Thu 15 Dec 2016
Do you think they sell Nerthe Balls in the gift shop at Chateau La Nerthe? Hahaha, no, of course not! I was kidding! Wineries and estates in Europe, especially those that trace their history back to 1560, as La Nerthe does, see no need to follow the California model of wineries offering tasting rooms and gift shops, picnic grounds and play grounds, jazz concerts and movie series. Not that no estates in France, Italy, Germany and so on indulge in these consumer-oriented activities, but there’s a sense that the business at hand is growing the best grapes and turning them into the best wines, no need to hire a staff visitor-resources coordinator. You could spend days in Burgundy or the Rhone Valley and not see a corkscrew for sale at a winery.
Anyway, Chateau La Nerthe occupies 225 acres, certified organic since 1998, in the southern Rhone region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, named for a summer palace that Pope John XXII, one of the alternative popes, built north of Avignon in the 14th Century (not pictured here). It was somewhat like the “Heather has two mommies” situation, except that in 14th Century Europe Heather had two Papas. Wine has been produced in the southern Rhone Valley since times immemorial, or at least since the wine-swilling Romans established vineyards, but Chateauneuf-du-Pape as we know it was only codified in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia (and amended in 1936), thus setting into motion the momentum toward the organization of the French A.O.C. system. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is unique for the number of grape varieties allowed into its blended red and white wines, 13 types originally but increased to 18 in 2009 by counting black, pink and white variations of the same grapes separately. The percentage of grapes in each wine is not regulated, and red and white wines may utilize both red and white grapes, though the number of estates that cross-color grapes in now very few. Sticking to the primary (and slightly or severely diminished) varieties the red grapes are grenache — the primary grape in these vineyards — syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, counoise and the little encountered muscardin, vaccarese, picpoul and terret noir; the whites are grenache blanc, roussanne, clairette, bourboulenc and picardin.
Vines at La Nerthe average 40 years old. The vineyard surrounds the winery and mansion (pictured above) and features the classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape characteristic of large, round stones — galets — on the surface. Winemaker is Christian Voeux.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. These wines were samples for review.
Chateau La Nerthe 2012, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is a blend of 48 percent grenache, 29 percent syrah, 22 mourvedre and a scant 1 percent cinsault; no white grapes for this one. The wine aged 12 months in a combination of 63 percent barriques and 37 percent large wooden casks and vats. The color is dark ruby with a lighter, transparent rim; this is rich and ripe, pungent with scents of black cherries and currants with hints of wild berries, cloves and allspice and, after a few minutes in the glass, strains of graphite, smoke, black pepper and damp ashes. At first, the wine is quite mellow and palatable, but it builds power and structure, as the fruit flavors add macerated red berries to the black fruit and dusty, velvety tannins assert themselves; the finish feels rather chiseled and honed from the stones of the vineyard. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to 2024. Excellent. About $65.
Chateau La Nerthe 2014, Chateaunuef-du-Pape blanc, is a blend of 40 percent each grenache blanc and roussanne, 10 percent each clairette and bourboulenc. The wine aged in a combination of 228-liter oak foudres and 62 percent stainless steel tanks. The color is mild, medium gold; classic aromas of bee’s-wax and lanolin, yellow plums and peaches, heather, hay and camellia wreathe themselves into a beguiling bouquet; the wine is quite dry, offering plenty of body and stuffing in the way of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, as well as yellow fruit flavors tinged with quince preserves and crystallized ginger, yet it demonstrates a sort of Southern languor and allure, a kind of low-cut gown and tanned shoulders effect that makes it irresistible. The finish, however, is notably spare, brisk and saline, bracing with limestone minerality and grapefruit pith. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $65.