2017 Jérôme Gradassi Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France (750ml)
A fine discovery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the oldest official appellation in France. The name, "Chateauneuf-du-Pape," dates from the era when there was a split in the Papacy and the Avignon Pope built a summer home in this area.
Gradassi's California importer provides a fine introduction to this boutique producer ~ Jérôme Gradassi could have rested on the laurels of his Michelin-starred Avignon restaurant, L’Isle Sonnante. But in 2004, he took over eight acres of old Grenache vines once owned by his grandfather and taught himself to make wine. Learning by trial and error, Gradassi has become one of the most exciting new winemakers in France, making just one white and one red. The process in the cellar is meticulous: whole bunches are put into underground concrete tanks and slowly fermented without the addition of yeast, acid or sugar, and with very little sulfur. As the cellar is so small and fermentation tanks so old, there are no openings other than the tops of the tanks. Hence after 4 weeks, Gradassi removes the fermented juice and macerated berries by hand with a bucket and a rope – a painstaking process that can take up to a week. The must is then pressed and transferred into older barrels (4 to 10 years) and aged for 10 months without racking. Purely out of necessity, Gradassi’s extremely simple approach is achieved entirely by hand and the help of gravity, without the use of technology or modern oenological techniques. The smallest producer in the appellation, Jérôme is already making waves with superb wines that are a gentle reminder of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from a bygone era. The wines are completely dry and savory, with high tones that balance their full bodied structure. They are neither explosive nor extracted, but rather unique in their elegance, depth, and their ability to pair with food. These attributes, coupled with the amazing value of the wines, are all too rare in the appellation today.