Robert M. Parker, Jr. - 31/10/2012
(Robert Parker - Wine Advocate - Oct 2011)
About this WINE
Chateau la Nerthe
Ch. la Nerthe is a stunning, 500-year-old property that has become one to watch over the past few years. Working organically since 1998, its impressive range of 57 parcels on various soil types and expositions helps to produce wines which are not only a seamless and complete expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but also have wonderful complexity. The noticeable care and attention taken in both the vineyards and cellar has, over the past few years, resulted in seriously impressive wines here. This property is, in every way, a worthy rival to the likes of Ch. de Beaucastel.
The 2019 vintage was challenging here, as it was across the Rhône Valley, given the multiple heatwaves in the summer months and the extreme drought between May and September. But these tricky conditions have revealed the true magic of vines which are so perfectly adapted to manage the majority of nature’s whims; 2019 ended up becoming an exceptional vintage here.
Key to its success this year is the remarkable terroir at Ch. la Nerthe. The mix of rocky, clay and sandy soils, as well as the natural springs at the property, bring a wonderful freshness and minerality to the wines. The very special top white cuvée, Clos de Beauvenir, comes from a single, walled plot – an old castle garden, right in front of the historic château.
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.
White Rhône Blend
In the north, the white wines of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St-Joseph, and St-Péray are produced from blends of Marsanne and Roussanne. Generally Marsanne is the dominant partner and it lends colour, body and weight to the blend, as well as richly scented fruit. Roussanne, a notoriously low yielder and pernickety to grow, produces intensely aromatic wines which contribute bouquet, delicacy and finesse to the blend.
Until about 15 years ago there was very little interest in southern Rhône whites as it was widely believed that the combination of dull non aromatic grapes and the baking summer heat meant quality wine production was nigh impossible. Since then the quality has improved markedly through the introduction of cool fermentation techniques and increased plantings of northern Rhône white grapes.
The base of many blends is still Grenache Blanc, a widely planted variety producing fresh wines with apple-like fruits, often with hints of aniseed. Ugni Blanc is still found in many blends, as is Clairette though their general lack of character and definition has led to a reduction in plantings. The future for southern Rhône whites appears to lie with Roussanne, Marsanne, and, increasingly, Viognier.