“I am concerned about the state of Chateauneuf-du-Pape today” the soft-spoken but powerful words from Anne-Charlotte Melia-Bachas as I sat down to meet with her. I was immediately struck by her words because we too have been perplexed by the direction with which many winemakers on our beloved Chateauneuf-du-Pape region have been going. Wines that were once restrained, balanced, nuanced and wildly spicy have been replaced by lavishly oaked, super-ripe fruit bombs with shockingly high alcohol levels that have no discernible taste of place. Big juicy red wines that could just as soon come from Australia or Paso Robles and why are so many of those Southern Rhone producers letting their fruit hang too long and using brand-spanking-new oak barrels? To catch the eye, and praise from a handful of palates in the wine press. Makes sense in a way, I guess, getting big scores will no doubt increase sales but what is to happen if, and when, the press moves on to its next darling? Yeah, you are stuck with gloppy wines that fall apart in the cellar after a couple years and a whole bunch of devoted fans, the ones that had bought those wines for years, picking splinters out of their teeth and shaking their heads.
We watched as the prices for Chateauneuf-du-Pape skyrocketed and attended tasting after tasting of wines that bore no resemblance to the wines that made us ga-ga for Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the first place. I can still see the look on Randy’s face after an afternoon trade event of 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape; his teeth dark, lips stained deep purple and his palate burning from tasting over thirty wines with alcohol levels well above 15%. “What are they thinking?” his face sweet and genuinely confused. The wines he used to gush over and deem some of the most aromatically compelling in the world now tasting sweet, syrupy and lacking in acidity, not even a shell of what they once were. We opted to do as we tend to when trends take to take over in a particular region, rather than chase the scores and the customers that covet the wines that get them, we slashed the department and dug in looking for wines that still had that thing, that spicy, restrained thing that only Chateauneuf-du-Pape can have. Fewer wines to offer but the ones we have do in fact taste like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Hearing a winemaker from the region voice similar concerns and absolute confusion as to the direction things in her beloved region were going, well I was pretty sure I was in for a treat tasting her wines. I buried my nose in the first wine and before I could stop myself I said, “Oh man, I remember that”. Very excited to extend a warm welcome to two new wines from this gifted and focused winemaker.
2009 Chateau de la Font du Loup Chateauneuf-du-Pape $39.99
Comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault and grown in soils that have less of the classic pebbles that you see throughout the region there is an even brighter snap of freshness here. Very elegant aromatics that remind me of older Vieux Telegraphe; freshness but also loaded with cracked pepper, snappy and tart red fruit. On the palate the wine is quite refined, graceful even and instead of creamy oak on the finish you get that dusty bite of firm tannin. Gorgeous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
2007 Le Puy Rolland Chateauneuf-du-Pape $45.99
100% Grenache from 100 year old vines this wine is a Rhone lover’s dream. Absolute purity, that sexy combination of spice, cooked red fruit and roasted meat. The fruit is so assertive that the blast upfront reminds me of biting into a fresh raspberry, astonishingly alive and welcoming and on the palate the wine does not trounce about or stomp, it simply floats. We often hear the word regal being bounced about with wine and if you ever ached to know what that means, you need only have a glass of this stunning Grenache to understand. This, this is as regal as they come.