So today was another bevy of hours spent in the library writing up notes on grape varieties, this time with much of the time spent on Italy and Spain. Spain is great – most everything is Tempranillo, sometimes with a different name, but it’s all reasonable. Italy, well when is a Trebbiano not a Trebbiano? When it’s a Verdicchio. Apparently that’s the case with Trebbiano di Soave and Trebbiano di Lugana, which is yet another annoying thing to remember. I don’t mind grapes being called different things in different places (Syrah/Shiraz or Mourvèdre/Mataró/Monastrell) but if you are have a grape and you want to call it by a different name, please as least pick one that isn’t already in use by some other grape.
On the plus side, I was looking at the New World and there’s almost no new material. With a few minor exceptions, everything grown in the USA, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand is a grape from the Old World, and generally one that’s good enough to bother to drag so far from home and plant. Grapes for which Jancis has but a single line of text are not typically the ones that crossed oceans or continents. I think the only big entry I’ve had to make for the New World so far is Pinotage, that much maligned grape of South Africa, which I personally don’t mind at all.
So after another day with my head down in the books, there was a revisiting of the type of tasting that we went through last night. I poured out samples from the four lighter wines of last night, which were a Bourgogne Pinot Noir, a Grenache dominated Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Barolo, and a Beaujolais-Villages. To that mix I added the inexpensive Taylor’s Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills. So five light wines, two relatively expensive, three value wines, and we tasted them blind.
I want to write up something worthwhile that justifies how the inexpensive wines softened, having been opened the day before, and how since I tasted them after dinner instead of before, and near the end of the day, my palate wasn’t really in the best of condition, but really, there’s no excuse. I was rubbish at picking what was what. They mostly tasted better than yesterday, it’s true, but really, poor performance on my part.
But hey, on the plus side I get to finish off this lovely bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Télégramme, by the people who produce Vieux Télégraphe in the southern Rhône Valley of France. I took a liking to Châteauneuf-du-Pape possibly before I had ever tried it, largely because the Beastie Boys managed to fit it into (and rhyme with it) on their track “Body Moving” off Hello Nasty from 1998. I ordered what I remember to be a fine bottle in Le Jules Verne Restaurant, Tour Eiffel just after the millennium, but alas, I neither remember which bottle it was nor is it important as I’m digressing from the topic at hand.
So Vieux Télégraphe is a fairly famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, very good quality and with wide distribution. The wine in front of me is their second wine, so made from lesser quality grapes, though in this case that means vines that are less than 25 years old. So to say it’s a second wine is a bit weird – there are many wineries that would kill to have their prestige wine be this good.
A few words about Châteauneuf-du-Pape before I get too sloppy – it’s been a long day. It’s in the southern Rhône Valley, where the main grape is Grenache. However, like Bordeaux, most wines are blends, and Châteauneuf in particular has loads of grape varieties from which to make a blend. Most of the wine made is red, but white and rosé are made as well. There are 13 traditional grapes allowed into blends, and the southern Rhône is one of the few places where putting white grapes into wine which will be red is permitted. (In Champagne they do the opposite, using red grapes to make wine which is white.) Also, the lucky 13 is apparently now 19, as they’ve recently named explicitly the noir, gris and blanc versions of some grapes, and added a few others.
Also the other thing you’ll be expected to mention when the topic of Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes up are galets, which have always been described to me as pudding stones. Having just looked up that term on Wikipedia, I still don’t know why. Essentially in the area are found stones, quartzite I’m told, which are generally about the size to fit comfortably in ones palm, and they cover some vineyards with them. There are plenty of pictures online of vineyards filled with stones, with bush vines poking up through them and well worth a look. The stones both reflect some sunlight up during the day to help with ripening, and retain heat to keep the vines warm through the evenings. The thing is, when I was there in June, there were certainly a few fields of these stones, but all the descriptions I had read led me to believe that every vineyard was covered in them which was certainly not the case.
Oh, and a minor point that I love – some regulated wine regions stipulate things like what shape of bottle you need to use for your wines. So the tall bottles of Alsace are essentially in the rules for most varieties there. For Châteauneuf-du-Pape the bottles may be (not sure if it’s required) embossed with the Papal Triple Crown and Saint Peter’s pair of keys. I almost always like embossed bottles, especially when it’s specific to a region. There are some producers who do nicely embossed bottles – Torbreck of Barossa Valley, Australia springs to mind – but regional ones are great.
So this wine, it’s lovely, and I did take notes last night when my tasting was a bit more insightful, so it’s time to put them down here. I promise I’m not cutting and pasting from the producer’s website.
Clear and bright, medium ruby, slow legs.
Clean and developing with medium intensity of sweet spice, fresh red cherries, strawberries and some oak.
Dry, medium-minus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus body with notes of strawberries, liquorice, spice, and some black pepper. Spicy finish, with medium-plus length.
This is a very good wine. There is a great deal of intensity, though more on the palate than the nose. It’s well balanced in that generally it is on the high end of the scale for intensity, alcohol and body, though the acidity is not as sharp as I might like. The complexity is split between fresh fruit and lively spice, though I would expect some chocolate, leather and tobacco in a year or two. The length is good with an interesting finish. I think the relatively low acidity can be forgiven as this is meant to be drunk young, and while that may mean further developed characters are not going to happen, it’s drinking very well right now at only three years old.