Clos des Papes Sets the Pace

Vincent Avril has Châateauneuf-du-Pape's flagship estate rolling

Avril is particularly enthused this early-summer morning, as the last drops of more than 2 inches of rain that had fallen overnight are lingering.

“We had nothing from the end of March until today, and some vines were just beginning to show some stress,” says Avril. “This was a perfect rain, the right amount, at the right time. I just got back from checking my parcels and there’s nothing sitting on the surface—everything has already drained down to the roots and into the reserves.”

Yields here continue to be extremely low; after averaging just 1.3 tons per acre from 2008 through 2012, Avril brought in just 1 ton per acre in 2013, due to a February frost that killed off some vines and then a bad flowering on the Grenache come spring.

“I’ve lost the equivalent of two vintages over the last six,” rues Avril. “Still, I really like the ’13. Sugar and phenolic maturity arrived at the same time, so the alcohol is less than 15 percent and the wine is in a Burgundian style, with a lot of finesse, which is what I prefer.”

As for the 2012, Avril is even happier, comparing it to ’10, ’07 and ’05 for it’s longterm potential. When I raise my eyebrows at that claim—2010 is for me the benchmark vintage in the Rhône in recent memory—Avril pulls out bottles of each.

“In ’12, phenolic ripeness came two weeks after sugar ripeness, so it’s a vintage of 15 percent alcohol, more typical of Châteauneuf. But the tannins are very, very fine and very, very long. They’re really the kind of tannins I want,” says Avril.

The 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a bit tight from the recent bottling, but it shows its telltale hints of black tea, toasted spice and cassis, along with a coiled core of red licorice and singed mesquite. It’s yet another very alluring and refined display of depth and finesse. The 2012 has sneaky density, though it’s a hair less concentrated than the 2010 that we tasted alongside it. It’s not nearly as flamboyant as the hyperrich 2007. But it’s got as much complexity and length as either of those two vintages, which means it’ll be a horserace.

Avril also makes a sensational white, among the appellation’s elite. The 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White delivers pure, high-toned acacia, green fig, elderflower and melon rind notes, and seems destined for long life, as this bottling has a great track record for aging. As it does, it often moves in and out of stages of varying richness and minerality. Right now the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape White is showing more richness—tight on the nose, but with a large core of acacia, creamed melon, macadamia nut and brioche notes. Both vintages look to continue the recent stretch of classic-quality whites from Clos des Papes.