A Jewel of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Châteauneuf-du-Pape at its greatest and most traditional is a testament to its lofty historical reputation, channeling one of the viticultural world’s most visceral expressions of terroir. When the appellation’s sun-drenched ripeness comes across as a mere fact of being rather than as a calculated aim, and when it is not exaggerated through cellar technique, it is as natural and lovable as acidity in Alpine wine or salinity in Mediterranean wine.
We are incredibly lucky to work with Jean-Paul Versino of Domaine Bois de Boursan, whose staunchly old-school Châteauneuf-du-Pape is both gutsy and refined, both powerful and elegant. Jean-Paul’s father Jean founded the domaine in 1955 after relocating from Piedmont, and Jean-Paul took the reins with the stupendous 1990 vintage, immediately converting to organic viticultural practices but keeping things adamantly traditional in the cellar. There are plenty of foudres from Jean’s era still active in the cave, which is among the most heartwarmingly rustic one could hope to encounter.
Although Versino puts the vast majority of his 16 hectares into his Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Tradition” (one of the appellation’s greatest values), today’s focus is on his majestic “Cuvée des Félix”—a selection of his oldest and best parcels, made only in suitable vintages, and never comprising more than 10% of his total production. Whereas as some prestige cuvées in the region are fluffed up via heavy extraction or new oak, Versino’s is produced without such bells and whistles, thereby allowing the intensity of site and vine age to carry the performance.
Cuvée des Félix is a blend of three sites, all of which are historically prized: La Crau (from vines planted in 1924), La Nerthe (planted in 1920), and Pied de Baud (planted in 1920); Versino is lucky to coax 20 hectoliters per hectare out of these ancient vines in a generous vintage. Félix comprises 65% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre (a significantly higher proportion than in the Tradition), plus splashes of the domaine’s oldest Cinsault, Syrah, and Counoise. The vineyards are worked manually and harvested by hand, and the wine ferments naturally in cement and ages for two years in 8-to-10-year-old 500-liter barrels before being bottled without fining or filtration.
The wine, while undeniably powerful, offers an exceptionally subtle and layered evocation of terroir: a firm minerality imbued by La Crau’s hard, rocky plateau; a richness and density from the warm stones of La Nerthe; and a high-toned red-fruited sense of finesse owing to Pied de Baud’s sandy terrain. Jean-Paul’s inclusion of stems in the vinification (between 85 and 100%)—as well as his preference for picking earlier than many of his neighbors—keeps Félix’s power reined in, and indeed the wine never comes across as overbearing even in its youth. Furthermore, it utterly dazzles with bottle age, as the many older vintages Jean-Paul has opened for us over the years amply testify. The pleasures of a well-cellared old-school Châteauneuf-du-Pape—especially one as great as Félix—are not to be underestimated, and the aforementioned appellation-phobic drinker may well be shocked at a 15-to-20-year-old example. Only a few names in Châteauneuf-du-Pape can approach these heights, and they generally cost significantly more to obtain…
We are thrilled to offer stocks of not one, but four vintages of Cuvée des Félix. As is our style, we prefer not to rush vintages out of our warehouse through promoting press coverage (Félix generally receives glowing praise) or slashing prices in a way that undervalues the wine’s worthiness. Jean-Paul produced no Félix in 2013 or 2014 owing to the difficulties of those growing seasons, but we have supplies of 2016 and 2015, as well as tiny splashes of 2012 and 2011—both of which are really beginning to strut their stuff. We heartily encourage you to experience the visceral thrill of great old-style Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée des Felix”
A big vintage (15.2% natural alcohol), but one with grace, as the acidity exceeds that of the also ripe 2015, contributing incredible tension and lift. This should easily live 30 years in a good cellar. 85% whole-cluster.
2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée des Felix”
A monumental vintage of Félix wherein savory Mourvèdre elements take center stage, flanked by deeply ripe but supple fruit and wild, tingling spices. 18 hectoliters per hectare, 100% whole-cluster.
2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée des Felix”
A healthy but not overly hot growing season made for wines of striking elegance and restraint, and this 2012 Félix is a showstopper today. If you’re choosing only one vintage to purchase—especially if you’re planning to drink it sooner—make it this one.
2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvée des Felix”
Also showing some secondary fireworks, this 2011 is slightly riper and less nuanced than the 2012, but is texturally riveting and absolutely delicious.