According to Wine Spectator, "The Southern Rhône's string of outstanding vintages since 1998 (save for 2002) may have come to an end in 2008, a difficult growing season marked by cool, rainy weather and a very small crop."
This week I had an opportunity to see for myself. At the top floor of the Knight Ridder building in downtown San Jose, a relatively small trade gathering sampled the latest vintage of soon-to-be released 2008 bottlings from Chateauneuf-du-Pape (aka CdP). These wines have been specifically bottled for the Angeles Wine Agency's annual tasting and will be officially released between April and August.
What a great opportunity to assess the CdP vintage relative to the much hyped 2007, which I reviewed last year. A fascinating study of the importance of a vintage, the differences are vast and obvious, and frankly, to my liking.
While the 2007 was a monster year in CdP - ripe, jammy, sweet fruit, high-alcohol, thick textures, astronomical Parker scores, I have none of them in my cellar. The 2008, on the other hand, is cooler, leaner, much more food friendly and enjoyable right now and in the short-to-medium future. None of the super-extracted alcoholic in-your-face syrup that seduced so many folks in 2007. Can you tell - I really do prefer the style of 2008? - still the fruit, the spice, the herbs, the tannins, the animal are all there, but on a leash. Relatively low-acid, which is a general "issue" with CdP in my opinion, not just this vintage. But for a lot of New World drinkers, the low acid is a blessing! Certainly these wines should work with peppery, herb-crusted meats, roasts and bbqs.
The prices for 2008's look to be about 15% lower than 2007, a welcome reprieve, though for selfish reasons I wish they'd gone down even more, given how unsexy this vintage will probably appear to many folks, as it did to critics.
Here are the wines I tasted - all were quite good and representative of the region and the vintage. If you enjoy Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I would not turn away any of them, and there hopefully will be deals to be had.
Busquet Des Papes
Clos Des Brusquieres
Cuvee du Vatican
Domaine de la Charbonniere
Domain de la Mordoree
De la Cite De L'Ange
Le Vieux Donjon
Mas De Boislauzon
Of those, the following stood out for me:
Chateau Fortia Tradition - chocolate, coffee, meat, metal pipe.
Chateau Fortia "Cuvee Baron" - more refined, spicy, nice texture.
Cuvee du Vatican Reserve Sixtine - good, sweet, low-acid, low-tannin, smooth & plush.
Le Vieux Donjon - always reliable, balanced, classic CdP with spice.
Pierre Usseglio & Fils - last year, I thought it was the producer of the vintage, and this year, again they made a sexy wine, unnoticeable tannins, incredibly soft, smooth and plush, sweet, spicy and low-acid.
Olivier Hillaire "Les Petits Pieds d'Armand" - the most expensive wine of the tasting was concentrated, sweet and bitter, reminding me of my tasting at Domaine du Pegau. Seems like this wine is built for aging and impact!
I can't help but conclude that a leaner lighter year in Chateauneuf, 2008 is just right for my unparkerized palate, thank goodness for that, says my palate and my wallet.