The focus of the January meeting of the Wine Media Guild—a group I'm in the process of joining—was Chateauneuf-du-Pape, both red and white. Terry Robards organized the tasting and spoke on and off about the wines during the delicious lunch. (It's always a tasty repast at Felidia, but I'm thinking so much about the wines that I can never remember what I ate afterwards. I know there was a salad with frisse and Pecorino and nuts.)
Now, me, I'm Mr. Underdog, always singing the hymn of the underpraised wine. So, naturally, I'm a fan of the Chateauneuf Blancs, which are really interesting, fullsome wines with lots of character and depth and personality, full of fruit and zest. Also, very food friendly. "A white that thinks it's a red," as someone said. They're still pretty obscure. Many people don't know they exist at all. The grapes allowed in the whites are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picopoul and Picardin. I was happy to see that there were others around me who liked them. The new sommelier at The Modern—a guest at the lunch—had good words for the whites. And Anita Mizner, who sat to my right, said Chateauneuf Blanc was her favorite wine. (Imagine that.)
Terry said the whites make up only 7 percent of Chateauneuf production, so it was quite amazing that we had nearly as many whites to drink as we did reds. Represented in both colors were La Nerthe, Rayas, Beaucastel, Paul Autard, Bouran and others. (Vieux Telegraphe, sadly, was not on hand.)
A lot of people were murmuring about the Rayas—understandably, given the estate's vaunted reputation. I liked their bottles, but I wasn't sure I they were murmur-worthy. The Rayas red is made entirely of Grenache, the winemakers eschewing all 12 of the other grapes they're allowed to use. The Modern sommelier whispered that this make Rayas something of "a freak" in the Southern Rhone world.
It may seem boring and bourgeoise, but I have to say my favorite in both the red and white categories was the the most famous of the estates represented: Beaucastal. What can I say? They were both just excellent. The white was full, multi-dimensional and yeasty. The red had depth and flavor and finish for miles. As opposed to the single-varietal Rayas, I thought the Beaucastel really benefited from using all 13 grapes. Terry caused a little ripple of surprise when he said he thought the Beaucastel style represented that day was a bit off and strange. Most of the folks at my table agreed with me that the wines were clearly the best in the room. Ah well, critics. When they all agree on something, that's when the world will come to an end.