Quick: What do Clos St.-Jean, Domaine du Grand Tinel, Domaine Olivier Hillaire, Bosquet des Papes, Clos du Mont-Olivet, Château de Vaudieu, Jean Royer, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin, Domaine Giraud, Domaine St.-Préfert, Le Vieux Donjon and Tardieu-Laurent all have in common?
Yes, they all make Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Yes, they all make excellent wine. But those aren’t the answers I’m looking for. Stumped?
They all have the same consulting enologist, Philippe Cambie. Cambie might be the quietest busy guy in town, considering the size of his client roster. When you think about how different in style all of these domaines are, it’s a testament to his light hand—style-wise—but strong insistence on quality.
“I’m not the winemaker,“ says the affable and rotund Cambie, who likes to eat as much as he likes to make wine. “The owners are the winemakers—I’m just looking to make a synergy with them.”
After landing in Paris early in the morning, I hopped the TGV down to Avignon and met up with Cambie for lunch—before we started tasting.
We tasted through the range of Tardieu-Laurent southern Rhône '05s, as well as a number of '05s from many of Cambie’s clients. The standouts included the Tardieu-Laurent Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Spéciale, along with the Clos St.-Jean Deux Ex Machina, Domaine Olivier Hillaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Petits Pieds d'Armand (Hillaire is now on his own, after the sale of Domaine des Relagnes last year), Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Le Clos du Caillou Les Quartz and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Clos du Caillou Réserve and the Clos du Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée du Papet, all of which are in the upper range of outstanding, and could be classics.
It was a strong start to my tastings of the '05s, a vintage that seems to keep gaining steam each time I taste it. Many of the wines are showing ample but ripe and well-integrated structure, and will need significant cellaring. But the quality level is very high across the board—if the three-dozen Châteauneufs I tasted through today are any indication.
Tonight I dined alone at Auberge de Cassagne, where new rooms have been added and the finishing touches are being put on a new spa, set to open at the end of the month. The cuisine is classic, but with a modern accent, and I got my foie gras fix taken care of with the appetizer. Then the lamb with a 2004 Lirac La Reine de Bois from Domaine de la Mordorée hit the spot. I was struck though by the makeup of the dining room. I’ve been in my fair share of European dining rooms, but this one really stood out tonight: English German, Italian and Spanish were being spoken, and a number of tables had Asian diners as well.
The beauty of the Rhône valley and the majesty of its wines is no secret, that’s for sure. The place is crawling with tourists, and there was a bottle of wine on nearly every table. As a consumer advocate, I’ll always be against the high prices the wines are getting. On the other hand, I also realize how lucky the US market is to get such an ample share of the region’s best wines, considering the obvious global demand that is sure to only get stronger. The Bordelais may have abandoned our market as they chase the money elsewhere, but the Rhône vintners don’t seem like they’re about to forget us.
It’s sunny but a touch humid here, and vignerons have noted some disease pressures in the vineyards already, along with what looks to be a small crop in the making. Flowering is over, and with the season running two weeks early following a warm winter, the bunches seem to be leaning towards the small side. But it’s still very early of course.
Tomorrow I’ll take a step back in time as I taste through a flight of ‘98s, before heading out for more appointments.