They have had a topsy-turvy time in Châteauneuf-du-Pape recently with veteran vigneron Jean-Pierre Boisson at Domaine du Père Caboche reporting the smallest and largest harvests of his 50-plus year career in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Happily, the quality has been excellent but poor bud break and a lack of rainfall depleted volumes in 2017 and the spring of 2018 was so wet that wine-makers battled mildew before a fine finish to the growing season restored fortunes.
It is Jean-Pierre's daughter Emilie who is in charge of the wine-making at the domaine these days and she was understandably upbeat when we visited after the vendange. The Boissons are heavily invested in Châteauneuf' with 30 hectares under vine and an extensive tasting of their wines brought broad smiles as they not only showed the appellation in a very pure light but also offer terrific value for money. Their white wine is blended from 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc and 15% each of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. It drinks very well from release with attractive wild flower and citrus fruit scents and a smoothly-textured palate of yellow stone fruit and a crisp, zesty finish. The 'Domaine' red, which accounts for the lion's share of production is from a traditional assemblage of 80% Grenache Noir, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre. It, too, is notably forward-drinking with an inviting bouquet of ripe berries and cherries and slick, juicy red and black fruit flavours supported by fondant tannins. An old vine bottling, named after ancestor 'Elisabeth Chambellan', has much the same sleek appeal but greater depth and concentration and more rugged tannins that will readily support 10+ years bottle age.
A few hundred metres further down the route de Courthézon finds brother and sister François and Claire Michel hard at work at their 'Le Vieux Donjon' headquarters. Here they deploy a blend of 75% Grenache Noir, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault to produce a single bottling of red Châteauneuf' that is widely regarded to be one of the finest wines to emanate from the appellation. They also make a thrilling white Châteauneuf' from roughly equal volumes of Clairette and Roussanne that is right up there with the best. Josh Raynolds, writing on vinous.com recently commented that "this region's white bottlings has risen to the same level of excellence as the best that northern Rhône AOCs, such as Condrieu and Hermitage. I'd also add that the best of these wines bear comparison to some Premier and even Grand Cru white Burgundies in terms of depth and complexity."
Lastly, Gigondas guru, Jean-Pierre Meffre, makes a silky Châteauneuf' from half a hectare of vines sandwiched between Beaucastel and Domaine de la Janasse at Courthèzon.