GDP guides us to a surprising and excellent vintage
Châteauneuf-du-Pape has been on fire lately. With spiraling prices and an explosion of points fueling that rise, it’s both hard to ignore Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, and perhaps harder still to buy them. These wines were once the purview of all wine drinkers—slightly rustic at one time, exuberant bistro wines filled with rich fruit flavors in a style that allowed for immediate consumption and yet rewarded some cellaring.
Somewhere along the way, over the past decade or so, things changed. The wines somehow become remarkably better, if we are to believe the critics. Of course, “better” in so many cases often means bigger, and oakier, so whether or not the wines are actually more appealing is left open for debate (though there is no denying that they have become pointier). Points of course translate into dollars, more points equaling higher prices, so things are not all hunky dory in the land of Châteauneuf-du-Pape lovers. I’ve never been enamored with most of these wines, finding them a little simple and at times hollow for my palate. But there are always exceptions to any rule and the wines do have legions of followers. The question of the moment is are the wines worth the going rates?
I met with my regular Tuesday night crew recently to blind taste through eight examples. Only six of the wines were actually from Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the other two wines were from the Gigondas and Vacqueyras appellations, which are also Grenache-based wines from appellations very close to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Before moving onto the wines themselves, it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the vintage, 2010, one that is widely regarded as a standout. Grenache is a grape that easily produces wines with alcoholic punch, so I am always concerned about vintages that receive high praise. Early praise for a vintage often results from a fine growing season and ripe fruit at harvest. While I don’t advocate for under-ripe fruit per se, I do believe that a vintage that produces perfectly ripe fruit may not always produce the best wines.
Some of the “stand out” vintages in the Southern Rhône over the past years? 2007 and 2009 spring to mind, and they are both, for my palate, too ripe—even if that’s what passes for perfectly ripe these days. The wines of both vintages are marred by a lack of freshness, excessive alcohols, and jammy flavors. Give me something under-ripe anytime if that is what “perfectly ripe” has become.
2010 certainly has garnered its share of accolades. Decanter trumpeted it as one of the top three vintages of the past 40 years, and Robert Parker has called it a great vintage, almost as good as the aforementioned 2007, which of course scared me a bit. Reading on though through Parker’s announcement gave me hope, as he commented on the higher acids and mentioned that the wines are not as exuberant, flamboyant or unctuously textured as the top 2007s, but they have the advantage of being slightly more delineated and focused, with greater freshness. Things were looking up.