Chateauneuf is one of my favorite red wine regions and it's arguably the last affordable great, classic red wine region. And WineRoute have always had a good selection of North and South Rhones. So I fully expected this to be a fun tasting... but it wound up being a minor headache.
Leaving aside two white CdP's from 2005, the tasting was predominantly 2004. Now I've read - and agree - that 2004 is a very good vintage, of the type usually termed "classic" - which, as a joke goes, means "cellar for a long time and see what happens". The wines at the tasting ranged from quite good to fine and excellent, and I'm sure they'll age fine - but picking my favorites was hard enough; guessing which ones I'll enjoy in ten years was almost impossible. So I wound up making a list of candidates for purchase and looking at Parker scores for the final decision. Very debasing.
At least the 2003's were easy to make a decision about. Surprisingly balanced for this controversial year yet in both cases bearing a stamp of over-ripeness that made me place them relatively low on my purchase list. Don't get me wrong, if WineRoute had imported just the 2003's, I'm sure I'd have found worthy wines to buy but with so many 2004's to choose from, it was "thanks, but no thanks".
Domaine Marcoux, Blanc, 2005
Ever since I spent three hours last summer trying to coax some life out of the Vieux Telegraphe, Blanc, 2001 (swirling glasses, decanter, the works), I've been wary of white CdPs. I'd have been hard pressed to say no to a knockout sample, though, but this wasn't one. Lots of lemon on the nose, low acidity, shy fruit forcing the alcohol to the fore. I bow to the professional critics' greater experience but for me, it's just not a wine that justifies its high price tag.
Offered at the the tasting were three very good value wines, listed at 179 NIS (about 30 USD). Of these, the Usseglio was probably the best.
Domaine Roger Sabon, Reserve, 2004
The nose is closed enough so that only a very pleasant leather signature leaks out, but that's a very fine thing for my tastes. The palate is a bit hollow at first but both nose and palate improve in time. Reasonable complexity and finish, bitter, tannic finish. Just a good ole Chateauneuf, I guess.
Domaine Pierre Usseglio, 2004
A nose that says "cool vintage", very fruity in an elegant way. But though the elegance carries on to the palate, the finish is still a bit harsh right now.
Les Cailloux, 2004
There is enough green-ness on the nose to notice, if not to bother. It lends interest but unfortunately the palate is less interesting.
Perrin et Fils, Les Sinards, 2003
Though ripe and extroverted, it is surprisingly graceful and made me regret not buying any 2003 Beaucastels.
Le Clos du Caillou, Cuvee Traditionelle, 2004
The closed nose lets out hints of red fruit and even a touch of lime, similar to a what Viognier does in Cote Rotie (though God knows where that came from here), earth and leather, before shutting down again. Impressive structure on the palate!
Vieux Telegraphe, La Crau, 2004
This wine is all about elegance, the nose - with its traces of cherry liquer - the palate, everything. Despite being one of the most backwards wines of the tasting.
Vieux Telegraphe, Blanc, 2005
Lemon tea, lime and mild spices on the nose. Beautiful acidity and a length that could make you gasp. If it wasn't for my frightful experience with the 2001, I'd have gone for it.
For some reason, probably because Guigal is a "northerner", I was prejudiced and did not want to like this wine. But it is very impressive with a complex, fully realized nose and a palate that still has plenty of room to grow, After some consideration, though, I concluded that it tries too hard to please. So there.
Le Clos du Caillou, Les Quartz, 2004
I found it strikingly similar to the Guigal, though it's more focused and more elegant, much less of opulent, making it for me a better wine.
Domaine Marcoux, Rouge, 2003
I fell in love with this domaine last year when my private Mephisto introduced me to the 2000 version with the leer in his eye and a chuckle on his lips. But though the 2003 is probably a tremendous wine for the vintage, I'll purchase my own Marcoux from other vintages. To be fair, I didn't expect such fine acidity from 2003 and yet, though the ripe and wild nose is really impressive, I do want more from a wine and that more is usually elegance, which the 2003 Marcoux simply doesn't have.
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, 2004
Another very elegant wine, whose signature is a balanced, minerally palate with ripe, integrated tannins. Excellent potential.
Domaine Roger Sabon, Prestige, 2004
Red and black fruit and leather on the nose. Ripe acidity, elegance, balance and length, what more could you want?
Domaine du Pegau, Cuvee Reservee, 2004
An impressive wine by any standard. A “wow” nose with red fruits, leather and hints of brett. Full bodied, rich and concentrated, with traces of sweet fruit on the finish that are balanced by integrated tannins and acidity. I don't think it has the brilliant elegance of the 2000 Cuvee de Capo, which for me is the standard by which Pegau’s wines must be judged, but it does posess an overwhelming sense of presence and the question for me was: would this presence be too overwhelming. I think not, and thankfully it doesn’t have that New World swagger that would have pushed it over the top for me, but at this stage, I’m just not a good enough judge to tell for sure.
I've listed the prices for some of the wines. To check out the full price list, go to the WineRoute's site.