Perfectly Balanced Châteauneuf-du-Pape and a Bizarre Backstory

Today’s Story: Xavier Vignon

Xavier Vignon is a well-known wine consultant and négociant, specializing in the wines of the Rhône Valley and in particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The son of an agriculturalist and stone mason, Xavier grew up with the mentality that hard work and determination is necessary in everything one does. With a mind for science and music, Xavier joined a paleontology club that took him to Reims, Champagne and he just so happened to launch a passion for wine while there. While he waited for admission to study France’s National Diploma of Oenology, Xavier worked harvests in Champagne for multiple houses and built up experiences with wine along the way. When he was finally admitted, he took a spot in Montpellier and received a dual degree in oenology and agronomy. Before settling down in the Rhône Valley, however, Xavier traveled to and worked in Alsace, Bordeaux, Napa, and Australia to perfect his craft. In 1996, Xavier started working as a wine consultant for a few dozen estates and he was centered in the region of Vaucluse.

Around the early 2000s, Xavier started putting some focus on a brand of his own through a négociant model. He began bottling his wines under Xavier Vins, and this small production endeavor was largely for himself and friends in an anonymous fashion. Xavier Vins released its first Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 2007, and soon fell onto the radar of Robert Parker. Parker praised Xavier’s wines, giving all scores over 90 points, and in 2012 Xavier left the Oenological Institute of Champagne to devote more time on his own wines. Though Xavier continues to consult for a number of wineries to this day, his namesake wines are his bread and butter and he crafts them at Château Husson since he does not have his own domaine.

Today’s Wine: 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Ange

Unknown blend of 13 AOP Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties; 14.5% ABV

The 2001 Cuvée Ange is a very special wine in the Xavier Vignon portfolio, as it is named after his son Ange who was born in the year 2001. What’s more, this is also a highly unusual wine in that Xavier sought out some of the best 2001 Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines from his partner winemakers over the course of nearly a decade and he did not blend them until 2010. Not stopping there, the blended wine went into barrels for further aging, and these barrels were submerged in tanks of wine to preserve the freshness of fruit. This wine was not bottled until 2019 (!!) to coincide with Ange’s 18th birthday, and the result is an unbelievably balanced, complex, and deep beauty of a wine.

In the glass, the 2001 Cuvée Ange is deep garnet in color and almost opaque. I decanted this for 3 hours, but it really started showing its best after about 4.5 hours as I was drinking it. The gorgeous, complex nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, anise, violet, cigar box, cured game, truffle, forest floor, crushed rock, thyme, clove, and bright mineral. The palate is equally complex, displaying notes of black plum, cassis, inky blackberry, sweet tobacco, smoked red meat, freshly tilled soil, smoke, coffee grounds, cracked black pepper, dark chocolate, baking spice, and stony minerality. Still incredibly youthful and beautifully balanced, this is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) velvety tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $90. I think this is very appropriately priced, as it is beautifully deep, complex, and full of life. It is also an incredibly unique and fun wine that honestly beat any expectation I had set for it.

Fruity Châteauneuf-du-Pape Perfect for the Holiday Season

Today’s Story: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe is a family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC of France. Tracing back to 1891, Henri Brunier gifted several plots of land to his son Hippolyte which, at the time due to their high pebble content, were thought to be nearly useless for viticulture. Nonetheless, Hippolyte planted vines on the plateau of La Crau and began the winemaking endeavors of the Brunier family. When Hippolyte’s son Jules joined the family business, he extended the estate to 42 acres and gave it the name we know today of Vieux Télégraphe.

Following WWII, the estate was in desperate need of revival and fourth generation Henri quickly took up the baton. Henri grew the estate to 136 acres and then shifted focus toward creating a “signature style” for his wines and marketed them abroad. As the 1980s came around, control of the domaine fell to Henri’s sons Frédéric and Daniel who now farm 247 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and an additional 49.5 acres of IGP Vaucluse and Ventoux AOC. They are not without extra family help, however, as sixth generation Nicolas and Edouard remain dedicated to the family business as well.

Vieux Télégraphe farms all of their vineyards adhering to sustainable practices, though in reality they practice organic viticulture. From the winter months with pruning, spreading organic manure and compost, and plowing to the spring and summer months with manual debudding and thinning, the team works tirelessly to guide healthy fruit. Come harvest, the fruit is picked by hand and sorted in the vineyards twice before a third sorting at the winery. The winemaking team doesn’t follow a particular process set in stone, outside of course making sure they adhere to AOC rules and guidelines on the process. Instead Vieux Télégraphe moves through the winemaking process led by the fruit, helping to tailor each wine to the vintage conditions, its structure, and terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedlong Châteauneuf-du-Pape

90% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Piedlong CdP is translucent medium garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours, though it really started opening up around the 1 hour mark. The nose showcases bright red fruits of raspberry, strawberry, and bing cherry alongside red licorice, rose, dried gravel, slight smoke, and oak. There is some slight heat too, but it does start to blow off a bit and should integrate with bottle age. Moving onto the palate, I get more vibrant fruits of stewed strawberry, black raspberry, boysenberry, and blood orange with violet, dried green herbs, crushed rock, thyme, and mild spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. A very easy-drinking CdP that’s loaded with red fruits and berries, which would have been perfect for Thanksgiving.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). This isn’t necessarily my style of CdP (I prefer the more terroir and mineral driven bottlings) but I can see this being widely enjoyed. I don’t really see this as good value, and though I don’t see it as too overpriced either I’d really like to see it around the $40 mark.

One of My Favorite CdP’s

Today’s Story: Domaine du Pégau

Domaine du Pégau is one of the great estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and though it became officially established in 1987 its roots and those of its proprietors extend significantly further back in time. Today the domaine is under guidance of Paul Féraud and his daughter Laurence, though the Féraud family can be traced as far back as 1670 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Titles to the earliest Féraud vineyards reach 1733, though the family sold most of their production in bulk to top négociants (like Jaboulet-Aîné, David & Foillard, and Guigal) when Paul joined the family business. In 1964, however, this all changed when Paul decided to bottle about 420 cases under his own name when estate bottling really started to pick up. 1987 marked the year when Laurence joined her father and the duo changed their name and label from Domaine Féraud to Domaine du Pégau. Pégau spanned a somewhat small 17 acres of vines at this time, with still a significant amount of produce sold to négociants, but as Laurence took a larger and larger role they phased out selling fruit and the 1990 harvest was fully used for their own wines. Today the domaine consists of 21 hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with another 5 hectares in Côtes du Rhône, 20 hectares in Côtes du Rhône Villages, and 19 hectares classified Vin de France.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée

85% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, with the balance Counoise and other authorized varieties (best guess – no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2009 Cuvée Réservée is opaque deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. I decanted this for 3 hours, which allowed some funk to blow off the nose. Once this opens up, aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, boysenberry, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, slate, clove, and underbrush leap from the glass. On the palate, I get notes of brambleberry, figs, black cherry, anise, red and purple florals, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, rocky mineral, coffee grounds, and game. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and smoke. This is drinking magnificently right now, given the time to open up.

Price: $100. I think this is very fairly priced, as Pégau with the 2009 vintage produced a wine of depth, elegance, and complexity that reaffirms them as an estate to beat in CdP. Pair with herb-grilled lamb, wild boar, or charcuterie.

Historical Châteauneuf-du-Pape – for a Great Value!

Today’s Story: Château La Nerthe

Château La Nerthe was established in 1560 by the Tulle de Villefranche family, though they had lived in Avignon since the 14th century. Located in the Provence region in southeast France, Château La Nerthe sits about 80km north of Marseille and occupies 92 hectares of vines in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. The estate’s vines are organized into 57 different plots representing all of the appellation’s terroir variation, as well as the 13 grape varieties planted there. Château La Nerthe practices organic farming (ECOCERT certification in 1998); hand-picks, table-sorts, and destems their fruit before fermentation; uses only indigenous yeasts during fermentation; vinifies by individual plots to showcase terroir variation; and blends only after the wines have aged for 12 months.

While the proprietorship of the Tulle de Villefranche family lasted several centuries, the estate grew drastically under Marquis Jean-Dominique Tulle de Villefranche (1711-1760) when he developed the vineyards to become one of the preeminent estates throughout the Rhône Valley. Between 1736 and 1784, the castle at the estate took shape as it exists today and allowed the family to not only live on the property but host guests in elegant style. Coincidentally during this time (and the 18th century as a whole more or less), members of the Tulle de Villefranche family in high military positions embarked on marketing endeavors throughout Europe and the wines of Château La Nerthe were sold in Russia, America, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In 1776, Château La Nerthe became the first estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to ship their wines in bottles while gradually fading out barrels.

Château La Nerthe was destined for arguably its greatest change, however, in 1870 when the Tulle de Villefranche family sold it to Commander Joseph Ducos. At this time, many of Joseph Ducos’ neighbors were tearing up vineyards and replanting the land with fruit trees, however he replanted his new estate with phylloxera resistant rootstocks. These visionary efforts accomplished by Joseph Ducos helped shape his neighbors’ changes in winemaking and certainly find their place in overall history of the appellation. In 1985, the estate changed hands yet again when the Richard family purchased it and promised to ensure revival of the original values of excellence and innovation at Château La Nerthe.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

50% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 La Nerthe CdP is moderately transparent and medium garnet in color with ruby variation near the rim. Once this breathes for about 45 minutes, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, baked strawberry, tomato sauce, cedar, cola, worn saddle leather, clay, mineral, freshly baked bread, and oak-driven spice. In the mouth, I get notes of sour cherry, tart raspberry, strawberry leaf, purple and blue florals, dried tobacco, parched dusty earth, a hint of bitter chocolate, and sandalwood. This CdP is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. This was drinking very nicely after an hour and a half decant.

Price: $50. This is a good value CdP, though there are a number of other options in the same price range that seem to be drinking better now. I’m curious to see how this develops with some bottle age. Pair this with game, steak, or lightly spiced lamb.

Opulent CdP

Today’s Story: Château de Beaucastel

A much-needed easy one today, as I’m still recovering from all the wine I drank over the Thanksgiving holiday and this past weekend… I previously wrote about Château de Beaucastel on October 27 in Ethereal Chateauneuf-du-Pape, coincidentally reviewing a different vintage of the same wine today.

Long story short, Beaucastel is a long-standing and famous producer of CdP. The château has had its ups and downs and changed ownership multiple times over the years, however with its deep roots and the Perrin family’s guiding hands over the last century the wines are of exceptional quality. I encourage you to read my previous post, linked above, for more of their exciting story.

Today’s Wine: 2003 Hommage a Jacques Perrin

60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise; 13.5% ABV

The wine is medium ruby/garnet in color and opaque. Unfortunately I didn’t have a decanter, so I let this breathe in the glass and it allowed some initial barnyard to blow off the nose. When opened, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, purple florals, loamy earth, black truffle, tar, and exotic white spice. Once in the mouth, I get notes of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, black licorice, charred earth, truffle, Asian spice, and mineral. I was pleasantly surprised with the complexity of this wine given its status as a “lesser” vintage. This CdP is full-bodied with high acidity, medium refined and dusty tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. This is showing quite well right now, though I’d imagine it will stay in its optimal drinking window for another 5-7 years.

Price: $350 (though this vintage seems to have a very broad range of $250-500). Much like the last Hommage I reviewed (the 1994), this is a rare bottle experience that I couldn’t pass up. Unless you get a great deal, however, as lovely as this bottle is I’d save your money for a spectacular vintage such as 2001, 2007, or even 2009. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb (and truffles are your friend).

Ethereal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Today’s Story: Château de Beaucastel

Château de Beaucastel, as it exists today, traces its history back to 1549 when Pierre de Beaucastel purchased a barn and plot of land extending to Coudoulet. Chateauneuf-du-Pape (which translates to “the Pope’s new castle”), however, is a French AOC that traces its history back to the early 1300s. In 1321, Pope John XXII sent four barrels from the papal cellars to be filled with wine in the region and constructed a castle for his use. As the wine became a favorite of the Pope’s, it became known as “Vin du Pape” until eventually becoming Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CdP).

Though Beaucastel’s origins place the estate well within CdP’s winemaking history, there is no certain record of vines on the property until many years later in the early 1800s when ownership credits to Etienne Gontard. As some of you may know, however, phylloxera hit vineyards during the 19th century and, with the estate under new ownership yet again by Élie Dussaud, Dussaud decided not to replant vines and rather sold the estate.

With over 300 years of history at this point, Beaucastel’s true winemaking prowess did not come about until Pierre Tramier purchased the estate in 1909. Under his ownership, he led massive vineyard replanting efforts and eventually transferred responsibility to his son-in-law Pierre Perrin. Perrin dramatically expanded the vineyard holdings during his tutelage and the estate has been in the Perrin family since then, eventually passing to his son Jacques Perrin who managed the estate until 1978.

Today, Jacques’ sons Jean-Pierre and François Perrin continue to manage the estate with the help of Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César who make up the fifth generation. They continue to farm their vineyards organically, a practice since 1950 at the estate, and introduced biodynamic farming in 1974. Grapes are always picked exclusively by hand and carefully monitored to use only the best fruit.

Today’s Wine: 1994 Hommage a Jacques Perrin

60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise; 13.5% ABV

I am a big fan of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and every bottle I’ve enjoyed from Beaucastel has been a wonderful representation. However, this is my first time trying the Hommage as they can be hard to find and come at a significantly higher price-point. The Hommage, as the name states, is made in honor of Jacques Perrin and comes from the best vines on the property.

Our wine today is opaque medium ruby in color with pale ruby variation toward the edges of the glass. Slightly tight on the nose, we let this decant while my friend and I enjoyed a different bottle. Once the wine opened, the nose offered aromas of dusty pomegranate, graphite, sous bois, wet gravel, mushroom, and cigar ash. This is another wine I could smell all day. Since that’s not the main point of wine, the palate showcases notes of chewy cherry, red licorice, tobacco, soggy earth, and green underbrush. A beautiful bottle with plenty of gas left in the tank, this is full-bodied with moderately high acidity, fully integrated mild tannins, and a long finish that really made me wish we had more with my last sip.

Price: $500. Certainly a rare experience and one made possible thanks to my good friend’s tendency for sharing. Pair this with beef, game, or lamb and add a mushroom sauce.