The price tag on this wine says $12.99--an incredibly low price for a Chateauneuf du Pape even 10 years ago. One major reason for this low price was pretty obvious: Robert Parker, rightfully considered the authoritative voice for Chateauneuf du Pape, had written that the wines from this estate were old fashioned and rustic. Heeding Robert Parker's warnings, I tasted carefully before I bought the 1989 Clos Saint Jean for an equally low price. I loved it. Same with the 1990. Same with the 1995. And the 1998 was by far the best of the bunch.
With the 2003 vintage, all of that changed. Clos Saint Jean produced three Chateauneufs that year, and all earned 94 to 96 points from Parker. Prices soared, and some posters on message boards now talk about Clos Saint Jean as one of the best of its appellation.
It's easy to attribute this wine's soaring status (and price) to Parker points, but it's not that simple. Beginning with the 2003 vintage, Clos Saint Jean brought in the noted Philippe Cambie to assist with the winemaking, and his advice was crucial in bringing this estate to what Parker might call "superstar" status.
I don't have the money ($50 to $60 a bottle) to see what I think of Philippe Cambie's efforts. But I do stand by my appreciation for the older vintages, while acknowledging that the 1989 and 1990 were better at 10 than at 15 years of age.
This is one of my last bottles of the 1995. Considering all that has transpired with Clos Saint Jean, I tasted a bit more critically, perhaps, than I have in the past. From the first sniff, this wine has a bouquet that is incredibly deep and captivating. Yet deep underneath the Grenache berry fruit is a green stemminess that is a bit distracting. If I were looking for flaws, I would say there are plenty. But there is still an electricity about this wine--and fruit concentration--that makes it special.
I deliberately matched this wine against another very good Southern Rhone--the 2000 Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs of Domaine l'Oratoire Saint Martin. If I were grading them on points, I would give higher points to the Cairanne on nearly every category. Yet if I had to point to the wine I would most like to have in my glass, I would choose this Clos Saint Jean.
I'm looking forward to trying the 1998 soon.