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Back to the golden-age: A tasting of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Chateauneuf-du-Pape from 1990-1961


Paul Jaboulet Aîné, founded in 1834, remains a major negociant to this day.  The Hermitage “La Chapelle” needs no introduction as it is still a benchmark for Northern Rhone wines. Today we would not include the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cèdres” as amongst the best of the region but it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a handful of vineyard owners bottled their own wine during this period which allowed Paul Jaboulet Aîné to purchase wine from top vineyards, the names of which are highly coveted today.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné has original vineyard holdings in Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth explained to me how Northern Rhone merchants felt they should have Southern Rhone wines in their portfolio. These were marketed towards French restaurants and the export trade. Thus the Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Cèdres” is a brand name marketed in the US and Great Britain and “La Grappe des Papes” elsewhere.

John Livingstone Learmonth writes that this was the “benchmark house” when he started in the wine business in 1973.  Robert Parker echoes this sentiment rating the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintages prior to 1970 with the top mark of five stars.  This past weekend a group of us gathered in my house to explore these golden years by tasting 11 vintages from 1990 back to 1961.

The four oldest vintages tasted 1970, 1966, 1964, and 1961 were produced by Louis Jaboulet, grandson of founder Paul Jaboulet. It is Louis Jaboulet who selected the wines that went into these vintages.  With his passing away in 2012 the background history of these great wines was lost.[1]  What we do know is very little and often repeated.  Robert Parker writes that the 1967 was produced from old-vine wine from Chateau La Nerthe.  He also writes that the older vintages were predominantly or entirely made from Grenache.

My overall impression is that in moving back in time, decade by decade, the wines become more interesting and exciting.  The 1990 and 1989 vintages are young in evolution but in different ways.  The former is integrated yet tight whereas the later offers rounder fruit but with tangy grip from age-worthy structure.  The first mature vintage is 1983 which attracted me with its sweaty, old-school aromas.  The 1982 requires a day for the nose to clean up at which point it is a mature, quieter wine. Both of these vintages should be drunk soon.  Youthful form returned in the 1981 vintage which is finely scented and flavored.  Out of magnum I would wait several more years before revisiting.

The excellent vintages of 1979, 1978, and 1970 made for a very satisfying flight.  These wines are mature but will drink in good form for several more years.  They all bear fruit backed by weight and a sweaty/animale note that I like.

We had an off bottle of 1964 thus our oldest decade was represented by 1966 and 1961.  For me the level of interest stepped up one more notch over the 1970s for the 1966 is downright exciting. The balance between red fruit, sweet concentration, levity, bottle age complexity, and life pulls you into your glass.  It should drink at this level for several more years.  If the 1966 is generous the 1961 is structured, controlled, and dry in nature.  It is made complex by leather and perfumed notes.

It is clear that Louis Jaboulet was able to source some fine wine for his vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Not only do these wines highlight the quality level a top negociant could achieve but increase the notion of longevity of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I must point out that this tasting would not have occurred without the willingness of Mannie Berk, founder of the Rare Wine Co., who generously opened up his inventory to me.  He imported all of these wines which included a combination of ex-domaine and private cellar acquisitions.

After the tasting we drank a few more wines.  One generous guest opened a bottle of 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle which required until the second night to show its glorious potential.  With dessert came the 1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port which I found to be completely mature.  It is all sweet fruit and spices.


Arrival Champagne

 

2000 Charles Heidsieck, Champagne Brut Millésimé
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  A light golden color.  The mousse tickles the tongue before the wine seamlessly transitions to a fresh, grippy presence.  The mouth feel matches the chalk flavor from which notes of apple orchard, some supple weight, and spiced chalk come out.  A fine glass.  **** Now – 2020.


Flight #1

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is tight at first but slowly reveals interesting aromas of sweet, sweaty leather, and garrrigue. In the mouth are fresh red fruit flavors around a fine vein of herbs and wood. The flavors are moved along by watering acidity. With air, this slowly evolving wine, shows complicated garrigue and wood notes. *** Now – 2027.

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 14%. Slightly maderized on the nose but with aromas of darker fruit and plums. In the mouth the flavors have good weight, eventually revealing cherries and sweet fruit. There is a bit of a tang and polished wood note. ** Now.

1989 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 13.5%. This is every so slightly darker than the first trio. A tight nose at first but the palate has lovely grip from the structure which adds pleasing texture to the blue/red fruits and garrigue. Unlike the 1990, there is a very fine tannic structure and it is also more forward in flavor. It is easy to appreciate the rounder flavors, tangy grip, and sweet raspberry aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #2

1983 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins. The nose is sweet and sweaty, certainly old-school. With air a freshness and tobacco aroma come out. Watering acidity brings forth a start of sweet and rounded flavors made more complex by incense. The wine is clearly mature. Though there is red fruit with some weight, though lighter than the 1989, the wine dries by the finish. There is also a touch of structure lurking about. ***(*) Now – 2022.

1982 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Quite aromatic with a hint of cheese and metal which eventually improves to be funky. In the mouth the wine oscillates in appeal. At best, the grippy structure and sweet red aftertaste appeal but there is more structure than fruit. ** Now.

1981 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13%.  This is a finely scented wine of dark aromas. In the mouth it is clearly in fine condition with red then blacker fruit, fresh acidity, and a finely textured and well-integrated tannic structure. With air raspberry flavors and firm red fruit come out. There is an ethereal quality to the fruit. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #3

1979 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The lightest of the trio but with good brilliance. The berries and cherries on the nose are a touch firm with a hint of roast. In the mouth is also a slightly roasted note but the sweet, small berried fruit has weight and longevity in profile. It is a bit animale. ***(*) Now – 2020.

1978 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Aromas of cherries, cranberries, and bright herbs eventually take on sweat, incense, and a green note. The flavors are rounder than the 1979 yet are light in weight, carried through by watering acidity. The entire wine is underpinned by structure and spiced tannins that are perfectly integrated. This wine eventually reveals itself to be long lived, lovely, and complete. **** Now – 2025.

1970 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The darkest of the trio, slightly cloudy. Also the most robust of the trio with a closely played berry core with tangy flavors lefts on the sides of the mouth. With air the wine becomes brighter with red, rounded berry flavors, tartness, and a hint of cola. Good watering acidity. **** Now – 2022.


Flight #4

1966 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. I just wanted to smell and taste this wine. There is a fine interplay between the red fruit, sweet concentration, and ethereal flavor. It is light in body yet flavorful with complexity from leather and animale flavors. Simply a point. ****(*) Now but will last.

1964 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.   This bottle is toast! Not Rated.

1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. The nose offers up sweet fruits and leather then with air banana foster. In this mouth this is a dry wine, a characteristic which naturally matches the perfumed flavor. There is controlled ripeness and watering acidity. **** Now but will last.


Dinner Wines

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle
Imported by Frederick Wildman.  The dark cherry and garnet color is still youthful. There are fine scented berries on the nose. In the mouth there is great purity with black and purple fruit, hints of leather all delivered with great focus. On the second night the wine is markedly improved with a savory profile to the dark fruit. Is is still youthful but the flavors takes on weight and a mineral dimension. It is also still structured but there is plenty of flavor for development as the long, mouth filling finish attests too. ***(**) Now – 2037.

1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines.  Alcohol 20%.  This is finely scented with sweet fruit, spices, and wood box. The rounded, red fruited start is dusted with ripe, baking spices. The structure is largely resolved so there is a sense of balance because the wine is in a sweet spot.  *** Now – 2022.

[1]According to correspondence with Jean Luc Chapel, Prestige Account Manager, Paul Jaboulet Aîné on 27 September 2017.

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