Monday, August 09, 2010

France - Part 3 


 Domaine du Pegau
Domaine de la Janasse
Chateau Mont Redon 
Clos des Brusquieres

Grenache vines surrounded by galets in CdP

Day 4 was an exciting trip north of Les Baux to the world renowned wine region Chateauneuf du Pape. Driving north from Les Baux through Avignon we made our way to Chateauneuf du Pape on the first Tuesday of our trip. Chateauneuf du Pape, or “Castle of the Popes”, or as I like to call it Chateauneuf du Awesome is a place still rooted in the past, with little commercial flash like Napa or Bordeaux as you will see in the pictures here and in comparison to future posts from Bordeaux . For those not familiar with this region, the Roman Catholic Church had a major influence in this region in the middle ages. Quite a few French popes reigned in this region in the middle ages, mostly in Avignon. But beside Avignon, the mighty French Popes also had a castle built in a village we now know as Chateauneuf du Pape.
The steps leading up to the "castle of the popes", or Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The remains of the castle sit at the highest point on the hill the village resides on. You can see it off in the distance quite a few miles away as the half remaining part of the castle towers over the surrounding area. The anticipation sparks the second you see the castle it and grows as you get closer to your first tasting appointment. Now mind you this is not a castle you are thinking with moats and draw bridges, it is half blown up and quite small from what we recall from our memory of castles in movies and stories past. The castle was intact until World War II until the Nazis that occupied it and used it as their ammo and weapons cache for the region. As the Allies closed in, the fleeing Nazi’s blew up the weapons cache and blew out half of the castle, leaving just one half of the castle standing. I have heard of Irish goodbyes, but can one consider this a German goodbye? Such a shame! I am curious if they export much of their wines to Germany? (kidding of course). This was one of my favorite days in our two weeks in France, the images from memory and wines were very vivid and unforgettable. 

Domaine du Pegau

What a great visit! Laurance Feraud made us feel at home and gave us a thorough tour and introduction to the wines of Domaine Pegau and ALL from the best recent vintages! Avignon traffic was terrible and held us up for 30 minutes, but Laurance received just as she would have had we been on time for the visit. We made out wine to the cellar room to meet with the group lucky enough to not have suffered a traffic jam on their way to CdP. The old, stoic foudre were lined up in the cellar room, the Capo barrel as you can see in the picture being the biggest foudre of them all. They are currently expanding, as we saw when Laurance showed us around the property and saw the new construction. These were excellent wines. Looking back on our trip, I would have taken the opportunity to bring a few more of these wines back to the US with us. I chose the 2005 Cuvee Laurance and the 2007 Reserve CdP, the Capo was tempting but my gut said Laurance! 

Laurance Feraud, winemaker Domain du Pegau

With each wine Laurance went into the story behind each wine, as well as the methods used to create the wines. For example only in certain years the Cuvee de Capo or Cuvee Laurance is made, but never both. The Capo seems to be made in riper years (’03, ’07) and the Laurance in more classic years (’01, ’05, ‘06). The reserve was the first wine and was a beauty. Dark red and black fruits, meat and spicy pepper aromas, this is classic, benchmark CdP. The Laurance was more to my tastes and what I expected of a classic CdP, the Capo was huge, borderline new world in style. No doubt I could tell why it is a perennial favorite of Robert Parker’s. The Capo was huge, with layered, unctuous flavors and textures. The Laurance was more refined, more classic CdP in style and to me more complex. Delivering multiple layers and more aroma complexity than the Capo, this was the iron fist in the velvet glove. 

The Pegau lineup, NV, 07, 07, 05

We got a little background on wine legalities and the rigorous bureaucracy the AOC and other oversight entities apply to the winemakers to ensure they are adhering to the rules set forth by the government, whether they are suitable or not. The rules were originally intended to ensure a winemaker was being true to the rules of a particular region. But as the industry has matured, the regulators adhere to old and unsuitable rules that do protect the consumer, but at times constrict the creativity and the true expression a winemaker is trying to make. American winemakers have no idea how lucky they are that the regulators here do not do the same! Laurance was a terrific host and indeed shows the passion for winemaking that comes through in her wines. We also met her father, Paul, who started making wines as Pegau in 1987. For generations the property that yields the grapes for their wines was in this family. This was truly a family operation, original and rooted in the tradition. 

Wines Tasted:

NV Plan de Pegau $15 

Pegau’s answer to a Cotes du Rhone, but is mostly Merlot and from multiple vintages so it is designated “NV” for non vintage. Laurance explained the vines for this wine are from property on the banks of the Rhone River on mostly sandy soil good for growing Merlot in (this is also true in Bordeaux). This is truly unique for the area and since it is not made from traditional Rhone varieties, it cannot even be called a Cotes du Rhone or Vin de Pays, it is rather simply a “red table wine” or “Vin de Table” and thus not allowed to show a vintage (proof of the poor rules in France – no vintage? Seriously?!). 

2007 Domaine Pegau Reserve CdP $70 

The color is dark red with red edges. The aromas jump from the glass of deep black and red cherry, currants, spice, meat and a touch of mocha. Black cherry, black figs and crème de cassis coat the palate while the silky and long finish sails on. The 2007 reserve is an exceptional wine of depth and length, with a deep and long finish of true CdP character. I bought one of these to bring back home with me. 

2007 Domaine Pegau Cuvee de Capo $400+ 
Capo 2007

This is a monster of a wine and packs a wallop of fruit, glycerin, and texture. A black core with dark red edges. The nose is ripe, but not overly so showing deep black currants, beefy notes, black raspberry, chocolate and spice. This is a huge wine and given its size should age for quite a long time. It is aged in its own special cask and is the best fruit from a given vintage when no Cuvee Laurance is created. It is not cheap, but if you can walk away with one from the Domaine you should do so if this is your style. 

2005 Domaine Pegau Cuvee Laurance $100 
Cuvee Laurance 2005

This is a beautiful, classically styled wine that is what the Capo is not. Though, do not mistake the power of this wine’s ability to show an iron fist with a velvet glove. It may be more elegant, but it is no less stimulating, and in fact I think it is more complex, and more interesting of a wine than the Capo. The 2005 is showing impeccably balanced and is just starting to show some mature aromas, but it is mostly still shrouded in a weave of tannin and acidity. Beautiful aromas of mostly deeper red fruits, roasted beef, spice, and some flowers rise from the glass. The palate is broad and deep, with solid tannins that should melt away as this wine ages for many years. I also bought one of these to take home with me. I wish I had purchased more! 

Le Verger du Papes

For lunch we drove to the top of the village and had lunch beneath the castle ruins at Le Verger du Papes. We both ordered steak. I had mine with frites while Lisa had an exceptional gratin that was traditional but also had layers of bacon added into the matrix of cheese and potatoes. With lunch we had the 2007 Clos des Brusquieres Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I really liked this wine and highly recommend it as the 2007 can be had for about $35 here in the US (a very good price for a CdP). It was showing classic CdP flavors and aromas, revealing dark and red spicy fruits, roasted Provencal herbs, with smoky a meat component, a luscious texture and a long, fresh finish. Classic! 

Domain de la Janasse 

Nestled north east of CdP in Courthezon, about a 15 minute drive from the village of Chateauneuf, Domaine de la Janasse was an exceptional visit. The highlight was the generous tasting of 14 wines going back to 1979! What a lineup! We were received by the warm and friendly Isabelle Sabon at the Domaine. Isabelle asked which wines we wanted to try, and, well, we said everything! The tasting room was a modest place to taste these great wines, with little flash as their children’s toys were in sight, as well as medals and honors bestowed upon the Sabon family’s best wines, including the best white for the 2008 vintage from Chateauneuf du Pape (see CdP Blanc 2008 below). I liked the feel and comfort of the tasting room; it was just like Pegau, not stuffy, but original and unassuming. Adjacent to the tasting room was the fermentation room and the cellar for aging the wines in foudre and barrel. We were definitely intending on buying a few bottles here too, especially the CdP blanc as the 2007 was a recent favorite of ours. The variety and styles of the current wines was impressive. There were a few roses, whites, some top notch Cotes du Rhones, and then quite a few exceptional CdP: each wine displaying a different expression of the grape and the vineyard.

Domaine de la Janasse

Thankfully we had lunch before the 14 wines we tried at Domaine de la Janasse. Here is a list and some notes I took on each of the wines we tasted. Some we drank, some we spit, but we made it through with our wits intact! 

On average, Janasse produces about 250,000 bottles of the below wines. Only about 50,000 of those wines are from 15 hectares of Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards. 


Vin de Pays (VdP) de la Principaute d’Orange Rose 2009 $10-12

1/3 each of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre
Simple and easy, red fruits and acidity blend well to deliver an easy going Rose. Copper-pink in color. Nice wine and super cheap as it only cost a few Euros, maybe 8.

Cotes du Rhone Rose 2009 $12-14

50% Grenache, 30%Syrah, 20% Cinsault
More depth and mid-palate here, silky red fruits and orange zest. Salmon in color. Good acidity and weight. This rose delivers and for may 10 Euros, also a great deal. Pretty and elegant but with a tad more depth than the VdP. 

Lisa starting to sample the "few" wines we tasted!


VdP de la Principaute d’Orange Viognier 2009 $18

100% Viognier
Classic Viognier of white flowers, honeysuckle, stone fruits like peach and ripe nectarine. Chardonnay lovers take note this wine delivers huge white wine character in a while new way! This wine delivers Viognier as it should be. Only about $16-18 I have seen this back home here in the US. Cook up some scallops or sea bass and you will not be disappointed.

Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2009 $14 

50% Grenache Blanc, 15% Clairette, 15% Bourboulenc, 10% Viognier, 10% Roussane
We had this at home before our trip and I was not impressed, but in France it was showing better, silky and more succulent. White, waxy and succulent exotic fruits blend well with almonds, flowers and spice. Fabulous little white wine.

Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2009 $60

50% Grenache Blanc, 25% Roussanne, 25% Clairette 
This is one of the best white CdP I have ever had, the 2007 was absolutely spectacular, delivering complexity, depth and richness in a balanced wine that would have anyone saying wow! The 2009 was almost as good, ever so slightly lower in depth and richness, the 2009 delivered more acidity with the classic white flowers and stone fruits, sweet almonds, with nervy minerality and terroir. Solid white, this matched well with a roasted chicken basted and seasoned with Provencal herbs. 


Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2008 $15
Cotes du Rhone 2008

50% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 15% Vieux Carignan, 5% Cinsault
Aged 6-9 months in foudre.
The nose reveals delicate red fruits like strawberry and cherry, spice and an easy going freshness. The palate was more forward with similar flavors to the nose, the tannins were apparent here, good kirsch-like and black fruits. Balances well as medium to full bodied.

Vin de Pays (VdP) de la Principaute d’Orange ‘Terre de Bussiere’ 2007 $15

55% Merlot, 25% Syrah, 10% Grenache, 10% Cabernet
Aged 12 months in 30% new oak, the rest neutral oak barrel.
Again surprising that this is a lot of Merlot, but this has more depth than the Plan de Pegau which also had a large majority of Merlot. This was also aged in a smaller barriques, or barrel, whereas the previous Cotes du Rhone was aged in foudre. This was really nice for a CdR, if not so traditional with all of that Merlot. I wonder how much Merlot could have been in my other Cotes du Rhone that I have been tasting all these years. Typically Grenache or Syrah is the main grape in a Cotes du Rhone. Nice wine, delivering red fruits, medium to full bodied. A little spice and some oak.

Cotes du Rhone Village 2008 ‘Terre de Argile’ 2008 $17-25

1/3 each Grenache, Syrah, & Mourvedre
Serious Cotes du Rhone here as this receives some complex elevage.
Aged 18-21 months as follows:
Syrah & Mourvedre (60%) oak barrel (30% new) and the Grenache 40% is aged in foudre.
This was a fabulous Cotes du Rhone as this was not your basic Cotes du Rhone. Not your average CdR, this wine is made with quality in mind, and shows in the glass. Terre de Argile tastes more like a Chateauneuf du Pape, and priced a little higher than an average CdR, it should. Rich red and black fruit, spice, and some meaty aromas and flavors blend well with the oak treatment barely noticeable in this wine. The full flavor of the wine finishes long with supple tannins. The Mourvedre adds more depth and deeper color to the fresher Syrah and Grenache. The anticipation of the coming wines did not overshadow this wine and I recall well how much I liked this for a Cotes du Rhone. This was the 2008 and I have a stash of the 2007 at home waiting for their day to shine. 2008 is on the shelves right now and ready to drink!

Chateauneuf du Pape Traditional 2008 $50-60

2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
70% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre
15-18 months aged in 80% foudre and 20% barrel
The 2008 Chateauneuf du Pape traditional is a blend of both the regular CdP vineyards and the Chaupin which is bottled separately in better vintages. More Mourvedre was used in 2008 at Janasse in the two CdP wines produced, much more than usual as my notes say “20%+?”, probably to counteract a somewhat average to slightly poor vintage. Red and black fruits, meaty aromas, lavender and garrigue are all on display in this classic, traditional 2008. Priced high for a so-so vintage, the ’08 would be a nice comparison to the 07 that everyone had gone gaga over! Both are priced similarly right now.

Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Vielles Vignes’ 2008 $90-120

70% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Divers
From Grenache vines aged 60 to 100 years old, this wine was aged: Mourvedre in barrel (25%, 40% new), the remaining 75% was Grenache raised in foudre!
This wine showed more depth and complexity than the Traditional, but also is twice the price. To me it is twice as good. Full bodied and dark in color, this wine was brooding from the glass. Blackberry and currants, incense, licorice, and toasty mocha reveal a beautiful aroma and full flavors that lead to a long, full finish.

Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Vielles Vignes’ 2003 $100-125

The richness and depth of this wine was very apparent and to be expected from the hot and ripe 2003 vintage. I believe Parker gave this a big 97 point score. This is a huge wine of profound richness and depth. This wine was open for a little over one day and was giving off a big, full aroma of dark berries, meat, charcoal like smoky and toasty oak, some mocha, with some fresh flowers and brighter red fruits, very complex, and very deep. The palate was full and broad, coating every nook and cranny in the palate with rich black fruits, currants, cherry, spice, minerality, and a long, long finish. In years to come as this sheds some fat, I am sure this will be an incredible wine as it gains further complexity. I just hope it ages well and in balance, though I have a feeling it probably will. As French wines go, this is a big boy, big body, fruit and everything else! But given the course CdP has taken in recent year by some producers to ramp up the ripeness, I guess this is not too much of a surprise. It does however tastes in balance. A careful high wire balancing act of huge fruit, alcohol, tannins and decent acidity, though that one was lacking the most of the 4 components. As this wine ages this will be an interesting wine to taste and analyze through the years. In time this will show more finesse, but could easily be a 20-30 year wine, maybe more with all of the stuffing that is packed into this wine.

2003 and 1999 Vielles Vignes (VV)

Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Vielles Vignes’ 1999 $65-80

Speaking of finesse, the 1999 VV was our favorite wine of the day. Drinking perfectly, this big wine started with a purple core getting red and then barely brick in color at the edges. Open almost 1 full day, the nose was a sensual complex perfume of red and black fruits, licorice, fall leaves, provincial herbs, subtle spice, with secondary notes of tobacco and dried flowers. The palate was just the same, showing a combination of youthful fruit, combined with dried herbs, garrigue, earth and spice, showing great balance and wonderful presence. The wine seemed practically seamless, with a beautiful nose, wonderful palate, and a long finish of the aforementioned flavors still resonating on the palate. Full bodied, the tannins are still intact, but starting to mellow. This wine is definitely fighting the aging process well and is in a very palate pleasing spot showing both primary and secondary aromas and flavors. I don’t usually rate wines but this is an easy 96+ and drinking superbly at this moment! Perfect balance, full inviting aromas and flavors, what more could you want from a classic Chateauneuf du Pape! 

Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Vielles Vignes’ 1993 $NA

What a treat, the 1993 was in full bloom as a mature, wonderfully complex wine. Sn older version of the 1999, but maybe not as good as the 1999 will be at this stage. The color was purple red with brick color at the edges. The aromas were a haunting mix of more secondary aromas and flavors. Dried black and red fruits, currant and cherry, with mature notes of sandalwood, earth, cigar box, spice, and licorice come through with ease and subtlety. Not sure how much better this will get, so if you have any drink up! Great balance and wonderful mature character, this is a great wine if you wanted to get to know a mature Chateauneuf du Pape. 

Cotes du Rhone Reserve 1979 $NA

1979 Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Reservee
When drinking through a deep tasting of wines, it is usually best to save the oldest for last. The flavors and aromas are usually more delicate than the younger wines, but reminiscent of the younger wines and in some ways traceable back to their younger siblings. The color was light red to full on brick, being 31 years old! Aromas of crushed fall leaves, earth, subtle spice and sandal wood rose from the glass as we swirled our tasting glasses. The nose had plenty of the aromas one would associate with an older wine. The palate was good, though very delicate and very subtle with lighter red fruits, leather, acidity, and very slight tannins. It had plenty of drinkability if you have had old wines and knew what to expect out of this wine as it was lacking in that fuller fruit sensation, but over-loaded in the maturity department. 

2007 Janasse Chateauneuf Du Pape XXL $300-400

100% Grenache (inaugural vintage) 

There are the old and pleasant wines you should finish with, and then there are the ones you just have to finish with as they will completely obliterate your palate. The XXL is just that, a monster wine of size and proportion that exceeds anything that is traditional and classic in Chateauneuf Du Pape.  Not to mention deeper, fuller, strong and richer than any of the other wines that you must finish with it like you would a desert wine, but this is no desert wine as it is completely dry.

The new for 2007 "XXL", the name says it all!
2007 is the first vintage of the 2,000 bottle production XXL. It reminded me of the 2003 VV on steroids! The palate is huge, I mean seriously HUGE! XXL is very new world and not typical of the CdP wines I have tried, though there are similarities to Pegau's Capo and the 2003 VV from Janasse. I can see why they would make it as collectors and enthusiasts will for sure snatch them up. Parker scored it a 98-100 to boot. 

Color: Black as night, through and through 
Nose & Palate: Crushed super-ripe blackberry, licorice, blueberry, black cherry, toasty malted chocolate oak and charcoal! Whiffs of alcohol, but not as strong as you would think given its got to be 16+ degrees abv. Virtually no acidity, but of course it’s in there, the acidity is overshadowed by the ultra ripe and sweet fruit, with huge ripe and sweet tannins. 

I felt surprised and shocked at how close this wine resembles a California Grenache or Syrah from a few producers that definitely push the alcohol to 16+ degrees, same goes for the Capo. It was not bad, just different than what I was expecting from CdP. For the price I would take multiple bottles of the VV or try the Chaupin, but that’s just me. Remember, I passed on 2007 Capo earlier that day. If you get this, please decant for a very, very long time or throw it in the cellar and forget about it for 25 years….seriously. Or just drink up now and hold on to your hat and let go of your wallet!
The legendary Mont Redon

Chateau Mont Redon 

Last on our agenda was a quick stop at Mont Redon, north of the village of Chateauneuf du Pape on our way back from Janasse in Courthezon. Mont Redon is one of the original big producers in the area and they maintain an adherence to an old traditional mix listed below that is of course dominated by the Grenache grape, like all Chateauneuf du Pape. The vineyard is maintained traditionally so as to bring out the best terroir the vineyard can produce. The property is wide, broad and beautiful, as you can see in the pictures here with the galets (large oval smooth rocks) in the vineyards between and under the vines. These rocks are part of the secret to the terroir of CdP as the galets reflect the light and maintain warmth over the night. This is why the vines are lower to the ground than you see in new world regions like Napa Valley. The galets soak up the suns heat and remit that heat back over night to the vines. So the vines stay close to their source of warmth, the stones on the ground. Bordeaux has a similar concept but with much smaller, more gravelly stones and soil in the left bank in the Medoc and the Graves regions. The Domaine has a full service tasting room not looking much different than something you would see in the Napa Valley offering many vintages for one to taste. The oldest available without begging was the 1999, but to me tasted a little tired or maybe was open for too long. The 2001 and the 2007 were the best I felt of the bunch we tasted.
The vines are surrounded by galets, everywhere in thsi part of CdP

Mont Redon maintains a standard recipe for the blend of their Chateauneuf du Pape of the following cepage:

Grenache 65%
Syrah 15%
Cinsault 10%
Mourvedre 5%
Counoise-Muscardin-Vaccarese 5%

2001 Mont Redon CdP

The color on this wine was an elegant ruby red, hinting at more refined flavors of red fruits and spices. The nose and palate were a classic, refined, typical blend from this Domaine. Red fruits of cherry, strawberry, mulled spices, leather and tobacco notes show age and complexity. A beautiful wine.

2007 Mont Redon CdP

The best of the 3 young vintages we tasted. The 2007 was expected to be good being the best vintage in years in CdP and this wine delivered. The color was deep, a darker red hue. The nose and palate were ripe raspberry, strawberry and cherry, virtually no oak, but a nicely elegant and decently long finish. Some more plum fruit, spice, fine grained tannins and lots of acidity. More acidity than the last 2 producers we visited.

Next we will move on to the world famous wines of Bordeaux and our visits to a few world renowned Chateau such as Latour, Ducru Beaucaillou, Pontet Canet, Haut-Bailly, Angelus & Vieux Chateau Certan to name a few.



My Favorites