I was happy to accept an invitation from my friend Ed to sit in on his group’s monthly tasting when they had a last-minute opening recently. The theme was Chateauneuf du Pape and all wines were served blind in a random order selected by the restaurant staff.
2003 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The nose on the first wine of the evening has a nice little streak of wild herbs to go along with layered scents of lilacs, fireplace ashes, mixed berries, candied cherries and fine dusty earth. It’s very smooth and creamy on the palate and feels really well put together, with solid depth and intensity of cherry and cassis flavor. There are soft tannins lurking beneath and an occasional sliver of high-toned acetone, but otherwise this shows off lots of tasty and generous warm-fruited stuffing.
1988 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The nose of this wine plays a bit of hide and seek—at times kind of quiet and gently floral, and at other times showing a solid punch of sexy sweet fruit, lavender, pipe tobacco and dusty dirt road aromas. I like it, but wish it were a bit more consistent. In the mouth, it is finely-resolved but with a good kick of flavor and excellent acidity underneath. It is sleek and at times almost elegant, with wonderful fruit flavor holding on just fine. Toward the end of the evening, it seems to be fading a bit, but it’s still very tasty and quite enjoyable.
1983 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve. This pale-colored wine features a lighter, airier-styled bouquet of toasted orange peel, cherry hard candy and red flowers at first, but deepens and spreads its wings with time in the glass, pulling in fine savory notes of old leather and cigar wrapper. In the mouth, it is very pretty and lilting—featuring gently tangy but pure red cherry flavors that come across as discreet, elegant and holistic. It’s a class act all the way, with a smoothed-out texture and just fine character all around. It was certainly one of my favorite wines of the night.
2006 Domaine de la Côte de l'Ange Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes. This is the most densely-colored wine on the table and it’s certainly one of the richer-smelling wines, as well. At times, it’s almost a bit port-like, but it manages to come in from that ledge fairly effectively in the end—putting forth expansive and giving fruit aromas of black cherry and baked plum accented by more savory notes of smoked herbs, black olive, iodine and dried blood. It is the plushest of all the wines on the palate, delivering velvety rich flavors of black currant and black raspberry that give it a fruit-forward personality. There’s some sneaky tannin on the back end, but this is generally stacked and packed, rich and heady, sweet and fun. But I’d tend to recommend some more cellar time for it, myself personally.
2003 Domaine des Relagnes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Petits Pieds d'Armand. Although this wine delivers a good dose of pleasure on the palate, it is absolutely hideous to smell, with rotting aromas of stewed vegetables, soy and balsamic vinegar suggesting a poorly-stored bottle. The palate somehow manages to overcome this deficit to a large degree, offsetting some occasional volatile notes by offering sweet flavors of nougat, nuts, caramel and yellow raisins riding above a deeper core of baked cherry and plum fruit. It is pasty in texture but has a very smooth and fanned out finish. It’s distinctive in its own way, but it’s impossible to ignore the stinking nose and some of the obvious flaws in this bottle.
1995 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I would say that this wine had my favorite bouquet of the night. It sings with aromas of bright red cherries, cassis, red currants, soft herbs, mocha, leather strap and elements of sweaty funk and barnyard that grow with time and air. In the mouth, it is warm and red-fruited, coating the palate with plush flavors of cherry, cassis, mocha and dusty earthy that are sexy, sweet and inviting. Tannins and acidity are there to provide a solid backbone for all of that, and it all just comes together in a rather harmonious fashion. This was one of the best wines of the night for my tastes.
2000 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine started out smelling pretty nice—featuring aromas of chalk, baked cherries and stones. But over time, it seems to start veering toward some odd notes of pumpkin and baked squash that just aren’t that appealing. In the mouth, it is probably the freshest, crunchiest, most vibrant wine on the table. It’s taut and spherical in nature, delivering its black cherry and earth flavors in a narrower band than most. It deepens a bit over time and has some nice qualities, for sure, but it delivers a somewhat uneven performance. When it was revealed, I was really surprised, as this just doesn’t seem as intense or structured as my last tasting of it just nine months ago.
1990 Domaine Chante-Perdrix Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The bouquet of the final wine in the tasting is dominated by scents of lavender soap, garrigue, white pepper, limestone, smoke and green pepper, with only the very faintest sense of light fruit in the background. In the mouth, it shows better, but only from time to time. At its best, it delivers a pleasingly vigorous and tangy shot of cranberry and red currant fruit that it brightly acidic and gently tannic. At other times, it seems too lean and taut to deliver much pleasure. It may be in an awkward phase or perhaps it is just starting to crack up a bit?