Monday, 20 December 2010

Next stop: Raymond Usseglio

Actually, it is Raymond's son, Stef, whom I see these days on my visits to Domaine Raymond Usseglio, in my experience the best of the Usseglio estates in Chateauneuf today (Raymond's father, Francis, built up the estate after his arrival from Piedmont in the thirties; he had three sons each of whom has an estate bearing his name). Winemaker here for the last decade, Stef has lifted the estate into the top tier of Chateauneuf and is a perennial favourite of consumers who, like me, don't always want blockbuster wines. That isn't to say his wines are light; rather they are elegant and stylish. His "Cuvee Imperiale" is one of the more Burgundian wines I have tasted from the appellation with seamless, pure fruit that is pure hedonism without knocking your head off!

Stef's 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, made from Grenache, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc, is very correct with good flavours of fruit and flowers and with fresh acidity. A nice wine but not in the same league as his 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc "Rousanne Pur" aged in a mix of new and used barrels. I obviously have a thing for these old-vine, barrel-aged Roussannes because I can't get enough of a wine like this. It is exquisite now and, from experience (the 2005 has turned a corner into a magnificent bottle), will age exceptionally well over the next few years. The wine is all honeysuckle and melon with some garrigue and spice notes with an exquisite waxy texture. Very long.

We tasted the 2009 Cotes du Rhone, the only wine in the portfolio not a Chateauneuf. This is a GSM blend from sandy soils just outside the appellation and, as with others can be said to represent one of the region's great bargains even at around a tenner a bottle in the UK. Now it has good Grenache red/black fruit and Provencal herbs, evolving well if a little short on the finish at present but it is very much its more prestigious counterpart's little brother and, if past vintages are anything to go on, will develop into a wine far better than many other Chateauneufs in time.

The 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is the same blend as in recent years (a dollop of Counoise has crept in which gives the wine a real lift) and has the classic Usseglio nose of herbs and cherry liqueur, a lovely mouthfeel which is not overdone and lashings of red/black fruit (sorry, I have been reading Famour Five books to my younger children). The tannins are fine and well balanced and the wine is clearly going to develop well over the decade and, perhaps, beyond.

As indicated above, the prestige cuvee has long been a favourite and the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Imperiale is no exception. Made almost entirely from Grenache planted at La Crau in 1902, with just a dash of other varieties (principally Cinsault, Counoise and Muscardin) to add seasoning, this is more intense on the nose with deeper, richer, blacker fruit. It has more body too, balanced tannins and acidity and a structure to age well (the 2001, tasted recently, is still very youthful).

I enjoyed the 2007 debut of a Mourvedre-based wine produced by Stef but, if anything, find the 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Part des Anges even better at this stage. This is exceptionally ripe Mourvedre (which forms 70% of the wine along with 20% Grenache and 10% Syrah): intense black fruit and whiffs of new oak which follows through to the palate. It will undoubtedly need time although I have enjoyed a bottle of the 2007 after 3-4 hours in a jug to soften the tannins. Exceptional.

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