Home > Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > So What About Those 2003 Chateauneufs

So What About Those 2003 Chateauneufs

My friend David is a member of the local tasting  group I mentioned in my previous post An amazing tasting of 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape including Rayas and Bonneau.  He is a long-time advocate of the 2003 vintage of which you may read about in his post below.

So Am I Wrong for Thinking the 2003 wines of Chateauneuf du Pape are Great?


Spending a few weeks in France and Switzerland that summer I simply couldn’t believe the relentless heat. I remember being in Paris in August and feeling almost a continual wall of heat building throughout the day and reaching extremes that were meteorologically impressive. The heatwave and accompanying drought engulfed most of Western Europe and the prognosis for the wine industry was not a good one. But winemakers oftentimes triumph over Mother Nature’s cruelty.

A lot of hard work – and some luck perhaps, was needed to bottle wines that were otherwise not overly alcoholic, raisinated, pruney or just sunbaked and sun-burned. French vigneron had to cope by managing a harvest that yielded fruit from the torrid heat of the growing season and from vines stressed from lack of hydration. The heat retentive galets in vineyards throughout the Rhone hardly dropped in temperature in the night. And the results? Well, the naysayers were quick to dismiss the vintage as a failure because of the climatic conditions. I think time has shown us that certain vineyard practices and just plain old great winemaking yielded some of the most profound wines ever from the region, vintage notwithstanding.

So what about those 2003 Chateauneufs? Well, many of the wines have turned out to be stellar examples of what makes Chateauneuf so great. Delicious southern Rhone Grenache, or Grenache with other varietals. Kirsch. Spice. Gamy. Earth. And that unmistakable Provencal garrigue. And more importantly, some of the 2003 Chateauneufs have proven to be just plain “great” wines, not just comparatively amongst its vintage peers in France, but in a decade of many stylistic changes in a region that continues to reinvent itself, these wines have stood the test of time over the last decade+ and are fabulous examples of what makes Chateauneuf du Pape such a special wine.

My favorites from the vintage: Usseglio Cuvee de Mon Aieul, Clos des Papes, Pegau, and Marcoux. I have also liked Cuvee du Vatican Sixtine, Vieux Telegraphe, and Vieux Donjon. Just a couple of weeks ago, and owing to the generosity of a friend, I had Rayas and Bonneau’s Marie Beurrier. Rayas is truly a singular wine and really can’t be compared to other wines of the appellation. Great stuff. And the Bonneau would rank among the greats of this much maligned vintage. What struck me most about this recent tasting was the freshness and youthfulness of the wine we tasted (I refer you to my friend Aaron’s notes for the specific wines we consumed). As a whole, none of the wines displayed signs of heat, nor were they boozy and overblown. In fact, structurally, they reminded me of the 2005s, but with more fruit and depth. And some of these wines were still quite young. The fruit will support further development on what we discovered were tannins that have proven themselves to be neither rough nor clunky, but rather sensual. These wines were a pleasure to drink. And thirteen years after the vintage, they have proven to be just stellar. The top wines of the vintage will drink for another decade, easy. That’s just how I feel.

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