Outstanding Orange, and tasting notes from Chateauneuf du Pape (updated)

Just added: tasting notes from Clos des Papes and Le Vieux Donjon

Orange. What a lovely city in Vaucluse, France, just outside Chateauneuf du Pape. The last time I was in Orange was in 2003, the year of the canicule, the incredibly hot vintage. I recall more the heat than much of the visits, although I do remember trying the Clos des Papes 2003 (in 2005), and its dry raisin-like finish (not my preference, the 2003 vintage). Copious Roman ruins in Orange include a mightily impressive amphitheater which I viewed at midnight because a new restaurant, La Grotte d’Auguste – exceedingly wine geek friendly – has been open at the foot of the stage since 2 years. Owners Fadil and Ati, of Albanian origin, invited me to scale the steps to the top of the Roman theater, which can seat almost 10,000. The owners of the restaurant are well known in these parts and very friendly. They are good friends with the owners of Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraph, whose great wines are generously featured on their list, which includes multiple vintages of other Rhone notables such as Guigal to various superb Champagnes, such as Krug and Dom Perignon. The are also exceedingly friendly, offering a glass of Roederer after a dinner of lobster salad and scallop on a skewer. Served with decent white Rhone wine.

A nice prelude to two morning visits at Clos des Papes and Le Vieux Donjon in Chateauneuf du Pape:

Tasting at Clos des Papes.

The welcome was as usual wonderful. This was my third visit to Clos des Papes, and Paul Avril told me about the terrible collapse of his room which fell on his cellars after faulty renovation in 2006. He lost 3000 bottles and has been in legal disputes with his insurance and the renovators. He barely escaped when the walls fell. Talk about a tough break. He was happy to have escaped with his life but sad – understandably – to have lost so many bottles because of a poor renovation job. Anyway, the tasting room was very nice, and more modern than the last time I had visited, back in 2005.

We were joined by a couple of New Zealand buyers and covered many topics. The 2003 harvest had finished on 3 October. It was interesting to retry this hot vintage, a Parker darling, but controversial. It tasted better than I thought it would, and Paul assured me that what I was getting as evolved notes would age well, that it would return to fruit in 10 years. Not sure what to think about this, but my overall feeling was that the 2005, which we had also tasted, is on a slower evolutionary track – and I got the same feeling trying both vintages, 2003 and 2005, at Le Vieux Donjon later that morning at the estate.

The Clos des Papes rendezvous was at 9.30 am, 22 July. It was a rather hot day, but overcast. Paul Avril expects to start the 2010 harvest in mid September, which is normal and not as precocious as 2009, he said.  We noted many 2008s ready to ship to four corners of the world, from Taiwan and New Zealand to the US and Germany. About 80% of Clos des Papes is exported, and only 8% to the US. Paul also showed us a chart of different tanks and initial blends of grapes – eight cuves for the 2009 vintage. We also noted a terroir profile with large cobblestones among the clay, underground, ‘so the galets are not just on the surface,’ he said. About 100,000 bottles produced in a normal year. 75,000 for 2009.

Paul Avril showing us a vat chart for the 2009 vintage

His corks cost 45 eurocents. The domain has bought its corks from the same company, near Perpignan, since 1926. Paul also has a nice collection of Leoville Las Cases and he gets two cases every year. He is friends with the owner, lucky bugger! And he trades wine for all sorts of things, from truffles and foie gras to other wines.

We started our tasting with Petit Vin d’Avril, which has been made since 1992, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Marselane (mix of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon), Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. The white is 100% Marsanne.

Petit Vin 2009. A blend of 2/3 2009 vintage and 1/3 2008 and various other back vintages. He uses some new oak here, waiting for the oak to get older for use for the Clos des Papes. This wine showed structure and power, not really a light table wine. Just a hint of new oak, for me at least, with a touch of heat, but there is freshness and fruit. Nicely done.

Clos des Papes 2008. Very fine cherry notes, licorice and charcoal. A smooth palate with verve. A fine vintage. Bought three from the property for about 35 euros each. 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah and the rest various Rhone varieties. Non filtered but fined with egg white. 15.2% alcohol.

Clos des Papes 2009. Representing 95% of the final blend. A bit reduced, but showing darker fruit, blackberry. There is much richness and full body on the palate, with dark chocolate notes. I like the brightness here that gives a fine sense of balance. The wine, with somewhat up front tannins, is not easy to taste at this stage, but it is sure to be very flavorful and rich. I could feel just a bit of the 15.2% alcohol, but it left an overall excellent impression.

Clos des Papes 2005; I understand why Wine Spectator liked this so much,,,

Clos des Papes 2005. Still too young, no doubt, but this was fresher, with strawberry and especially black cherry – kirsch – notes. Much licorice on the palate. Also about 15.2% alcohol, but very well balanced here. I would have loved to buy some bottles but none left for sale. ‘Come back and visit and we’ll drink some,’ he said. Will work on getting an article assignment…

Clos des Papes 2003. I found this one noticeably more evolved. I did not get as much fig and dried fruit as I was expecting, but there it was, with a touch of horse and creeping mushroom. Although, yes, mint and pine aspects came to the fore that made the wine more intriguing than I would have expected. As it sat in glass, I got more used to it.  Will this turn out to be the great wine Paul says it will? I have three bottles and will open one of them in five years to see where it will be then!

Paul Avril Vin de Table Blanc 2009. This one is 100% Marsanne and it had a bit of sweetness but some zest too. Vaguely lemon meringue like. A lovely white to drink with fish, I would think.

Clos des Papes Blanc 2009. This wine has many grapes, including the acidic Bourboulenc and Picpoul (15% each) to lend essential zip, Paul said, to his whites. It showed subtle notes of aniseed and acacia but the palate was firm and fresh. NIcely done!

Clos des Papes Blanc 2004. A bit of wet sock, at first. But it showed better on the palate, with a fresh and smooth feel. Popped and poured in the 15 degree cellar (it is 13 degrees in the winter), it could use 30 minutes in a carafe before service. I liked the overall feel of this white, and it would go well with scallops or sea bass.

Clos des Papes Blanc 2001. Almond and aniseed, with honey, this wine was nicely balanced and fresh on the palate but showing some butter aspects. One can still wait before enjoying this but it has started to enter its sweet mineral phase and it would go very well with lobster. I have one bottle in Washington D.C. …

Tasting six vintages with Claire Michel

At Vieux Donjon with Claire Michel, daughter of owners Marie Jose and Lucien. She had spent some time at Harlan Estate in the US, she said.

I arrived late for our 11.00 am meeting, which I had already postponed from 10.30 because of the Clos des Papes confirmation, but Claire was very gracious and had 6 vintages ready to taste!

14 hectare property. Usually about 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 5% Cinsault and other grapes. No new oak, no special cuvee, like Clos des Papes. Mourvedre is vinified later. Three distinct parts to the vineyard: Large cobblestones and clay in the north, sand in Courthezon and drainy limestone – she said hotter soils – in the south, where much of the Mourvedre is planted. The property did not really come together until 1979. 90% exported. Mainly to the US.

2008. Did not get great press, Claire said. But this is more a classical vintage like 2004 or 2006, she said, and she likes the balance here more than in 2007 or 2003. Bright cherry fruit, with a suave feel on the palate. 14.8% alcohol. Successful.

2004. Wet sock aspect on the nose. More finesse on the palate but nothing too memorable here.

2006. Rather tannic. I can feel a hint of heat, but power, too. Perhaps more concentrated than 2008; certainly more than 2004. About 14.8-15% alcohol. Probably very good, but hard to taste at this stage. Closed.

2007. Hint of reduction on the palate. But what a leaping aroma coming from the glass. Just a hint of wet sock at first? The palate  is juicy and delicious and I drank some of this, no spitting. Flavors of blackberry and dark cherry. The best so far. 15.2% alcohol.

2003. Fig and hazelnut. More evident fig aspects than the Clos des Papes. The palate was marmalade like. Not as much nuance as the Clos des Papes. OK. But easily recognisable as 2003.

2005. Cherry flavors and aromas. Firm and tannic – not giving itself. But very nice. Very promising for the future, indeed. While not as hedonist and as pleasurable now as the 2007, I sense a longer future here, packed with succulence. This is one to seek out. Also no wet sock hints that I got with the 2004, the weakest wine of all. Favorite of all wines tasted.

new label for Vieux Donjon

A very fine 2008!

3 Responses to “Outstanding Orange, and tasting notes from Chateauneuf du Pape (updated)” (Leave a Comment)

  1. Brad Coelho says:

    Great job Panos! Loved the notes on CDP, great to hear you visiting Rhone domaines to supplement your Bordeaux habbit 😉

  2. pkakaviatos says:

    Thank you Brad for the kind words! I have been a bit too negligent in my Châteauneuf du Pape tasting. Paul Avril’s parting words: do not wait another five years to return! And then you and I must get together with some New Yorkers in January 2011 for a shindig, yes? But there is time yet to prepare that…

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