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2001 Domaine De La Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes, Southern Rhone, France

Occasionally I'll just grab something as I'm wandering through a wine store to keep myself fresh - make sure I'm trying out new producers, new regions, new varietals, etc. I'll also grab things that just help broaden my experience with a particular region or a particular type of wine (those things that I like, I usually go back for and they end up in my cellar in varying quantities).

I've had more than a few Chateauneuf's but I've had significantly fewer than say, the number of California Zinfandels I've ever tried. So when I remember, I like to grab one that I haven't heard of before and check it out.

It doesn't seem so long ago that Chateauneuf Du Pape wine was new to me. Sure, I had heard of it, anyone who has decided to start taking wine seriously will eventually come across the name, usually in the form of someone who is a die-hard drinker of the stuff and likens it to the nectar of the gods.

For those who may not be that familiar with this wine, here's the quick rundown: Chateauneuf Du Pape (literally "The Pope's new Castle") is an actual French village that's situated in the Southern part of the Rhone River valley in South-central France (just north of Avignon). It is also the name of an appellation that surrounds this village and the wines produced therein. These (red) wines, like most southern Rhone wines, are mostly made from Grenache, but in this appellation it can be mixed with up to 12 other permitted grape varietals such as Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, and others more obscure. Part of the mystery and allure of this wine comes from the "alchemy" of mixing all of these different varietals together. There are also white wines produced in this appellation, but I've never had one. One more tidbit -- this wine carries the designation "Vielles Vignes" which means "old vines" -- a label that winemakers put on their wines (presumably to connote higher quality) as they so desire. There are basically no regulations about this, so you never know quite what you're gonna get.

Domaine De La Janasse has been around since 1967 when Aime Sobon returned home from a stint in the military and took over the family estate from his father. Up until that point the family had sold its grapes into a local cooperative. Sobon decided to begin producing under his own label, as well as expanding the size of the estate.

It's a truly family run business, with various Sobons doing everything from accounting to vineyard management to making the wine.

This particular wine, which does not carry a single vineyard designation is made up of grapes from various different plots owned by the family, of which the vines are between 60 and 100 years old. It is 85% Grenache, 3% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, and 5% other varietals (the secret sauce). Around 1000 cases produced.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a deep garnet color in the glass with a nose of sweet oak, earth, cassis, and a hint of grilled meat. In the mouth it is velvety smooth with rich, deep flavors of black raspberries figs, smoke, and a hint of floral elements that tasted to me like candied violets. The finish is substantial and incorporates a hint of anise seeds.

Food Pairing:
This is a fairly concentrated Chateauneuf that demands some heartier fare than just roast chicken or other poultry dishes one might typically pair with a Rhone wine. It fairly well matched a dish of grilled quail wrapped in Jamon Serrano over sautéed red peppers and artichoke hearts.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $60

I get mine through PremierCru, a local Bay Area (and Internet) retailer.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud