As 2012 Approaches, Thoughts on what Consumers should consider – Rhone-wise

 

There is no doubting that among the world’s most treasured wines, Chateauneuf du Pape is rightfully positioned as among the most sought after and adored wines consumers and collectors routinely seek out. The multi-dimensional examples from this region’s top producers compete with the most elite wines from Europe’s premium Chateaux, Domaines and Estates, yet often times fetch prices that seem paltry by comparison. Moreover, tasting a mature Chateauneuf alongside vinous piers from Bordeaux or Burgundy offers the taster a truly unique cornucopia of flavors, which once experienced further establish the region’s dominance.

 

But just as it is with all other wine regions throughout the world, Chateauneuf du Pape experiences vintage variations. As a professional who has followed this region’s wines since the 1980s – additionally tasting older examples dating to the 1960s – I can personally attest to this regions highs and lows. Through the 1980s, for example, there was the otherworldly vintage 1989, a harvest whose wines continue to be a reference point even for modern day efforts. And while the 1980s witnessed such disasters as the back to back wash-outs of 1986 and 1987 in Chateauneuf, even those years offered consumers some worthwhile treasures from the leading producers – Henri Bonneau, anyone?

 

Fast forwarding to modern times, the 1990s gave us 1990, 1995, 1998 and 1999 as some of the greatest vintages this region had yet experienced. Yet it would be the modern era, these 2000s, which would set a new course for Chateauneuf and its wines. With a new generation taking over, and a consistency in weather unmatched in times past – with the exception of the disastrous 2002 vintage – the region of Chateauneuf du Pape has enjoyed an unparalled string of top-flight harvests and exceptional offerings from an ever increasing number of producers than practically any other appellation in France, perhaps Europe. To say that this sun-drenched part of France is enjoying its time in the sun is indeed absolutely appropriate.

 

Taking a step back, though, it is wise for consumers to recognize that Mother Nature has a way of bringing all things back into balance. So it is with the currently available set of vintages now entering the market from this wonderfully sun-baked area of France. I’m speaking specifically of the 2008s and 2009s. A recent tasting of dozens of the 2009s, most specifically, offered a sobering and eye-opening experience. While most folks familiar with this region were long-ago made aware of the inconsistencies of 2008 – to put it nicely – consumers and professionals alike were led to believe that 2009 was going to bring along our much needed relief. I’m here to announce: not so fast.

 

What prompted me to begin pulling corks on these newly arriving 2009s was the also newly arrived Parker review, issue 197. While Parker DID dub the finished wines “great” (whatever that means), he also went on to reiterate that they resemble a “hypothetical blend of 2003 and 2000.” Considering the former of these two vintages produced a bevy of stewed and “hot” examples, while the latter was Parker’s vintage of a lifetime (until the 07s rolled around), one can understand the mixed messages and need for personal understanding; hence my pulling of roughly 2 dozen corks this week past.

 

In conclusion, after tasting through a wide cross section of “in the market” 2009s from Chateauneuf, my advice to consumers is to begin back-filling with 2007s. Furthermore, it is my opinion that Parker’s greatest piece of wisdom regarding the currently available Southern Rhone is one bit of advice I’ve been preaching for a few years now. Hidden within the crevices of his most recent article on the 2009s, Parker had this to say:

 

“While all appellations have done well in this consistently fine year, one AOC that is exceptional is Vacqueyras. This is an up-and-coming star in the southern Rhône. Chateauneuf du Pape has already arrived, and the younger generation that has emerged over the last two decades has made it one of the great winemaking appellations of France as well as the world. Vacqueyras is not far behind and the overall quality of the 70-80 domaines I tasted was impressive as well as consistent. Moreover, Vacqueyras sells for less than half the price of Chateauneuf du Pape.”

 

That’s right readers, Vacqueyras; the one region whose wines fill nearly as many spaces in my personal collection as do those from Chateauneuf!

 

As for a 2007 from Chateauneuf to seek out, here’s this week’s tasting note:

 

2007 Chateau de Vaudieu Chateauneuf du Pape

Stunning, nearly opaque, purple in color. A cornucopia of the most exotic fruits on the nose: super ripe plums, macerated black cherries and a whiff of dates. The fruits are combined with sweet spices and a penetrating perfume that captivate the senses. What an aromatic profile! On the palate, this is very full bodied, sweet, exotic, complex, mouth coating, packed with sweet black fruits, seamless, and the tannins are totally buried by the fruit. The power of the fruit and expressiveness of this wine speak volumes as to the superiority of the 2007s over their 09 counterparts! This is both silky as well as grippy on the tongue and the finish goes on for minutes. This wine has filled out since bottling and is even better today than a year ago! Opened and decanted for 48 hours, this wine never oxidized.

Outstanding! 93 points