Fabrice Brunel came to town recently, bringing with him his excellent, new releases from the Côtes du Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We paired them with the elegant cuisine of the French restaurant Convival in Washington DC. We’ve long been fans of the wines of Fabrice’s father André but hadn’t tasted Les Cailloux since Fabrice took over the winemaking in 2013. After the dinner we decided to dig around in our cellar to see if we had any older vintages, and we found a 1999 Les Cailloux Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as a 1995Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire. André Brunel introduced the world to the Cuvée Centenaire, made from the domaine’s oldest (now 125 years old) Grenache parcel beginning with the 1989 vintage. We opened the bottles from our cellar later and found that both wines are drinking fantastically right now. Our notes on all these wines follow.
Domaine de la Becassonne 2016 Côtes du Rhone Blanc ($18) 89 This field blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette from a single parcel is fermented together in concrete. It’s a soft, perfumed wine with lifted floral aromas and delicate melon and white fruit flavors on a creamy palate with just a touch of spice. Nice easy drinking.
André Brunel 2016 Les Cailloux Blanc Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($55) 92 Showing aromas that recall fennel and beeswax with a hint of violet, the Roussanne-based Cailloux Blanc is an elegant wine, generous in character, with good weight and a fresh tasting, multidimensional palate of tropical fruit, herbs and mineral notes finishing with excellent persistence. A blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Grenache Blanc fermented and aged 6 months on the lees in concrete tanks.
André Brunel 2015 Cuvée Sabrine Côte du Rhone Villages ($16) 90 An unoaked, fruit forward, medium bodied, Grenache-led red made from 60 year old vines and fermented in stainless steel, the Cuvée Sabrine is an excellent value. It has a savory character with attractive red fruit aromas and flavors and round, soft tannins. Includes about 10% Syrah.
André Brunel 2015 Les Cailloux Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($55) 92 A ripe, red fruited Grenache led blend, the Les Cailloux Rouge offers a complex, fresh nose of dark red berries complemented by spice. It has expansive fruit flavors with suggestions of cherry pit and toasted oak on a refined palate with excellent structure and freshness. A blend of 70% Grenache with partial stems, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault. The Syrah is matured 18+ months in barriques, while the other varieties are aged in concrete vats, all blended together 6 months before bottling. Overall, an elegant, complex wine.
André Brunel 2015 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($230) 96 As rich and complex as is this outstanding wine, it’s real calling card, at least in its youth, is mouth feel. The palate is super refined and silky with perfectly integrated oak and expressive fresh black currant and dark berry flavors. Made from what are now 125 year old Grenache vines with 15% Syrah blended in. Delicious now, but those with cellar and a little patience should wait a decade before opening this wine.
Older Wines from Our Cellar
Note: These wines have all been kept in the same location at a constant 58° since their purchase. We don’t give scores to these wines, but they are among the very best red wines we’ve tasted this year.
André Brunel 1999 Les Cailloux Rouge Châteauneuf-du-Pape This 20 year old wine is at its peak. Revealing a lovely fragrance of smoky red fruit and spice, it has an elegant, layered palate with great acidity and still slightly grippy tannins. Age has introduced dried fruit notes that contribute to the complexity of the wine. A blend of 65% old vine Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, and 15% Syrah aged 18 months in partly new barrels.
André Brunel 1995 Les Cailloux Cuvée Centenaire Châteauneuf-du-Pape The almost 25 year old, 1995 Centenaire is like the younger, 2015 vintage in its incredible mouth feel. It’s silky and seamless with a slippery, liquid minerality and enticing fullness in the mouth. It has savory undertones that lend complexity and gorgeous structure. A fully evolved wine with prominent earthy mushroom and tobacco on the nose. Made from 100+ year old (at the time) Grenache blended with younger Mourvèdre and Syrah, about half the blend was aged in new oak.