The 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape circus has come to town (if you live in San Francisco this is true).
Angeles Wine Agency, out of southern California, and wine importer Alain Junguenet hosted a tasting of 2011 Chateauneufs-du-Pape at the tiny, tony restaurant Bistro Aix, in the Marina district, today.
They graciously invited napaman to taste from barrel samples and just-bottled wines from a CDP vintage that is lighter than we’re accustomed to tasting.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape vines, in France’s southern Rhone valley, were drenched with rain in early September in 2011, causing some winemakers to panic; they harvested immediately after the rains to take advantage of bright acidity. These wines have length, finesse, a note of herbs and display some bright red fruit.
Winemakers who waited for their grapes to dry wound up picking fruit that ripened on the vine, reaching full maturity; wines made from these grapes exhibit greater structure, more tannins, more voluptuousness. Which isn’t, by the way, a word that any other winewriter is going to use to describe the 2011 vintage in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. You heard it first here. And only here.
But dang! Two of the wines I tasted at the AWA/Junguenet event this afternoon were absolutely voluptuous, and I will stand by this observation –
+ The 2001 Bosquet des Papes Chante Le Merle was syrupy thick, rich, unctuous, tasted more like they’d added 20% from the 2010 vintage, which was a killer year in CDP.
+ The 2011 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, cuvee Tradition, made from 80 percent Grenache, 10 percent Syrah, and 5 percent each of Mourvedre and Cinsault.
Instead of producing his premium-tier cuvees “Mon Aieul” and “Deux Freres” in 2011, winemaker Thierry Usseglio added the fruit that would otherwise have gone into these top-end cuvees to his One and Only cuvee this year, “Tradition.”
I rated both of these wines 96 points, my highest scoring wines of the tasting.
I will be buying a case of each. They are that good.
Many of the other 2011 wines tasted exhibited lighter structure; there are many pretty wines here, easily accessible NOW, as opposed to having to wait five or seven years for them to “come around.”
Alain Junguenet started his wine import business, Wines of France, in 1984. He and his son, John, live in New Jersey, where they import containers of delicious Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as well as other wines from the Rhone valley.
“We have become the largest importer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines in America,” Alain told me in French. He’s speaking in terms of SKUs, not in tonnage.
In total, Wines of France imports 19 different Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines whose annual offerings exceed 75 different cuvees.
Wines I really liked at the tasting:
2011 Le Vieux Donjon, poured by Francois Michel. I always buy a case, or two, of Vieux Donjon every vintage; the family believes in only making ONE cuvee, so they put ALL their fruit, including that from their best blocs, into ONE blend. From a consumer’s perspective, how refreshing!
For the record: The single best case of wine I ever bought from any wine-producing region, was the 1990 Le Vieux Donjon; every one of the bottles was a perfect specimen of pleasure.
I visited Vieux Donjon in Chateauneuf-du-Pape last September where winemaker Claire Michel-Fabre, Francois’ sister, let us taste several vintages.
2011 is lighter for V. Donjon than any wine in recent memory, but it is still balanced, pretty, and drinkable already.
2011 Chateau Sixtine, cuvee Manus Dei. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre with a gorgeous robe, and equally gorgeous balance. I loved the very dark, very plum-y flavors. While not textbook complex, this is still a richer wine than many others in the tasting.
2011 Mas de Boislauzon, cuvee Tradition. Because the fruit was imperfectly ripened, brother and sister Daniel (winemaker) and Christine (sales) Chaussy chose not to make their two top cuvees in 2011.
So no “Quet,” and no “Tintot” this year. (The 2010 Boislauzon Quet was one of my personal favorite Chateauneufs of 2010.)
As such, the fruit that would otherwise have gone into these two premium blends has been added this year to “Tradition,” making it a substantially richer wine than it would have been without these additional blocks.
Really liked this 2011 a lot.
2011 Domaine de la Charbonniere both the “Domaine” and “Hautes Brusquieres” cuvees. Even if I didn’t like these wines, I would be compelled to mention them. But as it turns out, I really do like them.
The Maret family, who make these wines, are good, hard-working people; their pert, smart daughter, Veronique, who makes the wine now, had dinner in our home a few summers ago. Her wine is never flashy, never over-wooded, never over-extracted. If you are looking for a New World wine experience take a pass here.
This is classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Veronique’s 2011 exhibits beautiful hints of perfume on the nose. There is an underlying finesse in both these cuvees. Lovely balance and memorable texture -- which I never expected from 2011 wines, given what other wine writers have said in print. Lovely stuff, this.
In the next few months, napaman.com readers are going to start seeing offers for pre-arrivals of the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines; if you can’t find a retailer in your area, call Karen Bria at AWA to locate a dealer where you can find these wines. Call 831-239-6174, or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had heard early press rumblings that this might be a light vintage, one even to forego; but based on tasting nearly two-dozen wines from the vintage, I am keen to purchase a sampling from many producers.
These wines will be drinkable early – from now to about five years out – and they are truly pretty, sexy, bright, easy-to-enjoy wines, few with tannins which need time to be integrated.
Lucien Le Grand, the (now deceased) proprietor of one of the great retail wine establishments of Paris, once shared his wine consuming philosophy with me in the early 70s. We were standing in his cluttered, dusty-bottle cellar:
“Never forget, wine is like a beautiful woman. What’s the point of taking a beautiful girl home tonight... and putting her in your cellar... and waiting 15 years to take her out and up to dinner?”
“When you find a beautiful woman, you need to take her home with you the same night you find her – and ravish her AT THIS MOMENT, not in 15 years!”
If Lucien were alive today, I am sure that he would identify the 2011 Chateauneufs-du-Pape as a vintage to take home now – to ravish TONIGHT!