Chateauneuf-du-Pape: Years of Great Vintages, Big Taste

The southern Rhone has had a steady stream of great Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintages, excluding 2008 which was still far above average. The 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Papes are considered to be nothing short of magnificent – and maybe beginning to get interesting in 2020 or later. I have friends with vintages going back to 2004 cellared-away for a special day. I remember days when I did the same. The 2009s are generally outstanding and with some ready to drink now. That’s the good news. (See pronunciations and shopping tips below.)

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a wine I’m quite familiar with. The 2009 is a beautiful creamy mouthful now, seemingly early, but in January 2013 I found it lushly approachable with surprisingly silky soft tannins. The color is deep plummy purple. The nose is smoky, musky, tobacco-ey, and reminds of grilled meats with the rich, but slightly bitter dark cherry essence that often marks southern Rhone fruit. On the palate, it tastes of  dark berries and unexpectedly a bit of intense fresh wild raspberry. I found it full-bodied with an gutsy finish that insists on giving your money’s worth. Optimum drinking for the 2009 is probably 2015-2018 or longer for this earlier maturing wine.

Beaucastel has a traditional mix of grapes with 30% Mourvèdre and 30% Grenache dominating. Beaucastel also uses smaller percentages of Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault.

The thirteen grape varieties of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation with a strong percentage of Mourvèdre and Grenache (30% each), Syrah 10%, Counoise 10% Cinsault 5% and the rest divided up amongst the remaining grape varieties: Vaccarèse, Terret noir, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne.

The Grenache and the Cinsault give the wine its colour, intensity and softness. The Mourvèdre, Syrah, Muscardin and Vaccarèse give the wine its renowned ageing potential and dark, classic character. The Counoise, Picpoul and other varieties provide freshness, fragrance and aromatic quality…

…Most of the varieties are fermented separately until the malo-lactic fermentation is completed, at which point they are blended after comprehensive tastings.

The young wine then matures in large oak barrels of 40 hl /1000 gal. for about 12 months. Fining is carried out with egg whites, and then the wine is bottled and left to age one more year in Beaucastel’s cellars before being offered for sale. Source: Chateau de Beaucastel

As expected, the 2009 needed opening at least one hour in advance with some time in glass before becoming openly friendly.

I find the 2009 available from $90 to $120 and sold out in some areas. The 2010 is selling for less, around $75 but the price will rise dramatically as the wine matures. If you cellar, now is the time to buy the 2010 and put it away. You’ll be glad you did.

Beaucastel also produces Coudelet de Beaucastel, sometime referred to as Baby Beaucastel – the 2009 selling at about $30 or under. It’s worth your time to shop for if it you love quality big red wine but want to be under the $50-per-bottle marker. The 2009 is a version of the Big Daddy, discussed above and can be cellared for another 7 years or so.

Beaucastel Wines are imported by Vineyard Brands, long-standing name among importers of fine wines from around the world.

Lucien et André Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Lec Cailloux

Lucien et André Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Lec Cailloux

Let’s move to another Chateauneuf that belongs in the same league as Beaucastel, Lucien andAndrel Brunel Chateauneuf-de- Pape Les Cailloux  which has a long history of spectacular Chateauneuf-du-Pape – 12 successive years of Wine Advocate ratings of at least 90 (excepting 2002). The 2009 and 2010 are int he market now. I see it at about $45 to $55. Seventy percent Mouvedre, 20% Grenache, Syrah and other accepted varietals, drinking well now and can be consumed for the next 10-15 years. Brunel is a smaller producer with a unique approach to his Rhone blends. Les Cailloux is the name of the Brunel’s chateau and refers to the “big stones” so prominent in the vineyards. The chateaux vines average about 60 years of age.

[2009] It’s bright, jazzy, spicy, complex, and a stunner to just sip but a food wine almost without peer. This, with a grilled, herb-crusted pork tenderloin is a match made in Foodie Heaven.

Robert Parker: 95 Pts | The Rhone Report: 93 Pts | Steven Tanzer: 91-92 Pts  Source: Let’spour

Andre Brunel wines are imported by Robert Kacher Selections. I took the photo below on a trip with Kacher and other wine buyers, merchants and sommeliers to the South of France. Such a great experience and honor to travel with Bobby and visit some of the properties he imports. I can’t remember exactly which vineyard is in the photo, but what you see is characteristic of the growing environment of southern Rhone vines.

Robert Kacher, Robert Kacher Imports in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Robert Kacher, Robert Kacher Imports in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Map of the Rhone Valley

Map of the Rhone Valley

Some trivia:

Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP) is a village in France, in the southern portion of the Rhone River Valley, in the Côtes du Rhone, which is an AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), further meaning that the name is protected. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is it’s own AOC. All Chateauneuf-du-Pape is Côtes du Rhone, but not all Côtes du Rhone are Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is not produced outside the boundaries of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. You can grow the same grapes and use the same blends and your wine may be Chateauneuf-du-Pape-like, but it isn’t Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Chateauneuf-du-Pape means ‘The Pope’s New Castle,’ referring to Pope Clement who used the area as his summer retreat 1308. Other AOCs in the southern Rhone are Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Lirac. There are about 7900 acres within the CdP AOC located between Avignon and Orange. The area produces more wine than the north and south Rhone combined.

Me, standing under the New Castle of the Pope in Châteauneuf Du Pape

Me, standing under the New Castle of the Pope in Châteauneuf Du Pape (yes, those are giant white earmuffs)

As you can see in my photo below of a very old, quite awesome Rhone vine from my Kacher trip, the ground is stony, some areas much more so than others. The rocks are important to the development of the fruit by radiating heat to the grapes to aid ripening, but the cooler evenings allow the fruit to rest a bit while ripening continues. The soil under the rocks ranges from sand, clay and limestone from ancient river beds. Summer temps average about 72 degrees with 3000 hours of sunshine annually.

An old vine in the Côtes du Rhone (taken in the month of January)

An old vine in the Côtes du Rhone (taken in the month of January)

Pronounciation Tips (don’t worry about accent marks). The following are not perfect but perfectly acceptable in the U.S.:

● André Brunel: On-dray Brew-nel
● Avignon: Av-in-yawn (Av as in ‘avenue’)
● Beaucastel: Bow-cass-tell (Bow as in ‘bow’ and arrow) (cass rhymes with lass) (tell as in ‘tell’ a story)
● Chateau: Sha-tow (Sha as in sha-zam, not as in shaw) (tow as in tow a car or the toe on your foot)
● Bourboulenc: Boo-bow-lank (boo as in the Halloween boo) (bow rhyming with tow a car)
● Chateauneuf-de-Pape: Sha-tow-noof do Pop (Sha as in sha-zam, not as in shaw) (tow as in tow a car or the toe on your foot) (do as in to do a task) (Pop as in soda pop)
● Cinsault: Sawn-sew (sawn rhymes with dawn) (sew as in sew a sock or it is so)
● Coudelet: Co-do-lay (Co as in the co in co-chairman) (do as in to do)
● Counoise: Coon-waws (coon rhymes with boon) (waws rhymes with saws)
● Côtes du Rhone: Coat doo Rown (as in the coat you wear) (Rown as in a horse with a roan color)
● Gigondas: Gee-gone-dass (gone as in gone from here) (dass rhymes with lass)
● Grenache: Greh-nawsh (nawsh rhymes with josh)
● Les Cailloux: Lay Cai-you (Cai rhymes with ‘by’)
● Lirac: Lee-rack
● Mourvedre: Moo-ved-ruh
● Muscardin: Mewseh-car-dahn (Mewseh has the sound of ‘use’)(dahn as in the morning dawn)
● Picardan: Pee-car-dahn (dahn as in the morning dawn)
● Picpoul: Pick-pool
● Roussanne: Roo-sawn (sawn rhymes with dawn)
● Shiraz: Shee-razz
● Syrah: See-raw (raw rhymes with law)
● Terret Noir: Terr-in Nwah (Nwah has the sound of ‘waw’ rhyming with ‘law’ with an N-sound at the beginning)
● Vaccarèse: Vac-ah-raise (raise as in when you get a ‘raise’ in your paycheck)
● Vacqueyras: zack-ya-raw (raw rhymes with law)

Shopping tip: Let’s say you don’t want to spend $30 or $90 for a bottle of big red wine with all the gorgeous spice and black fruit of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape. No problem. Find a wine merchant you really like. Tell him/her exactly what you want. You want a Chateauneuf-du-Pape-like wine but want to pay much less, maybe $15. Give the sales staff as much information as you can. Use words like black fruit, bitter-sweet cherries, leathery, gamey, etc. This tells your wine merchant what you want, and then it’s his/her job to find something acceptable. It won’t be Chateauneuf-du-Pape – maybe a quality California Syrah or Mouvedre, an Australian Shiraz – a mix that works for your palate and your budget, and who knows, you may find a true Chatteaunef-du-Pape from one of the smaller villages that doesn’t wreck the food budget for the week. Enjoy. Map courtesy of SourGrapes

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4 comments for “Chateauneuf-du-Pape: Years of Great Vintages, Big Taste

  1. David
    March 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Wow, this article makes me want to crack open a bottle of rhone.

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