There is no better way to assess a domaine than to do an extended vertical. I was one of nine hardy souls that gathered at Tribeca Grill (which has an amazing Rhone list) to sample a dozen vintages of Paul Avril's Clos des Papes. One of the consistent stars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the 2005 was memorialized by Wine Spectator as their 2007 Wine of the Year, the wines of Clos des Papes are traditionally Grenache dominated (around 65%, vintage depending) and the character of that variety is evident across vintages. I wouldn't say there is a "house style," but there was an amazing consistancy across vintages that show the quality of the terroir. The showing reenforced my views of Clos des Papes and proved out my thought that these wines are best left alone for at least 10 years.
We had the best intention of dumping the underperformers, but those were somewhat lacking (which had a somewhat deleterious effect). Most of the bottles were drained to the dregs. I've not listed the 1993 and 1997 which were corked.
- 1998 Clos des Papes Blanc - An interesting wine. The nose was somewhat delicate which belied the fullness it was to show in the mouth. Underlying the ample fruit was a lemony acidity and an impressive minerality that made me think of peach pits. Surprisingly, there was also a popcorn-like note that made me and others think of white Burgundy. Thank goodness this wasn't blind or we'd look pretty foolish.
- 1969 Clos des Papes - A stunning wine. The nose was ethereal and full of mature nuance of wild mushrooms, truffles and herbs overlying a bed of raspberries. The palate was exceptionally delicate with earthy wild raspberries framed on the entry and finish by garrigue. The finish also showed a touch of spiciness. With no noticable tannin, the fruit lulled quietly along on string of acidity. While others remarked that the finish was short, I could not disagree more. I found a sneaky persistance to the wine that I believe owed a debt to the acidic structure. The thing I loved about this wine was the quiet self-assurance it showed. Whereas many of the later wines shouted to you, this one made you lean in to hear a whisper.
- 1989 Clos des Papes - This wine is built to age and gave the impression of a much younger wine in both its vigor and how primary the fruit showed. The nose was a kirsch bomb with kirsch-y kirsch and some kirsch. The fruit was exceptionally pure and was not completely without secondary nuance, however, with notes mushrooms, black tea and touch of truffle. The palate was even more kirsch and black pepper. Whatever reservations I have about the showing of this wine are assuaged by the amount of tannin and the great underlying acidity. This wine has made it almost 20 years and it will probably be another 10 before it blossoms, which is amazing for a Grenache based wine.
- 1994 Clos des Papes - A workhorse of a wine that is probably drinking as well right now as it ever will. It started out feral and funky, sauvage, with raspberries, blood and tar, as if a horse had run for miles only to be run over on a stretch of newly paved highway. On the palate it was thick and sappy, the herbal raspberry character over a current of acidity. Without food, it was a little sharp and it evened out nicely with charcuterie. Still, I didn't sense that this had the stuff to be a great wine.
- 1995 Clos des Papes - I had figured this would have opened up some over the years, but it remains tight and unrelenting. On the nose there is an appealing earthy raspberry character and some spiciness. It is was quite ungenerous on the palate, which is a shame because you could sense the great purity to the fruit. Nice architecture, but structure for structure's sake. Some wines are just hard wines.
- 1998 Clos des Papes - An absolutely stellar showing for this wine. It was quintissential CdP with a heady mix of sweet red fruit, garrigue and licorice. Notes of bloody beef and tar also made an appearance. The palate presence on this was just astounding with raspberries, herbs and a slight spiciness carried through the finish by a tart acidity. The tannins were present but not obtrusive and added to the mouthfeel rather than obscure the fruit. It also possessed an appreciable earthy minerality that should come more to the fore with age. Really one of the few wines of the evening where the breadth matched the exceptional depth and the length. Easily wine of the night for me and the favorite of the majority of the group.
- 1999 Clos des Papes - We were lucky enough to drink this out of magnum, so we were able to go back and get a second impression. At first, it was fairly charmless. Some kirsch, some vanilla, a bit of garrigue, but not much there. In the mouth in was a bit thin and diluted with a short finish. When we went back to it later, while it was still firm and buttoned down, it started to show a more elegant side. It was still more structure than anything else, but it came across as classy and old-school instead of stiff. Perhaps the .750s would show a little flashier, but I suspect that these will take time.
- 2000 Clos des Papes - A very good wine that will require a measure of patience. The nose of sweet red fruit is a mit obscured by a distracting dollop of vanilla. Once that integrates it will be able to express better some of the bloody beef and garrigue characterisics underlying. Fairly big, but not outsized, in the mouth, there seemed to be a little less in the way of tannin and acidity, but certainly was enough to carry the fruit. It was a little less evolved than the '98, but was still fairly open and friendly. That said, just because you can drink it doesn't mean you should and allowing time for the pieces to knit together is a must for this wine. It shows great promise.
- 2001 Clos des Papes - A great marriage of power and elegance. It is still unspooling and requires some patience, but it's all in there. The nose is classic CdP with raspberries, herbs and a little gaminess. It was fairly nimble in the mouth with good ripeness unlinerlined by refreshing acidity. The tannins are a bit obtrusive and left it feeling a bit thin on the midpalate, but it fleshed out as the evening wore on and should come around with bottle age. Whatever urge you have to open this one, resist because there appears to be a lot of subtlety here that needs substantial time to emerge. It is certainly built to last.
- 2003 Clos des Papes - Looks like we got one of the good bottles of the '03. It really is a whale of a wine with tons going on. Kirsch, kirsch and more kirsch on the nose mix with a tasteful melange of asian spices, vanilla and tar. I'm a bit of a sucker for cardamum in wine, but the combination of the spice and vanilla got me thinking about oak and I really didn't want to go there. It had wonderful presence on the palate, being weighty but not heavy, with dark raspberry framed by silky tannins and a lemony acidity. It is of monumental size and is really exciting to drink, but it isn't quite at rest right now and all the pieces don't completely make sense in the context of the wine. The '05 seemed a touch more precise. Let it sit a while and cross your fingers you didn't get a bad batch.
- 2004 Clos des Papes - I was a bit surprised about this bottle, which I expected to show better. It had ample ripeness with sweet black fruit and Christmas spice, but it seemed too advanced for a 4 year old wine. It wasn't falling apart or anything, but it seemed a bit too precocious, too showy. Ali noted, "It's good tonight!" which left unspoken that it didn't really hold much interest beyond a one nighter. A look-at-me wine that I just didn't get, but I don't think anyone didn't enjoy it. A bit of a guilty pleasure.
- 2005 Clos des Papes - I felt this wine was slightly more compelling that '03. It had the quintissential Grenache character of sweet kirsch and herbs on the nose. It was showing a bit too much vanillin of its youth, but there was also some great secondary characteristics peeking out, such as licorice. The palate was pretty tannic and tightly wound, but the fruit was so pure and it was underlined by a nice acidity. It's a powerful, structured wine that didn't feel tricked out. Have some patience though; this is not as wide open as some other '05s I've had.