Today was my last full day in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and I started at the northern end of the sector, at the benchmark estate Château de Beaucastel. This is one of my regular stops when in the area, so for the most recent background you can reference my blog notes from my November 2011 visit.
Marc Perrin showed off the new labels that kick in for many of the wines in 2010, as the Famille Perrin line now replaces the Perrin & Fils label.
"As we've moved from négoce to family estate, we wanted a label that reflected that change," said Perrin.
Getting down to business quickly, we started with the 2010 Vinsobres Les Cornuds (50/50 Grenache and Syrah), which shows bright violet and red currant aromas and a lovely piercing feel to the racy white pepper, cherry pit and iron notes. It has length and cut, with a very pure feel, a style that would prove to be very consistent through all the '10 reds here.
"The key for 2010 was the swing in temperature from day to night. In August, usually nights are warm—you can't sleep with an open window," Perrin said. "But in 2010 we had really cool nights which allowed for slow ripening and good acidity. We got the concentration of fruit and intensity, but we also got the balance and acidity in a classic way like '78 or '85. '10 had high temperatures, but cool nights, which is why I would compare the ripeness to '85. '10 was actually the warmest year, on average, since '02."
The 2010 Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne Peyre Blanche (75 Grenache, 20 Syrah and 5 Mourvèdre) is tightly wound, with a tangy, almost chalky spine holding the red currant, bitter cherry and damson plum notes which ripple through the very focused finish. The 2010 Gigondas La Gille, sourced from sandy soils in the middle terraces of the appellation, is an 80/20 Grenache and Syrah blend. It's very precise, with beautiful lilting spice, black tea and lightly mulled black cherry aromas, followed by silky tannins and a long, graceful finish that stands apart from the pack in the appellation. This is very long, with deceptive depth, but it wins now on brightness and balance, which should hold it for some time.
"We really like the sandy portions of Gigondas. When Grenache tends towards the Pinot Noir side, like what happens at Rayas, is what we look for in Gigondas," said Perrin.
All of the Famille Perrin reds are blends, typical of the southern Rhȏne in general of course. But blending has become more and more vital for the Perrins as they have seen the weather pattern change, resulting in riper vintages.
"The main change since 2000 has been the Indian summer," said Perrin of the recent vintages in the Rhône. "When I started in 1989, September was the beginning of autumn. But since 2000, with the exception of 2002, every vintage has brought August into September and September in October. So ripeness is not the issue anymore. The problem is now to keep the acidity and freshness. To capture the phenolic without too much alcohol. And Grenache is a grape of excess—excess fruit and alcohol—while the mediterranean climate is one of excess sun and drought. So blending is the key to achieve balance and freshness."
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards, which as usual includes some young vines from Beaucastel, has a racy blood orange, bitter cherry and high-toned spice profile. It's long and fine-grained, with pure cut and a lingering blackberry note. The 2010 Vinsobres Les Hauts de Julien represents the old-vine selection from Perrin's property, at higher elevation in the hills at the back of the appellation. This cuts like a knife from the start, with pure sanguine and iron notes coursing through the red licorice, red cherry and damson plum fruit flavors. It's weighty but not heavy, a hallmark of the pristine 2010 vintage.
The 2010 Gigondas Les Tourelles represents the first ever separate bottling for the vines the Perrins purchased in 2008. The grapes are not destemmed and then vertical-pressed, both changes from what the Perrins do in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
"But that's because of the later ripening in Gigondas, so the stems are riper. And with the smaller volumes we have in Gigondas we prefer the vertical press for finer-grained tannins. The thing I've learned about wine is there are no complete truths. What works in Gigondas may not work in Châteauneuf," said Perrin.
The wine has captivating linzer and cassis aromas, with intense bitter cherry, plum skin, black currant, lilac and violet notes and a long, riveting iron edge on the finish. It has impressive weight and mouthfeel but remarkable precision.
The 2010 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape is just being bottled now. The sample was drawn from a tank with the final blend. Aromatically, it's the purest Beaucastel I've ever experienced, with a gorgeous beam of red currant and red cherry fruit, followed by intense lavender, bitter cherry, clove-studded blood orange, iron and sanguine notes which ripple seamlessly through the finish. This is a wine built on cut, rather than power, with the fruit persistent to the very end offset every step of the way by its minerality. It's very intense without any heaviness, with remarkable freshness and purity. It has the depth of the 2005, the cut of the 2001 and its own dimensions of purity, balance and length. It is clearly classic in quality and is easily among the elite vintages that Beaucastel has ever produced. Even deep and longer is the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée, which delivers a torrent of linzer, cassis, cherry preserve and bitter orange notes, laced with flashes of mesquite and Turkish coffee, but staying finely stitched through the very pure finish.
The 2011 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape White was just bottled a few weeks ago. It shows bright, freshly cut pineapple, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle and peach notes that are lithe and enticing on the finish.
"2011 was really a vintage of contrast. A warm spring, followed by a a cool summer, especially in July which had 60 mm of rain. That turned an early harvest back into a normal harvest, time-wise. Then we had the Indian summer. But the two main issues were uneven ripeness, even within the same bunches, and then some mildew pressures. It was a vintage of hard work and sorting. We sorted as usual before destemmed, but then did another sort after the destemming," said Perrin.
The 2011 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Vieilles Vignes is also just bottled. The all-Roussanne bottling shows creamed Cavaillon melon, macadamia nut and lemon pound cake flavors followed by a twinge of salted butter. It's bright and floral now but has ample weight in reserve and typically blossoms with cellaring.
"We've done a less stressful viticulture and blocked the malo a little bit more on the whites," said Perrin. "We've found the white need gentler handling than the reds and the result has been a brighter style of wine which we prefer."
The Perrins also have his joint venture with Nicolas Jaboulet which produces a small but steadily growing line of northern Rhȏnes. For background on Maison Nicolas Perrin you can reference my blog notes from my April 2011 visit. All three samples shown were final blends awaiting their bottling.
The 2010 Côte-Rôtie is juicy and vibrant, with bouncy tapenade, savory herb, violet, tobacco and blackberry notes all wound together and coursing through a well-defined finish. The 2010 Cornas is loaded with succulent blackberry and loganberry fruit, allied to tangy olive and chalk notes and a long, briary finish that keeps pulling you back for another sip. It's a bright, modern-styled version that stays grounded in its terroir, and represents the general sea change for Cornas over the past decade. The 2010 Ermitage is gorgeous, with bright, sappy kirsch and blackberry fruit enlivened with violet and iron notes. The finish is juicy, mouthfilling and laced with finely-beaded acidity.
From south to north, it's a very impressive effort from the Famille Perrin in 2010.
I am always excited to visit Isabel Ferrando, one of the queens of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There is always something changing or new here. Since discovering her domaine when she started in the 2003 vintage, Ferrando has increased her holding, evolved her style and risen to be one of the most exciting wine producers in all of the Rhône. All in just nine vintages—which in wine time is a split second. Also a regular stop for me, you can reference background from my most recent blog notes from my November 2011 visit.
Ferrando is now working with new consulting winemaker Baptiste Olivier, who works with Pierre Usseglio, Diffonty and Côte de l'Ange, among others. She's also changed her entire cellar team to boot.
"The people in town must think I am crazy," she said with a laugh. "But you know, the culture of risk in France is not great. But you can't improve without taking risks. I want to take risks. And I want to work with people who have an open mind and are willing to try new things, not set in their ways."
Since 2009, Ferrando has been fermenting with whole clusters, in a search to add more structure and longevity to her wines. It's not a subtle shift in theory, yet her wines remain as silky in feel as ever, while adding new flickers of spice, tobacco and bay leaf. But first, the whites …
The 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White is its usual blend of Clairette and Roussanne. Bottled in February, it shows the high-toned, floral edge of the vintage, with fresh pineapple, starfruit, melon rind and lemon zest notes backed by a gentle hint of toast. It's easily outstanding. Ferrando's limited-production bottling (one demi-muid and one barrel only) of 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Cuvée Spéciale Vieilles Clairettes won't be bottled until March 2013. It doesn't have quite the laserlike clarity of the 2010 but it should still develop more definition to its pine, grapefruit, lemon chiffon, persimmon and dried white peach notes as it ages in wood. I also retasted the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Cuvée Spéciale Vieilles Clairettes, whose official review based on a blind tasting in my New York office is in the publication queue. It's a classic-quality white Châteauneuf-du-Pape of stunning precision, mouthwatering bitter grapefruit and quinine notes and nearly endless length that is among the elite bottlings of whites in the appellation.
For the reds, Ferrando has debuted her 2010 Côtes du Rhône Clos Beatus Ille, from vineyards she purchased just along the southern edge of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's border. It's a very good debut, with the Grenache and Cinsault blend offering silky texture, mulled cherry fruit and hints of pepper and singed herb on the finish.
From barrel, the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is taut and racy, with lots of pepper, bay leaf and bitter cherry fruit and a very solid feel that belies the generally more open and easy profile of the vintage. The 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Auguste Favier Réserve contains 10 percent Syrah for the first time, along with its majority Grenache component and 15 percent Cinsault.
"The difficulty in '11 was to find good tannins and density. Adding the Syrah did that," said Ferrando, echoing the sentiment of Baptiste Grangeon from Domaine de Cristia, whom I visited yesterday.
The wine is dark and winey for the vintage, with ganache, plum paste, espresso and graphite notes, offering clearly outstanding quality.
The 2011 Domaine Ferrando Châteauneuf-du-Pape Colombis is all Grenache, fermented in wood vat. Sourced from sandy and clay soils, it shows the more typical bright, friendly and almost sweet feel of the vintage, with cherries jubilee, licorice and pain d'épices notes.
"Yes, the '11 feel sweet," agreed Ferrando when I queried her on the feel of the vintage. "But the wines are dry. Drier than '07," she added with a laugh, comparing it to the controversially hyperripe vintage of the past decade.
The 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud is its usual 60/40 Grenache and Mourvèdre blend. It's dense and grippy, with substantial tannins for the vintage, carrying Turkish coffee, ganache, crushed plum and steeped currant fruit notes. Fig bread and graphite fill in on the finish and this is very well-defined already. It flirts with classic quality, which would be no small achievement in the tricky 2011 vintage.
"I did two green harvests for the first time ever," said Ferrando. "One just before veraison as usual but then another in August. We were lucky, because the spring was early and then it was wet, and we lost the ability to resist the water as the moisture was constant through July and August. But the Indian summer was superb and I could wait to pick until the end of October. Mistral and sun saved the vintage, and Syrah and Mourvèdre are very key in '11," she said.
While it's an impressive showing in the difficult 2011 vintage for Ferrando, it's not so surprising to see what she did in 2010. I was here tasting in November and thought at the time Ferrand had her best set of wines to date.
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a pure beam of cassis, studded with delicious savory, tobacco and licorice root notes. It has a lovely graphite spine and is the best bottling yet for this cuvée, which sources from from Ferrando's young vines and other newly acquired parcels which don't make the cut for her top cuvées.
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Auguste Favier Réserve should top the '05/'07 duo, which were both classic in quality. It's muscular and driven, with lots of sinew up front along with intense baker's chocolate, dark cherry preserve, fig sauce and melted red licorice, backed by a finish with more muscle and heft and great embedded grip.
The 2010 Domaine Ferrando Châteauneuf-du-Pape Colombis has been a remarkably consistent wine, rating 93 in every vintage since it debuted in '04, but this finally takes a step forward, with its usual round, fleshy, flattering feel and linzer, red licorice and spice cake notes, but also intense structure and a prominent ganache spine on the finish for added length and definition.
Topping them all is the simply sensation 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud, which has taken on additional weight and length since I tasted it last November. It has a massive core of fig, plum sauce and linzer laced with ganache and Maduro tobacco notes and backed by a broad graphite-filled finish. Extra Turkish coffee and espresso notes fill in any remaining available space. Massively endowed but not heavy at all, the finish is a gossamer thread of silky tannins and finely-beaded acidity and is the best wine I've yet tasted from Ferrando. It is as close to perfect as I've seen in a wine and is my early candidate for wine of the vintage. There were only 750 cases made, so consider this fair warning if you're going to try to track it down.
"It has the richness of '05, but there is even better freshness and balance in the '10," said Ferrando, obviously proud of her efforts. And she should be.
Château Cabrières is one of the more prominent historic properties in the appellation, located next to Mont-Redon on the northern side of the appellation. The 74-acre estate features 49 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, most right next to the winery situated on fairly consistent argilo-calcaire soils.
"The terroir of the estate is fairly uniform, parcel to parcel," said Philippe Cambie, the ever-present consultant who has worked here since 2010. "But qualitatively, there are differences because of varying vine age and some different clones used for plantings over the years."
Cabrières, owned by Patrick Vernier, who has been in charge since 2001, produces 7,500 cases annually and sends one-third of its production to the U.S., it's main export market. Among the recent changes here is a newly renovated cellar that was completed in time for the 2010 harvest.
Vinification is minimal and traditional here: The reds are fermented in cement vat after being destemmed almost entirely (85 percent or more), the regular cuvée is aged entirely in vat, and the Prestige cuvée gets some foudre aging.
A sample of Grenache for the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, from a parcel that forms the bulk of the basic cuvée, has perky acidity, bright cherry and red currant fruit and a lively, floral finish. A second parcel, on similar terroir, shows a chalkier feel, with tauter bitter cherry notes; both lots show potentially very good quality.
In comparison, the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Prestige is also still in its parts. The first sample is drawn from cement vat and is sourced from some of the estate's oldest vines, which includes some Mourvèdre co-planted with the Grenache in 1900 and 1902. It's taut and sinewy, with good kirsch and red licorice notes and a fine chalky stitching on the finish. It opens up nicely with some air too, showing more flesh. The second parcel, drawn from foudre, is from the same parcel of old vines and it has yet to absorb its wood, with a chestnut flour note lending a dusty edge to the currant fruit. The chalky edge is more buried on the finish but the lively acidity of the vintage is evident. A final sample of Syrah from 2011 shows the variety's affinity for the cooler year, with deep purple color and fresh violet, plum, blueberry and raspberry fruit notes backed by a good spine of chalk. It should give some good heft to the slightly lighter-bodied Grenache.
A clear step up from the 2011 is the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is finished and represents its typical blend of 90 percent Grenache with some Syrah and Cinsault. It's still rather tightly wound, with a dusty, chalky edge coating the cassis, blackberry and plum core. But there's flesh there to soak it up and the fine-grained finish stretches out nicely as it airs in the glass. Though rather closed today, it clearly hints at being a more elegant, mineral-framed expression of Châteauneuf and offers outstanding potential.
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Prestige is also bottled and made almost from Grenache with a drop of Mourvèdre. It also shows a firm, chalky coating, along with chestnut leaf, violet and warm stone notes all weaving through the core of ripe cassis and black cherry fruit. The finish is still tight, but it has a sleek feel and impressive length and should stretch out nicely in the cellar. It should easily rival, if not top both the '07 and '09 bottlings, both of which earned 92-point ratings.
The 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White (40 Grenache Blanc, 40 Clairette, 10 Roussanne and 10 Bourboulenc) is made in a plump, forward style, with plantain, pineapple pulp and green almond notes that follow through on the friendly, rounded finish. Offering better length and definition is the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White which offers a wider range of flavors as well, with lightly toasted almond, brioche, melon and pear backed by a hint of bitter almond on the juicy finish. A portion of the '10 was aged in barrel, as opposed to the '11, while the white accounts for less than 5 percent of the estate's production.
Ann Vaughan — Wimington, Delaware — June 26, 2012 12:40pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — June 26, 2012 12:52pm ET
Adam Wallstein — Spokane, WA — June 26, 2012 4:00pm ET
Chantra — Princeton, NJ — June 26, 2012 7:17pm ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — June 27, 2012 2:52am ET
James Molesworth — Senior Editor, Wine Spectator — June 27, 2012 2:57am ET
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