Nicos travels to the sunny Southern Rhone - July 2005
Article and photos © Nicos Neocleous

Nicos Neocleous
Nicos Neocleous stands in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape
"But I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Immortal words from a famous U2 song that can strike deep into some people's imagination and can be taken to mean so much at different levels of life. There is nothing wrong with searching, providing you know what it is you are looking for. Let me ask you a question - how do you search for something you don't yet know exists? Is there a feeling that there must be more to a person or place than meets the eye, or even that there maybe, just maybe, you'll meet someone else who may become close to you for years to come? Let me put a similar question to you specifically relating to wine. Do you know what characteristics you want to taste in a great wine, or will they become obvious once you taste it?

I found myself asking these questions while pondering my choice of a holiday destination earlier this year. I had the luxury of visiting anywhere for a week, perhaps wine-related. My ultimate decision was partially influenced by my desire to dig a little deeper into the Southern Rhone. My efforts on the wine side would be centered around the rustically beautifully town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Joining me would be my close friend Alexis Tsielepis, who flew in from Cyprus to join me in London, and his brother Kyriaco. After the detailed planning stage had been sorted out, we made the decision to drive from London to Orange, our base for the trip.

Saturday 2 July 2005

Kyriaco Tsielepis
Kyriaco Tsielepis enjoys a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Leaving at 4.30am on Saturday 2 July, we drove to Folkestone to catch the Eurotunnel train to Calais. From then on, several hours of reasonable swift driving, with stops along the way, meant that we arrived at the Hotel Arene in the pretty town of Orange around 7.00pm. Understandably, we felt hungry so we headed to the well known restaurant La Mere Germaine, right in the centre of the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I chose the 'Menu des Consuls,' which consisted of these tasty dishes:

We drank the following wines with dinner.

  1. 2001 Chateau Fortia rouge - Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    Decanted 30 minutes ahead of time. Dark red, with a distinctive nose of wild herb, ripe fresh cherries and sweet plums. Pure Chateauneuf-du-Pape in a glass! Perfectly ripe fruit, soft tannins in the background, fine acidity, ready to drink. Not complex but enjoyable nevertheless. 87/100.
  2. 1994 Henri Bonneau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    Decanted 30 minutes ahead of time. Slightly dull strawberry red, browning at the rim. Some volatile acidity, alcohol, hints of cherry kirsch and dry walnuts and aniseed. Velvet mouthfeel, noticeable thread of acidity and a somewhat dilute taste to it with dry tannins on the finish. This wine did not improve over the course of the meal. Disappointing and not to my taste. At best, 83/100.

The Opera House in Orange
The Opera House in Orange
A view of the Roman Amphitheatre in Orange
A view of the Roman Amphitheatre in Orange

My modest dessert at dinner
Sunday 3 July 2005

After a light breakfast, we spent a couple of hours strolling around the town of Orange. This included the famous Roman Amphitheatre, which is the best preserved example in Europe.

Lunch beckoned, so we headed to one of the best restaurants in this part of the world. La Beaugraviere situated in the town of Mondragon was our destination. This restaurant has very fine cuisine, as well as surely one of the best Rhone wine lists in the world. I started with one of my favourite dishes, the Terrine de Lapin (rabbit terrine). I moved swiftly onto the black truffle risotto which was divine. I enjoyed a simple selection of cheeses to round off the meal.

We had originally planned to try a modest bottle of red wine, which was the 1998 Clape Cornas. However, after we had offered a glass of this fine wine to a gentleman on a neighbouring table, he began to send glasses of wine for us to try. I had to pinch myself when he told me what was in the various glasses.

  1. 1998 Clape Cornas (N.Rhone)
    Decanted 30 minutes ahead of time. Dark red, with a deep and slightly rustic nose of cooked beef, dry cherries and raspberries. Ripe tannins evident throughout the mouthfeel. Powerful, muscular, still young but I enjoyed it. Went well with the main course. Ideally this wine needs at least another 5 years bottle age. 91/100.

    Wines that I tried by the glass during the meal

  2. 1955 Rayas blanc - Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    Bright gold, with a perfumed nose of white flowers, juniper berries and a ripe citrus freshness. An explosion of flavours on the palate! Tangerine and apricot liquor, with an ultra fine thread of acidity. Seamless, great concentration, the length is unstoppable. Slightly sweet, but it finishes dry. One of the best white wines I have ever tasted. 99/100.
  3. 1981 Chave - Hermitage blanc
    Light gold, with a sweet pineapple and delicate aniseed nose. Fine citrus mouthfeel, concentrated, medium bodied, very fine length, an excellent wine. 91/100.
  4. 1978 Guigal - La Landonne - Cote Rotie
    Dark red, with liquid ripe strawberries, hints of fine ground coffee and walnuts. Seamless, effortless balance of mature red fruits, slightly dry tannins, hint of liquid nuts as well. A very long length, fully mature. 92/100.
  5. 1945 W.H.Avril - Chateauneuf-du-Pape red
    Poured straight from the bottle, light terracotta with a hint of red in the body. Noticeable wafts of volatile acidity lift the nose. Cooked red plums and a hint of sweet jam. On the palate, it is dried out with noticeable acidity. A mostly oxidized wine but there is still a little life left in it. This 60 year old wine tried to provide a little pleasurable length and its fragile charms brought a smile to my face. 86/100.
  6. 1947 Delas - Chateauneuf-du-Pape (S.Rhone, France)
    Pale brown with a tinge of light red in the body. Plenty of volatile acidity, cooked aubergine and forest floor. Silky, slightly hard acidity and the fruit had mostly dried out. I probably would have drunk this 20-30 years earlier. Still, it did provide some pleasure and it is always a treat to try a wine that is nearly 6 decades old! 86/100.

Terrine de Lapin starter
Terrine de Lapin starter
Black truffle risotto
Black truffle risotto

Clos des Papes

Driving back from lunch, we knew we had a 'tough' afternoon ahead of us. Well, as tough as a tour and tasting at Clos des Papes could ever be! We had the distinct pleasure of being toured around the Domaine by Paul-Vincent Avril himself, the winemaker/owner. I have met Vincent on a previous occasion and found him to be a friendly, thoughtful host with firm beliefs as to the style of wine he should make. Firstly, he believes that he should only make one red and one white cuvee of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. He also gave us some insights in the Clos des Papes Domaine, including the following information:

I was looking forward to trying a few wines and we were not disappointed. It was interesting to hear Paul-Vincent talk about the different stages of evolution of his wines. For the whites, there was the young, fruit-filled stage, moving to the more mineral-laden life and finishing with the mature interesting older developments (beeswax on the nose, etc).

Paul-Vincent Avril
Paul-Vincent Avril talks about Clos des Papes
  1. 2003 Clos des Papes rouge
    Weighing in at 15.3% alcohol, with yields of 24 hl/hectare. Dark red, the nose is an explosion of cherry kirsch and some fresh wild herb. Each sip is wonderful and I wrote my notes excitedly. Seamless, powerful, an injection of liquid cherries onto my tongue. Waves and waves of powerful yet balanced red fruits. Finish goes on for minutes. Slightly spicy red liquorice. Very ripe and soft tannins that are almost submerged by the cherry fruit, but kept fresh by the good acidity. Outstanding! This is one of the top wines of the challenging 2003 vintage. 97+/100.
  2. 2000 Clos des Papes rouge
    Dark red, the nose gave off a waft of dark earth and not much else. The tannins are dry and obtrusive, and the length is persistent. There is no fruit on the palate, this wine has shut down hard. Revisit in 5+ years.
  3. 2003 Clos des Papes blanc
    Light yellow, with honeysuckle, white flowers and a hint of tropical fruit as well. Good acidity, fresh, a hint of alcohol on the palate. Decent length. 88/100.
  4. 2000 Clos des Papes blanc
    Bold yellow, with aniseed, alcohol and minerals tickling my nostrils. Good balance of citrus and acidity, lean, clean length. 89/100.

Old poster
An old poster at Clos des Papes
Domaine du Pegau

Although it was Sunday afternoon, we still had a packed day ahead of us! We were fortunate enough to have been invited by the Feraud family to a tasting of their recent vintages. Both the energetic Paul Feraud and his charming and intelligent daughter Laurence took us through the bottles and barrel/tank samples with passion, humour and professionalism. Some of the samples were not easy to evaluate, given their stage of the winemaking process. Still, it provided a glorious glimpse into the future potential of their wines. I very much look forward to trying the wines once they are bottled.

  1. 2003 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - blanc
    Made from a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc, 20% Clairette, 10% Roussanne and 10% Bourboulenc. Light yellow, white flowers, hint of banana. Rounded, lovely balanced acidity, good length. 88/100.
  2. 2004 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Reserve - tank sample
    Opaque purple, an explosion of black fruits and a little herb as well. Tons of fruit submerge the fine yet muscular tannins and lead to a long length.
  3. 2004 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Cuvee Laurence - tank sample
    Almost black in colour, pure black cherry nose with a hint of herb. Huge concentration of black fruits, pure and showing a very long finish. Quite outstanding.
  4. 2003 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Reserve - barrel sample
    The malolactic fermentation was going on when we tried this. Opaque purple, slightly carbonated liquid black fruit on the nose and palate. Seamless, destined to make an excellent wine.
  5. 2003 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape -Da Capo - barrel sample
    Opaque purple, lots of black plum fruit going on and with a very ripe Grenache fruit context there as well. The palate is pure heaven for me. Very ripe but not overripe for my palate. I think that 'Port-like' is a phrase that can be taken positively or negatively by wine drinkers. In this context, it is a positive one, for the huge mouthfeel is packed with wave after wave of sweet black fruit. I could easily have taken a bottle of this and drunk it with dinner later that evening. I am really looking forward to revisiting this character-full wine once it has been bottled. Simply stunning!

Paul Feraud
Paul Feraud takes us through some tank samples
Dinner at Laurence Feraud's house

After the tasting, we were lucky enough to be invited to a barbecue at Laurence Feraud's house. It was a hugely fun event and we partied into the early hours of the morning. The various dishes and cooked meats were sensationally tasty, and included several Provencal specialties. These were the wines that we drank on that warm July evening.

  1. 2001 J.M Gobillard & Fils - Cuvee Prestige (Champagne, France)
    Light yellow, with a delicate lemon nose. Fresh citrus, the clean refreshing taste showed a decent length and started the party in the right frame of mind. 86/100.
  2. 1996 Clos des Papes - Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc (S.Rhone, France)
    From magnum, pale yellow, with hints of nougat and honey on the nose. A rounded mouthfeel, fine thread of citrus and a good length. 88/100.

    We then drank two white Sancerre's that I brought along. I did not take any tasting notes on these fine wines. They were the 2002 Gerard Boulay (Clos de Beaujeu) and the 2004 Domaine Vacheron.

  3. 2001 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Laurence (S.Rhone, France)
    Poured from jeroboam, it showed a deep red. Dark red fruits waft from the glass followed by a hint of walnut and old oak. Powerful, spicy and with waves of fruit supported by ripe tannins that lead to a very long finish. This outstanding wine was still young but I just kept drinking it with immense pleasure. One glass was not enough for me and fortunately, due to the size of the bottle, I was able to revisit it a number of times. For me, easily the wine of the night. 95/100.
  4. 1995 M.Chapoutier - La Mordoree - Cote-Rotie (N.Rhone, France)
    From magnum. Deep red, with hints of dark fruit, green olive and old oak on the nose. Lean, hard, angular, totally shut down on the palate. If you have one of these, leave it alone for at least 5 years. Not rated.
  5. 1993 Clos des Papes - Chateauneuf-du-Pape rouge (S.Rhone, France)
    From magnum, a deep red optic. Mature red fruits and herbs on the nose. A silky medium bodied mouthfeel, showing good length and enough interest, this wine is ready to drink. 88/100.
  6. 1985 Domaine du Pegau - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Cuvee Laurence (S.Rhone, France)
    This was labeled as Cuvee Laurence (their label at the time for Pegau Reserve sold at their wine store in Chateauneuf-du-Pape), but in reality this is the Cuvee Reserve. Poured straight from a 75cl bottle, this was a deep burgundy red. I sniffed complex mature red fruits and red liquorice. Seamless and with a bold thread of acidity, the rustic and four-square palate feel showed a long seamless length. Fully mature and drinking well now. 90/100.
  7. 1964 Nederburg Private Reserve port (S.Africa)
    This port was generously opened and served blind to me by Laurence Feraud, who opened it after I told her I was a big fan of Port. I guessed Portugal, and an age range of between 1955 & 1963. I never guessed S.Africa, though I suppose the sweetness on the palate should have given me an idea that it was possibly non-Portuguese. I thought it might have been a Portuguese producer, rather than an English Port house. In my defence, this is the first S.African tawny port-style wine I have ever tried. Made from 100% Syrah grapes, this rare wine is not commercially available. It was bottled in 1984 (having spent 18 years in oak barrels), each bottle is individually numbered and sealed with a wax coat. Poured straight from the bottle, the light brown body showed a terracotta rim. Nuances of marmalade on the nose, combined with an almost ripe Madeira-like character and plenty of roasted nuts. Semi-sweet, powerful, huge palate presence, wave after wave of dried fruits like apricots and peaches. Simply stunning, fully mature, and I enjoyed it immensely. 94/100.

Nicos at Pegau
Nicos Neocleous stands in the Domaine du Pegau vineyard at La Crau in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Monday 4 July 2005

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils

We had a number of appointments lined up and before we reached any of them, we bumped into my good friend Vincent Le Flohic. A fellow lover of Rhone wines, he was in the area and we linked up to taste a few wines together. Our first stop was this particular Domaine. They made on average 70,000 bottles of wine per year. An interesting tasting followed.

  1. 2004 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils - Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc
    Pale yellow, with ripe citrus and honeysuckle aromas. Intense lemon, good acidity and a decent length. Some fizzy sherbet texture and a spicy mid palate. 87+/100.
  2. 2000 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils - Chateauneuf-du-Pape rouge
    Deep red, with hints of saddle leather and dark chocolate. A soft mouthfeel leads to drying tannins, but the length is good. There is fine acidity to ensure further ageing, and I estimate this wine needs to age for a further 3 years. 89/100.
  3. 2001 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils - Chateauneuf-du-Pape rouge
    Dark red, with notes of wet earth, leather, cooked beef and an animalistic streak. A couple of sips reveal waves of concentrated red fruits and bold acidity. The long length is encouraging though the slightly alcoholic finish was a minor distraction. Leave in the cellar for a few more years. 90/100.
  4. 2003 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils - Chateauneuf-du-Pape rouge
    Bright red, with an explosion of sweet red fruit and hints of aromatic wild herb. Sweet red fruit are initially to the fore. There are plenty of ripe but still drying tannins with good acidity. The long tannic length suggests age worthiness but will the tannins soften before the fruit fades away? I am not sure, but I also found a hint of alcohol on the palate as well. 89/100.
  5. 2004 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - barrel sample of Mon Aieu
    This was a barrel sample of one of the components of the Mon Aieu. This sample was 100% old vine Grenache. Bright red, with sweet red fruits jumping out of the glass. The red fruits currently sit behind the silky tannins. Good acidity, this wine is excellently balanced and bodes well for the future.

Domaine du Caillou

Domaine du Caillou
Tasting barrel samples at Domaine du Caillou. From left to right: Bruno Gaspard and Alexis Tsielepis
Our next appointment was with Bruno Gaspard, the winemaker at Domaine du Caillou. A youthful, intelligent man, he graciously took time out of his busy schedule to give us an excellent extended tasting session and tour of the cellars. This tasting was, for me, one of the highlights of the whole trip. The 'Le Clos du Caillou' labeled wines are the Cotes du Rhone wines for the estate. I found the 2004 barrel samples in particular from this estate to be quite impressive.

  1. 2004 Le Clos du Caillou - Bouquet des Garrigues - blanc
    A blend of 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Roussanne, 20% Viognier and 20% pink Clairette. Vinified mostly in tank. Pale yellow, with a very fresh nose that reminds me of pink grapefruits and pomegranates. A lovely concentration, well balanced, plenty of citrus and good fresh acidity. 88/100.
  2. 2003 Domaine du Caillou - Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc
    Aged 100% in barrels. One-third are one year old, one-third are two years old and one-third are from older barrels. A blend of 80% Grenache Blanc and 20% Clairette. Bright yellow, with aniseed and pine gum on the nose. A good mouthfeel, rounded, semi-fresh but a little blast of alcohol on the finish. Drinking now. 87/100.
  3. 2004 Le Clos du Caillou - Rose
    A blend of 40% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 20% Mouvedre and 20% Counoise. Weighing in at 14% alcohol, this is a very deep pink optic. Light raspberry fruit, strawberry bubblegum floats out of the glass. Medium bodied, good mid-palate staying power and a moderately dry finish. Very nice. 86/100.
  4. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou - rouge
    A dark strawberry red, with a strong church incense smell combined with wild herbs. Rounded mouthfeel, good simple length and a long dry finish. 87/100.
  5. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou - Bouquet des Garrigues - rouge
    Dark red, with spice, pepper and delicate red fruits in the glass. Slighter sweeter and more full bodied than the basic 2003 Cotes du Rhone. The dry tannins appear to be a tad green. The issue here is how long do the tannins need to soften and will they be in balance with the fruit. At present, 86/100.
  6. 2003 Domaine du Caillou - Chateauneuf-du-Pape red
    A blend of 90% Grenache plus a mixture of Syrah, Mouvedre and other varieties. Light red, with sweet Grenache fruit to the fore and plenty of wild herb, with also a hint of wooden foudre. Spicy on the palate, with several fruit driven waves leading to ultra dry tannins that don't go away. A dry finish that distracts my attention and I am not sure how long they will take to come into balance, if at all. 87/100.
  7. 2003 Domaine du Caillou - Les Quartz
    A blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Dark red, with black cherry fruit and black liquorice jumping out of the glass. Soft and silky, the balance on this wine is excellent. The dark fruit nearly totally submerge the ripe tannins and lead to the long length. A good wine, but not quite in the class of the stunning 2001. 91/100.
  8. 2004 Le Clos du Caillou - rouge - barrel sample
    A blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Counoise. Dark red, with pure red fruits crawling out of the glass. A hint of spice is met with waves of red fruit. The bright impressive keeps it fresh and I find this supposedly 'basic' wine quite good!
  9. 2004 Le Clos du Caillou - Bouquet des Garrigues - rouge - barrel sample
    This is made up of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Showing a deep purple optic, pure black fruits and a hint of nougat waft from the glass. A little green pepper on the palate, followed by a long concentrated length. This is an excellent wine and I look forward to trying it once it is bottled.
  10. 2004 Le Clos du Caillou - Reserve - rouge - barrel sample
    Opaque purple, with pure black fruit (especially blackberries) and a hint of caramel as well. Liquid silk, concentrated, balanced, stunning. One of the best Cotes du Rhone barrel samples I have ever tried.
  11. 2004 Domaine du Caillou - Chateauneuf-du-Pape red - tank sample
    This sample was a mix of 95% Grenache and others, including Mouvedre. Very dark red, with pure red fruit on the nose. The palate shows power and waves of pleasurable red fruit. The ripe tannins are well balanced, the fresh acidity keeps it clean and the length is suitably long.
  12. 2004 Domaine du Caillou - Les Quartz - barrel sample
    Dark red, with black cherries and a hint of herb that float from the glass. Pure red cherries coat my grateful tongue, with the ripe tannins mostly hidden by the fruit. An outstanding wine, with excellent balance that bodes well for the future.
  13. 2004 Domaine du Caillou - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Reserve - barrel sample
    A blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Mouvedre and 10% Syrah. Dark plum red, with a pure red cherry liquor nose that is very inviting. The wine starts gently on the palate, then changes rapidly through the gears to reach a rush of concentrated fruit. A little less ripe than the incredible 2001 Reserve, but the balance here is exceptional. I can't wait to try this once it has been bottled.
  14. 2001 Domaine du Caillou - Les Quartz
    I had been fortunate to purchase a few bottles of this wine on release and I asked Bruno how he thought it was doing. Without any hesitation, he disappeared for a few moments, returning with a fresh bottle to open for us to try. An extremely gracious gesture and one that I appreciated. Dark red, with ripe cherries and a hint of spice on the nose. Even with plenty of swirling, this did not reveal any of its former charms. It did show a very long length and some dry tannins but that was about all. This wine was about as closed as the external hatch on a deep sea submarine while it is underwater. I won't be touching my bottles for a while.

Domaine Charvin

Laurent Charvin
From left to right: Laurent Charvin shares a joke with Alexis Tsielepis
We were fortunate to have been able to visit Laurent Charvin. He is always busy either working, thinking or both. I always enjoy meeting up with him, as he makes me laugh, think, taste, question, and think again. Laurent's first vintage was in 1990 and since then he has refined his winemaking skills and philosophy. Laurent's wines have been described as 'Burgundian' in the past by myself and other wine drinking friends. It is interesting to think of a wine from the Southern Rhone in these terms, but arguably you could question why a wine made in Burgundy should taste like Laurent's Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is a matter of perspective, but one thing is clear in my mind. Laurent Charvin makes wine that I thoroughly enjoy drinking and none of his bottlings have ever disappointed me.

We were fortunate to taste several tank samples, including the hypothetical blend for the 2004 Chateauneuf-du-Pape red and these were illuminating.

  1. 2004 Domaine Charvin - Cotes du Rhone
    This was made from a blend of 85% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 5% Carignan. Deep red, with plenty of sweet aromatic red fruit on the nose. Plenty of pure Grenache, excellent structure and a fine thread of acidity. Dry but ripe tannic structure and a long length. 88/100.
  2. 2003 Domaine Charvin - Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    Bottled two weeks earlier. Dark red, with a balanced cherry kirsch combined with soft wild herbs. A little bottle stink takes a few moments to blow off. Fresh tasting with velvet sweetness to it and a long length. There are bold tannins, so this will need some time in the cellar. 91+/100.
  3. 2004 Domaine Charvin - Cotes du Rhone - tank sample
    This was a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Carignan. Dark red, with the pure Grenache fruit dominant. Velvet fruit, good length, and extremely promising.
  4. 2004 Domaine Charvin - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - tank samples
    Both were dark burgundy, with fresh red fruits jumping out of the glass. A little fizzy as they are still fermenting, but the long length is well rounded. The second sample that contained more Mouvedre was my favourite of the two. However, we combined them both to make a hypothetical blend and it was different from the separate samples but very impressive.
  5. 1993 Domaine Charvin - Cotes du Rhone
    Laurent wanted us to try something a little older and came back with this. A Cotes du Rhone red from a weak vintage which was nearly twelve years old! My initial instincts told me that this would not be a pleasurable experience. How wrong I was. The nose gave away sous bois and cooked aubergine, with an animalistic streak throughout. With air, I find it tasting more like a Village Vosne Romanee. Silky with fully integrated tannins, the slightly sweet fruit showed a good length and were fully mature. An enjoyable bottle of wine. 88/100.
  6. The next day, we managed to visit Laurent and share a few bottles of wine with him at lunch. The notable wine for me as the following.

  7. 1997 Domaine Charvin - Chateauneuf-du-Pape
    Decanted one hour ahead. Dull red, with sous bois, a little herb and red spices. Fresh, with red fruits tickling my taste buds. The tannins are soft and virtually all resolved. Certainly drinking well now. It is amazing how some of the fine wines of Burgundy resemble Charvin's red wines. 89/100.

Domaine de la Janasse

Currently one of my favourite Domaines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Their wines have gone from strength to strength and I was looking forward to trying as many wines as possible. Our tasting was hosted by the charming Isabelle Sabon.

Isabelle Sabon and Nicos
Isabelle Sabon and Nicos Neocleous in the cellars of Domaine de la Janasse
  1. 1) 2004 Domaine de la Janasse - Viognier VdP
    Pale yellow, with fresh peaches escaping from the glass. A good freshness and length, spicy and showing balanced acidity. Drinking now. 87/100.
  2. 2004 Domaine de la Janasse - Cotes du Rhone blanc
    Made from a blend of Grenache, Clairette, Roussanne and Bourboulenc. Light yellow, with white flowers like honeysuckle wafting from the glass. Quite spicy, good acidity and a dry finish. 88/100.
  3. 2004 Domaine de la Janasse - Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc
    Pale yellow, with citrus and minerals mingling on the nose with crisp white flowers. A blend of delicate fresh butter and citrus tickle my nose. Some buttery citrus on the palate, a good fresh length. Drinking well now, though should last another 1-2 years. For me, this is one of the best white Chateauneuf-du-Pape's currently on the market. 89/100.
  4. 2003 Domaine de la Janasse - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Prestige blanc
    This wine spent 18 months in new oak. Light gold, with subtle new oak and soft citrus oak. More power from oak tannins, less complexity for me than the regular 2004 bottling. 87/100.
  5. 2003 Domaine de la Janasse - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Tradition
    Dark red, with a lovely liquid cherry nose. Some cherries also on the palate, but overwhelmingly dry tannins which dried all of my mouth. Will the tannins soften before the fruit fades? I am not sure that it will. 84/100.
  6. 2003 Domaine de la Janasse - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Cuvee Chaupin
    This 100% Grenache cuvee bottling has always had a following and I am firmly in that camp. Opaque red, with an explosive cherry kirsch liquor nose. A couple of sips reveal a seamless injection of liquid black cherries which reveal themselves over several long and attractive waves. The length is quite long and the tannins are powerful but kept in check by the ripe fruit. Admirable acidity provides a clean finish, but this wine needs several years of ageing in the bottle. An excellent bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 93/100.
  7. 2003 Domaine de la Janasse - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Cuvee Vieilles Vignes
    A blend of 80% Grenache and other varieties. Opaque purple/red, with fresh black cherries wafting from the glass. The mouthfeel is seamless, and the phrase "iron fist in a velvet glove" springs to mind. The length is unstoppable and just goes on and on. The tannins are mostly covered up by the velvet fruit. This stunning wine needs bottle age to gain complexity and I would not touch mine for 8-10 years. Not as lush or complex as the 2001 was at the same stage of its life, but it will be interesting to see how they both develop. 96+/100.

Tuesday 5 July 2005

Domaine de la Mordorée

Nicos and Christophe Delorme
From left to right: Nicos Neocleous and Christophe Delorme
I enjoy visiting this Domaine for several reasons. Firstly, they produce one of my favourite reds from both Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Lirac. Secondly, they produce my favourite rose wine. Thirdly, they are welcoming and helpful. We had the pleasure of speaking with Fabrice, Christophe and their father over the course of our visit.

  1. 2004 Domaine de la Mordoree - Lirac Blanc - La Reine des Bois
    Hardly any colour, with a hint of ultra pale yellow. White flowers, fresh peaches, aniseed and liquorice waft from the glass. The long length is filled with white fruit and is quite good. 88/100.
  2. 2004 Re: Naissance - Rose
    This is the first year of production of this new wine. It is made from a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Marselan. The grape varieties are grown on a 3 hectares (7.5 acre) plot. Dark pink, with a charming raspberry nougat nose. Solid full bodied palate, like a slightly toned down red wine, showing a good length. A muscular rose showing some tannin that will carry the wine for a few years. 87/100.
  3. 2004 Domaine de la Mordoree - Cotes du Rhone rose
    Bright pink, with a distinctive bold raspberry nose. Excellent body, waves of fruit, a long length, balanced, definitely a wine to buy and drink in the summer. 88/100.
  4. 2004 Domaine de la Mordoree - Lirac rose - La Dame Rousse
    Solid pink, with aromatic red fruits on the nose. Waves of fresh yet delicate red fruits, good structure and a long length. Surely a good wine for either sipping in the garden or matching with a starter course. Christophe Delorme reckons it needs 1 year in bottle to soften and drink even better. I intend to take his advice with at least one bottle. 89+/100.
  5. 2004 Domaine de la Mordoree - Cotes du Rhone red
    Dark purple, with sweet black fruits and a hint of aniseed tickling my nostrils. Plenty of dark fruits, mouth coating tannins that are ripe. This wine needs 1-2 years of bottle ageing to settle down. 89/100.
  6. 2003 Domaine de la Mordoree - Lirac red - La Dame Rousse
    Opaque purple, with pure cassis and black plums on the nose. Liquid black fruit, very ripe tannins that show their presence but do not overwhelm. There is a good balance of acidity that leaves a clean finish. I liked this wine. 89+/100.
  7. 2003 Domaine de la Mordoree - Lirac red - La Reine des Bois
    Opaque purple, with mostly black fruits with a hint of new oak on the nose. Waves of luscious black fruits (cherries and blackberries) provide my tongue with pleasure. There is a mass of tannins that really scratch my palate. Speaking to Christophe, he concedes that the tannins levels in the 2003 reds are high, but he believes that these will soften and integrate with the copious fruit. I agree that bottle age is need to tame this miniature Mike Tyson of a wine. Not as approachable as the 2001 bottling was at the same stage of its life. 90+/100.
  8. 2003 Domaine de la Mordoree - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - La Reine des Bois
    Opaque purple, with a nose of black cherries, mocha, a hint of new oak and a deep dark fruit presence. A solid core of ripe black fruit, bold acidity and ripe but muscular tannins. A very long length, and this wine needs bottle age to really strut its stuff. Drink now to enjoy the fruit/tannin 'rush' or leave alone for 8-10+ years. An excellent wine, but I prefer the now legendary 2001, for now. 94+/100.
  9. 2004 Domaine de la Mordoree - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - barrel sample
    This was a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Mouvedre and 10% Syrah. Opaque purple, with a deep, balanced and inviting nose of subtle black fruits. Excellent balanced black fruit, huge length, this is looking extremely promising for the future.

Wednesday 6 July 2005

Visit to Chateau de Beaucastel

Fabrice Langlois
Fabrice Langlois, our tour guide at Chateau de Beaucastel, in the estate's vineyards
De-stemming machine
A de-stemming machine at Chateau de Beaucastel
It is no secret that this is one of my favourite red wines. The reasons for my visit were two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to taste the latest vintages and possibly an older bottle or two. Secondly, I wanted to see if I could learn a little more about wine production techniques or equipment used.

Arriving in the bright early morning sunshine at the well-kept gardens and building complex, we introduced ourselves to our guide, Fabrice Langlois. The tour was relaxed, fun and informative, and we all learned something new. The finale was the tasting in the cellars of the Domaine and here are my tasting notes.

  1. 2003 Chateau de Beaucastel - Chateuneuf du Pape - blanc
    Light yellow, with a hint of aniseed and beeswax. Tight citrus and plenty of citrus on the palate. The ripe fruit show a good length. 89/100.
  2. 2003 Chateau de Beaucastel - Chateuneuf du Pape - Roussanne Vieilles Vignes
    Light yellow, with ripe citrus and beeswax on the nose. Concentrated, fine acidity, waves of citrus fruit and a long length. Impressive and youthful. 91+/100.
  3. 2003 Coudoulet de Beaucastel - Cotes du Rhone red
    Dark red, with ripe red plum fruit and a hint of wood. The mouthfeel gives me the impression of a ripe tannic structure, but the flavours were a little shy. This wine had just been bottled, so possibly suffering from bottle shock.
  4. 2003 Chateau de Beaucastel - Chateuneuf du Pape - red
    This had just been bottled, so was probably suffering a little bottle shock. Dark red, with ripe red and black plum fruit coming from the glass. The palate was closed for business.
  5. 2002 Coudoulet de Beaucastel - Cotes du Rhone red
    Dark red with a hint of pine tree on the nose. The palate was not to my liking, with some green tannins on the medium length. 83/100.
  6. 2000 Chateau de Beaucastel - Chateuneuf du Pape - red
    Dark red, with initially an animalistic nose that took me back to the pre-1995 vintage era of bottlings. With some swirling, this blows off but does not disappear, which is fine with me. A few sips reveal a spicy wine with fine acidity, muscular and an excellent length. Certainly drinkable now with the tannins in the background, which was not what I was expecting as I thought it would be closed. I am very surprised at how much this wine has changed since I tried a barrel sample at the Domaine some years ago. I remember tasting it in 2002 in London at a trade show for 2000 Rhone wines and the cherry fruit were so attractive and moreish. Now it has taken on the familiar Beaucastel profile of darker fruits and animalistic nuances. Still, I did enjoy it. 92/100.
  7. 1988 Chateau de Beaucastel - Chateuneuf du Pape - red
    Deep red, with dried cooked meat, animalistic and funky, some forest floor. Silky smooth, delicate and with as long length. I think it is ready to drink though there are still some dry tannins showing up at the back of my mouth. A certain savoury core is there that I believe will not disappear. This wine gave me a good amount of pleasure. 88/100.

Thursday 7 July 2005

Palais des Papes
Part of the Palais des Papes in Avignon
Church in the Palais des Papes
A church in the Palais des Papes in Avignon

We had decided that this trip was not just going to be about wine. We had wanted to visit the historic town of Avignon and tour around its ancient streets. The weather was perfect, so we headed out by car. We walked around the narrow streets within the historic walls of the old town, marveling at the intricacies of the aged buildings, browsing in shops, and visiting the breathtaking Palace of the former Pope.

Friday 8 July 2005

After a lazy morning, we spent some of our time at an open air market in Orange. I bought several whole salamis to take back with me, after sampling and finding them to be extremely tasty. Having worked up an appetite, we decided to head out for an early lunch at La Beaugraviere (Mondragon). We had a mini wine and culinary agenda to fulfill before we left the Rhone and this is what happened.

Alexis Tsielepis
Alexis Tsielepis enjoys a glass of 1955 Chateau Rayas blanc for lunch
Chateau Rayas blanc
A close-up of the beautiful colour of the 1955 Chateau Rayas blanc

  1. 1955 Chateau Rayas blanc
    We liked this wine so much when we tried a glass of it the previous Sunday that we decided to buy a bottle to share. Bright gold all the way to the rim, with a hint of green as well. The nose is fantastically complex, with subtle tangerine, beeswax, orange liquor, sweet fresh peaches and red liquorice. Every sip is pure ecstasy. Slightly sweet on the entry and mid palate, but finished dry. Seamless, silky smooth and it holds your attention with its delicate gloved hand stroking your tastebuds. This liquid treasure shows a great persistence on the palate and fades gently into the distance. This is bottled poetry and I am lucky to have shared it with two good friends in the Southern Rhone. 99+/100.
  2. 1990 Clape - Cornas
    Decanted 1 hour ahead. Dark and slightly dull cherry red. The nose was so animalistic, wild and filled with expressive dark aged forest fruits. The palate is medium bodied, smooth and showing a fine thread of acidity. The length is long and this wine is still improving. This wine was perfect with my black truffle risotto. 95/100.

Visit to Domaine de Beaurenard

This 50 hectare (125 acre) estate has been in family hands since 1695! This was more of a flying visit, with just time to taste a couple of wines and look around the tasting room. Here is what I tasted.

  1. 2003 Domaine de Beaurenard - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - red
    Dark red, with a lovely nose of pure red fruit and a hint of herb. The palate was quite hard, with a dry tannic length that was ok but the tannins seem to be out of balance. 84/100.
  2. 2003 Domaine de Beaurenard - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Bois de Beaurenard
    This is the old vine cuvee. Opaque red, with a heady nose of pure red cherries that reminded me of the 2003 Chaupin from Domaine de la Janasse. The palate is full bodied with a ripe silky texture that shows good concentration. This well balanced wine has an excellent length and should mature nicely over the next 15 years. 93/100.

View from the top
A view from the top of the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape towards the Rhone river.
Ruins of the Castle
A view of the ruins of the Castle at the top of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.


It is with some regret that we left the S.Rhone on Saturday to return to London. This visit had given me a deeper insight into the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the differing characters of its wines and the personalities behind them. The varying styles of the wines seemed to me to reflect well the grape varieties and the terroir, as well as the views of the winemakers.

In terms of vintages, the 2003 crop has produced a wide range of wines. Care should be taken when buying these wines. The tannin levels are high and there is good fruit extraction in some cases to back this up at present. Of course, a few of the 2003s still have to be bottled. I am unsure as to how the 2003's will age and develop, but there are some very good wines that were produced. The 2004 samples that I tried from cask and barrel were impressive and this seems to be a more balanced and generally successful vintage than 2003.

Did I find what I was looking for in Chateauneuf-du-Pape? The answer is yes, and no. I look forward to returning there in the future.

July 2005 (Published in September 2005)

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