Joe Czerwinski - 31/10/2017
About this WINE
Vieux Télégraphe is one of the most renowned estates in the Southern Rhône. Blessed with the finest locations in the area on the famed La Crau plateau, there is an emphasis on terroir expression and natural winemaking. The Bruniers, who own the property, started their love affair with La Crau in 1898 – a grand cru equivalent in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Hippolyte Brunier was a farmer who lived off the land with less than a hectare to make his own wines on the high, stony La Crau plateau. Since those humble beginnings, Vieux Télégraphe has blossomed into one of the most celebrated producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
As with other Châteauneuf properties, the heavy autumn rains of 2019 were key here – replenishing ground water stores and preparing the vines for the summer months of relative drought. The mild winter and spring helped usher their grapes towards a gradual but full ripeness with fairly low yields. This brought about the decision to harvest early, from 25th August and with all grapes in by 19th September – this was a record for the domaine. They see their ’20s as a classic vintage, reminiscent of the late ’80s. The wines display the full-bodied concentration and structure typical of Vieux Télégraphe, but the energy, freshness and restraint of a cooler vintage. Piedlong, the Brunier family’s single vineyard offering, saw a similar pattern. Their deep-rooted old vines thrived under the dry conditions of the year, and they describe the wine as possessing a “natural complexity”.
Alongside their Châteauneuf properties, the Brunier family own Domaine des Pallières in Gigondas – a mixed farming estate set within the Provençal Forest and measuring 110 hectares, 25 of which are under vine. They also have a 50-strong herd of goats, which they use to make their Rove de Pallières cheese. For the ’20 vintage, the family reported the lowest yields ever recorded at the estate, dipping to 15 hectolitres per hectare – under half the permitted output of the appellation. However, they also rate it among their top three vintages since taking over the estate in 1998.
Gigondas has been renowned for the quality of its wines since Roman times, although it was not really until it was classified as a Côtes du Rhône Villages in 1966 that it began to realise its potential. It achieved AC status in 1971 and today produces some of the finest, most underrated and under-priced wines in the Rhône valley; although, for the last two of these at least, probably not for much longer.
Gigondas' 1,200-hectare of rugged vineyards are located east of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, beneath the famous mountains of Dentelles de Montmirail. Gigondas produces sumptuous, plummy reds with a good structure and a sprinkle of pepper. It is similar to (if a touch less slick than) good Châteauneuf-du-Pape which, at its best, it can challenge and even surpass.
Made with a maximum of 80 percent Grenache, combined with at least 15 percent Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, the rest can be made of any of the varieties authorized for Côtes du Rhône – apart from Carignan. The wines can normally be broached after two to three years, while the best repay ageing for 10 years or more. The region also produces dry, Grenache-dominated rosés which are good but can sometimes lack a little vitality.
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.