Eric Asimov, paraphrased, New York Times, 24 January, 2019:
Of the many wonderful transformations that have characterized the last decade in wine, perhaps the most heartening has been the stylistic swing back toward balance and nuance.
This shift comes after a long period in which exaggerated red wine ruled. Ultraripe, jammy fruit bombs – lacking freshness and structure (other than the tannins contributed by new oak barrels) – seemed for too long to epitomize what powerful critics sought and what many producers were all too willing to provide.
These overblown wines surged to become prominent in many different regions, but none more so than Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in the southern Rhone Valley of France.
Chateauneuf has always been a big, powerful, rough-hewed wine, capable of majesty yet always a bit tattered. … I loved its intensity and its complexity. … rustic in the best sense of the word, conjuring up the fragrant wild herbs known as garrigue in Provence and southern France. Somewhere along the way, many Chateauneufs lost that rustic appeal.
Main conclusions from the tasting:
Table 1: The better Southern Rhone Valley vintages of the last ‘40’ years:
Cepage: the main grapes of the Southern Rhone Valley:
The essential Southern Rhone Valley garrigue aroma / complexity factor:
Caveat re alcohol levels:
Nett conclusion on the use of oak in Southern Rhone Valley wines:
Wine style, and Invitation to the Regional Wines 2016 Southern Rhone Valley Worth Cellaring tasting:
Background to this tasting and article:
THE WINES REVIEWED:
The unusual qualities of the 2016 vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley have been introduced (via a small-scale literature review) in my earlier article: 2016 In The Southern Rhone Valley: Pt 2. Having been tasting the wines of this district since the later 1970s, I along with many others (as cited in the earlier review) believe the vintage shows an extraordinary freshness, florality, and aromatic zip and charm which is rare in this district.
Having assessed two small batches of 2016s, it seemed important to me to show these wines to other wine people in the Wellington district, as outlined in the section below, Background to this tasting and article. That presentation enabled me to prepare a fully blind tasting of 52 wines, which is the subject of this report. A summary tabulation of the better Southern Rhone Valley vintages over the last ‘40’ years is shown in Table 1 below. This has been adapted from similar summaries in my earlier Southern Rhone Valley reviews. It is included again with this review both for completeness, and to provide a context for the 2016 wines. Other sections enlarging on aspects of the wines are shown above, in the Contents.
Main conclusions from the tasting:
Once again, the nett impression of the tasting was the sheer pleasure of the wines, so many wines so fragrant and so dramatically speaking of both their variety / varieties, and their place of origin. They seem to me to match the 2010s. 2016 and 2010 are the two years in current memory best qualified to compare with the magical year 1978, with one reservation: alcohols were definitely lower, back then. But the nett quality in these wines is still great: one could scarcely own too many of them, if one is interested in guaranteeing future pleasure. And they will cellar better than most years, with their often vibrant acid balances. The wines therefore go some of the way to restoring Eric Asimov’s former delight in the district, as quoted above.
My top six of the 13 wines rated at gold-medal level in this review. From left: 2016 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the lightest of the 49 reds in colour, subtle, yet supremely fragrant, concentrated, burgundian, 18.5 +; 2016 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard, a richer and darker wine, succulent, new oak apparent, a 'modern' wine, 19; 2016 Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Cuvée de Lopy Vieilles Vignes, the second-deepest wine in colour, but amazingly syrah-floral on aromatic dark fruit, the palate in a sense light, yet long, exquisitely oaked, 19; 2016 Clos du Mont-Olivet Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Cuvée de Papet, unusually aromatic and fragant (with some alcohol showing), very rich on palate, a long-term cellar prospect, 19; Domaine Saint-Préfert Chateauneuf-du-Pape Réserve Auguste Favier, my notes simply say very beautiful wine, extraordinary, 19 +, and the dark horse of the exercise, the standard 2016 Domaine Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape, seeming to offer a perfect combination of florals, aromatics, superb berry flavours, great length. One can only speculate as to how the Cuvée Chaupin and the Vieilles Vignes would compare, in this magical year, 19 +,A pointer to the remarkable quality many of these 2016 Southern Rhone Valley wines display can be gleaned from the fact that, in this blind tasting of essentially a commercial batch of wines, 13 of the 41 strictly Southern Rhone Valley red wines were marked at gold-medal level, some 31.7%. That is on my marking scale, which is stricter than that applying in conventional New Zealand wine-judging and wine-writing. Such a high percentage of very good wines in a batch like this is unusual, particularly where many wines are priced well under $100. All told 52 wines were in the blind tasting, including three whites. A New Zealand pinot noir and syrah, and a couple of other Rhones, were put in for style reference / calibration / training purposes. This report covers 49 wines.
In this assessment, the wines were in the first and second instance assessed wine to wine, not with food, so the high alcohols (which some will find negative, particularly in a food context) are mostly not reflected in the scores. Alcohol levels are considered further in the section titled Caveat re alcohol levels. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the manner of elevation of the wine is critical to perceived quality in the Southern Rhone Valley, wood-matured wines almost always being superior. The role of oak maturation vessels rather than inert concrete or stainless steel for these wines also has its section, Nett conclusion on the use of oak …, below. One clear conclusion I have taken away from these 2016s is, how rewarding it would be to compare the 2010 and 2016 wines, via a formal tasting with matched pairs.
Table 1: The better Southern Rhone Valley Vintages of the last ‘40’ years:
|YEAR||Broadbent||Wine Advocate||Wine Spectator||Summarised comments|
|1976||** to ****||–||–||B: hot dry summer, potentially ripe and concentrated wines, but late Sept. rain reduced cellaring potential|
|1978||*****||97R||–||B: best since 1911, big, tannic, rich; generally agreed by J.L-L and others to be the current absolute reference year|
|1983||*****||87C||–||B: excellent, rich, concentrated, hard tannins have softened; GK: later views elsewhere not quite so favourable|
|1985||*****||88R||–||B: outstanding reds, rich, long-lasting; GK: again, in the context of the 1980s|
|1989||****½||94T||96||B: rich complete reds; WS: powerful concentrated reds, round tannins; GK: in quality terms, the start of a new era for the Southern Rhone Valley|
|1990||*****||95E||95||B: less aromatic than 1989, powerful, promising; WS: massive wines, great concentration; GK: but the style inclining to 1998|
|1995||****½||90T||90||B: comparable with 1990; WS: tannic reds, Chateauneufs improving beautifully|
|1998||*****||98E||97||B: best since 1990; WS: dense, rich, superb grenache, ripe tannins; GK: too warm for fragrant / floral wines|
|1999||****½||90E||90||B: south less than north; WS: syrah and mourvedre wines better than grenache; GK: the wines attractively mature in 2019|
|2000||–||98E||94||WS: powerful rich ripe reds with silky tannins|
|2001||–||96T||92||WS: great vintage with structured racy reds in Chateauneuf|
|2003||–||90I||93||WS: very hot dry year, best superb, some inconsistency|
|2005||–||95T||97||WS: great concentration, structure, should rival 1998 and 1990; GK: high alcohols|
|2006||–||92R||93||WS: ripe, pure, balanced, fresh, like 1999 but more concentrated|
|2007||–||98E||95||WS: ripe rich powerful reds, some grenache over-ripe, mourvedre key for balance; GK: very high alcohols|
|2009||–||93E||94||WS: Warm dry year, cool nights retained acid, pure fruit and polished tannins; GK: but high alcohols|
|2010||–||98T||98||WS: Reduced crop, warm days, cool nights, beautifully ripe racy wines for aging, the spine of 2005 with extra flesh; GK: more fragrant than 2009, but alcohols still high|
|2012||–||92E||93||WS: small crop, grenache year, ripe flavours, well-balanced|
|2015||–||93T||97||WS: warm, dry, then Aug. rain. Reds rich, ripe, powerful, in style of 2009, 2007, but better definition; J.L-L: not on a par with 2010; GK: high alcohols|
|2016||–||98E||99||WS: Exceptional diurnal variation, truly rare vintage – the new benchmark. Reds rich yet racy and fresh; GK: 'cooler', more floral / fragrant wines than 2015, but alcohols still high|
Table 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). Some personal thoughts (GK) now added.
Cepage: the Main Grapes of the Southern Rhone Valley:
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. In the drier zones of the Southern Rhone Valley it is relatively thick-skinned, and its wine is characterised by aromas of raspberry and cinnamon. In a sense the winestyle it produces is a kind of spirity pinot noir, though sometimes more tanniny. Unlike pinot noir, it hides alcohol freakishly well, such that wines up to nearly 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 florals and black pepper / spice, though the climate is usually against the more subtle floral and aromatic characteristics of syrah. Mourvedre is more finicky, and harder to ripen, but in its 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.
The essential Southern Rhone Valley garrigue aroma / complexity factor:
What is this characteristic aroma that people talk about in the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley ? The term ‘garrigue’ refers to the low shrubby vegetation of the hills and forelands of the peri-Mediterranean district. Many of the component plants of this scrub have essential oils, which are volatile in hot weather. On particularly hot days, this volatilised oil is in the air, and traces accumulate on grape skins. With the longer skin contact time that red wines undergo in fermentation and cuvaison, traces of these essential oils may carry through to the wine. In general, white wines do not have skin time, and do not show the character. This vegetation type is known as garrigue, or maquis. It is analogous to manuka and kanuka short scrub in North Auckland, in that it spreads over areas formerly forested. When you push through it on a sunny day, bruising some plant cells, there is this wonderful essential oil smell. The Mediterranean zone being drier than New Zealand, however, the vegetation type is now semi-permanent there. Characteristic plants contributing to the fragrant garrigue aroma are:
| rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis|
lavender Lavandula stoechas
sage Salvia officinalis
salvia other species of Salvia
thyme Thymus vulgaris
oregano Origanum vulgare
|myrtle Myrtus communis|
juniper several species of Juniperus
fennel Foeniculum vulgare
rockrose Cistus monspeliensis
pinks several species of Dianthus
Caveat re alcohol levels:
Notwithstanding their freshness, their aromatics and their charm, the main failing of these new-generation Southern Rhone Valley wines is the tendency to high alcohols. There are several aspects to this. For those brought up on European wines, and subtle wines, and particularly classic claret and burgundy, once alcohol levels rise to only fractionally over 14%, the wine becomes increasingly difficult to match to food … and especially subtle food. At 15%, the wines are clearly spirity with food, and therefore much less attractive. For many people of European persuasion, such wines are simply ungainly. This is one reason why Guigal’s Cotes du Rhone since the 1980s has become progressively more syrah-dominated. Syrah can achieve good physiological maturity at markedly lower alcohols. This wine has been able to maintain a 13.5 to 14% alcohol value, and remain remarkably good with food.
The curious thing is, however, that in general, winewriters from warm-climate wine regions, and notably from America and Australia, are almost without exception unconcerned about high alcohols. Presumably they also reflect their wine-consumer constituencies. Yet since the 2003 vintage, and reaching a peak in the 2007 vintage, alcohol levels in the Southern Rhone Valley wines have been creeping inexorably upwards. And even though 2016 is seen as a somewhat more moderate year, partly because the alcohol is masked by the amazing freshness in the wines, and partly because so much wine-writing reflects tasting alone, not the wine at table, there are many bottles with given alcohols at 15%, and one suspects actual alcohols higher still. Some in fact are recording and maybe surpassing 16%, which not only makes them awkwardly spirity at table, but also raises legal questions. For many years 15% has been the arbitrary dividing line between ‘table’ wine, and the various fortified wines, which usually attract a higher excise rate.
Conversely, when I started assessing the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley, if labels bore any alcohol at all, it was invariably a nominal 12½% … very rarely 13½%. Nobody really knew or cared, in a less legislation-obsessed age. But the observable fact was, the Southern Rhone Valley wines then were more subtle and delicate, more grape-oriented, and more naturally flowed on from the wines of Burgundy, as slightly bigger / more flavoursome ‘burgundy’ styles. And they accompanied food magnificently. That is certainly not always the case today.
In a warming world, this question of the alcohol level in peri-Mediterranean wines in general, and Southern Rhone Valley wines in particular (because of their quality reputation), is a matter winemakers and wine-researchers need to be thinking a lot more about. As we have seen in the automobile industry, the traditional American consumerist view that bigger is better is no longer appropriate.
Nett conclusion on the use of oak in Southern Rhone Valley wines:
The conclusions for this were clear-cut, completely unequivocal. In the blind tasting, many (but not all) of the wines raised solely in concrete (or stainless steel) could be recognised at the blind stage, in the set. They inclined to a locked-up, slightly congested bouquet and palate, not as open, breathing, soft and generous as the wines raised in big old oak / foudres. Some were tending reductive (or, in the Pt 2 tasting, frankly reductive). This is entirely logical, and consistent with the fact that storage in big old wood allows some interaction between the wine and the atmosphere, some breathing of the fluid, no matter how slight.
Whereas for the more modestly priced wines, elevation solely in inert vats is a matter of economics, in contrast, for some of the more highly priced wines (and the Dom. Charvin epitomised this conclusion), a persistence with vat-only elevation, eschewing even foudres, increasingly can be seen as an inappropriately conservative approach to the winemaking, which reduces the ultimate beauty and appeal of the wine. A key factor here is the increasing market intolerance of reduction in wines, both red and white. One and two generations ago, many European table wines were reductive. Further, virtually no wine reviewers of the time ever commented on it. This is one key area where the New World approach to winemaking, with its greater emphasis on the technological approach, has vastly changed the wines of the Old World, and for the better.
The continued making of tending-reductive winestyles by some producers is all the more to be regretted, when market research tells us that most of these wines, even the more expensive, are drunk long before they are in fact mature and à point in bottle, when some softness from ageing (including attenuation of reduction) might be expected. The singular success of the house of Guigal, where their Cotes du Rhone is arguably the best-known and most popular Rhone red wine in the world, can largely be attributed to their ensuring that a significant percentage of even their cheapest red wines are raised in wood.
Wine style, and Invitation to the Regional Wines 2016 Southern Rhone Valley Worth Cellaring tasting:
Traditionally, red wines in the Southern Rhone Valley had longer macerations / cuvaisons to achieve the necessary flavour and tannin structure, then were raised in concrete vats and big old-oak foudres, which impart very little additional flavour. So the grape flavours rule. Foudres vary infinitely in size, but 4,500 – 6,000 litres is a common size. They can be up to 30,000 litres. In the last 25 years or so there has been a change in practice for some-only wineries, a change coinciding with the rise to world influence of the American reviewer Robert Parker. His predilection has long been for riper and bigger red wines, made aromatic more from new oak, rather than from the intrinsic subtlety and complexity of grape aromatics: terpenes, flavonoids, phenolics, and tannins. In essence, that is why he has not been highly-regarded for his pinot noir assessments.
Accordingly, some producers gradually made their picking dates later, thus producing riper, less floral and more alcoholic wines, and at the same time they reduced the whole-bunch component / use of stalks, thus further reducing natural grape florals, freshness and phenolics in the wine. Some producers also reduced maceration time / cuvaison, further reducing both grape and stalk tannin pick-up. They compensated for this by raising some of the wine at least in smaller and new oak, or relatively new oak, thus adding the more obvious / less subtle pseudo-floral of vanillin from the new oak, plus new oak aromatics – as in many Californian reds. Thus some French red wines started to lose typicité – and the term ‘international winestyle’ crept into wine parlance. The more cautious used puncheons and hogsheads of various capacities from c.300 to c.650 litres, while others went as far as the barrique size favoured in Bordeaux, 225 litres or thereabouts, to introduce a greater ratio of new oak vanillin and phenolics to the wines. Naturally, all this has dismayed traditionalists no end, including Asimov, as quoted.
One goal of this tasting therefore is to assess to what extent we can find the traditional attributes of grape florals and grape aromatics, plus general satisfaction at table, in these more modern wines. That goal is assisted by a general awareness now that the quest for bigger and riper wines has gone too far, and there is some backing-off from what may be regarded as the heyday of big Robert-Parker-style Chateauneuf-du-Papes, reaching its zenith with the 2007 vintage. But even so, the alcohols in our wines are still high. And even though grenache is extraordinary in its ability to hide alcohol, will ours hide it sufficiently well to be pleasing ?
Our quest is assisted by the remarkable attributes of the 2016 vintage in the district (as documented in the quotations introducing the Part 2 article), warm days yet cold nights, the wines thus retaining natural acid and freshness. The better wines therefore should still retain florals, and a finegrain texture, due to the natural acids. Tartaric addition is theoretically illegal in Rhone wines (except in declared ‘exceptional’ circumstances), but some wines incline one to believe that the prohibition is not universally observed. But in general, this is where the fine wines of France differ so considerably from the supposedly fine wines of Australia, where commonly there is a jagged palate structure and finish to the wine, from added tartaric acid.
The wines chosen present as complete a range as is easily managed in 12 samples, from wines raised all in concrete, such as Domaine Charvin, through to a couple of wines which are the top tier from the producer, wines which tend to be in the modern style. Note also that certain very traditional producers have resisted the modern trend to tiers of quality, ‘prestige’ wines and the like, and continue to offer just the one cuvée. Domaine Charvin again is a good example, and Clos des Papes the most famous example, whereas others have been seduced by the concept of more and more premium cuvées, at ever higher prices. This appeals to a certain class of wine consumer. For other people, however, the thought is that by reserving the best fruit for the prestige wines, the standard cuvées suffer. Producers are at pains to say this is not the case, as they would, but the thought has the inexorable logic of common-sense. We have several ‘just-the-one-cuvée’ wines.
The tasting includes wines from three of the best-known subsidiary appellations to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, both to introduce their style, and because they at best offer such compelling value. In particular, the wines of Gigondas can offer the traditionalist the virtues of older-style Chateauneufs, because Gigondas is at higher altitude, the district is conservative, and the wines are (in general) simply not so big and ripe. Likewise, Vacqueyras has long been a popular appellation for affordable but quality Cotes-du-Rhone wines without the price-tag of Chateauneuf. Today, there are younger producers out to show their district is every bit as good as Chateauneuf proper. Our third alternative is Cairanne, perhaps the most popular of the villages to recently (2016) gain its own appellation, instead of being bundled into Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages. Cairanne has been a -Village wine since 1967. At best, where the cropping rates are low, they offer simply wonderful value.
The goal therefore for this Regional Wines tasting is to show participants that 2016 in the Southern Rhone Valley is absolutely exceptional. And that if tasters cellar the best of these wines, they will be securing a resource providing exceptional anticipation and pleasure for the next 30 years – give or take. Given the rare quality of the vintage, therefore, tasters should regard this tasting as an investment, the opportunity to taste 12 wines, and select those which most appeal to cellar.
A key part of the tasting is the selection of wines ranging from (at one extreme) elevation completely in concrete, that is no oak at all, through many variations on some big old oak or foudres only, then use of usually older puncheon-sized barrels, to some using barriques, sometimes a few percent new, plus one relatively ‘modern’ wine with 20% new oak. The tasting offers an opportunity to see which wines are preferred, and why. In this district it is the florals and aromas of the grapes, plus the grape tannins, that provide the key elements of the wine. New oak can interfere.
Background to this tasting and article:
The springboard for this third 2016 Southern Rhone Valley wine assessment was a Worth Cellaring tasting of 12 wines I presented at Regional Wines, Wellington. The Invitation for that tasting is immediately above. Some of the wines for the tasting were selected on the basis of my 2016 Southern Rhone Valley Pt 2 tasting and article, already mentioned. My goal was to introduce customers to the remarkable (and unusual) floral and aromatic beauty some of the better of these 2016 Southern Rhone Valley wines display, and to encourage them to lay away some in their cellars. In preparing for the follow-up to this tasting, I assembled further bottles from several sources, notably Truffle Imports, Wellington, ready for setting up a blind tasting. And then, Glengarry Wines also had a (mostly) 2016 Rhone Valley wine tasting the following day, which Meredith Parkin facilitated my sharing in. And odd other bottles were added from Wine Direct and other companies. The 12 wines from the Worth Cellaring tasting were included, newly masked, in the complete set of wines reported on here. Because they were better researched than the other wines, at the writing-up stage they provided a useful internal check on the other wines. These various sources enabled a blind tasting to be set up of some 52 wines, 49 of them red including cross-reference / training wines, and 41 of them strictly Southern Rhone Valley. Because the Southern Rhone Valley wines are so unusually fresh and aromatic in 2016, the samples did not deteriorate with the delay: in fact most were much the better for it.
This wine review article and the Pt 2 one before it differ in one critical dimension from virtually all wine-writing in New Zealand. The majority of the wines, I paid for. The significance of this becomes apparent in many quite different ways, some important to the consumer seeking impartial information. A second point of difference in my approach to wine-writing is, if I believe a wine has all the essentials required to be communicating brilliantly in (say) eight years, but does not have much to say today, I tend to mark it highly. Most wine-writing, and most consumers, are more concerned with the here and now. In contrast, cellaring wine is important to me. Thirdly, where a wine has negative features which impair its ability to reflect the desirable attributes of either its variety / varieties, or its appellation, I strive to say so. Most wine-writers either draw a discreet veil over any deficiencies, or fail to recognise / identify them at all.
Another key difference in my approach to wine centres on the concept of florality. Flower-related aromas, and sensory ‘beauty’ in the wine, are important to me. It is one of the key analogies French winemakers consistently use, in commenting on wine quality. In contrast, my experience for many years now of the wine-writers to whom I subscribe is that these values are of little importance, or even unknown, to many latterday English-speaking commentators. And while for climatic reasons you can understand Australian winemakers not thinking much about floral aspects in wine, it is disappointing when you find similar disinterest, even unawareness, in rather many New Zealand winemakers. The New Zealand viticultural milieu is ideally suited to producing floral and fragrant wines, which gives them a critical point of difference in export markets, when compared with Australian wines. In particular, this quality of New Zealand wines needs emphasising in European export markets. Thus far, few have done so.
In tasting the wines, I assess them not only in the one carefully set up fully-blind tasting, but also repeatedly on the following days. The glasses are individually sealed and meticulously kept under ice, in-between times. This approach facilitates an enhanced understanding of the future development of the wine (see next paragraph). Few wine-writers however take this trouble: the wine is assessed and reported on, at the moment. This is particularly the case for wine-writing based on commercial judging formats, where there is often in effect a perverted status in being seen to be the first judge to finish the flight. Detailed understanding of the subtleties of the wine, its relative ripeness, and its likely development, is much less likely to be gained, in that approach. This is particularly the case in New Zealand, where tolerance of under-ripeness is a systemic judging issue.
Louis Barruol at Ch de Saint Cosme often includes family (even homely) snippets of wine wisdom in his technical sheets. When speaking of the importance of the 'terroir' in his approach to making his Gigondas wines, he also sums up my approach to wine evaluation perfectly: It is within this scheme of things, and only this one, that a wine can find its truth, its vibrancy, its consistency, and this intimate logic that is expressed throughout its life. Because wine is not a snapshot, but rather a feature film. So, when it comes to assessing a wine, it is better to have seen the whole film, and not just a few shots from the first five minutes.
In the wine reviews which follow, the 12 wines from the Worth Cellaring tasting (for Regional Wines) were much better researched than the other wines, in order to prepare an informative handout for participants. Accordingly, 12 of the reviews below have much longer italicised ‘admin’ sections, with quotes from appropriate wine reviewers. This was not done for most of the wines.
Extensive use has been made of the vast information resource in John Livingstone-Learmonth's website, as below. He not only provides most of the technical information for the wines (supplemented by winery website info where available), but also supplies most of the United Kingdom views on the wines. Jancis Robinson and colleagues provide back-up, though with the caveat noted below. Reviews from the Robert Parker website are included where possible (now largely from his deputies) to achieve the most recent reviews, and pan-Atlantic judging balance. Wine Spectator provides back-up. John Follas of Truffle Imports kindly made his selection of 2016s available to me, though I am not a regular client. Meredith Parkin at Glengarry Wines (Wellington) facilitated my sampling the Glengarry range. The latter samples (taken at an in-store presentation) were gratis.
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.
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW and Richard Hemming MW for this article, subscription needed for reviews
www.erobertparker.com = Robert Parker and Joe Czerwinski for this article, vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth, subscription needed
THE WINES REVIEWED:
The reviews below result from a careful randomised fully blind tasting. The cepage details given are indicative, averaging recent vintages, unless stated not specific to 2016. The price given is the shelf price in $NZ, though this may vary somewhat from place to place. Participants in the Worth Cellaring tasting were provided with a comprehensive hand-out, including wine reviews – hence the longer ‘admin’ section in those reviews below.
J.L-L is John Livingstone-Learmonth, now the single most knowledgeable commentator on the wines of the Rhone Valley. JC@RP is Joe Czerwinski at Robert Parker, successor to Jeb Dunnuck (and previously, Robert Parker) now JD has his own website. RH is Richard Hemming MW, recent recruit to Jancis Robinson’s reviewers, where he now seems to be the main Rhone Valley spokesman. Thus far his reviews of Southern Rhone Valley wines lack the delight in, and understanding of, the district which characterise J.L-L’s and Robert Parker’s (sensu stricto) approach, so I have used his reports (for the UK view) only where J.L-L is silent. In general I seek to balance an English view with an American one, since American writers are generally unconcerned about high alcohols.
Full straw, deeper than either Condrieu. Bouquet is exquisitely pure, understated though a little developed, showing complex crust-of-baguette and brioche lees autolysis characters, with an intriguing hint of an aromatic as if there were trace barrel-ferment or pinot noir, or both. I understand the wine is chardonnay 100%. Flavour is crisp, fresh, with again an elegant depth of baguette-crust flavours from the extended lees autolysis and presumably a full MLF component. There are complex flavours wrapped around the chardonnay core, including lovely mealy fresh qualities of cashew … and again the thought, is there maybe a trace of barrel-ferment. Acid balance and the finish are long and firm, tapering infinitely. Cropping rate / dry extract is good, residual sweetness / dosage unknown but likely to be 4 – 6 g/L. Cellar 5 – 20 years, maybe longer. This is an attractive and characterful blanc de blancs, available from WineSeeker, Wellington. GK 07/19
Elegant lemongreen. Bouquet is both complex and intensely varietal, showing wild-ginger blossom and canned South African apricots (that is, less ripe than Australian canned apricots) with a lovely complex spicy / piquant depth to it, all complexed by barrel-ferment, lees autolysis, and MLF components. The oak is to a max on bouquet, but still less than Guigal Condrieu. In mouth the oak is a little more apparent, but the fruit is succulent, long and rich with the MLF contributing, tapering perfectly to the finish which is extended by barrel-ferment characters and newish oak. How the Condrieu district magically produces the smells and flavours of full physiological maturity in viognier at 13% alcohol remains one of the great wine mysteries. Cellar 2 – 5 years for optimal freshness, but the wine will hold longer, changing and losing the fresh fruit charm, but still rewarding. Yves Cuilleron is a stellar producer, in Condrieu. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Slightly deeper lemonstraw than Les Chaillets. Bouquet here is simpler than Chaillets, the varietal cues very similar with wild-ginger blossom and canned apricots, but less elevation complexity. Palate shows the same wonderful concentration (in the sense of dry extract) of varietal fruit as Chaillets, an attribute still so conspicuously lacking in most New Zealand whites. There is noticeably less barrel-ferment and lees autolysis complexity, oak playing a beautifully subtle role in this wine. Though so similar, these are two very different wines, yet equally good. Which one prefers is more a function of whether one prefers a very subtle oak component in the wine, or the more complex but in some ways less varietal Chaillets presentation. Cellar 2 – 5 years, perhaps not to hold as long and gracefully as Chaillets. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, a lovely colour, clearly above midway in depth. Bouquet on this wine is one of the deeper and quieter ones, but it still has this extraordinary freshness and beauty that typifies the 2016s. There is a dusky floral component, and some subtle garrigue, then a depth of aromatic berry which is more on the darker fruits side, grading to cassis. On bouquet one is not sure about oak. Palate is immediately deep and sensuous, great concentration, exquisite berry with both syrah and mourvedre making a great contribution. Now you can taste beautiful oak, and some new oak, but the extraordinary fruit weight dominates totally. As the standard wine from Janasse, this is remarkably high quality. Cellar for 10 – 35 years. In the group tasting, this was marginally the most popular wine, eight first places, four second. Available from Caro’s and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet: considering the unusual cepage, the colour is surprisingly well above midway. This wine develops the most astonishing bouquet, all you could ever ask for from a complex southern Rhone, very fragrant on garrigue showing both floral and savoury notes, aromatic, piquant, nearly saliva-inducing. In mouth the fruit has an almost pinot noir-like charm, but the richness and aromatics are greater. It tastes as if there is newish oak somewhere in the elevation, and the length of gently spicy red grape, red cherry and plum (plus cinnamon) flavours is extraordinary. Very beautiful wine, to cellar 10 – 30 years. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, in the top 10 of the 49 reds for depth of colour, but not quite so vivid due to a greater exposure to oak. This wine has an enormous volume of bouquet, all the Southern Rhone florals plus the vanillin of new oak, sweet and haunting. Below are wonderfully fresh red and darker berries / fruit, all gently spicy, cinnamon mainly. Palate is rich, succulent, more structured than some due to the new oak component, yet the oak still well in the background. Length of aromatic berry on the tongue is phenomenal, the wine a remarkable example of ‘modern’ Chateauneuf-du-Pape. At the blind ranking stage, tasters were accurate in assessing Boisrenard, nine of the 21 correctly recognising this was the one wine showing a clear new oak component. Four top places, six second, cellar 15 – 30 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, a wash only of carmine and velvet – so many of these colours are so handsome – below midway in depth. This wine shows aromatic garrigue complexity to the nth degree, perhaps as much as is attractive (giving a thought to Australia), on quite deep red fruits made aromatic by new oak. There is both cinnamon and nutmeg from grenache, plus back black pepper from syrah, the spices unusually noticeable (for Chateauneuf). Palate takes all these components and simply hides them in its youthful richness. The concentration and saturation of flavour are amazing – the wine is so young that the nett impression at this point nearly overwhelms you. Alcohol is quite high, for those for whom this is a key quality factor, yet this wine too has the compelling freshness of the 2016 year. For a darker version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (compared with the Vieux Telegraphe, say) cellar this magnificent wine for 15 – 30 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Big ruby, carmine and velvet, the second-deepest wine. Bouquet is much lighter and more floral than the other deep wine, Cairanne Maximilien, exquisite carnations, dianthus and red roses on complex fruit notes ranging from dark cherry to darkest cassis, all lightly aromatic, really uplifting and very beautiful. Oak here is nearly invisible, totally enhancing the grape beauty and complexity, without being recognisable. Palate is in one sense quite different, the fresher red fruits of grenache jumping to the fore, lovely cinnamon complexity, great length on the fruit richness, and gradually the oak becomes more noticeable, lengthening the palate. Is this perfect oaking ? In this beautiful wine, the 20% syrah dominates the bouquet, with its floral complexity, whereas grenache dominates the palate. What a great achievement. One second-favourite vote. Cellar 5 – 25 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, another good colour, limpid, just below midway in depth. Bouquet is subtle, understated, very pure, gentlest garrigue, soft florals, fresh red fruits gently spiced, exquisitely pure. It is the palate that convinces, so early in the piece, wonderful saturated velvety richness, all the excitement of Chateauneuf-du-Pape but here all latent, the wine still gently in bud. The quality and subtlety of the oaking in this wine is superb. Wines like this make the Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf-du-Pape look totally handicapped. Because Les Quartz came after three sensational wines in the Worth Cellaring group tasting, this wine at number 12 was somewhat overlooked, two second-place votes only. Cellar 15 – 30 years. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Bright ruby, carmine and velvet, just in the deepest 10 of the 49 red wines. Bouquet shows a near-perfect floral expression of temperate climate syrah at full physiological maturity and varietal expression: wallflowers, darkest roses, and violets, spiced by a hint of black pepper, and underlain by near-cassisy fruit, plus subtle suggestions of newish oak. Palate has a refreshing coolness to it amidst the Southern Rhone wines, vibrant varietal flavours, good but not exceptional richness and depth, great length of flavour on the skin tannins first, all extended by subtle oak. The florals and sweet black pepper come back on the long finish. Very beautiful but subtle syrah, not a showstopper, too subtle for some people, I imagine. Cellar 8 – 20 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, some velvet, above midway in depth. Bouquet reveals one of the exemplary wines, beautiful singing garrigue florals and aromatics, some spice, red and black fruits, just archetypal quality for good Southern Rhone wine. On palate Les Grames is succulent yet not heavy, saturated with aromatic grape flavours, so supple you suspect there must be some big old oak as well as a little newish, the integration of gentle oak and aromatic berry being particularly pleasing. This is the kind of red wine that makes you hungry. Cellar 10 – 25 years. No comments from the group tasting, perhaps a little subtle. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. The bouquet is very pure, nearly floral, faintly aromatic on garrigue florality, wonderfully confusable with pinot noir, a lovely lift to it. The wine doesn't smell of alcohol at all, despite the given number. Palate shows elegant and beautifully perfumed fruit, with the perfect ratio of old oak to add structure and complexity while remaining nearly invisible. There is a wonderful concentration of florals, fruits and aromatics, plus surprising length. This is subtle yet rich red wine, lighter than Chateauneuf-du-Pape as good Gigondas (with its greater altitude) often is, just perfect (except as with all these 15% wines, you wish the alcohol were lower). Cellar 5 – 25 years. Distribution of Louis Barruol’s remarkable wines in New Zealand is in limbo, with the closing of The Wine Importer, Kumeu. GK 07/19
Lightish ruby, a pinot noir colour, the lightest wine in the 49 reds. Bouquet is supremely pure, and supremely subtle in this set of wines: just a whisper of fragrant garrigue augmented by hedge-rose florals, on all red fruits, red cherries but spiced with cinnamon. And then you taste it, and the concentration within these light red fruits is another world. The flavour is crystalline in its purity and subtlety, and its length. This is going to be great wine in later years. At the moment it is so subtle as to be easily overlooked. Consequently there were no votes at all in the Worth Cellaring tasting. The high mark is all for purity, perfect elevation, and potential, cellar 10 – 25 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Saturated ruby, carmine and velvet, the deepest and most sensational of all these colours. Bouquet is extraordinary, totally pure, midnight deep florals and dusky fruit, with a saturation of fruit even in the bouquet that is simply wonderful. There seems to be the most subtle new oak just adding a hint of vanilla to the cinnamon and other spices of grenache. Flavour follows perfectly, a benchmark definition of what a high-mourvedre wine should taste like, the darkest yet fresh plummy fruit, velvety tannins, great length. This is a wine to totally disprove the nonsense written by so many half-baked winewriters, that mourvedre smells and tastes of farmyard. The wine does not have a strong tannin structure, being mostly vat raised, yet the grape tannins incline you to believe it is a 25-year cellar prospect. The cropping rate and dry extract in this wine, the number of grapes per bottle, selling for $NZ31, make nearly all New Zealand reds look like a rip-off. Not mainstream Cotes-du-Rhone, but a sensational wine. One first place, one second, in the group tasting. Buy as much as you can afford, and cellar for 10 – 25 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, a great colour, above midway in depth. As with several other wines in this set, the initial impression on bouquet is of garrigue aromatics entwined with syrah florals, carnations, wallflowers, all simply beautiful, on darkly plummy fruits with cassis notes. There is even a touch of sweet black pepper, adding to the syrah impression [ later confirmed ]. Palate is both light yet deep, illustrating a lovely concentration of fruit, without heaviness. The syrah impression continues, but with cinnamon spicing too from grenache, on elegant grape tannins. This is simply wonderful Cotes-du-Rhone, lower alcohol than many, with far more Cote Rotie quality than many Cote Roties at three times the price, to cellar 8 – 20 years. Wines like this and Guigal’s Cotes du Rhone incline one to the belief that it is hard to achieve really ‘winey’ Southern Rhone wines, without at least a significant proportion of the wine being raised in large wood. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Bright ruby, carmine and velvet, just in the deepest 10, for colour. Bouquet is wonderfully fragrant, with delicate lifted nearly floral garrigue aromatics, much more fragrant than the Soumade Rasteau. Fruit shows both red and spicy grenache, and darker syrah and mourvedre, wonderfully complex and grapey. Palate introduces the subtlest newish oak to saturated dark berry flavours, even some cassis, no hint of heaviness, a delight. The length and delicacy of the aftertaste is revelatory, with less apparent newish oak than Les Souteyrades. Cellar 10 – 20 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, just a wash of carmine and velvet, above midway in depth. The bouquet on this wine has a florality and piquancy that immediately appeals, everything light and in proportion, some florals, some garrigue, then red fruits grading to black, slightly aromatic, all beautifully melded. As soon as you taste it, there is a lightness of touch, yet a quality of flavour, which makes you ask: is this Gigondas ? Even though the alcohol is higher than one would wish, several of the Gigondas in this tasting beautifully illustrate the concept: all the aroma and flavour of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but not as rich. Aftertaste is gorgeous on berry and garrigue, with subtlest newish oak. This wine wears its 20% mourvedre very lightly, but that should make it particularly long-lived. It is subtler than the Espiers. Cellar 10 – 20 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, nearly pinot weight, in the lightest ten for depth of colour. This is quite a different wine from the field, partly the vintage, a light and pretty wine, very fragrant, showing floral and aromatic garrigue complexity on all red fruits. On bouquet you’d think it would be 100% grenache. Palate is soft, gentle, all red fruits and lightest cinnamon, plus a suspicion of refreshing leafyness. The tannin structure suggests big old oak [ later confirmed ], yet the wine is beautifully fresh. This lovely understated wine would be great with food, even with the given alcohol. In a sense it is ready almost now, but it will also cellar 5 – 12, maybe 15 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, the fourth deepest wine. Bouquet is one of the deeper ones too, not quite the lift of garrigue and florality, smelling more of darker fruits, mourvedre and syrah. In flavour the saturation of dark fruits on the tongue is amazing, the wine velvety and nearly aromatic, with this weight and richness, but not heavyness, that characterises the 2016s. The label doesn't admit to any mourvedre [ later, nor J.L-L ], but it smells and tastes as if there is some, the tannin structure being velvety, rich and long-flavoured. It is fractionally more exciting than the Soumade Rasteau, and shows incredible depth and complexity for Cotes du Rhone. Extraordinary value; there must be a foudre component in this wine, surely ? Not according to the website, thus making a nonsense of the conclusion just drawn from Seraphin. Cellar 5 – 15, maybe 20 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, some carmine and velvet, a little above midway in depth. This wine benefits greatly from a splashy decanting, to reveal both savoury and floral nearly lavender garrigue complexities, plus grenache cinnamon and spice, on fragrant red fruits more than black. You can't help thinking the given alcohol is more politically correct than factually stated, though. Flavour is in one sense among the light and refreshing wines in this group, good lift and zing on the palate. Even though only the mourvedre and maybe the syrah has been in 600s, the oak is attractively present, in a delicate way. As one of the more affordable Chateauneuf-du-Papes, and not as concentrated as some, this wine should give much pleasure. Not a standout wine in the group tasting, no votes for any aspect, but quietly satisfying. Cellar 5 – 15, maybe 20 years. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, some carmine and ruby, one of a group of wines with beautiful colours, just below midway in depth. This benefits from decanting, to gradually reveal a fragrant but understated bouquet with darker fruits, deep, mysterious. Palate is remarkably concentrated and saturated for Cotes-du-Rhone, some of these prestige but modest classification wines very much challenging Chateauneuf-du-Pape proper. Few Chateauneufs are as deep in berry character as this: you feel there must be considerable mourvedre to deliver such beautiful furry tannins, and such great length [ later confirmed ]. Cellar 8 – 20 years, with the hope that the bouquet develops to match the palate. A much purer and more substantial wine than their introductory Chateauneuf-du-Pape Le Caillou. [ Later: J.L-L: The palate is very rich, Chateauneuf-du-Pape style here … sustained length … not Cotes du Rhone at all, *****. ] Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, one of the denser wines, in the top 10. Bouquet is deeply and darkly floral, with only faint garrigue aromatics. There is dark plummy and savoury fruit, simple in one sense because there is no oak, yet pure and deep. Palate is velvety, soft, you wonder if the wine is a bit lacking in structure with no oak: it would be so much better with time in foudre. Yet the grape tannins lengthen and enliven the finish remarkably, even without oak. A lot of grapes for the price. Cellar 5 – 15, maybe 20 years. I am including this wine in repeat batches of the 2016 Southern Rhones, to calibrate each tasting. In this instance, with 40-plus red wines, there was no chance of recognising it. Available from WineSeeker, Wellington. GK 07/19
Good ruby, below midway in depth, just a little older. Bouquet is fragrant and unusual, some garrigue florals plus a suggestion of aniseed occasionally seen in McLaren Vale shiraz, beautiful purity, no obvious oak. Palate shows more concentration than the bouquet suggests, red berry, raspberry and loganberry, such good fruit the wine seems almost not dry. There are suggestions of tannins yet to marry in, at the moment adding to the freshness of its all-red fruit flavours. Cellar 8 – 15, maybe 20 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Good ruby, slightly above midway in depth. Bouquet shows good typicité, light garrigue and savoury herbes, red fruits with suggestions of cinnamon, all fragrant and attractive. Flavours are fresh, only medium weight, red and darker fruits but also a hint of stalk freshening it, some syrah and mourvedre, older oak. As with the Meffre wine, it is in this price bracket that some of the ambitious or new-age Cotes-du-Rhone and related Southern Rhone Valley wines now challenge Chateauneuf, both in excitement and richness. Cellar 5 – 15 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, dense, in the top 10. Bouquet is saturated, rich, dense, not so clearly any garrigue lift, but still the aromatic freshness of the year, no hint of over-ripeness. You'd think there is some mourvedre, the wine deep and dark. Palate is velvety rich, continuing deep and dark, quite a furry tannin structure, very dry. Once you know what it is, and taste it alongside Maximilien, it does not have quite the fine-grain texture of that wine, but it hides its carignan content very well, having this great richness. I can't see this falling over at all soon, carignan or no, cellar 5 – 15, maybe 20 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, just above midway in depth. Bouquet shows beautiful nearly floral aromatics with hints of savoury garrigue, on mostly darker fruits even with hints of cassis. There is a very attractive dark sweet black-pepper lifted note, and very little oak. Palate tastes as if syrah and mourvedre are both quite high, with some darker even blackberry fruit, the wine narrowly escaping over-ripeness. It is rich and soft, yet tanniny, not quite the complexity for long ageing, but good for 5 – 15 years, maybe more. Available from Caro’s and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, some velvet, a little below midway in depth, looking older than many … suggesting oak maturation. Bouquet is remarkable, simple in one sense, yet in another all you want from good Cotes-du-Rhone, elegant savoury garrigue florals, faintly aromatic, red and some darker fruits, a suggestion of savoury gameyness as if some big old wood, less alcoholic than some. Palate is berry-rich and flavoursome, some darker grapes with the grenache, very food-friendly. It seems softer than an all-concrete wine, again, as if some big old wood is raising the vinosity [ later confirmed ]. Lighter than many, more New Zealand red wine weight, attractive, immensely drinkable (note alcohol). Cellar 3 – 12 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby and velvet, in the middle for depth. Bouquet is clean, ripe, fragrant with light garrigue and herbes complexity, nearly floral, on aromatic red fruits. Flavour is firm in youth, surprisingly so considering the elevation in oak, with darker fruit flavours suggesting syrah and mourvedre with the grenache. In five years this will be much softer and more complex, with a better (cooler, more fragrant) ripeness profile than its Perdrix cousin. Cellar 5 – 15 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Lighter ruby and carmine, and nearly velvet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is sweet, ripe, and clearly varietal syrah, slightly floral with dianthus suggestions, on darkly plummy fruits with hints of cassis and blackberry, some black pepper. These qualities typify fully ripe syrah. Oak is beautifully subtle, more European than New Zealand in touch. Palate illustrates perfectly a wine just a little bit bigger, darker and spicier than pinot noir, soft, fragrant, savoury, cassis and darkest omega plum, a hint of black pepper spice, refreshing fine-grained natural acid, subtle oak, medium weight, a beautiful food wine, not rich or heavy. The comparison with the 2016 Pierre Gaillard Cornas is fascinating on several scores, since this wine can be one fifth the price. Comparison with a Pyramid Valley pinot noir (like this Esk Valley, used to calibrate the tasting) was interesting too, the Esk again showing a similar price advantage. At best, syrah really is grown-up pinot noir, and similarly rewarding at table. Cellar 5 – 15 years. GK 07/19
Ruby, one of the lightest 10 wines in the 49 reds. Bouquet is light and fragrant, nearly floral, some garrigue, red fruits dominant, a hint of cinnamon as if grenache were dominant. Palate adds the complexity of pink pine aroma to fragrant red cherry fruit, some cinnamon too, attractive flavours but only medium concentration. This will be very food-friendly, and relatively early maturing. Cellar 5 – 12, maybe 15 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, just above midway in depth. Bouquet is quite different from the wines rated more highly in the set, distinctly savoury and old-fashioned, on rich fruit. There are garrigue florals and older oak woven through good berryfruit, but with some wild yeast, Christmas mince-pies and brett complexities. Palate is rich yet very dry, not the remarkable freshness of most of these 2016s, again tending old-fashioned, savoury and definitely food-friendly. This wine does not quite capture the magic of the 2016 year, the house style triumphing over the vintage. Cellar 5 – 15, maybe 20 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Older ruby, below midway in weight, older again than the Perrin Reserve. Bouquet is lightly aromatic and showing some garrigue complexity, quite piquant and saliva-inducing (partly the alcohol), attractive red and black fruits, some spice, not sure about oak on bouquet. Palate reveals one of the lighter wines, gentle and aromatic, good Southern Rhone typicité, you'd swear some old oak to make such an attractive mellow flavour relatively early in the wine’s life. Unlike most of these wines, this is almost ready now, cellar 3 – 12 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Good ruby and velvet, slightly above halfway in depth. This wine benefits from decanting, opening up to show the freshness and aromatics of the magical 2016 vintage, nearly garrigue, nearly floral, piquant red fruits spiced by syrah definitely, maybe mourvedre. Palate is still youthful, as if elevation all concrete, attractively ripe fruit needing to smooth out and harmonise. Concentration is quite good. This should cellar attractively for 5 – 15 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, in the lightest 10. Bouquet is sweet, fragrant, clean, a lovely floral garrigue lift on mostly red fruits, and an openness to the bouquet suggesting some big oak. Palate is surprisingly fresh, like the Charvin a hint of stalks, but the whole wine sweeter and riper. It is not one of the rich wines, though. This needs three years to harmonise, then with its lower alcohol and fresh supple flavours, it will be an attractive alternative to pinot noir. Cellar 3 – 8, maybe 12 years. This wine grows on you quite surprisingly: it is immensely drinkable. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, well below midway in depth. Bouquet has a delightful freshness to it which is most unusual, as if it were syrah dominant, dianthus florals with a hint of paper whites, almost white pepper. In mouth there is gentle berry of fair concentration, altogether a cooler winestyle, a hint of stalks in the syrah component, all unusual in a southern Rhone wine in such a good year. Not everybody will like this wine ... not ripe enough, but it is elegant. It could pass as straight syrah, Les Collines Rhodaniennes for example. Cellar 3 – 8, maybe 12 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Lightish ruby, the second to lightest wine of the 49 reds. Bouquet is light too, another of the fragrant but understated wines. You really have to work at it, to reveal lightly floral garrigue aromatics, almost apple-blossom light, on all-red fruits with clear cinnamon. On bouquet it seems straight grenache. Palate is deceptive, the wine richer than the bouquet suggests, again all red fruits, even pomegranate as well as raspberry, some surprisingly dry furry tannin tasting of cinnamon … plus the faintest thought of brett. You become very keen to know the cepage. For those who find many Cotes-du-Rhone / Chateauneuf-du-Pape winestyles too strongly flavoured, this wine, like the Vieux Telegraphe at the other end of the price scale, is tailor-made. Cellar 5 – 10, maybe 15 years. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
fermentation mostly in oak vats, some s/s; elevation in oak vats c.8 months, some of the Sy and Mv in smaller oak, and 5% new; the assembled wine a further 6 months in enamel-lined concrete vats; not fined or filtered; JC@RP, 2018: (barrel sample) ... it was singing when I tasted it, featuring red raspberries and cherries, floral and spice notes and a plump, velvety texture. Just delicious stuff, 94 – 96; production c.830 x 9-litre cases this year; weight bottle and cork 618 g; one of the Worth Cellaring set; www.domainedelacharbonniere.com ]
Ruby, carmine and velvet, in the middle for depth. This wine is a little out to one side. It is less fragrant, less floral and complex on bouquet, yet with a good volume of ripe berry, and very pure. The purity helps hide the high alcohol, plus the fact there are so many others at 15%. I thought there were suggestions of boysenberry and over-ripeness, on the bouquet, but other tasters were not concerned. Palate is soft, fleshy and again very ripe, plummy and boysenberry, not as crisp and aromatic as the best of these wines, with soft suggestions of vanilla from a new oak component. Tasters liked this wine more than I did, one second place. The boysenberry is a bit Australian for me, but the concentration is good. Cellar 5 – 18 years. Available from Maison Vauron and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, a wash of carmine and velvet, below midway in depth. Bouquet is fragrant, light garrigue aromatics, the faintest hint of dusky red roses, on red grading to black cherry and plum fruit, appealing. Flavours are not quite so ripe as the bouquet promised, more obviously loganberry grenache but with a touch of stalk rather than cinnamon, all quite concentrated. There is an appealing purity to this wine, it is soft, and in one sense refreshing. It could blossom in cellar, 5 – 12 years, maybe longer. Available from Caro’s and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, carmine and velvet, well above midway in depth. This is an unusual wine, the first impression being of a wild-yeast ferment that is a bit too wild, not enough SO2. Behind that are sultry black fruits, suggesting over-ripeness. In mouth the wine is better, soft and rich, black cherry and darkest plum, some old oak I think, the whole wine not yet together, and not revealing its constituent varieties at all well – maybe the over-ripeness. There are no other faults, and the wine is stable in glass, so I suspect in its very ripe way this will look a lot better in five years, and cellar 5 – 15 years. Available from Truffle Imports, Wellington. GK 07/19
Ruby, well below midway in depth, older than most. One sniff and this is Chateauneuf-du-Pape as it used to be 20 years ago, wonderfully floral, fragrant, savoury and spicy, with so much going on you don't know where to start, for descriptors. Palate picks up the savoury notes, with complex oxo / venison casserole flavours in the spicy red fruits, all bespeaking brett complexity in a mellow supple wine, quite good concentration, already tasting older than some. As is commonly the case, tasters in the Worth Cellaring evaluation either loved the wine, or disliked it: three first places, two second places, five least places. So, be careful who you open this wine for: never offer it to winemakers, and if you don't want your dinner party disrupted by know-alls, check out your guests’ foibles (as to brett) beforehand. Cellar a shorter time than most in this review, just to be on the safe side. It is said to be filtered, but whether sterile-filtered to bottle, is not known. Interesting to note no northern hemisphere winewriter (I subscribe to) mentions the presence of brett (as such) in this wine, or its relevance to wine-stability in cellar. One reviewer applauds its ‘purity’. Cellar 5 – 12, maybe 15 years. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Lightish ruby, almost a pinot noir colour, the third to lightest wine. This is one of the quiet, understated wines, delicate, nearly floral in its light garrigue lift, all red fruits, faintly leafy. Palate is understated to a fault, now clearly hints of stalks in the red fruits, red cherry and raspberry plus cinnamon. It is not as concentrated as a number of these wines, some with much more modest addresses. The flavour at this point in the wine’s career simply lacks the suppleness, breathing and extension achieved in old oak. In the Worth Cellaring tasting, tasters found little to enthuse about, no favourable rankings at all, but eight for ‘least wine’, arguably the least appealing wine of the 12. It seems to me Domaine Charvin has become a prisoner of its own conservatism, the wine desperately needing elevation in foudre at least, if it is to be competitive in 2019. Comparison with the 2016 Vieux Telegraphe, in some ways a similar style in its lightness of colour, says it all. This Domaine Charvin will have much more to say in 5 and 8 years, and will cellar for 15 – 20. But as with fine pinot noir, any hint of stalks in grand cru chateauneuf has to be supremely subtle, if it is to be positive. J.L-L records all the wine bottled at once, implying total assemblage, one blend, yet the sensory gulf between this wine in this tasting, and the reviews on-line cited above, are profound. On the one hand, the long-established problem of reviewing ‘barrel’ (vat, in this case) samples seems glaringly illustrated here, but also, production in 2016 is nearly 17% greater than usual. Available from Caro’s and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Ruby, below midway in depth. Bouquet is sweet, fragrant but not quite floral, red fruits grading to black, no garrigue, not really spicy. Palate is cooler than the bouquet suggests, tasting like pleasantly ripe syrah, little or no evidence of oak extension (none: confirmed), but attractively balanced in its tannins. Affordable Cotes-du-Rhone quality, but unusual in being (apparently) all syrah. Good bistro wine. Cellar 3 – 8, maybe 12 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, just in the lightest 10. Bouquet is extraordinarily pure, rose-petal florals and a hint of spice, on fragrant red fruits more than black, nearly confusable with pinot noir. Palate is fresher than expected, still red fruits dominant, a hint of stalks and white pepper, not ideal ripeness for syrah, but in a pretty and accepted (but cool-year) Cote Rotie style. New oak adds vanillin. The wine is very pure, but disappointing for the year, and the price. Cellar 8 – 15 years. 2016 Esk Valley Syrah also in this batch to calibrate the tasting is sweeter, more appropriately ripe with better varietal accuracy, equally subtly oaked, and one quarter the price (standard, one fifth when on supermarket special). A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, absolutely in the middle for depth. Bouquet is fragrant, slightly savoury in a brown pipe-tobacco sense, and old-fashioned, with red-rose florals woven through. There is not much sign of new oak, on bouquet. Flavours seem not quite as ripe as the bouquet promised, slightly elevated acid, more noticeable oak and some newish now, not quite as ripe as the Six Rats, but a little more concentrated and seriously made. Tending disappointing for the year, and the address. Cellar 5 – 15 years. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, one of the lightest wines. Bouquet is tending understated and youthful as yet, but delightfully pure with an attractive near-floral garrigue lift, on fragrant red fruits suggesting pomegranate and raspberries. Palate is shorter than one hopes, given there are so many rich wines in this set, but the flavours are fresh, raspberry and red plum sufficiently ripe, light cinnamon yet noticeable tannin lingering nicely. This should be much more attractive in 3 – 5 years, and cellar for 12 or so. Available from Wine Direct and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Good ruby, a wash of carmine and velvet, in the middle for depth. This is another wine to benefit from decanting. One of the ripe wines, not quite the piquant florals and garrigue lift on bouquet the fresher wines show, instead more ripe berries darkly plummy, and a touch of boysenberry. Palate shows the problems of concrete [ s/s in this case ] elevation, a certain hardness, not the free-flowing breathing impression that maturation in big old wood gives. Nonetheless there is still some of the excitement of the year, so this wine will be much better after five years in cellar. Cellar 5 – 15 years. Available from Caro’s and their distribution channels (eg Regional Wines). GK 07/19
Dense ruby, carmine and velvet, in the top 10 for depth of colour. Freshly poured the bouquet is closed, clearly reductive, a problem seen before in this label … but never reported on by Northern Hemisphere commentators. It is improved 24 hours later, so the wine needs decanting / pouring from jug to jug say 10 times. It then gradually reveals dark cassis and dark bottled plums fruit, plus black pepper, with little or no extension on oak at all. Flavour is very dark for syrah, yet you can see some cassis under the veil, plus furry-tannins as if there were some mourvedre … none is admitted to. The wine is both darker and shows greater concentration than the Esk Valley Syrah. Unlike that wine however it finishes slightly hard / metallic to the tail, from reduction. Cellar 5 – 20 years. A hard wine to score, nearly but not in fact getting away with its reduction. Yet three days later sitting in a glass, in a cool place, it is clearly 17 +. See the same firm’s Gigondas, re availability. GK 07/19
Pleasant ruby, below midway in depth. Freshly opened, the bouquet lacks charm, showing some over-ripe boysenberry notes like the Charbonniere Chateauneufs, and only trace garrigue complexity. It needs decanting. Palate has medium-weight berryfruit, but the over-ripe flavours continue, with some hardness as if an all-concrete wine, needing to breathe. The wine is fairly plain now, and doesn’t much show the magic of the 2016 vintage, or bear much relation to the overseas reviews. Maybe the volume is too big to have one assembled bottling. Even so, it should be more attractive in five years, and cellar 10 – 15 years. A Wine Direct wine. GK 07/19
Ruby, just in the lightest 10. This wine benefits from decanting. Bouquet is understated to a fault, hard to tell what it is or where it is from to first sniff, just vague red fruits. Palate has more to say, raspberry fruits with noticeable acid, the fruit quickly giving way to stalks, hard at this stage, as if all concrete. There is a hint of aromatics, very subtle. This is surprisingly modest wine, sound but out of its depth in this company. Cellar 3 – 12 years, to mellow. A Glengarry wine. GK 07/19