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Vieux Télégraphe 1984-2006 Blindtasted

September 14, 2010

>VIEUX TÉLÉGRAPHE 1984-2006 BLINDTASTED – Tom’s House, Palo Alto, CA (9/9/2010)


On a value and consistency basis, year after year, Vieux Télégraphe has to be my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape. Yes, older Rayas can be an indescribable, ethereal pleasure, but they don’t make them like that any more, and the old ones–1995 and older–fetch stratospheric prices. Beaucastel is good many years, but they’ve also raised their prices to the extent that, in some years, at $90 or so a pop, they’re just not worth it. Beaucastel, Pegau, Usseglio, Clos des Papes and others get the really high Parker scores, alter their winemaking practices (i.e., more concentration, more new oak) to keep getting those scores, and raise their prices accordingly, but Vieux Télégraphe hums along, not making significant changes, but taking advantage of their excellent terroir to make consistently good, more traditional, ageworthy wines, without hugely raising their prices each year. For that, count me as a loyal and thankful fan.

I’ve so far recorded 80 tasting notes on Vieux Télégraphe, covering 24 vintages, from 1978 through 2008. My highest rated, in order, have been the ’83, ’88, ’95, ’94, ’98, ’92, ’90, ’86, ’07, ’03, and ’89. My lowest rated have been the ’96, ’85, ’04 and ’99. My scores on all those 80 VTs have averaged 92.29 points.

Hippolyte Brunier first planted grapes on the La Crau plateau, near where the old telegraph tower and relay station had stood, in 1898. The vineyard now amounts to 63 hectares, with an average vine age of 50 years, on a south-facing terrace of clay and limestone soil, covered with smooth, heat-reflecting stones. Hippolyte’s son Jules built a winery on the plain and named it Vieux Télégraphe after the old tower. Jules’s son Henri revitalized the property in the 60s and 70s, expanded its vineyards, and turned Vieux Télégraphe into one of the leading Chateauneuf domaines before passing it on to his sons, Daniel and Frédéric, in 1988. In 1994, the domaine finally honored the plain on which all of the vineyards are planted by adding “La Crau” to the label.


The vineyard is composed of 65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 5% Cinsault and 5% other red and white varietals. The grapes are destemmed and pressed, then fermented in stainless steel tanks with temperature control, for a period of two to three weeks. The wine then goes into concrete tank for nine months, before going into oak foudres for up to one year. The wine is bottled at two years of age, without filtration. It tends to be tannic and tight when young, but is capable of glorious cigar box, garrigue, tobacco, mineral and rich cherry complexity when given a decade or two of age.

Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, California, developed a friendship with the Brunier family in the late 1970s, bringing the first vintages seen in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and it continues to be the major importer of Vieux Télégraphe. Kermit and the Bruniers now also co-own Domaine Les Pallières in nearby Gigondas.

Daniel Brunier with RJ, and RJ's sister, Janis

My TNs and group scoring

I’d tasted nearly all of these vintages before, except for the ’96 and ’92. I didn’t expect either of those to show particularly well, as they don’t have a reputation as great CdP vintages, The ’96, the group’s and my last place, reinforced the notion that that was a particularly forgettable CdP vintage, but the ’92 in this line up turned out to be awesome. One would think the ’92 would be a great buy, being off the radar, if there were any out there, but I already checked wine-searcher.com, and they’re aren’t. Meanwhile, the ’94, a vintage I’ve enjoyed many times, was the group’s favorite. This sample wasn’t quite as good as others I’ve tried, being still somewhat tight yet, but it was very good. I preferred the ’92 and ’90 on this occasion, though. The ’06 stuck out like a sore thumb as being the newbie of the bunch, for all but a couple of us, and sure enough it was. It will be very tasty in another decade or so. The ’89 in this group was also relatively tight, compared to other samples I’ve had. Where the group and I diverged the most was on the ’99, which I found overly bretty, but the group (which included some notorious brett lovers) rated it number 2. Our oldest sample, the ’84, continues to show well, taking on secondary and tertiary flavors while keeping it’s sweet, firm tannins.

  • 1994 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #1 (my #3) – 47 pts; 6 firsts, 2 seconds, 1 third, 0 last places – medium dark red color; garrigue, anise, a little brett, lovely herbs, cigar box nose; tightish, nice herbs, garrigue, anise, tart cherry palate, needs another 3 to 4 years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 1999 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #2 (my #7) – 53 pts.; 3, 1, 2, 0 – medium dark cherry red color; brett, tobacco, mature herb nose; brett, garrigue, anise, tart red fruit palate with drying, tannic finish; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 1992 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #3 (my #1) – 68 pts.; 1, 3, 4, 1 – bricking medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; rich cigar box, chewing tobacco, dried berry nose; a little tight still, cigar box, dried berry, garrigue, mineral, brett palate; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (94 pts.)
  • 1990 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #4 (my #2) – 73 pts.; 1, 3, 2, 1 – bricking medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; maturing, dried red fruit, cigar box, lovely mature herbs nose; mature, sage gravy, cigar box palate with firm tannins; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #5 (my #5) – 77 pts.; 1, 1, 1, 1 – medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; youthful, nice tart red fruit, red berry, raspberry, white chocolate nose; youthful, raspberry, tart cherry, red berry, oak palate, very tight; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 1984 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #6 (my #4) – 81 pts.; 1, 2, 2, 3 – bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; very mature, tobacco, earthy nose; mature, tobacco, tart red fruit, mineral palate with firm sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 1989 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #7 (my #6) – 88 pts.; 0, 2, 1, 3 – medium dark cherry red color; mature, earthy, mushroom, faint garrigue nose; tight, tart cherry, red fruit, mineral, red berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (this was the tightest, most youthful version of this wine I’ve tasted–it needed another 4 to 5 years of bottle age) (91 pts.)
  • 1996 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau – France, Rhône, Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape
    Group’s #8 (my #8) – 89 pts.; 3, 0, 0, 5 – bricked medium red color with pale meniscus; oxidation, VA, mushroom, tobacco nose; better on palate than nose, but very mature, mushroom, tobacco palate with some oxidation and drying medium-plus finish (85 pts.)
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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 12:23 am

    Thanks for the post, which I saw via Twitter by the way. I’m lucky enough to have 3 cases of the ’94 stored ‘in Bond’ in England (which is how a great deal of wine is kept in the UK because you don’t pay duty and Tax until the wine is delivered). So I’ve never seen it.
    My question relates to the ‘Le Crau’ mention on the label. The photo of the ’94 does not have it on the label, but you say in the text that it was included from 1991. Can you clear this up for me?

    • September 15, 2010 12:38 am

      Gavin,
      What a smart and fortunate guy you are, with 3 cases of the ’94 stored up. Those will be drinking beautifully for years. I seem to have gotten bad intel on ’91 being the first year with “La Crau” on the label. As best I can tell from double checking, that started with the ’94 vintage, which is pictured on the blog entry. Thanks for the question. I’ll correct the blog post.

      • January 11, 2011 6:46 pm

        Richard,

        Actually, ’95 is the first vintage where ‘La Crau’ showed up on the label…

      • January 11, 2011 8:28 pm

        Todd,
        Thanks for the correction to Ross Bott’s introductory info. And please note that this blog has moved to http://www.rjonwine.com.
        –Richard

  2. john pett permalink
    December 12, 2010 3:50 am

    Interestingly I stumbled on your excellent website when looking up reviews on 1996 Vieux Telegraphe as I have had a case in my cellar since buying it from the Wine Society en primeur in 1997. Hence it has hardly moved since birth !
    It was surprisingly good with little tannin left and all the usual CNDP flavours in place- I would give it 90 pts- and I will drink it over the next year or so.
    I still have a case of each of 1998-2007 which need a little more time.

    • December 12, 2010 10:57 am

      John,
      What a lucky guy with all those wonderful cases to look forward to.
      I wanted to let you know that the blog has moved to my own domain: http://www.rjonwine.com. Please keep up with us there, as I won’t be posting any more blogs to this old wordpress version of the blog.
      warm regards,
      Richard

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