After spending time with Philippe Guigal at his new Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate, I dove into three more visits with top vignerons, retasting the 2016s as a follow-up to my visits here last summer.
At Domaine St.-Préfert, Isabel Ferrando has produced her best wines to date—and she's made some darn good ones along the way, ever since I caught her right at the beginning of her domaine back in the 2003 vintage.
The 2016s here are the essence of the vintage: dark and loaded with fruit, yet marked by racy structure, a wide range of enticing aromas and terrific definition. The 2016 Châteauneuf brims with warm plum and blackberry notes inlaid with a graphite edge and backed by a smoldering finish. It will be a terrific buy. The 2016 Auguste Favier bottling has stunning fig cake and blackberry paste notes, its own smoldering tobacco hint and a superlong finish that sparkles with black tea and spice notes.
The Colombis bottling (under her Domaine Ferrando label) is a vivid display of fruit, fig, plum, blackberry and boysenberry all in lockstep, with a melted licorice snap note hanging on the finish. The Domaine St.-Préfert Collection Charles Giraud confirms my earlier impression—this is one of the wines of the vintage. Benefiting from 40 percent Mourvèdre (the rest Grenache) it provides stunning range to its Turkish coffee, fig bread, licorice root and currant paste notes while a graphite girder is embedded from start to finish. Enormously endowed, this wine is rippling with energy and life to match its weight. Consider yourselves tipped off …
At Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, the soft-spoken but passionate Jean-Paul Daumen continues to make some of the purest wines in the appellation. Always long-lived as well, 2016 has played right into his hands.
"It's an impressive vintage," he says matter-of-factly. "What is interesting is I was not impressed early on. It was so easy to vinifiy, that I didn't understand. Now, as it grows, I can't compare it to another vintage directly. Maybe something like 2001, which was overlooked early but then grew and grew and today it is better than 1998 and 2000. I think '16 will be like that—better and better."
The 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Trois Sources delivers an intensely focused beam of raspberry and loganberry pâte de fruit, a hint of acai and a racy, spice infused finish. The 2016 Les Hauts-Lieux is a touch lusher in feel (it's usually more taciturn), with very expressive Linzer and blackberry pâte de fruit flavors that are pure and driven, inlaid with a fine chalky minerality. The 2016 Réserve is laden with Linzer, plum and fig flavors, almost sappy in their intensity but backed by a graphite spine and anise-infused finish that add range, while finely beaded acidity adds length and cut. It's a stunner.
In the upper northeast corner of the appellation sits Château de Beaucastel, one of the flagship estates for the Rhône Valley. Think they didn't hit it in '16?
"There is a purity balance and elegance which I don't remember seeing since I started," says Marc Perrin, who joined the family business back in 1989. "The cool nights helped of course, to maintain the acidity. But really it was perfect harvest conditions, with a long window. We picked what we wanted, when we wanted."
The 2016 Beaucastel Châteauneuf is just being bottled. Today it shows a beam of Linzer, açai and blackberry puree flavors that are the hallmark of this vintage, along with a light licorice thread and a very, very long graphite spine. There's a floral flourish at the end for added lift and range. The 2016 Homage à Jacques Perrin, another cuvée that relies heavily on Mourvèdre, is the best bottling to date for this wine. It's intense, with the Linzer, cassis and blackberry profile of the vintage. It's dense but ripples with sleek, lean muscle. And it's backed by a terrific display of spice, licorice, leather and Turkish coffee notes on the finish.
An impressive trio headlining what looks to be a star-filled vintage in the Southern Rhône. More soon …