Chateauneuf-Du-Pape tasting at Tribeca Grill

This afternoon I attended a fabulous Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP for simplicity) tasting at The Tribeca Grill in downtown Manhattan. The tasting was seemingly co-sponsored by Le Du Wines and Alain Junguenet Selections.

This was not one of those HUGE industry tastings. It was not a packed open to public tasting. It was a rather intimate tasting with just the right number of wines that one could taste them all, speak with the producers, occasionally cleanse the palate (ample bread, crackers & water was provided) and do it all in about 2 hours. I say that because that is what I accomplished having arrived following a meeting in the diamond district.

In all I managed to taste 36 reds, 6 whites, 1 rose’ and 1 dessert wine. I’d like to share some overall thoughts as well as some interesting tidbits I learned while speaking with the pourers, and I will then list a few standouts.

A quick note about CDP. CDP is a blended wine with as many as 13 permitted (to be called a CDP) varietals (types of grapes). The base of most however is Grenache, often blended with Mourvedre, Syrah, & Cinsault.

Overall I found these wines to be quite different from some of the CDP’s I recently tasted at my wine tasting groups CDP tasting. At that tasting we tasted through some 2004′s and 2005′s. This tasting was mostly 2006′s with some ’04′s & ’05′s mixed in. The tasting was also not ALL actual AC (Appelation CDP Controlee) CDP’s. Many were wines made in the region, but were Cotes-du-Rhone.

As to the wines, and maybe this is a reflection specifically of Alain Junguenet Selections, but they seemed more approachable. My overall impression of the “better” CDP’s I previously tasted was that they were very tightly wound and just simply too difficult for me to appreciate at a young age (the wines – not me :-)). I brought this subject up with Alain’s son John, as well as some other people who were around at the time. I asked them how to compensate for the fact that CDP is known to be a wine that ages gracefully but in its early years is often unapproachable. The simple explanation was that the 2006 vintage was a much more approachable vintage that the 2005 vintage. The less simple explanation was that one really needs to KNOW the wines (having tasted each producers wine for many vintages) to be able to understand and anticipate what the wine will show when it reaches its prime. Tough stuff. No wonder so many people have for so long spoken of the pretension of the wine industry.

Next thing I wanted to touch upon were some interesting tidbits I picked up while speaking with many of the producers/winemakers. The first thing, and this is related to the topic above, is that producers are making many wines which are more approachable at a young age. Some vintages don’t allow this, but when possible it seems the producers are harvesting a little later, allowing the fruit to become a bit more ripe – consequently leading to more fruit forward wines. This was not something which was readily admitted by the producers, but it was eluded to when they spoke of “harvesting the fruit late”.

Which leads me to another interesting tidbit about the harvesting. Many of these producers harvest all their vineyards at the same time. And I don’t just mean all vineyards with the same varietal (type of grape). ALL THEIR FRUIT/GRAPES. What I had previously understood as being the norm is that vineyards are harvested when the fruit reaches optimal ripeness. But that seemed not be the case for many of the producers here. As to why, well that leads to my next interesting tidbit…

Many of these producers spoke of fermenting their fruit all together. I asked if they meant many different vineyards together (rather than fermenting each vineyard separately). They said well yes, but also, different varietals together. HUH? Well apparently, varietals that are destined to be blended together are frequently fermented together in CDP.

A final tidbit I found to be interesting was the extensive use of cement tanks for aging the wine. And I do not mean before being transferred to barrels. I mean aging – PERIOD. Several of these wines never saw the inside of a barrel. While the new world seems to be dosing out large amounts of oak flavor in their wines (either through the use of barrel aging, or any other method – Oak chips, staves, even a powder), many “purists” are avoiding such a process by using older barrels, stainless steel tanks, or as previously eluded to by aging the wine in large cement tanks. Hmmm….and I thought the minerally flavor in CDP came from the stoney soil…

As to standouts I want to mention 4 reds and 1 white. I considered these to be standouts as they each seemed to possess something very unique. I feel compelled to note that I enjoyed most of the wines and enjoyed speaking with most of the producers. But these 4 wines simply spoke to me in a way the others did not…

The one white that had me thinking was A Domaine Moulin-Tacussel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2007. This blend of 45% Roussane, 30% Grenache, 15% Clairette, & 5% each Bourboulenc & Picpoul (please don’t ask me to pronounce these unusual varietals). The color was a bit hard to see given the lighting, but the nose struck me with immediate scents of freshly cut pears. This was something I got from some other whites as well. What was most unusual about this wine was after getting past the pears I was struck with something that was a bit harder to discern. I decided it reminded me a bit of applesauce and a bit of melon flavored baby food. Sort of chopped/pureed & a bit artificial apple/melon scent. Really nice & complex. On the palate the fruit came through with a crisp acidity that was lacking in some of the other whites. This wine retails at Le Du’s Wines for $44.19.

As to the reds…

The Bosquet des Papes ‘Cuvee Chante le Merle’ Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2006 had a nice ruby color, a nose that was both fruit and mineral, a full, round and silky mouth feel and a very nice smooth long finish. Retail price: $60.34.

The Cuvee du Vatican Reserve Sixtine Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2006 has both blue (bluberries, plums) & black (casis, blackberry) fruit on the nose. On the palate it was very full bodied, yet round, silky smooth and very well balanced, with a medium to long finish. Retail price: $55.24

The Mas de Boislauzon Cuvee du Quet Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2006 had a nose that I had trouble with. It was a bit tight and closed to me. But when I tasted the wine it opened up in my mouth to show big ripe fruit, gripping tannins, and a lot of earthy and minerally flavors, with a nice long finish. Overall i was a bit disappointed at not being able to appreciate the nose, but I found it to be a very complex wine. Retail price: $74.79

Finally, I am proud to say that my favorite wine was also a sub-$50 bottle (unlike the 3 reds previously mentioned).

The Domaine de la Cote de L’Ange Cuvee Vielle Vignes’ Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2006 took some swirling in the glass to access the nose, but when I got it…POW! The nose was really unique. Some sort of floral, spicy fruity thing going on. Really had me going. The palate had such a beautiful feel to it. With flavors of fruit, spice, earth, stone…all leading to a very elegant and long finish. This was a complex, well balanced beauty. All for the low low retail price of $46.74.

I’d like to mention that there were some very nice sub $20 wines as well, but most were pretty simple and straight forward. Not a bad thing, but not a wine that is going to sit on your palate for a long time and make you think about it too much.

WOW. That took a long time. Oh, poor me, the tough life of a Wine Tasting Guy….

Off to LA LA land (Los Angeles) to spend my niece’s 1 year b-day with the family this weekend. I hope to drink wine out there worthy of writing about. But if not I’m sure to have some tales to tell upon my return next week.

Until then, happy tasting!

WTG

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