Sunday, March 23, 2008

2005 Rhone Valley Reds ... Extraordinary So Far.

2005 is one of the most fabled vintages in French history. An exceptional vintage like 2005 means that the quality of the wines from everyone is racheted up: normally good producers make very good wine; very good producers make exceptional wine, etc. The question is: Will the wines live up to the hype? Short of sampling every wine from the 2005 vintage like a professional critic would, you have to make an educated guess as to whether this is really an exceptional vintage or not. To do just that, I've been sampling 2005s from a number of areas and at a number of price points. 2005 Burgundy and Loire Valley wines are already on the market, and both show exceptional promise.

2005 Bordeaux in my experience has had a somewhat mixed showing thus far. So, what about the Rhone Valley?

According to Wine Specator, Robert Parker, and virtually everyone else, 2005 was an excellent vintage for the Rhone Valley, although Parker seems to prefer 2006 to 2005, and there's some question whether the North or South produced better wines across the board.

To really get into the 2005 vintage mood, we dined at Oray on Saturday night. Orsay struck me as really old school French, with a Parisian vibe and smoky dark room feel like when you stepped outside the Opera House would be right there.

The first two wines we tasted from the 2005 vintage in the Rhone Valley were, to put it mildly, exceptional: 2005 Chateua Saint-Jean Chateauneuf du Pape and the 2005 J.L. Chave St. Joseph "Offerus."

The 2005 Chateau Saint-Jean CdP was a really gorgeous purple color. Good fresh kirsch, a touch of allspice, gobs of ground white pepper, fresh tapenade and ground green and black olives, dried herbs and liquid stones in a medium bodied, fancy French perfume styles CdP, with sweet acidity and sweet, fine tannins, and a minor cherry finish. I think this is a 2 or 3 star wine, very probably 3 stars, and in any event, at $40 retail this is an excellent wine from this vintage at a very decent price. Reminds me of the Sabon Prestige Chateauneuf du Pape 2001.

The J.L. Chave Selection St. Joseph "Offerus" from 2005 ($20, 1 star) was the best vintage of this wine I have tried going back to 2004, 2003, and 2001. With a seriously dark purple color, white pepper, cloves, tapenade and crushed green and black olives, gorgeous purple and red fruits (strawberry, currant, black cherry), and impecable balance. In my experience this wine drinks very well very young and will not live in the cellar. (The 2001 and 2003 were excellent young, but have faded fruit these days and are no longer recommended for the long term.)

2005 La Ferme du Mont "Cotes Jugunda" Gigondas - $25 - 1 star. Deep plum color. Nice spring flowers on the nose with chalky minerality underneath. Good warm fruits on the palate with some leather and mineral notes, refreshing zesty acidity that balances out the fruit notes, but a clipped finish.

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