Les Secrets de Pignan is the first Châteauneuf-du-Pape that Hegui and I tried and really noticed, if you know what I mean. It was the 2004. We were with these lovely friends who grew up in a French speaking part of Africa, so to show off a bit, we went to a little French bistro near our house, and randomly ordered off the wine menu. I don’t quite know how we settled on the 2004 Pignan, but I do know that I didn’t like it one bit; yet Hegui was in raptures. The waiter exclaimed that we made a good choice, though have you ever heard a waiter say otherwise? Me, neither.
To me then, it was way to tannic and drying. Hegui seemed to perceive something else. I was just getting excited about wine then, so looked around and bought three or four bottles, which I cellared for a year or so. Wow! What a difference a day makes! When we brought out the next one it literally blew both of us away: loaded with fruit, elegantly textured and with that curious Secrets de Pignan terroir, for lack of a better word, we were floored.
So we’ve become fans of the wine.
I’ve been wondering a lot about wine quality lately, ever since I read that Robert Parker biography. He’s the famous American wine critic who put the 100-point wine rating scale on the map and is so looked to for wine reviews that supposedly Bordeaux producers are reluctant to release their wines until he’s had a chance to taste and score them. Apparently the price changes so much with a favorable number that his comments are worth their weight in gold.
The book has this one anecdote in which Manfred Krankl sent his first ever bottle of what became the cult-winery Sine Qua Non to Parker in Maryland. The critic liked the wine. Allegedly he called Krankl to praise it and recommended that he get a business number and address before the next edition of the Wine Advocate was released, as he suspected that he’d be bombarded by requests and telephone calls. Krankl did, and was, and now is famous. He even appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator, that other wine magazine, last year.
Beyond the idea that people are influenced by numbers and famous critics, is another part of the wine-lovers story. Parker liked Krankl’s and in effect promoted it. He did this with modern styled Bordeaux, especially certain winemakers from St. Emilion, the so-called garagistes. He’s a huge fan of Northern Rhône, particularly the fairly-obscure-until-Parker-started-writing-about-it-like-crazy Guigal Côte Rôtie wines, like La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque. Never produced in large volumes, the prices of these wines sky-rocketed once Americans listened to Parker’s advice. But my point here is that according to the book, Parker likes the Guigals, buys them for his own cellar and drinks them with pleasure year after year. So these wines are good, but also seem to have an emotional resonance with him.
And that is how we feel about Secrets de Pignan. We’ve learned with the 2004, been dismayed by the 2005, and have begun to enjoy the voluptuous 2007. The wine is good. But in addition to that, it seems to play a role in our vinous emotional lives.
We had a bottle of the 2007 last Saturday as a celebration for the completion of the semi-annual “heavy cleaning.” Hegui and I take the beds apart, move all the furniture out of the way and he steam-cleans all the carpets. We’ve wall-to-wall in most rooms plus about five medium to largish oriental rugs. It is a real ordeal deserving of a medal and a night on the town, though we’re always too tired for anything more than a simple meal and some wine.
This bottle opened with a funky aroma that, thankfully, dissipated. It was slightly fizzy right form the bottle but settled down with decanting. It had a good aroma of ripe berry, cherry. These carried over to the taste, with the addition of some juicy pomegranate notes. I read on Cellartracker some commentator describing the end of the mid-palate taste like ruby red grapefruit—which I sort of get. This wine consistently has an unusual taste that is hard to pin down. Full bodied, and almost thick, with a good finish, I’m glad that we ordered a case of this to watch it develop.