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2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape at The Cellar Table

I’m not ashamed to admit it; I love Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Granted, I’m not talking about the large-scaled, overtly rich, premium wines that many producers were aiming for ten years ago when the palates of one trend-setting critic was guiding the market. Luckily for me, that’s all changed, as today we have three individuals that drive the market, and each has distinctly different tastes, while all being able to meet at a happy middle ground.

That trifecta of Châteauneuf-du-Pape critics is made up of James Molesworth, Josh Raynolds, and Jeb Dunnuck. Each one has a proven track record, an incredible knowledge of the region, and a great palate. All you need to do is figure out which one speaks best to your personal tastes, and you’re set. The good news is that this group is looking for much more than just the large-scaled Grenache-dominated wines of the past. However, for those of you that like the big, rich premium wines–you can still find them. However, it’s no longer the goal of the broader region, just the producers that still do very well by producing them.

As for the topic that inspired today’s foray into Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it’s the massively hyped 2016 vintage. Why 2016 and not the similarly hyped 2015s? For one thing, 2015 was a vintage in which the critic trifecta unanimously agreed–great vintage. However, as talk of 2016 started, the word on the street was that it may even surpass the previous vintage. This slowed sales of the ‘15s drastically, and although they slowly moved, I believe that most of them went to a rather small audience that was mostly tasting the wines and liking what they were tasting.

Then the vintage reports began to pour in about the ‘16s, and something caught my eye. Each of my three favorite critics loved the vintage, each of them had similar things to say, and each reported how excited the producers were about the results. However, reading through the report from Josh Raynolds, I came away with something that didn’t jibe with everyone else; I got the feeling that he preferred 2015.

…if large-scaled Châteauneuf isn’t your thing, then this is a vintage to approach carefully, probably even more so than is the case with the almost universally outstanding 2015s.Josh Raynolds, 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape: The Beat Goes On – Vinous Media, July 18th 2018

Make no mistake there was no time that I began to feel that Josh didn’t like 2016; in fact, he raved about it, but his report led me to believe that this was a vintage for the lover of immediate gratification, and he even went as far as mentioning that term I’ve used many times in the past, (often in a negative light) “large-scaled.” Compared to the thoughts of his contemporaries, it was enough to get me to want to jump in myself and start tasting.

…the wines are dark and brimming with fruit, as if they were marked by a warm vintage. But they’re remarkably fresh on the palate, with floral aromatics and beautifully defined finishes, as if from a cooler year. It’s a dramatic combination.” James Molesworth, Second Look: 2016 in the Southern Rhône, June 28th 2016

… a hypothetical mix of 2010 and 2007… the biggest surprise was the consistency of the vintage, which is even more homogenous than 2015. This is truly an extraordinary vintage.Jeb Dunnuck, The Elegant and Lively 2015s and Heavenly 2016s, Jebdunnuck.com October 19th 2017

Thinking about this task logically, and trying to do it without breaking the bank, I thought to check in on as many of the “entry-level” or “tradition” (as many CdP producers will call them) bottlings as I could. Luckily, I was also able to taste and include a couple of premium wines as well. My goal was to figure out, not just for you but for me, if 2016 was a Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintage that I wanted to put into my own cellar. 

Vintage Conditions

In the vineyard with Isabel Ferrando of Domaine Saint-Prefert.

The fact is that 2016 was a warm year, but that warmth was offset by a number of factors which allowed the wines to maintain an amazing level of freshness. The year started with cold winter months, which delayed the start of the growing season, yet with Spring came ideally warm and dry temperatures, resulting in a even and abundant crop. Summer was when the heat began, coupled with dry conditions, yet cool nighttime temperatures were the saving grace, as they allowed the grapes to rest, maintaining acidity and slowing ripening. Late summer rains gave the vines some much-needed water, followed by ideal conditions throughout the fall. The result was a harvest where growers could decide the perfect time to pick.

When reading the reports from all three critics, you receive a very similar message: that the 2016s are wines of depth, abundant fruit, round tannins and vibrancy. The question is, are they “large-scaled?” As for early approachability, I for one have been guilty of associating the ability to age a wine longer in my cellar than others as a reason to call it a better bottle, and this is something that I’ve been working hard to stop doing.

Broad Conclusions

First and foremost, I can tell you without a doubt that I like the 2016 vintage very much. In fact, I’ve already added a number of these wines and others to my cellar, having tasted and confirmed that this really is a vintage that is not to be missed. As for if the wines are large-scaled, I will say that the selection of wines I tasted were not, but I must also add that Josh’s comments may refer more to the higher-end bottles. If that’s the case, then all the better for all of us, because these are all wines that can be had for under $60 that are already showing well and will continue to evolve for well over a decade.

Which brings me to the drinking dates that are often given by publications. While in the case of wines like Barolo, I feel that they are often way too early, but in the case of Châteauneuf-du-Pape–way too late. The average drinking “start” date for the ‘16s is 2024, which I could understand for a structured vintage like 2005, as giving the wine six to ten years in the cellar is smart. However, with a vintage like 2016, it would be a horrible shame to miss out on the primary fruit that these wines are showing today.

The Consistently High-Scoring Domaine Saint-Prefert Charles Giraud. A standout in both 2015 and 2016.

Speaking of 2015, I believe looking back for a brief moment allows things to become clearer. Looking at the two vintages together, we find that 2015 will take more time to mature and provide the best drinking over a longer period of time, but you need to be a patient collector. The wines are almost too much to bear at this time, not showing the best sense of place, nor the stamp of the producer. Yet this is exactly what Josh is betting on, that when they do relax and open up, what we find will truly thrill us.

So what’s a lover of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to do?

I say buy balanced across both vintages. Buy the producers you love and have experience with, and enjoy the fact that you’ll have a collection of wines (between the two vintages) that will provide pleasure right now and for many decades to come. It’s been a long time since this region has enjoyed a great year (2010 was the last time), so I say that it’s time to stock up.

Below are some of my favorites, and like I said before, all represent great value.

Enjoy!

On to the Tasting Notes

Clos Saint Jean: Withdrawn on the nose but over-delivering on the palate & finish.

Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieilles Vignes 2016 – The nose was much more restrained than expected, showing crushed raspberry, with hints of dusty spice, sweet lavender, smoke and garrigue in the background. On the palate, I found wonderfully soft, velvety textures offset by spicy red and blue berry fruits, minerals, and sweet herbs which seemed to coat the senses as round tannins slowly mounted. At first, I thought this wanted for acidity, yet its balance was undeniable. The finish was long, resonating on dark blue fruits with violet undertones, minerals and lingering spice. The 2016 Vieilles Vignes is as suave as it gets, and as soon as the bouquet begins to open up more, it should be quite an amazing wine. (92 points)

Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tradition 2016 – The nose was vibrant, showing bright crushed raspberries mixed with dusty sweet spices, an unmistakable note of fennel, smoke and peppery nuances. On the palate, I found velvety textures giving way to ripe blueberry and black cherry, with hints of sweet spice and violet candies, as brisk acidity added freshness. The finish was medium-long and actually quite pretty, as lingering red and blue fruit slowly faded, leaving hints of dry spices and light tannin. This performance was quite enjoyable, and although some time in bottle may bring out more layers, I find it difficult to keep my hands off it already. (92 points)

Saint-Prefert: Remarkably pretty, lifted and full of energy!

Domaine Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 – Here I found an extremely pretty and perfumed style, leading off with fresh ripe strawberries in a mix of dusty sweet spice and violet candies, as more floral tones came forward, dried flowers more than fresh, along with an unmistakable hint of garrigue. On the palate, soft textures gave way to sweet strawberry and cherry, with zesty acidity providing lift, as notes of crushed violets, lavender and spice saturated the senses. It finished long with lingering ripe red fruits, brisk mouthwatering acidity and a twang of spicy cinnamon. The ’16 Saint Prefert CdP is unmistakably ripe, yet bursting with energy, and a pleasure just above cellar temperature. (93 points)

Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 – The nose was elegant and rich, showing sweet violet florals and smoke over notes of black cherry, crushed blueberry, lavender, moist earth and hints of sweet tobacco. On the palate, I found silky textures which seemed to coat the senses with notes of currant, sweet blackberry, lavender and spice. The finish was long, resonating on crushed violet candies, blackberries, sweet herbs and a hint of young tannin. This is a beautiful, elegant and balanced entry-level Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which really communicates the house style. (93 points)

Roger Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve 2016 – The nose was dark and rich, displaying fig paste, plum sauce, black cherry, sweet-and-savory spice, lavender, tobacco, and hints of crushed violets. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by a twang of brisk acidity, as lively red and black fruits washed across the senses, leaving spicy accents, minerals and dark inner floral tones in their wake. The finish was long and surprisingly fresh, as the wine’s dark fruit brightened through zesty acidity, while savory minerality saturated the senses. The poise and definition here was amazing, showing a remarkably lifted and vibrant expression of the 2016 vintage. (93 points)

Marcoux: Depths of aromatic complexity and like liquid velvet on the palate.

Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 – The ’16 Marcoux CdP was initially quite closed, opening with time to show chalky minerals, with crushed raspberry, dusty floral perfumes, herbal-peppery tones, raw honey, hints of orange zest and wet pavement. On the palate, I found wonderfully silky textures which coated the senses, perfectly balanced between lively acid and tannin, delivering a mix of ripe red and blue fruits with violet accents, smoky minerals and sweet spice. The finish was long–long–with staining ripe raspberry, blueberry skins, inner violet florals, spice and hints of sweet tannin. It effortlessly hides its 15.5% alc. and ends with perfect balance. Gorgeous! (94 points)

Domaine de Cristia Châteauneuf-du-Pape Renaissance 2016 – The nose was gorgeous with spiced orange peel, exotic florals, raspberry and cherry, with sweet minerals and violet candies. On the palate, I found velvety textures with floral-tinged red and black fruits, inner purple floral tones and saturating sweet spice. The finish was long with lingering violet-tinged sweet spices and grippy young tannin. The ‘16 Renaissance is simply gorgeous. (95 points)

Domaine Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape Collection Charles Giraud 2016 – The Charles Giraud displayed a deep purple color in the glass. The nose was dark and rich with masses of brown spice, dried orange, crushed raspberry and violets. On the palate, I found intense, silky textures with sweet spice, vibrant spiced black cherry, black raspberry, and exotic inner florals, yet with time in the glass, it became more savory and meaty. The finish was long with spicy inner florals and masses of crushed raspberry. This is a beast of a wine that will require some patience to settle down. (96 points)

Credits and Resources

The Domaine de Cristia Renaissance: Power, primary fruit and spice meets pure elegance.

Article, Tasting Notes and Most Photos by: Eric Guido

A special thank you to Domaine Saint-Prefert for photo permissions

To read Jed Dunnuck’s report on 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Click Here

To read Josh Raynold’s report on 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Click Here

To read James Molesworth’s report on 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Click Here

View the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape collection at Morrell Wine

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