The first media coverage from barrel tastings of the 2007 vintage Chateauneuf-du-Pape sounded like more hype from producers and distributors in desperate need to sell product in a terrible economy (Best in five decades. Unequalled in history. Etc.). Other areas of France drew mixed reviews for the 2007 vintage. However, a recent tasting of 21 wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintage 2007 provided powerful proof of the quality of the vintage. The 21 wines were tasted during the Sixth Annual Robert M. Parker Jr. Wine Seminar and Tasting to benefit the Wine Advocate Scholarship Fund, which provides wine education courses at the Rudd Center, Culinary Institute of America, Greystone Campus. Parker provided an introduction to the history of wine growing in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and then led the tasting in the Ecolab Theater
He said Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the epicenter for Grenache, which has been a blending grape throughout history and is a difficult grape to make great wines. The vines need to be pruned aggressively and the grapes hand-harvested as late as possible so sugar is at 25 brix, translating to wines with 14 to 15 percent alcohol. The wines don’t need chaptalization (adding sugar in fermentation to increase alcohol levels). Juice from old vines gets no wood aging.
“Cabernet needs wood, Grenache does not,” Parker said.
He said 2007 is the greatest vintage he ever tasted in the southern Rhone. Wines from this fine vintage will be at their best from years four through fifteen, Parker said.
“The brightness in these wines is extraordinary,” he told the assemblage at the Culinary Institute, which included winemakers from different countries, collectors, educators and media.
Parker selected the order of the 21 wines. It started with the more traditional styles (old vines, concrete tanks, whole clusters) to some newer style wines with steel fermenters and some oak aging (from large old barrels to selected lots aged in small new oak barrels). My tasting notes broke the wines into three groups: classic, excellent and very good. In analyzing the rankings and the incredibly close scores, mathematicians would say the differences among the first seven wines were statistically insignificant. The same for wines eight through fourteen, then wines fifteen through twenty-one.
On any given day, as they say in the National Football League, one wine might rise to the top of its group or even higher given the conditions, the environment, time of the day, order of wines served and a myriad other factors, including the stylistic preferences of the person doing the tasting. In this tasting, I tended to favor the wines made in the traditional style, with whole clusters going into the fermentation tanks and little or no use of wood. Here are my rankings from that day, with brief notes on the blends and fermentation techniques for the top eight wines:
First Group – Classics
FIRST – Clos Des Papes. Destemmed, old vines (50 years plus). 65 Grenache. 20 Mourvedre, rest a blend. Herbaceous, mint, alcohol, prune nose; complex flavors; balanced, unified elements, all parts working together; most elegant of the lot.
SECOND – Clos du Mont-Olivet, La Cuvee du Papet. Traditional style. 60-100 year old vines. 700-800 cases. 80 percent tank fermented, 20 percent old barrels (500 liter). Whole clusters. Berries, earth, jam, light stemminess; mid-body, round, ripe, elegant; great structure; long finish.
THIRD -Domain du Vieux Telegraphe, La Crau. 135 acres. 65 Grenache, rest Syrah and Mourvedre. Partial destem, concrete tanks. Weedy, herbaceous, minty nose; mid-body to big; round and ripe; great balance on the finish.
FOURTH – Chateau Rayas, Reserve. 100 percent Grenache. 35-45 year old vines. Late harvest. Sandy soils. 100 percent whole clusters. Complex nose (licorice, stemminess, cherries, lavender); big, young tannins; long rich finish.
FIFTH – Domaine Charvin, 85 percent Grenache, 5 Syrah, 5 Mourvedre, 5 other. 100 percent clusters. Cement, no wood. Almost sweet floral nose, herbaceous, bright; tight structure, complex, a little hot on the finish; rich aftertaste.
SIXTH – Domaine Grande Veneur, Les Origines. 50 Grenache. 30 Mourvedre. 20 Syrah. New oak on the Grenache, no oak on the remainder. Earthy, stemmy, herbaceous, oaky nose; round, ripe on the palate; bigger style.
SEVENTH – Domain de la Janasse, Vieilles Vignes. 16 percent alcohol. 85 Grenache. 15 Syrah. New oak. Mint, jam, ripe grapes in the nose; big, fat, grapey, huge fruit extract; long finish.
EIGHTH – Chateau de Beaucastel, 60 Mourvedre, 20 Grenache, 20 Syrah. Destemmed, oak and steel fermenters, old oak casks. Herbaceous, earthy nose, a little closed at first; bigger, tannic, but balanced; opens with time.
Second Group – Excellent
– Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Cuvee de mon Aieul
– Domaine Olivier Hillaire, Les Petits Pieds d’Armand
– Domaine de Saint Prefert, Collection Charles Giraud
– Les Cailloux, Cuvenee Centenaire
– Domaine Giraud, Grenaches de Pierre
– Domaine La Barraoche
Third Group – Very Good
– M. Chapoutier, Barbe Rac
– Bousquet Des Papes,
Chante Le Merle, Vielles Vignes
– Domaine Font De Michelle, Cuvee Etienne Gonnet
– L’Accent De La Roquete
– La Bastide Saint Dominique, Secrets de Pignan
– Le Clos du Caillou, Reserve
Subsequent tastings of 2007 vintage Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines in a broad range of prices from $15 to $50 added further validation to the quality of the vintage. Even if it’s only trying one bottle for a special occasion now, or setting aside cases for the future, your experience with these classic wines from the southern Rhone will be memorable.