Last Wednesday’s regular tasting brought us together to do a vertical tasting of Clos des Papes, a domaine rich in history and fundamental in establishing the rules for Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s Appellation d’Origine Controlée. This domaine has always been relatively ‘under the radar’, but has quietly produced some of the age-worthy wines in the region. Now into its fourth generation, Paul Vincent Avril has taken the reigns of the domaine to continue the legacy and continue to churn out some of the most sophisticated and elegant wines.
Clos des Papes Blanc 2015
We started the evening with their whites, with a comparison of the 2015 and 2005. It’s always interesting to see how a wine develops in ten years, and that seems to be a good range to see how well it stands the test of time. The 2015 was vibrant and fresh, with plenty of acidity for a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Elegance is at the heart of Avril’s winemaking style and you can already feel this with his whites. Notes of pears and honeysuckle are dominant, with a hint of spice. This is very aromatic, and though young, there are no harsh or overpowering oak, reflective of Avril’s use of only large 20-55 hectolitre wooden foudres.
Clos des Papes Blanc 2005
The 2005 was soft, aromatic with plenty of stone fruits finishing with a slight honeyed note. This is drinking really well, and though not as overtly powerful as the 2015, it feels like the fruit has really mellowed out.
Clos des Papes Blanc 2011
Moving back to something younger, the 2011 was much better than we expected considering its modest rating. There’s a lot of intensity and incredibly fruit driven, though slightly more oily and glycerol in texture, there is plenty of acidity to balance it out. Definitely our go-to CNDP.
Clos des Papes 2014
Now moving onto the reds, we started with the 2014. One of the lighter vintages in Chateauneuf, with quite a lot of rain and humidity hitting the growing season. Whilst not the most powerful, this was very atypical, with a more medium to full-bodied palate. We actually really liked this as it offered a lightness and freshness that isn’t often found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Sweet spices, herbaceous notes, coupled with redcurrants and a slight hint of cassis.
Clos des Papes 2013
The 2013 was more typical of what we would come to expect from the wines of this region. According to Wine Advocate, the yields for this vintage were as low as 13 hectolitres per hectare, that’s even tinier than DRC! Plenty of concentration, power and weight, but just the right amount without being over-extracted. This should be an early drinking vintage but that makes it all the better value for it!
Clos des Papes 2007
The 2007 was the highest rated of all this domaine’s wines. This 100-point wine was announced by Robert Parker as “the greatest Chateauneuf du Pape made since 1978 and 1990”. After about three hours of decanting and then double decanted back into the bottle to serve, it was finally opening up. Incredibly full-bodied, powerful, rich and intense, this was a stunning wine and everybody present agreed. We just can’t wait to see how this matures.
Clos des Papes 2001
The 2001 is reaching its optimum drinking window now, and starting to show those truffle and smoky earthy notes that we love in a developing wine. Quite powerful, firm with approachable sweet tannins. At $750 this is amazing value for a mature Chateauneuf drinking at its prime and we simply could not ask for more.
Clos des Papes 1990
Saving the best for last, the 1990, now at 27 years of age was a beauty and offered us a glimpse of what the 2007 could become. A great vintage, and a great wine. Somehow feeling more youthful than the 2001, both in color and fruit profile, this is rich, concentrated, layered with plenty of structure still. The acidity helps with that freshness once again and we are left admiring the beauty and charm of the winemaking at Clos des Papes. The wine of the night had to go to the 1990, with its graceful maturity, the purity of fruit and just knowing that it still has plenty of life left to give.
Clos des Papes deserves every praise that has been lavished by critics. The fact that Avril only ever produces one label for both reds and whites, eschewing the practice of many who choose to bottle a premium label, and instead focusing solely on producing the very best Chateauneuf-du-Pape possible for every vintage, makes us respect him all the more.