Drink 2020 - 2026
Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate (Oct 2020)
About this WINE
Chateau la Nerthe
Ch. la Nerthe is a stunning, 500-year-old property that has become one to watch over the past few years. Working organically since 1998, its impressive range of 57 parcels on various soil types and expositions helps to produce wines which are not only a seamless and complete expression of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but also have wonderful complexity. The noticeable care and attention taken in both the vineyards and cellar has, over the past few years, resulted in seriously impressive wines here. This property is, in every way, a worthy rival to the likes of Ch. de Beaucastel.
The 2019 vintage was challenging here, as it was across the Rhône Valley, given the multiple heatwaves in the summer months and the extreme drought between May and September. But these tricky conditions have revealed the true magic of vines which are so perfectly adapted to manage the majority of nature’s whims; 2019 ended up becoming an exceptional vintage here.
Key to its success this year is the remarkable terroir at Ch. la Nerthe. The mix of rocky, clay and sandy soils, as well as the natural springs at the property, bring a wonderful freshness and minerality to the wines. The very special top white cuvée, Clos de Beauvenir, comes from a single, walled plot – an old castle garden, right in front of the historic château.
Côtes du Rhône Villages
A clear step up from basic Côtes du Rhône in terms of both quality and price, the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation covers an area of 5,700 hectares entirely within the Southern Rhône. About 15 percent of the size of its generic counterpart, it offers mostly excellent, very good value wines from all three hues that are more serious, concentrated and interesting.
Red wines dominate, made up of a minimum 50 percent Grenache, at least 20 percent Syrah and Mourvèdre, and no more than 20 percent from 10 other named varieties. Out of 95 communes that are eligible to use the Villages name, the finest 18 of them have the right to append their village name, as long as the wine is exclusively from that commune. The classification is quite fluid though, with Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Beaumes de Venise and Vinsobres and Rasteau having been upgraded to AOC status, and other villages like Massif d’Uchaux and Plan de Dieu being added.
Best enjoyed from two to 10 years of age, the best wines probably come from Cairanne and Sablet, but all are well worth a look. The whites are rapidly improving and are delicious in their first three years. Rosé wines are made from the same cépage as the reds and are usually very good.
Recommended Producers: Chapoton, Domaine Cros de la Mûre, La Soumade
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.