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Domaine de la Vieille Julienne's Châteauneuf-du-Pape Star Brightens

The 2015 vintage here reflects a philosophical shift
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 6, 2017 2:10pm ET

When I arrived here at Domaine de la Vieille Julienne in Châteaeuneuf-du-Pape, Jean-Paul Daumen was excited about his newest vineyard acquisition. But the more immediate excitement is in the bottle.

"In the end, 2015 is refreshing, like 2001 was. And those wines are still young today," says Daumen. "I would take 2001 over 2000 and 1998 because the freshness and balance matches the maturity. And it's funny, because I wasn't happy with 2001 right away. It was completely overshadowed by 1998 and 2000. That's partly the context of the vintage at the time. But also how my approach has changed as I have divided my parcels and changed the cuvées since 2010."

That change is the shift from cuvées based on vine age, to cuvées based on terroir.

"I realized I didn't need to make the decision on vine age because the entire domaine is old vines. My father planted up to 1962, and there are no other plantings in the domaine's parcels after that," explains Daumen. "I began to realize that the north-facing parcels I have are quite different from the typical Châteauneuf. It's more of a microclimate. And sandy soils and limestone soils make two very different wines. And so I needed to focus on the wines in that way."

The Domaine de la Vielle Julienne Côtes du Rhône Lieu-Dit Clavin 2015 is a 60/10/5/5 blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah, with the remainder Counoise and whites. It shows bright, piercing bitter cherry and damson plum fruit, flecked with white pepper and driven by a racy, iron spine. It's a wine of purity and tension.

The 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Trois Sources (the sandy soil parcels) totals around 830 cases. The 60/10/10/10/5 blends of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre plus others shows intense Linzer and blackberry torte flavors, with very fine, racy acidity stretching it out. It's backed by light anise, lavender and fruitcake accents through the finish while a bolt of graphite strides in as well. It's tannic, but driven, and the acidity is really riveting.

The 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Hauts-Lieux (limestone soils) is a 60/20/10/10 blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault. There are about 400 cases of the wine, which has an intense raspberry pâte de fruit core bristling with energy as it moves along, showing flashes of incense, black tea and anise. The structure is refined and persistent, with a light chalky thread echoing throughout. It's a stunning display of fruit and minerality working together.

There is still a little 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé produced, just 150 or so cases from a single parcel in Les Trois Sources, whose vines were planted in 1905. Not made every year (2012, 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005 were the last bottlings), it's a blend of 90 percent Grenache with Syrah and Cinsault.

"The problem with Grenache is to avoid over-maturity. It needs support from other grapes. To keep the fresh balance, especially with global warming, is more difficult now with Grenache. So Syrah and Cinsault are the salt and pepper for the Grenache," says Daumen.

The wine is loaded with dark Linzer and plum pâte de fruit notes, laced with Lapsang Souchong tea and warm fruitcake, all carried by finely-beaded acidity. The finish lets light lavender, bay and garrigue notes flash through for added range and length. It's very tight, but will show its beauty down the road. Twenty years down the road.

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

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