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WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Tony Fletcher » Thu Feb 26, 2009 9:46 am

I attended a Zachys Rhône/Spain tasting Tuesday night in Scarsdale. The Rhône element focused, though not exclusively so, upon the Châteauneuf du Papes of ’05 and ’06. I attended a tasting a year ago comprised almost exclusively of ’06 Châteauneuf du Papes and so it provided a chance to compare my notes from then with notes from now. And, with a couple of 04s thrown in as well, I was able to draw some distinctive vintage differences. I started from the far end of the table, away from the Châteauneuf du Papes, working my way backwards towards them; I think this played to my benefit in terms of palate progression.

CÔTE RÔTIE GUIGAL CHATEAU D’AMPUIS 2005
Probably the most delicately rounded, and quite arguably the very nicest wine of the night. Quite light in color, it offered a smooth cooked bacon aroma, with some creme de cassis and very well-rounded black-red fruits, topped off by a herbal tinge. Côte Rôtie is arguably my “favorite” wine appellation; lack of funds prevents me drinking more of it. Though there was nothing else to compare it to at this tasting, I was struck by just how deliciously forward the D’Ampuis was and how utterly irresistible with it. The salesman pouring it kept affirming that it was the best wine in the room, though he also insisted that it was a single-vineyard wine, which it isn’t.

CORNAS BALTHAZAR CHAILLOTS 2006
The same salesman started telling someone who asked that this was a blend of “Grenache, syrah, Mourvèdre” and before he could list anything else that goes into Châteauneuf du Pape, I couldn’t help myself from pointing out that it was from the northern Rhône and pure Syrah. Compared to the Côte Rôtie, it was – but of course - darker in color and more brooding on the nose, and there’s no doubt it was more rustic and savage. Dark dark berries on the palate. But tannins none too harsh. So while it’s fierce, it’s not threatening. A better balance than you might expect – and for those who like their young wines aggressive but on a leash, a winner.

BANDOL CHATEAU DE PIBARNON 2005
Purple to the color. Nose a little restrained. Plummy and earthy, tannic for sure, peppery in places but not giving too much of anything away right now. That can be the nature of young Bandol so no criticism aimed at the wine, which I suspect is made in a traditional style and built to last.

BANDOL DOMAINE DE TERREBRUNE 2004
This was a little more giving on the nose. Contrary to what I was hearing from the pourers, I found this more earthy in aroma, but I also got more minerality and greater purity out of the bottle. I found this to be well-priced on the night at $28 and suspect that it will grow to be quite a beauty.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE CLOS DES PAPES 2005
Hey, did anyone know this was Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year from 07? I suspect at least half of those in attendance did, and that the remaining 50% were certainly informed of it at the tasting, as there was a crowd gathered around this wine unlike any other but the Vega Sicilia Unico on the other other side of the room. Me, I’m always happy to acknowledge a Châteauneuf du Pape as anyone’s wine of the year, though I simply can’t bear the fact that even the “sale” price on this wine is now $125 when I recall buying the 98 for about $40. Anyway, the pour on this was spectacularly small, which made note-taking frustrating. Doing me best with what I had, the wine was dark dark dark with a very reticent aroma that spoke, slowly, of a distinctly earthiness, followed, with considerable swirling, by some bright black-red fruits. What wasn’t there in the aroma was certainly present on the palate, which was extraordinarily rich and focused, with a dense layer of chocolate throughout. And by chocolate, I mean fattening, 100% cacao chocolate, almost to the exclusion of anything else. The finish was extensive, the structure was superb, the nature of the wine was that it was serious, it was dark, but it was honest and sincere and would probably like to sleep for a while and be allowed to truly get its act together. A monster of a wine but perfectly lovable for it. Would love to taste a full glass in a few more years.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE DOMAINE DU PEGAU CUVEE RESERVE 2005
One of my very favorite Châteauneuf du Pape estates, though I haven’t even gotten around to opening my 1995, let alone an ’05. More initial fruit than the Clos des Papes – dark fruit, topped off which some attractive fig-like elements. (I admit to copping the “fig” from the tasting notes; I was looking for some description of what I considered an unusual element and this appeared to fulfil it.) Much more fruit, texture and immediate class than the Clos des Papes, even at this primitive stage. The finish had that magnificent minerality that is a hallmark of great Châteauneuf du Pape. I can almost taste as I write it. (Or at least I would like to!) A truly magnificent wine, drinking much better now than the Clos des Papes, though I don’t doubt that it too, would like to hibernate and wake up again when it’s a decade old.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE CHÂTEAU MONT-REDON 2004
I now jumped from the start of the second table to the start of the first table, and switching from the Clos des Papes and Pegau 05s to the Mont-Redon 04 was almost like changing appellations. So much more immediate fruit, red berries rather than black, quite straightforward and even a touch sweet with it. Drinking very nicely already, this (relative) bargain (at $26.50) would be a pleasant introduction to Châteauneuf du Papes for those who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the brooding nature of the bigger wines – but in terms of flavor, power and structure, it was seriously dwarfed by the competition on hand.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE DOMAINE LA JANASSE 2006
Now here was a surprise. The Janasse was absolutely the darkest wine of the night; it was very nearly black in the glass. I kept looking at other people’s pours of other wines to make sure I wasn’t imagining it – and I wasn’t. An oddity for that, especially as it was from the 06 vintage. The nose erupted with the aroma of the Rhône ,lots of black fruit, stone, olives, earth, leather, mushroom, and those combined smells that are sometime put down to garrigue or herb. The palate was attractive: acidic, very very pure, concentrated and rich. (I’m assuming those are not contradictions: a wine can be concentrated and yet pure at the same time, right?) I noted that it “has the woomph! Of Châteauneuf du Pape,” which was intended as a compliment. Very unusual for a wine this dark to be singing quite as loudly in its youth – proof, perhaps of 06’s forward nature. I could come back for more of this: priced $40 on the night.

CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE PIERRE USSEGLIO “MON AIEUL” 2006
I tasted this wine a year ago, loving its more basic sibling (and indeed the Côtes du Rhône) and noting of this expensive cuvee that it was a “backward” wine worth cellaring if you had $100 per bottle to spend on it. Priced at $89 here, it’s still out of my reach. I found this, as expected, more dense than the other 06s though the color was nowhere near as dark as the Janasse. I got the black fruit, some licorice, along with the overall denseness and earthy quality of a heavyweight Châteauneuf du Pape. On top of that, I could almost smell the tannins! I also wrote this: “Initially clean, then develops layers of tannin and brute power on the palate. Richness and extraction quite pronounced. Cellar this for a long long time but clearly and really it has the potential to be quite beautiful.”

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE DOMAINE CHARVIN 2006
Got some band-aid and menthol from this one up front, along with some bright red fruit – I made that note before seeing the reference to raspberries in one of the accompanying wine mag tasting blurbs. Clearly quite forward though it has that young Châteauneuf du Pape density to it, too. This may be a roundabout way of suggesting that a new world influence has been brought on board by Gerard Charvin’s son Laurent.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE DOMAINE CHARVIN 2005
Color seems lighter than the 06, surprisingly. Got a sharp dose of blackcurrant and licorice, some leather and some earth. Pure on the palate, yet rich and dense, with some minerality on the back end. While this is again evidence of a big hefty alcoholic vintage, I’ve been impressed here by the forthright nature of these wines – what I’ve over-referred to as purity but can also be taken as a euphemism for either honesty and/or balance.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE CLOS DU MONT OLIVET 2005
Nose not giving much, a little blackcurrant perhaps but only after a major swirl. Nice body though, very nice body (that’s what I wrote!), well-rounded, gives up some rich chocolate on finish. Can really taste the power, but I’m impressed at how well it’s drinking right now.

CHÂTEAUNEUF DU PAPE DOMAINE DE LA MILLIERE VIELLES VIGNES 2006
The top wine of this little-regarded estate - from 90-year old vines, if Parker is to be believed - and well priced at $35. The nose is pure and simple, the color much lighter than perhaps any of the other Châteauneuf du Papes except the Mont Redon 04. Some bright red fruit emerges on the nose too, but a distinctive leathery gingery Grenache flavor comes through on the palate, which was much heavier than the aroma. An attractive wine with which to finish off the Châteauneuf du Papes.

GIGONDAS DOMAINE LA BOUISSIERE 2006
I normally view Gigondas (an appellation I adore almost as much as Châteauneuf du Pape) as being equally dark, serious and brooding wine. But it was interesting coming to this from so many Châteauneuf du Papes because of course it tasted quite forward and very clean by comparison. I found the Grenache fruit that much more pronounced here, shining through and past the rather rustic exterior. Very alluring, extremely well balanced and quite seductive. But then I come to it already biased.

DOMAINE LA GARRIGUE VACQUERYAS 2006
Some raspberries immediately started dancing their way out of this glass after a quick swirl: I could almost see them doing so! I then made notes that it was “deliciously bright and forward, exceedingly pure, low in tannin, bright in acidity, clearly more than a Côtes du Rhône with which it can’t be easily compared but so much more forward than a Châteauneuf du Pape.” Given it’s $18 price tag, it’s hard to do anything but sing its praises. A really lovely wine.

COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC “LAS PEIRA EN SAMALSELA” LAS FLORS DE LA PEIRA 2005
And then I had to go and ruin it all. In a Bordeaux-shaped bottle, this was all menthol, vanilla and mint. Yep, a New World style oak bomb priced, even on sale, at $40. It’s well-rounded enough and your average wine buff would be reluctant to kick it out of bed, but after so much high-end Rhône wine that so deeply expressed its surroundings, this just felt offensively anonymous. Made from Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah, apparently.

So there you have it. Confirmation that the 05s are big bold wines made for the long haul, but that those with practiced palates can still get something out of them young. If money were no object, I’d bring home the Clos des Papes, the Pegau and the Usseglio “Mon Aieul” from 05. I may have to pick up the Janasse 06 which was certainly the most attractively eccentric wine of the night. And the Guigal d’Ampuis only served to reinforce my love of Côte Rôtie. If the notes seem overwhelmingly positive, allow that I’m predisposed to all these northern and southern Rhône appellations and am more interested in noting differences in producer and vintage than finding excuses to bash them. A gorgeous group of wines.

As a footnote, I parked at Scarsdale station, right outside a tiny pizza place that had a fantastic Portobello mushroom, glazed onion, black olive pizza. Two slices of that, a cup of coffee from the Dunkin’ Donuts next door and I was good to drive home again. Wouldn’t have minded Zachys putting out some water with their wine but I do greatly appreciate their sharing so many good bottles with their customers…. And that’s without touching on the Spanish selection either.

Tony
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by JC (NC) » Thu Feb 26, 2009 10:50 am

Great notes! Rhone wines are one of the areas where I am sadly lacking in experience but your notes invite me to maybe try to get the Mont Redon or the Janasse. I had a few sips of an earlier vintage of a "Mon Aieul" at a charity tasting several years ago, and even to my inexperienced palate I could sense that it had great potential.
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Mark S » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:01 am

Tony - thanks for these notes. I got the Zachy's email, which sounded tempting, but live too far away for any kind of weeknight visit. Did you try the Unico? Not that I can afford it, but still would like to hear your opinion of it. I like what you said about balance with regard to the Charvin wines: opened up their 2004 last night and it was nicely balanced in what was not a blockbuster year, but - for my tastes - a very good wine.
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Tony Fletcher » Thu Feb 26, 2009 11:58 am

JC: Funny old world, wine: the Rhone is about the one area where I have the faintest idea of what I'm talking about! I would recommend anybody dipping in but be warned that the Mont Redon and Janasse are at different ends of every CdP spectrum but price!

Mark: I did try the Unico. I'm going to cobble a note together from the handful of Spanish wines I tasted and post separately.

Tony
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Diane (Long Island) » Thu Feb 26, 2009 2:07 pm

Excellent notes, Tony, and thank you for posting.

I love Rhone wines, and Mont Redon was my introduction to the wines of the region while I was staying in Avignon. Now I find this producer's wines to be a little simple, and lacking the spice and verve that I crave in Rhones.

I had the 1999 Guigal L'Ampuis about 2 years ago, and found it extremely acidic. I have 2 bottles of the 2001, and am reluctant to try one since so many of the 2001s seem to possess tremendous acidity. I'm looking for a more rounded and better balanced wine and am hoping time will be kind. The 2005 sounds like a tremendous wine and one that I should own.

I have a couple of bottles of the 2006 Mon Aieul on order, so it was good to read your positive note, and I think you saved me a few dollars because I have been on the fence about buying some 2006 Charvin.

I wish I could have been at that tasting.
Diane
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Cynthia Wenslow » Thu Feb 26, 2009 2:42 pm

Thanks for the notes, Tony. That tasting would have been right up our alley.
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Dave R » Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:32 pm

Excellent notes Tony. I have noticed some great prices on some '06 CdP's. The distributors are probably trying to sell them off quickly to make room for the 07's. Plenty of good bargains in '06 though.
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Tony Fletcher » Thu Feb 26, 2009 4:26 pm

Dave

I bought a few 06s last year after attending a Le Du's tasting at Tribeca Bar and Grill. (The notes are somewhere at this web site.) I got invited to the same tasting for the 07s just a couple of weeks back but we got hit with a full-on snow storm and it just seemed too intense to risk heading down to the City. I remember hearing on this site when I first got into wine a decade ago something along the lines if "Don't get caught up in the hype: there's always another great vintage happening somewhere" and it's tempered my wine purchasing accordingly. I seemed to miss out on a lot of 05s but given that even those are now being sold off by the likes of Zachys, it's clearly not too late for me to add a few.

Tony
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Dale Williams » Thu Feb 26, 2009 4:39 pm

thanks for notes. I'm a Mont Redon fan, and at that price might bite.
Those Zachys tastings are well done, I passed on this invite, but now wish I'd gone (for wines plus it would have been nice to say hi!)
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Tony Fletcher » Fri Feb 27, 2009 6:03 pm

A note for Mark, who asked about the Unico. I looked at my Spanish notes and they're too simplistic to post. I sipped and spat on a few after focusing on the RHones but I doubt my palate was still in great shape. The Unico did not stand out especially, though I have found this before at these tastings: there's too much pressure on one wine to outshine its peers in very difficult circumstances. (I recall tasting a Grange in the midst of a big Australian tasting and feeling similarly underwhelmed, even though I know I love the wine.) I got some coffee on the note but was otherwise surprised how muted it was. The finish was really really lovely, clearly very well integrated, long and with a good balance of fruit and minerality. But I think you'd want to serve this up in limited company to really appreciate it.

The one Spanish wine I was realy taken by was the ARTADI PAGOS VIEJOS 2004. Purple black and with a alluring nose of very black fruit, blueberries and plums with lots of cedar buried in it. Very tannic but already very much alive. Made in that big outgoing Spanish/New World style but in a succulent and delicious manner. Not a cheap wine but a good taste to take home with me!

Tony
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Re: WTN: Zachys Rhône tasting: mainly southern Rhône

by Dave R » Sat Feb 28, 2009 3:44 pm

Tony Fletcher wrote:Dave

I remember hearing on this site when I first got into wine a decade ago something along the lines if "Don't get caught up in the hype: there's always another great vintage happening somewhere" and it's tempered my wine purchasing accordingly.

Tony


You are right, Tony. My experience has usually been that great producers produce good wine year in and year out despite what the "experts" say about the general vintage. Burgundy and the better parts of Austria are just two examples.
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