In a world of highly extracted, ultra-ripe CDPs that lack energy and deteriorate after 7-8 years in the bottle—as in flabby, raisined wines that feel sweet and ‘hot’—I tend to look elsewhere for wines to drink. Today’s offer is the polar opposite and a gratifying breath of fresh air. This is a wine that achieves Burgundian refinement while also delivering the density and power unique to the Southern Rhône. Furthermore, the 2014 vintage brought on a more graceful style than previous years—easily the purest and most focused version of this wine I’ve ever tried. If you want to taste the finest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape without climbing into a much-higher price tier, check out “Les Safres,” it is on another level.
There is a classic “stay off my lawn” story behind Clos du Caillou. First established as a hunting lodge in 1895, the estate is in Courthézon, a village in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape growing zone. In 1936, when the new governing body of the AOC approached Caillou’s then-owner with the intention of including the property in the designation, they were met with steely grit and (literally) raised guns—Caillou’s owner had no desire to join the governing ranks of anything, let alone a wine appellation. This brazen act excluded the estate and essentially carved out a chunk
of CDP’s border. To this day, it continues to be an ‘unclassified’ section in what is otherwise some of the most prized vineyard land in the AOC. However, today’s “Les Safres” bottling lies just within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation boundaries, coming from the vineyard of “Les Bédines”. From here, we are only a mile north from the famed vineyards of Château Rayas.
About 20 years after ‘the lawn altercation,’ Le Clos du Caillou was purchased by the Pouizin family, who stowed the hunting guns, started planting vines, and began making wine. Over the next four decades, Claude Pouizin made Les Clos du Caillou a household name for premier Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In 1996, the youngest of his three daughters, Sylvie, inherited the operations. At the time, she was living in Sancerre with her husband—whom you may know if you’ve been purchasing here for awhile—Jean-Denis Vacheron (the Vacherons make some of Sancerre’s finest wines). After the tragic death of Jean-Denis in 2002, Sylvie pushed forward and maintained the estate’s legacy with the help of lead winemaker Bruno Gaspard. The duo, along with Philippe Cambie—an enologist legend in Rhône—are still at the helm today.
“Les Safres” takes its name from the compact sandy soils in which the vines are buried. There is also a presence of marl and quartz here. Vines for “Les Safres” are between 50-60 years old and everything is farmed organically (nearing full-on biodynamic) with extremely low yields. After harvesting and twice-sorting by hand, grapes were destemmed and a natural fermentation occurred in wooden tanks. The wine, a cépage of 95% Grenache with Mourvèdre, Vaccarèse, and Cinsault serving as the remainders, aged in foudre (large, neutral casks) for 17 months.
In the glass, “Les Safres” reveals a dark sanguine core with ruby-pink reflections scattered along the rim. There are bright fruit and floral aromas present that mirror wines of refinement: Perfumed purple and red flowers, dried strawberry, preserved black cherry, and black raspberry liqueur are joined by softer notes of garrigue, crushed stone, leather, blood orange zest, exotic spice, and a dash of white pepper. The wine is medium-plus bodied—not full-on rich and heady like many CDP neighbors—and its supple tannins create a long-lasting finish full of vigor. I definitely support all who want to consume this in its youth; it has the softness of Burgundy and power of Southern Rhône and is a lovely drinking experience with a brief 30-45 minute decant. For those who want to hold on, this is a good idea, it’s best drinking will come 5-10 years from now, while lasting a decade beyond that. Given the style, enjoy this wine in large Burgundy stems next to roasted duck with a cherry-orange sauce. Yes, duck is a classic Pinot pairing, but the rich fruit sauce adds an additional layer that will best complement this wonderfully elegant CDP. Cheers!