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Philosophie

The New York Times rubrique Dining & Wine, 7 décembre 2009

Châteauneuf That’s Easy on the Jam

Article d'Eric Asimov sur sa dégustation de plusieurs Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge 2007.
Le Domaine Monpertuis de Paul Jeune remporte le prix de "Meilleur Châteauneuf-du Pape rouge 2007" ainsi que le prix du "Meilleur rapport qualité prix en Châteauneuf du Pape rouge 2007" avec leur cuvée "Classique" distribué aux Etats-Unis par Neal Rosenthal (Rosenthal Wine Merchant) au prix de 45$ la bouteille de 75cl.

Contenu de l'article :

NOTHING about Châteauneuf-du-Pape is sleek or polished. It’s a rough-and-tumble wine, sometimes ungainly and fierce, but just as often warm, open, generous and full of pleasure.
It can be intense and complex — it’s not at all simple. Yet it sometimes can be as friendly as a big good-natured dog. Occasionally, it’s too friendly.

I was thinking about the overbearing side of Châteauneuf recently after the wine panel had completed a tasting of 20 bottles from the 2007 vintage. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by two guests, Vanessa Treviño Boyd, sommelier at Adour, and David Gordon, wine director at Tribeca Grill, which offers what is most likely the widest selection of Châteauneuf in New York.

We found some wines we liked very much, yet on the whole the 2007s left me unexcited. Stylistically, they presented Châteauneuf’s too-friendly side. Châteauneuf is always a big wine, but these wines were huge — full of lush, opulent fruit with powerful, jammy flavors.

If you like fruit-bomb wines, you will love the ’07 Châteauneufs.

Personally, I prefer more focused and angular Châteauneufs, like the 2004s, which balance spicy fruit flavors with earthiness, minerality and whiffs of flowers and herbs. Even Châteauneufs that I’ve had from 2003, the heat-wave year in Europe, managed to balance concentrated fruit flavors with the sort of earthy, herbal, leather and tobacco character that I have always enjoyed in Châteauneuf. These came down resoundingly on the side of fruit.

But to each his own. Robert M. Parker Jr., a Châteauneuf lover, has called 2007 “a truly historic and profoundly great vintage.” I was not alone in my puzzlement about the 2007s.

“I’ve never had a vintage like this, so lacking in structure and tannins, and with so much ripe fruit at the expense of minerality and earthiness,” David said. “People will be happy because they are so approachable.”

Approachable is the word. As saturated with soft, sweet fruit flavors as these wines are, they are balanced and will be immediately enjoyable for people who like these styles of wines. Will they age? Good question.

Vanessa feared that their lack of apparent structure would keep them from aging, but David believed that their balance would allow them to age well.

I think I would have to side with David on this one — I believe they will age, but I don’t know how they will evolve. Will they always be dominated by sweet fruit, or will they shed the baby fat to reveal a more complex set of flavors?

In selecting the wines for our blind tasting, we set a cap of $100 a bottle. Some top producers have not yet released their ’07s, while others are in great demand because of the rave reviews the vintage has received. Nonetheless, I think we got a good cross section of the vintage.

Given my feelings about the vintage, I will say that some of the wines really do sing. We liked our No. 1 wine, the Monpertuis Cuvée Classique, for its harmonious blend of powerful fruit flavors and distinct minerality. The Monpertuis was also our best value at $45.

Our No. 3 wine, the Ramond Usseglio Cuvée Girard, offered a similar balance, although its fruit was softer and less taut than the Monpertuis.

Our No. 2 wine, the Domaine de la Janasse Cuvée Chaupin, was a completely different sort of wine, with plenty of powerfully ripe, lush fruit. Yet its balance was impeccable.

The last four wines among our top 10 were also hugely fruity, though they lacked the focus and structure of the Janasse. The Chante-Perdrix and the Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange at least had a touch of earthiness to them. Not so for the Château Fortia and the Domaine de Cristia — good wines but sweeter and more monolithic.

In between, we found two wines that showed jammy fruit, but also intriguingly spicy flavors that I found appealing. These were the No. 4 Bosquet des Papes and the No. 5 Vieux Donjon.

Our No. 6 wine, the Télégramme from Brunier, is the second wine of Vieux Télégraphe. It’s a pretty wine with vivid fruit but not a lot of complexity.

THIS unusual vintage had me recalling my first encounters with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I was fairly new to wine back in the mid-1980s — past my graduate school days of scouring the cheapest corners of the wine shop but not so free with my dollars that I didn’t regard buying a bottle of Châteauneuf as something of a splurge.

I still remember holding the heavy, slope-shouldered bottle, embossed with the papal coat of arms. Like the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or New Castle of the Pope, the coat is a fanciful reminder that the papal court was in Avignon in the 14th century.

In some ways, the coats of arms, and the labels with their ornate fonts and renderings of seals, castles and popes, mark Châteauneuf as hopelessly out of date. Critics nowadays might sneer at Châteauneuf as a sign of how the French do not understand the need for modern marketing techniques in a global economy.

Yet back then, and even today, I revel in the tradition represented by that bottle, and I’ll never forget those first big, warm, generous sips, and those spicy flavors, full of fruit, flowers and especially Provençal herbs. I imagined I would be a Châteauneuf drinker for life.

I still love Châteauneuf, though I don’t drink it all that often. When I think of some of the best bottles I’ve had — the fresh purity of Château Rayas; the almost otherworldly beauty and complexity of Henri Bonneau; the meat, leather and what’s politely referred to as “barnyard” aromas in Beaucastel — I know I’ll be back for more.

But maybe not so much with the 2007s. A lot of other good vintages are out there, like the 2004s and the lighter, more refined 2006s. They are still in stores, and they are cheaper than the ’07s. It’s a question of taste, of course, but for me at least, they offer more pleasure and better value.

Eric Asimov

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