As I mentioned in a previous post, we were privileged to host Christophe Bristiel from Château La Nerthe to the Wine Circle recently. While the highlight of the evening was certainly the exclusive Cuvée des Cadettes, made from Grenache vines that are over 100 years old, M. Bristiel put together an intelligent and enlightening tasting, showcasing the variety of wines and vintages from the estate.
Château La Nerthe is one of the preeminent producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, along with Beaucastel and Clos des Papes. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an appellation in the Southern Rhône, so-called because of the relocation of the Papacy to Avignon in the 14th century. Both white and red wines from the region are generally blends. There are 13 permitted red varieties permitted in the region with the dominant grape being Grenache, although Syrah and Mourvèdre are also prominent. Typical white wine grapes are Rousanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc.
The region is more well-known for its red wines, which made it fascinating as a blind-taster to sample three different white wines. We first tasted two vintages of the Château La Nerthe Blanc – 2010 and 1993. This wine is made from a blend of Rousanne (about 40%), Grenache Blanc (about 25%) and the remainder Clairette and Bourboulenc. 40% of the wine is fermented in old oak barrels. The 2010 vintage was pleasantly aromatic, with subtle gooseberry notes, white flowers and herbal tea. The palate had an oily quality to it, an appealing bitterness along with nectar overtones, white-peppery spice, and a lemony finish with noticeable minerality. The body was round with a refreshing, although not high, level of acidity. M. Bristiel informed us that 2010 produced more acidic wines than usual, thus making this vintage an excellent, fresh, drinking wine that will age considerably well.
The 1993 vintage had a completely different character, although the blend of grapes and the winemaking were very similar to those of 2010. Rather than a pale straw colour, this wine was a very deep golden in the glass. White pepper and herbal tea notes remained in common with the recent vintage, along with the oily body and pleasant bitterness – now reminiscent of the peel of a tart orange – on the palate. However, everything was far more pronounced, and the resulting wine far more complex. The nectar overtones were now a waxy honeycomb note; the hints of herbal tea had become cammomile and spearmint; white flowers receded in the background, replaced by autumnal aromas of fallen leaves. There were sherry overtones in the aromas and even a whisky note on the palate. The acidity was certainly less noticeable than in the 2010 although it was not ‘flabby’; a spicy minerality carried the wine along on a long finish. This is certainly a very intellectual wine, and one that took me a long time to get to grips with; fascinating nonetheless.
The final white wine of this tasting was the Clos de Beauvenir, an exclusive wine only made when the vintage warrants it, and only in small quantities. We tasted the 2009 vintage, when only 2,000 bottles were made. The blend is 60% Rousanne and 40% Clairette. The vine varietals are coplanted and the grapes cofermented in 100% new oak barrels, and then aged in new oak for 18 months. This treatment with new oak is fairly unusual in the Southern Rhône, however La Nerthe have managed it well.
The wine was very complex and very concentrated. I got a subtle gooseberry note on the nose, and then white pepper, cloves, honeysuckle, cammomile and a slight mintiness from the Rousanne, and woodspice from the new oak. The palate showed a fairly full body, oily but with a good weight. The wine was certainly dense enough to support the new oak. There was a slight bitterness on the palate as per the Blanc although less so. The wine had fairly high alcohol and low acidity, although it was not overly out of balance. Lemon, minerality and white pepper rounded out the finish. This wine had more structure than flavour on the palate for me. Although the oak felt fairly well integrated, I feel as though the wine would benefit from further aging to allow further integration. With that slight lemony freshness on the finish, I suspect it will continue to age very well over the next few years.