Joe Czerwinski - 31/10/2017
James Suckling, jamessuckling.com (January 2018)
About this WINE
Vieux Télégraphe is one of the most renowned estates in the Southern Rhône. Blessed with one of the finest locations in the area on the famed La Crau plateau, there is very much an emphasis on terroir expression and natural winemaking. The Bruniers, who own the property, started their love affair with La Crau, a grand cru equivalent in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in 1898.
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 rains early in the season helped prepare the vines for the hot months ahead, and their 2019 vintage displays all the full-bodied concentration and complexity one would expect to see from this famous name.
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.