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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Two-Dozen '98s for Breakfast...

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 3, 2007 2:57am ET

The mistral made an appearance today, with a strong wind that constantly rustled the cypress trees, lavender bushes and other foliage in the garden here at Auberge de Cassagne. It quickly dried the rain that fell overnight and freshened the air that had been slightly humid.

I started the day off by working through two-dozen different ‘98s, and those of you who went long on this vintage will be happy to know you are sitting on a trove of terrific juice. Luckily, I am among you, as ’98 was my wedding year, and I couldn’t have asked for a better excuse to load up on Châteauneuf’s top wines.

Among the standouts were Bonneau’s Célestins, Le Vieux Donjon, Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Clos des Papes, Domaine de la Mordorée La Reine des Bois and the Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Reservé. There were plenty of great wines though: More than half the wines I tasted garnered scores in the classic range (95 points or better on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale), further cementing this vintage’s terrific reputation. I tasted through the wines twice--once before and once after lunch--and none of them lost a step. Some even improved. That’s a really good sign. I’ll report in full on the tasting when I get back to New York.

I had a few hours left to the day, so rather than veg out (which my jet lag was asking me to do) I called up Laurent Charvin and asked if I could stop by. He graciously said yes. It’s always a fun tasting with the soft-spoken but eloquent Charvin, as we taste through his individual vats first before he pulls out a tall plastic beaker and makes an approximate blend of what the final wine will be. We did this with his ’06 Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf cuvées, before tasting his finished ’05 Châteauneuf, which is sitting in vat, set to be bottled in two days.

The ’05 Charvin Châteauneuf is made from a blend of 85 percent Grenache, along with 5 percent each of Syrah, Vacaresse and Mourvèdre. It offers a sappy, kirsch aroma, with lots of pepper, garrigue, red and black cherry fruit and a very racy finish, thanks to almost edgy acidity. It’s in the high end of the outstanding range, if not classic. The ‘06s are delicious also, in the mold of the ’04, but with a bit more oomph.

“I like this vintage a lot,” says Charvin about ‘05. “It has a lot of richness but is also very fresh.”

James Molesworth works through two dozen of Chateauneuf’s best wines from the ’98 vintage, before heading out to taste more ’05s.

We hiked around in some of his vineyards too. This is the first time I’ve been in the region other than for the months of either March or November, so seeing the vines with some fruit (which right now means little green bumps) is a change of pace for me. The vintage is running about two to three weeks ahead, and the bunches appear short in length, but spread out in terms of the grapes on the bunch. It portends for a smaller-than-average crop, which has actually become the norm around here since 2003.

I asked Charvin if one could make a good wine when the vintage is so early.

“I don’t know,” he said laughing. “We’ll see since this is the first time it has been like this.”

We had dinner at Le Pré du Moulin, a lovely spot just north of the town of Orange in Sérignan du Comtat, where Caroline and Pascal Alonso oversee a bright, airy dining room and a kitchen that turns out vibrant, modern-styled food with a distinct Provençal accent. My cuisse de lapin scented with coriander went down way too easy, thanks in part to a bottle of the 2004 Domaine Ferrando Châteauneuf-du-Pape Colombis.

Tomorrow is Sunday, which around the tiny town of Châteauneuf, is a day of rest. Except for me of course. Tomorrow is "old school day," as I’m meeting with a few different producers who all make big, rugged wines ...

Rocky Menge
June 3, 2007 11:49am ET
James,On this trip will you re-taste the '98 Beauscastel? Also, will you be tasting any of Jerome Quiot's wines?
James Molesworth
June 3, 2007 2:01pm ET
Rocky: The '98 Beaucastel wines were in my tasting of '98s, yes. No, I don't have Jerome Quiot on my itinerary this time...
Ashley Potter
LA, —  June 4, 2007 1:58pm ET
James,What was your impression of the Colombis this time around? I'm sitting on one right now, and have never tasted it. Thanks for your thoughts. I hope the rain brought more comfortable weather for you...high humidity isn't exactly prime tasting conditions!
James Molesworth
June 5, 2007 3:15pm ET
Ashley: I assume you mean the '04 Colombis? It's still pretty dreamy right now. Hard to lay off it, but no rush of course.

I think the '05 is a bit riper, and almost too fruit-driven for me, but it's still outstanding.

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