Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape: The Reviews Start Rolling In

I hope the prices of Châteauneuf-du-Pape stay about where they are, because, despite the fact that they’ve gone up in, say, the past decade (and what hasn’t!), they still represent one of the best values at the high-end of the French wine market.

Sure, they’re not bargain-basement cheap; but when considered in light of the prices being charged for top wines from other regions in France (Burgundy is a great example), they’re really quite reasonable. Factor in the longevity of the best of these bottlings, and the return on the investment is actually very good.

Personally, I’ve always felt that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a great wine to start a collection with. In fact, it’s what I started filling my own cellar with when I decided to buy one and begin laying bottles down for the future. And while I hope to one day be able to dedicate shelves to, say, Romanée-Conti or Latour, I’m very content to keep on building the Southern Rhone end of my collection right now...and for a great price, too.

The New York Times published an interesting piece on the 2007 Châteauneufs today, and it presented an interesting counterpoint to the glowing assessment of the vintage by critic Robert Parker, who said that 2007 is “[t]he finest vintage I have ever tasted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape... In my thirty years of evaluating these wines, I don’t think any vintage has achieved the heights of complexity, richness, and overall purity and balance as 2007.”

On the other hand, Eric Asimov wrote in this morning’s New York Times: “I was thinking about the overbearing side of Châteauneuf recently after the wine panel had completed a tasting of 20 bottles from the 2007 vintage...We found some wines we liked very much, yet on the whole the 2007s left me unexcited. Stylistically, they presented Châteauneuf’s too-friendly side. Châteauneuf is always a big wine, but these wines were huge — full of lush, opulent fruit with powerful, jammy flavors.”

Personally, I find myself leaning toward Parker on this one, though I have not yet had the chance to taste enough of the ‘07s to formulate a formal opinion. (I will in the coming weeks and months, and will report back right here.) Still, from what I’ve tasted, I am very impressed with the vintage. Yes, these are wines with a real sense of opulence, but so far I have also found elegance, detail, and terroir-specificity generally balancing out that richness.

But that’s the beauty of wine: Its ability to elicit passionate, deeply personal responses from consumers, and to keep them arguing even as they sip, slurp, and savor.

(On a less vintage-specific note, I found an interesting video on the 13 grape varieties permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and employed by Château de Beaucastel. It's posted below.)


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