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When Chateauneuf gets tired

Clos des Brusquieres' owner Claude Courthil sold everything off to negociants until the 1996 vintage, the first to be estate bottled. We began buying the wines with the 1998 vintage, followed by the 2001.

Claude is something of a loner, spending most of his time quietly in the fields or at the winery, gradually improving the quality of his small production. Most of his eight and a half hectares is to the north of the village on stony soil. An indication of Claude's reserve, we learnt after we had already purchased a parcel of his 1998 wines that Claude's uncle - and mentor - is the legendary Henri Bonneau, one of the most revered winemakers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Whilst Claude would not suggest that his wines are in the same league as those of Oncle Henri, they are good examples of the traditional style of wines from the region which is fast becoming history in the pursuit of Parker points and other trophies.

One problem - for me - with this style of wine is that bottling is very late. Some estates (Clos du Mont Olivet is a good example that springs to mind) traditionally bottled as and when orders came in so some wines could remain in the big old foudres for years. I once visited Les Reflets, the bottling and distribution plant for the Sabons, to be given the opportunity of tasting some wines which were between 15 and 20 years old. Normally that would be a wonderful experience; it was not. The wines had grown tired in the barrel rather in the way that a Tawny Port ages (but in that case the nuances it develops are welcome).

The very last bottle of Clos des Brusquieres 2001 in my cellar was uncorked last night and, sadly, was a perfect example of a wine that had remained in barrel for too long for my taste. When first bottled it was fine but after only three or four years, the extended barrel aging showed through with very muted secondary fruit character. There was still some fruit but the wine was just unexciting and uninteresting to me. Oh well, lesson learnt I hope.

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