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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Wines of Janasse, Batting a Thousand in ‘06

Since Aime Sabon founded Domaine Janasse in 1973, the family’s vineyard holdings have increased from 15 hectares to a formidable 55 hectares, with roughly a quarter of the vines residing within Chateauneuf du Pape. His son, Christophe took over vinification duties in ’91 and was joined by his charming sister Isabelle in 2001. The Janasse Domaine is now run by the entire Sabon family and they have put together an impressive portfolio from top to bottom.

Janasse arguably has the most expansive line-up of whites amongst Chateauneuf producers, two of which feature an exotic kick from Viognier (with clones that come from Condrieu’s top dog, Yves Cuilleron) that really set them apart stylistically from their peers. Their VDP blanc, CDR blanc and Chateauneuf blanc all offer exceptional quality for their respective prices, and the Domaine has been experimenting w/ a pure Roussanne cuvee in the past decade that is lavishly oaked, unctuous and appears to be establishing a bit of a track record for aging quite well (according to Isabelle).

In addition to their impressive spectrum of whites, their CDR Villages were some of the best examples of their breed that I tasted during my trip. With vineyards located just outside the boundaries of Chateauneuf du Pape (and adjacent to the Coudoulet plot from Beaucastel), the ‘les Garrigues’ and ‘Terre d’Argile’ cuvees are full of intensity, richness and depth that I seldom find in wines from the nebulous Cotes du Rhone appellation.

Of course, their Chateauneuf du Pape cuvees aren’t too shabby either ;) On to their terrific ‘06s (and some early release 07s)!

Janasse Cotes du Rhone Blanc, 2007
This is a perennial favorite value for me when it comes to white Rhones. The wine is handled in a no-frills fashion as it receives no oak and does not undergo malolactic fermentation. Much like the ’06 version of this cuvee, the wine is exceptionally fragrant, with no shortage of spring flower, honeysuckle, granny smith apple and candle wax notes. Although it is neither immense nor powerful in the mouth, there is a gorgeous sappy texture that pumps along a freshly defined frame that offers up an immediate charm that I find difficult to resist, 89 points.

Janasse VDP White
VDP wines from France are not vintage labeled but I believe the bulk of the fruit came from 2007. This pure Viognier (from Cuilleron’s Condrieu cuttings) goes through full malolactic fermentation and reveals generous notes of peach blossoms, honeyed citrus and apricot custard in the nose. The palate is fat and creamy, with ample acidity to pump along its tropical flavors to a fine finish, 90 points.

Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2007
The domaine’s white Chateauneuf is composed of 60% Grenache Blanc, with one quarter Roussanne that spends 6 months in barrel. This is a wine I could almost blindly buy irrespective of the vintage and the ’07 has a beautifully poised profile of lush fruit flavors that are kissed w/ judicious toast, fine symmetry and a deep finish of pure crushed stone. While generous in nature, there is a bit more finesse in this wine than you tend to find in white Chateauneuf, 91 points.

Janasse Prestige Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2006
A perfect counterpoint to the base cuvee is the Prestige, a Roussanne blend that is a pedal to the medal, full bodied expression that spends 18 months in French oak barrels. The wine is crammed w/ opulent flavors of citrus oil, shaved vanilla bean, pineapple, nutmeg and warm brioche. Thick, powerful and authoritatively deep in the mouth, there is quite a bit of toast and baby fat that some will find extremely attractive and others will likely scowl at. Isabelle says that the ’98 is drinking beautifully and finds the cuvee loaded w/ cellaring potential (which is always a bit of a dodgy proposition w/ Roussanne, but can be extremely rewarding), 93+ points.

Janasse Cotes du Rhone Rouge, 2007
The ’07 CDR underwent a quick elevage in foudre and is made in a straight-forward, immediately drinkable style. Notes of sweet cherry liqueur, sandalwood, spice box, pepper and gravelly earth present themselves in the glass. The wine is medium bodied, tannic but possesses suave enough texture to be drunk young or cellared for a few years. Not the most complex of reds, but it doesn’t proclaim to be anything but deliciously balanced, 86 points.

Janasse VDP Rouge
A 2006 cuvee that emulates a hybrid of Crozes-Hermitage synthesized w/ a modest St. Emilion, blending 40% Syrah, 40% Merlot from 50 year old vines and the balance of the blend comes from Cabernet Franc. The scents take me to the Right Bank, as notions of cedar, graphite, aged tobacco and red currants fill the air, but shift to a more tarry, dark plum profile in the palate that reminds me of a Northern Rhone. Janasse trademark polish, suave tannins caress the wine to a juicy finish. The VDP wines at Janasse aspire to be more than pleasant, and I believe they represent terrific value, 89 points.

Janasse Cotes du Rhone Villages, Terre d’Argile 2006
This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre comes from clay soils located next to the Coudoulet wines produced at Beaucastel and is a terrific expression of CDR. As aromatic as they come, gushing notes of crushed rocks, blackberry liqueur, black cherries, smoke and bittersweet cocoa powder are almost startling, as if they take you by surprise. The palate is dense and packed w/ meaty black raspberries that pump along a taut frame to gorgeously long finish, 91+ points.

Janasse Cotes du Rhone ‘Les Garrigues,’ 2006
A pure Grenache Cotes du Rhone? Absolutely, and a fabulous one at that! The nose reveals a strong perfume of rose petals, kirsch, gingerbread and black cherries. Plush, plump and well defined in the palate, pumping out sweet licorice laced fruits to a long, heady finish. One of the best wines from the Rhone that money can buy, 92+ points.

Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, 2006
The base Chateauneuf du Pape is perhaps a touch less showy and impressive than their Cotes du Rhone (did I just say that?), but is a rock solid performer in 2006 nonetheless. Panoplies of scents emerge from the bouquet in the form of loam, lead pencil, seaweed and meaty cherries. The wine is juicy and defined in the palate, w/ good acidity and a moderate finish, 91 points.

Janasse Cuvee Chaupin, Chateauneuf du Pape 2006
This admirably consistent, pure Grenache cuvee from cool soils showed a bit closed during my tasting, but was extremely promising. A heady perfume of violets, melted licorice, pine, spice box and dark fruits rose from the glass like fields of ambrosia. Unfortunately, the tightly knit palate was firm and unyielding, although it alluded to a wondrous mineral tone and intensity of fruit to come, 93+ points.

Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape, Vieilles Vignes 2006
This cuvee from Janasse is composed of 80% Grenache, w/ Syrah and Mourvedre picking up the slack and it is traditionally a more sinewy, powerful wine than the Chaupin, due not only to the blend, but the warmer, rockier soils it comes from. This 2006 is nothing short of fantastic, greeting the taster w/ blockbuster perfumes of savory spice, wild blueberries, grilled steak, sweet kirsch and underbrush notes that have an underlying severity that really beckons you to the glass. The wine is massively layered in the mouth and, perhaps most impressively, exhibits tiers of subtlety. The glimpses of earth, minerality and meaty spices evoke the vivid imagery of a Provencal barbeque. The ’06 Vieilles Vignes from Janasse is an excellent showcase of terroir, strength of purity and offers a sense of profundity that almost belies the vintage, 96+ points.

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