Like the Tradition bottlings described yesterday, most of these supposedly special cuvées were tasted blind by me in the village of Châteauneuf, pictured here in the early morning sunshine from a vantage point I was taken to in order to film a little video paying tribute to Austrian wine (yes, strange). The long day’s blind tastings, from carefully paper-bagged bottles, take place in the tasting room of the efficient interprofessional headquarters that sees most commentators on Rhône wines each year.
Before arriving there this year I was rather taken aback to learn that there would be more Cuvées Spéciales than Tradition bottlings. The former are meant to be really superior seasonings while the latter represent the meat of the appellation. Some producers such as the hugely admired Clos des Papes and Ch Rayas refuse to play the Cuvée Spéciale game and make only one red wine each year, no matter what the growing season throws at them. But an increasing number of others, it seems, are making a growing number of special bottlings – distinguished by coming from a special plot, or having a different varietal make-up from the main blend.
(As with the Tradition bottlngs, Tam has worked incredibly hard, using information provided by the producers and the Syndicat, to provide the make-up of, and technical background to, each wine as an accompaniment to my tasting note. Note that the acidity (TA) levels are expressed as sulphuric so they may look low. To convert them to tartaric, multiply by roughly 1.5.)
In many cases with these 2015s I found it difficult to see why they were superior. Indeed I found more faulty, or borderline faulty, wines among the 119 Cuvée Spéciales I tasted blind in Châteauneuf than in the 118 Tradition bottlings I tasted blind there, with excess volatile acidity being a particular problem in wines from this very hot summer.
As with the Tradition wines, I found the colours more varied than ever. There were very few of the unappetising fruit bombs that one used to encounter, and very few obviously oaky wines. Instead, many of the better wines described below showed a quality that could be described, fashionably, as ‘minerality’ and freshness. Despite the relatively high alcohol levels, there was no shortage of wines with cool finishes, I’m delighted to report. As elsewhere, better winemakers seem to have solved the problem of uncomfortably hot finishes associated with high alcoholic strength.
So, overall, the trends among these Cuvées Spéciales mirrored those among the Tradition bottlings and the main difference between the two groups was more stylistic than qualitative.
A total of 125 wines are described below and they are listed in the order tasted so that if you choose the default setting, you will be able easily to spot any late additions at the end of the list. But you are, as usual, free to choose how they are ordered, as below.
Order by defaultscoreproducervintage ascendingvintage descendingappellation
Tardieu Laurent, Cuvée Spéciale 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 99% Grenache (over 100 years old), 1% mystery grape! Bottom of La Crau on sandy soils. 100% whole bunch, aged in one- and two-year-old barrels. (No Châteauneuf Vieilles Vignes this year because Michel Tardieu thought the sandy soils succeeded more than the galets.)
Deep ruby. Very rich nose. Really intense fruit followed by almost medicinal flavours and masses of tannin. Ambitious. But great finesse of texture too. And quite a bit of alcohol on the end with real juiciness. 14.5% Drink 2020-2030 £325 per case of 12 ib RRP 17+
Ch de Vaudieu (Bréchet), Val de Dieu 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre. Destemmed. Vinified at 25 °C in stainless steel (40%) and concrete tanks (60%). Aged for 18 months, 80% in demi-muids, 20% in stainless steel vats. pH 3.7, TA 3.2 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark crimson with some minerality. Even a bit of finesse. This is really quite exciting. Nervy as well as very ripe. 15% Drink 2023-2033 17.5
Le Clos du Caillou, Les Safres 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Bédines. 95% Grenache, 2% Cinsault, 2% Mourvèdre, 1% Vaccarèse. Destemmed and vinified in tronconic vats. Aged in foudres for 17 months. pH 3.54, TA 3.74 g/l.
Tasted blind. Healthy crimson. Overripe notes on the nose. And then rather pinched acidity and astringency on the palate. Not a great success. 15% Drink 2021-2027 15.5
Ch de Vaudieu (Bréchet), Amiral G 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 100% Grenache. Destemmed and vinified at 25 °C in concrete tanks. Aged for 18 months in demi-muids. pH 3.9, TA 2.91 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid ruby. Pale rim. Looks very evolved. Sweet and rich and as comfortable as an old pair of slippers – though it’s difficult to see how a 2015 can be so mature! Sweet and spicy with structure but no obvious tannin-in-waiting. 15% Drink 2018-2026 16.5
Le Clos du Caillou, Les Quartz 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Cassanets. 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah. Destemmed and vinified in tronconic vats. Aged for 17 months in demi-muids (85%) and old barriques (15%). pH 3.5, TA 3.55 g/l.
Tasted blind. Deep crimson. Gamey, spicy notes and awfully sweet on the palate. Could do with just a tad more freshness. Rather astringent, messy finish. 15% Drink 2023-2032 16
Ch de Vaudieu (Bréchet), L’Avenue 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vaudieu. 100% Grenache. Destemmed. Vinification at 25 °C in concrete tanks. Matured for 18 months in demi-muids. pH 3.64, TA 3.7 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid crimson. Hint of damp fur on the nose and slightly pinched fruit on the palate. Morello cherries and some definite sweetness and then drawn up into a fine tannic finish. Needs time. 15% Drink 2024-2035 16.5
Le Clos du Caillou, La Réserve 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Guigasse, Pignan (south). 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre. Destemmed and vinified in tronconic vats. Aged in demi-muids. pH 3.76, TA 3.35 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark cherry red. Nose needs a little persuasion out of the glass. Cool, fresh, almost salty finish. Refreshing wine. Not like most people’s idea of Châteauneuf! 15% Drink 2024-2034 17
Dom de la Charbonnière, Vieilles Vignes 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau, Le Grand Pierre. 95% Grenache, 5% Mourvèdre. Partial whole-bunch fermentation at 29 °C followed by ageing in tronconic vats (95%) and demi-muids (5%). pH 3.79, TA 2.95 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark cherry red and a bit of gas. Difficult to see the refinement of the raspberry-jam fruit. 15.5% Drink 2024-2032 16
Dom de la Charbonnière, Les Hautes Brusquières 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Brusquières. 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah. Partial whole-bunch fermentation at 29 °C in tronconic vats (80%), stainless steel (15%) and demi-muids (5%). Matured in tronconic vats (95%) and demi-muids (5%). pH 3.9, TA 2.96 g/l.
Tasted blind. Greyish mid crimson. Another wine, like the Charbonnière Vieilles Vignes tasted just before, that has quite a bit of gas in it. Very austere, drying finish after some very sweet fruit. 15.5% Drink 2023-2030 16-
Dom de la Charbonnière, Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 69% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 1% Cinsault. Destemmed. Vinified at 28 °C in tronconic vats (90%) and stainless steel (10%). Aged in tronconic vats (75%), demi-muids (20%) and old barriques (5%). pH 3.7, TA 2.98 g/l.
Tasted blind. Healthy crimson. Some light savoury notes on the nose. Then masses of sweet, ripe, juicy fruit and relatively light tannins. Can’t quite see why this is a Cuvée Spéciale. Astringent finish. 15.5% Drink 2023-2030 16.5
Dom de la Charbonnière, Singularis 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 100% Grenache. Partial whole-bunch fermentation at 29 °C in tronconic vats followed by ageing in tronconic vats (95%) and demi-muids (5%). pH 3.9, TA 2.96 g/l.
Tasted blind. Bright cherry red. Pale rim. Very light nose and pungent on the palate – almost like licking a cinder. A bit lacking juice. Falls away suddenly. 15.5% Drink 2022-2029 15.5
Jean Royer, Les Sables de la Crau 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau. 100% Grenache. Partial whole-bunch fermentation in stainless steel. Aged for 12 months in demi-muids. pH 3.5, TA 3.5 g/l.
Tasted blind. Transparent cherry red. Hint of coconut on the nose. Then lots of cherryade. Nothing too forced here and quite a streak of acidity. But why is it cuvée spéciale, I wonder? Rather rasping tannins on the end. 16% Drink 2023-2030 16.5
Jean Royer, Prestige 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Le Bois de la Ville, Les Grandes Serres. 80% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre. Partial whole-bunch fermentation in stainless steel and concrete tanks. Aged in demi-muids and in stainless-steel vats. pH 3.5, TA 3.5 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid garnet. Neat, well-integrated and balanced nose. Very sweet start and very nicely balanced. Sweet but not sickly Grenache that is fully ripe and well counterbalanced by fine tannins and just enough acidity. 16% Drink 2024-2033 17.5
Dom du Grand Tinel, Alexis Establet 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Gardiole. 100% Grenache. Destemmed and vinified at 27 °C, one-third each in stainless steel, tronconic vats and concrete tanks. 35% is aged in demi-muids, 35% in new barriques and 30% in foudres. pH 3.54, TA 3.65 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid dark ruby. Light, sinewy attack of the palate. Confident stuff. Not that thick – more transparent. Lightly dry tannins on the end but excellent energy. 15.5% Drink 2024-2034 17
Dom du Grand Tinel, Heres 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 100% Grenache. Destemmed. Fermented at 27 °C and aged for 18 months, all in stainless steel. pH 3.5, TA 3.66 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid crimson. Heady, very ripe, sweet and spicy on the nose but not at all heavy on the palate. Polished tannins and some transparency of fruit. Very well done. 15.5% Drink 2024-2035 17.5
Ch de la Font du Loup, Le Puy Rolland 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Font du Loup. 100% Grenache. Destemmed. Vinification at 28 °C in concrete tanks (70%) and stainless steel (30%). Aged half in foudres and half in concrete tanks. pH 3.82, TA 3.36 g/l.
Tasted blind. Pale to mid cherry red. Light nose and some green strawberry flavours on a rather diffuse palate. A tad astringent on the finish. Why is this a cuvée spéciale? 14.5% Drink 2022-2029 16
Ch de la Font du Loup, Legend 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Font du Loup. 65% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 10% Syrah. Destemmed. Vinification at 28 °C in concrete tanks (60%) and stainless steel (40%). Aged for 18 months, 65% in demi-muids, 25% in foudres and 10% in new barriques. pH 3.79, TA 3.37 g/l.
Tasted blind. Firm crimson. Meaty nose with some interest and verve. Sweet start – very round and emphatic with some burnished, round tannins on the end. Quite ambitious! 14.5% Drink 2024-2034 17
Dom Clef de St-Thomas, La Clef de St-Thomas 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cansaud, Les Serres. 50% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, 25% Syrah. Destemmed. Vinification at 25 °C followed by ageing in demi-muids (40%), old barriques (40%) and new barriques (20%). pH 3.65, TA 3.11 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark purple. Very pale rim. Savoury notes on a very ripe nose. There is some energy here as well as the richness of fully ripe elderberries. Fine tannins. 14% Drink 2023-2033 17
St-Paul, L’Insolite 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Le Boucoup, Pied Redon. 100% Syrah. Destemmed and vinified at 27 °C in stainless steel. Matured in demi-muids (70%) and old barriques (30%). pH 3.59, TA 3.54 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark crimson. Ripe and round with emphatic freshness and ripeness. Black fruits dominate until very slightly rasping tannins on the end. 14% Drink 2024-2034 16.5+
Mayard, La Crau de Ma Mère 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah. Whole-bunch fermentation in concrete tanks followed by ageing in foudres. pH 3.95, TA 2.8 g/l.
Tasted blind. Blackish ruby. Very sweet start and an edge of leafiness. Lots to enjoy even if it’s still a little astringent, and hot, on the end for the moment. 15% Drink 2023-2033 17-
Olivier Hillaire, Les Terrasses 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Escondudes. 100% Grenache. Destemmed. Vinified at 28 °C in concrete tanks. Aged for 15 months in new barriques. pH 2, TA 2 g/l.
Tasted blind. Light to mid ruby. Nothing very distinctive on the nose but massive kirsch sweetness on the palate. Very Châteauneuf. This gives the impression of knowing what it’s doing, even if the finish is initially pretty hot. It then cools down on the finish. Really rather admirable with real vivacity and intensity but it needs time. 15.5% Drink 2026-2040 18
Olivier Hillaire, Les Petits Pieds d’Armand 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau (west). 100% Grenache. Destemmed. Vinified at 28 °C in concrete tanks. Aged for 16 months in new barriques. pH 2, TA 2 g/l.
Tasted blind. Mid cherry red. Sweet and almost syrupy with leathery tannins and not quite enough freshness. Massive heat on the end! Excellent for those who seek mere power. Which explains my score. 16.5% Drink 2023-2032 17-
Patrice Magni, Cuvée Le Pressoir 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Relagnes. 60% Mourvèdre, 40% Grenache. Partial whole-bunch fermentation at 28 °C in concrete tanks. Aged for 20 months, 60% in old barriques and 40% in concrete tanks. pH 3.5, TA 3.7 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark crimson. Heady, wild and rich nose – reminds me of the biscuits we call(ed?) Gypsy Creams in Britain. Lots to get your teeth into even if the tannins are still a little leathery. Cool finish. 15% Drink 2023-2032 17
Dom Clef de St-Thomas, Pierre Troupel 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tasted blind. Transparent ruby. Vital, refreshing, rather rosy fruit. Perhaps not one of the most distinctive wines – in fact it reminds me powerfully of several of the Tradition bottlings – but it should please many drinkers tired of overripe wines. Tannins still a tad astringent on the end but this should mature reasonably early. Drink 2022-2029 16.5
Bosquet des Papes, À la Gloire de Mon Grand-Père 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Gardiole. 98% Grenache, 1% Cinsault, 1% Clairette. Vines aged between 60 and 70 years. Vinification in concrete tanks, with half the grapes destemmed and the rest fermented as whole bunches. Aged for 12 months, 80% in demi-muids and 20% in foudres.
Tasted blind. Blackish crimson. Cool start and very round in terms of very sweet candied fruit. Could do with very slightly more freshness. But it’s a good effort taken to the limits of ripeness. A medicinal hint. Well done. 15% Drink 2023-2035 17
Bosquet des Papes, La Folie 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Montredon. 80% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre. From a parcel of 100-year-old vines known as ‘La Folie’ on the plateau of Mont Redon. Grapes are destemmed. Vinification at 26 °C in concrete tanks. Aged for 18 months, 90% in demi-muids and 10% in new barriques.
Tasted blind. Healthy crimson. Very sweet start and some perceptible oak. Just slightly too heavy for comfort. A bit soupy. 15% Drink 2023-2030 16
Bosquet des Papes, Chante le Merle Vieilles Vignes 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe d’Asne, Les Brusquières, Montredon, Pignan (north). 86% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre. From a selection of old vines of 80 to 90 years old from different terroirs across the appellation. Whole-bunch fermentation at 26 °C in concrete tanks. Matured for 15 months, 60% in foudres, 30% in demi-muids and 10% in concrete tank.
Tasted blind. Dark ruby. Slightly chemical overlay on some bright, briary fruit with masses of grainy tannins. A long-term wine. 15% Drink 2026-2039 16.5
Brotte, Dom de Barville Secret de Léonce 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Janasse, Bois Dauphin. 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre. Destemmed and fermented in concrete tanks, followed by 12 months ageing in oak barrels. pH 3.65, RS < 2 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark, purplish healthy crimson. Heady, fully ripe nose with sufficient freshness but no greenness. Zesty wine with more life than many would expect of this appellation. Lightly drying tannins on the very end at the moment. 14.5% Drink 2024-2036 16.5
Gabriel Meffre, Laurus 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau. 60% Grenache (some from 80-year-old vines), 40% Syrah. Grapes are destemmed. All the Syrah and half the Grenache is matured in old pièces for around 18 months. RS < 3 g/l.
Tasted blind. Dark, dense crimson. Big, sweet, very ripe black-cherry aromas and lively, leathery tannins and sufficient acid and no green. A solid, if not absolutely thrilling, effort. Drink 2024-2034 16.5
Giraud, Les Grenaches de Pierre 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tasted blind. Mid crimson. Pale rim. A bit of liquorice on amazingly sweet fruit. Not that much acidity but quite a bit of fine tannin. Ambitious and it could only be Châteauneuf! Needs lots of time for these tannins to dissipate but, I hope, the fruit should wait. Drink 2026-2038 17
Giraud, Les Gallimardes 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Tasted blind. Healthy ruby. Meaty and appetising with candied rose-petal flavours underneath. Rather glamorous and interesting. Long and alcoholic but it wraps you up in its velvety appeal. Masses of charm and richness. Drink 2024-2040 17.5+