Oeno-File, the Wine & Gastronomy Column

by Frank Ward

The 2005 Vintage on the Right Bank – Part 2

Posted by Frank Ward on April 8, 2008

November 2006

POMEROL

We’re poised to step onto Pomerol terroir but first let’s take a closer look at the grape mix for the whole of the right bank, with special reference to Pomerol itself. There are many quirks and paradoxes, even though only three varieties are really in the picture.

As we have seen, the Merlot dominates in Saint Emilion, as it does in Pomerol too. Yet the two very greatest Saint Emilions, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, have a predominance of Cabernet Franc – normally the region’s secondary grape. Both fabled properties have roughly two-thirds Cabernet Franc.

This is really odd. The two are at opposite poles of the commune and their terroirs and exposures are markedly different. Yet both ascribe their wine’s finesse and subtlety to the Cabernet Franc. Another vinous paradox is found at Château Figeac, which many see as the commune’s third greatest wine. Figeac is planted with roughly one-third each of Merlot and the two Cabernets. Only 30% Merlot at Figeac!

As regards the “other” Cabernet, the Cabernet Sauvignon (easily the most important grape on the left bank), it is found at many Saint Emilion estates but only at vestigial levels. Only Figeac has more than 3-10%.

Curiously, both Cheval Blanc and Ausone have some in their vineyards but neither makes use of it in the grand vin.

In Pomerol, however, hardly any châteaux have any Cabernet Sauvignon at all. True, Vieux Château Certan (one of the elite) has 10%, and two other reputable properties have 5%. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule. The Cabernet Franc, by contrast, is almost universally present, though rarely accounting for more than 20% of the acreage under vines. The great Lafleur is alone in having as much as 50% – no other Pomerol château comes anywhere near that level.

The Merlot truly reigns supreme in Pomerol. The most prestigious Pomerol of all, Château Pétrus, is planted with 95% Merlot, with the Cabernet Franc accounting for the balance. In quite a few vintages none of the latter goes into Pétrus at all.

Pétrus is owned and run by the house of Moueix, which also controls a string of other leading properties, mostly in Pomerol. Its veteran oenologist, Claude Berrouet, has vinified no fewer than 42 vintages of such fabled vines as Pétrus and Trotanoy and is one of the world’s greatest wine-makers.

Moueix goes its own way. They have nothing in common with the “garagiste” school of wine-making, many of whose exponents go all out for maximum extraction and the highest possible level of alcohol.

For Moueix, finesse and subtlety are the overriding goals. They can thus be seen – together with Cheval Blanc, La Conseillante, l’Evangile et al – as the right bank counterparts of the First Growths and Super-Seconds of the Médoc, as well as Haut Brion. Today, these are the properties on both banks that are making the most exquisitely balanced and subtle clarets of all.

Christian Moueix runs the house of Moueix. He has this to say about the 2005 vintage on the right bank. “It was a year of perfect weather, a year without excess. Only two recent vintages were like this: 1982 and 1989. Contrary to popular belief, it was 1990 and 2000 that were the years of excess!”

Map showing the location of all the Moueix-run Pomerol properties as well as their single estate in Saint Emilion, Château Magdelaine.

 

2005 CHATEAU MAGDELAINE, PGCC Saint Emilion ***

Not as dark as some, this has an aroma that’s initially soft and light, dominated by cherry and damson. It expands steadily, with quite a lot of oakiness, and a growing density can be registered. This process accelerates in contact with the air, the nose gaining in power and weight. Peony and cinnamon meld with black fruits.

The flavour fills out, showing richness, force, and a certain stoniness. The tannins, if firm, are not harsh. Thus a wine that started out a bit lightweight quickly turns into something of a blockbuster. The dynamism of the aftertaste suggests that a decade of ageing is needed before this is broached.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LA GRAVE, Pomerol **(*)

The full, voluptuous aroma is crammed with Merlot fruit and conjures up prunes in port, damson jam, cedar. The round, dynamic flavour fills the mouth with luscious black fruit, with fresh acidity giving cut to the weighty, harmonious finish. Good ageing potential.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LATOUR, Pomerol ***

This has a lovely scent of raspberry, black cherry, and red pepper, with plenty of lift and vivacity. It promises a velvety texture. Ripe cherry dominates on the palate, with hints of raspberry and strawberry, and the aftertaste is long, structured, and faintly bitter. Clay and stones can be picked out on the plummy finish. A well-structured wine that will evolve well for 30 years.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU PROVIDENCE, Pomerol ***

This lustrous wine emits scarlet flashes as it catches the light, and its splendidly rich, intense aroma exhales cherry and crème de framboise.

A very pure nose.

Red and black fruits mingle enticingly on the palate, which is as clean-cut and focused as the aroma. It’s a wine that’s made of stern stuff: the great charm of the scent leads into an aftertaste that is steely and full of rectitude – a pointer to the wine’s staying power. This may well open and close in fits and starts before settling down, in a decade or so, to a noble maturity that will last 15-20 years or more.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU LA FLEUR PETRUS, Pomerol ****

The sweet, expansive aroma is crammed with voluptuous Pomerol scents (black fruits, truffle, morel) but has a dense core full of rigour.

The lovely flavour is lushly fruity, with excellent balance, with a suspicion of fig behind the dominant cherry and plum fruit. The aftertaste, with ripe tannins giving graininess, is fresh and full of nuances. At best around 2014-30.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU HOSANNA, Pomerol ****

The gorgeously ripe, vibrantly fruity nose of black and red fruits is so complex that it’s hard to plumb the depths. New scents materialise by the minute, but one is struck overall by the great roundness of the aroma.

The flavour of ripe berries and black fruits is delectably silky and of optimum concentration – fruity flesh articulated by tannic sinew – and the follow-through is majestic. Perfect tannins and good acidity give a resolute, precisely-defined finish. 7-8 years will bring this to a maturity that will persist a further 20 or so.

It’s hard to believe that anything can cap this, but the two biggest stars are still to come!

 

2005 CHÂTEAU TROTANOY, Pomerol ****(*)

Not extremely dark but lustrous, this has a round, sumptuous aroma, profound and weighty, of black cherry and damson jams, red rose and carnation, and the finest of clays. An altogether inspiring composite scent.

The flavour fills the mouth with rich ripe fruit yet leaves an impression of near weightlessness, because of the wine’s great buoyancy. There’s a glorious, uniquely Pomerol opulence on the lingering, nuanced aftertaste. The gently spicy finish is pure velvet. This great Trotanoy should be enjoyed – or rather, revelled in – around 2015-45.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU PETRUS, Pomerol *****

Some judges who sampled this a couple of months earlier had some reservations: I have none. No ’05 is darker than this. There’s fire within the blackness – purple sparks fly as you swirl the glass. The full, aristocratic aroma is strikingly mineral and promises flawless, effortless balance. Damson and black cherry intermingle with peony and red rose to produce an explosion (the “peacock’s tail” effect) of exquisite Pomerol scents. You can follow individual aromas like rockets within a fireworks display. All are purposeful.

 

On the palate, optimal concentration, with each component flavour contributing something to a unified whole. The finish is velvety and subtle, yet masterful, with an espresso-like finale. You can taste iron and fine clay after a moment (from the subsoil) and it is doubtless crasse de fer that gives the truffly aspect.

Like all great wines this will have its off and on moments over the next decade or so; but when at full stretch – round about 2031 – 45 – it will be sublime.

 

One authority says of Château Certan de May that “it ought really to be the equal of the best growths of Pomerol”, describing the vintages of the 1950s as “imperishable”. All agree that its wines are very good, but few are prepared to go further. There are only five hectares of vines, which are planted with 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The winemaker is Luc Barreau Badar, son of the owner, a black-haired, black-clad man who seems always to be lurking around the property, like a dedicated priest who cannot bear to leave his church. He is justifiably proud of his ’05, which is lodged in oak barrels of which 70% are new.

Entrance to Château Certan de May, a world-renowned Pomerol with only five hectares of vines.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU CERTAN DE MAY DE CERTAN (the full name!) ***

This dark, glowing wine has a ripe, juicy smell of damson and crème de mûre and promises sumptuousness. This promise is amply fulfilled: dense black fruit, chocolate, liquorice, and coffee flavours fill the mouth and lead into a long, weighty aftertaste of clay, earth, and cardamom.

A velvety smoothness can be attributed to old vines – always a mellowing factor. The tannins, while giving ample support, are mild. So viscous it will be accessible young, it will anyway evolve well for a good 30 years.

Certan de May is one Pomerol property that has no crasse de fer in its terroir, says M. Barreau Badar.

 

Château La Conseillante has always been rated among the top Pomerols but, like Pétrus, it is very close to the border with Saint Emilion.

I detect no Saint Emilion traits, however. It is bounded on two sides by Pétrus and Cheval Blanc respectively, and its unbroken 11.8 hectares of vines are planted with 80% Merlot (which they call the “black pearl of Pomerol”) and 20% Cabernet Franc. Interestingly, the biggest plot of Cabernet Franc lies next to Cheval Blanc – where it is, of course, the dominant variety.

Years ago, when I lived in Sweden, I had the good fortune to drink quite a few bottles of the 1961 La Conseillante, which the then Swedish monopoly had bought in many years before. They released it at a very modest price, after a good 15 years’ extra cellaring, and I still recall its gorgeous sweetness and finesse to this day…

The vineyard, 40% of which is in fact inside Saint Emilion, has a high clay content, vineyard manager Jean-Michel Laporte tells me. They say that La Conseillante “combines the strength and sensual delight of Pomerol with the elegance and subtlety of Saint Emilion”.

The 2005 is made from 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc and is lodged in 100% new oak casks (in lighter years they use only 80%). Average age of the vines is 40 years.

 

Château La Conseillante – a property with archetypical Pomerol traits, planted with 80% of the “black pearl of Pomerol” – the Merlot grape.

2005 CHÂTEAU LA CONSEILLANTE **** (*)

You can see at a glance that this is great: lesser wines can be as dark but do not have these infinite nuances of colour or that especial glow. The silk-smooth aroma swirls out of the glass, exhibiting great minerality and exceptional purity. The fabulous perfume of wild strawberry and other red fruits has a Musigny-like finesse. It also has much held-in power.

The delectably fresh, vibrant flavour of black and red fruits and chocolate is long, with a ferruginous element, and the finish has a subtle earthiness and quite a bit more weight than the ethereal nose leads one to expect. The spicy aftertaste is exceptionally long. This great la Conseillante will come into its own around 2015-35.

 

Just down the road – or track – is another of the very greatest Pomerols: Château l’Evangile, owned and run since 1999 by the Lafite branch of the Rothschild family. All their properties are superbly-run.

Among near-neighbours are Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Vieux Château Certan, and La Conseillante. The vineyard is planted with 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet Franc. Somewhat inconsistent in the past, despite its huge potential, l’Evangile has always been counted among the finest Pomerol properties.

The subsoil contains a great deal of clay, l’m told, and there’s gravel and silex too. The 14 hectares of vines give an average of 60,000 bottles a year. Vinification takes place inside concrete vats.

 

2005 BLASON DE L’EVANGILE ***

Inevitably, this second wine is made largely from younger vines and this shows in the relatively straightforward purple “robe”. The nose, however, shows real refinement, with a myriad flowery and fruity scents showing delicacy and harmony. A chocolaty element gives extra weight.

There’s a lovely mouth-feel and the ample damson and bilberry fruit leads into an elegant, deliciously fresh finish. An entrancing wine, poised and refined, to drink over the next 7-8 years.

 

2005 CHÂTEAU L’EVANGILE *****

So rich in pigment it paints the inside of the glass purple, this has an extremely refined, clos-grained aroma of violet, bilberry, and cherry.

It’s the kind of smell – complex, exceptionally pure – that can make you gasp. The flavour is superb. A medley of black fruits, with sloe to the fore, it also has fine minerality and tannins of the smoothest, ripest kind. The finish is endless. An exquisitely poised wine of great tensile strength, with a lovely texture and seductive spiciness, to lock away for 9-10 years – and gloat over for 15-20 more.

*

I tasted no more than a dozen or so 2005 Pomerols on my short trip – though a pretty high percentage of the very choicest châteaux – and was moved to give four or five stars to six of them. This attests to a brilliant performance by a region that has only 740 hectares of vines, which amounts to about one-seventh of the vineyard area of its neighbour Saint Emilion.

 

© Frank Ward 2006

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Two Tastings with the Masters of Wine

Posted by Frank Ward on April 7, 2008

April 2001

 

1998 BURGUNDY & CHATEAU LATOUR

Until recently Burgundy had the reputation of having a good vintage only once every three to five years. But over the last decade or two things have improved immensely: since 1988 Burgundy can boast no fewer than eleven good to excellent vintages, with only 1994 being below par. But even in that rather scrawny year some top estates came up with delicious bottles, though few will last very long.

 

Despite Parker’s negative judgment, 1998 must be included among the good years, especially as regards the reds of the Côte de Nuits. This was confirmed by a big tasting of red and white 1998s hosted by the Institute of Masters of Wine at the Ironmongers’ Hall, London, in March.

 

Those represented at the tasting were members of Domaines Familiaux de Tradition, a grouping of serious domaines and negoçiants. They include many, though by no means all, of the region’s most illustrious names.

 

The white wines confirmed an impression formed on earlier visits to the region, namely that, in the main, they are medium-bodied and not extremely concentrated, but with utterly pure, flowery aromas, delightfully fresh, honeyed fruit, and a clean, very mineral flavour of medium length. In short: delectable, very elegant whites for short and medium-term drinking. Leading growers, including Gérard Boudot of Etienne Sauzet (who was not represented at the tasting) stress, with typical frankness, that 1998 white Burgundies should not be kept too long.

 

Two whites from the M.W. tasting:

 

1998 MEURSAULT “CLOS DE LA BARRE” (Lafon)

Nuanced, oaky green-gold. Broad, complex, brooding nose, acacia honey, white peach, white truffle, with a suggestion of hazelnuts (from the oak) and marzipan (older vines). Tight, nuanced flavour, well structured and balanced, about 80% concentrated. Walnut, peach, yellow plums. Very good appley acidity gives length and accentuates the minerality. Starting to peak in 2-3 years, it should be at its best around 04-06.

 

Label of Puligny-Montrachet, Clavoillon, Leflaive.

 

1998 PULIGNY MONTRACHET P.C. “CLAVOILLON”

(Domaine Leflaive)

Nuanced green-gold colour with that faint, almost emerald tinge of Puligny. Compared with the excellent Puligny Village, which preceded it (also from Leflaive), it was – as expected – fuller, more vinous, and more complex on the nose, with typical Puligny – and specifically Leflaive – aromas of lemon balm, white truffle, dried orange peel, and orange blossom. Quite rich on the palate, with suggestions of apricot, orange, and honeycomb. About 85% concentrated, fat and round and with adequate, fresh acidity for this degree of body. 3-4 years to peak, with about 4 years’ agreeable drinking thereafter.

 

I missed the first hour of the three-hour tasting and concentrated, therefore, on the weightier growths of the Côte de Beaune – the more northerly ones – and as many of the Côte de Nuits reds as possible.

 

Two Cortons were impressive. That from Bonneau du Martray may be their best since the vinification was vastly improved a few years ago. Dark and solid on the nose, with an almost Côte de Nuits bigness, its ripe, berrylike aroma also gave off a faint whiff of clay. Vigorous and full on the palate, with true Corton forcefulness and sinew, it had liquorice on the firm, structured aftertaste. The ample tannins were of the ripe kind. It should develop well up to 2020 and perhaps beyond.

 

Chandon de Briailles’ Corton-Maréchaudes was lighter in colour and intensely flowery on the nose (carnation, peony, violet) but with plenty of raspberry fruit. A shade less weighty on the palate, but with masses of delicious cherry, blackcurrant, and sloe fruit. Likely to be accessible in only 7-8 years (which is young for a Corton), it probably won’t improve much after ’14.

 

Christophe Roumier, one of the most committed and skilled of Côte de Nuits producers, made some very pertinent comments on the ’98 reds, though they were perhaps more applicable to the Côte de Nuits wines than those of the Côte de Beaune. “1998 is a classic vintage, with the tannins and acidity needed for ageing. Yields were low, about 25 hectolitres per hectare, and this small crop produced very good fruit. The thick skins gave good colour and in general there was very good ripeness, good balance, and freshness.”

 

These traits were well in evidence in two superb Nuits Premiers Crus from Domaine Gouges. Both had lots of matière, were well-structured, had masses of personality, and would evolve for at least two decades. Inevitably, the Les Saint Georges was the more complete wine, with just that shade more depth and length. This growth should be a Grand Cru.

 

The first unmistakeably great red was:

 

1998 VOSNE ROMANEE “BEAUMONTS” (Jean Grivot)

Exceptionally deep in colour for Pinot Noir, it had a full brooding nose of ripe blackberry, black cherry jam, and raspberry, with the sweet ripeness of perfectly mature grapes. It had great roundness but also solidity and structure. The flavour was full and chewy – great extract without over-extraction – with an almost meaty as well as a fruity side. I also found prunes and morel mushrooms on the long, dense aftertaste, to which plummy acidity gave crackle.

A wine to enjoy with milder game dishes, such as fillet of venison with truffle sauce, around 2010-2020.

 

Grivot’s Clos de Vougeot was also a splendid wine. He certainly fashions wines of great intricacy: dark, concentrated, and powerful yet also exhibiting subtlety and finesse. The version from Château de la Tour, too, was very impressive, with great weight and complexity.


The lushly concentrated fruit was supported by ample tannins that gave a long, structured aftertaste. Nothing would have been lost if this wine showed a little less oak, yet it is so densely fruity that it ought to shed nearly all the woodiness within 10-12 years. I’m sure it will make superb drinking between around 2012-2025.


Christophe Roumier’s Bonnes Mares was a marvel. One of the darkest wines in the whole tasting, it had a noble, superripe Pinot Noir aroma of great roundness and depth and full of complexity. Though brooding and powerful it also had a great deal of implicit finesse. Really rich, dense, and chewy in the mouth, with the volume and sweetness of utterly ripe grapes. It had a long, intense aftertaste of autumn berries, truffle, and smoke. This was one of the most massive ’98s of all.

 

Also impressive were Clos Saint Jacques from Jadot (sinewy, structured, and built to last); Faiveley’s dynamic and profound Clos de Bèze; Bruno Clair’s version of the same growth, with its exquisitely balanced, many facetted aroma and flavour and a persistent aftertaste with all the Clos de Bèze finesse one could wish for; and J.P. Mugnier’s perfumed, opulent Musigny, which had one of the most concentrated, best-balanced, and most thrillingly intense finishes in the entire tasting.

 

Looking back at the ’97 vintage, it is possible to say that it was more consistent than 1998 and it certainly gave a huge number of most delicious wines. But I’m not sure that it gave many, or even any, really great ones. If 1998 was much more uneven it did surely give some wines of genuine greatness. I look forward to plumbing their depths in the years to come.

 

 

In January of this year the Institute of M.W.s held another fascinating tasting, this time focusing on Château Latour, by common consent one of the world’s greatest wines.

 

The aptly named estate is truly a tour de force, showing, at its best, that rare combination of power and finesse found only in truly complete, which is to say, genuinely great wines. Few would challenge Latour’s reputation as the most consistent of clarets over the past 150 years. Like the other Premier Crus clarets and their counterparts elsewhere in Bordeaux (Pétrus, Cheval-Blanc, Ausone, etc) it also has its own unique, inimitable personality.

 

Just as a professional musician only needs to hear a few bars of Beethoven or Brahms to name the composer, so does an experienced taster simply need to get a sniff of Latour to guess it blind – most of the time anyway!

 

The nine vintages on show were, of course, very varied in character, in accordance with the vegetative cycle and climatic pattern of each year. But all nine showed the usual Latour traits of amplitude and power, warmth and profundity, harmony and subtlety, length on the palate and longevity.

 

Wine making styles change, oenologists come and go, even the grape-mix can be modified over the decades, yet still the very special Latour style endures.This was brought home to me once when, at the end of a long sequence of old wines, I was handed a glass of dark, browning liquid and asked to make a stab at the wine’s identity. “It’s very old,” I said, “and I’ve no idea what the vintage is. But one thing is sure: this is Latour.” It was Latour 1900.

 

The lesson was repeated at a unique tasting in Stockholm some 14 years ago, when we sampled no fewer than 20 vintages of all five of the Bordeaux First Growths. The youngest vintage was 1982, the oldest 1926. As each wave of wines arrived, we were told what the vintage was but the order of service was changed each time.


While Latour and Mouton were not always dramatically different in style, it was nearly always possible to pick out Latour without hesitation. This was the case with the ’61, ’59,’37, ’34, ’28, and ’26.

 

I was recently re-reading an article I’d written in 1983 on the ’82 clarets, and published in February 1984 in the American magazine “Connoisseur”. In it I quoted the then director of Latour, M. Mandreau, as saying that they were working to eliminate both the Petit-Verdot and Cabernet-Franc from the estate, with the aim of arriving at an encépagement of 80% Cabernet-Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.

 

Speaking at this year’s Latour tasting, M. Mandreau’s successor, M. Engerer, declared that they still (19 years later!) want to get rid of the Cabernet-Franc but revealed that their feelings towards the Petit-Verdot had changed completely. Now, they want to increase the acreage of this variety. (they have had a similar change of heart at Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier told me some years ago).

 

It has always seemed to me that the Petit-Verdot is seriously underestimated in the Médoc. Of course, the grape is a late ripener and doesn’t always reach full maturity. But when it is ripe it gives something unique to claret.

 

Some 10 years ago the late Michel Delon gave me a remarkable tasting at Château Leoville Las Cases of all four varieties in pure form plus the grand vin, fashioned from all four, for each vintage in question. The tasting covered, I think, six vintages over a full decade, or 30 samples.

 

What this tasting showed was that, in years when it is ripe enough for inclusion, the Petit-Verdot alway gives the darkest and densest wine of all, surpassing even Cabernet-Sauvignon in blackness of colour, solidity of structure, and intensity and concentration of fruit. Though closest in character to the Cabernet-Sauvignon, it has unique traits of its own, especially as regards aroma, and can give a powerful whiff of truffle and liquorice.

 

The claret of the Médoc, which is usually a very decorous wine, is often given a new dimension by even as little as 3-6% of Petit-Verdot. The aroma can take on a faintly decadent, gamey quality, and both flavour and aftertaste show greater intricacy and individuality. No wonder Latour and Margaux are giving it increasing attention.

 

For reasons of space, I shall describe only six of the nine Latour vintages. It should be stressed, however, that all nine wines were excellent in their different ways, and the results achieved in the difficult ’94 and ’91 vintages were impressive indeed.

 

1998 CHATEAU LATOUR ***

Solid black-purple with blueish tinge, with superb, very precise, focused nose with a meld of cedary, flowery (peony and violet), and fruity (ripe autumn berries) aromas. Despite its youthful power, it has the kind of innate, delicate sweetness found in top Pauillacs from the ’40s, especially ’49, though without that degree of concentration (yields were much smaller then). From wood of the very highest quality comes the scent of cinnamon and smoke. That the nose is only about 85% concentrated, however, suggests that this is an excellent rather than great Latour.

 

On the palate, a tightly-clenched flavour of blackberries, cassis, chocolate, and prunes. Lots of understated power but not to the ultimate degree. Very Cabernet- Sauvignon, in a sinewy, tannic way, but the Merlot confers ample, round fruit too. Long complex aftertaste without harshness, with fine ripe tannins (the result of rigorous selection) giving very good structure. A superbly crafted wine with a long seamless finish, reaching an initial maturity in about 15-16 years and with 20 or more of development to follow

 

1996 CHATEAU LATOUR ****

Very deep, nearly black, colour with full, dense, roasted nose with both Merlot and Petit-Verdot making their presence felt: prunes, dried fig, molasses (Merlot); and truffle and liquorice (Petit-Verdot). Super-ripe fruit combined with the finest oak gave a subsidiary scent of cocoa rather than chocolate.

 

Big, dense, structured yet fleshy flavour of prunes, blackberry jam, molasses, and dried fig. Superb rich concentrated flavour, very weighty in classic Latour way, with both Merlot and Cabernet-Franc discernable behind the Cabernet- Sauvignon density on the very long, nuanced aftertaste. Splendidly focused Latour with striking freshness and with more obvious weight and density than the ’98 (which is slightly leaner, more cerebral). Hint of truffle and crushed cloves on the dense finish.


12-14 years to reach an initial, false maturity, with another 15 or so to arrive at a ripeness that ought to persist another 20 or more.

 

1995 CHATEAU LATOUR ****

Slightly bluer and even darker than the ’96. Splendid, dense, weighty, very Pauillac/Latour nose with ripe sweetness and noble, oaky spice. Black cherry and ripe blackberry fruit. The suggestion of carnation and peony surely comes from the Merlot, which must have been utterly ripe. Bracing and dynamic.

 

Superb, extremely concentrated flavour, muscular yet with refinement, with even more dynamism and sweep than the ’96. The massive flavour is a meld of damson jam, prunes, chocolate, and underbrush. More closed than the ’96. On the very finish a very slight, agreeable bitterness – the barest suggestion of sage. A wine to forget for at least 12-13 years (and that’s only the impatient!), a kind of interim maturity for a further 16+, then something like real maturity over the next 15-20.

 

1990 CHATEAU LATOUR *****

Great almost black barely-evolved colour (about one-tenth browning) and huge, glorious, very complex superripe Latour nose, with that sweet-yet- scorched profundity of Latours from the ’40s: lushly ripe black cherries, blackberry jam, truffle, dried fig, sweet chocolate. Has a generous, sweet, voluptuous quality reminiscent of a top Pomerol (in Pauillac, it is usually Mouton which shows this vinous mimicry!).

 

Rich, fat, weighty flavour, extremely full and concentrated, with archtetypical Latour style. Really huge, expansive flavour in the vertiginously deep ’40s style – hints of prunes, chocolate, truffle, even molasses. Enormous depth and ripe-grape sweetness to this wine, with firm but ripe tannins giving structure and, in the years to come, still more complexity. A really great Latour, with an extra dimension compared with the other vintages from ’98-’88, even the superb ’96 and ’95. This bottle is drinkable now, with food (it had been decanted three hours in advance), but it really needs another 12-15 years to show what it’s really made of, with another 20 or so on a “plateau of perfection”. (If anybody feels I am overestimating Latour’ s capacity to age a long time, let them remember that the ’66 is still not fully open at almost 35 years!)

 

1986 CHATEAU LATOUR ****

Profound black-purple colour of almost maximum depth. Darker, richer, than the ’82 which follows and sure to live longer. Superb, slightly exotic (probably due to overripe Cabernet-Sauvignon) nose of raspberry, black cherry compote, violets. Exceptional finesse and precision to these aromas. After a while, the Petit-Verdot (always the last to make its presence felt) adds a truffly element to the glossy scent, with oak contributing cedary spice.

 

On the palate, very concentrated and sinewy, with excellent poise, and more classic in style than the voluptuous ’82. A lot more closed, too. The lush cherrylike fruit turns both sterner and wilder in the glass, growing more tannic and suggesting fruits such as damson and even elderberry.

At nearly 15 years (which is, of course, nothing in the development of a top Latour), still vital, even aggressive, with plenty of snap. Very long, modulated aftertaste with a hint of roasted chestnuts on the very long finish.

 

The most backward wine of the whole series, it needs another 15 years to round out fully, and with at least 15-20 more of additional development. It makes me think of the ’66, which over the past 10 years has first grown older and then become much younger again without any warning.

 

1982 CHATEAU LATOUR****

Very typical Latour look: nearly black, with oxblood rim, and winking vermilion highlights at the centre. Dense but fresh aroma (typical of Latour, of all great wines), somewhat roasted, with great Latour mellowness and power. Ripe blackberry aromas mingle with those of prunes, morels, and cloves.

 

On the palate, very weighty and fat, but very fresh, with richly fruity, viscous flavour suggesting liquorice and truffle (Petit-Verdot) and damson jam, chocolate, and cloves. Grows in the glass, after 30 minutes showing Cabernet-Sauvignon rigour combined with Merlot opulence and sapidity and Petit-Verdot density and thrust. Lovely elegant smooth flavour, very high viscosity, with chocolate, damson, and truffle on the very long, savoury finish. Still just a bit young for maximum enjoyment, but a magnificent Latour with a hedonistic side, to drink with mounting pleasure, over the next 20 or so years.

 

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY... The dark, viscous liquid in the glass is a cask sample of 1982 Château Latour at the instant it was being sampled by Frank Ward in the spring of 1983, exactly 18 years ago. The picture was taken by Roland Möllerfors, Swedish photographer.

 

© Frank Ward 2001

 

Next Issue of Oeno File in June 2001…

A tasting of the 1999 and 2000 vintages of the Premier Grand Cru Classé wines of Saint-Emilion, a visit to Château Latour, and various other vinous adventures.

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In the South

Posted by Frank Ward on April 7, 2008

August 2005

 

Domaine Marcel Richaud lies on the outskirts of Cairanne, in the southern Rhône, on the road to Rasteau. From its terrace you can look out over a sea of vines towards the jagged peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail and the noble pyramid of Mont Ventoux.

 

Marcel Richaud is not just a superb wine maker, he’s also renowned for the great care he lavishes on his 40 hectares of vines. When I first met him, three or four years ago, he had the shining good looks of a film star. Neither wind nor sun has eroded these but experience – and hard work – have etched new lines on his face, which has gained in character and resolution.

 

His 2004 Rosé is made from the first lot of juice from freshly-pressed red grapes, the moment it has taken on a slight pink blush (the rest of the juice is, of course, left on the skins to become rich red wine). The rosé is the only one of his wines that calls for no reflection from the drinker. Fresh and sappy, smelling of rowanberry and strawberry, it can be enjoyed in gulps over the coming months. The rest are made of altogether sterner stuff :

 

2003 CAIRANNE BLANC * (Roussanne, Clairette, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Marsanne)

A rich oaky yellow (new oak enriches the colour of whites), this has an intense, flowery scent of lime, fresh fig, and honey. Quite fat, it is fresh and fruity on the palate and should be drunk around 2006-08.

 

2004 COTES DU RHONE “GARRIGUES” *

A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, this smooth dark wine has a grapy, inviting smell of raspberry jam, sweet prunes, and bilberry. Soft on the palate too, a bit chocolaty, it has ample fruit and is well balanced – if closed up at present. It will open up over the next year or so and drink well until end-2008.

 

2004 CAIRANNE **

Almost opaque, this has a full, characterful nose of blackberry jam, blackcurrant, prunes, and chocolate. The Grenache dominates at present (the blend includes three other varieties) and there is good concentration. The compact flavour shows typical South Rhône traits – low acidity, spice, and weightiness – and calls to mind black fruit jams, liquorice, and prunes. There’s also a hint of bay leaf on the earthy finish. A brooding wine to enjoy with stews and game dishes over the next 5 years.

 

2003 CAIRANNE “ESTRAMBORDS” ***

Darker still, this has a glorious scent, weighty and full, of ripe black fig, raspberry jam, and chocolate. This superb nose is full of old-vine mellowness and depth. The flavour is full and weighty, with plenty of flesh and good structure. Fig, prune, and bay leaf show on the nuanced, persistent finish. Tannins begin to exert their pull after a moment or two, like tendons acting on muscles. A slight roughness on the finish ought to melt away in about 4 years; the wine will then drink beautifully for another 5-7.

 

 

The last wine should be viewed within the context of a local tradition of making sweet, port-like dessert wines in very rich vintages :

 

2003 CAIRANNE “L’EBRESCADE” **(*)

This near-black wine has a rich, full aroma of sweet damson jam, prunes, and liquorice (a smell that’s more similar to a Banyuls than a port). The flavour is full, rich, and viscous, with a long, earth-and-stone finish. Despite the porty sweetness (the wine contains 14 grammes residual sugar), the aftertaste is quite dry, with a rasp of tannins. This will be ideal with chocolate or crème brûlée around 2010-15.

 

A view across the vineyards towards the celebrated village of Cairanne.

 

2003 JEAN DE VERDE (pure Grenache)

This paleish red has a soft, jammy nose of plum and plumstone, blackberry, and ripe fig. The flavour, too, is soft and plummy, but the aftertaste is drily tannic and lacks harmony. The tannins are a little green.

 

I was back on the Route de Rasteau in only a few minutes. Having a bare 25 minutes to spare I dropped in unannounced at Domaine la Soumade on the outskirts of Rasteau. Several bottles of this estate’s wines have given me unalloyed pleasure in the past. I rang the bell three times without response and was just about to leave when a slim and elegant blonde appeared and, with exemplary efficiency, fitted a tasting of some of their best wines into the 20-minute slot that now remained.


2001 RASTEAU PRESTIGE * (80% Grenache, 10% each Syrah and Mourvèdre)

Not very dark, this four-year-old has a soft, unassertive nose of plum, prune, blackberry jam, and bay leaf. The flavour is round and supple, and very agreeable, but lacks concentration. Of only medium length, it should be drunk now and over the next 2-3 years.

 

2001 RASTEAU “CONFIANCE” ** (from vines aged 50-100 years)

Deeper and more intense in colour, this has a big, broad, spicy nose of damson jam, prunes, and cocoa. It’s much weightier and denser than the preceding. Elegant and expressive on the palate, this plummy, balanced wine has the structure to improve for a good 8 years.

 

2003 COTES DU RHONE “VIOLETTES” * (80% Syrah, 10% each Viognier and Roussanne)

The dark Syrah grape accounts for the unusually blackish colour, while a percentage of new oak barrels explains the pronounced smokiness on the nose. Damson is the main fruit on nose and palate, with some pruny density in the background. Sinewy on the finish, and very closed, this should show best around 2008-12.

 

This is a kind of southern Rhône pastiche on Côte-Rôtie, the great red from the northern part of the region, which is mainly Syrah to which up to 15% Viognier may be added.

 

2003 “FLEUR DE CONFIANCE” ***

Made from tiny yields (15 hectolitres per hectare), this has a fine explosive aroma of cherry, raspberry, and damson. Complex and flowery, it is faintly sweet. This sweetness carries over to the palate, which is loaded with damson and raspberry fruit. The tannins on the long, sinewy aftertaste impart a certain severity at present, but lurking in the background is a very real delicacy. Needs time : drink around 2009-17.

 

All of the wines here are excellent but none, it has to be said, has quite the sumptuousness I found in their best cuvées in the great 1990 vintage. But then such years are few and far between, even in the southern Rhône!

 

 

A tiny minority of people in all disciplines have minds that are so utterly their own that they view all received wisdom with scepticism and set themselves a course dictated wholly by their very own instincts, emotions, and thought processes. Jérôme Bressy of Domaine Gourt de Mautens is a wine-maker of this ilk. Fanatical about low yields – his mean production is around 12-15 hectolitres per hectare – he is helped in this endeavour by most of his vines being very old. Quite a few were planted 50-80 years ago. His 13 hectares of vines are planted with 70% Grenache, 15% Carignan (a variety that gives commonplace wines except when the plants are very old, as in the case here), 10 % Mourvèdre, and a cocktail of other varieties that includes the fascinating Counoise.

 

The wine-makers he most admirers, he declares roundly, are Gérard Chave and the late Jacques Reynaud of Rayas.

 

Lively and intense, but no introvert, Jérôme is in his thirties and has blazing eyes, a jutting jaw, and square shoulders. In the right costume, bat in hand, he could easily pass for a US baseball champion. But he’s no team player: he’s a man who bats for himself and his wines. His main credo – he repeated it several times during my short visit – is “you have to take risks!”.

 

2004 RASTEAU BLANC

Still fermenting, this pale yellow wine is hard to judge, with some sulphur still masking the fruit on the nose. The flavour is more revealing: round, lush, and lively, it hints at apricot with a touch of pineapple. A second barrel of the same wine is slightly more open, with a suggestion of fig on the finish.

 

2003 RASTEAU BLANC *

This has a full, round, expressive aroma of apricot, mirabelle, and orange blossom, and is very fresh and flavoursome on the palate, tasting almost like a light white Hermitage. This will make excellent drinking around 2007-10.

 

2002 RASTEAU

Medium-deep in colour, this has an aromatic nose of prune, plum, and carnation. The mild flavour is a meld of strawberry jam, plum, and chocolate. A pleasant wine to drink over the next year or so. (’02 was a catastrophic year in the southern Rhône and Jérôme was only able to make this respectworthy wine by reducing yields to a pitifully 7 hectolitres per hectare and vinifiying with the utmost care and attention.)

 

2003 RASTEAU ** (15° alcohol)

This dark wine has a rich, weighty, concentrated scent of damson jam, liquorice, sweet prune, and spice. It also smells of the garrigue. There’s a porty density to it. In the mouth, prunes, plum jam, and liquorice. There’s lots of extract here, and a feeling of clay on the long, fat finish, which has a lot of depth. Drink 2010-16.

I picked late in ’03, between 18 September and 7 October. I put off the picking when I cut open a grape that seemed ripe, only to find it still green inside… you have to take risks!”

 

2004 RASTEAU ***

Still loaded with malic acid (which will be transformed into mild lactic acid in due course), this richly-pigmented wine smells of black fruits and is vital and very focused. The intensely fruity flavour has very good structure and, while closed at present, will clearly develop for a good dozen years. It has better acidity than the ’03 and should end up the better wine. We then tasted other barrels of the ’04 Rasteau, some containing different proportions of grape varieties (the best will be blended together to make the grand vin in due course): Grenache and very old Carignan; Grenache and Mourvèdre; and Grenache with extremely old Carignan planted on chalky soil. All had different traits that, when the barrels are mixed, will produce a whole that is far, far more than the sum of its parts.

 

At the finish, I sampled Jérôme’s version of a sweet Rasteau. A deep purple colour, it smelled of all manner of black fruits, violets and crushed raspberry. Only 1200 bottles exist; those owning any will have an excellent port-substitute to enjoy with nuts, chocolate dessert, or Christmas pudding around 2015-20.

 

 

 

CHATEAU-NEUF-DU-PAPE is, of course, the most prestigious of all appellations in the southern Rhône. In top vintages, the very best wines exhibit a unique spiciness, power, and dynamism yet also have delicacy and subtlety too. A harmonious fusion of these characteristics is not very easy to bring off, not least because these hot climes inevitably result in very high levels of alcohol.

 

But vinous miracles are possible: you can drink Châteauneufs that dose over 14° alcohol yet are still as fresh as a Burgundy and have real finesse too. On the whole, though, the best producers do all in their power to hold alcohol levels low.

 

Château Mont-Redon is the biggest family-owned estate within the appellation, with 125 hectares of vineyard. It has been run for over 30 years by two cousins, Jean Abeille and Didier Fabre, both of whom have bright-eyed children well-qualified in oenology.

 

The ’04 whites are promising – fresh, flowery, and elegant – with the Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc having a composite smell and taste of apple, melon, and orange. With good acidity, it will drink well over the next 4 years. The white Lirac shows promise too, despite being in an oaky phase. As always, the Châteauneuf is best:

 

2004 CHATEAU MONT REDON BLANC **(*)

Flowery and expressive, with a mingled scent of white peach, orange blossom, and honey, it has a fresh, lushly fruity flavour which leads into a chalky, but otherwise closed aftertaste. This will be ideal with elegant fish dishes over the next 6 years or so.

 

2003 CHATEAU MONT REDON BLANC ***

Voluminous and waxy on the nose, with hints of rose hip, crab apple, and pear, this is a bigger, richer wine with a great deal of power. Richly fruity on the palate, with lots of viscosity, it also has good minerality. Already long, it will expand considerably as it ages and ought to improve for a decade or two (the ’76, also from a low-acid vintage, was superb about 7 years ago).

 

On the red side, the ’03 Côtes du Rhône and Lirac were both excellent, with good balance and plenty of structured fruit, and will evolve well over a number of years. Given that ’02 was a very difficult vintage, all three of Mont Redon’s reds (inclusive of the Châteauneuf) are surprisingly successful, with ample fruit and good freshness; all will drink well over the next 1-3 years.

 

2003 CHATEAU MONT REDON ***

A medium-deep purple, this has a vital, focused, concentrated aroma with plenty of refinement, suggestive of cherry, damson, peony, and raspberry. One is struck by the sheer elegance of the aroma – quite an achievement in this oven-hot vintage which gave so many harshly tannic reds in these parts. But this should not obscure the fact that there’s lots of Châteauneuf power too.

 

This is confirmed on the palate where the gamey Mourvèdre (about 12% of the blend) makes its presence felt alongside many other varieties. The dominant taste is of plum and blackberry jam, with clovey spice on the long, elegant finish.

 

Mont-Redon usually shows very well when young and one can easily make the mistake of drinking it up long before full maturity has arrived. Those who keep at least some bottles until 2013-20 will find they have good reason to pat themselves on the back.

 

A sampling of a few older vintages revealed that the ’01 is evolving well, along similar lines to the compact and spicy ’99, while the ’95 – which seemed to lack weight a few years back – has grown fuller and more powerful and will also last well. Best of all, though, is the 2000 which, while delicious now (it’s hard to put your glass down!) will grow in complexity over the coming 10 or more years.

 

The vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are among the hottest in all France. Still greater heat is generated by the millions of large pebbles – washed down from the Alps aeons ago – which absorb heat during the day and radiate them, ripening grapes at night.

 

Domaine Pierre Usseglio achieved international fame some years ago by launching a super-cuvée called Mon Aïeul, which is made from the choicest grapes from the oldest vines on the 22-hectare estate. Production of this “bijou” wine is very small and the price high. Until recently, its existence partly masked the fact that the estate’s “normal” Châteauneuf-du-Pape was not all that exceptional. This situation has been partly remedied in recent years, as a small vertical tasting demonstrated. The more recent the vintage, the better the wine.

2000 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE *

Given that ’00 was an excellent year, the colour is disappointingly light and the nose, while elegant, lacks power and density. Raspberry, pomegranate, and wisteria form an aromatic interweave, and there’s also a whiff of clay from the soil. The flavour is elegant and refined but lacks drive. This is an attractive but not arresting wine to drink over the coming 6-8 years.

 

2001 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE **

An immediate jump in quality : the colour is deeper, the aroma richer and more complete, conjuring up damson, sloe, chocolate, and dried fig (the latter smell probably from super-ripe Grenache). The flavour has a similar elegance to that of the ’00 but with more definition and richer fruit. The taste is a meld of pomegranate, blackberry jam, and clove. Will improve for a decade or more.

(the smoother texture and greater intensity are explained partly by the low yield – 28 hectolitres per hectare – and by the fact that the Usseglios started to destalk the bunches in this vintage.)

 

2002 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE (100% Grenache)

From one of the worst vintages in recent decades, this is weak in colour but has an attractively soft, spicy scent of cherry and cherry stone, strawberry compote, and cinnamon. Light, clean, gently spicy, this agreeable wine will give moderate pleasure over the coming 2-3 years if served with delicate dishes.

 

2003 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE **(*)

Vivid in appearance, the ’03 has a fuller, richer nose than the ’01 and smells appealingly of red cherry, raspberry, carnation, and plum. The flavour is the fullest so far and has a solid core of ripe, healthy fruit. There’s quite a bit of depth too. The aftertaste is of appreciable density yet there’s delicacy too.

5-6 years’ ageing will bring a maturity that should persist for a further 8 or so.

 

2004 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE ***

This has the darkest colour of the series, which suggests that the grapes were harvested when very ripe and full of pigment. The aroma is big and forceful – raspberry, elderberry, and blackcurrant – and is very harmonious. It also shows classic restraint – always a good sign in a Châteauneuf. The intense flavour is packed with spicy fruit, with good sève, and allies suavity with forthrightness and power. The emphatic, harmonious aftertaste shows real persistence. Drink around 2013-20.

 

If the “basic” Châteauneuf has improved in leaps and bounds the Mon Aïeul cuvée remains infinitely superior, even if the gap has lessened dramatically. But this is inevitable if the choicest parts of production are reserved for this bottling.

 

2003 MON AIEUL *** (100% Grenache)

Much darker than the previous wines, this has a strikingly noble, concentrated aroma of cherry, raspberry, and oriental spices with more than a suggestion of truffle. There’s an almost Vosne-Romanée-style opulence to it.

 

The flavour is velvety and rich, but also shows buoyancy and freshness. Pomegranate, ripe fig, and plum show on the long aftertaste, which unfolds new subsidiary flavours every few seconds. This infant wine needs holding back for 8 years or so and should then evolve splendidly for a further 12-15.

 

2004 MON AIEUL ****

The nose is fresh, vital and, while distinctly woody to begin with, velvety. Dominant scents include those of cherry jam, violets, cinnamon, and (very subtle) smoke. The flavour, of great refinement, expands to include fig and pomegranate. The aftertaste, which is flecked with minerality, comes in waves and is very long. Ideally, this great wine – it definitely has the edge of the ’03 – should be forgotten for 8-9 years and enjoyed over the 15 that follow.

 

 

Domaine Charvin must be one of the most unprepossessing properties in the whole of Châteauneuf. The nondescript farm building has an abandoned air (I nearly turned away, thinking it the wrong place) and stands in an isolated spot at the end of a meandering track. But it is (as the Michelin puts it) definitely “worth a special voyage”.

 

Laurent Charvin, who runs things, had forgotten our appointment and I was initially received by his elderly father, and immensely courteous man who immediately insisted that I came inside to get out of the sun. The estate, he told me in his rolling Provencal accent, had been bought by the family in 1851, only to be devastated by the phylloxera a couple of decades later. It then passed into a state of desuetude until his grandfather replanted it in the early 20th century. The estate covers 24 hectares in total, but only 8 of these are within the Châteauneuf appellation. In 2003 they produced 50,000 bottles of Côtes-du-Rhône, 30,000 of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and a quantity of vin du pays.

 

When Laurent turned up, a little late, he generously gave up a slice of his lunch hour to compensate for the delay. He is of average height, quiet-spoken, with a high-bridged nose, a round chin, and spectacles. He looks bookish, and clearly thinks deeply about his wines, which he discusses with intensity and complete candour. Modes hold great sway in today’s wine world but not at this estate. No oak is used whatever, all the wines being vinified and matured in inert concrete vats. The wines are not forced into any kind of mould but are allowed to find their own way (with emphatic help at crucial moments) to the point closest to perfection that nature will allow. What you smell and taste in the glass is nothing but the fermented juice of noble grapes – and the purest possible expression of the terroir.

 

In a region known for its powerful, even elemental wines, Laurent Charvin attaches prime importance to subtlety and refinement. “The Grenache is the most oxidative of all grape varieties but it also has an exceptional capacity to give finesse. In fact, together with the Pinot Noir, it can give more finesse than any other variety.”

 

2003 COTES DU RHONE * (85% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% old Carignan)

Well-coloured, this has a refined aroma of bilberry jam, violets, and provencale herbs. In the mouth it expands to include prune and sloe too. The aftertaste is quite long and smooth and the wine’s viscosity almost masks a slight hardness, even stalkiness. The latter, however, fades away after a while. The texture on the finish makes me think of marron glacé.

 

2003 CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE *** (80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and small percentages of Mourvèdre and Vaccarèse)

Darker and more intense than the Côtes-du-Rhône, this has a soft, subtle, complex aroma of ripe plum, prune, violet, date, and bilberry jam. The flavour is delectably soft and glyceriney, with lots of finesse. Sloe and fig come into play and the gently rich flavour is very long and fresh, delivering a succession of sub-flavours all susceptible to future development. The tannins are very ripe, endowing the wine with a structured softness seldom found outside Burgundy.

This will show best around 2013-20.

 

*

 

A lone visit was paid in Provence, to Château Calissanne, a vast property that boasts extensive olive groves as well as 100 hectares of vines. All three colours are produced in three grades, in ascending order of quality : Cuvée du Château, Cuvée Prestige, and Clos Victoire. All last well, while the two superior cuvées often show exceptional balance and depth of flavour.

 

The vineyards of Château Calissanne in Côteaux d'Aix are even more sun-drenched than those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In most years the harvest starts well before the end of August.

Medium pink, this has a grapy scent of yellow and pink cherries and a fine sappy flavour that conjures up the same fruit. Made from Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet-Sauvignon (15%), it should be drunk up within the year.

 

2004 CLOS VICTOIRE ROSE ** (95% Syrah, 5% Grenache)

An intense pink, this has an intense aroma of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry. The excellent flavour is very closed but there is a fugitive hint of sweet radish (the first of the season, before bitterness sets in). Do not touch for a year, then enjoy for a further 2-3. (Clos Victoire Rosé has the weight of a Provencal red – you could mistake it for a top Tavel – and needs at least one year to open fully).

 

2003 CUVEE DU CHATEAU ROUGE **

The colour is impressively deep, while the characterful aroma positively soars out of the glass, full of the odours of the south : underbrush, the garrigue, leather, liquorice. The flavour has excellent concentration and is full of character. Graphite and bay leaf show on the long, spicy aftertaste. Drinkable now (with pizza, pasta, and stews) but not at its best until around 2007-12.

 

2002 CLOS VICTOIRE ROUGE **(*) (60% Syrah, 40% Cabernet-Sauvignon)

The colour is deep and nuanced, while the aroma – very Cabernet-Sauvignon at the moment – is full of blackberry and damson fruit. Only a slight pepperiness betrays the presence of the Syrah. One is struck by the freshness of the flavour – plum jam, prune, dark chocolate – and there is a reprise of damson and blackberry on the sustained, elegant finish. A very poised wine. Drink 208-13.

(Calissanne, which usually starts harvesting in August, was not affected by the torrential downpours witnessed in the south in ’02, which explains the excellent balance of this wine).

 

2004 ROCHER ROUGE **(*) (100% Mourvèdre)

This has the deep and vivid colour of crème de cassis, while the rich, dynamic aroma conjures up wild cherries, raspberry, graphite, and cinnamon. The same fruits and spices are found on the palate and there is a feeling of intense ripeness.

Quite Bandol-like in style, it has an aftertaste reminiscent of crème brûlée. The Mourvèdre is a hard wine, initially, but softens in time – when the grapes were fully ripe as is the case here. At best around 2010-15.

 

2003 ROCHER ROUGE ** (100% Mourvèdre)

A similarly deep colour with a more savage, broader aroma, suggesting damson jam, smoke, graphite, and toasted oak. The flavour is more voluminous than the ’04, with damson jam well to the fore. The dense, closed aftertaste is very smoky. A violent, earthy wine, smoky and savage.

 

It is more marked by the oak – a very toasty oak – than the more elegant ’04, which is also better balanced.

 

2004 CHATEAU CALISSANNE “CUVEE DU CHATEAU” BLANC **

A bright yellow gold, this has a full flowery scent of greengage and chalk. Apple and yellow plum take over on the palate, and you can taste the chalky/limey subsoil on the finish. A little closed at present, it will expand enormously over the coming year and will then drink well for at least 4 more (even at this humble level, the Calissanne whites age extremely well).

 

2003 CLOS VICTOIRE BLANC *** (50-year-old Clairette, 25-year-old-Sémillon)

The colour is an intense, nuanced green-gold while the nose is a tantalising meld of apple, white rose, and grapefruit peel. The delicious, lushly fruity flavour calls to mind apple mousse, yellow plum, and ripe wheat. The long, rolling finish is very mineral and opens up, sensuously, to show lots of appley fruit and acidity. After a few seconds it swells into still greater minerality with a tangy finish. A splendid southern white, with the authority of a fine white Burgundy, to wonder at over the next 12-15 years or more.

 

© Frank Ward 2005

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