Mother Nature is showing off a wonderful yin-yang these past two days. The air is brisk and cool and the smell of the chauffage, or burning of old vines in the vineyards, fills the air. Winter hasn't let go yet, but the almond trees have flowered and the sun has turned bright and strong, warming my face. Spring is just around the corner.
Nothing helps clear a jet-lagged mind like a 9:00 a.m. visit with the irrepressible Laurence Féraud at Domaine de Pégaü. She drives the 50 meters from her house down to the office to meet me, with a flurry of construction activity all around as the cellars are being expanded. Her equally garrulous and affable father, Paul, is dealing with the driver of a large delivery truck that’s arrived to pick up a few palates of wine, and everything seems to be happening at once. Féraud leaves me with a lineup of her Sélection Laurence Féraud wines while she dashes off to finish some paperwork. (I've been making regular visits here for several years now, so you can reference background via my 2003/2004 Cellar Notes as well as the 2004/2005 Cellar Notes, and searching back through previous blog entries.)
The house wine here, bottled under screw cap, is the Vin de Table Français Plan Pégau, labeled as Lot 2007 to indicate the vintage which can't officially be on the label of a Vin de Table Français level wine. The blend includes half fruit from Pégaü vineyards and half fruit sourced from Costières de Nîmes and is a kitchen sink blend of 50 percent Grenache along with Syrah, Merlot, Alicante, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and more. It’s a friendly, soft, forward wine with lots of herb, black cherry and lavender notes followed by a peppery finish.
The Côtes du Rhône-Villages Séguret 2007 is sourced from a single grower, as are all the AOC wines in the Sélection Laurence Féraud lineup. The wines are vinified by the individual growers and then bottled and labeled at the Costières et Soleil facility in Nîmes. The blend of 90 percent Grenache along with Syrah offers racy licorice and raspberry flavors with a touch of garrigue on the juicy finish.
In contrast, the Gigondas 2007 (80/15/5 Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) is much blacker in profile, with lots of olive and tobacco notes and a big, mouthfilling finish. It, along with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (80/15/5 Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah), offers potentially outstanding quality. The latter shows the gorgeous kirsch and licorice profile of the vintage with a whiff of lavender and solid grip on the finish. Féraud explained as she came back with a stack of papers to sign for the delivery, “I just put my name on the label to help them sell the wine, but I am not a négoce.” (Féraud is also a partner with André-Brunel in the Féraud-Brunel line of wines, which I detailed in my previous blog entry).
As for the Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée 2007, the house style of vivid purple and black fruit laced with brick dust, blood orange, lavender and tobacco is fully evident, with the fruit amplified by the generosity of the vintage. The foudre Féraud draws a sample from is showing serious grip and is rather tight today, but the pieces are in place. This is typically one of the latest releases from the appellation—the wine will not be bottled until September.
“In 1990 we didn’t realize the quality that we had at the time,” said Féraud, comparing the young 2007 to the vintage she thinks it most resembles. “But now, we realize,” she added with a smile.
Trophy hunters will be happy to hear that the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée da Capo will be produced in 2007, the first time since the 2003 vintage. This single foudre cuvée looks to be a major step up from the Réservée in ’07, unlike previous years ('98, '00, '03) where I found the quality difference minimal. The wine is extremely expressive right now, with mouthwatering purple, black and blue fruits mixed with hoisin sauce, lavender and mineral notes that all rumble through a dynamic, lengthy finish. While the Cuvée Réservée 2007 is just flirting with classic quality in ’07, the Cuvée da Capo is clearly among the elite wines of the vintage.
Féraud’s longtime partner, Mark Fincham, continues to produce his own Costières de Nîmes bottling as well. The Red Note Costières de Nîmes 2007, a blend of equal parts Syrah and Grenache, is open knit, with delicious red berry fruit woven with herb and tobacco notes and backed by a dusty finish. Bottled under screw cap, it always delivers good, gutsy value at its $20 price point.
From the ebullient Féraud I drove the short distance down to Clos des Papes, where the reserved, mild-mannered Vincent Avril produces one of the appellation’s reference-point wines. The final blend of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 is set to be done this week before its eventual bottling in May. As usual, Avril led me through a tasting of the various foudres, which always contain a majority of Grenache, mixed with differing amounts of Syrah and Mourvèdre (as well as the other varieties). There is little introduction needed for Clos des Papes as this domaine has garnered some impressive accolades here in recent vintages. You can reference background in previous cellar notes both here and here.
After tasting the individual foudres, an approximate blend is then made, which never fails to provide a dramatic example of how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The wine should again be a rival for top honors in the vintage, with crème de cassis, blood orange, incense and plum sauce notes held together in a dense core and backed by an incredibly long, supple finish. It’s as stunning a combination of power and purity as you can find in the wine world. Avril has managed to harness the forward, exuberant fruit of the 2007 vintage to a classic, fine-grained structure that most of the 2007s do not possess. The wine is big, with the 15.5 percent alcohol typical of many 2007 reds, but it's totally seamless, with marvelous elegance.
“I’m not looking for 15.5,” said Avril. “But sometimes you have to wait longer for full maturity. The same thing happened in 1990.”
There has been some confusion among consumers as to whether there are various bottlings of the Clos des Papes. There are not. All of the production is bottled over a four-day period. The wines are labeled with serial numbers, however, that Avril uses to keep track of shipments to various markets, to make sure his distributors aren’t sending wine to secondary markets and jeopardizing the wines’ storage conditions.
We also retasted the Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2007 (which I officially rated 95 points in the Oct. 31, 2008, issue). It’s arguably the appellation’s best white wine (Beaucastel might have something to say about that) delivering invigorating minerality along with a panoply of anise, green plum, chamomile and white peach flavors. The wine has a track record for aging beautifully over a decade, turning into a cross of a mature Mosel Riesling and a Meursault, with additional petrol, macadamia nut and candied citrus peel notes. Once again, the best whites from Châteauneuf-du-Pape are probably the best white wines you’re not drinking.
Across the street is Domaine de Beaurenard, where some of the good old boys of the appellation, brothers Daniel and Frédéric Coulon produce both superb red and white bottlings. Previous cellar note entries can be found here and here for this domaine, which combines old fashion hard work (some parcels are still plowed by horse) with a dash of modernity (some new oak) to create distinctive wines.
Two overlooked bottlings are the domaine’s Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau 2007 and Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau Cuvée Les Argiles Bleues 2007. The former, a blend of 80 percent Grenache with Syrah, shows delightful blueberry and raspberry fruit, with a fresh, spice box-filled finish. The latter (made from the same 80/20 Grenache/Syrah mix) is sourced from 45-year-old vines on blue clay soils and delivers its typical blueberry cobbler aroma, along with Linzer torte, cocoa and graphite notes and a long, stylish finish. Both are potentially outstanding.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 has been blended and is awaiting its mis. It’s fine-grained and elegant for the vintage, with red, black and purple fruits laid over a mouthwatering graphite note. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard 2007 is the domaine’s top cuvée, sourced from the Coulons' oldest vines. The blend has almost been finalized and is slated to be bottled in May. It shows the flashy spice and inviting mocha aromatics it’s known for, but it has already completely absorbed its oak (it is aged in barrel, 20 percent of which is new oak).
“The ’07 married with the oak right away,” said Frédéric.
The wine shows gorgeous mouthfeel, along with Turkish coffee, date bread, currant paste and warm fig sauce notes. It should rival the estate’s sublime 2001 for top honors in the history of the cuvée, which debuted in 1990.
In the afternoon, it was time for a new face, as I made my first visit to the cellar of Raymond Usseglio, which is now run by Stéphane Usseglio. This domaine has had the typical rise of many Châteauneuf-du-Pape domaines: Stéphane's grandfather immigrated to the area in the 1930s and bought the family's initial holdings. His father, Raymond, initially sold his production to négociants and then eventually began bottling the domaine's own production in the early 1970s. Now Stéphane is charged with going to the next level. He has been working at the domaine since 1997, and was on his own beginning with the '99 vintage.
The domaine totals 23 hectares (19 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and currently produces about 40,000 bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape annually, sending 20 percent to the U.S. market.
|Well-situated Grenache vines in the Les Girardettes parcel provide fruit for the Cuvée Impériale of Domaine Raymond Usseglio.|
For every Pégaü, Clos de Papes and Beaurenard—domaine that have deservedly won their fame—there are other domaines such as Raymond Usseglio and Domaine de Ferrand that are quietly producing stellar wines. Those consumers who are willing to go off the beaten track and eschew name recognition will be well-served, particularly in a vintage as impressive from top to bottom as 2007.