2018 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Domaine des Sénéchaux, Rhône
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Domaine des Senechaux
Domaine des Sénéchaux is an excellent example of how a large concern – in this case the Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux – should manage its purchase by investing as and where necessary. They have done this without forsaking the historical essence of the domaine, personified by longstanding régisseur Bernard Tranchecoste. Domaine des Sénéchaux dates from the 14th century, making it one of the oldest wineries of the region. It spans 26 hectares across Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 23 of which are planted with red varieties, the remainder white. Their main holdings are on the south-westerly slopes of the Bois Sénéchaux, just to the east of the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here, some of their Grenache vines are as old as 90 years old. Production remains very traditional, and they retain a simple two-wine offering. Largely, grapes are de-stalked and new oak is avoided in favour of concrete, foudres and second-use Bordeaux (Lynch Bages) barrels.
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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Made with 58% Grenache Noir, 23% Syrah, and 19% Mourvèdre, this is sumptuously deep in colour and infused with a heady bouquet of violets and cassis. The palate is ripe and filled with red and black cherries, raspberries and damsons, with a distinguishable underlayer of liquorice, garrigue, and ground pepper. There is a hint of wood and vanilla, thanks to the second-use barrels used during maturation, yet it doesn’t dominate. This is a powerful and complex wine with ample flavours and firm, velvety tannins, that will likely benefit from a couple of years in bottle before fully expressing itself. Drink 2022-2040.
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