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Why I Store Wine


What with editing down my book, and the climax of the long-distance running season, I have not had much time to much wine of late… But what I have decided to open at home has been damn good – a solid reinforcement of the reasons for storing wine.

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For example, you wouldn’t normally think of cellaring a wine from Lirac, an appelation wine on the west of the Rhône river to be generally thought of as just a touch above Côtes du Rhône Villages in quality and price. But then Domaine de La Mordoree is no normal winery (they make one of the best Châteauneuf du Papes), their Cuvee des Reine des Bois is their top Lirac, and especially, 1998 was no normal year but a blockbuster in terms of ripe and fruit and rich tannin. That said, I’ve had a couple of Gigondas from 1998 fail to go the distance, so I was somewhat nervous about opening this bottle a full decade after vintage. Made up of the same grapes as most southern Rhône blends, (i.e. mainly grenache and syrah and then assorted other suspects), it was an absolute beauty, refined to the point of wine royalty. I think it cost me about $18 when I bought it – the best part of a decade ago. When i was in Nimes four years ago, I found three bottles of the Mordoree Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvee des Reine des Bois 2001 for much the same price – and you don’t want to even KNOW what that goes for in the States. If those wines are even as good as the Lirac in a few years I’ll be in for a treat. And so will anybody who’s invited to share the occasion.

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And you wouldn’t normally open a Châteauneuf du Pape from Chateau Beaucastel until it had a good fifteen years on it: Beaucastel makes perhaps the longest-lived Châteauneuf du Pape of all. But then 1997 was not a great vintage, and the best wines are to be drunk young. I felt like a decade or so might be the right time to pop the cork on this one, and I was not one. Beaucastel, which has been practicing all-organic methods since decades before it was fashionable, differ from the typical southern Rhône blend, instilling their Châteauneuf du Papes with a solid 30% or so Mourvèdre; they also one of only three producers in the village to use all 13 permissible grapes. The result can be frighteningly rich and funky in its youth, but at a good age – and this was at a perfect age – the result is something sweet and succulent, juicy and tender, milky and silky, an enlightenment of the senses. Beaucastel has gone up enormously in price over the last decade, especially for Americans at the far end of trends and falling dollars, but I try and buy at least one bottle from each vintage. And this is why.

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The back of the Masi Campofiorin 1997 says that it can be aged 10-15 years, but I was still not sure about doing so. I’ve yet to read a review of a bottle more than five years old. But again, this proved why some of us take that risk. A blend of indigenous Veronese grapes – primarily Corvina – the Campofiorin is the giant Masi company’s trademarked attempt to make a wine somewhere between youthful, fruity Valpolicella and the grand old high-alcohol Amarones from the same grapes and region. They find that balance by refermenting the grapes from Valpolicella Superiore on the pressed grape skins of the Amarone. (The process, called Ripasso, has also been trademarked by Masi.) My God, but this was beautiful. It was still surprisingly dark and full of life; though the tannins had certainly softened to the point of total integration, it was alive with dark cherries, a cornucopia of herbs and a chocolate-like finish. It was also the kind of wine that you don’t rush because that would be a waste. I don’t know Italian wines as well as I know some other nationalities, but when I get them right, I rate them every bit as highly as anything else out there. This wine, too, was only about $15 on release; it’s hard to put a price on the taste.

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Discussion

3 Comment(s)

  1. Tom Ferrie

    17 November, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Tony,
    I was lucky enough to be visiting when we tried the Beaucastel and I agree it was terrific. Hope the editing is coming along well, I thought maybe when your computer died you might have called that God’s way of editing your book down for you! Well, when it’s all done I’m sure it’ll be a great read.

    I often leave books I’ve read out on the Pilot boat for others to enjoy, and though I didn’t intend to leave Moon out there years ago I guess I must have because one of the crew found it on the boat and just finished it…he told me to pass along that he found it to be such a great read.

    Later,
    Tom

  2. baby jebus

    18 November, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Ripasso is no longer a trademark here Tony- most British supermarkets sell rather good own label versions, though Masi themselves now re-ferment with dried red grapes rather than the pomace (which makes it even closer to amarone, surely). Apparently the trademarking was down to the fact they couldn’t label it as the commercially familiar Valpolicella back in the day.
    You Yanks (imagine relevant emoticon) will apparently pay anything for Chateauneuf, largely because it is so appealing when young, even Beaucastel. Clearly, despite your pledge, you adhere to the British tradition of aging wine until it’s nearer death than youth. I had a bottle of Perrin’s Les Sinards 1998 a few months ago (the Grenache-ier CdP from the same house) and it wasn’t getting any better anytime. I like Mordoree too but I doubt I’ll ever keep one for a decade. I salute your patience.
    A wine enjoyed was never drunk too soon- it is, after all, merely an agricultural product, in effect a method of storing the grape harvest (in fact, outside of a handful of prestigious areas of France, table grape growers get a better price for their harvest than wine grape farmers)

    Incidentally, have you read Benjamin Wallace’s ‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar’?
    Looking forward to reading your latest.
    cheers-

  3. 19 November, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Actually Tom, you were lucky enough to try the Lirac as well. The Beaucastel was the better wine, but in any normal situation, the Lirac would be a stand-out.

    Jebus, always fun to read your comments. Thanks for the update on Ripasso – obviously, reading a 1997 wine label in 2008 is about as reliable as studying a 1982 election in 2008 (see some previous post). I wish I had had more time this year to both drink wine and write more about it – you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of empty bottles gone out with the cat litter and copious scribbled notes lying around in drawers that will probably never see light of day… and at least a couple of heavy duty wine tastings I simply could not find time to write up whatsoever.

    A quick Google tells me that Les Sinards is “Younger vines from the Perrin’s Château de Beaucastel estate… with additional fruit coming from a leased 17-acre vineyard located in the commune of Orange.” No wonder the 98 didn’t taste so good. Young vines = drink young. Plus, you can tell a lot by price, and any Chateauneuf retailing for $25 is not made for old bones.

    I love good young wine, Jebus, truly do. But I decided a number of years ago to age a number of them and see where it took me. I’ve been having a lot of fun doing so. As I’m sure you must know from experience, the better wines develop into something else along the way, something very different from what they were as babies. It’s like watching your kids grow up. They’re always beautiful, but ideally they just get better and better.

    Cheers

    Tony

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