Châteauneuf Rouge, Round Two: The Champ Walked Away, Stunned but not Defeated

That champ would be me after tasting through yet another line-up of 21 2007, 2009 and 2010 Châteauneufs.  Most of these wines were not just flammable, they seemed downright in danger of spontaneous combustion.  I will only note three that were the exceptions to the rule:  The Clos des Papes 2009 was the short term winner of the bout, full-on and supple, with old-style typicité, full palate coverage and quite delicious.  The 2010 is more structured, more savory, spicy, more linear right now and tightly knit, with firmer acidity, greater concentration and a crisp finish; this will win in the long term.  Domaine de la Mordorée’s La Reine des Bois 2010 also was relatively closed, though dense, intense and inviting; its tremendous concentration, will need to settle out and integrate.

But apart from these two wines, I felt pummeled on all sides, hit first with a blow of over extraction, pushed to the ropes by the jabs of volatile acidity, and almost felled by blow after blow of high alcohol.  The elements of the wines often were fighting with each other.  What are these winemakers thinking?  These wines feel as though the winemakers are doing one of two things: either are trying to prove something, assertively trying to make something, rather than trying to nurture the grapes into a natural expression of their land.  Alternatively, they have simply let the grapes run riot, as it were, believing that more is more.

There are those who love these wines, not just from style preference but also from their critical judgment.  It’s this latter especially I don’t understand.  To my view they are exaggerated, unbalanced, coarse, and anything but enjoyable; I’m practically under the table tasting through them, much less drinking them.  (And, truth be told, the non-trade guests who got to drink these wines at the luncheon – bigger men than I – reportedly staggered out, not fully in control of their faculties.)

The wines in this tasting were less all over the map than last years: there were the few wines of complexity and dynamic balance; the rest were of a piece, however exaggerated.  Even the wines that were fruit-for-fruit’s sake seemed just a subset of the Châteauneufs on steroids.  I will be very curious to see whether, in time, Châteauneuf’s pendulum swings back to an oxymoronic equilibrium, that is, an elegant rusticity.  I’ll champion that.

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