The 2004 vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best since 2001, writes JAMES LAWTHER MW, with a minerally balance and freshness, and long ageing potential

The 2004 vintage in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best since 2001, writes JAMES LAWTHER MW, with a minerally balance and freshness, and long ageing potential.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape has pulled off another very fine vintage in 2004. It goes without saying that it’s better than the rain-afflicted 2002, but as a whole it’s also superior to the much touted but more tricky 2003 where (barring the best) high alcohol, low acidity and occasionally green tannins offer a mixed bag of quality and generally softer, earlier drinking wines.

The opposite is the case in 2004. Overall quality is more consistent, and there’s a balance and freshness in the wines to match alcohol degrees. Good acidity and firm tannins will demand a little more time in bottle before drinking but they guarantee digestibility and long ageing potential. 2004 is on a par with the excellent 2001 but a touch more restrained.

Established producers have produced classic wines but so too have a list of less familiar estates. These are now being run by a more youthful generation keen to shake the existing status quo.

An Indian summer allowed growers the luxury of harvesting at will during the last two weeks in September and first in October. With sugar ripeness assured, phenolic maturity was obtained thanks to a bout of rain in August.

‘The vines had blocked a little in the hot, dry conditions, but the 100mm of rain we had in mid-August helped relaunch the ripening process,’ explains Philip Bravay of Domaine de Ferrand. ‘Thereafter we had sun and the Mistral wind to aid concentration.’

A minerally freshness and acidity is one of the chief characteristics of the vintage. This was assisted by contrasting day- and night-time temperatures in August. The nights were particularly cool with 10 of them dipping under 15°C. The acidity can also be found in the unsung and often heavy white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (6% of total production), offering liveliness to balance fruit weight and some truly enjoyable wines.

The average yield for reds is low, 30hl/ha compared with the legal maximum of 35hl/ha. Grenache, the principal variety in Châteauneuf, is rich, powerful and fresh.

‘It’s most definitely a Grenache year,’ observes oenologist Philippe Cambie, consultant to a number of top domaines including Vaudieu, Vieux Donjon and Villeneuve.

Over at Château de Beaucastel, Pierre Perrin sees the vintage in another light. ‘If you have the terroir, the Grenache is balanced. Otherwise blending Syrah, Mourvèdre and other varieties helps to temper the variety’s high degrees,’ he says.

The wines were tasted blind at tastings organised for Decanter in Châteauneuf-du-Pape by the region’s two syndicats, the Fédérations des Producteurs and the Syndicat Intercommunal.

At each tasting special cuvées were tasted separately from the regular wines and the best are listed separately here.

Red: regular cuvées

Château de Beaucastel *****

This is a wonderful mix of power and finesse. Fine, aromatic nose accented towards the fruit. Palate full, unctuous but with balance and complexity. Built around a powerful tannic frame. 2012–25. £36.73–47 (2003); Adn, BBR, J&B

Clos des Papes *****

Has the same depth and concentration as the 2003 with yields of only 21hl/ha but is more backward in style. Ripe, sweet berry fruit with mineral, spice and liquorice notes. Tight tannic structure. 2012–25. £42.61–55 (2003); BBR, Sec, SVS

Domaine de Villeneuve *****

Big, full bodied, powerful wine with potential for long ageing. Nose deep but subdued, creamy, rich fruit on the palate. Vigorous and intense. Loads of extract. Threatens to overwhelm but balance and length on the finish. 2010–20.

£18.50 (2001); SVS, Ten, Vet

Bosquet des Papes ****

Reticent but plenty of extract. Traditional in style. Dark, layered fruit on the palate, good density, firm tannic structure. Robust. Clean, fresh finish. 2010–20. £16 (2003); CTW, SVS

Domaine de Beaurenard ****

Rich, modern style. Deep colour, dense, layered extract, powerful tannic frame. Well constituted, alcohol present but acidity on the finish for balance. 2010–20. £17.99 (2003); BWC

Domaine de Cristia ****

Very fine. Attractive pitch of ripeness. Palate smooth, filled with tasty fruit. Lots of freshness on the finish. Medium weight but will probably fill out. 2009–18. £14.50 (2003); BRW, HBa, Lai

Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange ****

Attractive dark cherry ripeness. Fine and fragrant. Good depth of fruit and length. Quite tight, tannic structure. Has power and finesse. 2009–16.

h12; N/A UK +33 4 90 83 72 24

Domaine de la Janasse ****

Plenty of matière in this wine. Fragrant red berry fruit, lovely purity of flavour. A touch of creamy oak present but nuanced and integrated. Firm, ripe tannins in behind. 2009–18. EnW

Domaine de la Mordorée ****

Modern but very classy. Creamy, vanilla notes on palate and nose but huge concentration of rich, confit fruit. Tight, firm tannic structure but ripe and polished. Full and powerful. 2012–20.

£55 (2003); L&S, HBa

Domaine de Marcoux ****

Real potential here. Dark fruit aroma and flavour, almost cassis. Ripe, warm but balanced on the palate. Firm tannic structure. 2010–18.

£22.50 (2003); Gns, VRo, AlW

Château de Vaudieu ****

Gourmand and fruit driven in a ‘modern-traditional’ style. Creamy, layered fruit, soft velvety texture but harmonious with a long, firm, fresh finish. Good value. 2009–18. £17.95 (2003); Lib

Domaine des Relagnes ****

Beautifully balanced wine, with plenty of finesse. Raspberry and cherry fragrance. Lovely fruit-driven palate. Ripe, round and fresh on the finish. Medium to full in weight. 2009–18. h14; N/A UK +33 4 90 83 73 37

Domaine du Père Pape ****

Bright, red berry nose. Attractive fruit character on the palate, lively with a minerally freshness. Fine tannic tram, length on the finish. 2009–16. h18; N/A UK +33 4 90 83 70 16

Domaine Giraud ****

Nose unexpressive at present but lots of rich, full extract on the palate. Muscular tannic frame. Powerful but with balancing acidity. 2010–20.

t18 (2003); N/A UK +33 4 90 83 73 49

Domaine Grand Veneur ****

Nose reticent but full and unctuous on the palate with plenty of fruit extract. Fairly robust wine. Good tannins. 2009–16. £14.50 (2003); Gns, HBa

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine ****

Deep colour. Traditional in style. Robust. Nose brooding but closed. Lots of fruit extract on the palate. Good acidity and tannic structure. 2010–18. £19.99 (2003); LBV

Domaine Les Cailloux ****

Elegant weight and style. Touch Burgundian with a little Pinot-raspberry lift. Fine, tight tannic frame. Balanced. 2009–16. £19.40 (2001); Hal

Domaine Paul Autard ****

Compromise between modern and traditional. Deep colour, quite big extract with dark fruit, cassis notes. Powerful, brooding, plenty of reserve. 2010–18. £20.56 (2001); Bib

Domaine Raymond Usseglio ****

Deep, bright colour. Purety of fruit on the nose. Good attack. Density of fruit on the middle palate. Firm, fresh finish. 2009–16. £14.95 (2003); BRW

La Bastide St Dominique ****

Lovely fruit expression. Dark-red berry with a note of cassis. Medium bodied. Quite long and linear. Fine tannic frame. Accessible earlier but should age. 2008–16. £17.76 (2003); Lam

Red: special cuvées

Domaine Bois de Boursan, Cuvée des Félix *****

Deep colour, really exuberant fruit, fragrant and flavoursome with a lovely cherry/raspberry nuance. Layered texture on the palate, fruit ripe and full, tight tannic structure, long, fresh finish. 2012–25. £29.50 (2001); Adn

Domaine de la Janasse, Chaupin *****

Rich and concentrated with intense, layered fruit. Must be low yielding, old vines. Firm, ripe tannins with a lovely minerally fresh undertone and finish. Superb balance. Another dimension to this wine. 2012–25. EnW

Château de Beaucastel, Hommage à Jacques Perrin ****

Undoubtedly a top wine but I prefer the regular cuvée. Intense, muscular and austere. Dense, dark fruit. Touch of liquorice. Solid but polished tannic frame. Imposing. 2014–30. £296.71–385 (2001); Adn, BBR, J&B

Clos du Caillou, Les Quartz ****

Ripeness pushed just to the limit. Dark cherry spectrum of aroma and flavour, even a little kirsch. Velvety, unctuous and very gourmand. Weighty but structured. 2012–22. £35 (2003); Gns, HBa

Clos Saint Jean, Deus-Ex-Machina ****

Definitely for the long haul. Deep, bright colour. Dark fruits on the nose with a gamey, black olive nuance. Loads of sweet, rich extract on the palate. Powerful with a muscular tannic frame. 2012–25. h48; N/A UK +33 4 90 83 58 00

Domaine de Marcoux, Vieilles Vignes ****

Clean, honest, great purity of fruit. Fragrant raspberry/cherry aroma and flavour. Tight, minerally structure. Freshness and length. 2012–25. £595 (case 12, in bond, 2003); Gns

Domaine du Père Pape, La Crau de Ma Mère ****

Archetypal Châteauneuf. Raspberry/cherry fragrance. Smooth and round on the palate. Good intensity. Clean, fresh, minerally finish. 2012–20. £17.15 (2001); Gdh

Domaine Raymond Usseglio, Cuvée Impériale ****

Lovely, bright fruit, very pure. Classically round, smooth and unctuous on the palate with firm tannic grip. Dense and long. 2010–20. £24.10 (2003); BRW

White: regular cuvees

Château de Beaucastel ****

Nose a little dumb, just a hint of apricot, but the palate shows ripe, round, unctuous fruit. Plenty of volume and good balance. 2007–15. £32.81–42.25 (2003); Adn, BBR, J&B

Château Mont Redon ****

Subtle pear/apple and floral aroma and flavour. Attractive fruit on the palate, soft and full but lively. 2007–12. £13 (2003); J&B, Per

Domaine de Marcoux ****

Wonderfully harmonious. Just the right weight and balance. Gently aromatic with notes of peach and stone fruit. Palate lively and smooth. 2007–16. h26; N/A UK +33 4 90 34 67 43

Domaine des Sénéchaux ****

Fine, subtle floral and stone fruit aroma and flavour. Palate full and unctuous but precise. Good length and depth. 2006–10. £13.90–15.45; BBR

Domaine Guiraud ****

Lovely fruit-driven wine. Will drink well early on. Notes of soft, white fruit. Smooth, round and fleshy with balancing acidity. 2006–10.

h20; N/A UK +33 4 90 83 73 49

Domaine La Charbonnière ****

Ripe, lightly aromatic with notes of mandarin and confit fruit. Perhaps a touch of vanilla oak. Palate rich, round and full. Lots of succulent fruit. Powerful but balanced. 2007–12. £22–25 (2003); GWW, ThH

Domaine Raymond Usseglio ****

Nose a little reticent but lovely purity and depth of fruit. Soft and full with some minerally complexity. 2006–10. £14.95; BRW

Les Grandes Vignes du Roy ****

Lovely expressive fruit. Peach and stone fruit on the nose with a touch of vanilla. Palate soft, full and juicy with balancing acidity. Delicious now. 2006–10. h14.50; N/A UK +33 6 83 35 67 22

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe ***

Lots of reserve. Discreet floral and apple/pear aroma. Palate rich and intense but with balancing freshness. 2007–16. £20.28–25.95 (2003); BBR, J&B, L&W, Tan

White: special cuvees

Château de Beaucastel, Vieilles Vignes, Roussanne *****

Wonderfully complex stone fruit and floral nose with a touch of racy minerality behind. Beautifully textured, smooth and velvety. Rich, long, balanced. 2007–20. £46.62–60 (2003); Adn, BBR, J&B

James Lawther MW is a contributing editor to Decanter.

Written by James Lawther MW