The initial impression I get from this wine is a stinky smell--gassy, tanky, somewhat like burnt rubber. This funkiness is the reason many have turned away from Rhone wines in the past, and it's unfortunate because the fruit comes from old, low-yielding vines. And once you get past the initial funky smell, what's in the glass is real wine, better than 99 percent of the manufactured crap on the market.
The 1998 Couroulu is a deep plummy color, showing no signs of advancing maturity. After the initial funky scents blow off, the wine reveals a Vacqueyras profile of red and black fruits, pepper and licorice--deep, concentrated berries and garrigue. It's ripe and full, and the flavors explode on the mid-palate.
The stinkiness undoubtedly comes from a flaw that could and should have been corrected early in the winemaking process. Traditional winemakers don't always have the expertise to do that, but I know from my experience with other vintages that the fruit from the Couroulu vineyards is capable of producing very fine Vacqueyras, among the best in the appellation. The funkiness is similar to that I've encountered in a few older vintages of Clos Saint Jean's Vin de Pays de Vaucluse (such as 1994 and 2000), and it tends to fade, not only in the glass as the wine is exposed to air but with a few years of aging. I've had two bottles of the 1998 Couroulou this year but will put the rest away for a couple of years.