Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape 1990
This week I am travelling back a little further in time, as tomorrow I will be publishing my notes from my annual twenty-years on tasting, and as I have done with my ten and fifteen year tastings, it feels only right that I should focus on one of the wines from the tasting as my Weekend Wine. And there were many suitable candidates, from stunning Sauternes, old friends from the Loire and controversial clarets (a certain Parker 79-pointer - in the 1990 vintage - showed up). But as we are looking back, it seemed to me that perhaps I should focus on a style of wine that I once favoured and yet which I have long since fallen out of love with, and that is Châteauneuf du Pape.
If memory serves me correctly the southern Rhône, and Châteauneuf du Pape in particular, was the first wine region I ever visited. And if you were to catch me off-guard with an enquiry as to when that was I would have probably confessed to it being late-1980s or perhaps early 1990s, based on where and what I was up to as an undergraduate, and which girlfriend I was with. After more considered thought, however, I have realised it was in fact 1990, which makes my choice of this wine, in this vintage, seem particularly apt. We didn't visit Clos des Papes, but I did so seven years later (different girlfriend by this time by the way) when on a 'Châteauneuf to Chablis' grand tour right through the Rhône Valley and Burgundy, and I remember stocking up with the 1995 Clos des Papes, which was just a delicious wine.
And so in subsequent years I continued to buy the occasional wine from the southern Rhône, most notably my beloved Châteauneuf du Pape but I also had a soft spot for Gigondas, not only the wines but also the town, with its hot and dusty streets. One of the most refreshing glasses of beer I ever drank was in Gigondas, near the centre of the village, outside the front of a tiny cafe; the pavement was narrow, the sun was beating down and the street was barren and dusty, but the iron railings across the road were just dripping with the most impressive cultivar of passiflora I had ever seen, the atmosphere was relaxed, and the beer was cold and long. It is a regret that, since that time, I have not since returned.
Anyway, enough of this reminiscing. If I stocked up on good bottles from great vintages, how is it that I fell out of love with Châteauneuf du Pape?
To answer that we have to fast-forward a few years, well into the 21st century in fact. A had been drinking more than the occasional bottle of Beaucastel and Vieux-Télégraphe along the way, with great pleasure, but the problem arose when I finally got around to opening and drinking all my other 'great vintage' bottles. In short, I wasn't very impressed. The 1998 vintage was hailed as a glorious and great year, but I found the majority of the wines I tasted to be baked and soupy. With 2001 I found the same character coming through in the wines, oily textures, sweet and baked fruit, furry and unappealing flavours. And as for 2003....Châteauneuf had changed forever it seemed. Sure, to some extent my palate had developed as well, and I was now looking more for acidity, vigour, freshness, perfume and vibrant, thirst-quenching flavours, but the wines had changed too. There was more extraction, alcohol and sweetness, and sometimes new wood too. None of this reminded me of the wines I had discovered and enjoyed during my adventures through the Rhône in the early- and mid-1990s. I realised it was time to move onto other regions and other wines.
And so while some bottles languish in the cellar, at least while I remain undecided as to whether I should sell them or leave them to age for another decade and return to them then. Meanwhile, there are a few wines from the region that I remain content to drink. Even recent vintages of Beaucastel (including the 1998 and 2001) bring me pleasure, perhaps because of the higher Mourvèdre component ( as a parallel Bandol, especially Tempier, remains a secret obsession of mine, even though there has been a change in style here too in recent years), as does Vieux-Télégraphe (I can't apportion this to the Mourvèdre here, just the skill of the Bruniers I guess). And likewise older bottles can stay; I still have a small stock of 1988s, notably more Vieux-Télégraphe, but also this solitary bottle from 1990, the Clos des Papes Châteauneuf du Pape, which I recently lined up with seventeen other wines in my 1990 Twenty Years On tasting. There was an incredibly good condition cork here, pale, solid and with no travel of colour up the sides at all. The colour is mature, but still with plenty of red pigment. Great meaty fruit on the nose, with leather, tobacco and game, and also the faintest hint of mushroom. Nicely textured at the start, still with a good substance despite its age. Full, bold, this is no shrinking violet. Indeed it shows quite a firm character in its build, with a solid backbone, and it is still showing some tannins, all ripe and velvety, with high-toned fruit nuances alongside, tinged with violets and sweetness. Great acidity too giving it a good frame in the mouth. Brighter than the meaty-fruit nose suggested, with elements of peach and aromatic fruit with it. A firm finish. Long although a little raw in terms of grip at the end, the ever-so-slightly disjointed alcohol showing through I think. This is unlikely to get any better from here I feel, although my data points on this estate, with bottles at this age at least, are limited I admit. 17.5/20 (20/12/10)