It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge. Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.
In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day. The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.
Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.
I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s. The Food & Beverage Director I was working with was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955. I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it. (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then). I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages.
Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s. I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first. How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?
With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models. Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.
I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other. Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.
I can still say the same today.
I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family. In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe. I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.
Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened. On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.
As expected, I was amazed at the wine list. It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.
Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some wine. After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list! Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001. They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell. His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special. During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue. In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well. It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew. The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines. It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit. In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released. That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.
I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills. That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink. Why? Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple. 11 years old, $75….even more so. Thanks Gary!!!!
So, that bottle didn’t last very long! The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively. Ok, let’s order bottle #2. 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”. This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night. Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation. This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots. Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up. It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that. Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured. I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time. Be patient. It will be worth the wait, believe me.
That bottle was also emptied far too quickly. Ok, one last bottle. We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, also $62.50!!!! Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots. Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character. As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.
I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming. Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way. There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.
If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!
Here are some interesting wines we recently tasted.
Vinho Verde Branco–no frills packaging & finished with a screw cap. VERY value driven wine from Portugal, which is certainly apropos for hot weather sipping. PLUS, the price point is crazy good! (I wonder how, considering the cost of the screw cap, label, bottle, box, shipping, tax, etc???? The wine is fresh, FIZZY, lower in alcohol (& therefore has residual sugar/sweetness), tasty & VERY refreshing. There is a star fruit pungency (later as it warmed up–an almost cactus/almost stagnant flower vase water smell) with a lime zest edge. Still, it over delivers for the dollar on the palate. 85% loureiro, 7.5 trajadura, 7.5% arinto.
Fulget Albarino—I really thought the Albarino category was supposed to explode in popularity years ago. I am still waiting. I think at least part of the problem is the scarcity of really tasty, interesting options. Over the years, there are in fact only 2 from Spain, which I buy. I almost dread when someone today, asks me to taste an albarino. Such was the case for this tasting. Interestingly, I initially preferred a Portuguese alvarinho & another alvarinho blend, which preceeded this wine. It has some of the perfume & minerality I typically hope for, but I initially found it hard & not too delicious with some bitterness in the finish. After, however, tasting some red wines & coming back to this wine, I appreciated it more. This is the one of 3 albarino’s from the house of Major I preferred.
Rol de Coisas Antigas Bairrada Tinto–quite masculine, dusty, earthy, rustic with juicy, ripe fruit, good weight…..certainly much more intriguing & interesting than so many of the correct, rather soul-less wines we often run across. 35% baga, 25% castelao, 10% alfronchera, 10% tricadeira, 5% bastardo, 5% souzao, 10% tinta prinheira.
Conceito Bastardo–surprisingly light in color, with wonderful perfume–floral, red fruit, earth, exotic spice, rustic edges, masculine & musky….yet surprisingly delicious & seamless on the palate. 100% Bastardo.
Casa da Passarella Dao Tinto–such a pretty, intriguing nose & perfume. Lots of red fruit with spice, earth, rusticity & musky. Masculine yet suave, seamless with surprising refinement. Quite a value! 20% tinto roriz, 40% touriga nacionale, 20% alfrocheira, 20% jaen (aged 8 months ijn French oak)
This was yet another opportunity to get together with some of the Islands’ top, young sommeliers, for all to share insights, wines & experiences. It is always a fabulous time, to say the least.
2009 & 1999 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”—we started this blind tasting with a pair of Scherrer Zinfandels. Why? First of all, I was looking to reiterate right out of the gates, the concept of what a “good” wine is. I think the Scherrer Zins are some of the VERY best out of California. Furthermore, stylistically, they are very unique–much more elegant & suave (a style REALLY catching on right now…..tagging along the “In Pursuit of Balance” theme seen with Pinot Noir) without taking away from the vinosity & spice associated with this grape variety. In addition, we chose to pour an old & a younger one….actually 10 years apart. Quite a fascinating comparison. As one taster pointed out, the 1999 had much more intricacy & I felt it also showed more vinosity. In both cases the wines were stellar.
Birichino Malvasia Bianca–with this wine, I just wanted to again reiterate to younger wine professionals the growing importance “aromatic” grape varieties can play on the “pairing with fusion foods” front. This wine can work with an amazingly wide array of fusion foods.
2008 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard”—here was another opportunity to take tasters out of their “comfort zone” & reiterate what a “good wine” could be. It had mesmerizing minerality, wonderful intensity & concentration, flowed very evenly, seamlessly & completely on the palate & was not over oaked, bitter or alcoholic. Furthermore, since many less experienced tasters are more familiar with New World wines (& their profiles), I thought it would be fun to show them a New World wine which was more Old World in profile & style. Furthermore, this wine is only 13.5 degrees in alcohol, naturally, AND the generous amounts of new oak used in its winemaking, to me, is necessary to really frame it. I think tasters were really shocked to see this was Californian. Hopefully, this will be a spring board for tasters to imagine the possibilities.
2012 Dupeuble Beaujolais–This family has been at this for over 500 years! And, while the “trophy” wines get the acclaim & accolades, I think it is at least equally important that we celebrate & appreciate authentic, typical, incredibly food friendly “country” styled wines like this. I therefore believe we need to develop a separate rating scale for these kinds of wines with the criteria being–deliciousness, typicity, lightness, food friendliness & gulpability. if that were the case this wine would be a 100 pointer! Furthermore, I am hoping others will learn to relish the authencity, artisanal, more sustainable approach this family passionately delivers year after year. I would hate to see these kinds wines on some “endangered” category of wines.
2012 Maxime Magnon “La Demarrante”–I poured this wine to remind all of the huge puka that exists between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon. It is wines like this that could deftly create a step ladder between the 2. Maxime was born & raised in Burgundy. Given how pricey the land is in his neck of the woods, however, he settled down in Corbieres of southern France & has chosen to work with patches of old vine Carignane instead. Furthermore, this is a winery & winemaker/owner who truly champions sustainability both in the vineyard as well as the winery….to the point of being regarded as radical in his early days. Having worked stints with Didier Barral in Faugeres & Jean Foillard in Morgon, one can readily see both influences in Magnon & his winemaking, which captures the rusticity of the remote, wild countryside where the vines grown, done with purity, deliciousness, food friendliness & gulpability.
2001 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau“–over the years, I have had both hits & misses with the Grenache grape variety. Having said that, there are 2 wineries which perennially produce “tour de force” red wines, predominately Grenache. Vieux Telegraphe is, for me, at the top of the list…..& therefore, this 2001 will provide yet another benchmark for other Grenache based red wines to be measured by. Furthermore, here was an opportunity to remind tasters of that thought AND, at the same time, show yet another example of a wine which can help fill the void between Pinot & Cabernet.
2008 Follin-Arbelet Aloxe Corton—it really is getting harder & harder to keep up with all of the new hot shots popping up in Burgundy. Furthermore with the ever increasing price tag of top caliber red Burgundy, professional wine buyers also need to consider the quality versus price deliverance of each wine. Here was, therefore, an opportunity to show tasters a more traditionally styled red Burgundy, which over delivers for the price tag. Plus, while the 2008 vintage was only lukewarmly received, I love the purity, elegance & refinement of wines like this.
1996 Francois Jobard Blagny “La piece sous la bois”–Here was an opportunity to remind tasters how pure, more much feminine, ethereal & refined the Pinots from the Cote de Beaune can be……especially with some bottle age. Francois Jobard produces very traditional styled Burgundies. His son Antoine took over the domaine, I believe with the 2007 vintage. Sadly, this Pinot parcel has been replanted with Chardonnay. Yes, the end of an era.
2004 Cherisey Meursault Premier Cru “La Genellotte”–I wanted to again remind tasters of old style white Burgundy. Cherisey in located in the hamlet of Blagny, up at a higher elevation between the villages of Meursault & Puligny Montrachet. The grapes are therefore usually harvested 1 to 2 weeks later than the other, lower elevation vineyards of Meursault & Puligny Montrachet. Furthermore, because of the higher percentage of marl to the limestone & the more traditional winemaking, the resulting wines are much more stony in character & more masculine in style. Being 11 years in age, I was surprised how youthful this wine showed, but it certainly is quite a stand out! I am so glad some things don’t change.
2006 Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru “Ruchottes”–This was certainly done in a more flamboyant, en vogue style than the Cherisey & therefore attracted much more attention from the tasters. Classy, seamless, refined, suave, sophisticated, it was really eye catching (despite all of the fanfare of 2006 & its challenges in this area). Thank you to Sean for sharing this wine!
Dal Forno Romano & Quintarelli are the 2 iconic winemaking legends of Italy’s Veneto region, up in the northeast. As I once read somewhere, they produce “monster” Amarone red wines, which are not only very hard to get, but they are also quite pricey.
Interestingly, both producers also produce small amounts of insanely unctuous dessert styled passito wines when the conditions are right, which are even harder to get!
While Dal Forno produces a RED passito wine, named Vigna Seré (produced from mainly Corvina with some Rondinella, Coatina & Oseleta blended in & then aged for 36 months in new barrique), which he refers to as his crowning jewel…every now & then he also produces a white passito from mainly Gargenega with smaller amounts of Turbiana & Trebbiano Toscano blended in & then aged in barrique for 30 to 40 months. The 1997 is a decadently unctuous, thick elixir with all kinds of crazy, idiosyncratic nuances from white chocolate, vanilla bean creme brulee to marzipan, honey & beeswax. It really is as decadent as can be, & still so amazingly youthful. I cannot even begin to think what this wine will be like when it has a chance to resolve itself, not only in the residual sugar/sweetness front, but also what is preserved & hidden underneath, just waiting to emerge once the sweetness resolves.
“The rarest of all the Quintarelli wines—the current vintage is 2003 and the previous vintage was the 1990. It is named after a lost barrel that was hidden under food stores and undiscovered during a Nazi raid of the property during WWII. The barrel was discovered years later and the wine had aged beautifully“.
Just as Dal Forno & Quintarelli go head to head with their Amarone & Valpolicella wines, the battle continues with their passito wines. Amabile del Cerè is also mainly Gargenega with some Trebbiano Toscano & a smidgeon of Sauvignon Bianco, Chardonnay & Saorin. Typically, there is 30 to 40% noble rot & the wine spends 5 to 6 years in French oak. Yes, this is another amazing, completely decadent, rich, unctuous white wine.
When I am at the beach, I can smell the sand baking in the sun…….& the wet shrub behind me…..& the seaweed which has washed up on the shore. Interestingly, when I visit vineyards, I can smell the sun baked rocks, the wild shrub & herbs which surround the vineyard. That was the inspiration of this tasting. Here, then, are 4 wines which for me, smell of the countryside which surround the vineyard. It really is more than a romantic notion. Plus, I think each is a VERY unique & interesting wine in its own right. Just another really good opportunity to learn!
Collioure is a seaport village right on the Mediterranean, where the Pyranees Mountains dive into the multi blue hued sea. The finest sites are very steep, in fact too steep to use any type of machinery. The soil is sun baked rocky schist, which one can readily smell in the wine, much more predominantly than the vinous fruit of 35 to 70 year old vine Grenache.
2010 Domaine Vinci “Rafalot”
Vinci is a relatively new wine prodigy from the very remote, isolated, high altitude Agly Valley. They organically farm their 6 hectares & produce some very interesting wine. For me, their crown jewel is Rafalot, which is produced from 1 hectare of 100 year old vine Carignane. This is definitely a wine of the vineyard, as the roots have had time to dig down deep into the limestone base which lies underneath, & as wild as the desolate, remote countryside it calls home. Still, Rafalot has a deliciousness from the Carignane, which in combination with its wild streak makes it quite unforgettable. It took us a while to get this wine to the Islands, but we are thrilled it is finally here.
2009 Leon Barral “Jadis”
I first bought this wine with the 1993 vintage, mainly because I heard that Didier Barral took over at the helm. He had some real radical ideas of how he wanted to grow & craft his wines. The first few vintages were okay, but more importantly, one could see this project as headed in the right direction. There were, after that, a few vintages where the wines were too extreme & too radical. In the early 2000’s, the Jadis bottling was predominately Syrah based. While I am a huge fan of Syrah, in this case, I just wanted more. Well, we got more with the wines like the 2009, where old vine Carignane became the centerpiece for Didier to build from. The 2009 is in fact 50% Carignane & we love the results. Yes, the wine is still wildly rustic & certainly smells of the countryside, but now there is a deliciousness & a soulfulness to complete the picture. Bravo!!!
2013 Maestracci Calvi “E Prove”
We end this tasting with a wild & rustic Vermentino which is VERY much about the coutryside surrounding the vineyard on the Isle of Corsica. The estate vineyards are located on the granite plateau of Reginu in the foothills of Mounte Grossu. This is a pure, masculine styled white, which is much more about granite & countryside character than grape variety. Still, this wine is thankfully NOT overdone & is therefore a fascinating drink.
Angelo Gaja certainly has been quite the controversial figure in his neck of the woods & for many reasons. Still, he certainly has brought Italian nebbiolo to the world-class stage (with a huge cross over potential for Cabernet & Bordeaux drinkers) AND set the pace for top echelon prices & therefore a completely new standard for quality. The wine media have, for the most part, enthusiastically jumped on to the fast moving Gaja train, which is reflected by the perennial big scores & high praise. One would have thought with such a high profile meteoric rise to superstardom, there would have been a hitch, stall, or some kind of decline along the way. No such thing. The Gaja Piemontese train seems to be running at full steam & these 3 wines showed why.
Gaja produced some interesting red wines in the 90’s. I was, however, apprehensive about how his showy, flambouyant style would do in a big, ripe vintage like 1997. I knew the press would certainly love the wines, I just wondered if I would. Furthermore, I had recently had the 1998 & found it to be quite closed down & a shame to have opened the bottle at this atge of its life. It is so intense with a massive structure & quite a tannic grip. The 1997 in comparison, although also quite closed, is decidedly riper, with much more lavish, opulent fruit (MUCH rounder) & darker base notes than the 1998. A very powerful, mega-concentrated red which, in this case, can be quite the cross over wine for avid Bordeaux & California Cabernet collectors. You will be thrilled with this one, that’s for sure!
“Gaja’s Conteisa, although the grapes are grown in the Barolo appellation, is classified as Langhe DOC due to the 8% Barbera that is added to the Nebbiolo. Much to the chagrin of the local cognoscenti, Angelo believes the Barbera addition adds acidity and freshness to the wine. He also firmly states that this is no indication of a trend towards making Super Piemonte wines and his relatively new approach is used only in vintages that merit the addition. The wine is named for the medieval ‘conteisa,’ or quarrel, between the zones of La Morra and Barolo over the prime vineyard land of Cerequio“. Quite a different take on Nebbiolo than what I had previously experienced through his Barbaresco–seemingly more masculine, muskier & leaner. I have not had many Conteisa, so cannot make any broader statements, but will say I don’t think this 1997, as resounding as it is, is of Grand Cru kind of quality, at least in its youth.
I liked this wine alot. I remember thinking upon release how tight fisted, seemingly lean & mouth puckering this wine was. It has really started to open up again, even in comparison to 5 years ago when I last had it. It is pretty, has enticing perfume, wonderful fruit, structure & balance, done with class & superb craftsmanship.
In our ongoing search for “good” classical wine, here are FOUR from Burgundy. I use these as standards, not only for blind tasting, but more importantly to measure others by. Yes, just another really good opportunity to learn!
One of our all time favorite Beaujolais producers.
“While many critics attribute Michel Chignard’s success to the soil, Kermit would argue that his traditionalist stance on vineyard management and winemaking is essential to craft such great wines. As ardent defenders of traditional Beaujolais methods, the Chignards take a minimalist approach in both the vineyards and the cellar. The Chignard’s have recently started making wine from another Beaujolais cru, Juliénas, which produces a beautiful, high-toned wine in keeping with the style of the domaine. La Revue du Vin claims that the aromas from their wines evoke memories of the great Chambolle-Musignys from Burgundy, to the North…but who’s to say, maybe they got it reversed”.
2011 Henri Perrusset Macon Villages
A favorite, absolutely tasty, delicious, ‘country” styled Chardonnay. Not everything has to be aristocratic or grand. I also find “genuine” quite a fine attribute!
“For decades, the Mâconnais has been dominated by the banal bottlings of cooperative cellars; not the sort of quality that leads novices to explore the wines of the region. Henri Perrusset’s vineyards and home are located in the small town of Farges-les-Mâcon, on the northernmost spur of the limestone subsoil that characterizes the appellation of Mâcon. Farges is not far away from the village named (believe it or not) Chardonnay. The limestone in Farges is more marly than the compact limestone farther south in Pouilly-Fuissé. It is hard and intensely white, but breaks apart into small pieces and it is loaded with quartz and marine fossils as well. This type of soil is easier to work despite all the stones, provides great drainage for the vines, and gives the wines their grainy minerality. Our Mâcon-Villages is a custom blend of all his other holdings around Farges”.
2009 William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur”
Chardonnay in it’s purist form! Precise……pure……ethereal……sophisticated! In addition, these wines are certainly capable of aging, but for me, the real fascination is how these wines work at the dinner table. Furthermore, when one actually sees how small of an acreage the Grand Cru vineyards really are, perhaps they will appreciate the wines even more.
2006 Lucien Boillot Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru “Les Cherbaudes”
Classic RED Burgundy.
“Pierre Boillot is a rare master of both the Côtes de Beaune and the Côtes de Nuits–not only does he have the vineyards but also the savoir-faire and skill. He inherited very old vines from his father in the Côtes de Nuits, including a parcel of 94 year old vines right next to the Grand Cru, Chapelle Chambertin and some in the Côtes de Beaune from his great-grandfather Henri Boillot, who was originally from Volnay. Every wine is a classic representation of its appellation–from Volnay and Pommard to Gevrey and Nuits-Saint-Georges, as Pierre’s work in the cellars is geared towards transparent, terroir-driven wines of purity and finesse”.
I remember, for instance, a group of us, back in the 1970’s tasting lots of German wines–Rauenthaler Baiken; Rauenthaler Gehren, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Steinberger & Bernkastler Doktor, just to name a few. Yes, these were some of the standout German vineyards of the time & tasting the 1971, 1975 & 1976 was truly awe inspiring. & me being the youngster I had to write down the names phonetically, so I could try to remember each & its pronounciation. Today, I wonder how many here in the Islands know what each of these names represent? It has, in fact, been a while since I have even seen a bottle of any of these locally.
Back then, I think many insiders would say each of the above sites could be considered Grand Cru, if there ever was such a thing in Germany.
I was also reminded how much the climate has changed since then. At least on the top echelon of producers, a Kabinett back then was VERY different from a Kabinett today in terms of weight, extract, physiological ripeness & potential alcohol. Part of this is due to the generous sunshine, but something can also be said about top producers looking to make much more impactful styles of wine. I just tasted, for instance, through a line-up of Kabinett from the 2012 & 2013 vintage. I was astounded to see that most of these were harvested somewhere around 90 to 93 degrees Oechsle, which in the old days would have been labeled as an auslese. For me, then, the window of suitable food pairings changes significantly. Not better or worse…..just different.
And what has happened to the Syrah grape variety? It seems to have fallen off in popularity. What a sad state of decline. Syrah was once at the top of the quality pyramid.
The Chave family, as an example, was & still is, one of the world’s all time iconic wine families, mostly because of their grand Syrah based Hermitage red wine. Yes, the family has been working their magic on this legendary hillside since the late 1400’s. We just tasted a 1987 tonight & it was truly majestic & full of pedigree. 6 nights ago, we tasted another standout Syrah based red wine, the 1996 Noel Verset Cornas, & it too was an unforgettable experience we will treasure forever. So, what’s up? Why aren’t more people getting it?
It probably has, at least partially, something to do with deliciousness. The same can be said about Italian Nebbiolo based red wines–Barolo, Barbaresco & Gattinara. I would have also readily said the same kinds of things for St Emilion red wines several years back, but the garage-ists, Christine Mouiex & Michel Rolland has helped changed all of that, just as Angelo Gaja has done in Piemonte & Guigal has done with Cote Rotie.
Hopefully, Syrah based wines will not become an “endangered species” kind of thing, where wine lovers report rare sightings of the nearly extinct–rustic, typical, authentic wines of the world such as traditional styled Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas, Barolo & Barbaresco, just to name a few. I am hoping we as an industry look to appreciate, celebrate & sell BOTH the traditional & more modern styles of each. In the field of music, after all, isn’t there a niche, appreciation & occasion for Bach, Mozart, Frank Sinatra & the Beatles still, in addition to the new tunes?
Lastly, we have also seen a whole generation of winemakers change……maybe even 2 generations. Who keeps track? Marius Gentaz, Gerard Chave, Wilhelm Haag, Noel Verset, Aldo Conterno, Giovanni Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello…the list goes on & on. The remembrance of a young boy creating a chalk drawing….& many years later…. 3 months before his passing…..scribbled his name below. This picture sits above our hostess stand at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas & I am reminded daily of those game changers who have brought us here.
Today, who will represent the new generation in the Hall of Fame?
Mourvedre is a grape variety grown in many parts of the world, most notably in Spain & southern France. Many wine lovers today, however, might know this grape as the “M” found in many of the popular GSM blends coming out of warmer climates such as Australia & California. We put this tasting together to show, while Mourvedre is not a mainstream grape variety, it is capable of producing some VERY interesting, provocative masculine red wines which are truly like no other, especially in certain parts of France. We, then, served several of these French bottlings to help tasters see & hopefully better understand what potential this grape variety has. Just another really good opportunity to learn!
2011 Chateau La Roque Pic St Loup “Les Vieilles Vignes de Mourvedre”–“This is unique terroir. Garrigue, the aromatic scrub brush that dominates the landscapes of the South, asserts its presence among these vines”. Terraced hillsides, clay-limestone soils, 50 to 60 year old vines, organically/biodynamically farmed. Though quite masculine & sultry, the wine is thankfully done in a much more delicious, “country” style.
2010 Domaine du Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”–Here is a wonderful discovery from the village of Lirac of France’s southern Rhone Valley across the river from the more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This unique cuvee is predominately Mourvedre, biodynamically farmed & pounded by the fierce mistral wind. The inky black color will tell you it is Mourvedre, but the surprising refinement & suave-ability, will tell you this is crafted by a female vigneron, which all makes for a very different & unique perspective on what this grape variety can do.
2010 Domaine du Gros Nore Bandol–As importer Kermit Lynch once wrote—“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul”. The vineyard is but 16 hectares of clay limestone soils located right down the road from the iconic Domaine Tempier. This is a much more masculine, robust, earthy style of Mourvedre with a dark, more sinister personality. We find this wine to be especially well suited for wild game & aged meats. Furthermore, it gets even more provocative & intriguing with a little bottle age, so we suggest you put a few bottles stashed away to enjoy later.
2008 Domaine Tempier Bandol “Cabassaou”–one of the true iconic wines of southern France! Tempier produces 3 single vineyard Bandol–La Migoua, La Tourtine & Cabassaou. Cabassaou used to be a lower, old vine parcel of LaTourtine, but was produced & bottled (at least commercially) as single vineyard with the 1987 vintage. This cuvee is typically 90-95 % Mourvedre & is therefore very masculine, dense, powerful, highly vinous & soulful.
1997 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol–this domaine is located in Ollioules, east of Bandol, at a higher elevation than Tempier with terraced hillside vineyards. The soil is still clay limestone with some marl. I find their Bandol wines, eventhough produced from at least 85% Mourvedre, to be more ethereal & more refined than those of Tempier or Gros Nore in its youth. I was very surprised at how wonderfully perfumed & mesmerizing the nose was when we popped the cork. It almost had an apricot/nectarine quality, along with underlying floral nuances amid the earth & rustic character. Even on the palate, this wine also had a deliciousness & a prettiness, which are not qualities I would normally associate with Mourvedre. I only wish I had bought more! This is definitely a Mourvedre in all its glory.
1985 Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Migoua”—typically, this is the Tempier bottling which speaks to me the most. For my palate, La Migoua is the most forward out of the gates, the most masculine, the most rugged, the most stony & the most soulful, if soulfulness could ever be defined. In terms of rusticity, which the Tempier Mourvedre red wines are well renown for, La Migoua has more base notes, deep, bordering brooding, with a musk character underlying the resounding earthy nuances. Interestingly, the vineyard is at the highest elevation of the 3 (270 meters), an almost ampitheater like setting with red, ochre, blue clay & limestone soils. It also typically has the least % of Mourvedre to the blend of the 3. Tasting this 1985 was like tasting a bit of history….when all of the Peyrauds were healthy & working at the winery……when Domaine Tempier was a more country-ish kind of Camelot–full of magic & romantic notions, all done in a very “down to earth ” Provencal way. In its youth, I remember this wine had a VERY rustic character, which many New World wine drinkers might consider too rustic & off-putting. With this kind of bottle age, however, the perfume is truly captivating, as the sun baked rocks, surrounding wild shrub, herbs & pine trees again make an encore appearance in the nose & taste, amongst the cedar, tobacco, smoke, dried cherries, leather & li-hing-mui smells. Tempier magic!