The Beauty of Châteauneuf as it once was.

The trend in Châteauneuf-du-Pape towards heavier wines over the past 25 years reminds me a lot of how Barolo lost its way in the 1990s. 

Just as Old-School Barolo estates had become near-unicorns by the late 1990s, there are today relatively few Châteauneuf estates still turning out old-vine Grenache whose seamless elegance and generosity of bouquet can make a devoted Burgundy lover weep. 

Yet, when the discussion turns to who, after Rayas and Henri Bonneau, has been making the greatest Old School wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in recent years, there is one essential name that is sometimes forgotten: Le Vieux Donjon. 

Perhaps it’s the Michel family’s modesty, despite earning eighth place on the Wine Spectator’s Top Ten list for 2018. Or that, at just slightly over $50 a bottle, their prices have changed little over the past decade (while other estates’ prices have soared).

No matter ... it is an inescapable truth that Le Vieux Donjon—made in a way unchanged since the 1970s—stands increasingly alone among today’s Châteauneuf-du-Papes. 

I was reminded of just how great Vieux Donjon can be when I tasted the 2018 a little over a week ago. The wine’s incredible purity—with the sensuality on the palate of great mature Burgundy—simply knocked me out. 

The Old School greatness of the wine is based in part on the Michels' methods: no new wood; only patient aging in tank and foudre. But there's also the fact that no separate old-vine cuvée is made, insuring that the oldest and best vines go into the flagship wine. 

Finally, there’s the matter of terroir. The vines are in the lieu-dit of Piedlong—shown as les Pielons in the 1940s Larmat map above—which is the highest point in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, right next to Rayas. 

This makes for nighttime temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below the rest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As the mistral howls across the Piedlong plateau, it not only lowers temperatures, it wicks away humidity. And there are the rare outcroppings of limestone that contribute even further to the wine’s elegance.

I could go on. But I will end with this plea to those who love Barolo and Burgundy, but have given up on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to grab Vieux Donjon’s gorgeous 2018. Our $52.50 per bottle is not only the lowest in the U.S., it makes this one of the great wine values in all of France. In fact, we dare say that if this wine were made in Burgundy, it would cost three times as much.  

Our stock will arrive later this fall, having journeyed under constant temperature control from the domaine. Solid cases are available on request in their original sealed cartons.

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