France, Rhone: Clos Saint Jean
Vincent and Pascal Maurel, with the next generation
Since taking control of the estate in 2002, and bringing on board rock-star consultant Philippe Cambie, the Maurel brothers have been knocking it out of the park in literally every vintage. 2004? Gorgeous wines and easily at the top in a recent retrospective. The cooler, rainy 2008? Beautiful ripeness and texture, and again, at the top of the hierarchy. 2011 is the same story, and it’s amazing what this team has accomplished in all of their vintages. Looking at this retrospective, we went through all of their cuvées going back to 2003. Unfortunately, there’s no new information here, and this tasting simply confirmed what myself and Robert Parker have been saying for some time now: Clos Saint Jean is at the top of their game and producing some of the most singular, hedonistic and brilliant wines in the world.
Starting out with the classic Châteauneuf du Pape, it’s normally a blend of 75% Grenache, with the balance a mix of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Muscardin and Vaccarese. As is common at this estate, the Grenache is aged all in tank, and the other varieties in a mix of tank and barrels. While I think this cuvée always lags the Vieilles Vignes bottling, it is consistently outstanding and always a super value.
Barrels for the Syrah and Mourvèdre
The 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape offers gorgeous kirsch and strawberry-styled fruits to go with notions of spring flowers, licorice and rose petal. A perfumed, medium to full-bodied effort, it has loads of charm and class and will have a decade of overall longevity. More backwards and concentrated, the 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape has rocking mid-palate depth and length on the palate. Giving up ample dark fruit, kirsch, pepper, leather and big minerality, this beauty will see its 15th birthday in fine form. A spectacular showing, the 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape was firing on all cylinders at this tasting. As sexy and seamless as they come, with blackberry liqueur, kirsch, creamy licorice, orange peel and dried flower-like aromas and flavors, it hits the palate with a full-bodied, up-front, decadent style that just begs to be drunk. Drink this puppy while you wait on the 2010. A wine I’ve had numerous times, the 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape has a Burgundian feel in its black cherry, forest floor, pepper and underbrush-like aromas and flavors. Medium-bodied, elegant and seamless, it’s a delicious, certainly outstanding, wine to drink over the coming 3-5 years. Put this in a blind tasting with top-notch Burgundies and shock your friends. Showing the quality of the vintage, the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape is an incredible wine. Possessing the classic kirsch liqueur, incense, flowers and licorice aromas and flavors that always show here, it flows onto the palate with a jaw dropping good texture that carries massive amounts of fruit, beautiful mid-palate concentration and a layered, silky feel. It’s hard to resist now, but it will be better in another couple years. From an under-the-radar vintage, the 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape is another full-bodied, layered and beautifully rich wine from this estate. Up-front, perfumed (kirsch and assorted red fruits, leather, wild flowers), concentrated and layered, it’s drinking nicely now and will continue to do so for at least another 5-7 years. The 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape is a ripe, concentrated effort that oozes melted licorice, plum, black olive and roasted herb-like aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, layered and beautifully put-together on the palate, it is almost overflowing with fruit, yet stays balanced, clean and thoroughly enjoyable. It will continue to thrill through 2020. Showing surprising depth and richness in the vintage, the 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape is slightly exotic on the nose, with hints of truffle, olive and underbrush morphing into more pure blackberry and sweet red cherry fruit. Medium to full-bodied, deep, rich and textured (especially for a 2004), it’s drinking at point and should be consumed over the coming couple of years (as always, depending on your preferences, as it will evolve for longer). Lastly, the 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape continues to drink fabulously, with its complex kirsch, leather, dried underbrush and spiced meat-driven profile. Rich, seamless and nicely concentrated, with some still-kicking tannin on the palate, it should be consumed over the coming 3-4 years as well.
Moving to the old vine cuvée, this is made especially for the U.S. Market and is 85% tank-aged, old vine Grenache, and the balance Syrah and Mourvèdre. It too almost always represents a crazy value and has a broad drink window. I’m currently finishing up a case of the ’08, and purchased two cases of the 2010, which is just starting to open back up after closing down shortly after release.
The 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is gorgeous (especially in the vintage), with loads of black raspberry, framboise and kirsch that’s balanced by notions of spring flowers, incense and spice. A forward, up-front version of this cuvée, it’s hard to resist now, yet it will have no problem evolving gracefully through 2023. More deep, rich and layered, with smoke, dried earth, ground pepper, leather and ripe blackberry-styled fruit, the 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is an incredible effort that has me purchasing more bottles every time I taste it. Showing more concentration than both the ’11 and ’09, with sweet tannin, it closed down slightly right after release, but was drinking beautifully on this occasion. I’d still hold off for another couple of years, and it will have 15-20 years of evolution with ease. Similar in style to the 2011, yet with additional richness, the 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes boasts knockout aromas and flavors of blackberry liqueur, orange rind, sweet spice and crushed flowers to go with a full-bodied, rich, layered and sexy feel on the palate. A gorgeous effort that’s hard to resist now, it will nevertheless have 15 years or more of evolution. One of the stars of the vintage and a wine that should not be overlooked, the 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes has a slightly darker fruit profile with plenty of pepper, mineral, earth and underbrush giving way to a medium to full-bodied, layered and silky feel on the palate. While from a cooler, more difficult year, you’d never know it by tasting it and it’s a beautiful effort that will continue to shine over the coming 4 to 5 years. Lastly, the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes is blockbuster stuff that has overflowing kirsch, blackberry, incense, lavender and Asian spices flowing to a sexy, full-bodied, multidimensional wine that has impeccable balance and knockout length. While I’ve a slight preference for the 2010, the 2007 has fabulous mid-palate density and an incredibly polished mouthfeel that’s hard to resist. It too is drinking well now, but will have 15 to 20 years of overall longevity when all is said and done.
Moving to the Combe des Fous release, this cuvée comes from a single plot of vines and is based largely on Grenache, with roughly 20% Syrah and 10% each of Vaccarese and Cinsault in the blend. The Grenache is aged all in tank and the other components see time in mostly demi-muids. While the Deux ex Machina always impresses more with its overt power and muscle, this cuvée always seems more polished, fine and elegant to me.
Starting with the 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous, it’s easily one of the wines of the vintage and offers killer crème de cassis, kirsch, spice box, creamy licorice and toasted bread to go with a full-bodied, seamless, elegant and layered profile the palate. While showing the forward, approachable nature of the vintage, it has ample sweet tannin, rock-solid mid-palate concentration and blockbuster length. Also up with the top wines of the vintage, the 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Combe des Fous shows the darker fruit and minerality of the vintage with its crème de cassis, blackberry, ground pepper, licorice and ample crushed rock-like minerality. Gaining more than one expletive in the notes, this full-bodied 2010 has thrilling purity of fruit, massive underlying structure and a rich, layered and decadent feel on the finish. As with most 2010s, it needs another 3 to 4 years of bottle age and will easily have two decades of overall longevity. A wine that blew me away, and the best bottle of this I’ve tasted, the 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous gave up exotic and intense aromas and flavors of ground pepper, kirsch liqueur, incense, white chocolate and crushed flowers. About as seamless and sexy as they come, this extraordinary Châteauneuf boasts incredible concentration, no hard edges and insane length on the finish. Much more forward and open than the 2010, drink it over the coming 10 to 15 years. The 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous shows what this estate can do in a more difficult vintage. Full-bodied, seamless and beautifully textured, it has ample kirsch, forest floor, truffle, black pepper, and an exotic, liquid flower-like quality to go with superb concentration and silky, polished tannin. Showing the vintage’s cooler nature, it nevertheless has serious richness and depth. Drink it over the coming decade. On another level, the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous is a monumental bottle of wine that’s hardly budged since I first tasted it on release. Giving up heavenly aromas and flavors of black raspberries, cassis, incense, cured meats and exotic spices, this incredible effort flows onto the palate with a layered, impeccably balanced profile that carries massive concentration, polished tannin and a crazy length. Despite searching for something to be critical of, I came up empty. Shockingly, the 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous is almost as good. From a vintage that flies under the radar, it boasts a classic Clos Saint Jean profile of kirsch liqueur, ripe black raspberries, ground herbs and sweet garrigue to go with full-bodied richness and depth on the palate. Always slightly more elegant and silky than the more powerful Deus ex Machina, this thrill ride of a Châteauneuf will continue to drink well for another decade. Up there with the ’07, yet in a different style, the 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous is a blockbuster that tops out on my scale. Exotic, perfumed and layered, with incredible kirsch, ground herbs, pepper and hints of olive tapenade-like aromas and flavors, this beauty is full-bodied and flawless on the palate, with ultra-fine tannin structure, building richness and a finish that just won’t quit. Given its depth of fruit, it’s a sheer joy to drink even today, yet will continue to knock it out of the park over the coming decade or more.
As is getting more and more common, this estate produced one of the wines of the vintage in 2004. A cooler vintage that featured higher acids and more mid-weight aromas and flavors, the 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous sports rocking depth and richness to go with big black fruits, black licorice, roasted herbs and assorted meatiness. Drinking well, I’d pop bottles over the coming couple of years, yet no doubt it will have a solid evolution through 2019 or so. Lastly, and a big, ripe and voluptuous effort, the 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous is thrilling stuff that’s drinking beautifully. Incense, exotic pepper, cedar and spice are all supported by a ripe core of sweet kirsch and blackberry fruit. It’s full-bodied, rich, textured and voluptuous on the palate. Showing no signs of over-ripeness or astringency, with polished tannin and excellent mid-palate depth, it pumps out loads of fruit on the finish, and should be consumed over the coming handful of years.
One of the greatest cuvées on earth, the Maurel brothers’ Sanctus Sanctorum is 100% Grenache that comes from a single plot of vines in the La Crau lieu-dit. Aged all in demi-muid, it’s been one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tasted – every time I’ve tasted it. All three of these were sheer perfection on this occasion, yet each has its own unique profile.
The 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum is the most classic in style, yet is still over-the-top and decadent in every way. Giving up heavenly aromas and flavors of crème de cassis, black raspberry, ground spice, sweet licorice and roasted herbs, it has a massive, voluptuous, layered and insanely pure feel on the palate. If you’re a Grenache lover, it doesn’t get any better. More flamboyant, open and exotic, with notes of kirsch liqueur, cassis, toasted almonds, sandalwood, lavender, and crushed flowers that you can smell from across the room, the 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum expands on the palate, with incredible concentration, building, sweet tannin and a finish that just won’t quit. Where the 2010 cuts a more focused path, this puppy is overflowing with fruit and texture. It too is a perfect wine that will evolve for another couple decades, yet given this showing, don’t hesitate to crack bottles over the coming couple of years. The largest scaled of the three, the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum offers a 2009-like level of decadence, yet is more dense, concentrated and thick, with a massive mid-palate and texture that has nothing out of place. Boasting off-the-chart aromas and flavors of crÃ¨me de cassis, ground pepper, melted licorice, loamy soil and exotic spice, it’s another desert island wine, in a lineup of desert island wines. Given that there are so few of these to go around, and that it’s bottled only in magnum, I know it’s difficult to open bottles, but don’t wait too long, as all three are insanely good – even today.
lways the most powerful of the cuvées, the Deus Ex Machina is a blend of 60% tank-aged Grenache and 40% demi-muid-aged Mourvèdre that comes from 70- to 100-year-old vines. The Mourvèdre component is really what defines this cuvée, and it possesses the most obvious structure and mid-palate richness in the lineup. Seeming to hit maturity around age 10 or so, it can be consumed relatively early in its life due to its wealth of fruit, texture, and incredibly polished tannin. In addition, don’t miss this cuvée in the lighter vintages, as even their 2004 and 2008 show classic character and no shortage of richness.
Starting off, the 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina is a stunner in the vintage. Like the Combe des Fous, it has incredible elegance, as well as the forward, sexy nature of the vintage. Kirsch liqueur, currants, toast, sandalwood, and graphite are just some of the nuances here. The wine hits the palate with full-bodied richness, a layered, seamless mouthfeel and beautifully polished tannin on the finish. Give it another year or two and drink it through 2026. Deeper and richer, the 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina has been nothing short of perfection on the 3-4 times I’ve been lucky enough to try it. Muscular and powerful, with a serious, full-bodied profile, it gives up incredible aromas and flavors of crème de cassis, licorice, graphite, beef blood and loamy earth. Like most 2010s at this stage, it’s backwards and dense, and needs to be forgotten for another couple of years. This beauty will have 2-3 decades of overall longevity. In contrast (and almost as good), the 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina is an extroverted, open and insanely perfumed effort that boasts killer blackberry and kirsch-styled fruit to go with layers of spring flowers, exotic spice and graphite. As are all of these efforts, it’s full-bodied, deeply concentrated and textured on the palate, with masses of sweet tannin. It will be better in a couple years and evolve gracefully for two decades, but it’s hard to resist right now. I think the wine of the vintage, the 2008 ChÃ¢âteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina again shows how good this estate is, even in difficult vintages. Giving up beautifully ripe black cherry, currant, licorice, ground herbs and hints of pepper, it’s full-bodied, beautifully concentrated, rich, structured and layered on the palate. While it will age gracefully, it too is a superb drink now. Like the 2010, the still inky colored 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina is as good as it gets. Both incredibly decadent and elegant at the same time, it offers outrageous aromas of mulled blackberries, cured meats, spring flowers and exotic spices to go with a full bodied, seamless, layered, yet massively constructed profile on the palate. Showing the depth and texture of this phenomenal vintage, it’s a monumental effort that’s still an infant in terms of development. It lives up to the hype (I still remember tasting this on release, in the cellar with Vincent, and leaving with nothing but a crazy smile on my face) and can be consumed anytime over the coming two decades. The 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina was flirting with perfection on this go around, and was open, layered and sexy. Possessing rock-star kirsch, blackberry liqueur, incense, spice, garrigue and ground pepper, it’s a full-bodied, incredibly textured 2006 that has thrilling concentration, sweet tannin and a finish this just keeps going. If forced to pick one of these bottles for current drinking, it’s showing spectacularly. I’ve been lucky enough to have the 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina numerous times over the past year, and while still youthful, it’s starting to shows hints of evolution and secondary nuances. Cassis, crushed rocks, graphite, beef blood and iron-like aromas and flavors are all present here, and it offers incredible depth and richness on the palate, with gorgeous purity, masses of tannin and a rock-star finish. A wine that could make you run out of adjectives, it too is another wine that goes flying off the scale. Like the 2006 (and 2003), the 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina is drinking beautifully today and defies the vintage stereotype. Giving up awesome dark fruits, olive tapenade, licorice, earth, pepper and spice, it has a un-2004-like richness and texture, as well as beautiful underlying structure and balance. Sweetly fruited, perfumed and complex, drink it over the coming 4-5 years. Lastly, the 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina is a wine that can hit perfection on any given day. In this lineup, it seems just slightly behind the off-the-charts, 2010, 2007 and 2005. Just now starting to show hints of maturity (bottles from my cellar show more evolution than this one), it’s an incredible Châteauneuf that offers textbook kirsch, licorice, graphite, blackcurrants and spice to go with a full-bodied, layered and voluptuously-styled feel on the palate. Like the other 2003 from this estate, it shows no signs over ripeness, possesses sweet tannin and beautiful purity. I’d drink it over the coming 3-5 years, but it will evolve for longer.
Clos Saint Jean 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 91
Clos Saint Jean 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 93+
Clos Saint Jean 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 94
Clos Saint Jean 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 90
Clos Saint Jean 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 94
Clos Saint Jean 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 93
Clos Saint Jean 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 92
Clos Saint Jean 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 92
Clos Saint Jean 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape (Red) Rating : 91
Clos Saint Jean 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes (Red) Rating : 93
Clos Saint Jean 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes (Red) Rating : 96
Clos Saint Jean 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes (Red) Rating : 94
Clos Saint Jean 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes (Red) Rating : 92
Clos Saint Jean 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes (Red) Rating : 95
Clos Saint Jean 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 97
Clos Saint Jean 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 99
Clos Saint Jean 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 99
Clos Saint Jean 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 94
Clos Saint Jean 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 99
Clos Saint Jean 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 94
Clos Saint Jean 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape Combe des Fous (Red) Rating : 97
Clos Saint Jean 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2011 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 98
Clos Saint Jean 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2009 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 99
Clos Saint Jean 2008 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 96
Clos Saint Jean 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2006 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 99
Clos Saint Jean 2005 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 100
Clos Saint Jean 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 96
Clos Saint Jean 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape Deus ex Machina (Red) Rating : 99
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