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The magnificent Château Rayas Châteauneuf du Papes of Jacques Reynaud were, for many, the greatest examples of Grenache-based, artisanal southern Rhône winemaking.
Today, with Reynaud gone, Laurent Charvin may come closest to embodying his spirit. Over the past decade, Charvin has emerged as a traditional Châteauneuf star.
Proof positive is found in each bottle from the Domaine Charvin cellar—in both his strikingly beautiful Côtes du Rhône and his flagship Châteauneuf du Pape, and regardless of the quality and character of the year, Laurent’s wines consistently express both terroir and vintage with breathtaking clarity.
That Charvin’s Châteauneuf so ideally expresses both site and vintage is all the more remarkable considering the domaine’s short history of domaine bottling. Six generations of Charvins have farmed their land since 1851, yet they only began to offer wine under their own label with the 1990 vintage, the year Laurent took charge.
But Laurent proved to be a natural, continuing to focus on the vineyards as his ancestors had done, and handling their fruit simply and traditionally in the cellar, with fabulous results. He continues to sell off half the production, keeping only the best lots for the Charvin label.
The domaine’s 50- to 70-year-old vines are particularly well placed on the galets roulés-strewn limestone and clay plateau on Châteauneuf's northwestern border. And—like Rayas—they are planted almost entirely to Grenache.
Charvin’s winemaking is as traditional and natural as they come—a lengthy 100% whole-cluster fermentation and maceration with pumping over for soft tannins, followed by 18 to 20 months aging in concrete tank before bottling unfiltered. And all of the selection of the best fruit goes into the one wine, with no luxury cuvée to siphon it off.
The results are marvelous—perfectly balanced and expressive enough to be delicious young, yet with the depth and structure to develop for decades.
But its greatest quality is the purity of its expression, what Livingstone-Learmonth describes as evoking “immediate images of the sunswept lands of Châteauneuf, and the pine trees bordering the vineyards.” Such clarity of terroir is rare in the world of wine, and it is truly what identifies Laurent as a traditional master.
But the Charvin magic isn’t limited to his vaunted Châteauneuf—Laurent makes fabulous a Côtes du Rhône as well.
It’s cut from the same cloth as his Châteauneuf, echoing its purity and traditionalism. And best of all it delivers the magical Charvin character in spades, but it can be drunk much earlier, while the Châteauneuf is still maturing.
Since Charvin brings his vaunted skill to both wines, the main difference is in the terroir. The Charvin family has farmed their land on Châteauneuf's northwestern border since 1851, and when the appellation's boundaries were drawn up in the 1930s, some of their vines were north of the line, with a slightly different exposure and soil.
The Côtes du Rhône terroir’s subtle variation of exposure and soil—pebble strewn limestone and clay—call for a different varietal mix; as in the CdP the old vines are Grenache augmented by Syrah and Mourvèdre but here with Carignan and Bourboulenc, resulting in a southern Rhône of great purity and elegance.
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