2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Clos des Papes, Paul Avril & Fils, Rhône
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.
Grenache (Noir) is widely grown and comes in a variety of styles. Believed to originate in Spain, it was, in the late 20th century, the most widely planted black grape variety in the world. Today it hovers around seventh in the pecking order. It tends to produce very fruity, rich wines that can range quite widely in their level of tannin.
In many regions – most famously the Southern Rhône, where it complements Syrah and Mourvèdre, among other grapes – it adds backbone and colour to blends, but some of the most notable Châteauneuf du Pape producers (such as Château Rayas) make 100 percent Grenache wines. The grape is a component in many wines of the Languedoc (where you’ll also find its lighter-coloured forms, Grenache Gris and Blanc) and is responsible for much southern French rosé – taking the lead in most Provence styles.
Found all over Spain as Garnacha Tinta (spelt Garnaxa in Catalonia), the grape variety is increasingly detailed on wine labels there. Along with Tempranillo, it forms the majority of the blend for Rioja’s reds and has been adopted widely in Navarra, where it produces lighter styles of red and rosado (rosé). It can also be found operating under a pseudonym, Cannonau, in Sardinia.
Beyond Europe, Grenache is widely planted in California and Australia, largely thanks to its ability to operate in high temperatures and without much water. Particularly in the Barossa Valley, there are some extraordinary dry-farmed bush vines, some of which are centuries old and produce wines of startling intensity.
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The 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape looks to be a huge success and reminds me of the 2007. As is normal, Vincent keeps multiple foudres with different blends (as well as a foudre of the final blend), and it's always incredibly educational tasting through the different barrels. The final blend has a classic, sweet bouquet of kirsch, spices, and garrigue, and it's full-bodied, deep, and thrillingly concentrated on the palate. The blend is shifted more toward Mourvèdre due to the tiny quantity of Grenache in the vintage, which makes me think this cuvée might close down shortly after bottling, but it's upfront and incredibly expressive today. 96-99/100 Jeb Dunnuck
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