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Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

By Tom Cannavan, 03/00

Vincent Avril, the proprietor of the this highly-regarded estate was due to be in Edinburgh for this tasting but was unfortunately taken ill shortly before-hand. His Scottish importer, Raeburn Fine Wines went ahead anyway and showed the wines as well as giving a useful run-down on an estate that they know well. Raeburn (0131 343 1159).

I have to say that this was one of the most impressive ranges within a vertical tasting that I have had for some time. The reds spanned the 1997 release back to 1985. The 1998 is being bottled and will be released soon, and is reputed to be of exceptional quality. The white was also a revelation - a beautiful wine which Avril believes has substantial cellaring potential. I shared the purchase of a case each of the '98 red and white with friends.

Avril's vineyards are "parcelated" into many small plots in which he grows one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's 13 allowable grape varieties. He beleives very much in "terroir" and the soils of his vineyards range from light sand to the pebble-strewn earth typical of this appellation (the famous "galets" or pudding stones). The white is a blend of all 5 permissable varieties. In order to retain crispness, it does not undergo malolactic fermentation. The red is made with yields of only 25 hectolitres per hectare - very low. Mostly Mourvèdre, there is also a planting of 20% Grenache. His philosophy is to attain maximum ripeness of grapes and tannins and the wines are aged in only 20% new-oak in order not to overpower them. He has also installed a "fogging machine" in the winery, to keep the maturing wines in an atmosphere of high humidity, even when the warm Mistral winds blow through the Southern Rhône drying the air.

The tasting was not blind. Due to the low-light in Raeburn's atmospheric old vaults, colour assessment was difficult.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998 BLANC
Wonderfully peachy, luscious but fresh nose. Clean scents of peach and orchard fruits with a little honeyed edge. The palate is quite full, with fine apple acidity and a lively palate of crisp raspberry, peach and apricot flavours, finishing long and pure with balanced acidity keeping it savoury.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1997
The nose is beautifully sweet and ripe with well delineated raspberry fruit and already a nicely gamy edge, There's a hint of red cherry too. The palate is clean, smooth and fruity. There is a spicy richness at its core, and fine but grippy tannins. This seems fairly straightforward, but is well-balanced and already delicious. Very good.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1995
Much more animal and earthy on the nose with deep seams of leather, smoke and cherry fruit. Really lovely. The palate is tightly gripped by tannins but these are fine and ripe and the fruit is all there: dark berry, black cherry and some tart, zippy raspberry character. The oak is quite powerful and the whole package finishes with a muscular, compact feel but good length. A sleeping giant of a wine I'd guess, built for the long haul.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990
Very sweet, very finely focused nose with a bouquet of gorgeously sweet black fruits, creamy blackberries and again that lift from a raspberry "brightness". Very complex on the palate with a chewy tannic structure and loads of herbs and spice. The finish is long and pure showing a wonderful balance. Lovely. Drinking well, but decades ahead of it.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1989
The nose is so sweet, ripe and almost jammy. Beautiful purity of fruit, but underpinned by complex nuances of game, blood and sweet damp earth. The fruit is red berries and cherry, with a lovely cassis note and some gamy nuances. Tannins are quite soft but fine and supportive. The whole picture on this wine is simply delicious for current drinking, but again it has the concentration and balance for further ageing.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1988
Seems quite a style change. This has quite a stinky, Burgundian aspect on the nose. As well as gamy, truffly scents there is a load of sweet raspberry and strawberry fruit which is creamy, rich and focused. The palate is silky-textured and dense, with a great ripeness and richness. It provides wonderfully mouthfilling, delicious drinking though perhaps without quite the structure of the '90 or '89. Mature but should keep for 5 years or more.

Clos des Papes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1985
Just captivating on the nose: coffee, herbs, sweetly jammy black fruits, hints of game and dank undergrowth - but an almost minty ripeness of fruit. On the palate it is intense though light to medium-bodied and shows good fruit and spice. A lovely sense of completeness without being dull or ill-defined. Mature and delicious.