An evening with Clos des Papes

Againn, Washington DC

Tasted September 26, 2010 by Faryan with 771 views


On Friday night, 11 of us convened at Againn restaurant to taste the wines of Paul Avril. Fellow board member Dave Ehrlich has a personal repoire with executive chef Wes Morton so we were afforded the red carpet treatment. Wes and his staff delivered in spades, providing a wonderful atmosphere in their private dining room as well as a lovely and inspired 4 course menu. This group of drinkers has done similar verticals with other cdp producers such as Pegau and Beaucastel. While Beaucastel is the old guard of cdp and Pegau has been consistently championed on internet forums (with the likes of Dan K really allowing the marketplace to get a taste of those seminal wines), Clos des Papes had been something of a classic darkhorse until recent vintages saw critical acclaim (and prices) explode. Out of the three dinners, I would rank the wines of Mssr Avril a notch below Pegau and Beaucastel (no slight) as a whole but the highs of Mssr Avril often reach superlative levels that the regular bottlings of Pegau and Beaucastel do not often match. Clos des Papes, in its purest iterations, has the light mouthfeel and impeccable balance one sees from a wine that does not commit too much to a single grape variety, but rather a blend which chooses the best elements of each (brightness of granache, serious delicacy of syrah and the pitch of mourverdre) and tailors it accordingly to the vintage. A master winemaker and a splendid opus of wines.

Flight 1 (1 note)

To begin, Mssr Morton introduced himself and offered us an oyster served on a bed of sea salt as an amuse bouché. Pardon as I forgot the exact garnishments of the dish.

White - Sparkling
N.V. Egly-Ouriet Champagne Brut "Les Vignes de Vrigny" 1er Cru France, Champagne
92 points
Opens with bright and crisp lemon-driven acidity but with time really advances to a very doughy and yeasty element with great notes of brioche (which is right in my wheelhouse when we talk champagne). Drank alongside the oyster, the acidity of the wine explodes in the palate and the pairing was heavenly. Was my favorite white of the evening and I believe this bottle was a relatively recent disgorgement. I would imagine the wine could evolve very generously with more cellar time.

Flight 2 (3 notes)

Wes came back and explained the first dish which was a house cured ham of Tamworth Pork served with a beautiful celeriac salad mixed with a dijonnaise, served with traditional rosemary brown butter toast (Againn is an Irish establishment so hints of their culinary tradition seem to poke out as the food can be fine dining with a homey feel).

2003 Vincent Dauvissat (René & Vincent) Chablis 1er Cru La Forest France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
87 points
A controversial wine. It opened a bit muted and flat on the nose with light waxy notes and hints of salinous minerality. With more time and air, the wine transformed and assumed some very nice notes of honeysuckle and butterscotch. It reminded me of a less complete version of a bottle of 96 Domain de Chevalier I had a year or two earlier. However, the palate of this wine did not live up to the bill and shows the red flag that was 2003 in white burgundy/chablis. There is no acidity left at all. The wine falls abruptly short on the palate with an unresolved finish. The exoticism that this bottle may have had in its youth had dissipated and what one was left with was a somewhat insipid wine. Caveat to those that enjoy bombastic wines from hot vintages (at least in more delicate appellations such as Chablis!).
2006 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
88 points
I've never really understood the allure of blanc chateauneuf. They are often side projects of producers but never executed with conviction or real motivation towards excellence. I tend to assume the same belief with Clos des Papes blancs and the 06 was nothing special, so to speak. The wine was visibly darker than the 07 and a bit better than my last encounter with it. Somewhat odd and astringent notes on the nose which resolve with some time. Lots of melonball and ginger but again the wine is a house out of order. I wasn't exactly impressed with the wine at an earlier dinner this year and I thought this showing was just as underwhelming.
2007 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
90 points
The last bottle of this we consumed did not show well at all and this bottle was better. Darryl also had the "bad" bottle with me and has had the wine on a separate instance with great results, so perhaps there is a consistency issue with these wines in such adolescence. More open and floral on the nose with that characteristic melon and pear. The mouthfeel has more plush exoticism but again, at the pricepoint there are far better options being presented from the Loire, Chablis, Alsace, Germany and Austria.

Flight 3 (3 notes)

Butter roasted Maryland striped bass with a braised lacinato kale, roasted turnips and a fish bordelaise (the fish bordelaise was of the mold of a traditional bordelaise, only made from a fish stock. It was a clever and beautiful sauce which worked well with the fish but bridged the gap for our flight of rouges. Bravo Wes!)

1999 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
94 points
The wine that was singing the best. I believe Kevin decanted this wine for roughly 3 hours. Resolved on the nose with beautiful hints of grange, sweet cherry and kirsch. In its delicacy, it is more akin to a N. Rhone syrah than a boisterous granache driven wine from a hot vintage. Returning to the comparison between Pegau and Beaucastel, this wine exhibits a delicacy and balance that the brutishness of Pegau often required more than 15 years to sort through and a pitch which the unique individualism of mourverdre often overshoots (in terms of brightness if that makes sense). A simply splendid wine to serve on any table with a wide mélange of foods. Great balance, interacting beautifully with the fish and bordelais. This wine is primetime and a real treat. Something to cherish even if it won't ever threaten a 100 point barrier. A wine that drinks to life!
2000 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
91 points
A good deal more rustic than the 99. I believe this bottling is eclipsed by the 2000 Pegau which is a fantastic wine. Some austerity and gamey roast on the nose that settles with time through the night (I held onto a glass for several hours). A refined palate emerges. This wine has the animalistic brutishness that is somewhat polar to the 99, with more notes of game and bramble.
2001 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
A controversy in its own right. I posited early that the wine was potentially heat damaged, as I had drank a superlative bottle of this wine about 6 months ago and this did not show the refined balance nor the same corpus of characteristics as the last bottle. Opens with heavy stewed notes of plum and dark cherry. There is a good deal of heat that assaults the nose but with more time (and with food), it became less obtuse. The palate has hints of richness and complexity but it is largely shielded by the roasted plum notes. My conclusion was invariably heat damage at some point in its life. A bottle from Premier Cru so the provenance is unproven. A real shame as I was hoping for this to be the highlight of the night. Has been in the 96/97pt range but this bottle was DNR (flawed).

Flight 4 (3 notes)

Wes returned with whole roasted Grimaud Farm Guinea Fowl served with sage and local chantrelles immersed in a pureé of black pudding, served with traditional english bread sauce. The skin of the fowl was to die for (pardon the double entendre!) and took serious resolve not to devour for the sake of one's health!

2004 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
93 points
cut from the same cloth as the 99, but noticeably less knit together. Has the delicacy of purpose seen in the 99 with a great foundation for a balanced wine. With time in the glass, this begins to develop the poise on the nose that the great ones have. A sleeper, alongside the 04 Pegau!
2007 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
98 points
The showstopper. This wine is somewhat aberrant from the others, partly due to its bottle age and also partly due to the vintage. This bottle was opened about 7-8 hours prior to service and left to slow-oxidize. Darryl who generously provided the bottle had said that upon opening it was simply an explosive wine driven by that superlative sweet granache which will become the vintage's hallmark. Nevertheless, the wine still explodes on the nose with that royal kirsch composite seen in the 07 Mon Aieul and otherworldly 07 Janassee VV. Intense notes of licorice, dark chocolate, cherry and kirsch. The pitch is still a touch hollow but it has the structure and acidity to really flesh out with bottle age. If one is to nitpick, it lacks the nth degree and dimensionality of the Janassee VV which was to me an ungodly iteration of a young wine. This is confined amongst the mortality of vinous expression and I would put it a notch below the Mon Aieul and however two notches below the VV. However, what it lacks in laser like focus and pitch of fruit, I think it makes up for in dimensionality and complexity, elements which the VV likely will not excel at but the Mon Aieul may also develop. With more swirling, intoxicating elements of cracked pepper, boysenberry and rhubarb emerge. This wine is an absolute monster, but given its recent price escalation, I can only hope that the true drinker got in on the ground floor (what was it 89 dollars on pre-arival) for purchasing it, as the price has doubled (same could be said about MA and JVV).
2003 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
91 points
Somewhat discombobulated. The wine was decanted for about 3-4 hours and still showed a bit of confusion as it seemed to undulate between different expressions. It needs more time to find balance and focus, but the wine is endowed with notes of raspberry, light hints of rhubarb, raisins and more of the animal gaminess that we saw in the 2000. I don't think this is in a great drinking window at the moment, but I am also hesitant mostly due to the vintage character, to age one of these for extended time in hopes of flourishing into a more complex 99. Rock and a hard place? 91 pts.

Flight 5 (3 notes)

We drank our desert wines with a house made raw goat's cheese, served with spiced orange-sauternes marmalade, roasted hazelnuts and a petite cress. All served from halves.

White - Sweet/Dessert
1998 Château Doisy-Védrines France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
91 points
Classic doisy, has that wonderful pitch of waxiness. Not an exotic vintage, so not an overwhelming amount of fruit and tropical character, the wine is perfect for harder cheeses and a wonderful expression of both the house and the vintage.
White - Sweet/Dessert
2001 Château Dauphiné-Rondillon France, Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers, Loupiac
88 points
A Loupiac so an interesting curveball brought by the curveball master Jace. Some exoticism (think pineapple and lychee) and acidity to boot. This isn't as refined or focused as a great Sauternes but at 7 dollars a split, a fantastic value and a great learning experience
White - Off-dry
2002 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel Germany, Nahe
97 points
Simply of a class unto its own. Bracing acidity and clean bright fruit. Explosive but still very civil. A real treat and a wine that could age effortlessly forever. Thank you Darryl for providing.


Which brings me to my final point about Clos des Papes (before I speak to the desert wines): at their original price point, the wines deliver wonderful balanced expressions of rhone typicity (not necessarily just chateauneuf) which executed balance and a track record and orientation towards aging wonderfully. The recent explosion of critical points and pricing has likely been a windfall for the Avril family but it leaves the value conscious drinker (such as myself) more interested in backfilling.


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