04 May 2010

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Part I

Monday, 15 March 2010 - This has been one of the most—if not the most—difficult experiences to translate into some representative succession of letters and words, let alone coherency.  Hence the reason it's taken me nearly two months to figure out how to forge ahead with my collected ramblings.  Not a second goes by that I don’t think the effort pointless, meaningless.  Maybe it’s not even right, my standing at the Exit sign of those two days imagining all the moments, names and faces can be folded tidily into a substantive vinologue as easily at the days unfolded.  Maybe it’s wrong not to speak of this community of farmers, of beating hearts running red with wine and Provencal sunsets; not to share the unforgettable names and personalities of vignerons who ushered us into their lives with open arms and bottles and never flinched when we waxed vinosophical in a language no doubt foreign.  Maybe it’s right and wrong alike to prove I tried the impossible, to translate Chateauneuf-du-Pape into a story about people, and not the latest controversial trend in this constantly evolving physical and philosophical landscape.  Certainly Harry Karis took this village to new heights with the release of his own ‘Mission Impossible’, but what’s lacking in his starkly objective approach—though highly commendable and endearing—is the distinction between who will fold the carpet out in front of you when you arrive unexpected, and—if this is even possible—who will treat you coldly even with a prior appointment.  During our stay a cold reception was apparently not on the agenda, save le Mistral.
I had the greatest of intentions to document our visits at the end of every day, our impressions of the wines, and any other stories or information worth mentioning.  Obviously, I failed; I’m over a month behind.  Trying to capture Chateauneuf, even subjectively, is like trying to capture Michaelangelo’s Pieta on disposable camera.  Somewhere along the line, you’ve missed the mark—perhaps the point even.  Nevertheless, thanks to two extraordinarily generous people—Don, Tom: Thank you from the bottom of my heart—my hands felt the soil of Rasteau, and my feet the galets roules of Chateauneufsans disposable camera.  While this attempt at capturing Chateauneuf will no doubt be lacking in a number of areas, I make no claims to perfection or comprehensiveness.  I was told those two days, Monday and Tuesday, would be mine: I would call the shots, aside from appointments already booked.  So we went to the doorstep of every winemaker I ever dreamed of visiting—in this lifetime and the next.  Through those portals this story begins…

Vieux Telegraphe is a cherished traditional estate crafting fantastic wine under the direction of brothers Daniel and Frederic Brunier.  The same family is also crafting some spectacular juice at La Roquete, a Chateauneuf estate formerly known as La Roquette (two T’s) before the Brunier’s purchased it and began their transformative work in 1998 (?). Two wines are made here: the traditional Chateaneuf-du-Pape blend as well as their homage to old-vine Grenache (and, to some degree, their anti-Cuvee Speciale) known as l’Accent du Roquete (sp?).  Both are fantastic wines that should be on every enthusiast’s Rhone-dar.  Also on the Brunier map since 1998 is the Gigondas estate of Les Pallieres, a joint venture between the Bruniers and world renowned importer Kermit Lynch.  In 2007 the Lynch/Brunier team separated what was normally the blended Gigondas into two separate cuvees.  One cuvee, les Racines, is being produced from the ancient vines surrounding the estate, situated at lower altitudes and thus exuding the characteristics of a much warmer mesoclimate.  Les Racines tastes like a southern Rhone interpretation of Zinfandel, and I mean that in the best possible sense.  Not very endowed in the acidity department, but what it lacks in raciness it makes up for in sheer chuggability.  Moderate alcohol (14,5% abv) allied to creamy fig and plum textures makes for a drink with just enough southern Rhone charm and fat California-like fruit to keep things interesting.  Its stable mate, le Terrasse du Diable (sp?), is sourced from older vineyards at the highest altitudes of the estate, where the vines begin to ascend the imposing Dentelles de Montmirail (sp?), making for a theoretically cooler climate.  To my tastes, this is where the rubber begins to meet the road: Racy acidity, vibrant red fruit characteristics but still packing a subdued black-fruited kick, with lithe structure and velvet tannin rounding out this seductive wine.  The cool-climate raciness is kept even more honest by the expression of the Grenache-heavy cepage; the fruit is anti-blowsy—extremely focused, linear to some degree, but still coating the mouth from front to back, finishing with a long fuse of licorice and bramble.  I foretell the immense success and renown this estate will soon have with these two wines; certainly there is something here for every palate, and I hope they keep things honest by blending the two cuvees together if Nature or necessity demands it.  Our tasting at Vieux Telegraphe ended naturally with the tasting of the namesake Grand Vin, and me oh my, what a wine it is.  The 2007 is a svelte but hugely nuanced wine that insists on keeping your attention all the way from the first sniff to the last dance of the evening.  It is unctuously textured, a quarry of minerality with no calculable depth, a lot-by-lot introduction to the fruit stands at the Monday market.  The 2007 has the structure of 2005 and the enveloping silky sweetness of 2006—no easy feat.  Price-wise, this is hands down the greatest single-vineyard expression I’ve tasted of the famed lieux-dit known as la Crau.  It was an incredible finale to the line-up at Vieux Telegraphe, and still only the beginning of a much longer, even deeper (hard to believe, I know!) tasting journey.

After apparently misunderstandings our requests to simply purchase a bottle of the 2007 l'Accent du Roquete to taste at the domaine, our 'tasting coordinator', essentially Mr. Deeds, disappeared for a few minutes.  A fresh bottle of 2007 l'Accent appeared in the hand of Monsieur Deeds.  He refused to let us pay for it, insisted we swirl the wine violently in our glasses, and assured us with his silence that we'd not only enjoy the wine immensely, but that these silent moments are necessary.  That there would be any number of wines we'd taste in the next few days, opened with no charge but a smile and a glance, that would silence even the birds of spring.  Yes, there is something natural about this place, perhaps even supernatural, spritual.  It is either the connection to the Pope, but most likely it's people like Jean-Paul Daumen, who are changing the face of wine forever in this tiny hamlet, and doing so with spiritual verve.  Part II...tomorrow. 

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