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stirring the lees with james molesworth

CdP, CdP and More CdP

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 19, 2006 10:35am ET

It's not easy trying to keep up with my colleague, James Suckling, and his adventures. OK, I admit it—it's impossible to keep up. But I feel like I should at least try.

So, I had a little Châteauneuf-du-Pape at dinner last night, accompanied by Didier Virot's cooking at Aix in New York.

We started with the 2005 Lucien & André Brunel Les Cailloux Châteauneuf-du-Pape White and the 2005 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape White, paired with a grilled lobster and a fennel, carrot, basil and star anise salad. A great contrast in styles—the rich, creamy St.-Préfert (which is made primarily from barrel-fermented Clairette) juxtaposed with the lean, minerally Les Cailloux. Both worked well with the food, but I thought the St.-Préfert was clearly a step up. (I gave the St.-Préfert a 93 rating, officially; alas, the Brunel wines don't get submitted for review, which is a shame).

Next up was another set of whites—the 2004 Clos des Papes White and the 1996 Clos des Papes White. I rated the 2004 90 points on release, but it's showing better than that—it's really pure and stony, and very long. I tasted the '96 in a recent vertical at the domaine. It's showing all the rich, tropical flavors this wine develops with age. Paired with a baked red snapper in a cream sauce, and some chanterelle and porcini ravioli, both wines showed well—particularly the '96, as its extra layers of fruit meshed perfectly with the mushrooms.

I continue to fall more and more in love with great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape—its range of flavors and ageworthiness make it unique, while its ability to match with richer dishes (such as truffles) sets it apart from most other whites.

The next course was a classic match—red Châteauneuf-du-Pape with roasted duck breast. A flight of four reds was served—the 2004 Clos des Papes, 1999 Domaine du Pégaü Cuvée Réservée, 1997 Henri Bonneau Cuvée Marie Beurrier and the 2000 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins, which I just rated at 97 points. Though the '97 Bonneau is a less than stellar vintage, it was showing really well, with lovely clove, plum cake, game and mineral notes. The Pégaü was also on form, with a terrific nose of game, roasted beef, tobacco and more, followed by a rich but racy palate of currant and mineral flavors. My former colleague, Per-Henrik Mansson, nailed both of these wines when he gave them 91 and 94 points, respectively, on release. The '04 Clos des Papes is still offering a beautiful nose of kirsch, but it's starting to tighten up, so lay it away. With the rich, gamy quality of the duck, all four wines were ideal, though the more rustic and powerful Bonneau and Pégaü offerings matched up slightly better than the purer, Burgundy-styled Clos des Papes (which needs time).

So there—that's my best shot at keeping up with Suckling this week. At least until the weekend, when I can tuck into my wife's cooking and my own cellar!

Steve Calbi
South Barringnton, IL —  December 20, 2006 1:08am ET
James, I'm curious how you (and James and others) get through so many different wines during a dinner. Since these are all newly opened bottles, what happens to all of the remaining wine? I'm guessing these are large dinner groups that consume everything, or you share the remaining wine with the restaurant staff.
James Molesworth
December 20, 2006 8:58am ET
Steve: At big dinner likes this with a group, you're just tasting the wines. A sip here and and there. Enough to get an impression of the wine, and enjoy it, while not over loading yourself...
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  December 20, 2006 9:14am ET
James, I was wondering what happens when you taste a wine you rated and find it to be better than your rating. Do you go back and adjust the rating with a comment that the second time it wasnt blind? I have often found many wines that I thought didnt get a fair shake in the ratings. Maybe some were in a dumb phase or they just needed more time to breathe. This blog of yours finally gave my question the grounds to get an answer. Thanks for your time.
James Molesworth
December 20, 2006 9:26am ET


Kirk: No, we can't go back and adjust a rating that's already been published. Our ratings are derived from blind tastings only. Reviewing wines unblind, and perhaps tasted at a dinner with the winemaker or with friends, is not our idea of sound methodology.

If we feel that a wine is significantly better or worse than when it was originally reviewed, the taster can certainly decide to include a bottle of it in another blind tasting and publish a new review--sometimes you will see notes that say "Better than" or "Worse than previously reviewed". This would be done quickly however--we wouldn't be re-reviewing wines years after their release (save for retrospective tastings where the wines merit continued monitoring, i.e. old Bordeaux, etc).

In this case, while I think the wine is showing better than when I first reviewed it, I don't think it's significantly better to merit an official re-tasting.
Damien Carter
March 13, 2007 6:06am ET
James, this is off topic, but I will be spending a few days near CdP in a few weeks. I have read mixed reviews on how welcoming wineries in the region are to the general public. Could you suggest a few in the southern rhone, and a few in the northern rhone that I could visit. Much appreciated!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  March 13, 2007 9:00am ET
Damien - Here's a first-hand report. We have a connection to the business, and had an appointment at Beaucastel (right off the major highway near Orange). Just before we started our tour a guy just showed up and asked if he could taste. Our guide (whose name I just can't remember right now -- but he used to be a sommelier in Atlanta and was just great), asked the man to come back after lunch. He explained to us that he didn't mind people stopping in, as he just wanted to expose their wines to as many people as possible. If he had the time, he would welcome them. When we tasted, there were several wines already open in addition to the ones he pulled for us. Of course, the Beaucastel wines are just incredible. Still, it doesn't hurt to call anyway (even if you're not in the business). - Jim
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  March 30, 2009 7:32pm ET
Very old question and I am sorry for bringing it up, but what happened to Per-Henrik Mansson?
James Molesworth
March 30, 2009 7:52pm ET
Jason: He left the company several years ago...

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