Saturday, February 9, 2008

How Long To Age Southern Rhones?

One reason I like Southern Rhone wines is that aging is not really an issue. Most of these Grenache-based wines taste good right out of the gate, and the changes they go through after that are mainly a matter of taste rather than quality. On the other hand, because of low yields, old vines and good winemaking, you can usually hang on to even an inexpensive (but well chosen) Cotes du Rhone or Vin de Pays for eight to ten years without worrying that it will become undrinkable. You really can't say that for inexpensive New World Cabernet or Shiraz.

I reported on a 19-year-old Gigondas below, but there is a great deal of variation in Gigondas wines even from the same vintage. Santa Duc Gigondas impressed me as a wine somewhat similar to Goubert in youth; yet I drank most of my bottles a decade ago and even then some were beginning to show their age. Cayron, on the other hand, is a wine for keeping. I'm still enjoying bottles from 1980 and 1981; the 1986 tastes just right; and the excellent 1988 is still a bit aggressive for my tastes. Font-Sane, from my experience, is somewhat between Cayron and Santa Duc but tastes best to me after a decade or so of aging.

I rarely drink Chateauneuf du Pape before it's 10 years old, but that's because it's still a bit one-dimensional before that time, not because it's hard or tannic, as is the case with a good Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet. And vintage is crucial: 1993s need drinking now while most 1988s still have some time to go.

As for Cotes du Rhone Villages, I've had the greatest pleasure from aged Rasteau--even 12 to 15 years of age or older for wines such as Beau Mistral, Soumades and Queyrades. Aging seems to tame some of the aggressive black licorice/mineral elements in a way that's pleasing to me. Many Vacqueyras wines--such as Couroulou, Amourier and Montvac--also do well with eight to twelves years of aging. My favorite Vacqueyras at the moment, Monardiere's Calades, on the other hand, seems to decline rather quickly after five to six years in the bottle. From Cairanne, Brusset may be the best known estate (because of frequent mention by Robert Parker), and I have found that it needs to be consumed three to five years after the vintage date. Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin is a better wine, in my opinion, and ages better--although ten to twelve years is probably the best you can expect in a good vintage.

Aging with most Southern Rhones is mostly a matter of what you like. I found even Cotes du Rhones from the 2001 vintage were a little hard for the first year or two; those from 2003, however, were better in the blush of youth.


  1. Hell of a nice blog site, Fred -- looks like your tastes coincide nicely with mine in many respects. It sounds like I may like my CdRs a little younger (and fruitier?)than you, but I got to admit I haven't had that much experience with older bottles. However,I drank my last bottle of 2001 Dom. Aphillanthes 'Galets' last month and thought that it was dumb to have gone through the whole six pack and the wine isn't even ready yet. I'm drinking some 2006 Dom. Oratoire St. Martin right now, and unlike some of the lighter bodied CdRs I like, I think this one would have the stuffing to go many years.

    Do you think that southern Rhone wines that are more full bodied, with lots of extract almost always age better and last longer than the lighter bodied wines?

    Dave Wanninger

  2. Thanks, Dave. Actually, I like a strong fruit presence in a Cotes du Rhone. Some wines keep this longer than others, and my opinion is that this keeping quality cannot always be measured in body, extract and certainly not in color. The 1998 Lou Frejau Chateauneuf du Pape was so light it was almost pink when I tasted it about seven or eight years ago. But oh what concentration and flavor! On the advice of Robert Mayberry, a Rhone expert I trust a lot, I laid several bottles away for 10 to 12 years of aging.

    On their website, Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin recommends three to five years for the Reserve, five to seven for the Prestige. (I'm going from memory, so look it up). And I would say that's about right. When I started buying these wines in the early 1990s, they were only $6 to $8 so I was able to try them at all stages. I meant to drink the 1998s sooner, but they got buried in the cellar, and I've had other things to try. But the 1998s are still drinking beautifully; if they were better a few years ago, I'll never know. If they're going to improve even more, I will know that since it will take me awhile to finish them off.

    I thought the 2001 Janasse was a bit tight when I first bought it, but it has opened nicely by now. The 2005 was pretty good from the beginning, but I expect it to hang in there for at least five more years and gain some complexity.

    The 1989 Janasse Vieille Vignes Chateauneuf du Pape, incidentally, has aged beautifully. Ironically, the price I paid for it was less than what I paid for the 2005 Janasse Cotes du Rhone.