2017 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Southern Rhone, France.
One of my favorite small producers in the Rhone, Jérôme Gradassi, the ex chef of a Michelin starred restaurant, the “L’Isle Sonnant” in Avignon, which after burning out, he sold in 2003 to take over a tiny Chateauneuf parcel of vines that left to him by his grandfather. After making a few vintages in his late grandfather’s tiny house and basement cellar, a place so small the grapes were shoveled through a window and the juice had to be brought up in hand pulled buckets to barrel, a process that sometimes took a few days to manage, Gradassi is now in his brother’s ex winery Domaine du Remparts, re-named Domaine Jérôme Gradassi. His micro production Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is roughly about 75-80% Old Vine Grenache Noir and 20-25% Mourvèdre, fermented in cement vats and stainless and then aged in older barriques, using native yeasts and lots of whole cluster, making for a spicy/earthy rustic wine with a nod to old school traditions, which I adore in Chateauneuf. Farmed with holistic practices on classic limestone, riverbed and clay soils, the Gradassi Chateauneuf vines are planted with about 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. His property, according to Domaine, is divided into 6 parcels located in the lieut-dits of Palastor, Bois Dauphin, and Cabriere, all in the cooler north of the AOC, shows a vivid lively form and balance, less dense and less hedonistic than the more modern styles.
Maybe the smallest producer in the appellation, Jérôme’s Chateauneuf ages just over 10 months and is one of freshest you’ll find with a dry savory edginess and with stem fleshiness and tension, it’s a wine I’ve been a fan of since it was first available in the States, along with his Blanc, uniquely made from Clairette Rose, a Gris like varietal, super rare, closely related to more common Clairette Blanche. The 2017 Rouge is youthfully tannic and tart with juicy/grapey Grenache fruit leading the way on the medium/full bodied palate showing dusty bramble berry, pomegranate, plum and strawberry fruits along with bitter herb, dried violets, lavender oil, anise and a touch of kirsch and creme de cassis, adding a touch of leather, truffle, peppercorns and lingering boysenberry coulis. This is one of Jérôme’s most pure versions to date and it should age gloriously, in fact it deserves about 3 to 5 years of cellaring, even though I love it’s vibrant thrill ride of flavors and impressive gripping details, and it enjoys robust food choices to show its best side, that allows it to really fill out and linger on the finish. Drink this lovely dark garnet and magenta hued Chateauneuf Rouge over the next 10 years.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive