Clos du Joncuas Varqueyras la Font Papier 2016
Winegrowers: Dany and Carole Chastan
Region: Varqueyras, South Rhône
Grape: 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault
Today’s southern Rhône Clos du Joncuas Varqueyras la Font Papier is an absolute knockout from the 2016 vintage, which Rhône expert John Livingstone Learmonth has described as ranking among the top three vintages of the last 50 years. Fresh and promising with a beautiful, elegant cherry nose. Nice on the palate with tight, dark cherry; not over-ripe but fresh with a long, persistent finish and with great aging potential. But the main story of this wine is one of incredible balance; before you lump all Grenache based reds from the southern Rhone into the ultra-ripe, syrupy, over-the-top-fruit-bomb category, you must try this wine!
Clos du Joncuas was founded in 1920 by Pierre Auguste Chastan and has always used natural, biodynamic farming methods; it was certified organic in 1980, well ahead of its time. Now managed by sisters Dany and Carole Chastan, the estate produces outstanding wines that express a distinctive southern Rhone terroir from 29 hectares of vineyards in Gigondas, as well as nearby Vacqueyras and Seguret. This is a resolutely traditional estate that uses methods little changed from a century ago; all vineyard work is done by hand including the harvesting of the grapes, whole clusters are trodden underfoot and are fermented with natural yeasts in concrete tanks, and the wines are aged in large old oak casks. Very little sulphur is added and the wines are never fined or filtered. Clos du Joncuas Varqueyras la Font Papier 2016 is an authentic, ‘old school’ wine; complex, aromatic, intense and delicious. It is one of the purest expressions Vacqueyras has to offer – there is no mistaking where this wine is from as it captures the terroir and beauty of the region in a bottle! This is a must-try for anyone who wants to know the true essence of Vacqueyras and values a genuine sense of place in their wine.
Many people regard Vacqueyras, one of the better known of the ‘cru’ villages of the southern Rhône, as ‘a little brother’ or ‘a cheaper version’ of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While both villages produce Grenache based wines and the towns are about 20 kilometers apart, they are distinctly different terroirs. The vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape sit on low lying hills and alluvial plateaus, and their soils have high levels of sand and cobble (river rocks), whereas those of Vacqueyras are located at higher elevations in the foothills of the limestone rich Dentelles de Montmirail – a chain of shark-toothed mountains that overlook the town and shapes its wines. For close to 100 years one of the foremost interpreters of Vacqueyras terroir has been the highly regarded but not well known Chastan family of Clos du Joncuas.
Today’s Varqueyras la Font Papier 2016 is the product of low yielding vines grown on steep, terraced vineyards with soils of clay with dolomite and gypsum over limestone. ‘Exceptional vintage, opulent fruit, melting tannins, energetic freshness’; these are the words winegrowers are using to describe the 2016 vintage. Two thousand sixteen was a near perfect vintage with most growers favouring it over the excellent 2015. Hot and dry conditions persisted through June and July but the heat was mitigated by cool nights, and though rainfall was less than normal, enough precipitation did arrive to prevent undue stress on the vines; that said, the reduced rainfall means more concentrated wines. This was followed by a cooler than usual August and harvest in September which helped to keep the wines fresh. The grapes were trodden underfoot – crushed – in the traditional way and whole clusters were fermented with natural, indigenous yeasts for 25 days. The wine was then aged for 12 months in concrete vats. Although you can enjoy a bottle now, which I encourage because it is delicious, and great for comparisons sake, I also recommend a little patience to let the tannins smooth out a bit; in a couple years you will discover a wine of stunning depth, concentration, complexity and elegance. This wine will drink beautifully for a good ten years.
Varqueyras la Font Papier 2016 is deep garnet and rich in both fruit and terroir. It possess’ beautiful aromas of bright blackberry (neither raisined nor ‘cooked’), earth, baking spices and licorice, and on the palate it’s intense with dark cherry, garrigue, leather, earth and mineral flavours with firm tannins framed in a juicy acidity with a long finish of ripe berries and minerality. This is a beautifully structured, intense yet elegant and balanced wine. We are always pleased when we find a grower who can achieve aroma, power, finesse and elegant fruit in a wine. We applaud the Chastan family for continuing to craft their wines with a traditionalist approach of this calibre. Decant this wine 30 minutes or so before serving and keep it cool, say around at 16˚, then serve in large Burgundy stems so as to capture the beautiful aromas – with some roasted wild boar.