2020 was an exceptionally strange vintage for Grenache. While there is far more to Châteauneuf-du-Pape than Grenache, to a large extent, how it performs in any given vintage is essentially how a vintage is judged. The most notable critics of the Southern Rhône in the United States are generally inclined to heap praise on ripe vintages with abundantly decadent Grenache. But when Grenache shows a hint of restraint, they tend to be more critical.
We’ve also noticed a long-standing and gradual change in style with many of our growers. A greater emphasis on farming is apparent in meetings with our producers, and now most are either certified organic or in conversion. Fermentations are mainly spontaneous, with greater inclusion of whole clusters and a movement away from smaller barrels and new French oak. All these changes are happening simultaneously with the emergence of new generations who prize transparency and vibrancy over richness and extraction.
So there perhaps isn’t a better time to introduce a new generation to Châteauneuf-du-Pape than the 2020 vintage. A vintage for those seeking wines of pleasure more than trophies to be tucked away in a cellar.
While the prevailing conditions were hot and dry, 2020 lacked the lengthier periods of extreme heat experienced in 2019, and as a result, the Grenache took its time ripening. Fortunately, some light rains towards the end of September hastened the ripening, with the last of the Grenache picked by early October. As a result, final alcohol levels were lower in 2020 than in 2019, the tannins are more delicate, and the fruit character is more inclined to red fruit rather than black or blue fruit.
Unlike vintages where Grenache suffered from coulure, 2020 doesn’t have a pronounced shift to the dark, earthy flavor profile of Syrah and Mourvèdre. Instead, the vintage hallmark is a harmoniously fresh, balanced, and engaging fruit-forward expression where Grenache is light on its feet and in perfect balance with any contribution from Syrah and Mourvédre. Thus this is a vintage of exceptional clarity and precision with wines that are pleasurable to drink.
So, 2020 isn’t a grandiose vintage of big-shouldered and Rubenesque wines. Nor are there “compotes” or “liqueurs” in our tasting notes. Instead, there is an abundance of finely detailed fresh fruit flavors, supple and floral aromatics, and a balancing savoriness. Older vine cuvées show some darker cherry flavors, especially the Vieilles Vignes cuvées from Janasse & Marcoux, Clos Saint-Antonin, Cuvée Prestige from Roger Sabon, and Giraud Grenaches de Pierre but they also sport a mineral freshness and gorgeous floral aromas. Tannins across the board are ripe and subtle, so while these wines will probably age faster than their 2019 counterparts, it also seems improbable that they will ever enter a “dumb” phase where the wines shut down. Instead, they should be engaging at the table for the next decade.