My relationship with the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is complex.  15-20 years ago I would have called them my favourites of all.  I loved the exuberant ripe fruit, lack of oak, Parker scores, (perceived) value.  I purchased accordingly, and enjoyed many over the early years. 

But the last decade has seen my palate shift toward brighter, fresher wines, while at the same time I feel climate change has not been kind to what was always a hot-climate appellation that already featured a hot-climate grape (Grenache).  There are lots of talented, well-meaning winemakers in the area but they can’t do anything about the weather, nor am I aware of options for changing to more heat-tolerant varietals (like the ongoing uprooting of Tempranillo in favour of Garnacha in Rioja, for example, or the shift to Cabernet Franc and the new varietals recently authorised in Bordeaux).  I do not believe that high-alcohol, low-acid wines age well, no matter what any experts say about “balance” being the key.  With the loss of their main champion in Parker, I fear the glory days for these folks may be behind them.

Anyway, I cracked three highly rated wines from the 2006 vintage.  It’s generally regarded as an at least average year (Wine Advocate 92, Vinous 88 “A classic vintage that combines ripeness with vivacity, producing wines that are on the moderate side alcohol-wise and with bright acidity. These wines have aged on their balance and freshness.”)  So, what do I know – since soon after release I have thought it a poor vintage, very high ripeness and alcohol, without the body and fruit to carry that off.  (The Vinous description, while at least accompanying a lowish score, sounds to me like vintage 2004, which by contrast I think has aged very well and is underrated.)  Really looking forward to these!

2006 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Super-ripe cooked fruit, jammy, some lifted floral/menthol notes.  Ripe, dark, jammy fruit in mouth.  Soft, no flavour definition, not very expressive.  Certainly past its best.  This wine was scored 98/95/95 by Parker/Tanzer/Spectator.  Yikes.

2006 Domaine de la Mordorée ‘Cuvée de la Reine des Bois’ Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Quieter, bit meaty, very dark licorice and burnt wood, not a fruity profile at all.  Similar to the Mon Aieul in the mouth – it has lost all its youthful fruit (and indeed, its oak, which was prominent in youth) but nothing has replaced it.  A dark, bitter, alcoholic bore.

2006 Domaine Pierre Usseglio ‘Cuvée de Mon Aieul’ Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Maple, fig, not very fragrant.  Intrusive alcohol in the mouth and finish obscures all else, bitter finish.

I attended a nice tasting in 2008 or 09 where a high proportion of the top Chateauneuf producers were showing their 2006s and 2007s.  (This was actually the launch party for the reference text on the appellation, The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book by Harry Karis.)  The 06 Usseglio Mon Aieul was my Wine of the Tasting.  Just after bottling it was glorious, absolutely billowing flowers and jam and leather, a total sex bomb.  Now at just age 13 it’s a hollowed-out shell, delivering no pleasure at all. 

My previous impression of the 06 vintage was certainly affirmed this evening.  These wines all should have been drunk several years ago, when they at least had some corpulence to offset the alcohol.  Now they’re just ponderous, hot, shells of wines.  Clos des Papes the least terrible of a bad lot.  If you are long these, I would eBay them, or gift them to colleagues you don’t really like.  Thankfully I don’t have too many more.

I will try to contextualise this with some verticals including these bottles, which may have the side benefit of including some things I actually enjoy! Stay tuned.