Domaines Paul Jaboulet Ainé: The Next Level

5 08 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

I recently tasted and discussed the entry-level Parallele 45 lineup from the Rhone Valley’s Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine, which showcased the red, white and pink sides of the Southern Rhone in an impressive value-priced package.  Today we kick it up a notch.

FullSizeRenderJaboulet’s Alberta portfolio is supplemented by a quartet of upper-echelon bottles from a group of distinctive quality regions scattered across the Rhone, each of which has its own character and legend to live up to, and each of which, I’m happy to report, Jaboulet and winemaker Caroline Frey reflect to a tee in these beautiful offerings.  See my prior post for more details about this historic winery and its renaissance in our market; for now, we have a lot of wine to drink.

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Why the totally different corks for the Crozes and the Muscat?

2013 Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu “De Pere en Filles”

This wine might have the longest full name I’ve ever seen – and I drink German Riesling.  It’s the 2013 Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aine Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu “De Pere en Filles” (the last part of which translates to “from father to daughters” – I wonder if this is a nod to Jaboulet’s new owners, the Frey family, whose daughter now makes the wines, as the prior Jaboulet ownership tree tends to be pretty patriarchal).  Let’s unpack.  “Cotes du Rhone Villages” is an appellation name a quality level above generic Cotes du Rhone, signifying that the grapes came from around a list of villages with higher-grade reputations.  “Plan de Dieu” is one such village, located due west of famed Southern Rhone regions Gigondas and Vacqueyras; winemaking there is known to date back to at least 1362.  It’s known for Grenache-based blends, so it’s fitting that this bottle is 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre.

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The 2013 Plan de Dieu has a depth of colour that many Grenache wines lack, a deep brooding ruby-purple no doubt aided by the other components of the blend.  The brightness of Grenache hits first on the nose, candied strawberry and Nibs cherry fronting classic Rhone rosemary and thyme, with lingering smoky bacon-y bass notes from the Syrah and Mourvedre.  There is overt structure here that is immediately noticeable as soon as the wine hits your tongue, powdery tannin and jumpy acidity that is a welcome elevation of the sometimes-sedate Cotes du Rhone category.  The fruit flavours deepen to grape and blueberry, surrounded by a rush of peppery spice on the midpalate and coffee and date on the finish.  This is a serious and well-built wine, full value for its $30+ price tag, and it unfolds even further in the presence of food.  Let this be a cautionary tale about underestimating generic appellations.

90 points

$30 to $35 CDN

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2012 Crozes Hermitage “Les Jalets”

From the deep south we jump to the cooler, leaner Northern Rhone and the Crozes Hermitage region.  Just like the satellite areas to the top vineyards in Burgundy attach the vineyard’s name to their own to enhance their appeal (like Puligny-Montrachet), so too does Crozes Hermitage borrow the name of the legendary hill of Hermitage it surrounds to increase its allure.  As Crozes is a significantly larger and more heterogenous region than Hermitage, many Crozes Hermitage wines aren’t sufficiently distinct and reflective of their origins to merit such a distinguished surname, but this one is Northern Rhone through and through, a true standard-bearer for the region.  It shares a price point with the Plan de Dieu above, but like the bulk of Northern Rhone reds it’s 100% Syrah.  Its name “Les Jalets” likely refers to “galets”, the large flat pebbles left behind by glaciers that are such a part of the soil character of Rhone regions like Chateauneuf-du-Pape and are also found here.

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Only 12.5% abv, this Crozes is still a surprisingly opaque ruby, fully impossible to see through.  If I could make a scratch-and-sniff wine textbook, the Northern Rhone page would smell exactly like this:  all pleasant pretense and baby fat evaporated, distilled to sleek raspberry, violet, graphite, blood and black pepper chiseled into the core of the wine.  The softness of the wine’s texture offers a brief reprieve from its linear nature before the lashing acidity kicks in, carrying with it beams of tart cherry, rhubarb, hot rocks and copper that linger well after you swallow.  Whoever says that low-alcohol reds can’t bring the flavour needs to pull up a chair at this table.  This is tremendous.

91+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Cedres”

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that “Les Cedres” translates to “the cedars” (incidentally, many props to Jaboulet for taking the time to name each of its wines – I wish everyone did that).  This premier region offering is both the oldest (2010 is current vintage) and the most expensive ($50+, although that is still in the value-pricing range for Chateauneuf-du-Pape) wine in this lineup, made from grapes grown on 45+ year-old vines in a single vineyard full of large stones (the galets mentioned above) and red clay.  It is a very similar blend to the Plan de Dieu, 80% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, but with 10% Cinsault subbed in for Syrah…and it could not be more different in the glass.

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The Cedres’ age shows in its colour, which has no remaining trace of purple and touches of garnet around the edges, where there is a slight thinning of an otherwise moonless core.  That is the last vestige of delicacy in this bottle, which immediately smells dense and extracted, all stewed fruits, fig, campfire smokiness, hoisin umami and hard brown toffee candy.  Concentration is the hallmark of the palate, which is almost Amarone-like in its flavour-packed, vacuum-dried, fruitcake-y appeal:  it seems dehydrated with compressed beef jerky, plum, date and mincemeat flavours, power at the slight expense of refreshment.  There is still acid, and considerable tannin, present, so the wine will age for many more years, though perhaps in unrelenting fashion for those seeking a touch of brightness as a reprieve.  For those who love this potent, meaty, compacted style, Les Cedres brings the complexity to take it somewhere good; for those who aren’t as devoted, while the wine’s quality is undeniable, it can come across as somewhat unrelenting.

90- points

$50 to $55 CDN

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Cork Ratings, L to R: 7, 5, 7, 4/10, less a further penalty for intra-brand inconsistency and lack of a common design.

2013 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise “Le Chant des Griolles”

I went as far as to find and ask an actual native of France what “Griolles” meant so as to keep my wine name translation streak alive, but had no luck until the winery itself weighed in:  using a local Provencal dialect, the wine’s moniker means “The Hum of the Bees”.  Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is itself a wine name you should know.  This awesomely dessert-wine-only appellation is located in the heart of Southern Rhone red wine country, just south of Vacqueyras and northeast of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The wines are made like Port:  very ripe grapes (in this case, Muscat Blanc de Petits Grains, a high-quality type of Muscat) are fermented about halfway to dryness, at which point the fermentation is halted (with considerable residual sugar still left in the wine which has not yet been converted into alcohol) through the addition of yeast-killing, nearly-pure-alcohol grape brandy.  The result is a fortified, fairly high alcohol (15% abv here), lusciously sweet dessert wine with all of Muscat’s electric flavours.  An overlooked side benefit of this process is that it guarantees easy, stable, and therefore inexpensive (under $25 for this half bottle), access to sweet wine each year without the flightier processes associated with other dessert wines:  there is no worrying about the careful spread of botrytis in the vineyard, or waiting months drying out the grapes, or (god forbid) hoping they’ll freeze on the vine for long enough to be properly harvested.

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This bottle of dessert glory is pure Muscat:  intrinsically aromatic and floral and grape-y, with a strong dash of canned pears and lychee to its decidedly forward aromas.  Lush yet vibrant in texture, the Beaumes-de-Venise is clearly sweet but not insipid, consistently bright and packed with tropical pineapple, coconut, honey, lemon zest and Fuzzy Peach flavours.  This would kill with lemon meringue pie and is a dessert value more people should be reaching for, even if their French-English dictionary doesn’t say what “Griolles” means.

88 points

$20 to $25 CDN (375 mL)

Four wines from four landmark Rhone Valley regions, each of which gives you exactly what the specific area and its unique style of wine is all about.  After multiple tasting sessions, I’ve learned that when you buy Jaboulet, you get what you’re supposed to get inside the bottle, which sounds so simple but is all too rare.

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