This is classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with rich red-berry fruit characters overlaid with hints of aniseed, white pepper and provençal herbs. Smooth and mouthfilling, but with some structure, this would be ideal with cold-cuts and roasted meats.
A confident wind is blowing through the Rhône valley; Syrah, Grenache and Viognier are the grapes of the moment, and the Mediterranean diet has been adopted around the world as the mark of a good life, further energising sales of Rhône wines. From Côte-Rôtie through to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, there is a sense of optimism and forward motion.
While united by the presence of the river, the two halves of the region couldn’t be more different. The northern Rhône consists of a narrow band of vineyards that follow the course of the river as it heads south. The vineyards are dramatically steep in parts, and the climate is continental, similar to that of the southern extremes of Burgundy. In terms of the wines produced, Syrah reigns supreme as the only red varietal, while white wines invariably consist of a proportion of both Marsanne and Roussanne.
Other than the river, the south shares very little with the north. Flatter and much more Mediterranean in climate, it is Grenache that features most heavily for red wine production, supported mainly by Syrah and Mourvèdre. White wine production is equally as varied; Grenache Blanc, Bourbelenc, Clairette, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are all found here. With such a wide base of varieties, styles and wines can and do vary dramatically.
2006 - Rhône
When given the opportunity to taste the young 2006 châteauneuf-du-papes, it became clear that this vintage would represent another success for this region, albeit the wines seem far more accessible at this stage than their 2005 counterparts. Across the vast expanse of vineyard that is
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, growers seemed quietly content with what they had achieved and rightly so – this is a remarkably appealing, harmonious vintage. The vintage is a fascinating one from a meteorological perspective; after a cold winter, spring was relatively late, rainy yet crucially free from frost. The move in to summer could hardly have delivered a greater contrast; remarkably hot to the extent that growers wondered if a replica of the dramatic and relentless temperatures of 2003 was in the offing. Fortunately the vines did not undergo anything like the water-stress of that vintage, on account of a timely rainstorm in mid July and welcome showers as we entered August. Indeed, when August arrived temperatures calmed, the days were cool serving to delay maturity and noticeably cooler night-time temperatures aided aroma retention in the berries. A fine September allowed the ripening period to continue unfettered, delivering a healthy ripe crop. As a consequence the wines are characterised by bright, vivid fruit and comparatively gentle acidity, which means that they flatter even when tasted from barrel. What sets them apart is the aromatic freshness that the month of August served to create. The balance that is struck is remarkable, and that kind of harmony will see the best of the vintage evolve in the bottle for the best part of ten to 15 years. At Château de Beaucastel, they allude to the 1988 vintage, which continues to drink well even today, after almost 20 years. There is an outside chance that the vintage may pass under the radar for some on account of its lightness of touch, which would prove a shame as the enjoyment will be there to be had at every stage of development; a rewarding contrast to the compact, tightly-knit and intensely structured 2005s.
A late ripening grape which can achieve high alcohol levels, Grenache is the mainstay of the southern Rhône, contributing more than half of a typical blend, and up to 100% in the wines of Gigondas. Unless picked at low yields, from old vines, it can lack concentration so that it is often mixed with the deep-pigmented Syrah or the more tannic Mourvèdre. The sweet-tasting, raspberry-scented Grenache provides the heart of the blend in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and is also used extensively in the wines of Provence and in the Languedoc. Known as Garnacha in Spain. The variety offers a spicy, aromatic profile that has proved increasingly popular: bush-trained, old-vine Grenache today has a cult following amongst Australian producers.
Under the synonym Garnacha, this variety is found in numerous northern Spanish wines, where its sweet, raspberry fruit notes and gentle tannins contribute warmth to the blend. It is an important component in many a rioja, coming from the warm, Baja district, providing an earthy richness. Known in France as Grenache.
One of France's noble red grape varieties, responsible for some of the Rhône Valley's best wines and a component in many others. A small-berried, thick-skinned grape which needs the warmth of the Midi sun to ripen fully, Syrah produces deep coloured, perfumed wines with refined tannins that permit long ageing. Notes of violets can be found in the best northern Rhône wines, together with dark berry fruits and frequently coal tar. With age secondary aromas suggest leather and game. Its depth and structure are frequently exploited to beef up the softer Grenache in southern Rhône and Languedoc blends.
Synonymous with Syrah, Shiraz has become hugely influential in Australia. Once regarded merely as a workhorse, the quality of old-vine productions has changed perceptions forever, and now it is Australia's most planted quality red variety. The 'Oz' version is richer and more muscular than its Rhône cousin, frequently attaining alcohol levels in excess of 15%. In the Barossa, the best Shiraz are fruit-laden and brimming with spice and toast with a rich, creamy palate. In South Africa, Chile and New Zealand too the variety has shown significant potential to cause excitement.
A variety with a growing number of references. The principal component of the elegant, long-living wines of Bandol in Provence, Mourvèdre has a growing following in the south of the Rhône where it provides backbone in several serious châteauneuf-du-pape blends, a tannic counterpoint to the softer Grenache. And, as Monastrell, it is the second most planted red grape in Spain, enjoying a strong reputation in the wines of Peñedes and Jumilla. Also grown in Australia where it is known as Mataro. It offers a wild, gamey taste, with a blackberry overtone in youth.
Perhaps most known for being a parent of the South African Pinotage (with Pinot Noir), it is also cultivated widely throughout Southern France, Italy and, due to its drought-tolerance, in Lebanon and South Africa. With its light skin and a soft perfume, Cinsault is particularly well suited to making delicate rosés. On the palate, this variety is typified by notes of blue fruits, nuts and spices and is frequently used to soften or to add a touch of delicate fruit to the blends of the Rhône and of Minervois and Corbières.