2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Impériale, Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils, Rhône
About this WINE
Domaine Raymond Usseglio
This third-generation family domaine, of Italian origin, is today run by Raymond’s son, Stéphane Usseglio. The estate counts 24-hectares in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, all of which have been managed biodynamically since 2011. Their vineyards are divided equally between the galet-strewn parcels around Orange, the sandy soils of Courthézon and the alluvial, clay soils of the Crau plateau and the village of Bédarrides. Stéphane continues to innovate, using small, new oak barrels alongside the traditional foudres, as well as experimenting with concrete and terracotta amphorae of varying shapes and sizes. These winemaking techniques enhance the characteristics of each grape variety, carefully highlighting the particularities of each.
Stéphane’s 2021 wines are a great success, albeit 20-25% down in volume against their average yield. The wines show their trademark power and structure; but as we’ve seen with other producers, they also have lower levels of alcohol and higher acidity than the last two vintages. While this freshness makes them more approachable in youth than in some years, their structure will ensure they are nonetheless worthy of cellar ageing. They are wines to return to throughout their ageing process.
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 90% from low-yielding, 100-year-old Grenache vines, the nose is dominated by sweet raspberries, wild strawberries, and lifted by an enticing note of violets. The palate is rich and fruit-driven, with layers of crunchy redcurrants and blackcurrants contained within a bed of silky but firm tannins. Aged in concrete, there is a lovely clarity to the fruit, and sufficient concentration derived from the small berries to suggest this will age elegantly. Drink 2023 to 2040.
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