Like many others, I found my way to Châteauneuf-du-Pape through the words of Robert Parker, who seemed to be on a mission to propel the region and its wines to stardom. The results of his efforts put the village and its wines on the map for collectors around the globe. In fact, it is said that much of the region changed the entire style of their wines to fit his palate in hopes of achieving the Parker points that would secure their future. Whether or not this was a good thing is not for me to say.
However, what this phenomenon created was an entire generation of wine lovers who had to find their own way in a region where the top-scoring producers were often not the same people that made the wines that we actually loved to drink. Then there was the question of when to drink these wines, as we all hoped that the massively rich and ripe 100% Grenache style that was all the craze would one day settle and reveal some mystery to us all—somehow we are all still waiting. Lastly, there is the pricing, which has increased drastically. In a great vintage we can stomach it, yet the same pricing has made these wines prohibitive for daily drinking.
Don’t get me wrong; many wine lovers still enjoy the ripe style of vintages like 2007 and 2009, and just as many prefer 100% varietal Grenache. However, through much trial and error, I became a lover of a more traditional style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
What does traditional mean to me (because I’m sure someone will disagree)? For one thing, it’s the blend of various Rhone varieties, which adds a kaleidoscope of flavors and aromas but also makes for a more balanced wine throughout both cool and warm vintages. Next is the stems, as their addition to the fermentation process adds not just wild aromatic layers and depth, but also textural richness. And then there is the aging in cement or completely neutral oak barrels.
I’ve come to see this as the traditional formula, and you’d be surprised by how many producers follow these standards with their entry-level wines. You just need to be careful and follow either a trusted palate, or do the research before buying. In fact, these entry-level “traditional” wines are some of the best deals to be found in the region.
That said, the best fruit will continue to find its way into the top wines of each estate, that is of course, unless you know a producer who only makes one wine from the best fruits in a traditional style. One that comes to mind is Domaine Charvin.
Recently, I was lucky enough to have a chance to sit with Laurent Charvin and talk about his wines. Let me first say that Laurent is a man of passion. One who could never imagine making his wines in any other way. For him, it is a matter of honor, family tradition, and respect for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Laurent took the reins of his family’s winery in 1990. For five generations, the Charvin family was made up of growers and bottlers who sold to various negociants. However, he saw serious potential in their property and immediately began bottling for direct sale. What didn’t change were the traditional methods used and his belief in a winemaker’s connection to farming and nature. While many properties began to produce prestige bottles for international markets, Laurent stayed the course and continued to produce only one Chateauneuf du Pape made from the estate’s best fruit.
The Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of 85% Grenache completed with a mix of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Vaccarese, all grown in stone, covered clay and limestone-rich soils in the northwest of the appellation.
The winemaking continues in the traditional vein with no destemming and fermentation in concrete tank, which is the same vessel used for the wine’s 18-month maturation before bottling. The goal is to create a wine that speaks of the southern Rhone, its grapes, and terroir, all while maintaining balance, freshness and the potential to mature in the cellar.
After tasting his 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, what stunned me the most was how it transcended the difficulties of the vintage. It was beautiful, glorious, and a wine I would place in my own cellar. Passion is the key, as Laurent would say, and I wholeheartedly agree.
2013 Domaine Charvin Châteauneuf-du-Pape – The nose was gorgeous, showing intense red and black fruits, dark florals, spice and earth tones. On the palate, it displayed silky yet lifted textures with ripe strawberry fruit, sweet herbs, and spice. Hints of pepper, inner floral tones and bitter cherry lingered throughout the finish. This is so beautiful today that it’s hard to imagine waiting. (94 points) Find it at Morrell
As for the Cotes du Rhone, keep in mind that it is not a second wine. Le Poutet is made in a similar style to the Châteauneuf, but comes from a vineyard just outside of the AOC. It is well worth checking out.
2013 Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône (Le Poutet) – The nose showed crushed raspberry, exotic spice and white pepper. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by fresh strawberry, inner floral tones, and hints of pepper. It finished fresh with lingering hints of herbs and spice. (90 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido