My first introduction to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style wine was a bottle of Bonny Doon Le Cigar Volante at the Hudson River Club in New York City in the late 1980s. I’ll never forget the experience, because it was the first time I really understood that pairing the right wine with the right food can make for a magical culinary experience. The main meal was roasted goose in a superb red wine reduction sauce – probably my first poultry experience outside of chicken and Xmas turkey! – and it worked beautifully with the medium bodied yet spicy and deliciously flavourful Le Cigar Volante.
Back then my husband was a big fan of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and his interest coincided with the birth of Rhone Rangers – at the time a loosely affiliated group of Californian winemakers who were interested in promoting the use of grape varieties from Rhone in Southern France. Bonny Doon was one of the first wineries to use Rhone style varietals: its inaugual Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 1984, a homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, was released in 1986. We loved the wine and we also enjoyed the quirky labels, which remind me a little of the humorous names of some of the d’Arenberg wines – one of Australia’s foremost Rhone Rangers, to borrow to the American term!
Many Australian winemakers also make fine examples of Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blends, usually at a fraction of the price of their American counterparts. Up to 13 varieties are officially allowed in Rhone Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but typically most are a blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre. d’Arenberg’s The Ironstone Pressings 2007, (rrp $60) for example, is 70 per cent grenache, 25 per cent shiraz and 5 per cent mourvèdre. Jay Millar of The Wine Advocate gave this wine 92 points, and his tasting notes reflect a wine that exhibits all the great hallmarks of the style.
The 2007 The Ironstone Pressings Grenache (70%)-Shiraz (25%)-Mourvedre (5%) offers a complex nose of cedar, spice box, violets, black cherry, and blueberry compote. On the palate it has layers of spicy, savory fruit, lovely integration of oak, tannin, and acidity, and a 45-second finish. Cellar it for 4-5 years and drink it from 2013 to 2022. (Wine Advocate # 186, Dec 2009)
Sons of Eden’s 2008 The Kennedy Barossa Valley Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre (rrp $22) was rated 96 points by James Halliday, This small Barossa Valley winery is a joint venture of winemaker Corey Ryan and viticulturist Simon Cowham, who both worked for many years in the Eden Valley. The winery describes the hand-picked grenache fruit in the wine as the ‘soul’ of the blend, and it comes from an exceptionally low yielding 50+ year-old Light Pass vineyard.
Plexus from John Duval Wines in the Barossa Valley is another highly rated Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend. In the case of the Plexus 2006 (rrp approx $40) shiraz forms 52 per cent of the shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre blend. Prior to establishing John Duval Wines in 2003, Duval was chief winemaker at Penfolds from 1986 to 2002, where he was responsible for the fabled Grange! In addition to running his already very successful winery, Duval is a roving ambassador for Australian wine.
McLaren Vale’s Cape Barren makes the Cape Barren Native Goose GSM (rrp $22) which is typically 50% grenache 40% shiraz 10% mourvédre. The Native Goose GSM 2007 won top gold at the 2008 Adelaide Wine Show. Deep cherry red in colour, the nose delivers intense plum and prune aromas with a hint of cassis and five-spice. The wine has a big, tightly structured style offering dense black fruit flavours complemented by anise and mocha accents.
I thought I would end this post with a customer review of the 2003 d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings. Not only does it reflect the ageability of these wines, but it should get you fired up about trying these wonderful and reasonably priced Chateauneuf-du-Pape style wines!
This Ironstone Pressing was f$#*@!g amazing! If I could only start everyday with a glass, forget about coffee let’s have bacon, eggs, and hash with this before we all go to our jobs, life would be great! Kevin On, 25 August 2010