This report is based on a Library Tasting presented at Regional Wines, Wellington, in July, 2019. With several Rhone tastings reported on recently, introductory material here can be brief. A compiled summary of quality for recent vintages in the Southern Rhone Valley, plus an outline of the main grapes in the wines, and what is meant by the garrigue complexity factor on bouquet, is given in my The 2016 Vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley, Part 3 review.
Conclusions from the tasting:
Writing in Decanter in 2007, John Livingstone-Learmonth felt that the 2005 vintage in both the Northern and the Southern Rhone Valley was just as impressive as in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The wines in the South, he said, showed more balance than the 1998s, more stuffing than the 2001s, are tighter-knit than 1990s, yet more rounded than the 1989s. He liked their freshness. For our tasting, coming to them immediately after the 2016 Southern Rhone review, the first impression was one of contrast, not quite the vivid florality and aromatics of the exceptional 2016s. Yet as one settled into the tasting, one quickly found many fragrant and beautifully balanced wines, just starting to show at 14 years of age the harmony of first maturity. The wines were (naturally) selected for perceived quality at the point of cellaring, so the set of 12 was not a random sample. An indication of the quality of the wines is given by half of them scoring at or above the New Zealand gold medal level (18.5 = 92.5), in a more conservative application of the marks than applies in standard wine-writing / judging practice in New Zealand. The wines have good tannin structure and sufficient acid, so with their good fruit, many of the better wines have another 15 years of quality maturity ahead of them, for those who like mature wine. As with most better Southern Rhone Valley vintages in the last 15 years, however, for rather many wines one wishes the alcohols were appreciably lower.
This 2005 Southern Rhone Valley tasting was undertaken in the midst of the evaluations for the remarkable 2016 Southern Rhone wines. The first impression was the contrast, not the remarkable freshness, but in a sense simply the age factor, the 2005s at the start of their plateau of maturity, made that conclusion unrealistic. And as soon as one was immersed in them, 2005 really is a quality vintage in the Southern Rhone Valley. Six of the 12 wines were clearly of gold-medal standard. From the left: 2005 Tardieu-Laurent Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, aromatic on cedary new oak, very much a modern wine, but has the richness to carry the oak, 18.5; 2005 Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin, lovely grenache emulating pinot noir in a slightly spirity way, 18.5; 2005 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape, all the delicacy this winery is famous for, wonderful red fruits, classical, 18.5 +; 2005 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Crau, subtle, yet showing all the beauty of great Southern Rhone wine, you could sniff and savour this all night, 19; 2005 Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, a richer and darker wine than its neighbours, with amazing concentration of flavour, clearly the top wine for the group, 19; 2005 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, all red fruits, understated, burgundian in the way nearly pure grenache can be, with the greatest dry extract / mouthfeel of any wine in the set, remarkable, 19 +Invitation to the tasting – Background:
In the last 12 months we have run Library Tastings on the warm-year 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Papes and Gigondas wines (July, 2018), and then the in some ways more charming 1999 wines from the same appellations March, 1999. We have also had Worth Cellaring Tastings for the Southern Rhone Valley, first the 2015 offerings in August 2018, and then a similar Tasting for the even more remarkable 2016 vintage, in June 2019.
The present 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas Library tasting concludes this series of tastings on the (at best) wonderfully aromatic and exciting wines of the Southern Rhone Valley. This time we will look at wines solely from 2005, a year for which the vintage rating is creeping up and up. The wines are regarded by Wine Spectator as: ‘Wines show concentration, purity, and structure. Great cellaring potential, 97/100’ . They are scored higher than 1990, but fractionally less than 2010 and 2016. At 14 years of age, they are perhaps halfway through their evolution: they should be very exciting. The more alcoholic 2007s we will defer.
One highlight for me in our set of wines will be to compare the three bottlings of Domaine de la Janasse, one of the more highly regarded wineries, but not yet so sought-after as to be unaffordable. The standard Domaine Janasse was the top wine of our 2016 Worth Cellaring review: we will have Domaine Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a blend, the more expensive Domaine Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Chaupin, a 100% grenache bottling, and as well, Domaine Janasse Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes, now a rare wine in New Zealand. Few people in New Zealand have tasted all three cuvées of Domaine Janasse together.
But the tasting also includes what are now regarded as some of the key or benchmark Chateauneufs: Clos des Papes (now hard to buy in New Zealand), Marcoux Vieilles Vignes both rare and valuable (one of the six-star wines, see the comments from J.L-L below), Mordorée Cuvée de la Reine, and Vieux Telegraphe (the other six-star wine, see the comments from J.L-L below). Plus three Gigondas, to compare and contrast, including the relatively rare Saint Cosme Gigondas Hominis Fides, also 100% grenache, to compare with the Janasse Chaupin. Three wines labelled Vieilles Vignes … but in fact when you go through the websites, most of our wines are made from ‘old vines’. All in all, a tasting not to be missed.
Invitation to the Tasting – not one but two key wines:
One intriguing aspect to this tasting is: we have two wines marked by John Livingstone-Learmonth as six stars out of five. J.L-L is now the ultimate authority on the wines of both the Northern and Southern Rhone Valleys. His allocating six stars … all part of his delightfully quirky style of reportage … is rarer than Robert Parker’s 100 points … and in the latter’s heyday they attracted plenty of attention. Parker had both a fantastic grip of the Rhone valley wines, witness his marvellous book from 1997, but also loved the wines dearly (even when they were often quite bretty). This gives him an endearing credibility. Livingstone-Learmonth shares that enthusiasm explicitly, and his writing style is equally endearing. In contrast Jancis Robinson rather gives the impression that the wines of the Southern Rhone Valley are mostly not her personal favourites, and her associates seem hell-bent on following her lead, rather than redressing the balance from her somewhat detached approach to this region. Great interest therefore attaches to her review of one of our wines, also one of J.L-L’s six-star wines, 2005 Domaine Marcoux Vieilles Vignes, which she scores 19 … a score-level she has applied in the Southern Rhone Valley only a couple of dozen times in her entire career. In the sense one cannot subscribe to all winewriters, now that wine websites are multiplying like rabbits, that leaves James Molesworth at Wine Spectator. He has been reporting steadily on Southern Rhone Valley wines for more than 10 years now, and his vintage chart summaries are the best in the business. His wine reviews offer consistency, but a vocabulary that can be difficult for non-Americans. There is also a distressingly American consumerist view of the life expectancies of these wines.
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.
https://www.decanter.com/features/rhone-2005-vintage-of-a-lifetime-247304/ – free part
ww.drinkrhone.com = John Livingstone-Learmonth, J. L-L below, subscription needed
www.jancisrobinson.com = Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW, subscription needed for reviews
www.robertparker.com = Robert Parker and Jeb Dunnuck (then), vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
www.winespectator.com = vintage chart, subscription needed for reviews
Extensive use has been made of the vast information resource in John Livingstone-Learmonth's website, as above. A matching number of reviews from the Robert Parker website are also included, to achieve pan-Atlantic judging balance.
THE WINES REVIEWED:
Initial price given is the wine-searcher value today. Approximate purchase price where known is in the text.
The 12 wines from the 2005 vintage, still showing considerable depth of colour. Numbering starts front row, left. Wine five the Santa Duc Hautes Garrigues the only one still with a youthful carmine hue. Wine three is unnaturally light, thought to be part-oxidised. Wine six, Vieux Telegraphe, and wine 10, Clos des Papes, are classic / archetypal chateauneuf in appearance. Wine 8 Janasse Chaupin, and wine 12, the Marcoux, are fractionally lighter, being 100% (or nearly) grenache. The wines show much more substantial colour than the nicely-mature 1999s illustrated recently.
Ruby and some garnet, lighter to the edge, midway in depth. This wine totally conveys the subtle magic of near-100% grenache Southern Rhone Valley wine, in a softly floral bouquet for all the world like a slightly spirity grand cru Corton. Bouquet blends a pink rose floral with fruit like red-tinged stewed nectarines, really sensuous, and totally pure. Palate is sensational, clearly the richest / greatest dry extract of any of these wines, both succulent and tactile, yet totally dry. There is enormous fruit length, sustained on both the tannins of the year, and what seems trace large wood. This wine was placed at number 12 in the lineup, on its richness, but it followed an equally sensational wine which was darker, more aromatic, and less subtle. Consequently #12 was somewhat overlooked by the group, two second place votes only. This wine is magical now, perhaps at its peak for people who don't follow old wine. It will however hold, and soften, for another 10 – 20 years. GK 07/19
Ruby and velvet, clearly above midway in depth. Bouquet is amazingly vibrant, youthful and fresh, with a volume of red-fruit grapeyness, plus the aromatics of both garrigue complexity and darker berries as well. Below is a slightly more obvious oak component than the Marcoux, but it is still well in the background. Palate is much younger than the Marcoux, rich, but the darker fruits dominating the flavour at this stage. Both grape and oak tannins are more noticeable here than in the Marcoux, the wine seeming still youthful, with tannin to lose. The concentration of flavour in these ‘old vine’ wines is a delight. Tasters were enchanted with this wine, nine first places and three second, clearly the top wine. It still needs a little time in cellar, I think, to lose some tannin: it will cellar for 15 – 25 years at least. GK 07/19
Ruby and a suggestion of garnet, well below midway, the third to lightest wine. The bouquet on this chateauneuf is magical. Like the Marcoux it is one of the subtler understated wines, but it is nearly floral, nearly ‘sweet’, and wonderfully red-fruits fragrant, plus clear saliva-inducing garrigue complexity. Palate pretty well epitomises fine Chateauneuf-du-Pape, beautiful succulent red fruits complexed with the darker notes of syrah and mourvedre, all framed in superb oak much softer than the Janasse wines. You could sniff this all night. The aftertaste rests totally on fruit, a nonsense statement in fact since the oak frames the berry so exquisitely. Tasters were a bit misled by this wine. As a subtle wine, between what turned out to be two oaky wines, it was rather overlooked, no votes. The sequencing should have anticipated this … but the full character of the wine is not always apparent straight after decanting. The subtlety of the wine led many to believe this is a 100% (or nearly) grenache. It is so perfectly balanced it will cellar for years, and even when it is ‘too old’ it will still be beautiful. A wonderful wine, and one of the few said to be under 15%. Cellar 10 – 20 years. GK 07/19
Ruby and some garnet, the second to lightest wine. This wine displays yet another beautiful, mouth-watering bouquet of great purity, with wonderful red fruits fractionally ‘cooler’ than the Vieux Telegraphe, but like it with clear bouquet garni / garrigue qualities. Palate has an almost Cote de Nuits / pinot noir quality to it in the first instance, but it is also more ‘furry’ in its tannins, with greater alcohol. But as a wine, in a tasting context, you scarcely think about the alcohol. This too, like the Vieux Telegraphe, simply epitomises the classical Chateauneuf-du-Pape winestyle. Two tasters had this as their first or second wine. It will be beautiful for another 10 – 20 years. Alcohol said to be under 15%, suggesting lower alcohols can be achieved with care. GK 07/19
Ruby and velvet, clearly lighter than the Janasse Vieilles Vignes, below midway in depth. Bouquet on this wine is again grenache emulating pinot noir in a slightly spirity way, the wine wonderfully fragrant, a little deeper in fruit colour than the pink nectarines of the Marcoux, here more red cherry / stewed red plum, not quite so clearly floral, but wonderfully fragrant. In mouth new oak has a larger role to play, this wine being quite aromatic (in one sense) and vibrant alongside the sensuous Marcoux. Length of flavour is not quite as saturated as the Janasse Vieilles Vignes, but by Chateauneuf-du-Pape standards in general, this too is a rich wine. It still has a little tannin to lose, and will cellar for another 10 – 20 years. Three tasters had this as their top or second wine, and nine (accurately) identified it as one of the near-100% grenache wines. GK 07/19
Ruby, velvet and some garnet, just above midway in depth of colour. Bouquet here is aromatic, a lot more oak and noticeably cedary new oak, so much so you can't be sure if there is garrigue complexity. Red and darker fruits seem equally prominent. Palate is quite rich, as you would hope with the Vieilles Vignes designation, but the high-quality oak almost leads the flavours. This is very much a modern wine, but has the richness to marry up a good deal more in cellar, 10 – 20 years. One taster had it as second favourite, but in contrast, a couple of people had it least, not liking so much new oak in their Southern Rhones. How it is scored could therefore vary considerably. GK 07/19
Ruby and velvet, just below midway in depth. In the hierarchy of tasting results, this was the first wine to suggest just a hint of old-fashioned savoury / gamey complexity in its berry-rich bouquet, but at a vanishingly low level. And there is some garrigue complexity too. Palate shows both red and darker fruits, with a lovely tannin structure from big old wood only, all finishing attractively savoury … and crying out for a rich casserole. Tasters reacted to this wine in a very interesting way, one first place, but eight second favourites. Curiously, 11 tasters thought it a near-100% grenache wine – not sure why. There is good richness, and any brett is at such a low level it seems safe to cellar the wine another 5 – 15 years. GK 07/19
Ruby, velvet and some garnet, well above midway in depth. This wine showed a good volume of bouquet, but like the Tardieu-Laurent, with rather a lot of new oak intruding into what traditionalists think of as fine Chateauneuf-du-Pape / Gigondas character. The wine is very pure. Pushing through the cedary new oak, there are rich red fruits browning a little now. Palate continues the oak, but with good fruit coating it, so the flavour is long, richer than Valbelle. Like the Tardieu-Laurent, it is a modern presentation of the district wine style, but unlike the other high / 100% grenache wines here, the exact grenache varietal character is a bit lost in the oak tannin. Tasters liked the wine, three top places, three second – the oak effect I suspect, for it did not sit quite so happily with food. Cellar 5 – 10 years, maybe 15, but it might become a little dry. GK 07/19
Ruby and velvet, just above midway in depth. This is another wine with just a hint of old-fashioned savoury character, on good red fruit browning now. It also has some lovely garrigue complexity, so it is very ‘in style’ for the southern Rhone Valley. Palate shows darker aromatic fruits adding to the red flavours of grenache, with much subtler oaking than the prestige Hominis Fides label, even though the two are said to share a similar barrel regime. We did not have room in the tasting for the Gigondas Tradition label, which has only big old wood, and in a dinner table context is often the better for it. This was another wine to not attract any votes, just nicely in the middle. Cellar another 5 – 10 years. GK 07/19
Remarkably deep ruby and velvet, nearly carmine still and noticeably youthful, clearly the deepest colour, quite different from the other 11 wines. Bouquet is both savoury, and darkly plummy, with dark fruitcake notes and suggestions of currants (grape, not black). Three only of 21 tasters (one a winemaker) noted brett in the savoury complexity, so again it is fairly subtle. Flavour is rich, dry, a lot of furry tannins as if mourvedre were high (later, yes), yet oak tannins seem subtle and low. Interesting wine, which is probably well worth gambling that it will be softer and more food-friendly in 10 and 20 years, even though it may end up rather dry. No votes as favourite. GK 07/19
Deep ruby and velvet, the second deepest wine. Bouquet is clean, a bit spirity, the nett impression being of dark Christmas cake, not as fresh and grapey as most of these, and rather a lot of oak including some new. Palate is dark, the flavours just a bit over-ripe and tanniny – hence the Christmas cake / dessert raisins analogy, with new oak and alcohol both noticeable. This is not a charmer at this stage, in the way the 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reine des Bois now is. At table I imagine this might become a bit tiring to drink (by Old World standards), even though it is ‘pure’. Cellar 10 – 20 years, hopefully to lose some tannin. No votes as a favourite. GK 07/19
Light ruby, some garnet, the lightest wine by far. And as soon as you smell it, it becomes the mystery wine of the tasting. Despite the cork seeming to be perfect in all respects, the wine smells faded, drying, tired, showing incipient / trace acetaldehyde. In mouth it is clean, but the red fruits browning, the wine perfectly drinkable but tending short and dry. The nett impression is of some oxidation. At least oxidised wines are always better with food than reduced ones. You just have to hope it is another example of inexplicable ‘cork failure’, and the next bottle will be quite different. Tasters were united on this wine, 11 votes for least wine. GK 07/19