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Sunday, May 04, 2008

The wines of Clos du Mont Olivet

There are 25 hectares of Chateauneuf du Pape for the traditionally styled Clos du Mont Olivet domaine (only 2 hectares are dedicated to white grapes). Thierry Sabon has recently taken over the winemaking duties and looks to be in fine form after a hiccup or two during his first vintage. The quality level of the red wines from Mont Olivet, in particular the Papet, is no secret, but what may surprise their fans is the domaine’s potential for making truly profound white wines. The evolution of their 2001 proved to be one of the shockers of my trip and was a tasting experience I shared w/ just about every white Rhone naysayer I could find. In addition, the breadth and diversity of the Cotes du Rhone wines in the stable of Clos du Mont Olivet are worth looking into as well.

Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2007
7 grape varieties are used in the white Chateauneuf, with the Roussanne (20-25%) seeing some time in barrel. The nose is lush and inviting, full of tropical characteristics such as peach, mango, white flowers and the telltale honeysuckle note I’ve come to adore in these whites. In the mouth, the wine is bright and stony, w/ an excellent mineral definition that chisels its body beautifully to the finish, 91 points.

Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, 2001
Perhaps the white wine that I championed more than any other during my trip, this wild and idiosyncratic gem was a dead ringer for a top notch Meursault (which happens to be my favorite zone for Chardonnay in Burgundy). A fantastic bouquet, laced w/ grilled hazelnuts, smoked maple wood, dried flowers and honeyed quince notes that sent shivers down my spine. In the mouth, there is ample fat and concentration, but the razor sharp intensity is what provides the drive, stretching its legs w/ terrific length on the finish. If tasted blind, this would absolutely shock any die hard Burgundy fan w/ its oodles of complexity and fabulous purity. Next to Clos des Papes, Beaucastel, Chave, Cuilleron and Chapoutier, this performance was as thrilling as any Rhone white I’ve put to my lips, 94 points.

Font de Blanche Cotes du Rhone, 2006
A solid ’06, with scents of strawberries and briar in the nose that turn a bit chunky in the mouth, as the palate flexes some tarry grip on the iron kissed finish. While I doubt this will ever be a seamless wine, some short-term cellaring should help round out her edges nicely, 85+ points.

Montueil La Levade Cotes du Rhone Vieilles Vignes, 2006
The older vines give this cuvee much more density to the dark cherry, spicebox and bramble notes. Chewy and a bit burly in the mouth, w/ very good depth and concentration, as a flutter of garrigue checks in on the finish, adding a suggestion of additional complexity, 88+ points.

Serre du Catin Cotes du Rhone, 2006
Perhaps the most intriguing and ambitious Cotes du Rhone bottling, the Serre du Catin is 100 percent Grenache, a rather unique cepage for the unassuming appellation. This effort is all about finesse and purity of fruit, speckled with precocious raspberry ganache, cardamom and a mélange of other tempting spices. The attack is silky, seductive and delivers delicious waves of finely proportioned red fruits in a fashion that seems to personify the vintage to a t, 89 points.

Les Petit Mon, Chateauneuf du Pape 2006
This is a relatively new cuvee for Clos du Mont Olivet and is carved out of the domaine’s younger vine parcels. This is generally an offering that will provide immediate accessibility and short-term drinking, but this sample had just been bottled and may not have shown its best. Demonstrating a vigorously tannic texture that was abnormally coarse for the vintage, the flavors of anise, pepper, cherries and underbrush were a bit less charming than I had hoped for. Once this settles into bottle a bit more, I imagine it will provide plenty of pleasure over the next 5-7 years, 86-88 points.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2006
The typical blend for Clos du Mont Olivet consists of roughly 80-90% Grenache, 10% Syrah and the remaining proportion goes to Mourvedre. The difference in quality from the Cotes du Rhone & Les Petit Mon bottlings is immediately apparent, as the Chateauneuf du Pape showcases a much suppler, round, suave profile. The nose is forward and full of dark fruits such as plums, fig and dark cherries. Fabulously textured in the mouth, as layers of melted licorice coat the medium bodied, finely grained structure, letting hints of minerality check in on the finish, 91 points.

Cuvee du Papet, 2006
This ’06 barrel sample represents the best parts of the most coveted vineyard parcels and is only made when the vintage conditions warrant it (thus far it was made in 89, 90, 98, 00, 03, 04 & 05). Easily the most constituted and sappy in the mouth, as dark cherry liqueur, kirsch, pepper and spicy black fruits pump out along some serious structure and big time length. One of the more powerful, darker toned wines of the vintage and is certain to merit some short-term cellaring, 91-93 points.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2005
When I tasted this upon release, I found it to be fairly backward and unyielding, but the past few experiences have proved to be much more generous. The nose sports a piercing set of aromatics, w/ baked gingerbread, blackberry sauce, kirsch and liqueur-like fruits that detonate in the mouth. Pure fruit and absolutely dynamite on the attack, with lush tiers of flavors gliding along firm, yet well ripened tannins to a top flight finish, 93 points.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2007 barrel samples
Thierry poured us a couple different samples from ’07, teetering on which would be the Papet and what tank would best be served as the foundation for the base cuvee. While both were spectacular, we ended up agreeing on which one was the real all-star. The Papet showed a brooding profile that was almost severe, building tremendous viscosity in the mouth, coupled w/ depth of flavor that was out of this world. I pegged the samples at 92-94 and 94-96, respectively.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2004
Another high toned, forward example of ’04 that continues to show extremely well is the Clos du Mont Olivet Chateauneuf. Full of hot stones, crushed berry fruit, kirsch and gingerbread flavors that are as pure as can be from start to finish. There is ample weight, intensity and freshness to provide excellent drinking over the next decade, 91+ points.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 2003
Thierry is not entirely keen on his ’03, even though most customers that visit the cave seem to love it. The heat of the vintage seems to have tempered the wine’s depth and length a bit, as it showed in a more superficially pleasing fashion, with rose petals, licorice, cinnamon stick, date bread and nutmeg notes. The attack had frank sweetness to the fruit, as it seemed ripe and figgy, but the wine is plagued by a shallow and attenuated mid-palate and is likely best drank over the next 4-5 years, 85 points.

Chateauneuf du Pape, 1999
This is yet another classic example of the quick to mature vintage and is arguably showing at its apex, w/ a complex of array of licorice root, beef juices, fig and braised game notes. Again, this will definitely not be one for the brettophobes, but it’s important to note that the layers of sauvage elements are interwoven w/ fruit in an easy harmony, echoing along the sappy finish for close to 30 seconds, 92 points.

Cuvee du Papet, 1998
This is one of the benchmark vintages of the luxury Papet cuvee, and it has really begun to hit its stride. Powerful and full of youthful vigor, the gorgeous aromatics of graphite, garrigue, brick dust, pepper and black currant hypnotize the taster to another sip. Deep and beefy in the mouth, the wines immense body pumps out Provencal essences and terroir in spades. In spite of the Papet’s thickness and extract, there is a lovely sense of imbedded finesse that is beginning to emerge from its ten year stint in the bottle that makes it compelling to drink today, 95 points.

Mystery half bottle…
Thierry cryptically opened an unmarked 375 milliliter bottle for ‘dessert’ and it proved to offer a fascinating conclusion to the tasting. The wine was wildly esoteric in its synthesis of the sauvage and the herbaceous. Perhaps the only wine I’ve had in recent memory that I could actually differentiate separate types of meat in its character, as fried sausage, salted pork, bailed hay, grilled plum and blood all made an appearance in the nose. The palate was a touch bitter and a bit too herby for its own good, but certainly didn’t lack character or complexity, leaving a distinctive sense of sweet balsamic and loam in its tracks on the finish. Although my mid-80’s experience w/ Chateauneuf is relatively paltry, this 1984 Clos du Mont Olivet provided me with a much needed window of how the relatively poor years can still muster quite a bit of life at age 24. Certainly not the most pleasurable or compelling wine of the trip, but it etched a memorable impression & left me with a tangible time capsule of sorts that I won’t soon forget, 83 points.


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