropriate ripeness,  and bottled sunshine.

If the 2016 Domaine Charvin Cotes-du-Rhone in the tasting is a representative guide to the succeeding vintage,  then the taste of this wine,  coupled with the assessments of John Livingstone-Learmonth,  both suggest that 2016 will be a year like 1978,  where one must cellar as much Southern Rhone wine as one can afford,  or in fact a little more if one has any sense.  Thus one can secure 20,  30 or even 40 years of absolute tasting and drinking pleasure,  as the best of the 1978s illustrate to this day.

A great opportunity:
It is rare for the various (worthwhile) wine media to all be saying much the same thing,  but that is the case for the 2015 and 2016 vintages in the Southern Rhone Valley.  For our first tasting,  centred on the 2015 vintage,  Berry Bros & Rudd,  the famed London wine merchants,  quote Frederic Brunier of the equally famous Domaine Vieux Telegraphe in Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  in their combined assessment of the 2015 wines:  
... they combine all the best features of 2010, 2007 and 2005 ... Cerebral yet perfumed, concentrated yet light on their feet, the reds are conspicuously successful in 2015 and will repay long cellaring.

Looking ahead,  the joy of the situation is,  there is total agreement that on acccount of the extraordinarily cool nights,  the 2016 vintage has produced even finer wines,  with finer-grain tannins,  and even more elegance.  Thus we have the pleasure of looking forward to a similar evaluation tasting next year.  It is like 2009 and 2010 in either Bordeaux or the Rhone Valley ... in the years to come one would bitterly regret not having both years in one's cellar.  As the years go by,  undoubtedly views as to which is the better year for any given domaine will change from time to time.  The best way to secure the greatest pleasure out of these two years is to cellar both vintages.

And the only way to cellar wine is by the case-lot.  Think about it.  Even with 12 bottles,  for many folk the chances of having any left after 12 years are low.  Yet the wines may increase in beauty and complexity for 30 or more years.  It is critically important to in fact think ahead realistically,  in providing for one's later years.  

The quality of the 2015 and 2016 Southern Rhone Valley vintages:          
For an evaluation of the 2015s relative to the 2016s to follow,  we can compare views from either side of the Atlantic – both précised:

Catherine Petrie,  MW,  of United Kingdom wine merchant Goedhuis & Co,  on their website,  2017:  
2016 is a roaring success in the Rhone. It follows the excellent 2015 whose release saw an upsurge in interest in this classic French region ... As a result of the long, steady growing season, the 2016s are slightly lighter in body and alcohol than the 2015s, by the measure of half or one degree of alcohol depending on the region. Their slightly lower pH gives them a distinct freshness too.

What marks the 2016s apart is three key elements: the first, and most significant, is the density and opulence of fruit richness. I do not mean heady alcohol and heavy body here, I mean intensely rich, luxurious flavours. This richness is matched by the second defining element: supple, melting tannins. In many cases the 2016s have equally high (sometimes even higher) tannic content compared with the 2015s, but their profile is distinctly different. These are small, sweet, silky tannins, where the 2015s had an edge of firmness and structure. The third component is their energy and freshness. The long, late growing season with warm autumn days and cool nights aided the development of phenolic ripeness (silky tannins and rich colours) alongside retention of vibrant acidity and low pH. These three elements combined have a dual result: the wines have the classic elements for a long development, but they are also strikingly accessible and approachable in their youth.

Where the excellent 2015s will reward the patient, many of the 2016s will do for now, tomorrow, the next time, and the next ... the choice is yours.

And from Jeb Dunnuck of Robert Parker / The Wine Advocate,  as reported on the Saint Cosme website,  2017:  
The Southern Rhone has two solid vintages in the pipeline; the elegant and lively 2015s and the deeper, richer, truly profound 2016s.  

2015 – ... the wines are fresh, elegant and streamlined, with nicely integrated acidity and balanced profiles. While they lack the sheer depth of fruit found in the 2016s, they have a vibrancy that makes them already appealing, yet the majority will evolve gracefully.
 [ There is a hint,  in his somewhat contradictory further remarks,  that we need to be on the look-out for perhaps too much tannin in some 2015s,  like some of the 1998s.]

2016 – The 2016s are on another level.  The wines are beautifully concentrated and structured – on par with 2010 – yet have a more open, sexy, voluptuous style due to the larger yields. The tannin quality is beautiful, the wines have notable freshness and purity, their alcohol is integrated, and quality is incredibly high across all the regions. In fact, the biggest surprise was the consistency of the vintage, which is even more homogenous than 2015. This is truly an extraordinary vintage.
The Invitation (modified):
As suggested above,  the secret to future wine happiness,  and true enjoyment of wine at table,  is to identify the great years at the the outset,  and then buy the wines one likes best in cases of 12.  There is simply no other way of luxuriating in beautifully mature wines 20 years down the track,  when the wine is truly ready.  And when it comes to the pleasure of red wines with food,  the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley are peerless.  Take for example those who had the foresight to buy the 1978 Chateauneuf-du-Papes,  or the 1989s, 1998s,  or 2010s.  They are sitting on vinous treasure which is beyond compare,  and will provide enjoyment almost for a lifetime.  My last 1978 Chateauneuf-du-Pape is now delicate ethereal fragrant old wine reminiscent of great burgundy.

Anybody can achieve this – it just takes foresight and commitment.  All the evidence is that both 2015 and 2016 are stellar years in the Southern Rhone Valley,  comparable with 2009 and 2010 in every detail,  that is the 2015s are riper,  with more tannin structure,  the 2016s are slightly cooler and more aromatic.  Wine Spectator is the best reference source for vintage evaluations, and they rate 2015 and 2016  97, and 96 – 99 respectively. Years rated 95 or over are rare.

As a logical follow-up to our review of the 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Papes,  the first step is to evaluate the 2015 wines which are available,  to see which to cellar.  Next year there will be the thrill of the 2016s.  Anybody who attended the 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting at Regional Wines last year will have some inkling of what these years may deliver.

In this Worth Cellaring tasting,  we will check 12 Southern Rhone Valley wines,  10 of them from the 2015 vintage,  and one doubled up with its 2014 running mate,  to perhaps show the difference between a good vintage and a great one.  But we also now have one preview peep at the 2016 vintage,  the Domaine Charvin Cotes du Rhone,  which has been highly rated by John Livingstone-Learmonth.  This will be doubly intructive,  because we also have the 2015 Domaine Charvin Chateaneuf-du-Pape in the tasting.  It will be great to assess exactly what is the difference between the two appellations,  and why one costs nearly three times as  much,  and will cellar for considerably longer.  We have several of the most famous names from Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  including Ch de Beaucastel,  Clos des Papes (the latter the one with two vintages),  and Le Vieux Donjon,  as well as Domaine Charvin.  Note that for the latter three domaines,  the proprietors have just the one grand vin ... there is none of this pandering to elites with fancy sub-labels.

To make the tasting more affordable,  there are some other 2015 Southern Rhones,  which should  help illuminate the quality of the very best Chateauneuf-du-Papes.

Background information to the Tasting – Vintages in the Southern Rhone Valley:
Only four times in the last 46 vintages 1970 – 2015 has Robert Parker / The Wine Advocate allocated a score of 97 to a Southern Rhone vintage.  2015 may be one of them,  but their rating is provisional as yet.  Wine Spectator is a jump ahead of The Wine Advocate,  and already has a provisional rating posted for 2016,  but their ratings start with 1988.  They have allocated 97 five times only,  with both 2015 and 2016 qualifying.  For 2016,  their tentative rating includes the possibility of 99,  a quality they have never implied before.  So we have exciting wines to contemplate.  There is no doubt that 1998 heralded a golden era for the southern Rhone Valley,  with relatively few vintages in the preceding 20 years rating 90 or more (in the American view),  but many reaching that level since.  Until the recent easing of the New Zealand dollar,  prices have remained accessible,  for wines of absolute world quality.

Table 1:  The better Southern Rhone Vintages of the last 47 years.
YEAR Broadbent   Wine Advocate  Wine SpectatorSummarised comments
1970 ****      B: excellent in south, rich and well-balanced
1971 ****½   –   B: low acid, not kept quite as well
1978 *****   97R  B: best since 1911, big, tannic, rich; J.L-L reference year
1983 *****   87C  B: excellent, rich, concentrated, hard tannins have softened
1985 *****   88R  B: outstanding reds, rich, long-lasting
1989 ****½   94T  96B: rich complete reds; WS: powerful concentrated reds, round tannins
1990 *****   95E  95B: less aromatic than 1989, powerful, promising; WS: massive wines, great concentration
1995 ****½   90T
90B: comparable with 1990; WS: tannic reds, Chateauneufs improving beautifully
1998 *****   98E  97B: best since 1990; WS: dense, rich, superb grenache, ripe tannins
1999 ****½   90E
90B: south less than north; WS: syrah and mourvedre wines better than grenache
2000 –   98E  94WS: powerful rich ripe reds with silky tannins
2001 –   96T  92WS: great vintage with structured racy reds in Chateauneuf
2003 –   90I  93WS: very hot dry year, best superb, some inconsistency
95T  97WS: great concentration, structure, should rival '98 and '90
2006 –   92R
93WS: ripe, pure, balanced, fresh, like 1999 but more concentrated
2007 –   98E  95WS: ripe rich powerful reds, some grenache over-ripe, mourvedre key for balance
2009 –   93E  94WS: Warm dry year, cool nights retained acid, pure fruit and polished tannins
2010 –   98T  98WS: Reduced crop, warm days, cool nights, beautifully ripe racy wines for aging, the spine of '05 with extra flesh
2012 –   92E  93WS: small crop, grenache year, ripe flavours, well-balanced
94 – 97 97WS: best since 2010, powerful; J.L-L: a very good vintage, but not on a par with 2010 ...  though Gigondas excelled
2016 –   –   96 – 99 WS: Exceptional diurnal variation, truly rare vintage.  J.L-L:  2016 is an exceptional vintage at Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, and is very good indeed elsewhere ... superior to 2015.

The better Southern Rhone Vintages of the last 47 years,  compiled from Broadbent (B,  to 2002),  Parker (rated 90 or more,  from 1970,  where T = Tannic / youthful,  E = Early / accessible,  I = Irregular,  and C means Caution,  may be too old),  Wine Spectator (WS,  90 or more,  from 1988),  and John Livingstone-Learmonth (J.L-L,  additional detail):  

Cepage:  the Main Grapes:
The main red grapes of the district are grenache,  syrah,  mourvedre,  cinsaut and carignan.  Some appellations permit whites in the red.  Few winemakers use them.  Grenache is far and away the dominant and traditional variety of the region.  It is thinnish-skinned,  is characterised by aromas of raspberry and cinnamon,  and in a sense produces a kind of spirity pinot noir.  Unlike pinot noir,  grenache hides alcohol freakishly well,  such that wines up to 15% may be quite acceptable.  Either syrah or mourvedre is the next most important in quality terms.  Both add darker berry notes and complexity,  and (from syrah) perhaps hints of black pepper / spice though the climate is against these more subtle characteristics of syrah.  Mourvedre is more finicky,  and harder to ripen perfectly,  but in the great years is the more noble of the two (in this climate),  particularly in its tannin structure.  Wines with a higher percentage of mourvedre cellar well.  Of the lesser varieties,  cinsaut is a pretty pale early-maturing variety reminiscent of pinot meunier,  and carignan is a robust productive well-coloured grape making hearty wines which are great in youth but don't age well.  Its best use is in vin de pays and the like.  Further details on the grapes of Southern Rhone Valley wines were presented in my review of a 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Library Tasting,  here.

Wine style,  and Buying:
The big challenge for the antipodean wine-lover is to find clean wines.  Traditionally French winemakers and  European winewriters have to varying degrees been blind to sulphides,  which even in small amounts have the unfortunate effect of making the whole wine dumb.  This is exacerbated by many wines being made and held in concrete vats,  where aeration is difficult.  Nowadays,  switched-on winemakers (and winewriters) are much more conscious that these Southern Rhone grapes are gloriously fragrant when neither over-ripened,  or reductive.  The goal is to find wines redolent of floral notes such as sweet william / carnations / wallflowers / dark roses,  lavender,  rosemary (the so-called 'garrigue' note) sometimes with a touch of cinnamon spice (from grenache) or white or black pepper spice (from syrah).

Many wines are still made in concrete,  supplemented by big old wood,  plus a number now in stainless steel.  The trend now for some is to be 'modern',  with varying use of new oak.  The varieties scarcely need it,  due to their intrinsic tannins – especially in mourvedre.  All too often,  the Reserve bottlings with more new oak are intrinsically less fragrant and complex wines than the straight ones,  but appeal to the American market where bigger,  more obvious and heavier is favoured over lighter and more beautiful.

The other factor to be on the lookout for is our fragrant wild-yeast friend Brettanomyces,  which traditionally has been a part of the complexity in many Southern Rhone wines.  This is due to the prevalence of old oak,  and the reluctance of many proprietors to sterile-filter to bottle.  The latter approach was mistakenly strongly endorsed by Robert Parker,  before he became attuned to brett in wines.  There are two keys issues about brett:  The first is that no two bottles in a case will be the same,  unless the wine has been sterile-filtered,  so do not give up on your resource,  because one bottle is a bit too bretty.  And the other is,  some people are hyper-sensitive to brett,  and like to make a fuss about it.  In a tasting group,  all too often this can detract from the pure enjoyment of the wine by more tolerant tasters.  The simple fact is,  most people like a little bit of savoury brett complexity in wine,  and it makes the wine superb with main course foods.

Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine.  Harcourt,  560 p.
Broadbent,  Michael  2003:  Michael Broadbent's Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.
Karis,  Harry,  2009:  The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book.  Kavino,  488 p.
Parker,  Robert,  1997:  Wines of the Rhone Valley.  Simon & Schuster,  685 p.
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
www.erobertparker.com  = Robert Parker and now rather more the off-siders,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = various authors,  vintage chart and vintage information (the best in the business),  subscription needed for reviews
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth,  a wealth of experience and detail,  all in an individual style,  subscription needed


2015  Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape
2015  Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix
2015  Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras
2015  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Non Filtré
2016  Domaine Charvin Cotes-du-Rhone Non Filtré
2015  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  2014  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape
2015  Jaboulet Gigondas Pierre Aiguille
2015  Domaine Saint Préfert Chateauneuf-du-Pape
2015  Domaine Saint Préfert Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Auguste Favier
2015  Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Cuvée Azalais
2015  Domaine Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape

2015  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape   19 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $162   [ cork,  50mm;  the cepage has changed in recent years,  now more Mv,  typically Gr 55%,  Mv 30,  Sy 10,  the balance other AOC varieties including white grapes;  cropped at little more than 2.6 t/ha = 1.05 t/ac;  all de-stemmed;  some months in vat,  then 12 months in big old wood,  then assembly in vat 2 months;  not fined or filtered;  production up to 7,500 x 9-litre cases;  just the one wine;  R. Hemming @ Robinson,  2017:  Redcurrant, black pepper, fine tannin and subtle spice. Delicate and balanced and quite restrained overall – yet there is a long, deep, persistent finish that has plenty of potential. Resonant and graceful.  2017 - 2035, 17.5;  J.L-L,  2017:  a sweet, red berry fruited nose ... evident ripeness, airs of strawberry, flowers, spice. The palate ... prominent strawberry fruit, and floral, soft tannins ... Vincent Avril says:  “The tannins are silken. The phenolics were very ripe, and it’s a good Mourvèdre vintage.” 2039-42, ****(*);  J. Czerwinski @ R. Parker,  2017:  ... a floral, elegant, unbelievably complex wine. Roses and violets, cherries and stone fruit, cinnamon and allspice and more are carried across the full-bodied yet almost weightless palate, finishing in a swirl of silky tannins and lingering spice. Drink it over the next two decades. 2017 - 2035, 97;  bottle weight 638g;  www.clos-des-papes.fr ]
Ruby,  the third to lightest wine.  This bouquet simply represents conventional Chateauneuf-du-Pape perfection,  in terms of the more usual red-fruits dominated (raspberry) phase of the wine.  It is clearly floral,  with wonderful garrigue / bouquet garni complexity,  but in a much lighter,  more fragrant,  hedge-roses and red-fruits style with raspberry,  and nearly a hint of beeswax.  The bouquet seems totally grenache-dominated,  contra the cepage.  On palate you feel you can nearly taste a hint of syrah black-pepper spice,  but the mourvedre is near-invisible – just part of the backbone of the wine.  This is so fragrant in mouth,  the oaking again is perfect,  and the given 15% alcohol is extraordinarily well-hidden.  As the complementary red-fruits phase of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (to the Beaucastel),  this is going to mellow into a wine challenging grand cru burgundy.  It is very beautiful,  and totally pure.  Four first places,  four second,  so the ‘top wine’  on the night.  As the definitive example of red-fruits Chateauneuf,  it is critical to secure this wine while it is available.  As outlined above,  a case may seem expensive now,  but it will never be regretted.  Cellar 10 – 30-plus years.  GK 08/18

2015  Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape   19 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $160   [ cork,  superb 55mm;  cepage typically Gr 30%,  Mv 30,  Co 10,  Sy 7 – 10,  Ci 5,  the balance the other authorised  varieties,  but actual ratios vary year to year;  all de-stemmed;  organic viticulture;  up to 18 months in large old oak,  though the syrah receives some new oak via barrel-fermentation;  flash pasteurisation of must pre-fermentation 1 – 2 minutes @ 80°C;  fined,  not filtered;  annual production 18,300 x 9-litre cases;  R. Hemming MW @ Robinson,  2016:  Superb juiciness and bramble fruits. Some blackcurrant notes on the palate, a very savoury cigar and cedar character and a gentle Provençal herby note. Loads of breadth and complexity, 2018 - 2035, 17.5;  J.L-L,  2017:  ... a good, serene inset of black berry fruit which is stylish, also shows tobacco, white pepper. The palate is crisp, purposeful ... The length is good, very Mourvedre-inspired, *****;  J. Czerwinski @ R. Parker,  2017:  ... an amazing effort, especially when one considers the production volume. Loaded with black cherry fruit and cola-like spice, this full-bodied, richly textured wine never seems heavy or warm, while exotic Indian spice notes linger on the finish. It should drink well for at least 20 years. 2018 - 2035, 96;  An earlier review by J. Dunnuck quotes the Perrins as saying that in 2015:  the Grenache and Mourvedre were the clear standouts, both possessing terrific concentration, purity of fruit and ripe tannic structure;  bottle weight 862g;  www.beaucastel.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine,  and velvet,  the second deepest colour.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  an immediate capturing of all that is elusive about the concept:  what does mourvedre smell and taste like.  This bouquet is dusky roses,  midnight-deep,  hints of port-wine magnolia,  darkest bottled damson plums,  lightest cedar from the oak,  all wonderfully understated yet cohesive.  Palate is velvet,  again those midnight-dark fruits,  even hints of black olives in the best sense,  on this dark fruit – yet with no hint of over-ripeness.  This is the best ‘role-of-mourvedre’  demonstration wine I have seen for AOC Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  but it is also one of the best young Beaucastels ever.  The oak handling is magical.  Buy as much of this wine as you can afford,  and feel thrilled to have secured 30-plus years of infinite pleasure.  This wine represents the dark-fruits phase of Chateauneuf-du-Pape:  to complement it in cellar with the red-fruits phase,  a matching quantity of the 2015 Clos des Papes would be a further investment in absolute pleasure.  A totally pure wine.  Two first places,  four second.  Cellar 10 – 35 years.  

Incidentally,  Beaucastel being famous for its high percentage of mourvedre,  there is a lot of misinformation in print in the less-thoughtful wine media,  suggesting mourvedre smells like some aspects of Brettanomyces.  This is nonsense,  a miss-correlation.  Yes,  brett has commonly played quite a role in more traditional winemaking in the Southern Rhone Valley.  And yes,  mourvedre is commonly grown in the same region.  But no,  mourvedre well-vinified neither smells nor tastes of brett.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape   19  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $106   [ cork,  50mm;  typically Gr 75%,  Sy 10,  Mv 10,  balance minor varieties,  75% of the vines more than 80 years old;  50% destemming,  18 – 25 days cuvaison,  in concrete vat,  elevation 18  months in large old wood;  not fined but now some filtering;  just the one label;  J. Robinson,  2016:  Lightly medicinal on the nose ... big fruit impact and fine tannins. This should deliver ... Long and spicy. Quite intense. 2023 – 2035, 17.5;  J.L-L,  2016:  [ barrel sample ]  The bouquet is full, elegant, has good promise ...  refined black fruit within, and some smoke-tobacco hints. The palate ... in shape to be a well-balanced, top grade 2015 ... lovely poise, and purity of fruit, the tannins carrying fine detail, ****(*);  J. Czerwinski @ R. Parker,  2017:  ... a floral, violet-scented wine that's supple and ripe. Only medium to full-bodied, it showcases complex garrigue and licorice notes rather than oodles of red fruit and comes to a long, silky finish.  2017 – 2030, 93;  no website found,  but a good summary in the files of www.thewinecellarinsider.com;  bottle weight 638g ]
Ruby and some velvet,  below midway in depth.  This is yet another fabulous Chateauneuf-du-Pape bouquet,  sitting between the red fruits of the Clos des Papes, and the dark mourvedre-dominated Beaucastel.  Here the floral notes also clearly have a savoury garrigue complexity to them,  on a more loganberry / darker raspberry kind of fruit.  In mouth the wine is already velvet,  the hint of bouquet garni from the garrigue notes enlivening the flavour.  Oaking is again masterly and understated:  the pleasure to be had here will be immeasurable.  This too is remarkably pure wine,  six people rated it their top wine,  and one their second.  In  other words,  this is classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  not too big,  beautifully poised.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine Saint Préfert Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve Auguste Favier   18 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $75   [ cork,  50mm;  this vintage Gr 80%, Sy 10,  Ci 10 – so a little unusual;  a whole-bunch wine,  cuvaison 5 weeks;  elevation 70% in second- and third-year puncheons,  30% in concrete vats,  both for up to 15 months;  not fined or filtered;  certified organic;  production up to 1,400 x 9-litre cases;  J.L-L,  2016:,  [ barrel sample ]  The nose ...  raspberry fruit aroma with some notions of rosemary, herbs. The palate spiced, crisp red fruits ... the finish is tingling, clear, holds a little rocky tannin, 2030-32, ****;  J. Czerwinski @ R. Parker,  2017:  It pushes the ripeness up a notch from the traditional cuvée toward blackberry, plum and chocolate but remains lively ... full-bodied and supple, with a creamy texture and a long finish. 2017 - 2025, 94;  bottle weight 612g;  www.st-prefert.fr ]
Ruby and some velvet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little different on this wine,  showing all the fragrance and complexity of classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape but here in a more modern idiom,  lifted and amplified (almost) by the vanillin of ‘new’ oak.  The oak is second- and third-year,  not completely new,  so it is beautifully mellow in mouth,  and shifts the flavour of the wine a little,  towards a style hinting at Bordeaux or the northern Rhone – except it is so soft.  Fruit flavours are a beautiful mix of red and darker fruits,  surprising since the cepage would have you looking for a wine with even more red fruits than the Clos des Papes.  While the sweet vanillin oak may not be totally approved of by Chateauneuf-du-Pape traditionalists,  nonetheless this presentation is going to win over many people.  Modern yet subtle,  and the price is favourable for a ‘Reserve’ bottling.  I could not resolve whether this wine is slightly richer than the standard Saint Préfert:  both are exemplary in this regard.  This wine was well-liked,  as one might anticipate,  it combining Old World and New World so seamlessly:  five first places and two second.  One of the questions in the analysis section at the close of the ‘blind’ part of the tasting was:  could this be the wine handled in ‘new’ oak,  but only one taster thought so.  So this is a modern but subtle Chateauneuf-du-Pape to cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine Saint Préfert Chateauneuf-du-Pape   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $59   [ cork,  50mm;  this vintage Gr 85%, Sy 5,  Mv 5,  Ci 5;  elevation now 10 months in concrete vat (puncheons formerly);  not fined or filtered,  certified organic;  production up to 2,750 x 9-litre cases;  J.L-L,  2016:  The bouquet is neat, carries attractive black berry and black cherry fruit ... and a note of licorice and tarriness. The palate ... stylish black fruit ... mild tannins ... It will show well quite soon, 2027-28, ***(*);  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2016:  [ barrel sample ]  The stunning 2015 Châteauneuf du Pape is a wine to buy a case of as it has beautiful concentration and depth, as well as the elegance, purity and finesse that’s the hallmark of the estate, 91 – 93+;  bottle weight 614g;  www.st-prefert.fr ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  midway in depth,  fractionally deeper than its sister wine,  as you would expect with less barrel exposure.  One sniff in the blind line-up,  and (due to the way the wines were sequenced) this was the first wine to express the thought:  a year of perfect ripeness.  Here are fragrant red fruits but with a smattering of aromatic dark grapes too,  in a wine of excellent fruit maturity and total purity.  Though the understanding is for a concrete-raised wine,  you would swear there is trace new oak complexity here too.  Flavours in mouth are soft,  long,  supple,  complex,  again illustrating grenache to perfection,  but spiced with blending varieties,  and all sweetly-fruited to the finish.  This wine has to be the outstanding value of the tasting,  $59 for a fully-ranking Chateauneuf-du-Pape being a gift on today's prices.  Anybody who doesn't buy a case of this wine simply doesn't like Southern Rhone Valley wine all that much.  A wonderful wine,  totally pure,  to cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine de la Charbonniere Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15.5%;  $75   [ cork,  50mm;  Gr 65 – 70%,  Mv 15 – 18,  Sy 15,  a little Co and Ci,  all de-stemmed;  fermentation mostly in oak vats,  some s/s;  elevation in oak vats c.8 months,  some of the Sy and Mv in smaller oak,  and 5% new;  the assembled wine a further 6 months in enamel-lined concrete vats;  not fined or filtered;  production 830 x 9-litre cases this year;  J. Robinson, 2016:  Some light savoury notes on the nose. Then masses of sweet, ripe, juicy fruit and relatively light tannins. Can’t quite see why this is a Cuvée Spéciale. Astringent finish. 2023 - 2030, 16.5;  J.L-L,  2016:  The bouquet has attractive depth, bears smoky black fruits ... The palate holds dark berry fruit with a sprinkle of herbes de Provence ... the finish marked by good, tangy tannins, ****(*);  J. Dunnuck @ R Parker,  2016:  ample spice and ground herb characteristics intermixed with lots of loamy soil, kirsch and sweet cherry nuances. Medium to full-bodied, elegant and silky, with notable freshness and purity, it should drink nicely in its youth and have 10-15 years of overall longevity, 91 – 94;  bottle weight 607g;  www.domainedelacharbonniere.com ]
Ruby,  just below midway in depth.  It is uncanny how closely the Perdrix matches the 2015 Charvin,  in its  red-fruits / mainstream Chateauneuf-du-Pape bouquet,  with a hint of garrigue.  In mouth the flavours are very similar too,  but the Perdrix seems a little richer and riper,  and showing faintly more new oak.  What it shares with the Charvin is this unexpected (for 2015) thread of stalkyness,  the not-quite-perfect ripeness.  Some like this character and mark it up,  apparently in the belief that it makes the Chateauneuf-du-Pape more pinot noir-like … but great pinot noir is not stalky either.  In the end,  though they taste different in detail,  I could scarcely separate them on score,  on account of this surprising unduly ‘fresh’ / stalky quality in both wines.  Totally pure wine,  no first places,  but three second.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Non Filtré   17 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $87   [ cork,  49mm;  Gr 82 - 85%,  Sy 5 - 8,  Mv 5,  Va 5;  whole bunches lightly crushed,  cuvaison to 25 days;  elevation in concrete vats up to 21 months,  no oak mentioned now;  some fining,  no filtering;  production up to 2,500 x 9-litre cases;  just the one label,  no subtracting special cuvées;  J. Robinson,  2016:  Rich and racy with real depth of flavour. Masses of fine tannins and really rather majestic. Hint of ginger syrup. Grown-up wine. Long. 2024 - 2038, 18;  J. Dunnuck @ R Parker,  2016:  barrel sample  ...  offers full-bodied richness and depth, as well as the classic purity and elegance this estate is known for. Black cherries, blackberries, garrigue, licorice and pepper are all present, and this terrific barrel sample has sweet tannin and a great finish, 93 – 95;  bottle weight 640g;  www.domaine-charvin.com ]
Lightish ruby,  the second to lightest wine.  This wine is wonderfully fragrant,  almost burgundian in one sense,  all red fruits – but then the second sniff … and a doubt enters… why is there just a hint of stalks in a year cited as near-perfect (until 2016 came along)?  Grenache and raspberry complexed softly by both blending varieties and a hint of garrigue are the dominant characters on bouquet.  But with that niggle,  you taste very carefully,  to find that yes,  there is a clear suggestion of a stalky lack-of-smoothness in the tannins,  which seems so odd given the year.  But a quick check of any of the wines scored more highly,  and their velvet-plush tannins show the Charvin is not quite achieving what one hopes for in top-notch Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Whereas in Domaine Charvin,  one hopes for near-burgundian (but ripe) finesse.  All very odd.  The wine seems totally pure,  and will undoubtedly mellow and soften in cellar,  maybe sufficiently even to remove the present doubt.  No first places,  no second,  so I am not alone in my doubts.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 08/18

2016  Domaine Charvin Cotes-du-Rhone Non Filtré   17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $28   [ cork,  46mm;  Gr 81%,  Sy 7.5,  Mv 7.5,  Ca 4; whole-bunches lightly crushed,  cuvaison to 20 days,  up to 18 months all in concrete vats,  c. 4,150 x 9-litre cases;  fining,  no filtering;  R. Hemming MW @ Robinson,  2017:  Baked red fruit, simple spices, light body and astringent tannic finish. Raw and simple to finish. 2018 - 2024, 15.5;  J.L-L,  2017:  Dusty trails, herbes de Provence mix on the nose, spice and cooked plums – it’s a Grenache-inspired bouquet; raspberry and mulberry feature well also. The palate ... thorough and persistent, has more structure than most Côtes du Rhone reds ... Loganberry, dark fruits lie at its heart. The aftertaste is fresh ... and I love its genuine length. It’s properly good table wine, 2019-2029, ****(*);  bottle weight 559g;  www.domaine-charvin.com ]
Fresh ruby,  nearly some velvet and even carmine,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is simple in one sense,  the lack of any oak in its elevation, but it smells richer and riper than the 2015 ‘grand vin’ from Charvin.  It is grenache-led,  but the darker syrah and mourvedre components are clearly contributing to a young,  fragrant,  rich southern Rhone winestyle.  Flavour shows good fruit richness,  not a big wine but pinpoint  ripeness as an aromatic example of Cotes-du-Rhone.  It differs from the other ‘benchmark’ Cotes-du-Rhone,  Guigal,  in being all grape-led,  no elevation in older oak to complex and soften the wine,  so you need to cellar it to achieve the magic and harmony now latent in this wine.  In five years it will be transformed,  and in 15 will be mature and delicious.  A totally pure wine,  to cellar 5 – 20 years.  No first places,  reasonably,  it being a bit simple in the company,  but two second places,  presumably on the fruit ripeness and length.  An  exciting forward peep at the 2016s to come.  If ever there were a Cotes-du-Rhone to buy by the case,  this is it.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Cuvée Azalais   17 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $43   [ cork,  50mm;  cepage this year Gr 70%,  Sy 20,  the balance Ca,  Ci,  Mv,  hand-harvested at 3.65 t/ha = 1.5 t/ac;   all de-stemmed;  wild yeast fermentations,  cuvaison in concrete vats;  elevation 12 months in foudre;  not fined or fltered;  this biodynamic vineyard is a favourite of the highly discriminating Kermit Lynch,  wine merchant extraordinaire in San Francisco.  The name of the wine changes each year,  named for the three daughters;  J. Czerwinski @ R. Parker,  2017:  solid, traditionally built ... medium to full-bodied, filled with notes of cola, blueberries and spice, and features some firm, muscular tannins that suggest short-term cellaring and moderate age-worthiness. 2020 - 2030, 90;  J.L-L:  (on the estate in general)  This is very much in the top three domaines of Vacqueyras, and the wines can be cellared for a couple of decades.  J.L-L on this wine,  in 2018:  ... a good, confident nose, leads on blackcurrant followed by blackberry fruit with dash  licorice, a light note of baking. The palate ... good spine and length ... prune, chalky notes in the flavour. They have achieved freshness, which is exemplary, this year. This is real STGT wine [one of J.L-L's 'pet' terms,  Soil-To-Glass-Transfer,  meaning he approves greatly], ****;  bottle weight 592g;  www.sangdescailloux.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest wine.  And on bouquet the most distinctive wine in the set too,  for here is the youthful version of the character we found in half the 1998s the week before.  On top of rich,  ripe,  fragrant,  darkly plummy fruit there is unmistakable savoury,  leathery and nutmeg-laden Brettanomyces wild-yeast complexity,  making the Azalais seem old-fashioned among the other 11 very clean wines.  Palate is velvety-rich,  darkly flavoured plummy and boysenberry fruit,  older oak, long and spicy in mouth,  a wine to partner venison casserole to perfection.  Increasingly,  bretty winestyles are becoming wines that people either love or hate.  For those who love them,  bear in mind this wine is not sterile-filtered to bottle,  so if you cellar it,   after 15 years or so,  some bottles will become too wayward to be pleasant – because brett lives on and may multiply in some bottles.  This is the reason for the extreme variation bottle to bottle in brett-affected wines – and there is no way of knowing how the bottle you have just taken from your case of the wine will open up.  Cellaring 5 – 12 years would be safest.  GK 08/18

2015  Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $41   [ cork,  50mm;  Gr 60%,  Sy 40,  some from limestone SPMs,  fermented in oak vats;  elevation in oak vats and large barrels up to nine months,  then enamel-lined concrete 4 months;  not fined or filtered;  1,500 x 9-litre cases this year;  J. Robinson,  2016:  Round and ripe with some structure. Ambitious and a little dry on the end but not excessively drying. Ambitious, 16.5+;  J.L-L,  2017:  The nose is a smoky, black-fruited affair ... palate ... live black fruits ... dried herbs and some crunched tannins. The aftertaste assembles licorice, coffee, ***(*);  J. Czerwinski @ R Parker,  2017:  combines lovely ripe cherries with tarry, plummy notes. It's medium to full-bodied, with a long, supple finish and should drink well for up to decade, 91;  bottle weight 597g;  www.domainedelacharbonniere.com ]
Pleasing ruby,  just above midway in depth.  This wine has a good volume of bouquet redolent of the regional varieties,  grenache-led with syrah adding darker notes,  but it is all simple,  youthful,  and tending a little raw.  Palate is the same,  good fruit richness,  not much evidence of oak,  but then more tannin than you'd expect from the bouquet.  It is a fresher wine than the Jaboulet,  and maybe a little richer,  which as it mellows and marries up may more clearly overtake it,  and better merit its silver medal score.  Totally pure wine,  no first places,  one second.  It definitely needs five years to soften and harmonise,  when it will then be on the verge of becoming a pleasing example of a southern Rhone wine style (i.e. the mark includes potential).  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 08/18

2015  Jaboulet Gigondas Pierre Aiguille   16 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $50   [ cork,  49mm;  Gr 80%,  Sy 10,  Mv 10,  all destemmed;  shortish cuvaison,  then elevation 70% in vats,  30% in barrel,  sizes unknown but some new,  for nine months;  filtered to bottle;  production c. 2,900 x 9-litre cases;  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2016:  ... an elegant, polished wine ... a slightly darker slant to its fruit with notes of black raspberries, cassis and toasted spice. These carry to the palate where it shows surprising texture and beautiful tannin quality. All in all, it should end up being an outstanding wine that will drink nicely for 10-12 years, 89 – 91;  bottle weight 536g;  www.jaboulet.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  the third-deepest wine.  Freshly opened the wine is sulky,  so decant it splashily into a jug,  and for good measure pour it from jug to jug a couple of times – just to clear simple reduction.  Below is otherwise clean grenache-led fruit but with quite a spicy syrah-like component showing up,  plus some oak complexity.  In mouth at this youthful stage,  the reduction gives a heavy undertone,  but that will assimilate in five years,  to give a straightforward southern Rhone winestyle,  probably a bit leathery by then.  No first places,  one second.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 08/18

2014  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $151   [ cork,  50mm;  cepage has changed in recent years,  now more Mv,  typically Gr 55%,  Mv 30,  Sy 10,  the balance other AOC varieties including white grapes;  cropped at little more than 2.6 t/ha = 1.05 t/ac;  all de-stemmed;  some months in vat,  then 12 months in big old wood,   then assembly in vat 2 months;  not fined or filtered;  production up to 7,500 x 9-litre cases;  just the one label;  J.L-L has an appealing  thumbnail sketch of the current 3 vintages (précised):  The 2014 red was utterly charming, a real en finesse ****(*) beauty, while the 2015 is logically a bolder, more demanding ***** wine, requiring patience. The ***** 2016 red is deep and long, a vintage that will age extremely well;  J. Harding @ Robinson,  2017:  Utterly seductive and beautifully red-fruited on the nose. Red cherry and a touch of spice. On the palate, the fruit sweetness is beautifully balanced by the bitterness of the cherry stone. Opulent and super-smooth, on the cusp between velvet and silky. Gorgeous and so long. You could approach this with pleasure now though plenty more to come. 2017 - 2029, 18;  J.L-L,  2016:  a curvy, red-fruited bouquet which is really pleasing – it offers strawberry, raspberry … a lovely plumpness. ... finesse on the palate, with neat tannins … pockets of white pepper … it’s wonderful wine, what pleasure it gives. It summons symphonic thoughts. Bottled May 2016. “It is very Burgundian,” says Vincent Avril, ****(*);  J. Dunnuck @ R Parker,  2016:  ... his 2014 Chateauneuf du Pape is certainly one of the wines of the vintage. And while it possesses terrific notes of peppery herbs, Provençal spice, kirsch and darker berry fruits, it’s on the palate where this beauty shines! Medium to full-bodied, incredibly balanced, seamless and pure, with beautiful fruit, it has present tannin, terrific mid-palate depth and a great finish. It won’t be the longest lived wine from the estate, but it’s beautiful and will certainly drink well for a decade, 93;  bottle weight 648g;  www.clos-des-papes.fr ]
Lightish ruby,  the lightest wine.  The southern Rhone Valley is a land of sunshine,  so no matter how pure and fragrant a wine is,  when it smells as leafy and stalky as this one,  like South Canterbury pinot noir in fact,  one has to mark it down.  The red-fruits grenache only just achieves red raspberries,  there are nearly red currants here,  and the syrah blending component clearly shows white pepper,  not black.  In mouth it is supple and harmonious,  beautifully made,  but leafy / stalky all through.  The wine as tasted is quite simply astonishing,  having regard to all the terribly deferential assessments of it available on-line.  This is one of those occasions where you wish more wine reviewers reviewed the contents of the bottle,  rather than the label.  A totally pure wine,  no first places,  no second places.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  in its pretty,  leafy,  style,  noting one can buy six of the 2016 Domaine Charvin Cotes-du-Rhone (a clearly riper and more pleasing wine,  even without the oak),  for the same price.  GK 08/18