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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A white that's worth searching for...

What’s been lost in Chateauneuf du Pape’s red hot run has been the progress the appellation has made w/ their white wines. While the trivial percentage of total acreage dedicated to white grapes is likely to remain in the single digits, few white wines in the world are as dynamic as Clos des Papes. The domaine utilizes just about every white grape allowed under A.O.C. law, providing a unique glimpse into the range and finesse of Chateauneuf du Pape blanc.

Several popular micro-cuvees have become Roussanne dominated, which is likely the region’s most famous, and only 'noble' white grape. While Roussanne can produce exotic, viscous, exceptionally full-bottled wines packed with honeysuckle and rose water flavors, they tend to lack the freshness and mouth-watering acidity that most enophiles expect from fine white wine. While Clos des Papes does not omit Roussanne from the blend entirely, it’s clear that the singular, razor sharp edge of the wine is thanks to Roussanne’s supporting cast. The purity of the flavors is further preserved by an upbringing in stainless steel and neutral wood casks.

Fans of Huet & Foreau Vouvray or Baumard Savennieres may particularly appreciate the waxy, bitter almond-like profile that Clos des Papes tends to express. In addition, Burgundy lovers are often blown away by how this wine evolves in the bottle, so tucking a few away for the cellar may also be worth your while (Rayas, Vieux Telegraphe & Beaucastel have solid track records for aging as well).

Clos des Papes '06 Blanc CDP
This is always a terrific wine (as well as a great counterpoint to Beaucastel's Roussanne dominated blend) & one of which fans of fine Chenin Blanc should seek out. The coy nose is still reticent & taut, but the ethereal experience that unfolds in the mouth more than attones for its shy scent. A deceptively concentrated wine, packed w/ green tea, crunchy apple, macadamia nut and persimmon flavors that are tied together by a pleasantly bitter finish, which lets a shadow of honey sneak into the picture. A spry, nuanced beauty that is set for the cellar, 95 points.

Clos des Papes '05 Blanc CDP
'05 is a quintessentially understated, finely crafted field blend that reveals the typically deft 'Avril touch.' Perhaps the archetypal example of the ‘whole’ netting a greater result than the sum of its parts, the subtle, penetrating sensations of lemon verbena, chamomile tea, paraffin, marzipan and quince reverberate on the reserved, yet deeply rich core. The flavors fan out beautifully on the long, cackling finish that leaves me breathless. This white’s focus is as cunning and chiseled as I’ve ever experienced from the Southern Rhone, and I imagine this won't peak for at least another decade, 95 points.

Clos des Papes '98 Blanc CDP
Vincent Avril is a staunch advocate of waiting ten years to drink his white Chateauneuf. While I rarely possess the patience of waiting even ten months to drink any bottle of Clos des Papes, this ’98 makes a terrific case for following Avril's advice. The nose is subtle, as elegant notes of wild flowers, crushed stone, grilled hazelnuts and candied lemon verbena weave their way from the belly of the wine. In the mouth, the body is palpably sharp, with all the piercing pitch one would find in a fine Puligny Montrachet (minus the oxidation). The delicate, yet generous frame is the stuff White Burgundy dreams are made of, 92 points.

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