I admit the obvious: I bought this because it looked like a bottle of buried-treasure pirate wine. I knew I was being taken in by pretty packaging, but I figured that this was from Chateauneuf-de-Pape, one of France’s most heralded wine regions, so it couldn’t be THAT bad…right? I forgot that top wine regions are like luxury cars: they don’t sell with gimmicks. If you walk into a Lexus dealership, the salesman probably isn’t going to bother offering you purchase rebates or free gas for a year; his sales pitch is going to be “It’s a Lexus.” Chateauneuf-de-Pape, located in the Rhone Valley in the southeast of France, is a Lexus wine region: it doesn’t need anything other than its name on the bottle to draw people in. So when a Chateauneuf producer starts messing with the bottle itself to draw in sales, it’s probably not a good sign.
Another warning sign that I totally missed: this is a non-vintage wine. Almost all still wines come from a particular vintage (2006, 2009, etc.), which is the year that the grapes that went into making the wine were harvested. Non-vintage wines are those made with grapes from more than one year’s harvest. The only common NV wines on the market that I can think of are Champagnes and other sparkling wines, whose producers intentionally mix together base wines from different harvests when making their signature blends (called “cuvées”) so as to maintain a consistent house style or flavour “brand” year over year. Non-sparkling wines don’t do this, and flavour variation vintage over vintage isn’t considered a bad thing. Non-vintage still wines are a rarity, and those that exist are generally cheaply made and intended to be drunk shortly after release. In other words, if you buy a bottle of white or red and there isn’t a year on the label, open it right away.
I didn’t do that; the Fiole du Pape has been languishing in my cellar for well over a year. It is a common wine myth that all wine improves with age, but that is entirely untrue: 95% of wines on the market (this one included) are intended to be opened within 6 months of the date they show up on store shelves, and they show best within that timeframe. The only good thing about my leaving my non-vintage, bottle-gimmick Chateauneuf-de-Pape too long is that it lets me answer a question that you might be asking right about now: how can you tell when your wine has aged too much?
Wines that are past their prime taste flat, faded and lifeless, have none of the vibrant fruit flavours prevalent in younger wine and generally come across as dull and stale. My Fiole was thin in body and was mainly garnet/brick in colour (older red wines gradually turn from purple to brown as they age). The nose wasn’t very intense, but what little there was included dust, earth, coffee and dried strawberries. There wasn’t much life on the palate either: VERY low acidity (the component of wine that provides bright, zingy, tangy flavour), faded hints of dark fruit, and some metallic, coppery notes, like liquid pennies. What flavour there was faded quickly, leaving only loose tannin on the finish.
In fairness, I should note that I’ve tried this wine once before and it wasn’t too bad, but in that situation the elapsed time between the Fiole being purchased and opened was probably 20 minutes. If, like me, you don’t have the willpower to resist the pirate bottle, open it immediately…as I’ve just found out, a year is too long to wait with this one. I dumped over half the bottle down the drain, and when I’m throwing away wine something’s definitely wrong.
77 points (but unfairly opened past its prime)
$30 to $40 CDN[Wine Jargon Notes: non-vintage = wine made from grapes that were harvested in multiple years; almost all still wines come from one single vintage, but many sparkling wines are non-vintage]