Jeb Dunnuck, jebdunnuck.com
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.
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.