Park B. Smith Invitational Tasting of 2009 and 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape

This was a remarkable day of fine food, prepared by Veritas’s chef, Sam Hazen, who was assisted by his sou chefs, Solange Johnson and Chris Meenan, as well as terrific wine service from sommeliers Reuben Rimiro, Alexandria Cubbage and Tristan Prat-Vincent. The theme was a comparison of 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape with the 2009s. And of course, anything worth doing is worth doing excessively, so for the finale Mr. Smith added the 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes and the special limited cuvée of Janasse 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes XXL (made from a small foudre that took an extra year to ferment dry).

The food was sensational. The Foie Gras Park B. Smith Slider was served on the chef’s brioche bun. It was followed by some incredible Kumamoto oysters with Osetra caviar as well as some fabulous Toro tartare topped with Santa Barbara Uni (sea urchin). We also enjoyed a magnificent group of courses including lobster, foie gras, an amazing cassoulet of crispy duck and a duo of beef (which I had packaged in a doggy bag to take home with me).

As for the wines, the 2009s are charming, rich and concentrated, but on a relatively fast evolutionary track. The blockbuster 2010s are more concentrated and denser, with slightly more tannin as well as more restrained, backward personalities. The 2009s should be consumed over the next 10-15 years whereas most of the 2010s need another 3-4 years of bottle age. 2010 should prove to be one of the longest-lived Châteauneuf du Pape vintages in the last thirty years.

We began with a magnum of 1990 Dom Perignon, which was exquisite. Given the fact that millions of bottles of this cuvée are produced, it is amazing that great vintages of this Champagne can age for 30-40 years. Out of magnum, the 1990 was still relatively young and is not showing any oxidative character whatsoever. Ripe, with lots of brioche, lemon zest and apple skin characteristics, it is a superb Champagne.

We then moved into a flight of wines that were essentially 100% Grenache, including the Colombis from Isabel Ferrando, the Domaine de la Solitude’s Cornelia Constanza, and the Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin. The winner of this flight was the 2010 Colombis from Isabel Ferrando, closely followed by the brilliant Janasse Chaupin from 2009. The Colombis is a classic, educational wine that exhibited everything one expects of a Grenache from the sunny, Mistral-beaten area of Provence. Lavender, garrigue, kirsch liqueur, licorice and loamy soil notes are found in this full-bodied, super-rich effort. The 2010 reveals slightly more structure and density than the 2009. The 2009 Cornelia Constanza was somewhat light and very evolved in this particular flight. The 2009 Janasse Chaupin was superb. While slightly more muscular and masculine than the Colombe with a denser color, it was showing beautifully, as most 2009s are.

The second flight combined the extraordinary old vine Grenache cuvée grown in pure sand, Barroche’s Châteauneuf du Pape Pure, to the classic, traditional style of Clos des Papes, which is generally a blend of two-thirds Grenache, a hefty percentage of Mourvèdre (around 20%), and the rest Syrah, Counoise and other authorized grapes. The superstars of this flight were both 2010s. The 2010 Clos des Papes needs 5-7 years of cellaring and should last for 30+ years, and the 2010 Barroche Pure, which is on a faster evolutionary track. It needs 3-4 years of cellaring and should keep for two decades. The deep ruby/purple-colored 2009 Barroche Pure offered wonderful raspberry, blueberry. While not as dense or powerful as the 2010, it is still a beauty. The 2009 Clos des Papes was relatively structured for a 2009, offering a deep ruby/purple color along with plenty of garrigue, licorice, nori (the sushi seaweed wrapper) and black fruits. The only wine in this flight that was close to full maturity was the 2009 Barroche Pure. The other wines all needed a minimum of 3-4 years of cellaring.

In flight three, the 2010 Domaine de la Mordorée Châteauneuf du Pape Reine des Bois was off the charts and I rated it higher than I have in the past. This dense purple-colored wine is a more modern-styled Châteauneuf du Pape, but it never loses its Provençal typicity. Stunningly rich, concentrated and full-bodied with great length, it is a whopper in the mouth. Give it 3-4 more years of bottle age; it should keep for 25-30 years. The same can be said for the 2010 Grand Veneur Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes. Closed and tight with a Bordeaux-like structure to its tannin and austere style, it exhibits tremendous weight, richness, purity and texture in the mouth. It still tastes like a barrel sample rather than a bottled wine. The two vintages of St.-Préfert’s Châteauneuf du Pape Collection Charles Giraud were both superb. The 2010 had more dimension, density and richness, and the 2009 was more open-knit, easy to understand and evolved than its younger sibling. Both exhibits lots of blueberry, black currant, meaty charcuterie, lavender, garrigue, smoked Provençal herb and earthy notes. The 2010 possesses a slightly more saturated color and is bigger and richer in the mouth.

Flight four started with a stunning old vine Grenache cuvée from Guiraud, the 2010 Grenache de Pierre, a limited production beauty that comes from a parcel not far from the Pure vineyard of Barroche. Abundant amounts of black cherry, black raspberry and floral aromas soared from the glass of this full-bodied, rich, chewy, hedonistic yet intellectually satisfying wine. That was followed by two luxury cuvées from Clos St.-Jean, the 2010 La Combe des Fous, whose 15% Cinsault component gives it a bright, aromatic floral note, and the powerful blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre (a blend identical to the Charles Giraud from St.-Préfert), the Clos St.-Jean 2010 Deus Ex-Machina. These were both stunning wines. Backward, tannic, rich, and full, even the 2009 Deus Ex-Machina could use another 3-4 years of cellaring. Typically, these are among the most backward, structured, densest and potentially longest-lived of the Châteauneuf du Papes in their respective vintages.

We hit flight five feeling slightly tipsy as well as saturated with great food, company and wine. However, it was easy to wake up when we poured the stunning 2009 Janasse Vieilles Vignes. Unlike most Vieilles Vignes cuvées from Janasse, this soft, forward offering is showy and flamboyant at the moment. That was a good thing since the two wines that followed are only available in magnum (only a couple hundred magnums were produced). They include Clos St.-Jean’s enormously massive, rich, old vine Grenache cuvée, the Sanctus Sanctorum. Both of these are remarkable wines that may represent one of the single greatest wines ever made in the world (the first vintage was 2007). They performed brilliantly, offering extraordinary intensity and richness as well as so much kirsch liqueur, lavender and spice box that it was almost over-kill for the palate at that stage. I know we didn’t need the finale, but Park Smith is known for his generosity, so we finished with two potentially legendary wines, the 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes and the 2007 Janasse Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes XXL, which was a small foudre that, as stated above, took an extra year to ferment dry. Both are pure perfection. Prodigious wines with enormous concentration, richness, unctuosity and thickness, it is almost impossible to believe wines can be this rich and full yet so elegant, pure and well-balanced.

This was another great showing for Châteauneuf du Pape as well as the restaurant Veritas. Thanks to Park B. Smith for his remarkable generosity and to his well-founded belief that the greatest wine made in the world for those who love drinking it is Châteauneuf du Pape.

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