Few critics have pronounced yet, but I expect the 2019 vintage in the Southern Rhône to go down as a great year. From my limited tastings of samples sent to me at home, it seems clear that 2019 will outperform the more opulent 2018s in terms of quality and longevity and could be inked in as a modern-day classic for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Rhône critic, Jeb Dunnuck, commented as follows, while promising an in-depth review later this year: the 2019s ‘offer more depth, concentration, and richness, all while showing considerable purity of fruit and elegance.’ He adds that ‘in short, 2019 appears to be a beautiful, possibly exceptional, vintage for the Southern Rhône’.
I was fortunate to receive samples of both 2018s and 2019s from one of my favourite estates, namely ‘Clos du Mont Olivet’ run by three members of the Sabon family. I used to visit Celine, David and Thierry every year with my good friend, the late John Gauntley, who acted as agent for the estate in the UK. John had a great palate when it came to the Rhône and he certainly influenced my buying decisions early in my career. Mont Olivet was an estate on which we agreed wholeheartedly. In an era when Châteauneuf-du-Pape offered a plethora of different styles and many estates started to experiment and to create micro-cuvées from old plots in an effort to chase Parker points, there was something reassuringly traditional at Clos du Mont Olivet. That is not to say that things have not evolved here, but rather that the estate and its wines have not lost their identity or typicity.
Today the estate extends over 21 hectares in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a further 14 hectares in Lirac, to the west of the appellation, supplemented by 10 hectares in the Côtes du Rhône and 3 in the Vin de Pays du Gard. Their vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are spread across the appellation and include some of the most famous lieux-dits (or named vineyards), but Châteauneuf-du-Pape is ultimately a blend, so the different locations and terroirs contribute to the complexity of the estate’s wines. Additionally, where many Châteauneuf-du-Pape have moved towards Grenache, with Syrah and perhaps Mourvèdre, or maybe even wines made from 100% Grenache, Mont Olivet has a terrific supporting cast comprising a whole host of lesser known yet historical southern Rhône varieties, such as Counoise, Vaccarèse, Muscardin, Terret Noir and Picpoul Noir as well as Cinsault. Incorporating all these vines ties in beautifully with their philosophy of being true to their roots…and, of course, making complex, age-worthy wines.
Harvest time is a tricky period with so many different plots and varietals contributing to varied ripening times. Thierry is very careful with extraction – never wanting to push things too far by extracting too much from the skins, his preference is for elegance and with fruit as rich as that in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, his approach regularly pays dividends, not least in the recent hot, dry vintages. Each variety is kept separate for the straight Clos du Mont Olivet, allowing them to assemble the blend once they have had the chance to evaluate the fruit from different parcels and varieties. The assembled wine is then aged in either old oak foudres, barrels or in vat. Making great Châteauneuf-du-Pape relies on a whole host of skills and, given the exercise of blending, there is added complexity to the tasks and the resultant wine. The consistency of the wines of Mont Olivet stands testament to the series of decisions taken and never ceases to fascinate me, just as it did on my very first visit to the estate’s cavernous cellars in the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
I am really pleased to offer a trio of hugely impressive 2019s from Clos du Mont Olivet, including their new Lirac – they each offer exceptional value and great prospects for ageing. Please see my full notes below.