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A tasting of 2013-1999 Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Blind tasting wine in a friendly group is great fun.  That is the ritual of the tasting group assembled this past weekend at Andy’s house.  I find the experience sharply exposes the limits of my experience, reaffirming thoughts on what I must taste next year.

Before any deduction could began I took repeated small pours of the satisfying 2006 Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs.  If you have not tried this Champagne then you must.  The restrained level of bubbles, deep flavor, and racy body make this a wine you want to simply drink.  No thought required.

It was not easy to determine if we were presented with a vertical, horizontal, or even New World and Old World wines.  The first two wines, still with prominent unintegrated oak and fresh acidity, had me leaning towards an Argentine Cabernet Sauvignon based wine.  The bottles encountered in the middle were more integrated and had flavors that brought one’s mind back to Europe.  The last bottles were the most mature with a flavor unmistakably French.  Then, in circling back to the first two wines, which had changed dramatically, you could catch whiffs of the Viognier added to Syrah.  A few questions to Andy confirmed a vertical with a couple of people soon narrowing it down to Cote-Rotie.  Then the wines were revealed as Guigal’s Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis.

Etienne Guigal and his future wife Marcelle met just outside of Chateau d’Ampuis in 1934.  Some sixty years later their son Marcel purchased the then ruin and set out to restore the property.  The oldest parts date back to the 12th century with the core of the building to the 16th century.  The first vintage of Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis came in 1995, the same year it was purchased.

The fruit for these wines comes from Guigal’s lieux-dits in both Brune and Blonde with the Viognier all from the later.  The wine is typically a blend of 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier from vines averaging 40 to 60 years of age.  The fruit is vinified and raised separately for 38 months in new oak casks.

Based on our tasting the new oak is certainly evident in young vintages of 2011, 2012, and 2013 so these must clearly be cellared.  Beginning with the excellent 2009 and strong 2006 vintages there is noticeable integration allowing you to appreciate the wine as a whole.  While you may drink them for pleasure I would cellar them further.  The 2003, 2001, and 1999 vintages clearly reveal mature flavors with the 2003 and 1999 the most ready to drink.  This was a very consistent tasting with all of the vintages showing well and offering a lot of satisfaction.

2006 Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs
Alcohol 12.5%.  Ripe white fruit and spices are immediately appartment in this rich, racy wine.  There are moderate bubbles which make this very easy to drink.   The generous flavor is still focused and reveals just a touch of yeast in the end.  A great drink! ****(*) Now why wait?

2012 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Alcohol 13.5%.  Plum and sweet aromas on the nose.  A round start with a young grapey core, mid-palate weight, and drying, fine tannins with a mocha flavor that come out in the finish.  It tastes modern at first with cool acidity but with air clean fruit and floral undertone come out.  The oak still needs to integrate.  ***(*) 2020 – 2030.

2013 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Alcohol 13.5 %.  An acidity driven start mixed with cinnamon flavors.  A dry middle of polished wood is followed by a simpler, sour fruited finish.  With air a fine nose of Christmas incense develops.  ***(*) 2020 – 2030.

2011 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Imported by Vintus. Alcohol 13%.  There is a deeper, good nose.  A mouth filling wine with red fruit, plums, and a dry black structure in the finish.  This is still in a youthful period with new oak notes and more assertive tannins.  But the flavor is lip-smacking revealing the start of a transformation.  ***(*) 2018 – 2030.

2009 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Alcohol 13.5%.  Grapey aromas.  A quick taste reveals this is the first serious wine of the lineup.  There is good flavors of dark red fruit, a ripe ethereal middle and a finish of gum coating, chewy tannins.  Complexity from dried herbs and a perfumed middle entice.  The wine is carried by slightly watering acidity.  **** Now – 2027.

2006 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Alcohol 13.5%.  The cherry flavors are acidity driven with the spine of acidity lasting through the end.  Sour cherry notes have good depth with the acidity providing tension.  It wraps up with citric grip. ***(*) Now – 2022.

2003 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Alcohol 13.5%.  This wine shows more age with good, chewy fruit, herbs, spices, and supporting acidity.  The power of the vintage is revealed in the middle.  Very ripe, dried fruit pokes out. *** Now – 2022.

2001 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Imported by Ex Cellars Wine Agencies. Alcohol 13%.  Another mature wine, this one savory with more structure, a tart black middle, and sappy sour cherry.  There is fine focus to the fruit which comes across as younger with air. ***(*) Now – 2025.

1999 E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie Le Château d’Ampuis
Imported by Boston Wine Company. Alcohol 13%.  This weighty wine has mixed spices and a savory middle of red fruit and grippy tannins.   Youthful as well and drinking so well.  **** Now – 2027.

2007 Dr. Loosen, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
Imported by MacArthur Liquors.  Alcohol 7.5%.  An amber color with a honied nose.  A touch of a lively start before a round glycerin body of ripe, yellow fruit.  Honey and spices mix in the somewhat short finish.  *** Now.

A tasting of Rioja from the great 1964 Vintage

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment


The 1964 vintage in Rioja, considered the greatest of the 20th century, was not met with any fanfare in America nor in England.  It was not because the top wines, only bottled in the 1970s and released as late as 1980, were unavailable to taste.  Throughout the 1960s Rioja was still viewed as the best wine of Spain but it was the opinion, as expressed by Ronald Avery, that in the hierarchy of wines Rioja was equivalent to “a decent little claret”.  As such Rioja only received attention as an alternative inexpensive wine.

This was not always the case.  Between the World Wars the Bodegas Paternina Rioja Riserva cost as much as Chateau Lafite in America.  When Bordeaux prices soared in America during the early 1970s, attention turned back to Rioja.  Still viewed as the “less sophisticated cousin of Bordeaux” low prices meant the wines of Rioja became imported in increasingly larger quantities.  In 1976, nearly three dozen Rioja producers hired a public relations firm in America.  Success must have been achieved for the next year Frank J. Prial wrote in The New York Times that “Red Rioja Wine Is Excellent”.

There was widespread coverage of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Rioja vintage.  Decanter magazine found it a vintage to drink soon with some wines tired but the best wines are “still fruity and intense”.  I decided to host my own tasting based on my positive experience with several different bottles shared by Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co.,  and my recent CVNE Viña Real and Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva from 1976-1964 tasting.  This past weekend I gathered a group to explore nine different wines from seven different producers.  This is no small feat for there were just over two dozen producers who bottled the 1964 vintage.

We departed from our usual Champagne start to one of very old German wines.  At the CVNE tasting, the Rieslingfeier event and scarcity of old vintages was of topic which prompted one very generous guest to share three 100+ year old wines as well as a bottle from the 1964 vintage.  This unprecedented vertical of the vintages 1964, 1915, 1905, and 1898 are all Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese from Weingut Franz Karl Schmitt.

These four bottles were purchased at the Sotheby’s auction of the Don Stott cellar.  Our generous guest has drunk wine with Don Stott so with knowledge of the cellar and the uniqueness of the opportunity, the wines were acquired.

Weingut Franz Karl Schmitt was founded in 1549 and has been in family possession ever since those days.  It was in 1900 that Franz-Karl Schmitt, grandfather of the current owner, produced the first trockenbeerenauslese in Rheinhessen from the Flaschenhahl vineyard in Hipping.  The four bottles we tasted bear variations in name: Franz Karl Schmitt, Hermann Franz Schmitt, and Hermannshof.  They are all from the same winery bearing new labels and corks.  The later marked with Herrmannshof Neuverkorkt 1998.

The label on the oldest bottle from 1898 does not indicate the grape.  Nierstein is home to Sylvaner and in 1910 only 15% of it was planted with Riesling.  It is possible this is a blend of Riesling and Sylvaner which echoes a comment Michael Broadbent made about the 1921 Niersteiner Hermannshof TBA.  I should also point out this bottle is a Cabinetwein indicating a special wine historically kept in a separate part of the cellar.

The wines were served one at a time out of purposefully procured small wine glasses.  This gave us the collective opportunity to taste the wines within minutes of the bottle being opened and individually decide if we wanted to keep the wine around any longer.

All of the wines are in much better shape than I expected.  The 1898 Franz Karl Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese Cabinetwein, Rheinhessen  with honied aromas and medium body, quickly recalibrated my expectations.  There is pure pleasure here.  Delicacy came in the form of the 1905 Hermann Franz Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen which did soon fade to reveal piercing acidity in the finish.  The 1915 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen is unequivocally great from the nose to the pure marmalade flavors, minerals, and unctuous, glycerin filled body.  At 102 years of age, the higher residual sugar and acidity will ensure many more years of pleasure.  In fact, the dregs of the bottle drank well at the end of the evening.

With respect to the three oldest bottles, vintage variation aside, there is a sense of continuity in flavor from herbs and apricots.  In returning to the wines I was left with the feeling that the 1898 and 1905 were made using similar methods whereas the 1915 was made by a different hand.  However, vintages do matter which accounts for the unctuous 1915 and round, racy 1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr Und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen.  These wines deserve a closer historical look so I will write a follow up post in the near future.

We cleansed our palates with the textured NV Grands Comptoirs Champenois, Champagne Brut Comte de Vic.  This is a late 1980s to early 1990s release with fully mature flavors, yeast, and never-ending texture.  I found it best on the second night, once again highlighting that a non-vintage Champagne may deserve careful aging.

Fate finally caught up with me for four of our 1964 Rioja bottles were affected by TCA leaving five to be enjoyed.  All of these wines were double-decanted before being served in flights of three.  The most surprising wine is the 1964 Campo Viejo, Rioja which is the basic wine made just one year after the founding of the winery.  In fact Campo Viejo switched facilities in 1965.  This wine still reveals ripe fruit mixed with spices made possible by the comparatively short time spent in oak.

My favorites include the 1964 Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Gran Reserva, the 1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Rioja Gran Reserva , and the 1964 Bodegas Montecillo, Vina Monty, Rioja.  Incredibly, the Monte Real appears to still be developing due to youthful focus.  The Gomez Cruzado never lost all of its bottle stink but in the mouth it is crisp with wood notes and certainly a wine to try again.  I found the Montecillo, the only all Tempranillo wine we tasted, the roundest.

These particular wines show the success achieved with Tempranillo based blends based on old, dry-farmed, bush vines raised with the traditional method of long oak aging.  This method of winemaking developed in the 19th century based on Bordeaux techniques and adopted to what was best for Rioja.   They are not fragile when exposed to air and all have a good spine of acidity which allows them live on.  The tasting also reminds us that there are no guarantees with old bottles.

Please find my tasting notes below.  You will notice a larger than usual number of dinner wine notes at the end.  The Madeira collector Bob Stern, whom I first met several years ago, was in town and able to join.  He has taken his passion one step further and is now importing Madeira from H. M. Borges. Thus he could present an array of samples for us to taste.

I could not have organized this tasting without Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., offering me his precious bottles of Rioja.  I must also thank our generous guest who, in sharing his German wines, ensured a once in a lifetime experience to taste three German wines older than one century.


A German Start

1898 Franz Karl Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Auslese Cabinetwein, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.  Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  A very clear, tawny amber color.  The nose is touched by boytrtis with honied aromas, fresh herbs, and tea.  The flavors are drier than expected, of medium body, and of sharp yet focused acidity.  The body speaks of remarkable condition as tangy, lemon citrus flavors come out in the middle, all of it persisting through the long finish.  ***(*) Now.

1905 Hermann Franz Schmitt, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.  Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.   Recorked in 1998. New labels.  A very clear, lighter tawny amber with a touch more yellow.  There is a botrytis touch as well but this is the most delicate wine of the quartet of old Germans.  It too is dry with fresh and bright acidity, herbs, and a savory, short finish.  It dries out quicker revealing piercing acidity in the end. ** Now.

1915 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.   Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  The darkest being tawny in color.  This still smells great.  In the mouth it is unctuous and mineral infused with plenty of forward body.  Flavors of apricot and peach mix with orange marmalade.  This is a good wine with round, glycerin body.  **** Now – 2027.

1964 Hermannshof, Niersteiner Kehr Und Flaschenhahl Riesling Auslese, Rheinhessen
Shipped by Allyn & Scott Wines.  Imported by Wine Cellars.   Tagged The Don Stott Cellar.  Recorked in 1998. New labels.  Of yellow straw the color is the lightest and the nose the most subtle.  One is not prepared for the much sweeter and rounded flavors in this unctuous wine.  There is still ripe fruit, fine tea notes, and a racy character. **** Now – 2027.


Palate Cleansing Champagne

NV Grands Comptoirs Champenois, Champagne Brut Comte de Vic
Imported by The RareWine Co.  Alcohol 12%.  A very clear amber color.  It is best on the second day. There are very fine, strong bubbles which quickly form a mousse that adds ripe texture to the start.  Flavors of ripe white then yellow fruit mix with yeast and mature notes.  With air ripe spices come out in the watering finish. ***(*) Now but will last.


1964 Rioja

1964 Bilbainas, Clarete Fino, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1901 by Santiago Ugarte, the son of a wine negociant, during the Rioja phylloxera epidemic.  The main winery was built at Barrio de la Estacion in Haro.  This wine is a blend of 65% Tempranillo and 35% Garnacha that spent 9-10 years in American oak barrels.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Bilbainas, Vendimia Especial, Rioja Reserva 
One of the top wines this wine is a blend of70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha sourced from the Zaco vineyard.  It spent 18 months in large wooden vats then 6-8 (or 9-10) years in American oak barrels.  This is a bright wine with tart red fruit and a grippy nature.  The wine is still youthful but the leather notes speak of age.  *** Now but will last.

1964 Bilbainas, Vina Pomal, Rioja Reserva Especial 
This label has existed for over 100 years and always featured fruit from the Vina Pomal vineyard between the Ebro and Tiron rivers.  Apparently Winston Church drank it regularly.  It is a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and 5% Mazuelo, Graciano, and Viura.  It spent 1 year in tank followed by 6-7 years in American oak barriques.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Campo Viejo, Rioja 
Founded in 1963, Camp Viejo moved from Rioja Baja to an industrial part of Logrono in 1965.  The Crianza is typically a blend of mostly 80% Tempranillo followed by 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.  It spent 18 months in large vats followed by 30 months in American oak barriques.  A fine nose makes way to a fruity start that is still ripe and flavored by spices in the finish.  The relatively short aging in wood results in this wine having the most fruit out of all tasted.  Perhaps not the most complex flavors the wine is, nevertheless, a fine drink with finely textured, ripe flavors.  *** Now – 2022.

1964 Franco-Espanolas, Excelsos, Rioja Gran Reserva 
Bodegas Franco-Espanolas history begins in 1890 when Frederick Anglade Saurat came to Logrono from Bordeaux.  Once his vineyards were in full production he founded the Bodegas, with Spanish capital, in 1901.  The Excelsos is the top gran reserve released only in the best vintages.  This rare wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo that spent 18 months in large wooden vats and 6-7 years in American oak barrels.  It was released in 1980.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Gomez Cruzado, Honorable, Rioja Gran Reserva 
Founded in 1886.  This is a blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo and Graciano.  This is fermented and raised in large wooden vats for 24 months followed by aging for 5 years in old American oak barrels.  It was bottled in 1972.  Quite stinky at first then a transition to an attractive funk.  However it is clean in the mouth where there are very lively flavors, crisp fruit, and wood shavings.  A delight in the mouth.  If I am picky, the finish is a little short.  ***(*) Now – 2025.

1964 Bodegas Montecillo, Vina Monty, Rioja 
Founded in 1870, Bodegas Montecillo is one of the oldest firms in Rioja. The Vina Monty is the top wine.  Produced solely from Tempranillo it spent 6 to 12 months in large wooden vats then 48 months in American oak barrels.  The 1964 vintage was produced at the old winery pre-dating the Osborne acquisition of 1973.  A good nose of fruit and mixed herbs.  There is round, red fruit, bright acidity, and a fine wood note. ***(*) Now – 2022.

1964 Frederico  Paternina, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1898, Frederico Paternina owns no vineyards. This is a blend of 70% Tempranillo with 30% Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano.   This Gran Reserva spent up to six years in American oak barrels and other volumes.  TCA.  Not Rated.

1964 Riojanas, Monte Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Founded in 1890.  A blend of mostly 70% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo, 5% Garnacha, 2% Graciano, and 3% Viura and Malvasia.  It spent 12 to 18 months in large wooden tanks then aged for 4.5 to 6 years in American oak casks and other sizes.  Part of the fruit underwent carbonic maceration.  A touch musty at first but cleans up to reveal aromas of broth.  The bright flavors of cranberry are fresh and grippy.  The wine is driven by acidity.  This is the most youthful wine of them all, still focused and on the upslope of development. ***(*) Now – 2025.


Dinner Wines

1970 LAN, Lanciano Rioja
Founded in 1970. This wine is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 10% Mazuelo that spent 18 months in tank and 2 years in American oak casks.  Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  Quite comforting with a combination of wood box notes, mature yet freshly delivered red fruit, and garrigue.  The flavors become meaty with air.  There is moderate weight and though the tannins are largely resolved a bit of structure comes out in the finish.  ***(*) Now but will last.

1978 Torres, Gran Coronas, Penedes Reserva
Imported by Chateau & Estates.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that was fermented in stainless steel then aged for 18 months in American oak casks.  It was bottled in 1980. Alcohol 12.5%.  There is a tart, assertive start that is infused with some funk.  The wine soon becomes weightier with prominent acidity, green pepper notes, and tons of grip.  Quite fun to drink.  *** Now but will last.

2007 Bonneau, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by Bordeaux Wine Locators.  Alcohol 15%. This lively red wine is bright in flavor and poised for many years of development.  I particularly like the fine mixture of Christmas spices which add complexity to the red fruit. A real treat, I wish I had tasted it some more. **** Now – 2027.

NV Rare Wine Co, Henriques & Henriques Imperial Reserve Malmsey
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  This Madeira is a blend of old stocks of Malmsey from Henriques & Henriques. Mannie created the blend with John Cossart shortly before he passed away. It was released in honor of John Cossart in 2008.  Alcohol 20%.  There are pungent aromas of orange marmalade.  In the mouth is a rounded, dense start followed by powerful pungent flavors and racy residual sugar.  Supporting this is acidity to match.  The wine is incensed with Christmas spices. I imagine this will slowly develop for a few more decades.  ****.

1990 H. M. Borges, Sercial
Imported by Next Chapter Wines & Spirits.  Alcohol 20%.  An amber-tawny color.  Slightly pungent on the nose it is off to a round start that immediately unleashes piercing acidity.  There is lovely body weight which adds tension to this acidity driven wine.  Complexity comes from baking spices.  ****.

NV H. M. Borges, 15 year old Verdelho
Imported by Next Chapter Wines & Spirits.  Alcohol 19%.  There is a low-lying, deep nose.  In the mouth are taut orange citrus flavor and round body with piercing, laser sharp acidity.  Sweet and tense.  Good future potential.  ***.

2005 H. M. Borges, Tina Negra Colheita
Alcohol 20%.  Bottled in 2017. A very good, deep nose.  A racy, weighty start brings ripe flavors and sweetness in this round, tense wine.  A cherry middle makes way to a sweeter finish.  Good stuff. ***(*).

1998 H.M. Borges, Malmsey Colheita
This wine was aged in casks for over 8 years.  Bottled in 2006/7. Alcohol 19%.  A touch of satisfying pungency on the nose.  In this mouth this is a powerful wine with fruit, nuts, and piercing acidity. ***.

1995 H. M. Borges, Bual Colheita
This wine was aged in oak casks for at least 5 years.  Alcohol 19%.  A pungent, piercing nose.  In the mouth are spicy flavors delivered as a tense core.  Notes of evergreen and Christmas spices add complexity before the textured finish. ***(*).

Legendary Rioja: CVNE Viña Real and Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva from 1976-1964

October 23, 2017 1 comment

Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE), founded in 1879, is one of the oldest Rioja producers. For nearly one century CVNE has produced the top brands of Viña Real and Imperial. Over this period the wines developed the reputation as consistent  both in high-quality and long-life with the particular decades of the 1940s through the 1970s considered the classic age. This month a small group of us explored the tail end of this age by tasting five vintages of both Viña Real and Imperial Gran Reservas from 1976 back to 1964.

CVNE is a unique estate in that there are only five winemakers over the course of its long history. For the vintages we tasted our focus begins with the third head winemaker Ezequiel Garcia (1930 – 2017).  He was born in Anguciana, a small town near Haro, and worked at CVNE from 1958 through 1973.

The 1920 harvest arrives at CVNE. Image provided by CVNE.

Imperial was first produced in the 1920s. It is always bottled in a Bordeaux shaped bottle and is named after the Imperial pint bottles it was once sold in. This wine is traditionally a majority of Tempranillo with a bit of Graciano, Mazuelo, and Viura largely from the Rioja Alta. The Viña Real brand name was registered in 1940 but it existed previously under different variations. The name stems from the Camino Real or Royal Road next to which many of the vineyards lie. It is bottled in the iconic Burgundy shaped bottle containing Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo largely sourced from the Rioja Alavesa.

Ezequiel Garcia produced Imperial at the CVNE winery in Haro and Viña Real at the Viña Real winery in Elciego. For each brand there were different levels of quality. From top to bottom quality, Imperial was historically sold as Gran Reserva and Reserva with the Viña Real as Reserva Especial, Reserva, and 4 año. With the new wine regulations of the 1970s Viña Real wines were renamed Gran Reserva, Reserva, and Crianza. The Imperial names did not change.

The Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva bottlings are meant to be the best quality wine possible, produced only in the best vintages using the best fruit. Such was the quality of the wines produced by Ezequiel Garcia during the 1960s and 1970s that the author and journalist Xavier Domingo nicknamed him “El Brujo” or the wizard.  It is these wines that I poured at the tasting.

A wine is only as good as the fruit that it is produced from so credit must be given to Jose Angel de Madrazo y Real de Asua, 4th generation of the founding brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asua. Jose Madrazo joined the CVNE Board of Directors in the mid-1960s soon becoming General Manager of Viña Real. CVNE sources fruit from vineyards they own but also from others under long-term contracts. One of Jose Madrazo’s responsibilities was to maintain these contracts and to seek out other grapes for all the quality levels at Viña Real. It is he who discovered the vineyards at Laserna. Such was the quality of the Laserna fruit that Ezequiel Garcia used it exclusively for the Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva. These vines at Laserna would eventually form the single-vineyard estate of Vinedos del Contino.

The Viña Real and Imperial wines were always meant to be different. They were made at different wineries with different blends sourced from different plots with different climates. During the 1940s through the 1970s, Viña Real always featured at least one-third Garnacha Tina with a typical blend of 40% Garnacha, 40% Tempranillo, and 20% other varieties including Mazuelo. Imperial never included Garnacha Tinta and featured more Mazuela and even some Graciano.

Cement tanks at El Carmen winery inaugurated in 1940. Image provided by CVNE.

Viña Real was made at a small winery in Elciego built in the 1920s. Imperial was made at the El Carmen winery in Haro.  Inaugurated in 1940, it was the first winery with concrete tanks in Rioja. Epoxy-lined concrete tanks were also installed at Viña Real. The Viña Real winery was small so the wines were vinified there then underwent barrel aging at CVNE in Haro. In 1957, the year before Ezequiel Garcia began work at CVNE, the 1941 Imperial was still in barrel. Under Garcia, the duration the Gran Reserva spent in American oak was slowly reduced to at least six years by the 1970s.

1976 Imperial Gran Reserva aging in barrel. Image provided by CVNE.

In 1973, Ezequiel Garcia left CVNE for Bodegas Olarra. He vinified the wine from the 1973 harvest but the final blend was made by the fourth CVNE winemaker Basilio Izquierdo Torres. Torres, who studied in Bordeaux, worked at CVNE from 1974 through 2004. Thus the vintages we tasted may be classified as: 1976 (Torres), 1973(Garcia/Torres), 1970 (Garcia), 1966 (Garcia), and 1964 (Garcia).

It was also in 1973, that CVNE and others, purchased the Laserna vineyards and formed Vinedos del Contino. The first Contino harvest occurred in 1974 so all of the Contino fruit from the 1973 vintage was still destined for the Viña Real Gran Reserva. It took a while for the Contino facilities to be built up so a large proportion of the excellent Contino fruit continued to be used in the Viña Real Gran Reserva. Today, Viña Real continues to use fruit from the Laserna region including plots that literally border the Contino estate.

Bottling of the 1970 Imperial Gran Reserva. Image provided by CVNE.

Across all five of the vintages we tasted, the Viña Real Reserva Especial and Gran Reserva all demonstrate deep aromas, full-bodied flavor, and extra complexity from earth and animale notes. The Imperial are brighter, more structured with noticeable acidity and more control over the flavors.  All of the bottles have aged very well with a general increase in liveliness as the wines became older.

The pair from 1976 showed good, complex flavor yet came across as fully mature.  The pair from 1973 exhibit less complexity yet are fresh and lively in the mouth.  I personally would rather drink the 1976s for the flavor but many preferred the 1973s for their condition.  Both wines from the 1970 vintage demonstrated a significant increase in complexity and energy.  The 1970 Viña Real is deep, earthy, mouth filling, and ethereal with a level of energy that made me pause.  The 1970 Imperial leans towards a core of fruit propelled by acidity, leaving a texture in the mouth.  The 1966 pair are lighter in flavor.  The 1966 Viña Real offers up more flavor than the 1966 Imperial but both wines should be drunk up.

It is a remarkably testament to the greatness of the 1964 vintage and the capable hand of Ezequiel Garcia, that the wines from 1964 are the most energetic and long-lived of all we tasted.  That is no small feat considering the 1964 Imperial was served from two half-bottles!  The aromas are to dream of, the flavors are a bit closely played but the mouthfeel is oily and luxurious.  My favorite wine of the night is the 1964 Viña Real.  It is mouth filling with complexity yet never weighs down the palate.  The interplay of flavor, texture, and acidity are remarkable.

We are fortunate in that not one of our bottles was bad allowing the personality of Viña Real and Imperial to shine through all of the vintages tasted.  If you have yet to taste mature CVNE you must set your sights on the 1964 Viña Real Reserva Especial.  If that is too expensive, the 1970 Viña Real Gran Reserva is a relative bargain.  These two wines in particular should be tried by all lovers of mature red wine.

CVNE is still run by family members including Maria Urrita Ybarra, Director of Marketing, who answered many of my questions and provided the historic images used in this post. I must also thank Jesús Madrazo, son of Jose Madrazo, 5th generation of the founding brothers, and former Technical Director of Contino, who kindly replied to all of my emails as well.  Finally, I thank my friend Mannie Berk, founder of The Rare Wine Co., whose careful acquisition of these bottles enabled this tasting to take place.


Arrival Champagne

1984 Le Mesnil, Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A youthful yellow color with just a hint of gold. The wine greets with a good set of strong, yet finely textured bubbles. This is a surprisingly youthful with with yellow fruit, and a core of berries throughout. With extended air sweet spices come out. ***(*) Now – 2037.


The CVNE Wines

 

1976 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. The deep nose offers up dark, sweaty aromas. In the mouth the deep note is echoed in the soft entry. There is a bit of a sweet vein of fruit with some supporting structure in the end. This bottle is fully mature with good depth. With air the fine red fruit flavor takes on an old wood note. *** Now – 2020.

1976 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a coffee-like hint on the modest nose. In the mouth is a soft, seductive start then a bright note buoyed by the watering acidity. The flavors are more linear with dry black fruit, and a subtle wood note.  *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A fine, clean nose reveals familiar deep aromas, and sweet red scents. With air it takes on floral aromas. In the mouth are cherry fruits framed by a fine structure. It offers good grip and presence with a rounded body. The cherry note continues in the finish and into the ethereal aftertaste. *** Now – 2022.

1973 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a noticeably dark core to the color. The nose is less aromatic with hints of funk and pungency which eventually clean up. However, there is a brighter start with slightly sour flavors. The flavors are lighter weight, carried by watering acidity, and some grip in the finish. *** Now – 2022.

1970 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are finely woven flavors of deep, sweet strawberry fruit. Complexity is gained through a subtle amount of earth and animale flavors. This is a beautiful wine, full of flavor, yet ethereally light through the long aftertaste. The energy of the wine makes you take notice as the wine will continue to drink well for a long time. ****(*) Now – 2027.

1970 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. Another lovely wine. The bright start takes on a gentle, sweet core of red and black fruits propelled by watering acidity. There are complex spices, animale flavors, and wood notes. This finely textured wine still has youthful grip.  **** Now – 2027.

1966 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. In a way there is sweeter fruit in this wine. Though it is lighter in flavor and body there is complexity from low-lying minerals and wood notes. It offers more fruit than the Imperial. It is in a good state of life given the lesser vintage. *** Now.

1966 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. I found this tart with watery flavor, less weight, and dry structure. ** Now.

1964 CVNE, Viña Real, Rioja Reserva Especial
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There are deep aromas of leather and earth. In the mouth the red fruit has youthful grip with a gorgeously fine interplay of fruit, earth, and animale notes. The wine becomes drier towards the finish. This is a beautifully focused wine with both fruit, acidity, and structure to continue its glacial evolution for years to come. If you enjoy that sweet concentration resulting from traditional winemaking and old age then look no further.  ****(*) Now – 2032.

1964 CVNE, Imperial, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. What a beautiful nose! Again this shows more focus and structure but the the vintages give the flavors extra strength and weight. Black fruited in general added mouthfeel comes out of nowhere from a luxurious oily bit. I wonder if it will open up even more? **** Now – 2027.


Dinner Wines

NV Krug, Grande Cuvée 164 eme Edition, Champagne Brut
Imported by Moet Hennessy USA.  Alcohol 12.5%. This already smells complex with a young aroma of apple. In the mouth this is a youthful wine with assertive bubbles then a very fine mousse. The yellow fruit and gentle baking spices are of good complexity and long duration. **** Now – 2037.

1996 Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, Rioja Reserva
Imported by Tempranillo Inc.  There is a pungent nose of berries and banana foster. It is a fresh and gentle wine in the mouth back by good weight. Despite the young age, it is drinking very well showing both mature flavors and a core of covert fruit. **** Now – 2022.

1985 Torres, Grand Sangre de Torro, Penedes
This wine is a blend of 70% Garnacha and 30% Carinena.  There is a bright red fruit in the complex start. It morphs from earthy, sweet fruit in the start to dry black fruit in the finish. A ripe Garnacha character comes out with air. This is not a wine for the ages rather a solid, mature wine to drink now. *** Now – 2020.

1973 Paternina, Conde de los Andes, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. A brilliant color! The tart red fruit on the nose smells of some age due to a roasted earth note. In the mouth are lighter flavors of cranberry and red fruits which are match by the acidity driven profile. This is a clean with, slightly short in the finish, yet the aftertaste still leaves texture on the gums. *** Now but will last.

1970 Bodegas Bilbainas, Vina Pomal, Rioja Crianza
A Chambers Street Wines selection imported by T. Elenteny. Tired on the nose and in the mouth. The rounded start brings rather advanced flavors and a short finish. *(*) Drink Up.

NV Emilio Lustau, Sherry Very Rare Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia
Imported by Europvin USA.  This is enjoyable pungent on the nose with polished wood, fresh orange citrus notes, and some deep aromas.  Noticeably less complex in the mouth with a dry, linear, saline flavors of nuts and yellow citrus wrapped up by a warm finish.  *** Now – 2027+.


NV Barbeito, Terrantez Reserve Madeira
Imported by the Rare Wine Co. There is a sweet nose of brown sugar backed by the slightest pungency. In the mouth there is still, fine sweet fruit of good weight. The sweetness is expertly balanced by the acidity. It picks up a lovely foxiness in the finish. **** Now – whenever.

A Spanish dinner including a pair of 1970 Rioja

October 17, 2017 Leave a comment

For our most recent wine dinner with Sudip we departed from 1970s Californian wines to those of Rioja.  As we were joined by Taz and his family we tasted through a few more bottles than normal.  Per usual, I provided the wines and Sudip cooked.  All of the bottles were sourced from The Rare Wine Co., which meant fun was to be had.

The NV Pol Breteuil, Champagne Brut certainly set the bar.  This is a late 1980s early 1990s release which, given the impeccable bottle condition, is only first revealed by the color of the wine.  At first I thought the wine was on the down-slope from peak maturity but with warmth, air, and an expletive from Sudip I realized I was wrong.  I can post the “delicious” part of his comment which, as a one-word tasting note, I cannot improve upon.

We tasted the red wines from youngest to oldest.  The 2015 Alegre Valganon, Rioja Tinto is a result of the young project of Oscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón.  They employ traditional techniques with their own preference of showing less oak influences.  Their blend of 75% Tempranillo and 25% Garnacha is inspired by that of CVNE Viña Real.  The result is a highly aromatic wine of articulate flavor and fine texture.  It was the favorite red wine for a few people.  Of course a bottle of 2007 CVNE, Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva followed.  This deep flavored wine is already showing a mature edge.  It provides ample flavor and intensity yet is light in the mouth.

With dinner we tucked into a pair of Rioja from the excellent 1970 vintage.  At a recent tasting of CVNE Rioja I was impressed by the quality of the 1970 vintage compared to the legendary 1964.  First up, the 1970 Bodegas Lagunilla, Viña Herminia Rioja comes an estate founded in the 1890s.  The estate remained in the family until 1970 when it was acquired by Croft.  Lagunilla did not own any vineyards, instead they purchased wine which they matured and blended. Viña Herminia is a particular label created in 1949 in honor of the second generation owner’s wife.  This bottle has a deep, traditional nose which is much different than the bright, fresh flavors in the mouth.

We followed the Lagunilla with a bottle of 1970 Campo Viejo, Rioja Gran Reserva.  Campo Viejo was founded only in 1959.  It soon reached a production level of some 35 times that of Lagunilla!  I can only imagine that such a large operation ensured they had access to good quality fruit.  With our bottle, both the aromas and flavors complement each other.  It is immediately obvious that there is a marked increase in complexity and weight with well-defined strawberry flavors.  It is another delicious wine.

NV Pol Breteuil, Champagne Brut
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  A golden-yellow color with bronze highlights.  There is fresh grip to the mature flavors that mix with apple orchard and toast notes.  The flavors have good depth which becomes apparent as the wine opens and improves with air.  The fine vein of strong bubbles matches the taut profile.  With air the finish becomes oily and the aftertaste racy.  Delicious! Would benefit from decanting.   ***(*) Now-2027.

2015 Alegre Valganon, Rioja Tinto
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  This wine is a blend of 75% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha fermented with indigenous yeast on stems then was aged 12-18 months in various French oak barrels. Highly aromatic with bright red fruit.  In the mouth is a grapey hint of red fruit then black fruit.  There is a grapey depth to the flavor, pepper hint, and an ethereal aftertaste.  *** Now – 2022.

2007 CVNE, Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The deep wood scents are engaging.  In the mouth are maturing flavors.  This acidity-driven wine has deep flavor and good grip yet is lighter in the mouth than expected. ***(*) Now – 2025.

1970 Bodegas Lagunilla, Viña Herminia Rioja
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  The subtle nose reveals deep, sweaty aromas.  In the mouth is a brighter than expected start that is acidity driven.  The wine has an ethereally fresh texture and good grip.  Lovely acidity.  It improves with air and even the edges soften a touch.  *** Now but will last.

1970 Campo Viejo, Rioja Gran Reserva
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  There is good depth on the nose and in the mouth the familiar taste of an old Rioja.  This wine is great during the first two hours.  There are sweet, sweaty flavors which bear weight and a touch of texture.  The flavors develop into strawberry with tart red and black components.  It is moved along by watering acidity into the textured finish.  **** Now but will last.

Back to the golden-age: A tasting of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Chateauneuf-du-Pape from 1990-1961

September 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Paul Jaboulet Aîné, founded in 1834, remains a major negociant to this day.  The Hermitage “La Chapelle” needs no introduction as it is still a benchmark for Northern Rhone wines. Today we would not include the Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Cèdres” as amongst the best of the region but it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a handful of vineyard owners bottled their own wine during this period which allowed Paul Jaboulet Aîné to purchase wine from top vineyards, the names of which are highly coveted today.

Paul Jaboulet Aîné has original vineyard holdings in Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth explained to me how Northern Rhone merchants felt they should have Southern Rhone wines in their portfolio. These were marketed towards French restaurants and the export trade. Thus the Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Les Cèdres” is a brand name marketed in the US and Great Britain and “La Grappe des Papes” elsewhere.

John Livingstone Learmonth writes that this was the “benchmark house” when he started in the wine business in 1973.  Robert Parker echoes this sentiment rating the Chateauneuf-du-Pape vintages prior to 1970 with the top mark of five stars.  This past weekend a group of us gathered in my house to explore these golden years by tasting 11 vintages from 1990 back to 1961.

The four oldest vintages tasted 1970, 1966, 1964, and 1961 were produced by Louis Jaboulet, grandson of founder Paul Jaboulet. It is Louis Jaboulet who selected the wines that went into these vintages.  With his passing away in 2012 the background history of these great wines was lost.[1]  What we do know is very little and often repeated.  Robert Parker writes that the 1967 was produced from old-vine wine from Chateau La Nerthe.  He also writes that the older vintages were predominantly or entirely made from Grenache.

My overall impression is that in moving back in time, decade by decade, the wines become more interesting and exciting.  The 1990 and 1989 vintages are young in evolution but in different ways.  The former is integrated yet tight whereas the later offers rounder fruit but with tangy grip from age-worthy structure.  The first mature vintage is 1983 which attracted me with its sweaty, old-school aromas.  The 1982 requires a day for the nose to clean up at which point it is a mature, quieter wine. Both of these vintages should be drunk soon.  Youthful form returned in the 1981 vintage which is finely scented and flavored.  Out of magnum I would wait several more years before revisiting.

The excellent vintages of 1979, 1978, and 1970 made for a very satisfying flight.  These wines are mature but will drink in good form for several more years.  They all bear fruit backed by weight and a sweaty/animale note that I like.

We had an off bottle of 1964 thus our oldest decade was represented by 1966 and 1961.  For me the level of interest stepped up one more notch over the 1970s for the 1966 is downright exciting. The balance between red fruit, sweet concentration, levity, bottle age complexity, and life pulls you into your glass.  It should drink at this level for several more years.  If the 1966 is generous the 1961 is structured, controlled, and dry in nature.  It is made complex by leather and perfumed notes.

It is clear that Louis Jaboulet was able to source some fine wine for his vintages of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Not only do these wines highlight the quality level a top negociant could achieve but increase the notion of longevity of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I must point out that this tasting would not have occurred without the willingness of Mannie Berk, founder of the Rare Wine Co., who generously opened up his inventory to me.  He imported all of these wines which included a combination of ex-domaine and private cellar acquisitions.

After the tasting we drank a few more wines.  One generous guest opened a bottle of 1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle which required until the second night to show its glorious potential.  With dessert came the 1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port which I found to be completely mature.  It is all sweet fruit and spices.


Arrival Champagne

 

2000 Charles Heidsieck, Champagne Brut Millésimé
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  A light golden color.  The mousse tickles the tongue before the wine seamlessly transitions to a fresh, grippy presence.  The mouth feel matches the chalk flavor from which notes of apple orchard, some supple weight, and spiced chalk come out.  A fine glass.  **** Now – 2020.


Flight #1

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.  Alcohol 13.5%. The nose is tight at first but slowly reveals interesting aromas of sweet, sweaty leather, and garrrigue. In the mouth are fresh red fruit flavors around a fine vein of herbs and wood. The flavors are moved along by watering acidity. With air, this slowly evolving wine, shows complicated garrigue and wood notes. *** Now – 2027.

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 14%. Slightly maderized on the nose but with aromas of darker fruit and plums. In the mouth the flavors have good weight, eventually revealing cherries and sweet fruit. There is a bit of a tang and polished wood note. ** Now.

1989 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  Alcohol 13.5%. This is every so slightly darker than the first trio. A tight nose at first but the palate has lovely grip from the structure which adds pleasing texture to the blue/red fruits and garrigue. Unlike the 1990, there is a very fine tannic structure and it is also more forward in flavor. It is easy to appreciate the rounder flavors, tangy grip, and sweet raspberry aftertaste. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #2

1983 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins. The nose is sweet and sweaty, certainly old-school. With air a freshness and tobacco aroma come out. Watering acidity brings forth a start of sweet and rounded flavors made more complex by incense. The wine is clearly mature. Though there is red fruit with some weight, though lighter than the 1989, the wine dries by the finish. There is also a touch of structure lurking about. ***(*) Now – 2022.

1982 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Quite aromatic with a hint of cheese and metal which eventually improves to be funky. In the mouth the wine oscillates in appeal. At best, the grippy structure and sweet red aftertaste appeal but there is more structure than fruit. ** Now.

1981 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine, en magnum
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13%.  This is a finely scented wine of dark aromas. In the mouth it is clearly in fine condition with red then blacker fruit, fresh acidity, and a finely textured and well-integrated tannic structure. With air raspberry flavors and firm red fruit come out. There is an ethereal quality to the fruit. **** Now – 2027.


Flight #3

1979 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The lightest of the trio but with good brilliance. The berries and cherries on the nose are a touch firm with a hint of roast. In the mouth is also a slightly roasted note but the sweet, small berried fruit has weight and longevity in profile. It is a bit animale. ***(*) Now – 2020.

1978 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.  Aromas of cherries, cranberries, and bright herbs eventually take on sweat, incense, and a green note. The flavors are rounder than the 1979 yet are light in weight, carried through by watering acidity. The entire wine is underpinned by structure and spiced tannins that are perfectly integrated. This wine eventually reveals itself to be long lived, lovely, and complete. **** Now – 2025.

1970 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by Vieux Vins.  The darkest of the trio, slightly cloudy. Also the most robust of the trio with a closely played berry core with tangy flavors lefts on the sides of the mouth. With air the wine becomes brighter with red, rounded berry flavors, tartness, and a hint of cola. Good watering acidity. **** Now – 2022.


Flight #4

1966 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Grappe des Papes
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. I just wanted to smell and taste this wine. There is a fine interplay between the red fruit, sweet concentration, and ethereal flavor. It is light in body yet flavorful with complexity from leather and animale flavors. Simply a point. ****(*) Now but will last.

1964 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%.   This bottle is toast! Not Rated.

1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Les Cèdres ex-domaine
Imported by the Rare Wine Co.   Alcohol 13.5%. The nose offers up sweet fruits and leather then with air banana foster. In this mouth this is a dry wine, a characteristic which naturally matches the perfumed flavor. There is controlled ripeness and watering acidity. **** Now but will last.


Dinner Wines

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aîné, Hermitage, La Chapelle
Imported by Frederick Wildman.  The dark cherry and garnet color is still youthful. There are fine scented berries on the nose. In the mouth there is great purity with black and purple fruit, hints of leather all delivered with great focus. On the second night the wine is markedly improved with a savory profile to the dark fruit. Is is still youthful but the flavors takes on weight and a mineral dimension. It is also still structured but there is plenty of flavor for development as the long, mouth filling finish attests too. ***(**) Now – 2037.

1983 Graham’s, Vintage Port
Imported by Premium Port Wines.  Alcohol 20%.  This is finely scented with sweet fruit, spices, and wood box. The rounded, red fruited start is dusted with ripe, baking spices. The structure is largely resolved so there is a sense of balance because the wine is in a sweet spot.  *** Now – 2022.

[1]According to correspondence with Jean Luc Chapel, Prestige Account Manager, Paul Jaboulet Aîné on 27 September 2017.

Delicious all Pinot Meunier Champagne from Jerome Prevost

August 15, 2017 2 comments

At the young age of 21, Jerome Prevost took over a 2 ha parcel of vines near Reims from his grandmother.  For ten year Prevost sold the fruit to negociants until shortly after he began to work at Jacques Selosse when he began to kept the fruit for himself.  It is here, under the eye of Anselme Selosse, that Prevost begin to make his own wine from his tiny vineyard of Les Beguines in Gueux.  Prevost soon built a cellar near the vineyard where he produced the bottle of NV (2008) Jerome Prevost, Champagne La Closerie Extra Brut Les Beguines Mannie Berk, Rare Wine Co., recently opened for me.

Prevost produced this wine from a single vintage using fruit from his vineyard.  What is particularly unusual is that this wine is made entirely from Pinot Meunier.  Pinot Meunier plantings account for nearly one-third of those in Champagne yet the variety is clearly ranked behind Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Pinot Meunier is often planted in areas where the other varieties struggle to grow.  It is not regarded as aging well.

Prevost vineyard was planted in the late 1950s.  He keeps yields very low, hand harvests, and ferments with indigenous yeasts in oak.  After 18 months in bottle he disgorges and finishes without dosage.

As the chill left our bottle and the wine breathed in the glass, I was treated to a fantastic Champagne.  The bubbles are very delicate at the start followed by a textured mousse and vinous finish which makes it easy to drink.  The fruit is almost juicy to begin with which please the taste buds and the chalky grip makes it alive in the mouth.  This wine, based on the 2008 vintage, is beginning to take on bottle aged flavors.  I imagine it will provide great interest over the next decade.

NV (2008) Jerome Prevost, Champagne La Closerie Extra Brut Les Beguines
Imported by The Rare Wine Co.  This wine is 100% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12.5%.  It is a light golden straw in the glass.  It is the core of delicate berry flavors first noticed followed by the very delicate bubbles which soon form a textured mousse.  With a brief amount of air this is a lovely, maturing wine with a rounded, almost juicy start.  The wine soons adds a chalky grip by the middle with an underlying wood note adding complexity. With warmth it hits a sweet spot becoming very vinous.  **** Now – 2027.

Italian Barbera from 1964 to 2013

The gray weather parted allowing a small group of us to taste through a range of Barbera on my back deck. Unspoken etiquette ensured we had bottles of Champagne and white wine to occupy ourselves as the bottles of Barbera were opened and I fussed with the grill. Both starter bottles were excellent. Having now tasted NV Demiere Ansiot, Champagne Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs I can state that I want to drink it again. This is surprisingly complex Champagne with frothy bubbles and balance such that it should be drunk up right now. If you like mature Champagne go buy several bottles. The 2007 Red Newt, Gewurztraminer, Curry Creek Vineyard, Finger Lakes is comparatively younger in profile with its dense flavors of nuts and tropical fruit. It is a lot of wine.

We began the Barbera tasting with a trio of four old wines, one of which was bagged. My favorite is the 1967 Casa Vinicola Antonio Vallana, Barbera del Cantina di Bacco. Some did not like it which meant I was left with the lion’s share of old-school sweaty aromas and sweet, concentrated, silky fruit. From the same vintage I also liked the 1967 Cattaneo Adorno Giustiniani, Castello di Gabiano Riserva which with one “b” is one of Italy’s smallest DOCs from Monferrato and not to be confused with the estate from the south of Florence. The brighter fruit and blood are gently delivered making for a different expression of Barbera. This brightness could be attributed to the wine containing up to 10% Freisa and Grignolino.  Our oldest bottle of 1964 Poderi di Luigi Einaudi, Barbera is a survivor for I drank a glass of leftovers the next night with only slightly diminished pleasure. It is bright, tart, and bit acidic making it more of a curiosity. The brown-bagged 1974 Angelo Papagni, Barbera is a wine that is simply too old.

Our next two bottles were flawed. It is a shame because the 1990 Poderi Aldo Conterno, Conca Tre Pile, Barbera D’Alba has the potential to be very good. There is not telling what the 1999 Elio Grasso, Vigna Martina, Barbera D’Alba should be like.

In young territory the 2005 Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa, La Bogliona, Barbera D’Asti is young primary and attractively floral. In contrast the 2006 Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa, La Bogliona, Barbera D’Asti sports heft, brawn, and good flavor. It is one to age for many more years. Also promising is the elegant and impeccably balanced 2008 Bartolo Mascarello, Barbera D’Alba. The last bottle of 2013 Coppo, Pomorosso, Barbera d’Asti proved to be the youngest and most modern wine. It is a good, articulated wine but not of my preferred style.  Based on these wines I would like to repeat the tasting but focus in on 1990s and older.

NV Demiere Ansiot, Champagne Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs
Becky Wasserman selection imported by USA Wine Imports. This wine is 100% Chardonnay. Alcohol 12%. The nose begins with a yeast hint then toast and apple orchard aromas which together make for a very satisfying nose. In the mouth are racy flavors of delicate berries, definitely fruity, and frothy bubbles. The fizz is not hard rather it is subtle. This is an excellent wine for drinking now, it is complex with baking spices and a clean finish.  **** Now.

2007 Red Newt, Gewurztraminer, Curry Creek Vineyard, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 14.7%. The color is bright and golden with a green hint. The flavors mix nuts with tropical fruit with a tilt towards sweet flavors. This fine, dense wine has a minerally middle.  Good stuff! **** Now – 2020.

1964 Poderi di Luigi Einaudi, Barbera
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose is musky at first morphing to old leather as it cleans up and with air adds in cinnamon. The wine itself is earthy with bright acidity and a clean flavor profile of tart cherry and cranberry red fruit. It is a little tired towards the finish but the tart fruit persists in the aftertaste. ** Now.

1974 Angelo Papagni, Barbera (brown bagged mystery wine)
Alcohol 12.5%. A garnet color but one sniff and taste tell that this wine is way past prime. Not Rated.

 

1967 Cattaneo Adorno Giustiniani, Castello di Gabiano Riserva
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. This wine is probably a blend of 90%-95% Barbera with the rest Freisa and Grignolino.  Alcohol 11%-14%. The nose smells of blood. In the mouth this is a bright, forward wine with nice bright acidity and up-front grip. It sports an old-school gentleness and softness. Notes of polished wood eventually come out. The blood returns in the aftertaste. *** Now but will last.

1967 Casa Vinicola Antonio Vallana, Barbera del Cantina di Bacco, Colline Novaresi
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 12.5%. The nose is old-school, sweaty and sweet. In the mouth the ripe fruit is sweet with concentration. This silky, smooth wine gains focus and length with air. There is fine texture and weight to the core of fruit which is surrounded by sweaty notes and wood. **** Now but will last.

1990 Poderi Aldo Conterno, Conca Tre Pile, Barbera D’Alba
Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. Alcohol 11%-14%. Sadly cooked on the nose. In the mouth though are gobs of mouth filling fruit with a fine, ripe texture from the tannins. There are tart red fruit flavors in the finish. Correct bottles should be quite good. Not Rated.

1999 Elio Grasso, Vigna Martina, Barbera D’Alba
Alcohol 14.5%. Bad bottle! Not Rated.

2005 Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa, La Bogliona, Barbera D’Asti
Alcohol 14%. The nose is still young and clean with finely scented aromas of violets. Still youthful in the most this primary wine is fresh with watering acidity. ***(*) Now – 2027.

2006 Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa, La Bogliona, Barbera D’Asti
Alcohol 14%. The color is darker with a purple tinge. The nose sports more heft to the aromas. In the mouth the flavors are brawnie and matched by additional tannins. There is dark red fruit, rounded feel, and a good personality. This will age for a long time. ***(*) Now – 2032.

2007 G. D. Vajra, Barbera D’Alba Superiore
Imported by The Country Vintner. Alcohol 14.5%. It is hard to get past the over-ripe, full-bore fruit. The wine becomes tangy with serious weight.  ** Now.

 

2008 Bartolo Mascarello, Barbera D’Alba
Imported by The Rare Wine Co. Alcohol 14%. An elegant nose moves on to bright red fruit over a black fruit foundation. This wine is balanced with grippy personality, texture and some ink. The structure is finely integrated with the fruit. ***(*) Now – 2027.

2013 Coppo, Pomorosso, Barbera d’Asti
Imported by Folio Wine Partners. Alcohol 14.5%. This is an articulated, young, modern wine that is not without attraction. Not really my style but I can appreciate it.  *** Now – 2025.