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stirring the lees with james molesworth

The Queen of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Isabel Ferrando of Domaine St.-Préfert has been a model of quality and consistency
Photo by: Markel Redondo
Isabel Ferrando's 2016 vintage has the makings of her best yet.

Posted: Jul 21, 2017 10:50am ET

It's been 12 years since the first time I wrote about Isabel Ferrando's start as a vintner at Domaine St.-Préfert, and it's been one of the luckiest threads in my career to have watched from the start. For more recent background, reference my 2014 visit here.

Some domaines make my job easy. Maybe they make a tweak here and there, or pick up a new parcel of vines, but otherwise they stay the course, hitting a high-quality threshold year-in and year-out. When they're run by good people, it's that much easier. Ferrando's domaine is one of those.

"2016 is a dream," she says with an air of happy wistfulness. "I'd like to have it every year."

2016 was also a bountiful year, by Rhône standards. Though the yields were still around 1.5 tons per acre, her quantity of old-vine Clairette doubled to two demi-muids' worth of juice. As usual, it will only be bottled in magnums. The wine shows intense citrus oil, lemon pith, pink grapefruit zest, honeysuckle, heather, chamomile and verbena notes with terrific weight and tension. It is among the elite white wines of the Rhône.

The reds here in 2016 are the best wines I have tasted from Ferrando yet, and that includes the 2010s and '15s. Among the subtle tweaks made here in '16 was the inclusion of all stems on the reds, something Ferrando has never done before nor, she admits, may ever be able to do again, as the inclusion of stems can't be a set recipe from year to year. "But in 2016 everything was ripe. The level of acidity, tannins, polyphenols, fruit, everything was so high, it was possible [to include all the stems]," she explains. "In addition, I am trying to bottle later—a longer élevage. Working with stems, the wine needs more time in larger casks, in my opinion." Ferrando has gradually evolved to élevage nearly entirely in demi-muid.

The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape delivers a deliciously mouthfilling core of dark plum and fig fruit lined with charcoal and ganache notes. It's plenty fleshy in feel but has great cut. The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Auguste Favier Réserve is a 85/13/2 blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, dark and winey in feel, with charcoal, Turkish coffee, anise-infused plum sauce and warm Black Mission fig flavors coursing through. A broad swath of graphite drives the finish. It's a large wine whose heft and breadth is matched by the finesse of its structure and the depth of its flavor.

The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Colombis (the lone wine under the Domaine Ferrando label) takes its usual hedonistic, fruit-driven profile to a new level, with intense blueberry, açaí and plum reduction notes that are warm and inviting in feel, while ganache and Black Forest cake notes infuse the finish. It pumps out waves of fruit without becoming tiring in feel, while the clearly prodigious tannins stay supple and refined.

"The level of acidity in '16 is higher than '10 or '15, so the impression of the tannins is better, sweeter, than '10, and it shows the impression of less alcohol than '15," says Ferrando.

Topping the portfolio, the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud is its typical 60/40 Grenache and Mourvèdre blend. It starts with Turkish coffee and baker's chocolate notes allied to a remarkably dense and lush yet integrated and polished set of fig paste and plum reduction fruit flavors. A roasted alder streak is emblazoned on the finish. Showing amazing depth and balance, it is one of the finest young Châteauneuf-du-Papes I've yet tasted in my time covering the Rhône. That rarified air is inhabited by the likes of the 2010 Charles Giraud, as well as the Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée da Capo 2003, Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2007 and Henri Bonneau & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins 1998.

Follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

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