Old wine: an ongoing subject of interest

My wife and I recently had a small dinner party with one of my oldest friends and his wife. Not only are we friends from undergraduate days at University of Toronto, we are also colleagues who have traveled the wine route together, or on parallel paths, for some 45+ years.

It is tradition when we get together to delve into our personal cellars to find a nugget or two to share.  In this regard we are pioneers in the game of A-B comparisons: that is, where two, or more, wines with some similarities are tasted together and repeatedly re-tasted over an evening to see how the wines evolve.  Through this type of exercise I have realized the notable disadvantage of decanting old wines; namely the loss of opportunity to experience the natural evolution of a wine once exposed to air after years/decades sealed under cork in a bottle. Like most old things old wine should be treated with care.  This way the wine will show its best side, on its own terms.  This careful treatment can be important with very old wines which may not have much life left, life that can be completely sapped with a sudden, jarring exposure to air in the decanter.

On this occasion we each brought a bottle of old red Bandol, along with some other oldies.  I will focus this comment on the Bandols.

Bandol is a small appellation in the Provence zone of southern France.  The red and rosé wines from Bandol are made largely with the Mourvèdre grape.  This grape is rarely used on its own, as it is a difficult grape to enjoy without being blended with other grapes, such as Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, grapes with generally more approachable character.  Mourvèdre is a late-ripening, truly black grape which when young shows tannins that never end, a reductive barnyard character, herbal notes and often little fruit.  Sounds downright un-appetizing don’t you think?  Combine this aroma/flavour profile with prices that are often in the high – $20’s range, or more, and you wonder why anyone would buy Bandol.  Perhaps this is why we don’t see Bandol very often in Vintages releases.

The wines we tasted were a Domaine Tempier 2001 and a Domaine La Bastide Blanche 1978.  Both wines are premium-quality made by leading producers in the region.  These are wines that demand patience and the case was proven at this dinner.

Brothers from Bandol

When first opened the Tempier showed delightful youthfulness.  The colour was bright ruby with nary a hint of garnet.  The cork was long and was tightly-seated when pulled: no oxidation here. The nose was full of ripe stewed plum and spice. The palate was ripe and full-bodied but had a firm structure.  The acidity was quite high, unusual for Mourvèdre/Bandol, with firm but well-integrated tannins and the finish was long. It was a delight from the first sniff.

The Bastide Blanche was also youthful but in a subdued fashion.  The colour was bright ruby with some signs of garnet at the rim, but the wine was surprisingly red in colour for a thirty-something year-old. The nose was closed when first opened and we were afraid this one was past its peak.  The palate restored our spirits as it was ripe, juicy and harmonious.  This is what we hoped for and we were not disappointed.  In fact as the evening progressed it was a wonder to watch as the 1978 and the 2001 became more alike, especially on the nose. The Bastide Blanche opened slowly but steadily and showed bright, red and black stewed fruit with slight herbal notes. The wines were a perfect match for a cold beet salad garnished with crumbled goat cheese and basil.  Not only was this a match in colour but it was a match in earthy, juicy character. Sublime.

For those who wish to start a Bandol corner in your cellar, there is a Bandol from the late August Vintages release that is still widely available: AOC Bandol Château Val D’Arenc Les Hauts de Seignol 2009 (19.95 per bottle).  I didn’t recommend this wine and I suggest it may be worthwhile to be patient and wait for a top-producer-Bandol to appear.  Look for producers such as Tempier, Bastide Blanche, Pibaron, Rouvière and Vannières.  When the wines warrant, you can be sure I will give them my recommendation.

The wait for the right wine will be worthwhile and will simply be a slow ramp-up to a longer wait for your Bandol to reach its peak. I assure you, the wait is worth it!

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

LCBO Vintages release – June 25, 2011

Canada Day approaches and this weekend Vintages celebrates the upcoming event with a feature on Argentinean wines for barbecue season.  The usual Malbec suspects are included in the feature, along with some fine Torrontes whites and reds made with Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. I think Argentina is making some good wines for very low prices but they don’t provide a great deal of interest after the initial fruit explosion.

There are two additional sub-features this weekend: Clean and Crisp whites and a selection of Canadian wines.

This release is a very good one, the first in a while.  There are many great values in all styles and price ranges.  It was a tough choice to select the top five, so there are some runners’-up this week. There were many feature wines to choose from and a couple made my recommended best value list.

Ontario, Niagara – VQA Niagara Peninsula Jackson-Triggs Entourage Silver Series Méthode Classique 2006

With the cool climate we enjoy in Niagara and the strength of our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir presence it is a natural that we would make fine sparkling wine.  This bottle is an example of this potential. This wine was aged in bottle for three years before disgorgement so it shows good biscuit, yeast character on the nose.  Aromas of citrus fruit promise more citrus on the palate and it is delivered along with a stony mineral backbone. Prickly mousse, lean acid and a long, dry finish make this wine an excellent value.  Well done!

Extra dry, sparkling wine – $22.95 per bottle (Canada Day feature wine)

France Provence, – AOC Bandol La Bastide Blanche Rosé 2010

I recommended a Tavel Rosé in the last edition of WVN.  Now we have a Mourvèdre-based Rosé from the neighbouring south of France region, Provence.  This wine is a pale salmon in colour, typical of Provençal Rosé.  It has better body and firmness than the colour might suggest – this is the grape variety showing its personality. Very dry on the palate with crisp acidity this wine is dominated by strawberry and herbal notes.  It has a long, clean finish.  Serve with salade niçoise.

Extra dry, rosé wine – $21.95 per bottle

Spain, Galicia – DO Rias Baixas Bodegas Martin Códax Salterio Albariño 2010

Here we have a perfect wine for summer sipping: a beautifully aromatic nose of stone fruit and white flowers is followed by a reasonably intense, fleshy, mid-weight palate.  Ripe peach, citrus, stony minerals, zesty acid and a long finish.  Very good wine for your patio entertaining – serve on its own or with grilled shrimp.

Dry, white wine – $17.95 per bottle (Clean and Crisp feature wine)

Australia, South Australia – Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Shiraz 2008

Readers now know I shy away from South Australia Shiraz – too fat and flabby, verging on sweet, more chocolate than black pepper, more wood than savoury, etc., etc. Well then, let’s call this wine the anti-S.A. Shiraz.  It has very fine fruit expression, nice tannins, very good balance, judicious use of wood, sound structure, lots of spice and earth, minerals and a long, clean finish.  In a blind tasting it would be hard to pinpoint this wine as from South Australia.  A very good value which will age nicely for the next 3 – 5 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle

France, Languedoc – AOC Faugères Château Saint-Roch de Laurens 2007

Faugères is one of the many under-recognized appellations in the Midi region of France.  It is one of the most consistent regions in this diverse area, known for flavourful and robust blends made from Syrah, Grenache and Carignan (with smatterings of Cinsault  and Mourvèdre, depending on the producer. This wine is a perfect comfort-food accompaniment at a very good price, so you should stock up now for dinners on cold mid-winter evenings.  It has intense flavours, good concentration and yet it retains its Old World classiness – oodles of fruit, a bit of wood and plenty of herbal, savoury earthiness.  Run, don’t walk for this wine!

Dry, red wine – $18.95 per bottle

 There are two fine wines that didn’t quite make the A-list grade this week:

France, Bordeaux – AOC Graves Château Rahoul 2005

This is a very fine value from the excellent 2005 vintage: dried fruit, cherry, leather, juicy acid, grainy tannins and a long finish. Serve with a rib steak. Buy a case of this wine and forget about the 2010 Bordeaux Futures (see below).

Extra dry, red wine – $29.95 per bottle

Italy, Friuli –  DOC Colli Orientale del Friuli Torre Rosazza Pinot Grigio 2009

This is another example of the character and depth possible with Pinot Grigio when grown at low yields in a cool-climate zone.  There is plenty of intense green apple, minerals and juicy acid, which makes this wine a beautiful accompaniment for soft creamy cheeses such as brie and camembert.

Extra dry, white wine – $19.95 per bottle

 And finally, the Collector’s Item for this release:

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Alta Valle della Greve Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione 2007

This is a relatively unknown icon from a very small IGT zone in the heart of Chianti Classico country. It is made with 100% Sangiovese  and was matured for 15 months in a mix of new and old French oak barriques.  This is a concentrated wine with bright red cherry and blackberry fruit, smoke, grainy tannins and plenty of acid.  It is finely balanced and has an elegant mouth feel.  This wine will improve in your cellar over the next 7 – 10 years.

Extra dry, red wine – $58.95 per bottle

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.