Harry Karis visit pt. II: Old Châteauneuf-du-Papes from his cellar

OLD CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPES TASTED WITH HARRY KARIS – 750 Wines, St. Helena, California (2/4/2011)


My last post reported on a tasting of 1989 and 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Papes with Harry Karis, author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, who was in town at the beginning of this month on the California leg of his American book tour. The following day, Harry gave a lecture on Châteauneuf-du-Pape at Google, which included a tasting of several younger wines. I have included several video clips of that lecture at the end of this report, as they give a good sense of what’s covered in the book, and how he went about researching and self publishing it. The finale of Harry’s visit here was this fascinating tasting of older Châteauneuf-du-Papes with a group of winemakers and wine collectors who convened in a stark, modern looking wine store called 750 Wines in St. Helena. The tasting was organized by Stefan Blicker, who, along with Brent Pierce and Cory Wagner, runs BPWine. The bulk of what we tasted, however, was provided by Harry himself, who shipped a case of older bottles–ranging from 1949 to 1978–from his cellar for this tasting. Some of the wines he’d collected in years past; some had been more recently given to him by producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape from their cellars. After we tasted through Harry’s older vintages, which were poured and tasted in pairs, and discussed them, we then sampled, in a casual fashion, the younger wines several of us had brought along. Among the winemakers on hand for the tasting were Thomas Brown and Roy Piper.

As Harry explains in the video clip below, he conceived of the tasting as an opportunity to show California winemakers that Grenache-based wines, raised in almost all cases with no new oak, develop and age very well. A few of these wines supported Harry’s thesis better than others. A few, like our oldest wine, the ’49 Patriarche, as well as the ’61 Duvigneau and ’76 Cuvée du Conclave des Cardinaux, were already over the hill. Others, however, were in great shape, complex and delicious, giving proof to the idea that traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape can age over decades into something profound and memorable, just like old Bordeaux and Barolo. A couple of them were, in fact, very reminiscent, for me, of old Barolo, like the ’69 Domaine Condorcet and the ’74 Clos Saint Jean. In a few cases, we had duplicate bottles of the same older wine, and the bottle differences were pretty dramatic. The wine of the night, for me, was our first bottle of the ’78 Château Cabrières. Also memorable were the ’81 Beaucastel, one of our bottles of ’61 Château Cabrières, and the ’59 Roger Sabon. Among the younger wines we tasted that others had brought, my favorites were the ’90 Marcoux and the ’89 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire.

Below are more details about the wine, along with my tasting notes, in the order in which we tasted them, starting with our pre-tasting pair of 2008 white Châteauneuf-du-Papes. But first, here’s a clip of Harry introducing the tasting:

Blanc Starters

These were both good young CdP blancs, but I much preferred the Clos des Papes. Per Harry’s book, the Raymond Usseglio Blanc is 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Clairette, 20% Roussanne and 20% Bourboulenc from vines averaging 30 years old. There is no malolactic fermentation and the wine is aged for six months on its lees in tank, with 10% in small new barriques. The Clos des Papes is a blend of 20% each Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, Picpoul and Bourboulenc. It also does not go through malolactic, and is aged for six months in steel, with no oak.

  • 2008 Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Light medium lemon yellow color; ripe grapefruit, lanolin, ripe lemon, pineapple nose; tasty, tart lemon, lanolin, mineral palate with good balance; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Light lemon yellow color; very tasty, apple, mineral, lanolin, citrus nose; tasty, nice apple, ripe lemon, mineral, lanolin palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Oldest Pair


This was an interesting glimpse into CdP’s past, but both of these wines were too far advanced to be a real pleasure. Patriarche was a Burgundy-based negociant operation that used to buy and bottle some CdP. This bottle was the oldest CdP I’ve yet tasted. Clos-du-Calvaire was produced by Alphonse Mayard, who was one of the first CdP growers to bottle and sell his own wine in 1929. The label still exists under the family’s Vignobles Mayard/Domaine du Pere Pape operations.

  • 1949 Patriarche Père et Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Medium brown color with 10 millimeters clear meniscus and light floating sediment; earthy, roast coffee, nutty, oxidized, fig, rasiny nose; very mature, oxidized, tart, golden raisin, dried cherry palate with firm tannins and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (83 pts.)
  • 1954 Clos-du-Calvaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Cloudy, light-medium brown color with a hint of red, and wide, clear meniscus; reduction, earthy, herbal, light chocolate, tart dried berry nose; very mature, light prune juice, mineral, dried fig palate with acid, balance and firm sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (86 pts.)

’61 Pair

Duvigneau was another negociant bottling. It was quite oxidized, but still interesting in an oloroso sherry kind of way. The first bottle of Château Cabrières was also quite advanced, but a back up bottle we sampled later was singing on the palate. At least one of the bottles was a reconditioned bottle, relabeled at the Château with the producer’s current name, which replaced the name Domaine Cabrières Lés Selex in the ’80s. Château Cabrières dates back to the mid-1600s, and started estate bottling in 1955. Their vines are in the northern part of the appellation, and the current oldest plantings date back to early 1900.

  • 1961 Duvigneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking, medium dark red violet color with pale meniscus; mature, VA, prune, coffee, nutty nose; oxidized, sherry-like, tart entry, light coffee, nutty, oloroso sherry palate with very firm tannins; medium-plus finish (83 pts.)
  • 1961 Château Cabrières Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    1st bottle: Very bricking medium red color with 15 millimeter clear meniscus; mature, tart cranberry, earthy, distant dried berry, ginger cake, dried fig nose; tangy, tasty, light coffee, dried fig, light chocolate, nutty palate with firm tannins and near medium acidity; medium-plus finish 88 points

    2nd bottle: Bricking, cloudy, light medium red color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; oxidized, brett, venison, beef jus nose; tasty, mature, venison jus, meat jus, smoke palate, much better on palate than nose, suggesting bottle stink that would blow off; medium-plus finish 94 pts.(the label, which was a recent relabeling, reads “Domaine de Cabrières”; the name of the estate was changed to Château Cabrières in the ’80s) (94 pts.)

’59/’69 Pair

As Harry explains in the clip above, 1959, like ’61 and ’78, was a hot year in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Roger Sabon was absolutely delicious, with a long finish. Domaine Roger Sabon was established in 1952 by the son of a longtime CdP winemaking family. Domaine de Condorcet is a negociant house that is still in business.

  • 1959 Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking light medium orange red color with 20 millimeter clear meniscus; lovely, roasted coffee, walnut, cumin, autumnal nose; lovely, mature, light coffee, autumnal, cumin, dried orange, ginger and walnut cake palate with sweet, firm tannins; long finish (the label is missing; Harry Karis received it from the Château) (94 pts.)
  • 1969 Domaine Condorcet Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking light medium red color with 15 millimeter clear meniscus; mature, VA, big, walnut, fruit cake, baked orange nose; very mature, autumnal, tar, fruit cake, dried fig, sweet nuts, nut juice palate with sweetness, reminiscent of an old Barolo, but with more sweetness; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Mid-’70s Pair

Clos Saint Jean was founded in 1900 by Edmond Tacussel. Wine has been estate bottled there since 1910, and it’s one of the largest growers in CdP, with over 43 hectares of vines. Beaurenard is another very old producer, with its roots in operations going back to the 1600s.

  • 1974 Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking medium garnet red color with pale meniscus; nice, mature, old Barolo-like, VA, autumnal, roast venison, dried berry nose; mature, tangy, dried berry, tart dried fig, nut meat, smoke, roasted fruit, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 1976 Domaine de Beaurenard (Paul Coulon et Fils) Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Cloudy, very bricking medium brown red color with 10 millimeter clear meniscus; silky textured, tangy, truffle, meat jus, autumnal, Brazil nut, VA nose; murky, tangy, roasted nut, dried fig, Brazil nut palate; medium finish (88 pts.)

’69/’76 Pair

There are records back to 1344 showing Mont-Redon was already recognized as a vineyard. The Château is now one of the biggest in the appellation, with 95 hectares planted. Cuvée du Conclave des Cardinaux is a defunct producer, and this artifact of a wine from them was likewise deceased.

  • 1969 Château Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking medium dark red violet color with 10 millimeter clear meniscus; reduction, mature, earthy, sweet nut, ginger, fruit cake nose; tangy, tart dried berry, autumnal, nutty, coffee palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 1976 Cuvée du Conclave des Cardinaux Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Bricking medium garnet red color with 7 millimeter clear meniscus; VA, herbal, tobacco, stewy nose; oxidized, very mature, stewy, tobacco, Brazil nut palate; medium finish (78 pts.)

’78/’90 Pair

As mentioned above, one of the bottles of ’78 Cabrières was my WOTN. The other was good, but not quite as amazing. Likewise, one of our two bottles of ’81 Beaucastel was much better than the other. Beaucastel is, of course, a benchmark and longstanding producer. After the dual great showings of the ’78 and ’61 Cabrières, I’m going to be on the lookout for more older bottles from this producer.

  • 1978 Château Cabrières Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    1st bottle – bricking medium red color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; nice venison, beef jus, truffle, dried mushroom nose; tasty, lamb jus, venison, truffle, baked mushroom, earthy, cigar box palate; medium-plus finish 96+ pts. (label says Domaine de Cabrières–the name was changed to Château Cabrières in the ’80s)

    2nd bottle – slightly bricking medium dark red violet color with pale meniscus; mature, VA, olive, Provencal herbs, tart red fruit nose; youthful, tart red fruit, Provencal herbs, olive, tart red fruit, mineral palate; medium-plus finish – 93 pts. (96 pts.)

  • 1981 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    1st bottle – Bricking, light medium red color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; autumnal, dried red fruit, mushroom, sweet meat jus nose; tasty, mature, ginger caked, dried berry, earthy palate; medium-plus finish 91 pts.

    2nd bottle – Bricking, light medium red color with clear meniscus; nice, meat jus, brett, venison jus, mushroom nose; tasty, mature, tangy, brett, sweet meat jus, ginger cake, venison jus palate, much better and gripper than first bottle; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)

’89/’90 Pair

These were the first of our younger bottles that attendees contributed for the evening. They were also the two best of that group, in my opinion. Marcoux first started estate bottling in 1978. Philippe Armenier had been the winemaker for the ’90 vintage, but he left in 1995 to start a biodynamic consultancy for Napa Valley winemakers. The wine is typically a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre and 5% each Cinsault and Syrah. This bottle of Cuvée Centenaire from the Brunels at Les Cailloux was the first vintage of this special cuvee, made from very old Grenache vines (80 to 120 years old), along with about 10% each of Mourvedre and Syrah.

  • 1989 Les Cailloux (Lucien et André Brunel) Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Centenaire – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Slightly bricking, medium dark red violet color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; nice, autumnal, VA, big, dried berry, sweet oak, ginger cake nose; mature, tasty, tart dried berry, autumnal, ginger cake, oak palate; long finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)
  • 1990 Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Lightly bricking medium dark red violet color with pale meniscus; brett, earthy, roast beef jus nose; brett, tasty, meat jus, lamb jus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (94 pts.)

Rayas

Rayas is a legendary CdP producer, and the most transcendent experience I’ve had yet with CdP was an older bottling of Rayas. 1993 wasn’t a particularly good year, but this was still a tasty mature CdP, although showing some of the whole cluster fermentation that’s a mark of this producer, which is one of a relatively small number of CdP estates that virtually never destems.

  • 1993 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Medium red violet color with 5 millimeter clear meniscus; tart red fruit, smoke, tart beet nose; tangy, tart beet, tart red fruit, mineral, olive, green herbs palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Young Trio

Thomas Brown and Roy Piper

For more background on Harry’s book, how he came to write it, and what it covers, here are five video clips of his talk at the Google campus on February 2, 2011.:

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