A Great 'Secret' Châteauneuf-du-Pape

A selection of wines at a recent dinner party was superb, but the standout was a beauty from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this week's Five-Star Wine, the La Bastide Saint-Dominique, Secrets de Pignan 2007 ($50).

The husband-and-wife team of Eric Bonnet and Julia Moreau who run the winery are part of a dynamic group of young CNP winemakers whose wines are challenging the famous names of the region in quality, if not yet, thankfully, in price. Located in the commune of Courthézon in France's southern Rhône valley, the nearly 26-acre vineyard was founded by Eric's parents, Gérard and Marie-Claude Bonnet, in 1976.

On a visit to them last year, Julia explained to me their approach to this kind of modern, fruit-driven winemaking: "Old-fashioned Chãteauneuf is very gamey, very heavy. We prefer freshness, elegance, minerality."

These are on fine display in the Secrets de Pignan, a single-vineyard wine of astoundingly intense fruit flavors from vines more than 70 years old.

It is 95 percent grenache, but not obviously so, and is redolent of blackberries and black cherries. It has a seductive, heady, perfumed aroma; it goes up through my nose, races across my eyes, and explodes in the front of my brain. And all this before I've even begun to taste.

On the palate, it's focused but surprisingly light and elegant. This beguiling contradiction results from the rich concentration of the old-vine fruit and the wise decision of Eric and Julia to vinify and age the precious nectar entirely in stainless steel, with not a touch of oak. This allows the true Hallelujah Chorus of the grapes' splendor to shine through unhampered by the weight of unnecessary and distracting oak.

Not many winemakers would have had the understanding, yet alone the courage, to take such an unusual step. But these imaginative young vignerons do, and the results are satisfyingly impressive.

When to Drink: Now and for the next five years

Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour breathing helps

Food Pairing: Red meats, game, heavier pastas, game

Grapes: 95 percent grenache, 5 percent mourvèdre.

Appellation: Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Region: Rhône Valley

Country: France

Price: $50

Availability: Limited

Web Site: www.bastide-st-dominique.com/

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