Stirring the lees with james molesworth
Day 1: The New Guy in Town and the Good Old Boys
On my first day back in France's Rhône Valley, I visited Jean-Charles Cazes at Sénéchaux and the Coulons at Beaurenard
Posted: Jun 19, 2012 2:00pm
My flight was on time. My train was on time. And I even figured out the rental car in short order, getting that frustrating "eco" function off to avoid the maddening engine stop at red lights, as well as figuring out where the parking brake was.
So, first things first: a quick lunch at the reopened La Mère Germaine. Now open for about a year, the bar has been taken out to add a few more tables, and the dining room feel spacious and breezy. The back terrace is still the "it" spot on a warm June day. The menu is shorter on choice but the food is better executed. The wine list doesn't have the depth it had under the previous owners (that cellar was bought out when it closed) but it is growing steadily—stacks of newly arrived wines are sitting by the front desk waiting to be put away. Owner André Mazy is busily working the dining room, and it looks like the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape has begun beating again.
There are 13 jars of grapes in total on display at Domaine Beaurenard, each preserving a cluster of one of Châteauneuf's 13 allowed varieties.
Domaine de Beaurenard
It was late in the afternoon, but I wanted to squeeze in another quick stop on my first day. I visited with Daniel and Frédéric Coulon last November, at which time I thought they were sitting on their best vintage since 2001, so I wanted to taste the 2010s here one more time before formally reviewing them. The lineup was just bottled in early spring and yet it showed no signs of bottle shock. And my impressions were confirmed: The 2010 Beaurenards are superb.
The 2010 Rasteau offers the telltale dark fruit profile of the vintage, with pastis, charcoal, blueberry and warm gravel notes. It has impressive range, juicy acidity and a lovely lingering lingonberry note on the finish.
“You taste not only the pulp, but the skin of the fruit. And it's not dry or overripe; it's intense but soft at the same time. That's what sets the '10 apart,” said Daniel.
The 2010 Rasteau Les Argiles Bleues is a step up, as usual, for this older vine selection from bleu clay soils. It's very dark, with licorice snap, blueberry paste, bramble and a hint of Turkish coffee. Intense and grippy, it's also velvety, echoing Daniel's thoughts on the vintage, with a long, alluring finish.
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape delivers saturated blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry fruit offset by a spine of racy charcoal that has really lengthened since I tasted it last fall. Toasted anise ripples through the finish and this wine should be a lynch-pin bottling for Châteauneuf-du-Pape enthusiasts as it will be modestly priced (relatively, for the appellation) and age well for 15 to 20 years.
The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard is a showstopper. Always ambitious aromatically thanks to its dose of new oak, it has soaked up its toast completely now, and offers dark, muscular yet defined blueberry paste, Turkish coffee and currant preserve notes, with ample anise, smoldering spice notes and a terrifically long graphite spine through the finish. It's clearly classic in quality and will rival the 2001, '03 , '05 and '09 vintages, if not eventually surpass them.
Yields here in 2010 were just 1.8 tons per acre, “naturally, not because of selection as in '08,” noted Frédéric. In the decade from 2000 through 2010, there have only been two “high-yield” vintages here, with '00 and '07 both above 2.2 tons per acre, still small in comparison to the world of wine, but high by Châteauneuf standards.
Do not overlook the whites here either. The 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White Boisrenard is gorgeous, with piecrust, macadamia nut, creamed melon and heather notes backed by a sweetened butter finish that glides along beautifully, offset by a hint of bitter almond. It should be among the top white bottlings in 2010.
The Coulons also gave me a quick look at the young 2011s, starting with the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White, which has just been bottled. It starts with a flinty edge, along with very aromatic peach and green fig notes. It's very typical of the appellation's whites, which have become more uniform in style over the past several vintages, favoring the fresher, brighter style as opposed to a more tropical or even slightly oxidized profile.
“The '11s are very expressive,” said Daniel. “Not as dense as '09 or '10 obviously, but very lively. The problem was uneven ripening, with some pink bunches at harvest. A green harvest didn't help—that's too broad a technique and the ripening was uneven from vine to vine. Plus, we normally like to only green harvest on young vines, since old vines are better self regulating. So, you really had to sort the grapes at the winery in '11.”
The 2011 Côtes du Rhône Rosé (just bottled) is a refreshing watermelon- and Campari-filled version, with a light, stony finish that has wonderful cut. There are only 6,000 bottles of this though, down from a more typical yield of 9,000 bottles.
The 2011 Côtes du Rhône (just bottled) offers tangy red currant and loganberry fruit notes, with a lightly dusty finish.
From barrel, a sample of the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape shows good dark kirsch and bramble flavors with a slightly chunky finish that still needs to settle in.
Also from barrel, a sample of the 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Boisrenard, from a parcel planted in 1902, drips with kirsch, anise and toasted spice notes. It's very dark, but feels plush and velvety. A second lot, from vines planted in 1920, shows a redder fruit profile, with cassis and raspberry notes, but noticeably grippier structure as the tannins seem more forceful than in the first sample.
“That's the difference between old vines and young vines,” said Daniel, joking about the two lots.
Always affable and welcoming, this is one of the larger, well-situated estates that is also open to the public via their tasting room. A stop here is de rigeur when in Châteauneuf. And chasing down their 2010s is de rigeur for any Châteauneuf lover.