1999 Domaine de la Janasse “Vieilles Vignes” Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhone Valley, France.
I continue to enjoy and be intrigued by 1999 Rhônes, especially Châteauneufs, like this beautifully matured Janasse Old Vine version, which contains about 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, and 5% of other legal varietals, most which came from vines planted in 1920 and 1965 on a combination of soils, including large gales, sand, clay and limestone, all of which add complexity here. Janasse, still a major player in Châteauneuf du Pape, made a gem in 1999 with a firm tannic structure, spiced dark fruits, earthy leather, black olive and pretty dried flower notes coming alive on the medium/full palate, that age (here) adds loads of tertiary and savory leathery elements with sous bois and bay leaf noticeable, but not intrusive. I would add that there is a subtle mineral note, some coffee grounds and some fading creme de cassis that comes through in the mouth, this wine still has a lot going on and impressively delivered everything during a twenty minute span, though there’s no question it is on its way over the hill, so I would drink this Janasse sooner versus later. I have had Janasse many times over the years, but this by far was my favorite experience with a bottle of this winery, but that said, I do love their basic Côtes du Rhône, which I recommend often and consider a great bargain. Drinking a quarter of a century old Rhône is not as risky as it would seem, and while of course there will be bottle variation, I’ve had some awesome wines recently, including this one, giving me a new appreciation for older Grenache based wines, with 1999 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf Rouge being one of my all time favorites.

The Domaine de la Janasse, founded in 1973 by Aimé Sabon, farms sustainably and is guided by organic principles for soil and vine health, along with a respect to regions history and environment with the vines all grown without pesticides or insecticides and employ natural elements such as manure and compost to provide nutrients. This Domaine de la Janasse Vieilles Vignes Châteauneuf du Pape, the estate’s flagship cuvée, sees a classic manual harvest with a careful sorting in the vineyard to be sure of top notch quality with the grapes getting about, as the winery notes, 80% de-stemming, allowing close to 20% whole clusters in the fermentation with the maceration lasting for about 28 days with daily manual punch downs. This process brings out a dark rich purple/garnet color when young and grabs a firm tannin structure to allow for its aging potential, and this 1999 shows that it the case, and the winery says in its own notes they expect the Vieilles Vignes to go nicely for between 10 to 25 years. The newly fermented wine is pressed and racked to a combination of mostly large wood casks, these include traditional old Foudres and 600L Demi-Muids, which gives the muscular Mourvèdre and Syrah room to spread their wings. This elevage usually lasts 12 months and then the wine is bottled and rested in bottle almost another half a year before release, and while those that like power and youthful fruit will like to drink their Châteauneuf early, though wines such as this are very chewy and closed in its youth, so finding a balance is key, even though I was thrilled by this Christophe Sabon (who took over from his dad in 1991) made 1999 Janasse at 25 years old. As mentioned I have had some lovely old Rhônes, mostly Gigondas and Châteauneuf du Pape, as well as some freakishly good 15 to 20 year old Côtes du Rhones!
($85 Est. Current Release) 94 Points, grapelive

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