Goodness, what a slothful bonanza of over-indulgence we sampled through! Chateauneuf is a blatant favorite of mine, so putting together two 21st century vintage horizontals was educational not only from a research stand point, but from a buying perspective as well (top wines from both the 2000 and 2004 vintages can still be found on retail shelves for relatively modest prices). Most of the wines tasted from both years were accessible (although still quite youthful, with vibrant, firm structures), overtly generous and a hedonistic delight.
A couple quick comments in regards to the small sample sizes of vintages tasted (and my background experience w/ both vintages):
- The best of 2004 is under-rated by most press and still somewhat under priced vis a vis their respective quality. The vintage is not only consistent, but the best wines have gained both richness and depth through their brief bottle aging. I’d be less concerned about these wines closing down than I would of the 2005s, as I imagine most of which are already giving pleasure, and should continue to do so for at least another decade (the best wines of 2004 should evolve and last for even longer).
- The 2000 crop produced boatloads of outrageously delicious wines that exhibit masked, sweet tannins and uncompromisingly fat fruit. While the best of 2003 and 2001 may eclipse the crème de la 2000, I personally find the 2000s flat out irresistible. Even though I may rate a 2001 or 1998 version of a particular producers wine higher than its 2000 counterpart, this ‘style’ flat out does it for me. There is nothing wrong w/ admitting ones subjectivity in wine, and vintages like this really bring out that color in me. 2000 had plenty of uniformity in quality, but the beauty of it is that each producers hallmark style shined through brighter than ever.
- I find that this regions juxtaposition of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ styles can co-exist in perfect harmony. Rustic wines of Chateauneuf can still be attractive and lush, overtly fruity wines can still have wonderful finesse. While that may be true of several regions, I find that tasting flights of Chateauneuf wines seem to have a more seamless continuity from style to style than any other region. Reactionaries don’t have much to complain about here, as there was only one over-oaked wine tasted (and just one wine that fit the ‘under-fruited’ bill)!
Pegau Blanc, 2006
A wine of crystalline purity and transparent focus. Scents of lilac, macadamia nuts, cuts melon and crushed rocks are not exotic or flamboyant, but piercing in their sense of seriousness. The fine tuned minerality and sharp acids keep things brisk and interesting. Pegau fans may not be thrilled, but I find it to be a lovely complement to the rouge because it plays the ‘opposites attract’ partner role very well. 90 points (just wish she was a bit cheaper).
Drappier Sendree Champagne, 1995
The nose of this wine segregated the table like the overstretched arms of Charlton Heston, causing a divergence of the seas in Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments. Although I am unfamiliar w/ the house of Drappier, I am lead to believe they induce a bit more oxidation than other producers in their vintage bubblies (I draw a comparison to the 1996 Duval Leroy in that regard). Fascinating, idiosyncratic notes of roasted hazelnuts, coffee, quince jam and goodness knows what else was going on in my glass!? The complexity was off the charts (but certainly not for everyone), though I think this sparkler found most of its fans in the explosive palate, full of sweet fruit, the likes of poached pears and baked apples. Although this voyage began w/ an exotic twist, the body of the wine was made honest with its fine minerality and laser sharp focus. 93 points.
Cold Heaven Viognier, 2006
I believe this project is the brainchild of Morgan Clendenen and Yves Cuilleron (Condrieu specialist), although Yves participation may be relegated to the higher echelon cuvees. Either way, fruit is sourced for Santa Barbara County, most of which likely coming from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. Clearly New World in its array of butterscotch, banana, wild flower and lychee nut flavors that are not bashful, nor apologetic for their flamboyance (but hey, it’s a Viognier, why should they be?). Large scaled and a touch hot, but this wild ride was still kept honest w/ plenty of attention to balance via sharp winemaking. A hell of a fun time! 91 points (not terribly far from the quality of Albans fruit up north).
First of the two cheapies poured (roughly 22 dollars at retail) and unfortunately a notch below in its current quality w/ respect to its frugal counterpart. Medium in weight, w/ slightly sappy notes of bramble berry, fig and mint that are kissed with refinement through the mid-palate but lose a bit of steam on the finish. I’ve enjoyed this a bit more in the past and think part of the reason it showed in lack luster fashion was due to the serving temperature being a bit high (we decided to chill the majority of the remaining wines for a few minutes before serving them and they all seemed to benefit from it). Still solid, but generally uninspiring. 89 points (better when served a bit cooler and I believe this wine has upside potential).
Beauchene Premier Terroir 2000
The only fully mature wine tasted this evening, exhibiting plenty of Burgundian scents of leather, dried vegetation, Indian spices, pepper and red cherries. Most of the tannin was resolved and one couldn’t help but notice a naked purity about this wine that was very alluring. Silky, earthy and full of iron hints on the finish. For fans of the mellow funk, 88 points (although it drank better than the Les Closiers, I still think that will be a better wine eventually).
The separation of men from the boys was pretty clear once I stuck my nose in this puppy! Sultry and thick, loaded to the gills w/ kirsch, crème de cassis, pepper and wild blueberry notes that coated the palate w/ their richness. The components of the wine were all very precise and buttressed by a serious, youthful grip. Pretty juice from a producer to keep an eye on. 93 points.
Clos des Papes 2004
If you are still chasing after the supercharged, pricey 2003, I encourage you to eye this vintage as it stacks every ounce of its density and concentration into a much more refined package. Tight, unevolved scents of ripe tobacco, sage, dill and leather brood, simply waiting to explode from this intensely wound elixir. There is a mouthful of expansive, sweet fruit evoking black currant and pure kirsch flavors that are seemingly immense, but oh so tantalizingly plush. I don’t know how Paul Avril does it, but he manages to shape wines of such bound concentration w/ an uncanny brush of polish, charm and symmetry that you just don’t find in any other wine. 96 points (and much more worthy of my lusting over compared to the 2003!).
Vieux Telegraphe 2000
A traditional, more rustic expression of the 2000 vintage that won’t win any fans over for charm and grace, but certainly has merit in its own right. Classical scents of cedar, tree bark, dried cumin, pepper and blackberry reduction are abundant, if a bit caustic. The profile in the mouth follows in a bloody, slightly chewy fashion, but most of the more abrasive textures this wine must have had in its youth have certainly mellowed w/ time. Although it isn’t my favorite style of Chateauneuf, I’m certainly glad that it exists and I would be remiss to not encourage wines like Clos du Mon Olivet and Vieux Telegraphe to continue fashioning juice of this nature as they are distinctive, and certainly at the apogee of their respective forms. 90 points, bring on the grilled game!
A stark contrast from the more earthy Telegraphe, this vintage of Boisrenard is undeniably a sexpot of sensually compelled vinous desires! Scents of crème de cassis, dark fig, sweet cherries, game and dried spices steam from the glass. The wine is remarkably coated w/ a satin gloss that graces the palate w/ kid gloves, tantalizing the taster into another sip. For all the pleasure this provides, it’s deceptively powerful, as the tune of fine-grained tannins pump out dark cocoa at the conclusion. Gorgeous indeed. 95 points.
I can’t drink this wine enough. I am the last person in the world to buy multiple cases of particular vintages, as I am of the mind to try as many distinct vintages, producers and regions as possible…but I could simply bathe in this wine for days, if not weeks! Yet another bottle that strikes me as absolutely outstanding. Truckloads of thyme, lavender and fried lard greet the nostrils as if they were a temptation from the devil herself (oh yes, the devil is certainly female…and she made me drink more, damnit!). The wine is blissfully round and almost creamy, pumping out dark fig, plum sauce and juicy, black raspberries. Searing w/ opulence and slathered w/ velvet, this has never failed to be a complete homerun. 97 points. While the 2003 will prove to be a longer lived, more structured example of Pegau, the 2000 just seems to tug at my heart a bit more, and probably always will.
-Leonard Fox was kind enough to bring an additional bottle of this vintage, which we all happily imbibed for dessert….Quick aside: We are all familiar w/ the sensation left in our mouths after eating garlic, onions, Epoisses cheese and the deliciously stinky concoctions conjured from them. It lingers to the extent that you are self aware of your own ‘garlic breath,’ so to speak. Well, w/ this vintage of Pegau in particular, I can’t help but feel like it leaves me w/ Pegau breath! The intensity and length of the garrigue essence is so profound that I fear I’ll be breathing it out for the rest of the night!
Vieille Julienne Vieilles Vignes 2000
The possible adjectives for this wine beg for an exhaustive study in thesaurus, but I’ll spare you the verbose metaphors…at least a little bit This wine is simply a massive, layered and captivating expression of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sexy but sturdy, sporting tiers of roast duck, black currant, crème de cassis, dark chocolate and a mélange of smoky spices that burst w/ power, nearly rupturing the palate. Mammoth and only an infant in terms of development, this ‘wine of the night’ left nearly all of us breathless after tasting it. A marvelous accomplishment! 99 points.
Domaine Saint Prefert, August Favier 2004
Isabel Ferrando had a tough act to follow, but boy did she bring her A game to the table w/ the ’04 Favier! The nose was so pretty it seemed as if the vapors it released were literally caressing me into a bit of a tantric seduction. Such a delightful scent presented itself, running the gamut from violets to exotic nutmeg and sweet cardamom spices. The palate had an ethereal sensitivity about itself, but was certainly not lacking in stature. Melted licorice and pure raspberry ganache flavors envelope an undercarriage of meadow herbs, rounding out on of the most attractive wines of the evening. 95 points.
-P.S., this wine is not only under-rated, but currently under-priced! Made in diminutive quantities, it is worth seeking out!
Janasse Chaupin 2004
Another sweet, silky and sensual wine, but of a bit smaller proportions (when compared to the Saint Prefert). Rich flavors of fig preserve, plum pudding, cinnamon spice and framboise are pure and effortlessly glide over the palate like a gentle, autumn breeze. Very fine and loaded w/ easy charm. 93 points.
Cuvee de Vatican Reserve Sixtine 2004
Although she was the wine of the night during Executive Wine Seminars look into the 2003 vintage, the ’04 rendition is a far cry from profound. The first (and only) wine tasted this evening that was marred by a maple wood, overtly oaky character that extended itself into the palate, flexing additional tannin and currently obscuring the fruit. Currently the wine is monolithic, w/ vanilla, graphite and fresh cherry submerged by structure. The least approachable and currently, least enjoyable wine of the evening. Difficult to currently evaluate, but my gut tells me the stuffing is a bit less robust than the ambitious winery treatment. Give it time and cross your fingers. 88-91 points
Clos St. Jean Deus Ex Machina 2004
The finale of the evening gave us a sneak preview on a wine that may overtake several front runners of this region, becoming a new standard bearer, flagship wine of Chateauneuf. A true synthesis of class and decadence, combining gorgeous, heart-throbbing notes of blueberry liqueur, crème de cassis, kirsch and blackberry reduction w/ a body to die for. A layered wine that reeks of generosity and is filled to the brim w/ depth. As time elapsed, the wine continued to evolve, gain complexity and showed off its substance in spades! Neck and neck w/ Clos des Papes for the wine of the vintage moniker in 2004, this certainly punctuated the tasting w/ a boom! 96+ points.
A Les Cailloux Cuvee Centenaire 2000 was also generously donated by Sarah Kirschbaum and, as karma would have it, the most anticipated and expensive wine of the evening was an ‘off’ bottle. No TCA, probably not a textbook example of heat damage either…but to paraphrase my wife, the wine smelled ‘an extra value meal from McDonalds, complete w/ mustard, emaciated beef and poppy seed bun.’ Unfortunately there wasn’t much value in that meal, and it was ceremoniously dumped into the make-shift spittoon. We also tasted a 2001 Doisey Vedrines Sauternes, which was a bit on the eccentric side. Certainly not a voluptuous example, sporting bee pollen, lanolin, saffron and apricot…I found it crisp, provocative, but not entirely pleasurable.
Now that I have officially tired your eyes and voracious appetites from exhaustive verbiage, I bid you all a fond adieu. I appreciate every one of you for coming, complete w/ palates thirsting for Grenache and throats brewing w/ witty banter. Good times my friends, good times.