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.
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.
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.
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.