2022 saw another warm weather vintage in the Vaucluse with summer temperatures frequently topping 40 degree centigrade. This is less problematic than it is for many vine areas as vignerons in the vicinity are used to it and they have a broad palette of grape varieties from which to blend. Indeed, you have to go all the way back to infamously rain-plagued 2002 vintage to find a year the local wine makers would rather forget about. Then - the heavens opened, and stayed open - just before harvest time and it was a year of drownings and declassification that is a strong contender for the worst in postwar production. You are very unlikely to encounter any for sale these days but it you do, don't touch it with a bargepole or a corkscrew.
Siblings Claire Fabre and François Michel of Le Vieux Donjon happily have a solid history of only making top-class wine. There is some vintage variation for sure but their output is always in the upper echelons of what the appellation has to offer and their track record is enviable by any standards. Their white Châteauneuf' is a blend of Roussanne and Clairette that is hand-harvested and vinified in cement vats prior to fastidious blending and bottling. It has beguiling wildflower and apricot aromas with a supple stone-fruit palate offset by nervy mineral notes. It drinks well as a standalone offering but pairs brilliantly with seafood and poultry. Their more prolific red is blended from 75% Grenache Noir, 10% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault. With a deep purple colour, evocative wild herb and hedgerow berry scents, its core of briary black fruit underpinned by peppery notes and a framework of tannins will support 10 to 20+ years bottle age. It is a classic wine of the south and has understandably garnered a fiercely loyal following.
Longstanding and experienced Châteauneuf' producer Jean-Pierre Boisson has largely ceded control to his daughter Emilie at the helm of Domaine du Père Caboche. With enviable vine holdings encompassing all 18 of the permitted grape varieties including precious parcels on La Crau plateau, they are known for their attention to detail - producing wines that are incredibly approachable on release. Their white wine is made from a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc and 15% each of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. With citrus top notes and an amazingly fresh and forward palate with white peach and Mirabelle plum flavours, it makes a fine al fresco aperitif. Their principal red - in terms of volume - is made from a base of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre with lesser volumes of other grapes varying according to vintage. With a garnet robe, a ripe red fruit bouquet and wealth of blackcurrant and dark plum on the palate, it drinks well on its youthful fruit but can be cellared for (at least) a decade in good vintages. Emilie also produces an old vine bottling called 'Elisabeth Chambellan' after a characterful ancestor. Hailing mostly from Grenache vines planted in 1906 and 1924 to 19255, it also has around 10% Syrah and a smattering of local rarities. It is deeper, richer, darker and more long-lived than the 'regular' red.
New to this list in 2022 was a relatively rare white Châteauneuf ', made by the Meffre family of Gigondas renown. It hails from one third Clairette Rosé, one fifth each Clairette Blanche, Picquepoule Blanc, Grenache Blanc and the remainder Bourboulenc from young vines near the aforementioned La Crau escarpment. Hand-harvested fruit is vinified in thermo-regulated vats and the finished wine is redolent of apricots and peaches and has a long, elegant finish.