– THE 2007 VINTAGE …
Writing of new-generation Australian grenache-based wines, London-based wine-writer Sarah Ahmed in 2015 summarises a viewpoint which helps explain the quality and appeal of the better Southern Rhone Valley wines:
So, the trick to great single varietal Grenache is to keep yields low and pick the right site in which case the winemakers I spoke to tell me that Grenache retains a low pH, even at riper levels, which helps rein in its tendency towards high alcohol. This high natural acidity together with the tannin structure which comes from old, dry grown bush vines results in ageworthy, balanced wines with great depth of character – an earthiness and more savoury and spice fruit characters as opposed to the bright fruit and florals of younger vines. … old, dry grown, low yielding vineyards [my added emphasis] ... Melton is emphatic that they are absolutely key to great Grenache. Why? Because the moment yields increase, the quality of Grenache drops off dramatically.
• Conclusions from the Tasting:
• Other authors on the Southern Rhone Valley:
• The Invitation – and background information for the district:
• Vintage Chart: The better Southern Rhone Valley vintages of the last ‘40’ years:
• Cepage: the Main Grapes:
• The essential Southern Rhone garrigue aroma / complexity factor:
• The Wines Reviewed:
Conclusions from the Tasting:
This tasting proved popular, not only because the supple velvety wines of the Southern Rhone Valley are well-liked, but also perhaps because rather many people do like the riper, ‘American-styled' vintages such as 2007. Whereas those to whom bouquet complexity is all important are somewhat guarded about these bigger, more alcoholic, wines. In the event, there turned out to be an intriguing range of wine styles, such that 10 of the 12 wines ranked as at least one taster’s favourite. Intriguingly, eight of the 12 wines also rated as at least one taster’s least favourite. These two parameters indicate the range of wine styles. There was no clear top wine, and bearing in mind this was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape celebration tasting, the wine just inching ahead as wine of the night (by one vote) was the Australian. I attribute this to its familiarity: the (in this case, relatively subtle) mint going on euc'y lift on bouquet, which many New Zealanders, long accustomed to Australian reds, now mostly enjoy. Though there is a significant percentage of tasters who strongly dislike this character.
In terms of the style of the wines, for me they divided into two camps. At best, there were those that show relatively little sign of a long, dry, warm and sunny vintage, the wines still being fresh, and fragrant and floral to a degree. Conversely, there were several wines where the fruit character was much more traditional baked plum or raspberry jam-tart rather than fresh berries or fresh jam. I marked these down. Two long-experienced tasters with trade experience were at pains to suggest these wines had acquired their over-ripe somewhat baked character by misadventure in transit, specifically loss of temperature control in the shipping container, post-bottling. I am not totally convinced, given the American wine-writers predilection for big, ripe to over-ripe, and alcoholic wines. Tasters from more temperate viticultural regions can find such wines over-ripe, or otherwise lacking in florality, subtlety and charm. At this distance in time and place, the matter is hard to resolve, but given the reputation of the wines, and the 2007 Clos des Papes in particular, this result was disappointing. One relevant factor is that the three wines objected to for this possible failing, come into New Zealand via three separate importers. Since New Zealand wine importers rarely if ever share refrigerated container space among themselves, the likelihood of three containers failing in much the same import season seems to me less likely. These riper, more alcoholic wines are noticeably less food-friendly, too … unless (as noted) one is habituated to them – as many warm-climate people are. One only needs to look at average alcohols in Australian wines.
The reviews below present my individual views, not the consensus of the 21 tasters. I do however give an indication of tasters’ views. From the consumer point of view, where ‘affordable’ special bottles are desired, the lesson from this tasting was: in terms of nett pleasure at table, in a hotter year, sometimes the more affordable wines, standard bottlings and the like, can be fresher, more fragrant and more food-friendly than the prestige cuvées, which often include old-vine fruit, greater ripeness, and new oak exposure. This was shown to perfection by the Grand Veneur trio of Chateauneuf-du-Papes, where the standard Chateauneuf-du-Pape was a fresh and fragrant delight, showing no signs of over-ripe-year distress, whereas Les Origines to a degree, and the rare Vieilles Vignes, were both less fresh and aromatic, and less appealing. Unfortunately the Vieilles Vignes had to be excluded from the group tasting, due to TCA, but the present assessment looks through that factor. One of the Reserve wines, the Cuvée du Vatican Reserve bottling, was substituted.
Other authors on the Southern Rhone Valley:
A key aspect to this tasting is: we have five wines marked 96 or more by Robert Parker and associates. And one of them, 2007 Clos des Papes, has won that ultimate accolade, 100 points from the Parker team, with RP himself saying: “It is unquestionably one of the great Chateauneufs of my lifetime.” John Livingstone-Learmonth, now the ultimate authority on the wines of both the Northern and Southern Rhone Valleys, is not quite so keen, across the board. This no doubt reflects more the general European view on the 2007s, that some are a bit big and too ripe and alcoholic, but nonetheless J.L-L has two rated ****(*) or *****. For Parker's 100-point Clos des Papes, J.L-L is *****, noting that he marks out of six stars –an accolade rarely given.
Parker in his heyday had both a fantastic grip of the Rhone Valley wines, witness his marvellous book from 1997, but also loved the wines dearly (even when they were noticeably bretty). With John Livingstone-Learmonth too, you are left in no doubt that both authors love the wines of this region. This gives them both an endearing credibility. In contrast Jancis Robinson, despite occasional high marks, scarcely conceals the thought that the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley are mostly not her personal favourites, and her associates seem hell-bent on following her lead, rather than redressing the balance from her tending-detached approach to this region. In the sense one cannot subscribe to all wine-writers, now that wine websites are multiplying like rabbits, that leaves James Molesworth at Wine Spectator. He has been reporting steadily on them for more than 10 years now, and his vintage chart summaries are the best in the business. His wine reviews offer consistency, but a vocabulary that tends to the arcane / doesn’t communicate well to the non-American reader. Plus he (too) reflects a distressingly American consumerist short-term view for the life expectancies of these wines.
The Invitation – and background information for the district:
The first tasting in our Chateauneuf Celebration centres on the ripe and generous 2007 vintage. It also coincides with the point when Robert Parker had achieved the zenith of his influence on world wine matters. The 2007 Chateauneufs were big, and he liked them. Parker, 2008: “It is the vintage of my lifetime for this region, and I don’t say that lightly. These 2007s will also be very long-lived given their extraordinary balance.” and Parker, 2009: “This is a truly historic and profoundly great vintage.”
Jeb Dunnuck reviewed the 2007 Southern Rhone Valley wines at the 10-year point, 2017 (in www.robertparker.com, and makes some useful points (paraphrased):
# … in their infancy, both from barrel, and then from bottle the following year … they showed a huge amount of fruit, concentration and textural richness ... they also possessed singular aromatics (which is one of the hallmarks of the vintage), incredible complexity and a purity of fruit that was hard to believe.
# 2007 was a cooler than normal vintage that featured warm days and cool nights.
# There were no heat spikes, with only 34 days above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius).
# 2016 was one of the driest vintages since 1871.
# 2016 was an exceptionally sunny vintage … in the same ballpark as 2010.
And we must remember that Parker is on record as saying that when it comes to wine for drinking at home, the Southern Rhone Valley is his favourite district. He added a postscript to Dunnuck’s 2017 article (paraphrased):
“In my 39 years of tasting, three vintages stand out for their greatness and singularity … 1982 Bordeaux, 1990 Barolo and Barbaresco, and 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I bought as much of these vintages as I could afford … and how steady and reassuringly the greatest 2007 Chateauneufs have evolved. … characterized by great opulence and plush textures that often hid significant structure and tannin.”
In contrast to a degree, Wine Spectator takes a quite clinical view of the wine world in their Vintage Charts. They have revised their view of the 2007 Southern Rhone vintage a little, so that 2007 at 95 is now fractionally less than 2016, 2015, 2010, 2005, 1998, 1989, and is now matched with 1990 (for recent years). But one has to make the caveat, that Americans like the big ripe years such as 1990 and 1998 (and probably 2007, notwithstanding Dunnuck’s notes) more than the Europeans do. Again, Wine Spectator summarises the 2007 vintage with just the right note of caution as: “Ripe, rich, powerful reds thanks to long Indian summer at harvest-time. Grenache is heady and rich; Mourvèdre and Cinsault are key for balance. Best are hedonistic delights; though some are over-the-top.”
As mentioned, the tasting includes 2007 Clos des Papes, the winery now regarded by many as the definitive Chateauneuf, if one favours elegance – though that assessment will need to change, as the new styling for Ch de Beaucastel beds in. Robert Parker’s view on this wine is: ”It is unquestionably one of the great Chateauneufs of my lifetime, and I suspect it will merit a three digit score after another 3-4 years of cellaring.” Another feature of the tasting is the opportunity to compare three of the (then) four main Chateauneuf-du-Pape cuvées from Domaine Grand Veneur, an up-and-coming winery for which Livingstone-Learmonth rates the Vieilles Vignes (only 350 cases all told) particularly highly. The base wine is more traditional in upbringing, whereas Les Origines and Vieilles Vignes both have new oak. And any tasting of a declared Vieilles Vignes Chateauneuf is of interest – even though when you check, most of our wines contain significant ‘old-vine’ material. [ In the event, the desire to have the three Grand Veneurs was thwarted by TCA, in the Vieilles Vignes.] The Charles Melton wine from Australia is included for fun, for interest, and maybe to illustrate some differences in the Australian approach to wine-making. His Nine Popes is particularly highly regarded in Australia. I have used the 2006 because Halliday, in his Vintage Chart for Australia, regards 2006 as a ‘perfect’ vintage 10/10 for the Barossa Valley, vs 2007 at 7.
Recent Vintages in the Southern Rhone Valley:
The essential character of the main Southern Rhone Valley vintages over the last 40 years (the in-fact useful life-span of good examples of these wine-styles, in a cool cellar) is summarised in the Table.
Table 1: The better Southern Rhone Valley vintages of the last '40' years:
|YEAR||Broadbent||Wine Advocate||Wine Spectator||Summarised / paraphrased comments|
|1976||** to ****||–||–||B: hot dry summer, potentially ripe and concentrated wines, but late Sept. rain reduced cellaring potential|
|1978||*****||97R||–||B: best since 1911, big, tannic, rich; J.L-L absolute reference year|
|1983||*****||87C||–||B: excellent, rich, concentrated, hard tannins have softened|
|1985||*****||88R||–||B: outstanding reds, rich, long-lasting|
|1989||****½||94T||96||B: Chateauneuf particularly successful, rich complete reds; WS: powerful concentrated reds, round tannins|
|1990||*****||95E||95||B: less aromatic than 1989, powerful, promising; WS: massive wines, great concentration. GK: too like ‘98|
|1995||****½||90T||90||B: comparable with 1990; WS: tannic reds, Chateauneufs improving beautifully|
|1998||*****||98E||97||B: best since 1990; WS: dense, rich, superb grenache, ripe tannins GK: too warm for fragrant / floral wines|
|1999||****½||90E||90||B: south less than north; WS: syrah and mourvedre wines better than grenache-dominant. GK: fragrant, elegant wines, perfect now|
|2000||–||98E||94||WS: powerful rich ripe reds with silky tannins|
|2001||–||96T||92||WS: great vintage with structured racy reds in Chateauneuf|
|2003||–||90I||93||WS: very hot dry year, best superb, but some inconsistency|
|2005||–||95T||97||WS: great concentration, structure, should rival '98 and '90. GK: high alcohols|
|2006||–||92R||93||WS: ripe, pure, balanced, fresh, like 1999 but more concentrated|
|2007||–||98E||95||WS: ripe rich powerful reds, some grenache over-ripe, mourvedre key for balance. GK: over-ripe aromas/flavours in some wines, high alcohols detract|
|2009||–||93E||94||WS: Warm dry year, cool nights retained acid, pure fruit and polished tannins. GK: high alcohols|
|2010||–||98T||98||WS: Reduced crop, warm days, cool nights, beautifully ripe racy wines for aging, the spine of '05 with extra flesh. GK: more fragrant than ‘09, alcohols still high|
|2012||–||92E||93||WS: small crop, grenache year, ripe flavours, well-balanced|
|2015||–||93T||97||WS: warm, dry, then Aug rain. Reds rich, ripe, powerful, in style of ‘09, ‘07, but better definition. GK: high alcohols|
|2016||–||98E||99||WS: Exceptional diurnal variation, truly rare vintage – the new benchmark. Reds rich yet racy and fresh. GK: ‘cooler’ / more fragrant than ‘15, alcohols still too high, but an 'investment' year.|
Table compiled from Broadbent (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 (90 or more, from 1988), and John Livingstone-Learmonth (for checking detail). Some personal thoughts now added.
Cepage: the Main Grapes:
The main red grapes of the district are grenache, syrah, mourvedre, vaccarese, counoise, 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 tends to be a low-tannin variety, ripens late often with high sugars and thus alcohol, and is characterised by aromas of raspberry and cinnamon. The resulting wine-style is in a sense reminiscent 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 florals and black pepper / spice, though the climate is against the more subtle floral and aromatic characteristics of syrah. Mourvedre is more finicky, and harder to ripen, but in the great years may the more noble of the two in this district, particularly in its tannin structure, but also its dark berry flavours. Wines with a higher percentage of mourvedre cellar well. Of the lesser varieties, vaccarese is floral and aromatic at best, counoise can contribute acid, cinsaut is a pretty, pale, early-maturing variety reminiscent of pinot meunier (and widely used for rosé), while carignan is a robust productive well-coloured grape making hearty wines which are good in youth, but don't age well. Its best use is in vin de pays and the like.
The essential Southern Rhone garrigue aroma / complexity factor in red wine:
What is this characteristic aroma that people talk about in the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley ? The term ‘garrigue’ refers to the low shrubby vegetation of the hills and forelands of the peri-Mediterranean district. Many of the component plants of this scrub have essential oils, which are volatile in hot weather. The vegetation type is known as maquis or garrigue. It is analogous to manuka and kanuka short scrub in North Auckland, in that it spreads over areas formerly forested. When you push through it on a sunny day, there is this wonderful essential oil smell – from bruised leaves. The Mediterranean zone being drier than New Zealand, however, the vegetation type is now semi-permanent there. Characteristic plants contributing to the fragrant garrigue aroma are:
|rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis |
lavender: Lavandula stoechas
sage: Salvia officinalis
salvia: other species of Salvia
thyme: Thymus vulgaris
oregano: Origanum vulgare
|myrtle: Myrtus communis |
juniper: several species of Juniperus
fennel: Foeniculum vulgare
rockrose: Cistus monspeliensis
pinks: several species of Dianthus
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.
Parker, Robert 2002: Parker's Wine Buyers Guide Sixth Edition. Simon & Schuster, 1,648 p.
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW, subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker but now more associates, vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
https://thewinedetective.co.uk = Sarah Ahmed, 2015: From Roussillon with love: Australian Grenache.
www.winespectator.com = exceptionally good vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth, J. L-L below, subscription needed for reviews
www.winecompanion.com.au = James Halliday, but increasingly associates, subscription needed for both reviews and the vintage chart.
I particularly thank Ian Clark for facilitating, and Sir George Fistonich for authorising, the use of the delightful Boardroom at Villa Maria headquarters, for these two Library Tastings. Extensive use has been made of the vast information resource in John Livingstone-Learmonth's website, as above, plus Jancis Robinson. Reviews from the Robert Parker website mainly, and Wine Spectator, are also included, to achieve pan-Atlantic judging balance.
THE WINES REVIEWED:
The initial price given is the wine-searcher value in 2019. Purchase price where known follows in the text.
These 2007 wines varied considerably in both their depth of colour, and in their relative hue / age, but as a set, they looked surprisingly youthful for their age. The subtleties of hue do not reproduce well, the image on paper losing translucency in the liquid, at the non-professional level of photography. With even pours, and a high-quality tungsten light source, and counting from the left, wine 4 in the front row, the 2006 Charles Melton Nine Popes was the deepest wine in the set, and one of the reddest / most youthful, closely followed in depth by wine 9 the 2007 Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Origines. Les Origines is noticeably older in hue than the less-oaked base-wine 2007 Grand Veneur, in position 7 (back row). At the lighter end of the 12, both wine 2 the lightest, 2007 Vieux Telegraphe, and wine 5, the second to lightest 2007 Clos des Papes, were wines where doubts were expressed about temperature control in shipping, but there seems little likelihood of a colour-correlation, since the third such doubtful wine, the 2007 Mordorée in position 3, was one of the deepest. None of these three were in the fresher-hued half of the set, however. The tasting was unusual in that there was a poor correlation between the characters (descriptors) tasters found in the glasses, and the words which the Northern Hemisphere wine-writers used to describe them. One would like to both taste these wines untravelled, in the Northern Hemisphere, and taste alongside the main wine-writers, to learn just what characters they have in mind for their descriptors. For many writers, from long study, one does not feel that they use words consistently. For example, in the wine notes in this report, one writer uses the term ‘Marmite’ to describe a “beef stock” character … whereas Marmite is a yeast (ie plant)-derived product. A ‘Bovril’ or ‘Oxo’ analogy would make better sense, to a scientifically-trained person. In a sense, wines from Bordeaux have a more consistent world-wide vocabulary.
A lovely fresh ruby and velvet, one of the redder wines, but the third lightest. The bouquet is wonderfully fresh, pink-roses-floral and aromatic, showing beautiful berry character and all the charm of mourvedre when not over-ripened. The whole bouquet has no hint of over-ripeness at all. Palate is equally beautiful, fresh, aromatic, beautiful tannin balance, illustrating to perfection that so often, grenache is impaired by new oak. This wine sees no wood at all, which at higher quality levels may handicap even a Southern Rhone wine, if certain vintages of latter-day Domaine Charvin are any guide. The wine also illustrates to perfection that in a number of instances, the better wines of Gigondas today may display some of the more attractive, even beautiful, features of yesteryear's Chateauneuf-du-Papes, before the trend to greater ripeness, higher alcohols, and more new oak. This Montirius shows the no-oak approach can be very successful. Two tasters had this as their first or second wine. A lovely wine totally atypical of the 2007 vintage; cellar 10 – 15 years. GK 10/19
This too was one of the red and fresher wines, ruby and velvet, midway in depth. Bouquet is more floral and less aromatic than the Montirius Gigondas, but like it showing wonderful freshness, and no sign of the over-ripe / over-weight syndrome that diminishes too many 2007s. There are nearly red roses here, thoughts of pinot noir. Again, the grenache component sees no oak, and the wine is the better for it. Palate is beautifully fresh, the syrah aromatic and floral, speaking out far more than the cepage percentage would suggest. The oak handling on the syrah and mourvedre components is totally simpatico, the result food-friendly and attractive. This is ‘merely’ Cairanne, but cropped more conservatively than some Chateauneuf-du-Papes, by a great grower. The result is clearly better than many Chateauneuf-du-Papes, the whole wine both a delight, and great value. Five tasters had this as their top or second wine. Cellar 10 – 15 years. GK 10/19
Ruby, garnet and velvet, one of the older colours, midway in depth. Bouquet is quite different on this, the wine clearly much riper than the top two, the alcohol showing a little more. Yet it gets away with it. There is a lot of fruit, darkest plum, a hint of moist prunes (in the most subtle, appealing way), trace vanillin from a hint of newish oak, yet it doesn't have the over-ripe baked jam-tart character so many 2007s have. The palate is simply staggering, a wonderful fleshy richness which must be well above 30 g/L in dry extract, and now yes, there is a suggestion of over-ripeness, just a hint as in the dark cherries in a Black Forest gateau, yet the wine still seems fresh. Hence its high mark. Tannin balance is a little firmer than the top wines: this is a really big wine ... as if it were designated Vieilles Vignes. Tasters liked this wine, with three first places, and one second. It will cellar for many years, on its richness, 10 – 20 or more. GK 10/19
Ruby and velvet, clearly the youngest and freshest colour, the third deepest. This is another wine where the syrah component really shines on bouquet, a lovely florality and near-cassisy berry, equally good freshness and charm, plus garrigue savoury complexity, and total purity. Palate is most unusual, light in one sense, almost big pinot noir except for the tannin structure, and magnificent freshness: another wine with no hint of the 2007 over-ripeness malaise. Yet again, the magic of little or no new oak cries out for recognition here: grenache so often simply cannot take much oak, if beauty in the wine, freshness, and suitability for food matching are the criteria. And this wine is given as 15%, showing yet again the magical ability of grenache to hide alcohol. I thought this ‘standard’ wine clearly more pleasurable as a food wine than the more expensive Les Origines, and particularly the Vieilles Vignes [tasted separately]. Two tasters rated this their top wine. Cellar 10 – 20 years. GK 10/19
[ This was one of the Reserve wines, substituted for the 2007 Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes.] Ruby and velvet, one of the redder, fresher colours. This wine has an extraordinary purity to it, wonderfully fragrant (though lifted by alcohol), yet not exactly floral, just Southern Rhone Valley berry charm with a touch of savoury garrigue. Palate tastes as if the wine should be mostly grenache, but it isn’t, and again there is beautiful oak handling, understated, augmenting the wine. Though light in initial fruit impression, there is deceptive length and aromatic depth here too. The whole wine has a freshness atypical of the 2007s. One taster had this as their top wine, plus four second-places. Cellar 10 – 20 years. GK 10/19
Ruby and velvet, a suggestion of garnet, the second deepest. Bouquet is big, clean, sweet, but here just a hint of the 2007 over-ripeness creeping in, the difference between smelling carefully-made raspberry jam, and contrasting that with baked raspberry jam-tart. There is a touch of new-oak aroma too. In mouth the wine is rich, nearly succulent, with good tannin framework yet not intruding too much, and considerable length, the flavours darkly plummy, a hint of moist prune, alcohol noticeable. This is still just on the right side of the 2007 over-ripe line. No top places, but two second. Cellar 10 – 20 years. GK 10/19
Ruby and velvet, a suggestion of garnet, just below midway in depth. Bouquet is slightly unusual on this wine, a complex aromatic quality which a winemaker likened to a hint of smoke taint. It is almost completely buried in rich berryfruit again showing just a suggestion of the 2007 over-ripe jam-tart character. In mouth the fruit richness is exemplary, helped by the relatively lower alcohol, and no noticeable oak at all. Yet the wine has beautiful tannin structure. As so often, Vieux Donjon is appealing Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Tasters liked this wine, three first places, two second. Cellar 10 – 15 years. GK 10/19
Ruby and garnet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is almost a caricature of desirable southern Rhone Valley wine attributes, very fragrant, beautiful garrigue aromatics, lovely berry / oak interaction in the Guigal style, maybe the minutest trace of savoury brett complexity. Palate follows harmoniously, freshly berried, supple on the lower alcohol, surprising length on the older oak, palate-weight tending lighter in the company. As so often with Guigal wines, this example in effect captures the essence of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine style, so it had to be number one in the lineup, as a ‘sighter’ to the 12 in the blind tasting. Nonetheless tasters ranked the wine well, two first places, two second. Cellar 5 – 15 years. GK 10/19
Ruby and velvet, nearly as red and youthful as the Grand Veneur, and the deepest colour. One sniff and sadly, in a blind tasting, the bouquet is a total giveaway, quite prominent flowering mint (Prostanthera) florals and aromatics narrowly escaping being outright euc'y. Behind is rich berryfruit. In flavour the wine is rich and succulent going on juicy, the flavour let down by the overt boysenberry character of over-ripe Australian shiraz, but the whole wine beautifully and relatively subtly oaked, with some cedary touches and vanillin (from American). Being shiraz-led this wine handles new oak better than the grenache-dominant French wines. Since the aroma was ‘familiar’ to tasters (whether recognised or not), this was marginally the favourite wine, on the night, four first places, two second. Since however these two tastings were a 'Chateauneuf Celebration', I did not quite share tasters’ enthusiasm. Plus the acid adjustment interacting with the oak makes the finish shrill, when seen alongside the more naturally-balanced French wines. But all that said, even so it fitted in remarkably well, in its juicy, obvious way. Cellar 10 – 20 years. GK 10/19
Ruby and garnet, the lightest wine. In this wine, the over-ripe baked jam-tart note becomes a little more noticeable, in otherwise rich berryfruit shaped by gentle older oak. Palate too reveals the jam-tart qualities, but otherwise fruit length and balance are good. Two tasters in the wine-trade thought the wine out of condition due to temperature fluctuation in shipping, that is, showing some oxidation. The importer uses temperature-controlled containers, and on inquiry, is not aware of any malfunction in that import season. And it is noticeable the Parker descriptors for this wine include licorice, jammy black cherries, figs – all part of my baked over-ripe suite of attributes, yet so liked by Americans habituated to warmer-climate wines. So this is a big wine, but lacking a little in freshness. Disappointing … in the sense that Vieux Telegraphe is always an eagerly-awaited wine, in any line-up. It earned one second-place vote. Cellar 10 – 20 years, in its style. GK 10/19
Ruby and some velvet, a touch of garnet, the second lightest. Bouquet is distinctive on this wine, being aromatic and savoury in an old-fashioned leather and venison casserole / nutmeg way, on red fruits and alcohol. These descriptors point to some brett. Palate is relatively soft and fragrant, red fruits browning a little, gentle tannin structure, very food-friendly. As always, some people like the brett component a good deal, three first places, two second, whereas conversely, others have ‘learnt’ to be ‘sophisticated’ about brett, and now reject such wines, so five least places. It is a pity the alcohol is showing rather much in this wine, for lightly bretty wines are in fact so good with savoury foods. Cellar 5 – 15 years, noting every bottle will be different. That is part of the package, with brett.
There is certainly a major mismatch between the characters we found in our bottle, and the near-100 point scores of Dunnuck and Parker. The website above does mention that for bottling the wine is assembled into two 15,000 litre vats, with metered blending, but what exactly happens in a year of peak production such as 2007, when there were c.75,000 litres, is not clear. There is thus the possibility of more than one bottling in 2007, which might explain the present discrepancy. Alternatively, this wine too might be a wine affected by temperature-control failure in shipping, but see my doubts expressed in the Conclusions. In his description for the wine in 2009, Parker does mention ‘licorice, roasted herbs, and smoked meat’ positively … again all cues to a riper winestyle (and possible brett) than temperate-climate tasters may prefer. On this showing, a considerable disappointment. I await the next bottle with interest. GK 10/19
Ruby, garnet and velvet, above midway in depth. This wine showed over-ripe baked jam-tart qualities much more clearly, in otherwise rich berryfruit made fragrant by a percentage of new oak. Palate is rich, very dry on the noticeable alcohol and oak, but lacking fresh fruit flavours. Again two tasters thought the wine out of condition, due to oxidation consequent on temperature-control misadventure in shipping. I again offered the interpretation of over-ripeness, plus grenache so often being diminished by exposure to new oak … but with less conviction, there having been some superb vintages of this Cuvée in New Zealand, including when the new oak ratio was greater. And Parker’s earlier descriptors for this wine imply much fresher fruit qualities, so there may indeed be an issue. This debate could not be resolved … and again, on inquiry, the importer is not aware of any container / temperature stability issues in that import season. Meanwhile, this bottle a disappointment, but it must be emphasised that this discussion, and my marking structure, is wine-talk at a pretty rarefied level. Most wine drinkers would just accept the wine is maybe a bit spirity / tanniny particularly with food, but still pretty good stuff. One first place, but six least places. Cellar 5 – 15 years, in its style. GK 10/19