Conclusions from the Tasting:
For the district as a whole in 1999, Robert Parker’s views at the time were absolutely prescient: This excellent vintage will be simply over shadowed ... [ by 1998, 2000, 2001 ] ... Fine ripeness was achieved in all varietals, with mourvedre and syrah performing better in 1999 than in 1998 ... Elegance and balance are the operative words to describe the Southern Rhone's 1999s, a vintage that will get better press as it evolves.
This Library Tasting was one of a two-part Chateauneuf-du-Pape Celebration presented in the boardroom of Villa Maria headquarters winery at Mangere, Auckland. It followed on from a very similar 1999 Southern Rhone tasting I offered 28 March 2019, in Wellington. A full introduction to the 1999 Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines is included with the write-up published for that tasting, available here. The Wellington and Auckland tastings were nearly identical as to the wine-list, except that to match the 2007s in Auckland (which included a South Australian GSM blend) I substituted 1998 Penfolds Shiraz / Grenache / Mourvedre Bin 138 for the 1999 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas. Also, for the two Auckland tastings, I slightly revised the Southern Rhone Valley vintage chart (for the last '40' years) used in Wellington, adding a couple of personal comments. It is included in the 2007 report, available here, scroll down.
Comparing the Auckland and Wellington tastings for a moment, both sets of 1999 wines were equally enjoyed. But from the presenter's point of view, I was puzzled by the considerable differences in the way the 1999s opened up, six months apart. On the one hand that might be observer inconsistency … but I would prefer to think the wines did in fact show differently. There is not only the closed-with-cork factor, but also that, 20 years ago, a measure of brett was frequent in Southern Rhone Valley wines. For any wine with even trace brett, 20 years later, no two bottles are likely to be the same.
For the two Auckland Library Tastings, the contrast between the 2007 wines on the Tuesday night, and the 1999s on the Thursday, was dramatic. Compared with the 2007s, the 1999 wines stood out for their florality, fragrance, suppleness and charm; qualities which the hotter-year, higher alcohol 2007s (and many 1998s) simply cannot match. No less than five of the 1999 wines merit gold medal ranking (18.5 = 92.5), in my view, vs two of the 2007s. Interestingly, neither of the top two 2007s were in fact Chateauneuf-du-Pape sensu stricto, but satellite villages where ‘size’ (in the wine) is not quite so valued.
It is high time the English-speaking wine-world rejected this American-led view of wine, that bigger, riper, higher-horsepower wines are better. With food, the notion is simply a nonsense. Quality in red wine is about beauty and elegance, and again suppleness, florality, and charm: what used to (appropriately) be called feminine virtues in wine, before the English-speaking wine-world became deranged through political correctness. It is hard to achieve these qualities in table-wine ripened to 15 degrees of alcohol, and even higher levels in some cases now.
For the two Auckland tastings, two thirds of the tasters attended both tastings. There was almost total agreement that in the second tasting, the 1999s, the wines were more enjoyable, and had more to say, compared with the supposedly ‘famous’ 2007s. We have to note that currently, this ‘fame’ (of a given vintage in France) is initiated and set largely by American wine-writers. At the time of evaluating wines for cellar purchase, for New Zealanders with our temperate-climate take on wine-quality, it is imperative to always seek the sometimes countervailing views of European wine-writers. For Southern Rhone Valley wines, the message that emerges from both tastings is simply that for pleasure at table, the lower alcohol and more fragrant / supple wines of the less ‘famous’ years, and the wines from less well known districts in the Southern Rhone Valley, can be infinitely more palatable, and more rewarding with food. Particularly does this apply to the wines of Gigondas – for me, the great unsung address in the Southern Rhone Valley.
Sometimes this approach also means selecting the basic Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where both alcohol and new oak exposure may be lower, rather than prestige labels, Vieilles Vignes, and such-like. And, more often than not, such wines are cheaper as well – a dilemma for the wine-snob. There are exceptions of course, notably those honourable domaines where only the one grand vinCellaring Cotes du Rhone – Guigal & Charvin 1983 – 2016.
Cepage: the Main Grapes:
A slightly revised review of the main grapes in red Southern Rhone Valley wines is included in the accompanying report on the 2007 Chateauneufs, here, scroll down.
The second tasting will be in dramatic contrast to the big, bold wines of 2007, in the first tasting. 1999 is an interesting year in France, a year of moderation after the hot-year and often tanniny wines of 1998. In Burgundy 1999 is rated 92 – juicy, rich and vibrant – by Wine Spectator, whereas in the Northern Rhone Valley their rating is 96 – silky vintage with stunning quality for Cote-Rotie. In the Southern Rhone Valley however, their conclusion is a little less than Burgundy, 90 – Syrah- and Mourvedre-based wines offer lovely balance and length; Grenache-based wines less successful. My hope is the wines will show the lovely mellow harmony of full maturity. And as in the 2007 tasting, there is the added interest of an Australian version of these Southern Rhone blends, too – not quite perfectly matching, a 1998.
For all those who think the 1998s in the Southern Rhone Valley (Wine Spectator, 97) are a bit big and ripe, or tanniny, then the lighter, more supple 1999s should have much appeal. The only caveat to mention is, at that time, a measure of brett was frequent in many of the wines of these districts, so if you are hypersensitive to the savoury, fragrant qualities of even a measured brett component, this tasting might not be for you. Happily, many people find a little brett part of the wonderfully food-friendly appeal of Southern Rhone Valley wines.
There is a certain symmetry in checking out the 1999s at their 20-year point … an age when many people think Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are fully mature … or even too old (by some). But we can add to that symmetry by having nearly half the tasting from the second great appellation of the Southern Rhone Valley, Gigondas, to match the six wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For most Gigondas wines, 20 years should be more clearly full maturity. In effect this will mean that the red (and some black) berry characters and hints of aromatic garrigue complexity of youth will now be fully melded into complex, savoury, mouth-watering wines with some mellow autumnal hints, wines crying out for protein-rich meals. In an earlier presentation of much the same tasting in Wellington, some tasters found it of interest to see if the Gigondas wines could be separated from the Chateauneufs.
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 and Jeb Dunnuck, vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth, J.L-L below, subscription needed for reviews
Again, 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 first ‘price’ shown in the review is the current wine-searcher value. Note these are often an indication only, since 1999 is considered unrealistically ‘old’ (by them), for Gigondas particularly … but for both. Bizarre. The absence of comment from Jancis Robinson reflects the fact that she and her fellow tasters rather overlooked the Southern Rhone Valley, till this century. Livingstone-Learmonth therefore provides the essential English viewpoint. Where known, the original purchase price is in the text.
This set of 1999 Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines was simply a delight – to look at, to smell, and to taste. Wines 1 – 6 the front row, 7 – 12 behind. Of the two lightest wines in appearance, wine 4 the Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and wine 6 the Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the latter was indeed one of the lightest wines in the set, seemingly less ripe than the others. Wine 9, the Janasse Chaupin, is the 100% grenache wine, yet it was right in the middle for depth of colour. It added greatly to understanding the other wines, showing only the pure nearly pinot-like aromas and flavours of the variety … then simplifying a little to the tail. In contrast, the wines with syrah and mourvedre in general had longer flavours. Wine 9, the Penfolds Bin 138 and the darkest colour, still fitted in admirably, on both bouquet and early palate, largely due to its careful oaking. Though one of the lighter wines, the top wine of the night for many tasters was wine 10, the 1999 Saint Cosme Gigondas, illustrating to perfection in its florality and aromatics how attractive grenache-led wines can be when matured in big old wood only. The Santa Duc Gigondas at position 11 was not much deeper, and showed similar grape-derived complexity, without new oak. Wine 8 the Bouissiere Gigondas Le Font du Tonin was the second-deepest wine, and the second-favourite on the night, its bouquet and palate showing that with care, some new oak can be attractively employed in the elevation of these Southern Rhone Valley wine-styles. One came away from tasting these wines with the conviction that any of them would be just delightful with a meal.
Ruby and garnet, some velvet, the third lightest. This bouquet has astonishing freshness and near-florality, the syrah seeming more prominent than its percentage in the cepage would suggest, plus lovely garrigue aromatics. Palate is superb, beautiful berry definition and freshness, the wine not as rich as some of the Chateauneufs, but the flavour still long, any oak understated. This would be a near-perfect Southern Rhone red with food, its palatability enhanced by the low (nowadays) alcohol. Tasters agreed, seven first places, one second, clearly the most favoured wine. Fully mature now, but will be attractive for another 10 years. An infinitely desirable wine. GK 10/19
Ruby, garnet and velvet, one of the freshest colours, above midway in depth. This is yet another exquisite bouquet, clearly showing garrigue florals and aromatics on fragrant slightly spicy red fruits, fresher than the standard Santa Duc, closer to the Saint Cosme. In mouth the wine is utterly charming, again lighter and fresher than the Santa Duc, the syrah adding freshness and a hint of pepper, remarkable in a southern Rhone wine. At the point of sequencing the freshly opened wines, I thought this wine summed up everything needed to characterise good Southern Rhone Valley red wine, so I placed it as #1 in the sequence, as the sighter. But, as is almost always the case, it is hard for wine #1 to win through to a high placing, so my ranking does not reflect the group view, no votes for any attribute. Again, this would be wonderful with food. Cellar for 5 – 10 years. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, some velvet, below midway in depth. Again, the bouquet on this wine is wonderful, combining floral notes with garrigue aromatics and portobello mushroom savoury depths, all in grenache-led red fruits well browning now. This wine makes you hungry, just smelling it. Palate is nearly burgundian in style but drier, showing the beautifully integrated flavours of a wine at the pinnacle of maturity, not quite as rich as the Saint Cosme, and a little drier – yet another wine just crying out for food. Fully mature now, will hold at least five years. In the presentation of less- and more-oaked versions of the same base wine, this less-oaked Santa Duc was the hands-down winner. Tasters liked this wine: three first placings, and four second. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, some velvet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is soft, pure and gentle, not quite as much of any character as the Saint Cosme, yet fresh and appealing, lightly cinnamon, the grenache speaking. Palate is complex, integrated, reflecting grenache-led Southern Rhone red fruits browning now, no new oak yet beautiful tannin structure, more mature than the Saint Cosme, and richer. Again, the food-friendlyness of this wine is greatly enhanced by its 13.5% alcohol. Tasters were less enthused by this wine that I was, one first place, one second. The wine is fully mature, but will hold for 10 years or so. GK 10/19
Ruby, garnet and velvet, the second-deepest wine. Bouquet shows stunning purity, in a fragrant, mellow, lightly aromatic southern Rhone wine style, with cedary complexity. Though fractionally less fragrant than its un-oaked sibling, this wine is an exception to my generalisations, being a grenache-led wine not impaired by new oak. Palate is saturated with flavour, tasting much fresher than age and colour would suggest, the high mourvedre darker fruits adding to the unusually good tannin structure. This was the second-favourite wine on the night, three first places, six second. It is fully mature, but with the high mourvedre, will hold easily – for 10-plus years. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, some velvet, midway in depth. This wine is nearly a contradiction to what one imagines, 100% grenache which is really fragrant, nearly floral in a pink hedge-roses way, with the bouquet showing exactly the red fruits (raspberry in youth) of grenache, though browning now. It shows that with great care, grenache can on occasion benefit from oak, even new oak, but here it is nearly invisible, just the lightest cedar touch, with gentle tannins. It is wonderful to have a straight grenache in any Southern Rhone tasting, since it highlights how the darker syrah and mourvedre contribute to perceived complexity in other wines. Here the mono-cepage is not really noticeable until the finish, where the wine simplifies a little, like the similar Chapoutier Chateauneufs. An interesting wine at full maturity, which appealed to tasters, two top places, three second. Cellar 5 – 15 years more. GK 10/19
Ruby, garnet and velvet, much the reddest, freshest and deepest wine in the set. The Australian interloper in the Pt 2 1999 tasting was a good deal more subtle than the Melton in the 2007s. Here the florality on bouquet is truly flowering mint Prostanthera, and there is no suggestion of euc: it almost passes as ‘garrigue’ character. Even so, 20 of the 21 tasters unerringly identified the wine (in the blind tasting) as Australian – a remarkable result. Considering 1998 was a ripe and warm year in the Barossa Valley, the quality and freshness of the shiraz here is remarkable: the bouquet nearly shows syrah florals. Palate initially is juicy, plump but not heavy, good berryfruit, but then the Australian obsession with technological interference (in wine) comes in, with shrill added acid to the tail. Even so, it fitted in beautifully, due to the understated oaking, which is so subtle for Penfolds. Two top places. Cellar 10 – 20 years more. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, the second to lightest wine. Bouquet is fragrant in an old-fashioned way, an attractive savoury venison casserole and nutmeg note bespeaking a little brett, on mainly red fruits and older oak. As so often with Clos des Papes, the flavour is soft and gentle, the fruit sweet all the way through, though the finish is dry. Wonderful food wine, so supple: little wonder that Vincent Avril is quoted as looking to Burgundy, for his inspiration as to wine style. Tasters liked this wine, two first places, three second, but two marked it down to least place, for the trace brett. This wine illustrated the proprietor's ‘no new oak in the grand vin’ policy well, it fitting in with the less-oaked Gigondas wines beautifully. Would that more Chateauneufs followed this style. Fully mature, but will hold for several years. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, some velvet, just above midway in depth. There were reminders of the 2007s in this wine, a hint of jam-tart rather than fresh jam, which I attribute to too much new oak. Below is good fruit browning now. Flavours in mouth are fresher than the bouquet, the oak making the wine seem not as rich as some, the finish dry. This 1999 wine does not quite achieve the length and balance I recall in the 1998. One second place. Fully mature, attractive, but the finish will dry sooner than some other wines, on the oak. GK 10/19
Ruby and garnet, the lightest wine. Bouquet here is quite different from the other 11 wines. It is light, floral and fragrant in one sense, but also leafy in an aromatic garrigue way, on cool red fruits. Palate confirms the leafy thought, with fair fruit and length of fruit flavour for a medium-weight-only wine, but a clear stalky thread from beginning to end. Six tasters correctly identified this as the wine with no oak at all. One taster particularly liked the fresh, less ripe, fragrant character of this wine, thus one second place. Others found the wine simple, missing the complexity that ageing in foudre brings. In my experience with Domaine Chauvin, in the pursuit of delicacy, the wine too often retains under-ripe aroma and flavour notes. The wine is fully mature: it will fade gracefully for some years to come. GK 10/19
Garnet and ruby, the third deepest wine. This was the other wine to remind of the 2007s, showing baked jam-tart fruit rather than fresh raspberry, and nearly a varnishy hint from too much oak exposure, but all pure. Palate is quite rich but very dry, the oak handling strangling the wine. The contrast with the fresh, fragrant and supple straight Santa Duc Gigondas from the same year could not be more dramatic: a vivid example of how grenache-led wines can be sabotaged by new oak. Tasters seemed to agree at the blind / no discussion stage: nine least places. The wine is quite rich, and though fully mature, will cellar for another 10 years, in its drying style. GK 10/19
Garnet, ruby and some velvet, midway in depth. At the tasting, the wine was a little impaired by light TCA. I had failed to notice and exclude it at the decanting stage:. As is so often the case, a little air brings up any latent TCA taint. Eight tasters noticed. The wine itself is fragrant in an old-fashioned quite dark fruits way, just light brett (low for Pegau) noticed by only one taster (so less than the Clos des Papes). Palate is rich, dark fruits again and quite tanniny, though there is no new oak. Though rich, there is a certain austerity, too. The wine is fully mature, but will hold for some years. It would be pretty good with an old-fashioned roast beef dinner: a better bottle would score a little higher. No votes for favoured places, but seven least votes. GK 10/19