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What!? You spent two nights and parts of three days within a half-hour's drive of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and only visited one winery!?

Yes, I know. Some of my wine-loving pals are going to suggest that my wine-poet's license be revoked in punishment for this outlandish behavior. But let's be frank: Before we planned this trip, I promised my long-suffering wife (who enjoys wine but isn't as crazy on the subject as I am) that this trip to Europe wouldn't be all work, and it wouldn't be all wine.

White horse
A Camargue white horse in semi-captivity at the regional museum.
So our stayover in Avignon, the ancient and intriguing capital of the Southern Rhone, was designed primarily for non-wine pursuits: Exploring the 14th century Palace of the Popes, hanging out in cafes and brasseries, wandering up to see the Roman ruins in Orange, and, most of all, getting out of the car and onto the ground for at least a short hike through the wild and wonderful wetlands of the Camargue, with their trademark white horses and black bulls. We did all these things, and we had a great time.

But Mary's not anti-wine, she just likes to keep things in balance. And she loves Chateauneuf-du-Pape. So when our pal Joe Dressner (who also fixed us up for a visit to the delightful folks at Chateau Ste.-Anne in Bandol) offered to arrange a visit to one of his properties in Chateauneuf, we gladly accepted.

Once we finally found Domaine Bois De Boursan, which is located in what appears to be a private suburban residence just on the south side of the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, we received a warm welcome that pleased us almost as much as the property's excellent wines. Wine maker Jean-Paul Versino was out in the vineyards when we dropped by, but his fiancee Shawnn Antieau and his father Jean Versino took a break from the hand-operated bottling line to show us around and offer us an informal tasting.

It is Versino's custom to make very traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape and submit it to extended barrel aging; his 1997 vintage was only now going into bottles, and the 1998 bottlings that most of his neighbors will be releasing soon will stay in barrels here for another full year before going to market.

And speaking of barrels, Bois de Boursan customarily spends its time not in aromatic small, new barriques but in large oak vats formerly used for making beer in Alsace; containers so well-used that they have no woody flavors left to impart to the wine. There's one exception, though: A small amount of the 1998 vintage now reposes in small oak barrels that will make Cuvée des Félix, a special bottling that Ms. Antieau candidly described as "in a California style" and that she said was made quite frankly to tickle the taste buds of prominent American critics.

Jean Versino
Jean Versino takes a turn at the family winery's hand-operated bottling line.
Domaine Bois De Boursan 1999 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc - White Chateaneuf-du-Pape is often disappointing, but not this one! Pale straw in color, it breathes an excellent aroma of honeysuckle and tangerines that carries over intact into a fresh, crisp and quenching flavor.

Domaine Bois De Boursan 1999 Chateauneuf-du-Pape - This barrel sample is very young and showing some acetone and banana esters that will blow off with time; but even now, huge and extracted black fruit shows through. Won't be on the market until 2003.

Domaine Bois De Boursan 1998 Cuvée des Félix Chateauneuf-du-Pape - This made-for-U.S.-tastes bottling is inky dark purple, ripe and intense, big and laden with sweet oak. It's "a California style," all right, and while I respect the proprietor's philosophy behind making it, I'm delighted that he only ran a small amount of his limited production through this intrusive process.

Domaine Bois De Boursan 1997 Chateauneuf-du-Pape - Bottled this very morning, the dark-garnet wine shows some sulfur that blows off quickly to reveal beautiful gamey roses - full and peppery. An excellent wine.

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All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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