Due to poor flowering in the Spring, particularly for Grenache, which is by far the most prolific of the 13 permitted grape varieties, Châteauneuf-du-Pape experienced a lamentably small harvest in 2013, with volumes down by up to 50% on some estates. Happily the grapes that were picked were in excellent condition, as is often the case when yields are severely depleted. Qualitatively, this continued a remarkable vintage run in the 21st century. With 2014 seeing a significantly larger harvest of good quality fruit, we have to go all the way back to the rain-plagued 2002 vintage to find a real stinker, but boy, was that a bad year – many growers didn't deign to bottle any wine at all, selling their entire output in bulk to négociants.
At Domaine du Père Caboche, Emilie Boisson has her hands full, juggling motherhood and the running of a large estate. Her baby Jean was born the day after the harvest started in 2013 but she was back in action manning a stand at the Vinisud wine fair in Montpellier the following March. The Boisson family are renowned for making readily accessible, high quality Châteauneuf' that a certain Mr Parker of Maryland finds 'sexy', 'seductive', 'upfront' and 'some of the most delicious and alluring wines of the appellation'. Their principal wine in volumes terms, called simply 'Domaine du Père Caboche', comes from a base of 60% Grenache Noir, 25% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre and a smattering of lesser varieties. It has appealing ripe garrigue berry scents and a silky, sensuous palate of concentrated red fruit over a background of supple tannins. It drinks very well from release and partners red meat or wild mushroom dishes to perfection. An 'old vine' bottling is named after a medieval ancestor 'Elisabeth Chambellan'. It deploys the same cépagement but from mature root-stock on the famous La Crau plateau. It has much the same fruit-forward appeal as its sibling but has a little more depth, complexity and longevity. Also worthy of attention is the Boissons' excellent white Châteauneuf'. It is made from an alluring ensemble of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picpoul in descending proportions and has lovely white stone fruit scents and flavours and luscious, un-oaked palate with a long, dry elegant finish.
A short hop further down the route de Carcassonne, at Le Vieux Donjon, the Michel family is equally wellknown for crafting wines of character and quality. They are unusual in the region as they produce only one cuvée of red wine, which means that all of their best fruit is deployed in the main blend. Their exemplary red Châteauneuf' is always amongst the elite of the top critics' and connoisseurs' favourite wines and is fraction of the price of some 'prestige' bottlings. Superior vintages will age well for up to two decades and always merit decanting. They too make a great white Châteauneuf' from a blend of Clairette and Roussanne. It has subtle citrus and wild flower scents and a ripe rounded palate of apricots and white peaches. It doesn't demand food accompaniment but fish and chicken dishes would be apt.