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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
LIBRARY TASTING 28 MARCH 2019,  at REGIONAL WINES,  WELLINGTON

TWENTY YEARS ON:  HOW DO THE 1999 CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE & GIGONDAS WINES TASTE IN 2019 ?


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons



Conclusions:
This was one of those magical tastings where people assembled early,  and there seemed to be a palpable excitement evident about the whole exercise.  From the presenter's point of view,  this is very exciting – you just hope the wines and the presentation fulfill the expectations.  Happily on this occasion they did – the  follow-up from participants in the next few days exceeded previous experience.  And it is always gratifying when winemakers display the interest to attend … and all the moreso right in the middle of vintage.  They contributed greatly to the tasting – particularly at the discussion stage,  as technical details emerged after the blind tasting.

Tasters commented particularly on the volume of bouquet the wines showed,  the way the wines just jumped out of the glass,  and spoke to you.  The freshness and fragrance of many of the wines,  at 20 years of age,  appealed widely … as did the thought of having them with appropriate meals.  Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the whole presentation was the way participants assessed the wines,  particularly with respect to the brett component that most tastings of last-century Southern Rhone wines will inescapably display.  Tasters noted the presence of brett as a complexity factor in some of the wines,  but went on to assess whether the wine was in fact diminished by it … for example,  the fruit curtailed.  

The glasses presented an enticing sight.  Even just sitting there,  once poured the 22 sets made the tasting room smell delightful.  Numbering in two arcs from the front left,  wine 8 shows the lighter colour of an all-grenache cuvée,  wine 12 the darker vibrant hues of a high percentage of mourvedre.  As is often the case with more burgundy-styled wines,  there was not a great correlation between ranking and depth of colour,  wine 9 for example,  Clos des Papes,  being one of the lighter colours,  but one of the top wines.


In general,  the wines suggested that 20 years is a delightful point at which to drink good Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape Southern Rhone Valley wines.  None of the wines was fading,  and indeed several still had noticeable tannin to lose,  and softening and charm still to emerge.  And it was near-impossible to identify which were the Gigondas wines,  and which were the Chateauneuf-du-Papes,  at the blind stage.  One long-experienced taster from Victoria University of Wellington came to the tasting with this specific ‘it would be fun if ...’ goal in mind,  but conceded defeat.

The Invitation:
1999 is an interesting year in France,  a year of moderation after the hot-year and often tanniny wines of 1998.  In Burgundy 1999 is rated 92 – juicy, rich and vibrant – by Wine Spectator,  whereas in the Northern Rhone Valley their rating is 96 – silky vintage with stunning quality for Cote-Rotie.  In the Southern Rhone Valley however,  their conclusion is a little less than Burgundy,  90 – Syrah- and Mourvèdre-based wines offer lovely balance and length; Grenache-based wines less successful. 

So for all those who think the 1998s in the Southern Rhone Valley (Wine Spectator,  97) are a bit big and ripe,  or tanniny,  then the lighter,  more supple 1999s should have much appeal.  The only caveat to mention is,  at that time,  a measure of brett was frequent in many of the wines of these districts,  so if you are hypersensitive to the savoury,  fragrant qualities of even a measured brett component,  this tasting might not be for you.  Happily,  many people find a little brett part of the wonderfully food-friendly appeal of Southern Rhone Valley wines.   

There is a certain symmetry in checking out the 1979s at their 20-year point … an age when most Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are considered to be approaching maturity.  But we can add to that symmetry by having half the tasting from the second great appellation of the Southern Rhone Valley,  Gigondas,  to match the six wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  For most Gigondas wines,  20 years should be clearly full maturity.  In effect this will mean that the red (and some black) berry characters and hints of aromatic garrigue complexity of youth will now be fully melded into complex,  savoury,  mouth-watering wines with some mellow autumnal hints,  wines crying out for protein-rich meals. 

Robert Parker on the Southern Rhone Valley district,  and 1999:
In the English-speaking world,  Robert Parker had by the turn of the century accumulated almost unmatched knowledge of the wines of the Rhone Valley.  Only John Livingstone-Learmonth in Great Britain compared.  The only caution needed in adopting Parker’s views is,  at that stage he was still quite enamoured of brett (more below) in wines,  whereas in parts of the world more influenced by the science of wine,  essentially Australia,  brett was becoming a no-no.  In Parker's Wine Buyers Guide Sixth Edition,  2002,  he comments:  I have been visiting France professionally as a wine critic for twenty-two years, and have never seen such a quality transformation in a viticultural region as I have witnessed in the Rhone Valley over the last four or five years. A new, young generation of winemakers has increasingly taken charge of their family domaines. This has resulted in a refreshing new, open-minded approach to winemaking where the goal is simple - high quality.  

Some of the young men and women Parker lists as changing the face of the Rhone Valley ... [ here,  only those relevant to our Southern Rhone Valley tasting,  and the text paraphrased ] include:  Paul-Vincent Avril at Clos des Papes,  Louis Barruol at Saint Cosme,  Laurent Charvin at Dom Charvin,  Christophe Délorme at Dom La Mordorée (now deceased),  Laurence Féraud at Dom Pegau,  Yves Gras at Santa Duc,  Christophe & Isabelle Sabon at La Janasse,  and Sophie and Karine Armenier at Dom Marcoux.   In other words,  over half our wines are considered by Parker to be showcase wines for the Southern Rhone Valley.  Exciting,  even with a little brett.

For the district as whole in 1999,  Parker considers:  This excellent vintage will be simply over shadowed ... [ by 1998,  2000, 2001 ] ... Fine ripeness was achieved in all varietals, with mourvedre and syrah performing better in 1999 than in 1998 ... Elegance and balance are the operative words to describe the Southern Rhone's 1999s, a vintage that will get better press as it evolves.

To complement Parker’s views,  Antonio Galloni at Vinous considers:  In the South … crop levels were lower in '99,  but the growing season and harvest conditions were not so ideal as those of the previous year, and rain in mid-September affected some later harvesters. Numerous producers mentioned that careful elimination of less-than-ideal fruit was critical. While grenache was not quite as splendid as in the previous year, 1999 was an excellent vintage for later-ripening syrah and mourvedre.  So there is good agreement.

Traditional vs Modern elevation:
An intriguing detail for the Gigondas wines within the tasting is the opportunity to compare alternative oak handlings.  For 1999 Domaine La Bouissiere Gigondas and 1999 Domaine La Bouissiere Gigondas Le Font du Tonin,  and for 1999 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas and 1999 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues,  in each case the second more specifically named variant is the ‘modern’ version with elevation in a percentage of new oak.  The standard wine tends to be the traditional approach,  raised in vat and large old wood.  There are comparable trends in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  In youth the difference is obvious – but less so later.

Background information to the Tasting – Vintages in the Southern Rhone Valley:
Only five times in the 47 vintages 1970 – 2016 has Robert Parker / The Wine Advocate allocated a score of 98 to a Southern Rhone vintage.  For 1999 they say 90.  Wine Spectator Rhone Valley ratings start in 1988.  Though they are a bit more conservative,  having allocated 98 once only,  to 2010,  they have now gone to 97 four times.  For 1999 they also say 90.  So 1999 is a good year by any standards,  and when one reflects that American sources tend to rate bigger and more alcoholic years more highly,  tasters with a more European palate may well find an understated year such as 1999 more to their liking than the numbers suggest.  Incidentally,  the exciting detail in these ratings is,  Wine Spectator rates 2016 at 99,  the finest ever.  Since these wines are (at the point of writing) just coming into the market-place,  it is time to add to one's Southern Rhone cellar.  

There is no doubt that 1998 heralds a golden era for the southern Rhone Valley,  with relatively few vintages in the preceding 20 years rating 90 or more (in the American view),  but many reaching that level since.  Yet with the recent strength of the New Zealand dollar,  until the 2015 and 2016 vintages,  prices have remained accessible,  for wines of absolute world quality.  The problem now is,  the world is discovering the joys of Southern Rhone Valley wines.  It will be harder to find comparative tastings like this 1999 one,  for the 2015 and 2016 vintages.

Table 1:  The better Southern Rhone Vintages of the last 47 years,  compiled from Broadbent (B,  to 2002),  Parker (rated 90 or more,  from 1970,  where T = Tannic / youthful,  E = Early / accessible,  I = Irregular,  and C means Caution,  may be too old),  Wine Spectator (WS,  90 or more,  from 1988),  and John Livingstone-Learmonth (J.L-L,  for additional detail):  

YEAR Broadbent   Wine Advocate  Wine SpectatorSummarised comments
1970 ****   –   –  B: excellent in south, rich and well-balanced
1971 ****½   –   –  B: low acid, not kept quite as well
1978 *****   97R   –  B: best since 1911, big, tannic, rich; J.L-L reference year
1983 *****   87C   –  B: excellent, rich, concentrated, hard tannins have softened
1985 *****   88R   –  B: outstanding reds, rich, long-lasting
1989 ****½   94T  96B: rich complete reds; WS: powerful concentrated reds, round tannins
1990 *****   95E  95B: less aromatic than 1989, powerful, promising; WS: massive wines, great concentration
1995 ****½   90T  90B: comparable with 1990; WS: tannic reds, Chateauneufs improving beautifully
1998 *****   98E  97B: best since 1990; WS: dense, rich, superb grenache, ripe tannins
1999 ****½   90E  90B: south less than north; WS: syrah and mourvedre wines better than grenache
2000 –  98E  94WS: powerful rich ripe reds with silky tannins
2001 –   96T  92WS: great vintage with structured racy reds in Chateauneuf
2003 –   90I  93WS: very hot dry year, best superb, some inconsistency
2005 –   95T  97WS: great concentration, structure, should rival '98 and '90
2006 –   92R  93WS: ripe, pure, balanced, fresh, like 1999 but more concentrated
2007 –   98E  95WS: ripe rich powerful reds, some grenache over-ripe, mourvedre key for balance
2009 –   93E  94WS: Warm dry year, cool nights retained acid, pure fruit and polished tannins
2010 –   98T  98WS: Reduced crop, warm days, cool nights, beautifully ripe racy wines for aging, the spine of '05 with extra flesh
2012 –   92E  93WS: small crop, grenache year, ripe flavours, well-balanced
2015 –   93T  97WS: best since 2010, powerful; J.L-L: a very good vintage, but not on a par with 2010 ...  though Gigondas excelled
2016 –   98E  99WS: Exceptional diurnal variation, truly rare vintage.  J.L-L:  2016 is an exceptional vintage at Chateauneuf-Du-Pape, and is very good indeed elsewhere ... superior to 2015.
                                                               www.geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz

Cepage:  the Main Grapes:
The main red grapes of the district are grenache,  syrah,  mourvedre,  vaccarese,  counoise,  cinsaut and carignan.  Some appellations permit whites in the red.  Few winemakers use them.  Grenache is far and away the dominant and traditional variety of the region.  It is thin-skinned,  is characterised by aromas of raspberry and cinnamon,  and in a sense produces a kind of spirity pinot noir.  Unlike pinot noir,  it hides alcohol freakishly well,  such that wines up to 15% may be quite acceptable.  Either syrah or mourvedre is the next most important in quality terms.  Both add darker berry notes and complexity,  and (from syrah) perhaps hints of black pepper / spice though the climate is against the more subtle floral and aromatic characteristics of syrah.  Mourvedre is more finicky,  and harder to ripen,  but in the great years is the more noble of the two in this district,  particularly in its tannin structure.  Wines with a higher percentage of mourvedre cellar well.  Of the lesser varieties,  vaccarese is floral and aromatic at best,  counoise can contribute acid,  cinsaut is a pretty,  pale,  early-maturing variety reminiscent of pinot meunier (and widely used for rosé),  while  carignan is a robust productive well-coloured grape making hearty wines which are great in youth,  but don't age well.  Its best use is in vin de pays and the like.

Wine style,  and Buying:
The big challenge for the antipodean wine-lover is to find clean wines.  Traditionally French winemakers and European winewriters have to varying degrees been blind to sulphides,  which even in small amounts have the unfortunate effect of making the whole wine dumb.  This is exacerbated by many wines being made and held in concrete vats,  where aeration is difficult.  Nowadays,  switched-on winemakers (and winewriters) are much more conscious that these Southern Rhone grapes are gloriously fragrant when neither over-ripened,  or reductive.  The goal is to find wines redolent of floral notes such as sweet william / carnations / wallflowers / dark roses,  lavender,  rosemary (the so-called 'garrigue' note) sometimes with a touch of cinnamon spice (from grenache) or white or black pepper spice (from syrah).

Many wines are still made in concrete,  a number now in stainless steel,  supplemented by big old wood.  The trend now for some is to be ‘modern’,  with varying use of new oak.  The varieties scarcely need it,  due to their intrinsic tannins – especially in mourvedre.  All too often,  the Reserve bottlings with more new oak are intrinsically less fragrant and complex wines than the straight ones,  but appeal to the American market where bigger,  more obvious and heavier is favoured over lighter and more beautiful.  The point of including the twinned pairs of  Gigondas wines is to see essentially the same cepage raised in vat and big old wood in the standard Gigondas,  whereas for the ‘prestige’ labels some of the wine is raised in small oak,  including some new.  

The other factor to be on the lookout for is our fragrant wild-yeast friend Brettanomyces,  brett for short,  which  traditionally has been a part of the bouquet complexity in many Southern Rhone wines.  This is due to the prevalence of old oak,  and the reluctance of many proprietors to sterile-filter to bottle.  The latter approach was mistakenly strongly endorsed by Robert Parker,  before he became attuned to brett in wines.  There are two key issues about brett:  The first is that no two bottles in a case will be the same,  unless the wine has been sterile-filtered,  so do not give up on your resource,  because one bottle is a bit too bretty.  And the other is,  some people are hyper-sensitive to brett,  and like to make a fuss about it.  All too often this can detract from the pure enjoyment of the wine by more tolerant tasters.  The simple fact is,  most people like a little bit of savoury brett complexity in wine,  and it makes the wine superb with mains course foods.

References:
Broadbent,  Michael  2002:  Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine.  Harcourt,  560 p.  
Broadbent,  Michael  2003:    Michael Broadbent’s Wine Vintages.  Mitchell Beazley,  223 p.  
Karis,  Harry  2009:   The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book.  Kavino,  488 p.
Parker,  Robert  1997:   Wines of the Rhone Valley.  Simon & Schuster,  685 p.
Parker,  Robert  2002:   Parker's Wine Buyers Guide Sixth Edition.  Simon & Schuster,  1,648 p.
www.jancisrobinson.com  =  Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW,  subscription needed for reviews
 www.erobertparker.com  = Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck,  vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
 www.winespectator.com = vintage chart,  subscription needed for reviews
 ww.drinkrhone.com =  John Livingstone-Learmonth,  J. L-L below,  subscription needed.  Invaluable detail.





THE WINES REVIEWED:
‘Prices’ shown below are the current wine-searcher value.  Note these are often an indication only,  since 1999 is considered unrealistically ‘old’ (by them),  for Gigondas particularly … but for both appellations.  Bizarre.  The absence of comment from Jancis Robinson reflects the fact that she and her fellow tasters rather overlooked the Southern Rhone,  till this century.  Livingstone-Learmonth therefore provides the essential English viewpoint.  Where known,  the original purchase price is in the text.  

The top six wines of the tasting.  From the left:  1999 Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  very different from the others,  a near-Cote-Rotie floral bouquet and fresh palate bespeaking a whole-bunch approach,  18;  1999 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas,  a more traditional winestyle,  18;  1999  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape,  soft,  burgundian,  almost succulent,  18.5;  1999 Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas,  beautiful modern wine again with whole-bunch fragrance and complexity,  a little deeper than the Charvin,  18.5;  1999 Domaine de la Mordorée Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de la Reine des Bois,  supremely fragrant and subtle modern Chateauneuf,  18.5 +;  and 1999 Domaine Brusset Cairanne Hommage a André Brusset,  amazingly youthful and fresh,  showing great richness and depth,  19.


1999  Domaine la Bouissiere Gigondas La Font de Tonin
1999  Domaine Brusset Cairanne Hommage a André Brusset
1999  Domaine du Cayron Gigondas
1999  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Non-Filtré
1999  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape
1999  Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin
  1999  Domaine de la Mordorée Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de la Reine des Bois
1999  Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée
1999  Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas
1999  Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas
1999  Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues
1999  Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape


1999  Domaine Brusset Cairanne Hommage a André Brusset   19  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ cork,  50mm;  original release price $100 ( and $US65),  2016 vintage release price much less;  Gr 50%,  Mv 50,  average age 80 years,  hand-picked at 3.25 t/ha = 1.33 t/ac;  Gr all destemmed,  Mv as whole bunches on top of the Gr,  4 weeks plus cuvaison;  elevation 80% in vat,  20% in three-year-old puncheons for 12 months on fine lees,  fined,  not filtered,  production c.230 x 9-litre cases;  thus far made only in 1999,  2000,  2012,  2016,  so a rare wine;  J. Livingstone-Learmonth,  2007:  full, quite dark robe; earthy … nose – it is oily, quite hot wine off the garrigue, shows some alcohol. There is immediate grip on the palate, with a rather extracted feel. ... empties a little towards the finish, where there is a 2003 style baking, a dry shape. 13.5°. … the result of excited, over interventionist winemaking. 2012-13, **;  Wine Spectator,  2001:  A winner. Dark and deep, complex, full-bodied and supple-textured. Tobacco, spice, smoke and plum, with a mineral touch. With its ripe fruit, sweet tannins and black color, here is a wonderful Cairanne. The finish remains velvety – a sign of greatness. To 2009, 93;  www.domainebrusset.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  a sensational colour from for a 20-year-old wine,  clearly the reddest of the 12,  and the second deepest.  Bouquet has that amazing deep,  dark,  velvety and darkest fresh plum (but not prune)  character of a high mourvedre blend,  wonderfully fragrant and pure,  lightly aromatic with hints of rosemary / garrigue,  plus a tanniny smell.  In flavour the texture is velvety,  only word for it,  bespeaking a wonderfully low cropping rate,  plus the velvety fine-grained dark tannins of mourvedre.  With 24 hours development and air,  in glass,  there is the faintest savoury / spicy brett suggestion,  adding to bouquet complexity.  Two only tasters rated the brett  ‘significant’.  In terms of the stability of the wine in cellar,  it is simply complexity,  of academic interest.  There is soft older oak shaping the wine and the tannin balance,  but no  aromatic resins from new oak.  It is hard to imagine how a darker-spectrum Southern Rhone blend could be more exciting,  unless one is totally wedded to the lighter red fruits and more pinot noir-like style of grenache-dominant wines.  This will cellar another 20 years,  easily,  it still needing to lose some tannin.  This 1999 vintage was the first release of the blend,  to honour André following his death that year.  It was then priced $NZ99.  The 2016 just offered in New Zealand is $52.  Perhaps production is now a little greater.  This was clearly the favourite wine on the night,  eight first places including both Otago winemakers,  five second places.  Exciting wine.  You cannot help feeling that J.L-L's bottle in Copenhagen was unrepresentative,  heat-affected in transit / storage maybe.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine de la Mordorée Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de la Reine des Bois   18 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $135   [ cork,  49mm;  purchase price c.$70;  Gr 80%,  Mv 10,  Va 5,  balance Sy,  Ci,  counoise,  some of the grenache 90 years old,  some 100+;  viticulture now organic;  this wine in the later ‘90s contrasted with traditional practice in Chateauneuf du Pape,  being completely destemmed,  then c.50% of the wine aged in new small oak for 9 months or more,  the balance in s/s,  with a total elevation then of 24 months;  filtered to bottle;  production varies,  but c.1,250 9-litre cases;  since the turn of the century the new oak has been reduced markedly;  R. Parker,  2001:  A candidate for wine of the vintage ... amazing concentration of fruit extract (blackberries and cherries) intermixed with graphite and creme de cassis. Spectacularly concentrated, full-bodied, extremely pure, well-delineated, and opulent, this superb wine is forward and accessible. To 2018, 94;  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2014:  Domaine de la Mordoree is a reference point estate for Chateauneuf du Pape ... plenty of character in its medium to full-bodied, rich and nicely concentrated personality. Giving up plenty of chocolaty dark fruits, spice-box and cured meat-like qualities ... to 2022, 92;  www.domaine-mordoree.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  not quite as youthful as the Hommage wine,  but one of the two reddest,  and the third deepest.  Bouquet is in one sense even more exciting than the Hommage,  for there is an enormous volume of fragrant red fruits all slightly cinnamon-spiced,  a little vanillin from new oak adding to the garrigue  aromatics,  and all lifted slightly by the piquant alcohol fume.  It is totally different from the Hommage,  all red fruits browning slightly now,  a much more regular but modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend.  It could be marked higher than the Hommage – style preference comes into it.  Both bouquet  and palate show total purity,  a saturation of cinnamon-laced red fruits,  the new oak beautifully subtle so the finish lingers on aromatic fruit,  not oak.  This is very beautiful Chateauneuf-du-Pape in a more modern style,  as is the 1998.  It will cellar another 10 years,  at least.  Three people had this as their top wine.  Curiously several people rated it their least wine,  but I did not elucidate why.  GK 03/19

1999  Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $129   [ cork,  49mm;  cepage at the time was more Gr 65%,  Mv 20,  Sy 10,  others 5;  all cropped very conservatively c.2.6 t/ha = fractionally over 1 t/ac;  all destemmed,  21 days cuvaison;  elevation c.12 months in large foudres,  no new oak;  not fined or filtered;  like Domaine Charvin,  remarkable for making just the one cuvée of (red) Chateauneuf,  annual production c.7,000 cases;  J. L-L,  2015:  ... an open and wide display of red fruit with clove, mocha touches, licorice. It’s on the cusp between smily fruit and secondary spices. The palate holds entertaining red stone fruit with fine grain late moments, red berries; it has very joli airborne qualities. There are fresh, winning rays of sunshine in the glass, a wine that enhances the day. There is latent game and graininess in it, and a savoury, strawberry jam presence on the finish. It very digestible, super enhancing wine. Vincent Avril comments:  "a year of Mourvedre for us”,  to 2030;  ****(*);  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2015:  A solid step up over the '98, the Clos des Papes 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape (one of Paul-Vincent's favorites) offers a more youthful color to go with Burgundian notes of spice, dried flowers, black cherries and licorice. More fresh and lively, with medium to full-bodied richness, it has a youthful feel and has another decade of longevity, 94;  www.clos-des-papes.fr ]
Ruby and garnet,  another glowing exquisite colour,  quite the lightest of the 12.  The volume of bouquet here is a delight,  mainly red fruits,  a beautiful near-floral garrigue aromatic component,  plus great zing / piquant  excitement from trace brett.  In mouth the whole wine is soft,  velvety,  burgundian in a big spicy Cote de Nuits way,  shaped by older oak but the oak flavours minor,  suppressed,  exquisitely integrated.  As so often,  Clos des Papes is the most free-run and charming wine in the set,  supple,  mature,  yet no hurry at all.  Even with trace brett,  this is absolutely beautiful wine,  which would grace any dinner setting.  It was the second most-favoured wine on the night,  four first places,  three second.  Two tasters thought the brett ‘significant’.  The aftertaste lingers delightfully on spicy almost succulent fruit.  GK 03/19

1999  Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas   18 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $83   [ cork,  50mm;  original price c.$30;  Gr c.65%,  Sy c.15,  Mv c.15,  some Ci;  hand-harvested,  average yield 3.75 t/ha = 1.5 t/ac;  cuvaison in s/s,  some whole-bunches;  elevation c. 12 months,  more than 50% of the wine in concrete vat and large wood,  less than half in 1 – 4 year barriques;  usually no fining or filtering;  tending organic wine;  no Valbelle in 1999;  J. L-L,  2011:  There is a gentle curve of red fruit on the bouquet, which has a grainy depth; that brings in more black fruit beyond, which has good heart, carries licorice with it. Salty, fine fruit lead to the palate – this is fresh, runs straight and true, the freshness is sparkling. It ends on an accomplished length, thanks to a really tasty herbal-floral flourish. The tannins are a bit gritty still. To 2025. [ Earlier comment:  Good richness within ],  ****(*);  R. Parker,  2000:  (1999 is 70% Gr,  25% Sy,  and 5% Ci) ... sweet aromas of blackberry fruit, roasted meats, and cassis. Chewy, powerful, full-bodied, superbly concentrated, pure, and well-balanced ... to 2014, 90 – 92 ;  www.saintcosme.com ]
Glowing garnet and ruby,  below midway in depth.  This bouquet stands out in the set,  showing a slightly garrigue-influenced florality and charm on red fruits which in style tiptoes towards the Cote de Nuits.  There are suggestions of whole-bunch freshness,  fragrance and complexity – all exceptionally beautiful.  Palate is not quite as rich as some,  but the quality of flavour makes up for that.  The red fruits plus spice of grenache dominate,  but it is easy to imagine some black pepper aromatics from syrah,  too.  Being the standard  cuvée of Saint Cosme Gigondas,  there is no new oak,  but nonetheless reasonably young oak notes do lengthen the palate.  This is totally pure wine,  fresh to a remarkable degree reflecting the whole bunch component,  a southern Rhone wine to show to those who dismiss Chateauneuf-du-Pape and its related winestyles as either too alcoholic,  too strong / heavy,  or too bretty.  This Saint Cosme is exemplary.  Four people rated it their top or second wine – fair enough:  it defines modern Gigondas.  Fully mature now,  but will hold 10 years at least.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Non-Filtré   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $119   [ cork,  50mm;  original price $65;  indicative cepage Gr 82%,  Sy 5%,  Mv c.5,  Va 4,  Co 4,  viticulture now ‘organic’ but not certified,  average age >50 years;  whole bunches lightly crushed;  elevation up to 18 months sometimes 21 months in concrete,  some reports mention some big old wood,  but no confirmation and certainly no new oak;  the magical thing about Domaine Charvin (apart from no new oak) is,  there are no luxury cuvées,  the standard wine is ‘it’,  and affordable;  not filtered;  c. 2,500 9-litre cases;  Parker (1997) comments for Domaine Charvin in general:  Charvin … fashions Chateauneuf du Pape that comes closest to the style of Rayas.  There is … a wonderfully sweet,  deep,  concentrated mid-palate,  and layers of flavour that unfold on the palate.  Great burgundy should possess a similar texture and purity,  but it rarely does;  J. L-L,  2012:  Wow! Oiliness, rosemary, prune, cigar box aroma that is highly inviting, has an air of brioche, mandarin zest, cocoa, and a drift of flowers such as iris. The palate has the rich envelope of mature Châteauneuf-du-Pape, seasoned with herbs, licorice. This is true mature Grenache, marked by a plum sweet fruit line all through it. It can be drunk with thyme flavours in the dishes – its surrounding terrain. Almost OK to drink solo – it is a contemplation wine. It has a sweet date, spiced goodbye.  To 2026, ****(*);  Laurent Charvin’s appraisal of the wine to J.L-L:  “This is delicate Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and would actually be good with Christmas turkey, and certain cheeses – goat cheese with rosemary. I like it a lot because it is so very delicate. 1999 was considered hard, not very balanced at the end. It is still fresh, has very sweet herbs and delicacy, with just a little animal starting. The nose is very complex, not weighty. It was a no worry vintage.”  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2014:  More Burgundian in style, the 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape is a medium to full-bodied, pure and elegant effort that possesses notions of damp earth, truffle and pepper to go with a core of black cherry and darker berry fruit. At full maturity, it will continue to evolve gracefully over the coming decade, yet I’d aim for drinking bottles over the coming couple of years. To 2017, 92;  there is no actual website,  the name is ‘parked’;  www.domaine-charvin.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  glowing and limpid yet older than most.  Bouquet is totally different from all the other wines  in the set.  It is clearly highly fragrant,  nearly wallflower / dianthus floral,  closely in style and confusable with Cote Rotie.  This wine shows the most obvious whole-bunch influence in the set.  Palate follows exactly,  a person  habituated to warm-climate wine styles might say there is a stalky suggestion,  but to anyone who studies Cote Rotie,  it is well within the spectrum of syrah complexity,  even if there is a hint of white pepper.  In one sense the wine is light in the mouth,  but it is neither weak or unsubstantial.  It just draws its analogies more with Cote Rotie or the Cote de Nuits,  than the Southern Rhone Valley,  as Domaine Charvin so often does.  No first places,  but six second favourite ratings:  interesting!  It is remarkably pure wine,  approaching full  maturity.  It will hold this style for maybe 10 years.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas   18  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $45   [ cork,  Gr 75%,  Syrah c.15, Mv c.5,  c.Ci 5,  hand-harvested;  not destemmed then,  long cuvaison to 35 days;  elevation then mostly in large old wood,  some in barriques,  20% in concrete vats,  for 18 months;  not filtered;  production c. 3,300 9-litre cases;  now labelled Gigondas Aux Lieux-Dits;  J. L-L,  2001:  The bouquet is broad, meaty, has air of pebble dust, light pepper, animal hints – it is quite potent. This is interesting wine with the character to become complex, it is live, works well, has a bonny future. The attack is alert, the red stone fruits run well and integrate with the tannins, and there is a hint of pepper. The ending is good and fresh, which is a hallmark of the vintage, still in the shadow of 1998. Good wine. To 2020,  ****(*);  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2016:  The 1999 Gigondas is another classic wine from this estate and offers fully mature notes of cedar, spice box and mature fruit in a medium to full-bodied, supple and integrated package. Classic, mature, ready to go and balanced ..., 89;  R. Parker,  2001:  ... elegant mineral and cherry flavors intertwined with licorice notes. An austere finish kept my score low, but this medium-bodied Gigondas possesses excellent purity, loads of fruit, and a layered texture. To 2011, 89;  www.santaduc.fr ]
Garnet and ruby,  right in the middle for depth.  This wine was set as number one in the blind sequence,   since at the decanting and sequencing stage,  it seemed to fairly represent the style sought in a tasting like  this,  without being clearly the best wine.  In sequencing blind tastings,  it is critical to never put the ‘best’ wine first,  for it is psychologically impossible for tasters to rate the first wine top.  This wine exhibits lovely fumey red fruits browning now,  with aromatic and spicy southern Rhone complexities,  all lifted by academic / trace brett at a desirable complexity level.  Palate is texturally excellent,  nearly velvety,  full of flavour yet not  heavy,  no new oak intruding,  long and gently lingering in mouth,  slightly drying cinnamon to the finish.  Nobody rated it first,  second,  or least.  It is fully mature now,  but will hold its form for some years.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues   17 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  15%;  $56   [ cork,  50mm;  original price $54;  Gr 80%,  Mv 15,  balance Sy and Ci,  grenache more than 50 years age,  hand-harvested at typically c.3.7 t/ha = 1.5 t/ac,  but some years as low as 2 t/ha = 0.8 t/ac;  up to 8 weeks cuvaison,  with stems;  at the time c.40% of Hautes Garrigues spent 12 – 20 months in small oak some new,  balance older large wood;  c.1,150 9-litre cases made;  now labelled Les Hautes Garrigues;  J. L-L,  2001:   ... the bouquet is meaty with oak present in the brew; airs of stone fruits, prunes, dried fruits and grilled nuts ... a potent kick-off – there is a lot of still forming chew, roasted content. It is very solid, the soaked fruits weight the finish and render it rather demanding. As a “special” wine, its power is central to its being, and I find that a bit too much for me. From 2006-07. The longer the wait the better – this isn’t a wine that is easy to drink young. I prefer the Tradition 1999 by some way. To 2020, ***(*);  R. Parker,  2001:  The stunning 1999 Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues spent 23 months in barriques, of which 40% was new. Made from 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre that achieved 15.5% natural alcohol, it boasts ... immense body, a layered texture, and pure cassis, kirsch, and blackberry flavors along with a subtle note of wood. The finish lasts for 30-35 seconds. There are 1,500 cases of this 1999, which appears to be the wine of the vintage. To 2016, 92;  www.santaduc.fr ]
Ruby and garnet,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately heavier / stronger in this wine,  with a nearly resiny new oak quality complexing the red and darker fruits of a southern Rhone winestyle.  It is quite spicy,  and fumey too,  the higher alcohol lifting the bouquet.  Palate is fairly rich,  plenty of browning fruit and cinnamon spice,  all made aromatic by the oak.  It is now nicely integrated,  the whole wine harmonious yet obviously new-oaky too.  Smelling and tasting it alongside the mainstream Santa Duc Gigondas,  the latter wine is so much softer and gentler in mouth.  New oak in Southern Rhone blends needs to be as carefully conditioned,  and as subtly used,  as in the Mordorée example.  Here it is approaching unsubtle  – though that means many New World tasters think it just right.  No votes for first or second place,  but one  ‘least’ vote.  Thus a wine well in the middle,  which fulfilled its intended role of demonstrating if new oak contributes at all positively to Southern Rhone winestyles.  [ The goal was to have two such pairings,  the standard old oak elevation versus the new oak / more modern wine,  but the mainstream La Bouissiere Gigondas had to be rejected for TCA,  which allowed one of the Reserve wines,  the Hommage are André Brusset in. ]  Fully  mature now,  but will hold.  GK 03/19

1999  Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape    17 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $128   [ cork,  46mm;  original cost $58;  Gr 75%,  Sy 10,  Mv 10,  balance minor varieties,  75% of the vines more than 80 years old;  18 – 25 days cuvaison,  50% destemming (particularly the Mv),  cuvaison to 25 days;  elevation 18 – 24 months in large old wood;  not filtered in 1999;  production c.4,000 9-litre cases;  moreso even than Domaine Charvin and Clos des Papes,  each with their ‘Cotes du Rhone’ (or equivalent) junior wines,  Vieux Donjon makes only one red Chateauneuf,  one white.  As with the other two,  this means the buyer is getting the essence of the place;  J. L-L,  2008:   ... the bouquet is moving into a downhome, rather funky stage, with red fruits, overt pepper present, tea aromas also. It is wide, mostly clear for now. The palate red fruit has shoulders, is pretty robust and meaty. It ends on a pepper, grainy, pine-resin note. The pepper and a cocoa effect run through the fruit, showing some of the vintage acidity. The fruit persists well, and the wine is getting there now. “It is a little rustic, or animal this year; it was closed for a long time, but since early 2007 it started to open up,” – Claire Michel, winemaker. To 2024, ****(*);  R. Parker, 2000:  ... backward, concentrated, dense. It is slightly massive, with lots of up-front fruit. It is a serious, full-bodied effort with notes of dried herbs, smoke, licorice, black cherry liqueur, and cassis, multiple layers on the mid-palate, and that sweet, rich, authoritative finish that comes from old vines as well as low yields. Anticipated maturity: 2003-2015, 90 - 92;  the website is just a holding page;  www.levieuxdonjon.fr ]
Garnet and ruby,  just below midway in depth.  This wine took a little while to clear,  there being an unusual almost ‘canned green bean’ note on the newly-opened bottle.  It developed in glass to a wine suggesting high mourvedre,   quite dark,  rich,  lightly spicy and aromatic,  no new oak.  Palate lightened things up to a degree,  clear cinnamon-influenced grenache now,  but darker syrah and mourvedre still very obvious,  rich furry but fine-grained tannins showing even a hint of coffee notes,  and a very long flavour.  In one sense it seems drying to the finish,  yet it is so rich you feel  it needs another 10 years,  to crust in bottle and lose some tannins.  Interesting wine,  which two people rated top,  and two second-favourite.  The winemakers thought this wine showed a whole-bunch influence,  and it is certainly part of the stated winemaking.  This character seemed less obvious to me than in the  fragrant Charvin and Saint Cosme wines,  however.  Cellar another 10 years at least.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine la Bouissiere Gigondas La Font de Tonin   17 +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $60   [ cork,  44mm;  cepage varies year to year,  but Gr dominant,  more Mv than the standard wine up to 25% and old-vine,  dating to 1930s,  the balance Sy;  actual cepage in 1999 Gr 70%,  Mv 30;  up to 45% of the crop destemmed,  extended cuvaisons to 42 days;  12 – 13 months in barrique-sized oak some new,  the balance to 6 years,  then 5 months in s/s vat;  not fined or filtered;  375 – 500 9-litre cases (so fairly rare);  J. L-L,  2002:  ... there are animal, Mourvedre influences on the nose, but the fruit is clear, clear cherry. The palate is attractive, true and long. It offers good red cherry fruit, and this reflects a new, cleaner style than previously, not one that is overdone. The finish is dry from its oak, but it has enough guts for the oak. Esp good around 2007. To 2017,  ****;  R. Parker,  2000:  ... displays abundant tannin and muscle in its formidably-endowed, backward personality. Dense and powerful, with copious quantities of blackberries, cassis, minerals, and toasty new oak, this 1999 is clearly a vin de garde. To 2017, 91 - 93.  The following year he was not quite so impressed,  [ paraphrased ] full-bodied,  good definition,  vague notes of wood,  to 2012,  89;  www.labouissiere.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the deepest / densest colour of the 12.  Bouquet is strong,  unequivocally southern Rhone and sunshine,  lots of red and darker fruits,  a fumey lift,  clear resiny even toasty new oak,  and spicy both from grapes  and a light brett component,  as well as oak.  Palate shows rich fruit and a long flavour,  but even more  resiny and noticeable new oak than the Hautes Garrigues,  and more of a coffee undertone than the Vieux Donjon.  At this level I think new oak detracts from the potential harmony of the southern Rhone winestyle,  particularly when the cepage includes considerable mourvedre (or when the alcohol is elevated).  The oak and alcohol interact to a degree,  as in so many Australian red wines,  but at least in this wine there is not the harshness of added acid to the finish.  And the fruit flavours are well sustained too.  This needs another 10 years in cellar to lose tannin,  and will cellar for a  good deal longer.  This was the only wine of the 12 to achieve no ranking / response to any of the five  questions,  at the blind stage.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée   17  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $129   [ cork,  45mm;  original price $67.40;  Gr 80 – 85%,  Sy 9,  Mv 6 and trace Ci,  Co;  whole bunches retained;   c.90% of the wine raised in foudre,  10% in older barrels,  for 18 – 24 months depending on vintage;  low sulphurs,  not fined or filtered – accordingly Pegau more than some Chateauneufs has a reputation for brett,  but note the wine-searcher current value does not penalise it for that ... a moral there for the technocrats;  production c.6,000 9-litre cases; J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2014:  From a vintage that flies under the radar, the 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Reserve is a beauty that’s drinking at point today. Pepper, garrigue, saddle leather and spice all show here. This is a textbook Pegau to drink over the coming 4-5 years. To 2019,  92;  R. Parker,  2001:  A powerful, concentrated 1999 Chateauneuf du Pape … bouquet of pepper, garrigue, black fruits, and earth. Full-bodied and expansive, with sweet tannin giving it a more open-knit, accessible style than most young vintages of Pegau, this is a wine to drink while waiting for the 1998 and 1995 to become fully mature. To 2014, 92;  www.pegau.com ]
Garnet and ruby,  right in the middle for depth.  This wine has a considerable volume of bouquet,  red fruits browning now and spicy with cinnamon,  but also lifted with the darker spicy notes of some brett,  particularly showing the nutmeg of the 4-EG phase.  Oak is not at all apparent on bouquet,  so the net smell is classic old-time Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  In flavour the wine is rich,  big and long,  but drying a little to the finish.  Unlike some of the other wines,  despite the richness it might not be prudent to keep bottles for decades,  in case the brett goes ballistic.  It is pretty delicious now,  though,  well-suited to rich dark slow-cooked casseroles.  One person had this as their top wine,  and four their second-ranked.  Even though 10 tasters noted it had brett at a ‘significant’ level,  only one recorded the Pegau as their least wine. This shows sophisticated wine assessment skills and experience.  An interesting wine to have in the tasting.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin   16 ½ +  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14.5%;  $65   [ cork,  50mm;  Gr 100% (NB),  most of it >60 years age,  80% destemmed;  cuvaison up to 28 days,  then elevation c.12 months c. two-thirds in large wood,  one third in puncheons,  20% + new;  not filtered;  production this label c. 1,200 9-litre cases;  The name Chaupin refers to the lieu-dit Chapouin planted in old-vine grenache,  from which this cuvée is made;  R. Parker,  2000:  ... exhibits an opaque ruby/purple color in addition to a sweet nose of kirsch, black raspberries, smoke, and spice. It is full-bodied, with outstanding intensity, considerable depth for a 1999, and a large, glycerin-imbued, well-balanced finish with light to moderate tannin. This is a brilliant effort from one of the Rhone's most accomplished young winemakers.  To 2016,  90 – 92;  J. Dunnuck @ R. Parker,  2014:  ... a fresh, lively feel with plenty of violets, mint and floral qualities to go with exotic spices, fruit cake and mature fruit. Medium to full-bodied on the palate, it’s drinking spectacularly, but will continue to evolve gracefully ..., 93;  www.lajanasse.com ]
Garnet more than ruby,  the second lightest,  and clearly the least rosy wine.  Initially opened and for some hours after,  the bouquet showed some premature oxidation / sucrose-y / malty notes mingled with the fragrant all-red-fruits-browning-now characteristics of an all-grenache cuvée.  This was a nark,  as the role  and contribution of this wine to the tasting was intended to be an illustration of the character of a 100% grenache wine,  in comparison with the more regular blends.  As soon as you tasted it,  things improved a great deal,  there being a delightful viscosity of  rich browning red fruit with a long ‘sweet’ tail,  almost diverting one away from any defects on bouquet.  I think it is brett-free,  but that is a little hard to tell,  where there are somewhat oxidised tannins.  Tasters were  astute on this wine,  too,  finding oxidation less to their preference than brett,  so 11 least places.  The cork was exceptionally good,  and ullage negligible for its age (14 mm),  so we have to hope that this is one of those unexplained ‘cork failure’ bottles …  and not symptomatic of the batch.  A good bottle would score much higher.  On the fruit richness,  good bottles should cellar for some years yet.  GK 03/19

1999  Domaine du Cayron Gigondas   16 ½  ()
Southern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $47   [ cork,  46mm;  Gr c.70%,  Sy c.14,  some old-vine 1920s Ci,  1% Mv,  typically cropped at 3.9 t/ha = 1.6 t/ac;  usually whole-bunch fermentation,  cuvaison to 21 days;  elevation entirely in large old oak for (then) 12 – 27 months,  formerly several bottlings;  not fined or filtered;  at that time production c.4,300 9-litre cases;  a popular wine in the UK;  J. L-L,  2006:  ... red berry and plum fruit aroma that is open and lively. Good, clear fruit on the palate - red fruits with a licorice/fennel tang in them. Some tar and punch on the finish. This is still good and fresh. To 2021,  ****;  R. Parker,  2001:  The funky 1999 Gigondas possesses ... kinky notes of incense, roasted meats, sausage, herbs, licorice, truffles, and black cherries. Its full-bodied and super-rich, with copious glycerin, no hard edges, and a 30+ second finish. This sumptuous, old style Gigondas is filled with personality. To 2013, 92;  www.domaineducayron.coma ]
Ruby and garnet,  just above midway in depth.  This wine stood out in the tasting for its conspicuously ‘complex’ bouquet:  lots of spicy red and darker fruits matched by a big but essentially still-positive brett component:  nutmeg on venison casserole.  But yes … there are some hints of horse tack and unspecified farmyard as well.  Fruit is still pretty good though,  so the wine is not being attacked from within yet,  with very savoury oxo / meat extract and spicy qualities enveloping the browning red fruits.  Tannins are starting to show to the finish,  so this is another wine not to keep too much longer,  in case the brett takes control.  Two people rated Cayron their favourite wine,  and one their second favourite.  Four however had it as their least,  while five thought it showed ‘significant’ brett.  It seemed necessary to say:  it is okay to like brett – wines like this are wonderful with savoury slow-cooked dark casseroles.  GK 03/19