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At Clos St.-Jean, Settling in to the New Digs

Vincent Maurel's 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Papes include an impressive lineup of old-vine Grenache cuvées
Vincent Maurel is hitting his stride at Clos St.-Jean.

Posted: Jul 10, 2018 4:00pm ET

The last time I visited with Vincent Maurel at Clos St.-Jean, in 2011, he was sort of kind of the new kid on the block in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He was already an experienced vigneron at the time, but along with his brother Pascal, Maurel decided to make a 180-degree shift stylistically in his wines, hiring consulting winemaker Philippe Cambie. The brothers also built a new winery facility and began focusing more on their own production from their 119 acres of vines, some of which date to 1905.

Today, Vincent has settled into the new digs and established a strong track record for quality along the way. If you like the destemmed, lush, dark fruit style, you will adore these wines.

As for the 2017s, Maurel is in the same boat as everyone else, noting, "Not an easy vintage. Coulure, hail and big drought. The berries were very tiny. But there was almost no maturity blockage as the crop was small."

The 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends 75 percent Grenache with 15 percent Syrah and the rest a mix of Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Vaccarese, the latter a grape that produces light-bodied and acid-driven juice ideal for blending to balance its big brothers. The wine is a textbook introduction to the vintage and house style, offering a core of warm raspberry confiture with alluring spice and fruitcake notes backed by a fleshy finish built on graphite-edged grip.

The 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes ups the percentage to 80 for Grenache, with 15 Syrah and the rest Mourvèdre and Vaccarese. It's fleshier in feel and shows a bit more focus, adding blackberry fruit to the baseline raspberry. Lots of wood spice and anise are infused on the finish.

The 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Combe de Fous is a Grenache-only cuvée, sourced from those vines planted in 1905, located on sandy soils. The result is a wine loaded with warm fig bread, ganache, black tea, cinnamon, anise and graphite notes that run in lockstep with the core of steeped plum, blackberry and boysenberry fruit. It's dense but defined; a gorgeous wine in the making.

The 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Deus Ex Machina is not made in every vintage. Another Grenache-only cuvée and sourced from the same old vines, it blends 60 percent Grenache with 40 percent Mourvèdre (the identical blend of St.-Préfert's Collection Charles Giraud cuvée). A whiff of rose petal gives way quickly to a lush wine marked by red licorice, raspberry and red currant pâte de fruit notes that melds steadily into a finish flecked with warm fig, bergamot, anise and apple wood notes. It's rich for sure, but the mouthfeel is luxurious and seductive, and it has the definition to carry it off.

The 2017s here are an an impressive follow-up to this estate's stunning 2016s, which have already been reviewed in official blind tastings in my New York office (so stay tuned for those reviews, coming soon).

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

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