2007, Prime Time for Chateauneuf du Pape
In case you were wondering, this is not another vintage of the century stance, but merely my opportunity to comment on the importance of timing. See Chateaunuef du Pape has had an unprecedented string of fabulous vintages that trace back to 1998 (save for a hiccup or two in ’02 and ’03) which makes a strong case that the region could rival Napa Valley in terms of consistency. In addition to consistency in quality, the vintages in the past ten years have all offered unique characteristics for just about everyone. The ‘99s, ‘04s and ‘06s will likely have similarities in terms of early maturity and precocious drinking throughout their lives, while the dynamic duo of ’00 and ’01 could only be compared to ’89 and ’90 in terms of paralleled excellence & profile. While ’05 was a watershed year for Bordeaux and Burgundy, the ’06 and ’07 vintages face the inevitable hangover from the ’05 campaign’s excessive hype and pricing hyperbole.
In Chateauneuf, 2005 was an exceptionally structured vintage that will likely require a tremendous amount of patience, which is a bit atypical for a region that tends to reveal quite a bit of early charm. From a pricing standpoint, ’05 didn’t really change the game for this region like it did in Bordeaux and Burgundy (though the weakness of the dollar and the anointing of Clos des Papes as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year did bring a bit more upward pressure on cost), so the Southern Rhone may have begun to slip into French wine connoisseurs consciousness by default. Well, as luck has it, ’06 and ’07 have been right on cue, w/ the former vintage offering fresh, perfumey fruit in a forward, lush style and the latter vintage punctuating w/ a blockbuster chord that is sure to ignite & resonate w/ consumers across the globe.
Chateauneuf du Pape’s level of quality can be attributed to its preponderance of old vines, consistency of climate, uniquely rocky soils and the desiccating Mistral winds that dry up the vines after timely rains. The increasing volume of producers that domaine bottle their own wines has only augmented the quality surge over the past decade, as the role of the negociant becomes less and less with each following year. These young, passionate producers have injected a tremendous amount of life into the region, with their steadfast focus cast on biodynamic farming, non-interventional wine-making and frightfully low yields acting as their mantra. Where else in the world will I come into contact w/ winemakers in their mid-twenties telling me ‘Brad, the wine is made in vineyard!’ Producers the likes of Julien Barrot and Alexandre Favier are carrying the torch into the next decade with very different wines, yet uniquely profound results.
2007s from Chateauneuf will attract fans from both the new and old worlds, showcasing uncanny depth of fruit, remarkable textures and opulent, yet grounded personalities. They struck me as an even headier version of the 2000 vintage, perhaps possessing even more richness & intensity but in a similarly accessible fashion. Generally speaking, infant wines resting in the barrels (or in the case of many Chateauneufs, cement) aren’t supposed to taste this good! Several of the top cuvees will likely take close to a year to totally ferment dry, with Grenache appearing to be the grape that fared best (fans of pure Grenache blends are sure to rejoice in this vintage’s character). While the yields were a bit on the high side for some (relative to the region’s average), it hasn’t dampened the wines one cent in terms of concentration or power (and hey, a bit more wine never hurt a consumer!). A drawback to the vintage is the level of alcohol in the wines, which is typically high in Chateauneuf but this vintage in particular is likely to see some record highs at Janasse & Barroche. Though they pack an alcoholic punch, the wines I sampled showed exquisite balance & never revealed excessive heat or flaccid textures that are often associated w/ high alcohol levels (and bear zero resemblance to the erratic wines of the ’03 vintage).
To my palate, Charvin, Chante Cigale, Clos du Mont Olivet, Saint Prefert and several others made some of their most impressive wines to date in 2007, and while they aren’t going to be cheap, they will be wines that I’m certain to seek out for the cellar. If I were of a drinking age in the early 90’s and had the opportunity to put away any bottlings from 89/90 and didn’t, I’d be faced w/ a regret that I am not willing to face for the ’07 vintage. Pegau lovers will be excited to know that Laurence made her first Da Capo cuvee since the 2003 vintage and her ‘07s look to be in line w/ her ‘03s from a qualitative standpoint.
Some things in the wine world seem to be all about timing…and for the Southern Rhone valley, it appears that the 2007 vintage will sound the bell for Chateauneuf w/ Bordeaux and Burgundy out to lunch. Bon appetit Rhone lovers!