2003 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Clos des Papes, Paul Avril & Fils, Rhône
Jeb Dunnuck - 14/09/2015
About this WINE
Paul Avril et Fils
With Vincent Avril at the helm, Clos des Papes is one of the most highly regarded properties; not only in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but in the world of wine. This family estate has been certified organic for 15 years, with high attention to detail translating into impressively low production levels. Given that the vines here average over 50 years of age, they are firmly prepared and able to withstand many ordeals, including Mistral winds at 140 kilometres an hour, severe heatwaves and drought conditions. Thankfully, they were spared from the latter two in 2020.
When you visit this iconic estate, what stands out most is the complete focus on the vineyard and the absolutely hands-off approach in the cellar. The wines are amongst the purest expression of terroir you could ever wish to taste. There is a magic here that transcends the liquid in the bottle – Clos des Papes is a nonpareil of sheer brilliance.
Vincent is exceptionally happy with his ’20 wines, saying, “I can tell you ’20 is, I think, a great year that will stand the test of time. A very balanced, fine vintage with great freshness, silky tannins and good length in the mouth. Everything was climatically united, both for the red and the white. Currently, ’20 reminds me of ’05 and ’07.”
The most celebrated village of the Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the birthplace of the now indispensable French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system – imperfect though it may be. Compared to the Northern Rhône, the vineyards here are relatively flat and often feature the iconic galet pebbles – the precise benefits of which are a source of much debate. Minimum alcohol levels required by the AOC are the highest in France, but at 12.5% it is well below the natural generosity of Grenache, which only achieves its full aromatic potential when it is fully ripe and laden with the resultant high sugars. Syrah and Mourvèdre contribute the other defining elements in the blend, adding pepper, savoury spice and structure to the decadent Grenache. There are a further 10 permitted red grape varieties which can be used to adjust the “seasoning”. Of the five white varieties permitted, it is Grenache Noir’s sibling – predictably perhaps – Grenache Blanc, which dominates, though Roussanne shows a great deal of promise when handled well, notably at Château de Beaucastel.
Southern Rhône Blend
The vast majority of wines from the Southern Rhône are blends. There are 5 main black varieties, although others are used and the most famous wine of the region, Châteauneuf du Pape, can be made from as many as 13 different varieties. Grenache is the most important grape in the southern Rhône - it contributes alcohol, warmth and gentle juicy fruit and is an ideal base wine in the blend. Plantings of Syrah in the southern Rhône have risen dramatically in the last decade and it is an increasingly important component in blends. It rarely attains the heights that it does in the North but adds colour, backbone, tannins and soft ripe fruit to the blend.
The much-maligned Carignan has been on the retreat recently but is still included in many blends - the best old vines can add colour, body and spicy fruits. Cinsault is also backtracking but, if yields are restricted, can produce moderately well-coloured wines adding pleasant-light fruit to red and rosé blends. Finally, Mourvèdre, a grape from Bandol on the Mediterranean coast, has recently become an increasingly significant component of Southern Rhône blends - it often struggles to ripen fully but can add acidity, ripe spicy berry fruits and hints of tobacco to blends.
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While I've always loved the 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape, it was extremely controversial in its youth due to its exuberance and ripeness. Yet today, with the wine at maturity, all of that controversy has been put to bed and I know of no one contesting the beauty of this wine - the 2007 vintage in Chateauneuf du Pape will be the same. Looking at the 2003 vintage, Paul-Vincent told me that they started harvest on September 5, but quickly had to stop due to rain on the September 7. They waited for the vineyards to dry out and the last plots weren't brought in until October 4! As to the wine, this beautiful 2003 offers a kaleidoscope of kirsch liqueur, Asian spices, ground herbs, blackberries and incense. Full-bodied, textured, ripe and plush, Avril commented that this would evolve similar to the '89, but I certainly see no need to delay gratification here and would drink up while the getting's good!
Jeb Dunnuck - 14/09/2015
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