My first visit to any of the people I work with in the Southern Rhone was to Stef Usseglio who had just bottled most of his new releases. After such a stellar performance in 2010, I was not expecting such great heights this year but, overall, I found a very satisfying range of wines - no great surprise.
First, the 2012 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, a field blend of Grenache, Marsanne, Rousanne and Bourboulenc which had been bottled just two weeks earlier. This has a lovely nose, full and fruity with hobeysuckle and green fruit characters. The palate is a little shy - but that's only to be expected from a wine so recently bottled - but good and the medium-bodied wine finishes well.
The 2012 Rousanne Pur is more intense with some oak coming through on the nose but the wine has not been bottled yet (bottling due tomorrow!). There is a more waxy texture and richer tones to the fruit in this fuller-bodied wine. A red wine drinker's white wine!
There is also a new white Cotes du Rhone but we didn't taste it on site - Stef gave me a bottle to take away so I will report on it later - and the red has been re-named after the lieu-dit. The 2011 Cotes du Rhone "Le Claux" is 14% ABV but quite soft on the nose, very slightly austere even. It smells like a wine that will be better in another year or two, certainly less apparent than the 2009 and 2010. There are some nice tannins here which don't overwhelm the fruit which is lighter than the 2010. Overall, this is less ageworthy and quicker to mature than the previous two vintages but quite decent. If I was scoring it, I would have to give it a sound 85, I think (the 2009 and 2010 would probably merit 88 each).
A big step up to the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. With 14.5% ABV and bottled on 1st April, this already has a lovely rich, warm and inviting nose. A little woody still but attractively so. Some good black fruit here, quite modern in style - Stef has been moving in this direction since the middle of the last decade. A little lighter than the 2010, inevitably, but it will drink well sooner.
With 90% Grenache and the rest a blend of Counoise, Cinsault and other old vine grapes the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Imperiale" is quite elegant; full but not overblown. It has good structure and the lively tannins carry through to the finish along with the black fruit and liquorice. Rich and tannic with lovely Grenache fruit, this is very modern with a long finish.
Finally, the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Part des Anges" is a wine that hedonists can enjoy now if they don't mind the inevitable tannins of a wine with 70% Mourvedre. It has an intense nose dominated by black Mourvedre fruit with some oak. Excellent balance of fruit and tannins etc with a pleasant sprinkling of vanilla on top. Drinkable now? That's obviously a matter of taste but it can go the distance too.
After this, Stef invited me to taste the white Chateauneuf-du-Pape again, always a good sign that the wine has the fruit and structure to cut through the big, chunky reds that have gone before and refresh the palate. It did the trick.
Overall, there is an attractive freshness in all the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines which I found both attractive and welcome after the more blockbuster 2010s. I need to make room in my cellar for some of these!