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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tough love, a 1995 Chateauneuf du Pape retrospective

I had the good fortune of being a late replacement for Brad Kane’s horizontal theme, and to whoever bailed out at the last minute, thanks for the solid. Paul Jaouen, Michel Abood, Asher Rubinstein and company put together a line-up of Chateauneuf stalwarts to check in on how the 1995 vintage has progressed at year 12. The results, not unlike the vintage, were a tad variable.

1995 was a notoriously tannic, austere and backward vintage that produced wines of great stature that have been said to have stumbled into frighteningly closed periods of evolution from the late 90’s to the early 21st century. While they were noted for their sinew and power (which was still evident in several of the wines we tasted), their tannic cloaks are not nearly as formidable as they had been but a few years ago, as most of the '95s are quite approachable now, if in a rugged fashion. While there were certainly some standouts, as well as a few exceptionally awkward performances, my experiences lead me to believe that this is not a profound vintage. There have already been early comparisons of 2005 to 1995 vis a vis their structure, so it should be interesting to see if the wines develop along similar lines. I haven’t tasted enough 2005’s to comment on the validity of that parallel.


Domaine de Piaugier Sablet 2006 Blanc
A beautifully perfumed white Rhone, full of floral elements, ginger, quince, honeysuckle blossom and warm spices that you could smell all day. The most impressive element of this wine was its attack, which was sweet and crisp, but the intensity of flavor waned through the mid palate to the finish. It may gain a bit of weight in time as some of the white Rhones from ’06 that I’ve tasted have really surprised me in their quality, 86+ points.

The ’95 Chateauneuf line-up:

Clos du Mon Olivet (consumed from a magnum)
Initially this wine could have been confused with a mature red Burgundy through the nose, but air seemed to help it evolve back into Rhone form. It began w/ a very ferrous, iron rich scent that picked up notes of brine, tanned leather, grilled herbs, red plums, strawberries and pepper as it sat in the glass. The wine was medium in weight, but flexed some mineral-laced grip and was still quite formidable throughout the palate. Not the most suave, but a serious expression none the less, 90 points.

Janasse V.V.
This wine began in a severely disjointed fashion, but really came into its own as it evolved in the glass. As it integrated, it really showed what a seamless effort it was, evoking notions of damp earth, pepper, raspberry, cocoa and sappy dark cherries a la Burgundy throughout the palate. The flavors were well delineated, focused and possessed enough charm to keep just about anyone on the table happy, 92 points.

According to Paul, every one of his ‘95s has been a mess and this example was no different. I am not going to completely write off this wine, but it has lots of eccentric, unpleasant issues to resolve. Very funky aromatically, reminding me of roasted chestnuts, damp animal fur and sea salt scents that aren’t exactly the most attractive or alluring. While it did pick up a bit of continuity on the palate, with a velvety texture that gripped together notes of blueberries, cherries and incense that had some moderate length to them. Unorthodox and certainly not classy, but not terribly poor, thank goodness this cuvee has stepped it up in the 21st century, 81 points.

Chateau du Mourre du Tendre
An interesting effort from a producer that I am not that familiar with, this wine was neck in neck w/ the Janasse for best of the flight (considering the Boisrenard barely showed up). A bit of what could be called volatile acidity blew off to reveal smoky notes of tar, melted asphalt, spiced figs, ceiling wax and tobacco flavors that were well constructed, firm and sturdy in their presentation. The Mourre du Tendre is full of rustic, noble Chateauneuf character that encapsulates the vintage quite well, 91 points.

Vieux Telegraphe
Perhaps the best Telegraphe that I’ve ever tasted, putting the pedal to the medal in combining a sense of brute strength with just enough polish to make it truly compelling. Classic aromas of lilac, freshly cut cedar, garrigue, olive tapenade, dark fig and spicy blackberries fill the room with a truly compelling allure. The palate had that dusty Telegraphe hallmark, but it was so well-proportioned, long and expressive that I feel they reached the pinnacle of the house style they strive for w/ this vintage, 95 points.

Vieux Donjon
I find this to be a great example of how ‘a little green’ can go a long way. There were certain leafy elements to this wine throughout the nose and the palate that called to mind cabbage, celery stalk and romaine lettuce, but they were nearly submerged in crushed rock, tilled soil, dark plum, cocoa and pepper elements that I found it to be a harmonious match. This wine was suavely textured, earthy and elegant, with very nice length, but was not a profound Donjon as it didn’t pack in the generous pleasure that the best vintages of this wine deliver, 90 points.

I thought this was a fantastic vintage for Beaucastel, and one which I would be completely fooled over if I tasted it blind. Perhaps the most heady, youthful and exuberant nose of the evening, dazzling with pure kirsch liqueur, coffee, fruitcake and fig notes that had such a clean, pure and bountiful profile that I almost never associate with this producer (except for the 1998). The palate was thick, but bright, offering a hefty dose of imbedded Provencal flavors that were underscored by a brilliant minerality. One of the few wines that we tasted that I believe will improve even more with further cellaring, an absolute winner 95+ points.

Clos des Papes
True to the house style, this Clos des Papes offered up sweet, Burgundian fruit in a subtle, sexy profile that I’ve grown to adore in just about any vintage this producer fashions. Lovely spice notes include clove, cardamom, tobacco, cedar, cocoa and hints of caramel to rev up the elegant, finesse driven palate of pure kirsch flavors. In spite of the vintage’s backbone, Paul Avril still managed to fashion a silky, understated wine that would make any fan of this estate happy, 93 points.

Pegau Reservee
Performing just as it did when I tasted this wine a couple months back, still burly and dense, but compelling in the same right. The concentration of pepper, tobacco, garrigue, charcoal smoked beef, black currant and iron is all there, just as any Pegau lover would expect. The profile of the wine is a bit more muscular and dense than the ’98, ’00 and ’04, but reminds me a bit of the ’01 in its brooding personality. I believe this wine has another decade to go until it starts showing any sign of fatigue, 95 points.

Pegau Laurence
Unlike the ’98, this Laurence is showing truer to form in that it is evolved and much more mature than the Reservee. Elements of olive, roasted herbs, caramel, cedar and pure raspberry are complex on the palate in a much more medium bodied, racy package. This cuvee is not constructed to age like the Reservee and the ’95 demonstrates that to a t. I’d certainly consume this over the next couple years if I had any lying around in my cellar, 92 ponts.


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