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Richard Mark James' wine and travel blog

16 July 2009

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Ogier & Clos de l'Oratoire

Ogier has been part of the quietly mammoth Languedoc-based JeanJean Group since 1994 and bought the famous Clos de l'Oratoire estate in 2000. However, the family behind Ogier, currently headed up by Jean-Pierre  Durand, has deep roots in Châteauneuf (founded in 1859) and further afield in the Rhône valley: their Caves des Papes, Oratorio and Notre Dame de Cousignac (goes to feature on the southern Ardeche: scroll down to Côtes du Vivarais) ranges also include wines from the northern Rhône (e.g. Crozes-Hermitage) as well as other vineyards in the south (e.g. Gigondas). The company exports about two-thirds of their wines with both the UK (Mistral Wines is their main distributor with a good presence in restaurants too) and USA (Canon Wines, San Francisco) being important markets for them, so it should be easy enough to track down a bottle or two.
Ogier is also a major sponsor of Les Chorégies, the annual series of serious opera held during the Avignon festival at the spectacular Roman amphitheatre in Orange; hence the special cuvée they make for it from Clos de l'Oratoire (see below). They've also given their premises and cellars in Châteauneuf itself a major overhaul incorporating an impressive wine tourism complex, which is even open until 6.30pm on Saturdays, pretty radical in France! There's a cute little garden where you'll find four of the main vine varieties planted in four different plots/types of soil. The omnipresent, Hollywood-studio-style castle turrets look ever-so-slightly tacky but distinctive for sure, reminding you where you are after all! Inside the chapel-like tasting room & shop, there are samples of different soils/stones on display alongside a wine from each of these sites, which you can taste informally or during one of the tutored tastings they organise.
Their new barrel cellar (stifle that yawn) adjoining the shop and old cellar is now split into cask-size capacity. Hence the 300 litre barrels you run into first (mix of French, American and Russian oak, by the way, for those interested in techno-geeky facts) used for "our new 'international' Côtes du Rhône wines," as head winemaker Didier Couturie explained, then the 600 litre casks next door for "top of the range wines," which have a longer life span here. And yet another doorway takes you through to the huge old tuns "used constantly for storing and blending." There's actually a well embedded innocently in the winery floor filled from a natural spring that runs underground here, which is handy as "there's not a lot of water in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and it also helps increase humidity levels in the cellar," I was informed, which improves the storage and ageing environment (i.e. not too dry).
Finally, a couple of restaurants worth mentioning gleaned from this trip in July 2009: firstly, Le Verger des Papes perched up the hill from the village next to the remains of the "Château des Pape" (obviously not looking so "new" nowadays, ho ho), where we had a very pleasant lunch out on the patio under the shade of olive trees (reasonable menus for €19 and €29: www.vergerdespapes.com, 04 90 83 50 40). And the swanky famous (and very expensive: about €100 for dinner) hotel & restaurant La Mirande in central Avignon (www.la-mirande.fr, 04 90 14 20 20), which also has a cookery school called Le Marmiton held in a spacious, pots-and-pans-filled, slightly underground kitchen. In both senses of the word: we had a nose around and came across a lively crowd, who'd cooked their own dinner including Jean-Paul Gaultier merrily noshing away and Paul Belmondo (son of...).

Anyway, over to those wines:
2008 Clos de l'Oratoire white Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Grenache blanc, Clairette, Roussanne & Bourboulenc 13.5%) - oily "mineral" tones with floral, spicy and honeyed fruit; nice weight with juicy texture and a touch of yeast-lees bite, surprisingly fresh and gummy with juicy pear notes too then full and rounded finish. Gets more interesting after being open for a bit with distinctive aniseed flavours as well, well-handled blend and stylish. Winemaking: all varieties fermented in stainless steel and left for three months on the lees except the Roussanne, which was barrel-fermented (300 litre size) and stirred for three months too. 87-89
2006 Clos de l'Oratoire red Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre & Counoise 14.5%) - delicious Grenache nose with liquorice, very ripe dark cherries and cinnamon spices; quite firm at first but not too, pretty powerful underpinned by attractive concentrated "sweet" fruit, rich aromatic finish vs a bitter twist adding a little bite. Gets softer and quite approachable now with a little air vs underlying structure and elegance too. 89+
2007 Clos Oratoire red - much more closed up and less fruity to start with (although it was over-chilled), spicy with more obvious alcohol and tight framework; opened up (and warmed up) over lunch revealing lovely dark cherry and liquorice fruit and lush lively mouthfeel, nice concentrated chunky style showing solid dry texture, closes up on the big finish. Promising although again actually quite attractive now after some aeration. 90+
2005 Clos Oratoire red - smokier with more tobacco, leather and savoury notes vs rich dried cherry and liquorice; lush vs spicy with nice balanced grip, again powerful but it holds it well thanks to its underlying concentrated "sweet & savoury" fruit. Very enjoyable now but it has a longer life ahead of it (5+ years). 92+
2007 Les Chorégies CNdP (2/3 Grenache + Syrah) - a tad closed up and 'reductive' at first, turning creamier with liquorice vs cassis notes; vibrant and punchy with quite tight tannins adding firm texture vs "sweet" peppery and meaty undertones. A touch awkward at the moment but should be good in 2 to 3 years time. 88+
2005 Les Chorégies CNdP (mostly Grenache + Syrah & Mourvèdre) - "sweeter" with more tobacco and savoury notes and spicy earthy edges; lush and concentrated vs firm palate, good balance though with fairly thick tannins and big mouthfeel supported by lovely fruit. 90+
More info @ www.ogier.fr.

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