Thursday, March 14, 2013

Southern WA v. Chateauneuf du Pape

This week I am featuring a guest post from my friend Richard Foxall.  We are celebrating Paris-Nice, the Race to the Sun, and the anointing of a new Pope with a battle that features a Chateauneuf du Pape challenging a GSM from the South of Washington.

Nothing better than being invited by my good friend Lucha Vino to guest blog, especially when the bicycle race is the Paris-Nice, just wrapped up by Richie Porte, Team Sky member and Australian.  Of course, when I signed up to be Lucha’s equipe, I didn’t know that would be the outcome, or we might have done a tag-team match. 

My inspiration was the fifth stage, starting off in Chateauneuf du Pape.  What a perfect place for a bicycling-inspired wine taste-off. Of course, Avignon and Chateauneuf were the scene of one of the great wrestling matches of all time, as the Roman papacy tried to wrest the crown back from the Avignon prelate, but we’re here to talk wine, not history, timely though that discussion might be.   
The great wines of Chateauneuf are blends dominated by Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, with many other varieties permitted, the most of any French AOC.  Turns out there are a lot of challengers to the throne from all over the world, including some fine examples from Australia, usually referred to as GSM wines.  Had I known Porte would win, we could have done a tag team with California and Washington in one corner, and France and Australia in the other.  You can just imagine the chair-throwing mayhem that would have ensued.  (Are half bottles like midget wrestlers?)
While I referee this match, I’ll be assisted by the charming ring girls, Marvelous Miss M and Divine D, watching our hunky heroes from the first row, close enough to hear the grunts and smell the sweat of our battlers.

We have an excellent match of middleweights. Our battle is between the mid-priced wine of the French standard bearer and the quirky Columbia Valley upstart.  From the folks who brought you Chateau de Beaucastel, we have the 2007 Perrin et Fils Les Sinards Chateauneuf du Pape; from the Columbia Valley, Owen Roe’s 2011Sinister Hand.

Tale of the Tape

70% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre, typically. 
Sourced from younger vines on the Beaucastel property and some other properties nearby, including one neighboring Beaucastel that Perrin farms.
Aged in foudres for one year, fined and lightly filtered.
Scores: 92 WS, 90 WA, 16.5 JR
Purchased from LastBottle for $25.
63% Grenache, 19% Syrah, 16% Mourvedre, 2% Cinsault
Sourced from six vineyards in the Columbia Valley. 
Past vintages have received 90 points from Wine and Spirits.
Purchased from Wine on Piedmont, Oakland, CA for $25.

Round 1:  First Opening
Both wrestlers are a little tentative coming out. After a good deal of swirling around, the Sinister Hand reveals a nose of strawberries and something a little perfume-y.  Odd for a wrestler, but a pretty smell that has us off balance.  The initial sip reveals more of the strawberry, and some Jolly Rancher candy.  Misses M and D nod vigorously when I suggest that flavor.  The mouthfeel reveals glycerine, an almost sappy feeling, but smooth.  In color, the Columbia Valley kid is purple to dark purple, a bit translucent when held up to the kitchen spotlights. A very New World wine.
The Perrin might be coming out slowly because the initial smell is, as Miss M puts it, “off-putting.”  There’s a slight but unmistakable smell of brettanomyces that can only be called “poopy.”  That’s one way to disarm your opponent, but Miss M is not deterred.  She’s finding the palate of the Perrin intriguing.  Beaucastel is known for using more Mourvedre than many CdP producers, and this seems to give the Perrin a more savory aspect, some rosemary and sage flavors. Oddly, though, the New World wine has slightly more Mourvedre, but it’s less apparent.  The body is pretty light, but the color of the Perrin is quite dark.  Held up to the light, it becomes closer to the Owen Roe, but the difference is still detectable.
Miss M declares the first round for the Perrin, Miss D calls it a draw.  I call it slightly for the Perrin, but I expect it to use its veteran status six years after the vintage to open up a lead in the hours to come. 
Round 2: One hour after opening
As dinner approaches, the wines are converging in style, but the lighter strawberry flavor of the Columbia Valley kid inspires Miss M to say, “It’s a good outdoor wine.  I almost want to put fruit in it and call it sangria.”  Not sure that’s a compliment.  Miss D thinks it’s a bit of a lightweight, but still thinks it’s pretty nice.  The sweetness has been receding a little and there’s just a little more acid showing, which is good because dinner is chicken cacciatore, so it needs to stand up to the sauce, as well as its competitor.
Meanwhile, the Perrin has shaken off the funk and is smelling pleasanter.  It’s playing to the cheap seats as it sweetens up a little and gains a bit of that sappiness, but it’s really showing the herbs.  Not a ton of complexity, but there’s more going on here.
The Perrin might never make old bones like a Gordie Howe or a Nolan Ryan, but it’s using its veteran wiles and has convinced both Miss M and me that it’s the clear winner of Round Two.  Miss D is siding with the underdog slightly, but, so far, on points, the Perrin is ahead.
Round Three: One Day After Opening
The ring girls have headed for the exit, worn out by the carnage.  Each bottle is down to a glass or two.  With their labels covered by cooling jackets and identical VacuVin stoppers in the neck, they’re hard to tell apart.  And, shockingly, they are hard to tell apart in the glass.   
The upstart from the Northwest is now much more savory, and the French veteran is looking, well, a little tired.  They throw a few noodle-armed blows at each other, but there’s not a lot of urgency.  Nonetheless, the Perrin shows a little technique and sophistication, slipping holds and turning the opponent around, while the Owen Roe looks eager for a rematch when it’s had a few years and put on a little more muscle.  Its own sinewy Mourvedre is just starting to show through the sheen of the young Grenache.  While it’s got a solid future, it just barely ekes out this round of the match over the Perrin.
Wrap Up and Overall Observations
These are moderately priced wines for the breed, at least as Chateauneuf du Pape goes, and they have much to be moderate about.  If you like a lighter Cotes du Rhone style, the Owen Roe provides that sweet, juicy strawberry puree.  But it might be a wine that proves its mettle over time, which would justify the above-CdR price.   
The Perrin Les Sinards is plainly not the flagship of the brand, but a way to get into the Chateauneuf ring at a fair price.  The trade-off is something that wants to be consumed as soon as possible, at least once the brett smell blows off.  And it’s not one for the long-haul.  The 2010 has received better reviews, but the composition is the same; only the possibly better structured vintage suggests that it’s worth holding for the long term. 
I’d call these wines Very Good, and would  invite them back again for informal backyard exhibitions.  

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