A review of 2003 Châteauneuf-du-Papes was conducted at the village in mid-June 2008. 15 Tradition wines were tasted, and 16 Prestige Cuvée wines.
2003, the year of la canicule, as the French describe "scorching heat" (ref the Collins Robert French-English dictionary), posed growers problems they had never previously encountered.
Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes: "the selected date of the harvest was extremely important in 2003. You had to drop grapes, and absolutely not cut back on vegetation, so there was a good covering left. Then you had not to pick too soon. We did 6 checks before deciding to harvest - 200 gm of grapes from different zones, pressed them, analysed them - it wasn't just a question of eating a grape here and there."
François Perrin of Château de Beaucastel remembers that "you had to get past the ripening blockage to achieve ripe tannins. That is why the Grenache and Cinsault with us merited over-ripeness in the vineyard. We did only a 6-day vinification instead of a 14-day one for the red 2003, so we could extract tannins, but also avoid dryness in them."
For the waiters, rescue came in the form of 72mm (2.88 inches) of rain on 7 September, 2003.
"This was fabulous - it allowed us to finish our phenolic ripening (to get the tannins ripe)," recalls Vincent. The Mistral blew hard the night after the rain, and for the next 3 days: wouldn't parts of California love that cleansing wind? The grapes concentrated and a fast phenolic ripening occurred.
As a rainfall reference, the Great September Storm on 8-9 September, 2002, dumped 600mm (24 inches, yes, 2 FEET) of rain on the region. From April to 7 September, 2003, rainfall at Châteauneuf came on just 8 occasions
APRIL - 3 FALLS, 45mm, 10mm, 15mm TOTAL 70mm (2.8 inches)
MAY - 2 FALLS, 10mm, 10mm (0.8 inch)
JUNE - NIL
JULY - 1 FALL, 10mm (0.4 inch)
AUGUST - 1 FALL, 4mm (0.16 inch)
SEPTEMBER - 1 FALL, 72mm (2.88 inches)
The record shade temperature was 43° Centigrade in Orange on the 12 August, 2003.
I thought it might be interesting to judge this vintage's progress quantitatively if possible.
Of the 31 wines presented, 16 had been tasted before. Thus I have drawn up a NOW and PREVIOUSLY comparison, that runs like this:
NOW BETTER 7
NOW THE SAME 5
NOW WORSE 4
Rudimentary, my dear Watson. So let's do the median score, compared to the last previous tasting, which varied between February 2008 and November 2004.
NOW 3.031 STARS
PREVIOUSLY 2.781 STARS
This indicates a "quality gain" of 8.25%, but the time period is variable - the most recent Previously being February 2008, the most distant November 2004. To attempt a small fine tune on that, we can look at year by year comparisons, although the sample varies, and indeed declines over time - probably because I sensed that this was a vintage to put aside, and only recently decided to revert to see how it was getting on.
In 2005, 11 of the wines were tasted: 3.045 STARS
In 2006, 6 of the wines were tasted: 2.833 STARS
In 2007, 3 of the wines were tasted: 3.5 STARS
This is therefore a vintage that by instinct I sense is coming together, and is less jumbled up than it used to be. There is certainly a sweet mid-palate in many of the wines. The main issue remains the lingering dryness on the finish, an observation that occurs in many of the notes. Putting aside to 2010 is often the counsel given.
There is also no doubt that the Grenache performed heroically in 2003; the Syrah crumbled in many instances before the onslaught of the extreme heat. While the Mourvèdre shaped up better as a late-ripening variety. Grenache from deeper soils and a patient proprietor was a useful Tote forecast to play in 2003.
I do not have a lot of 2003 in my cellar, from any region. This latest tasting softened my view a little towards the Châteauneufs, and their intrinsic southern power can certainly help them to tick over for longer than perhaps we first anticipated. I would serve them on a cool summer evening, or as the autumn colours start to turn, but I think I would pass on serving them in any form of canicule weather - this is not a return to sender vintage.
I expect this group to live towards 2019-23. The specific notes are listed under each domaine. Please log in to read them.
T = Tradition, P = Prestige.
The names tasted were
[[to follow]] - or use SEARCH, with appellation Chateauneuf-du-Pape and vintage 2003. Thank you. Am trying to restore this piece (that mysteriously disappeared) from Singapore Airport, Oct 2009, and cannot put in the relevant table for the moment. Apologies.