Some of the finest Châteauneuf-du-Papes of the past generation were made from France’s mythic red wine harvest of 2010. Yet pricing for all but the rarest Châteauneufs remains relatively sane, especially compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy. Because of the inherent exuberance of most Châteauneufs, which are based on the fruit-forward, relatively low-tannin grenache variety, they’re wines that can be drunk within years of release, not decades, as is the case with most serious Bordeaux. And while many 2010 Burgundies will also be delicious by their tenth birthdays, the price of admission has become dizzying for most examples, making Châteauneuf all the more attractive. While one can easily drop $100 for a high-end wine from one of the region’s marquee estates, I’ll focus here on bottlings that run under $50 a pop.
Two thousand ten provided as ideal a growing season and harvest as a winegrower could hope for, as dozens of them told me in November when I made my annual tour of the region for the International Wine Cellar’s annual Rhône Valley coverage. The only downside was a relatively short crop, which means that diminished allocations will likely move quickly through and out of the market. Since most 2010 Châteauneufs have only recently begun to hit U.S. retail shelves there’s still time to snap up some of the best values. But I wouldn’t dawdle.
One of the stars of the vintage, regardless of price, is the Château Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($40, Kobrand, Inc.), from one of the region’s largest and most renowned estates. It displays sexy red fruit preserve, potpourri and herb character, with a spicy nuance adding energy. This juicy, precise wine finishes with impressive finesse and gentle tannins.
The Domaine Pierre Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($47, Wines of France) is a lush, almost decadent wine offering ripe red fruit and floral elements and a pliant, seamless texture. Usseglio is known for its extroverted, fruit-driven wines and this one, its entry-level bottling, is an outstanding example of the house style.
Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe (Kermit Lynch) is one of Châteauneuf’s hallmark wines but it’s now pushing toward the $100 mark—and it’s actually worth the price. But it was their second wine, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Télégramme ($44), that over-delivered in 2010. Offering vivacious raspberry and spice aromas and flavors and a plush, round character, it makes for wonderful drinking right now. I have no doubt that it will reward patience, but why wait?
In the opinion of many wine lovers, Château de Beaucastel is the flagship producer of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, if not the entire southern Rhône Valley. Owned by the extended Perrin family, Beaucastel produces one the best wines of the appellation year in and out, with a price tag to match. The Perrins recently set up another company that makes wines from the family’s own vineyards as well as from purchased fruit. The 2010 Famille Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards ($45, Vineyard Brands) is a highly perfumed, open-knit wine that delivers abundant red and dark berry flavors with zesty, spicy lift and noteworthy cut. While it has the structure to age, it’s very easy to drink right now.
Bosquet des Papes (Wines of France) is one of the region’s most improved producers over the last ten years, and they hit it out of the park in 2010. Their Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Tradition ($44) displays intense blackberry, cherry and lavender on the nose and palate, with a spicy accent adding verve. This deep and expansive wine finishes with suave spice and floral notes and sweet, gentle tannins. You can enjoy it now if you give it an hour or so in a decanter.
Finally, the Domaine Raymond Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Girard (Weygandt-Metzler Importing) is produced by another branch of the Usseglio family, and while its wines are usually a bit less flamboyant than the Pierre Usseglio renditions, they don’t lack for depth or flavor. The 2010 version ($45) is a bright, spicy example, with vibrant cherry and cassis aromas and flavors boasting impressive concentration. There’s a spicy kick to the clinging finish, which is framed by fine-grained tannins that fade slowly into the wine’s sappy fruit.