Monday, 14 June 2010

Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2008: a mini-horizontal

With some in the press talking the vintage down, what is 2008 really like?

Sandwiched between the glorious 2007 and possibly even better 2009 vintages, 2008 was always the ugly duckling but are comparisons with 2002 justified? Not at all if this trio is anything to go by. All three were tasted separately at the domaines around Easter but I wanted to compare them and only a mini-horizontal tasting would achieve this. One thing about all these wines: in top vintages, all these estates make prestige cuvees; in 2008 they started to make these wines but decided the economy and the reputation of the vintage rendered this self-defeating so blended them back into the "Tradition" cuvees. This gives the wine the potential to be much better than it would otherwise be.

With no other criteria to go by, the wines were tasted according to alcohol strength so at 14%, Raymond Usseglio was first up. This wine has changed the blend over the last few years from a straightforward GSM blend (75% Grenache) to a slightly different mix of 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 6% Syrah and 2% each of Cinsault and Counoise. This last variety has, I think, really lifted the wine even with such a small amount of it. It adds some lovely black fruit pepperiness and a little more zing to the wine.

On the nose, a whiff of smoke but black cherry dominates. A touch of sourness, perhaps because the fruit was less ripe this year. Some oak comes through (from the aborted cuvee "Imperiale", presumably) and the wine has big, chewy tannins although these are well balanced with the acidity and alcohol. There is a touch of rawness at this stage but in another six months to a year it will smooth out well. Probably best drunk by the middle of the decade.

Domaine Grand Veneur's 2008 weighs in at 14.5% ABV and has a smoother but less pronounced nose with oak quite evident alongside the black cherry. The palate is much oakier than the Usseglio and, consequently, the fruit profile much sweeter and softer/smoother. Much more drinkable than the Usseglio at this stage although it is less obvious where this is heading.

When I visited Domaine de Cristia, Dominique Grangeon was cross that Parker had awarded them only 87 points for the 2008 and, tasting the wine, I can see why she thinks he was wrong. I would put it at 89+ (in Parker terms), the wine just falling short of the magic 90 but only just. It's the strongest of the line-up at 15% and is made from a similar blend as Stef Usseglio's wine except that it is just GSM with the latter two accounting for 10% of the total. The fruit is more evolved here than in either of the other two wines, richer and sweeter than the Grand Veneur although this could be down to the different use of oak at this estate. The wine was more full-bodied and rounded than the other two.

On the night, the wine that slipped down most easily was probably the Grand Veneur although I preferred the Cristia for its more subtle use of oak. However, the Usseglio has, I think, more potential to evolve. The only question is whether anyone will be interested in monitoring the evolution of a 2008 when they could (and will) be saving up for the 2009s. The only reason for stocking up on these wines is if you have to wait for other vintages; 2008 will be a superb stop-gap.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Wines with spit-roasted lamb

Saturday started as a baking hot day in the high twenties - not ideal for the morning after the night before, especially when the party hasn't even started yet! A very leisurely walk around the Barton Mills Scarecrow Festival for the benefit of the children who had spied opportunities for us to part with some cash in the ice-cream vans and bouncy castleswas followed by an ever more relaxed afternoon with the fire being lit around 1.30pm.

The lamb was stuffed with different marinades and put on the spit around 2pm being turned diligently by college friends Saki and Adam under my insistent but only occasional supervision whilst others turned up from time to time and needed help erecting tents. Beer was the drink of choice at this point.

We did eventually - inevitably - move onto wine as the evening approached with the first glasses being filled with Domaine de Cristia's VDP Grenache from 2009 but tasting so advanced for a wine only seven months old. This wine astounds me - it sells for only £7.50 but has so much going on and really incredible depth. For the meal itself, I found a jeroboam of Chianti I had been given a couple of years earlier. Not a bad wine but slightly diluted compared with the Cristia. Adam has long been a Fleurie fan so I brought out a magnum of Domaine de la Madone's 2002 Vieilles Vignes which Jean-Marc gave me a few years ago as well as a magnum of Cristia's 2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Another friend, Chae, had brought a rather decent Rioja from the 2001 vintage, much more interesting fruit than the 2003 Ribera del Duero I received a few days earlier and with oak that was very much present but not bullying the fruit into submission.

By this time the meal was over and the fire rebuilt so, gradually, everyone moved over to find a spot from which they would not move for the next several hours. The Vieilles Vignes Grenache from Domaine de Cristia had a lovely lightness of touch without being a lightweight wine at all but after the CDP and Rioja, a different dimension was required. However, it was straight back onto a Rhone retrospective with the next two wines from Raymond Usseglio: the 2007 Cotes du Rhone and 2006 Chateauneuf both excellent with the former showing the qualities of this vintage (superb fruit but, perhaps, just a touch too much alcohol) and the latter showing the class of the appellation (2006 is particularly forward for this wine).

I did notice an opened bottle of Mordoree's Reine des Bois Lirac from 2001 when I came downstairs this morning but I had gone to bed before this cork was pulled!