Anne-Charlotte Melia-Bachas, owner and winemaker at Chateau de la Font du Loup in Chateauneuf du Pape, brought her wines for a tasting at Russo's International Market in Grand Rapids. I liked the wines and appreciated the opportunity to talk with the winemaker.
In his Chateauneuf du Pape book, Harry Karis describes Font du Loup as "semi-modern," but I am not sure I agree. Ms. Melia-Bachas stressed that she does not like what new oak does to Southern Rhone wines and uses none. Following tradition, the Grenache is aged in old oak foudres; in more semi-modern tradition, she uses twice-used barriques for Syrah and twice-used demi-muids for Mourvedre. Neither of these seem to affect the traditional aromas and flavors of her wine.
The white Chateauneuf is impressively robust-a wine for rich, buttery dishes. If you like it fruity, as it is now, she says, drink it in the first five years after the vintage. Between ages 5 and 12, she says, it becomes "a troublesome adolescent." After 12 years, it begins to blossom. That was new information for me. I have been decidedly disappointed by white Chateauneufs that I thought were over the hill when, in fact, they were probably just undergoing an awkward stage. I have long known, of course, that red Chateauneuf goes through this kind of development.
Font du Loup's white Cotes du Rhone is fresh and vibrant. The red Cotes du Rhone (50% Grenache and 50% Syrah) could pass for a CDR Villages or even a young Chateauneuf. It comes from vines just outside the CdP appellation. Cherries, black fruits, lots of spice.
My favorite of the three red Chateauneufs was the Cuvee Hercule--a special blend (55% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 15% Syrah) that included the best lots of each variety. Lovely wine right now; I'd love to taste it in a decade or two. It was named in honor the late father of wine importer Chip Delsener who collaborated with Melia-Bachas in designing this cuvee.
The Font du Loup Puy Rolland Chateauneuf is bound to be a special wine. It is 100% Grenache from vines that are over 100 years old. For a wine with this kind of delicacy, though, I can't find much with such a small taste. To judge it fairly, I would need to sit down at a meal with at least half a bottle.
The regular Chateauneuf is about 2/3 Grenache plus Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, vinified separately. It has all the qualities I look for in a young Chateauneuf, bold but not over-extracted.