2010 Le Vieux Donjon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
I started follow this estate in the late nineties and have always been a fan of their traditional style, though in some vintages they can come off as quite rustic and meaty, but always seem to come around with air and food with impressive depth and dark fruits. Le Vieux Donjon was actually formed more recent than perceived, coming together in 1979, with the marriage of two wine growing families, when Lucien and Marie José Michel tied the knot, and those generational holdings they both had were combined to form the modern Le Vieux Donjon estate, that currently covers fourteen hectares of vineyards in prime locations. The Michel’s vineyards, which are farmed all organic, are primarily in the North and Northwest of the AOC, but they also have small plots in the Southwest and East set on mainly limestone and reddish clay, and are studded with the famous galets roulé, the round, rust-colored river stones which were left behind after the retreat of the ancient Alpine glaciers which once covered the region.
In more recent vintages the style has evolved, especially as the years have gotten warmer and riper along with a much cleaner approach in the cellar, and while some wish for the old bretty days, like the old Beaucastel were as well, the wines have not lost their soulful expression, and in fact are the best I’ve tasted, especially since the 2007 vintage, and this 2010 is absolutely stunning today, and at almost nine years old, still shows youthful freshness, detail and a gorgeous dark purple/garnet color, it will certainly continue it’s greatness for another decade easily. Fermented in concrete, then aged in foudre (for at least 16 months) the Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is always a blend of about 75% Grenache, 10% each Mourvèdre and Syrah along with about 5% Cinsault, and though weighty and above 14.5% natural alcohol it always remains skillfully balanced with a sense of vibrancy, tension and a nice mineral tone.
There is a lot of buzz around Le Vieux Donjon right now, as the ex-Robert Parker reviewer Jeb Dunnuck hailed the 2016 version the greatest vintage ever by the estate, giving it 98 Points and saying it might be his wine of the vintage! So it was fascinating when this 2010 Le Vieux Donjon showed up in a blind tasting this last week, Feb. 2019, to see what a bit of age looks like and for me personally to re-connect with this wine after missing a few years of it, and it certainly lived up to the hype and was just barely edged out for best of the night honors, by an insanely perfumed and deep Saint-Joseph, though not by much!
My first impression of this 2010 was that it must be heavier in Syrah and or Mourvèdre as it had a much dark presence in the glass than one would expect of a Grenache based version, and that transitioned to the palate as well with black violets, dark meaty tones and tar notes coming through along with layers of boysenberry, plum, black cherry and briar laced vine picked raspberry fruit, adding hints of black licorice, warm stones, light cedar and savory herbs (garrigue/sage/lavender), plus a touch of pepper. The body is still surprisingly lithe and not as dense in mouth feel. That said though, age has brought some over all silkiness to the tannins, it opens in time to a medium fullness that is hedonistic, without ever being excessive, or flabby, it is a beauty right now, making me think it’s in its prime, the perfect drinking window seems to be open on this Le Vieux Donjon, if you have it, lucky you, as it is close to perfection. A big thank you to Lee Lightfoot for pulling this out of his personal cellar and sharing it.
($70-80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive