2020 completes a trio of hot, dry years in the southern Rhône, all of which have delivered some notable successes. The 2020s that I have started to taste show a more supple accent in contrast to the more powerful 2019s, yet they are by no means lacking in richness and substance. I have now tasted through a range of samples, and it reveals that the 2020 shows good freshness, offsetting the bold, ripe fruit, making for a vintage that should show well relatively early yet still age over the mid-term.
Fortunately, winter rains topped up soil water levels that helped the vines cope with yet another hot, dry year, though one that didn’t reach the dramatically high temperatures witnessed in the summer months of 2019. Water-stress was largely negated, and cooler nights helped preserve aromatics and freshness. A couple of light showers towards harvest assisted in slowing ripeness, ensuring that the fruit came in at a lower level of potential alcohol than witnessed in 2019. So, all in all, a vintage that may not demand quite the same patient cellarage as the 2019s, but one that is highly appealing. Simply put, some self-control was required to stick to one tasting sample, rather than returning for repeated top ups, particularly when it came to the wines of Mont Olivet!
I remain a huge fan of the Mont Olivet style – even in the most powerful Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintages they deliver wines with balance and elegance at their core. This isn’t such an easy feat across some of the region’s terroirs, and not only speaks volumes for the vineyards employed in their blends, but also the range of grape varieties grown. ‘Clos du Mont Olivet’ is one of my favourite estates – it is run by three members of the Sabon family, Thierry, Celine and David. By way of background, Châteauneuf-du-Pape offers a plethora of different styles; after all it is a very large appellation. From 2000 onwards, many estates started to experiment by creating micro-cuvées from old plots and employing new oak in an effort to chase reviews, yet all along the team at Mont Olivet stuck to their own style. There is something reassuringly classical 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 along the way.
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 the two 2020 Châteauneuf-du-Pape releases from Clos du Mont Olivet – our last offer of the 2019s sold really well, released as it was before the main critics’ reviews. After some lofty point scores, notably 99 points for the 2019 Cuvée du Papet from Jeb Dunnuck, there was a sudden clamour for the wines, but by that time, we had safely sold our allocations into our client reserves! In his review, Jeb Dunnuck highlighted the virtues of Cuvée du Papet saying that ‘If classic, old-school, yet clean and pure Châteauneuf is your thing, it doesn’t get much better’. On the straight Clos, he commented that ‘this little gem should be snatched up by readers, as it’s as textbook as they come’. I look forward to reading his notes in due course, but for now you can read mine below!
Both 2020s are exclusive to Atlas in the UK.
Footnote : I have been fortunate enough to taste some of the very greatest vintages of Cuvée du Papet, including the 2007, the 2010 as well as the 1990 and 1989. I have little doubt that the 2019 and now 2020 will join this exceptional set. If you look at the reviews for these vintages, you will quickly note that they rank as some of the most revered wines in the region and rightly so.
Please let us know of your interest and do please note that La Cuvée du Papet is in short supply!
All the best,