Syrah might rule in Northern Rhône, but grenache dominates in the south, albeit often in blends. While the combination of grenache and syrah is common, sometimes with a little carignan, cinsault or mourvèdre, Châteauneuf-du-Pape can contain up to 18 grape varieties, including whites. Châteauneuf itself borders the river, often at as little as 20 metres above sea level, but some vineyards lie at 200-500m, resulting in distinctly cooler flavoured wines.
In spite of the range of altitudes and differences between grape varieties, the region is nevertheless the major determinant of wine style – spice and red fruit flavours with dark plum and distinct tannin structure to match what is often high alcohol and a full body. All shine when accompanied by flavoursome food.
The regular panel members for this tasting were educator and writer Peter Bourne, restaurateur and sommelier Sophie Otton, wine judge and writer Toni Paterson MW and me, winemaking consultant and vigneron Nick Bulleid MW. We were joined by restaurateur and sommelier David Murphy and educator Andrea Pritzker MW.
The panel were pleased to find a wide selection of wines, many with the powerful spice-driven flavours and weight for which the Southern Rhône is famed. There were also fresh, red berry-flavoured wines with finer tannins, sometimes with additional fragrance from the inclusion of whole bunches in the fermentation.
Wines that failed to get a review, hovering in the general bronze medal area and below, tended to show a drier, tougher balance. There was one appallingly cork-tainted wine, representing about 3% of the cork-sealed wines (but hardly statistically significant) and two wines with a distressingly high level of brett taint. When at near-subliminal level, this character can add complexity, particularly in Rhône wines, but these two were effectively destroyed. Fourteen per cent of wines tasted were under screwcap, all of these under the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation.
The Southern Rhône had a succession of strong vintages from 2017 to 2019, which represented most of the wines tasted – although, hail and mildews reduced crops somewhat. The 2020 wines, which are beginning to arrive, are likely to be more variable. There was a large range of prices in our reviewed wines, from the two Delas wines and Chapoutier Belleruche, which would give you change from $25, to some Châteauneuf-du-Papes which are more than $100.
Interestingly, I noticed that where we tasted two wines from the same producer, we sometimes preferred the lower classified wine to the higher. The two Pierre Usseglio wines are an example. This is not uncommon. Several times I’ve seen the standard varietal Coldstream Hills Chardonnay or Pinot Noir beat the Reserve in a wine show. All I can say is, give the “senior” wine time.
2017 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$125. This appealed to Paterson. “Toffee, strawberry and faint caramel accents plus a hint of old oak barrels. The palate is laden with sweet, dark cherry fruit. Remarkable intensity and pleasing savoury tones. I like that the back palate is not overly fruity. Mesmerising.” Bottle-age has added complexity to red fruits and spices. The red and black plum flavours are concentrated, matched by evenly balanced tannins.
2019 Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$121. I enjoyed the concentrated, plum chocolate and oak, and noted the warmth from alcohol. Meanwhile Pritzker recored: “Ripe red cherry, vanillin and garrigue. Excellent intensity and chalky tannins to finish.”
2018 2018 Château Mont Redon Lirac, A$57. For Otton, the wine showed: “Pronounced black fruits, brimming with character and complexity. Quite deep-set, with layers of brambly fruit, earth and spice. Harmonious, elegant, long and resonant.” Pritzker, meanwhile, thought the acid prominent. “The wine’s pleasingly fresh for its age, cherry flavours and spices well-married, while the balance and suppleness are excellent.”
2019 Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet Côtes-du-Rhône, A$70. Starts with a little reduction, but with a drive of fresh dark berries through the nose. The palate’s full-flavoured, with even, mouth-coating tannins and without heat. Paterson said she loved it, noting “intense black cherry aromas, hints of liquorice, pot pourri, red rose and exotic spices. The palate shows excellent restraint, with a pleasing freshness and coolness. I like its distinctive personality. Would be fabulous alongside food!” she said.
2019 Délas Côtes-du-Rhône Saint Esprit Rouge, A$20. Such concentrated dark fruit aromas. The palate matches, with dense dark plum, even tannins with pleasing savoury hints. Paterson enjoyed it also: “The nose is beautifully complete and composed with nothing out of place. Warm and fleshy though not overripe. Accents of warm cherry clafoutis, with a freshness which makes it highly satisfying and not too heavy. I adore the clarity in this wine, as well as the richness.”
2019 Delas Ventoux, A$20. I thought this is an attractive sweet and savoury mix in a medium-bodied, balanced wine. Murphy commented: “Sour cherry, blackberry bush and fig. Hints of earth. Lightness of the palate quite surprising. Ripe tannins make it a pleasure to drink.”
2019 Gerard Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$155. “Wonderfully perfumed. Red plum, dried cranberry, a touch of red liquorice and lavender. Good concentration. High alcohol, though the flavours are endearing,” Paterson noted.
2018 Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$85. Red fruits, black pepper and spices. Firm structure and balance. Murphy added: “Cherry, damson, cinnamon-spiced. Tart palate, but full of fruit character. Underlying herbal palate keeps fruit weight in check.”
2019 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau, A$45. Otton remarked: “Dark berry, briar and earthy tones. Fabulously juicy to taste with firm structural tannin. Dried fruit and nut characters enhance nuance and complexity.” I found it ripe, concentrated and full-bodied, yet lively, with dried herb complexity.
2018 Domaine d’Ourea Gigondas, A$79. Lovely red fruits, aromatic, almost floral, rose petal. Paterson agreed: “Fruity, vibrant, medium-weight. Sweet blueberry and blackcurrant aromas plus a little savoury oak. Inherent savouriness, an exotic mix of red and dark fruit. impressive depth.”
2018 2018 Domaine Duseigneur Catarina AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$119. “Brooding bouquet. Black cherry, liquorice, black pepper. Full bodied, rich, opulent with generous black cherry core and plentiful tannins,” noted Pritzker. I found red cherry. Good depth, sweet red fruits, fine tannins. Very stylish.
2020 Domaine de Séminaire Côtes-du-Rhône, A$29. Dark fruits, leather and earth. Savoury flavours, quite dry. Meanwhile Murphy noticed: “Maraschino, intensity, jubes, but not confected. Cherry pie, eucalyptus notes.”
2019 La Barroche Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$129. This wine won Otton’s heart: “Attractive spiced red currant notes with hints of rosehip and herb. Flavours of griotte cherry, carob and garrigue, finessed by fine graphite tannins.” I thought the wine somewhat hot, but the sweet red fruits brought generosity with a cut of tannin that held everything in check.
2019 Domaine La Réméjeanne Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Les Arbousiers, A$49. Cherry. Sweet fruits and savoury notes. Has depth, but poised and finely structured. “Plum, baking spices, figs and sour cherry. Dried lavender and wild strawberry add lovely complexity. Tar and roses-like finish,” Murphy remarked.
2020 Domaine La Réméjeanne Côtes-du-Rhône Un Air de Réméjeanne, A$35. Showing, aromatic restraint with fresh, sappy, dried-herb notes. Raspberry-cherry fruits, fine pomegranate-like tannin, bright cranberry acid for crunch.
2019 Domaine La Roubine Gigondas, A$55. It starts with rich, fresh aromas of sweet plums. The flavours are concentrated, yet the wine’s supple and has excellent tannin balance. Pritzker enjoyed also, writing, “The wine opens with garrigue and red cherry, hints of earth and freshly cracked pepper. Fresh, mid-weight showing good structure, slightly chalky tannins. Balance there with alcohol in check.”
2019 Domaine Maine La Roubine Vacqueyras, A$50. “Cassis, mulberry, density. Fresher, lighter red fruit notes and sour cherry keep the palate alive. It certainly has a future,” claimed Murphy. I noticed the wine’s generous, plum jam nose. Full-bodied. Big, ripe flavours. A mouthful, finishing hot.
2019 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$96. Aromatic spice and oak aromas. Soft and round. Supple, warm. “A very closed nose; of blackcurrants, mulberries, cloves and liquorice. Super concentrated, but un-evolved. The sinewy tannins will need some time,” noticed Bourne.
2020 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Lirac, A$50. Lirac, across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, shares some its neighbour’s strength. Bourne found: “A lifted bouquet of dark berry fruits, fresh liquorice and star anise. Concentrated and well-structured with plenty of power. Bold flavours mingle with intense beef-stock/umami notes.” Full-bodied and dense, with plums and a little marzipan. The tannin structure was balanced without the heat detracting.
2020 Domaine Santa Duc Vacqueras Les Aubes, A$56. I enjoyed it for its red cherry fragrance with concentration, noting a rich, creamy mid-palate and fine tannin. Paterson saw a wine that was “highly sweet-fruited, almost red cordial like. A mix of red and dark fruit. I enjoy the pickled cherry notes. More-ish palate with dark fruit depth and fresh acidity.”
2019 Famille Perrin Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, A$28. A generous nose, with sweet, red plum aromas. It’s similarly rich in the mouth, with red and dark fruit flavours and balanced tannins. Paterson thought it: “Textbook Côte-du-Rhône. A beautifully composed wine with plenty of primary red fruit. It is medium bodied with excellent weight and harmony.”
2019 Font du Vent Côtes-du-Rhône Les Promesses, A$30. A wine that found favour with Otton, who noted damson, goji berry notes, nuances of orange peel, cinnamon and warm terracotta. She wrote: “Well-composed, harmonious tannin and flavoursome, intricate length. Savoury spice and leather characters are developing with age, raising complexity. It’s a more traditional style than, say, the La Réméjeanne wines.”
2020 Jaboulet Côtes-du-Rhône Parallel 45 Rouge, A$35. A wine that gained top marks from Pritzker. “Lifted bouquet of bright cherry hints of garrigue. Lively and fresh and juicy on the palate, offering red cherry and undertones of earthy spice. Excellent length with a honeysuckle and jasmine flourish to the long finish.” I liked the wine’s complex dark plum and spices. It’s full-bodied, dense and savoury and distinctly needs food.”
2019 Jean-Louis Chave Côtes-du-Rhône Mon Coeur Rouge, A$48. Shows dense, dark plums and a little chocolate. Rich flavours sit well with a distinct structure, yet there’s no harshness. Bourne told us “lots of dark fruits here - mulberries, dried cherries and damsons. Fresh aniseed. Super-concentrated with a firm frame and intense, dark berry flavours. The decisive tannins need some time.”
2019 Château La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rouge, A$45. This was one of my top wines. Fresh red cherries and dried cranberry combine on the nose, while youthful, sweet fruits and fine tannins yield a balanced, quite modern wine. Murphy, meanwhile, found “black tea, red fruit such as raspberry and deeper dark plums deliver a fine bouquet, vibrant and alive. In the palate, wafts of kirsch, cinnamon and cacao spice. Elegant finish, long and scented. High drinkability.”
2019 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Côtes-du-Rhône Lieu-dit Clavin, A$46. “Such savoury development, spices and dried herbs. A pretty nose of ripe strawberries, white flowers, hints of earthy spice. Well structured, a backbone of firm tannins and long, persistent finish,” said Pritzker.
2019 L’Oratoire St-Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias, A$82. Rich red plums and savoury notes. Full-bodied and generous. Chewy tannins, but balanced. Meanwhile Bourne noted, “Red fruits: raspberries, cranberries and cherries. The palate fine but full-flavoured, with tight acid/tannin balance.”
2020 L’Oratoire St-Martin Côtes-du-Rhône Les Petits Gars, A$82. Fresh, red cherry aromas. The palate has more depth and structure than I expected. Even tannins and a nice length Pritzker also enjoyed the wine for its “fragrant bouquet, of strawberry, cherry, and hints of earth. It’s supple, bright and intense. Chalky tannins and a persistent finish. Simple but well-balanced.”
2019 M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche, A$20. This gained top points from Pritzker and me: “Attractive, fragrant bouquet of sun-warmed strawberry, peppery spice,” Pritzker said. “Light, fresh and vibrant showing juicy ripe fruits and supple tannins. Excellent persistence of strawberry to the finish.” Otton found the wine “lacked vibrancy, while I thought it generously flavoured, with dark fruits, too, and supple, in a full-bodied way.”
2018 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine, A$80. Supple and beautifully balanced. Red fruits, spices and fine tannins. Bourne discerned: “Cranberry, goji, redcurrant. A lift of pink peppercorns. Highly polished palate framed by vanillin oak and slinky tannins.”
2020 Mas de Libian Côtes-du-Rhône Khayyâm, A$50. This most appealed to Bourne, who found “intense cranberry, dark cherry and Cherry Ripe. Plenty of power here with a firm structure but no trace of bitterness.” I liked the spices that gave a savoury edge and an interplay with the red and dark fruits. It’s full-flavoured, showing warmth rather than heat.
2019 Mont-Redon Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône, A$32. “A wine that combines red plum and spices on the nose. There’s good depth of flavour, alcohol adding weight without heat, and the wine finishes with plenty of chalky tannin,” Paterson noted. “Strong vanilla and poached cherry aromatics. Extremely ripe and fruity. Well balanced with pleasing juiciness and a little spice vibrancy. Good fruit clarity. Very well made!”
2019 Saint Damien Gigondas Les Souteyrades, A$74. Some fragrant red fruits and savoury notes. Alcohol and tannins slightly jarring but attractive flavours. Bourne discovered “raspberry, boysenberry and cranberries”, noting the “tightly structured palate, modest tannins and energetic acidity” of the wine.
95 2019 Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet Côtes-du-Rhône, A$70
94 2019 Délas Côtes-du-Rhône Saint Esprit Rouge, A$20
94 2019 Mont-Redon Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône, A$32
93 2019 Château La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Rouge, A$45
93 2019 Famille Perrin Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, A$28
93 2019 M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche, A$20
93 2019 Jean-Louis Chave Côtes-du-Rhône Mon Coeur Rouge, A$48
93 2019 Domaine La Roubine Gigondas, A$55
93 2019 La Barroche Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$129
93 2018 Château Mont Redon Lirac, A$57
92 2020 Mas de Libian Côtes-du-Rhône Khayyâm, A$50
92 2020 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Lirac, A$50
92 2019 Château Mont Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$121
92 2017 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$125
92 2020 Jaboulet Côtes-du-Rhône Parallel 45 Rouge A$35
92 2019 Font du Vent Côtes-du-Rhône Les Promesses, A$30
91 2020 Domaine Santa Duc Vacqueras Les Aubes, A$56
91 2019 L’Oratoire St-Martin Cairanne Haut Coustias, A$82
91 2019 Domaine Maine La Roubine Vacqueyras, A$50
91 2020 Domaine La Réméjeanne Côtes-du-Rhône Un Air de Réméjeanne, A$35
91 2019 Domaine La Réméjeanne Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Les Arbousiers, A$49
91 2019 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Côtes-du-Rhône Lieu-dit Clavin, A$46
91 2019 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau, A$45
91 2018 Domaine d’Ourea Gigondas, A$79
91 2018 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine, A$80
91 2018 Domaine Duseigneur Catarina AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$119
90 2019 Gerard Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$155
90 2020 Domaine de Séminaire Côtes-du-Rhône, A$29
90 2019 Délas Ventoux, A$20
90 2020 L’Oratoire St-Martin Côtes-du-Rhône Les Petits Gars, A$82
90 2019 Saint Damien Gigondas Les Souteyrades, A$74
90 2019 Domaine Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$96
90 2018 Domaine de Beaurenard Châteauneuf-du-Pape, A$45