Monday, December 17, 2007

Cozy, Comfortable, and Classy: Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Of all the wines I love, there are none that I love so much as the Rhone blends from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Some wines make me shout with excitement, others impress me with their finesse, and then there are those that intrigue me because of their rarity or their exceptional value. But only Chateauneuf-du-Pape makes me feel like I've put on a cozy, comfortable sweater and slipped into my favorite chair. The heavy embossed bottles, with the keys of St. Peter crossed just over the label, are classy enough for any fine dinner party, yet they never seem to intimidate anyone, either, perhaps because they are not so highly touted as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Despite their relatively low profile, wine critics love them, and bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape often appear at the top of "the best wines of" lists, as they do this year.

What's even better is that truly excellent wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape can be surprisingly affordable.

The 2003 Perrin & Fils Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards is a case in point. I bought this last January at Costco for $23.69. You can still find it online for between $25 and $38, which is not too bad for a wine this good with some age on it. My first tip, though, is to by them a bit younger and age them yourself, even for a short period. This wine was only 2 years into its suggested "drinking window" when I bought it and eleven months older when I drank it. But it should continue to develop and evolve for the next five or six years, if you have space in your cellar for it. That's one of the nicest things about Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines: they tend to be ready for drinking much sooner than their red neighbors to the north in Bordeaux, and yet they have aging potential, too. The January 2008 edition of Food & Wine Magazine, for instance, includes 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Papes as one of the best wines to buy this year and cellar for the future, since the 2005 vintage is seen as one of the most age-worthy in recent years.

When I popped the cork on the 2003 Perrin & Fils Les Sinards all the comfort and excitement I associate with one of these great Rhone red blends was evident from the very first aromas that came from the bottle. Scents of plum, leather, thyme, and tobacco were accented with just a hint of ripe apricot. As if this wasn't complexity enough for one wine, the flavors included plum, allspice, and blackberry. The wine had a lingering finish that was warm and spicy. This was a lot of wine for $24, and something that would fit well on any holiday table whether you're serving beef, turkey, goose, or even a vegetarian option like mushroom and chestnut stuffing. Excellent QPR, and I will be seeking out other vintages of this wine.

The Perrin family has roots in the Rhone that extend deep into the 16th century. They are known for making superb wines, including their flagship Chateau Beaucastel red wine. The Perrins are long-time partners of Robert Haas's vineyard and winery in Paso Robles, Tablas Creek, which has done so much to raise the quality, and consciousness, of Rhone varieties here in the US. So when you drink this wine, you are also tasting more than a little bit of history with each and every sip. But the Perrins aren't content to rely just on their history--they embrace the future as well as the past and explore sustainable farming practices as a way to link together traditionally-proven growing techniques with their concern for the environment. They even blog, and you can learn a lot about the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, and their viticultural efforts, by reading it.

If you see a bottle of 2003, 2004, or 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape when you're in the wine store and it's a good price, you might want to give it a try since all three were recommended vintages. And if you see a bottle of Perrin & Fils, snatch it up right away. I may be behind you in the aisle, and if you show the slightest indecision I'll have it in my cart before you get a chance to think again.


RougeAndBlanc said...

Dr Debs,
The Beaucastel is a great CDP, I have had their '94 and '99 vintage. Recently I tasted their
2003 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone and it was very very good also. (It may say CDR, but it is better than a lot of CDP out there). Maybe one day I shall do a A/B test posting of these 2.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Debs
You write ups are awesome. I have never had a wine seem so inviting as this Chateauneuf du Pape. haha

Keep it up.
Anything Wine

Joe Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Roberts said...

Man - I thought that *I* was the only one! :-)

CDP is one of my 'dessert island wines', but I always feel that I need to defend it to my wine snob buddies. Shame it gets such a bad rap.

Dr. Debs said...

Rouge and Blanc, I've never had the Beaucastel--you are lucky, and I envy you. Joe the Wine Dude probably does too. Joe, maybe we need a Chateauneuf Lovers Anonymous group? Thanks for the compliments, John. I find too many wines inviting, unfortunately or fortunately, but the C9DP is the most irresistible by far.

Anonymous said...

Haha. I agree with you Dr Debs, I find all wines inviting, just for the experience to try something i haven't before or bring back a memory of a great experience in the past.


Jeff (Good Grape) said...

Good post, Dr. Debs.

I've only scratched the surface with CDP (isn't an abbreviation so much easier then double-checking your spelling with Google?), but I've really, really enjoyed darn near every bottle I've had.


Dr. Debs said...

Jeff, there's only one thing for it: drink more CDP (and yes, the abbreviation is great. Sometimes I use C9DP to spice it up!)