Since 1481, there have been 16 generations of unbroken lineage at the Chave estate along the Rhone River's towering granite slopes. When we look closely at the birthplace of Syrah there's no name more respected than that of Jean-Louis Chave.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 & 2016 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph, along with back-vintage Hermitage Rouge and Blanc stretching through 1985.
Chave's Saint Joseph captures everything that thrills the senses from Northern Rhone Syrah, while offering an immediacy and generosity upon release that Hermitage simply cannot. Each vintage flaunts a huge spectrum of black, blue, and red fruits. Spices range from exotic Indian to cracked black pepper. And the tell-tale notes of violets, olive tapenade, and roasted meats are always on full display.
However, it's the underlying mineral component from these granite terraced slopes serving as the backbone of Chave's wines. It's this definition that allows the wines to age effortlessly, and makes reaching for another sip habitual. Examples of the Saint Joseph from the late 1990's have floored me for their sense of vivacity, freshness, and still-present regal structure.
Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992, following his studies in Enology at UC Davis. Once home, he undertook his primary mission of re-planting the steep slopes of Saint Joseph, as his ancestors had done centuries ago. In fact, it was precisely on this hillside that the domaine officially started in 1481. These vineyards had remained fallow since phylloxera decimated vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century.
Along with carrying on the tradition of producing the the iconic Hermitage bottlings, Jean-Louis knew that these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing magnificent wines, and offered a value to consumers that Hermitage could not. 25 years have now passed since these terraces began to be re-built by hand, and vines have been re-planted among the traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of all success in the Rhone comes from hands-on work and fastidious attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.
Since the Saint Joseph appellation was officially given AOC status in 1956 the boundaries have expanded immensely. It's these choice parcels that represent the best and most serious terroir for the zone. Slopes that the Chave's knew were capable of producing intensely concentrated, structured, and age-worthy Syrah. Land where machines were incapable of working, as everything must be done entirely by hand.
Volnay and its high limestone content sit in rare company with Chambolle-Musigny as one of Burgundy's most ethereal and delicate examples of Pinot Noir. Looking at the duo of D'Angerville and De Montille we're at the apex of what's proven possible here over many decades. While there may be no Grand Crus in the village, savvy collectors know these top Premier Crus transform and go the long haul as well as nearly anything from the Côte de Nuits.
Pronounced structure and tightly-coiled mineral tension make D'Angerville and De Montille perfect domaines to stash in the cellar, yet each has a more open-knit style than has been standard in the past. Today's list covers 2016 through 1985.
D'Angerville's protocol on excluding punchdowns and relying solely on pumpovers for fermentation give these wines a plush and soft-fruited personality that meshes brilliantly with the chalky terroir of Volnay. This combo brings enough slight austerity to make these both delicious and supremely thought-provoking.
De Montille has always been associated with whole cluster ferments, and, in turn, that elevated exotic spice component and stemmy crunch had made these famous for their fortress-like persona of the Hubert de Montille era. As son Etienne has taken over, these past decades have been moving to round their structure out a bit and provide an earlier drinking window. The style here is not a huge shift from one generation to the next as much as it is simply keen on allowing wines to offer more joy and expression in the early-going.
It's one of Rioja's great gifts to hold back wine in bottle under the aging requirements of the Reserva and Gran Reserva designations. For me, La Rioja Alta sits in elite company with a very select band whose wines typify the heights that can be achieved with Rioja's extended winery aging protocol.
Today, I'm happy to offer a range of La Rioja Alta's Gran Reserva 890 & 904, including their flagship 2009 Viña Ardanza at $40 per bottle.Gran Reserva 904 comes from vines with an average age of 60-yrs-old comprised of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano. Gran Reserva 890 comes from La Rioja Alta's very oldest vines, with 95% Tempranillo, supplemented by just 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo. Like all aged Rioja, both 904 and 890 take on notes tobacco, leather, cinnamon, bright red cherry, and a finish with very subtle vanilla bean and coconut.
But as you imagine, these aged reservas flaunt deeply layered and complex notes, all interwoven seamlessly with an unrelenting and haunting finish that exemplifies what Grand Cru level Rioja is all about. Examples going back to 1973 have been some of the most memorable wine experiences I've ever had. But, make no mistake, the extended aging at the winery means each is ready for prime time tonight. Five families in 1890 from Rioja and the Basque country founded Sociedad Vinícola de La Rioja Alta with a common goal of making age-worthy, grand wines. Located just across the street from Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alta also has come to be respected as a prime address for terroir-driven Rioja, emphasizing elegance and transparency of Tempranillo at a time when a more extractive and heavy-handed style has come to garner the 100-point-scores.Traditional winemaking in Rioja is centered around using American oak for aging. All barrels are air dried and manufactured on site, a rarity in the world of wine that allows for ideal quality control. At La Rioja Alta barrels utilized for aging are more aged and neutral, limiting the overt American oak flavors of coconut and dill that tend to dominate modern producers here, masking the more earth-inflected, tobacco, and red cherry notes that make Rioja one of a kind.Rigorous selection of grapes is the foundation of producing world-class wines for so many decades here. Small refrigerated boxes are used to transfer clusters from the vineyards to the winery. The success at the estate over the years have given way to a brand new winery in 1996 where no expense was spared. La Rioja Alta marries the great tradition of winemaking in this region with the modern advancements now giving clean, precise, and soulful wines of place.
I've slowly been amassing this collection from Barbaresco's most historic estate. There's no winery in Piedmont, or perhaps the world, which exemplifies the spirit of collective contribution quite like the Produttori del Barbaresco. While the single-vineyard Barbarescos garner much of the fame, the blended straight Barbaresco has proven to be one of the world's great values in cellar-worthy wine. Today's collection features wines as far back as 1964 through the current releases.
It was in 1894 when the headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba, Domizio Cavazza, created the cooperative by pulling together nine vineyard owners to bottle their wines in his castle. Before then, grapes had been sold off to Barolo producers or simply labeled as "Nebbiolo di Barbaresco". This Cantine Sociali was then closed in the 1930's due to the economic restrictions of fascism. In 1958, the priest of Barbaresco gathered together nineteen growers, knowing the only chance at prosperity was to form as one - the Produttori del Barbaresco was officially founded.
Today, 51 growers are the backbone of production covering nine great single-vineyard Barbarescos: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo. Truly reflecting this band of brothers, these prized Barbarescos will only be produced if each one meets the highest standards. Should only one vineyard not make the cut then there will be no single-vineyard wines produced that year.
The Langhe Nebbiolo is the entry-level wine of the Produttori, offering immediate accessibility. The straight Barbaresco is made each year comprised of grapes within the DOCG zone. For me, this is the benchmark bottling of the region, offering a value that consistently delivers well above its price point. In exceptional years, the nine single-vineyard Barbarescos will be produced. The rigorous standards today are as strong as ever.
Of all the great discoveries traveling north from Lisbon to Porto, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out an estate that, thankfully, got on my radar several years back. While it's an over-generalization to point to one vintage as a triumph across all of Europe, 1985 is a year that I fervently hunt throughout nearly all regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and now Portugal. After selling out of the 1990, I'm thrilled today to turn to the 1985.
Frei Joao's 1985 Tinto from the Baga grape is the diamond that arrived to us just this year, after a long 34-year slumber in the dark, dank cellars below the clay soils of Bairrada. At $56 per bottle, and down to $52.99 on 6 or more, this is the aged, old world red that delivers history in bottle at a can't-miss price!
When I think of the wines that have stirred the very greatest emotions they've all had significant bottle age. Meeting a wine at its apogee can be thrilling in a way that often leaves you without words. Those dramatic times when silence falls upon a table always seem to be recounted later, but in the moment we're completely dialed into the glass. The scents, the flavors, and the textures are worlds apart from what we find in young wines. The word haunting often seems to be the note most associated with these aged wines in their prime, where deep sense memories are easily accessed.
Unfortunately, most of these personal wine experiences have come with a price tag that reflects the scarcity of the bottle in question. That's why today's offer is a very exciting one. Portugal, like Spain, is slowly making their case in the US for value and terroir-driven wines that are highlighted by freshness. Along with these new, fascinating arrivals we're also given a few serious gems.
Frei Joao was established in the 1950's, focused on the indigenous red and white grapes of the Bairrada region. The simple story is that because of their long history in the region and strong relationships with growers Frei Joao is offered the right for first refusal of the best fruit. Thankfully, they've taken this gift seriously, stashing away vintages from 1959 to 2000 for long aging at the winery.
The Baga grape is one with compelling tannins and very pronounced acidity, the perfect recipe for gradual and transformative aging. The clay soils and the evolutionary track we see today points quite a bit to the right bank of Bordeaux, but of course, the price point couldn't be further apart. Today, the 1985 banner vintage is fully resolved with supple tannins, dark cherry fruit, and all of the tobacco, mocha, and leather old world secondary notes you'd come to expect.
At 12% alcohol the element of freshness cannot be overstated. Portugal's Bairrada is never shy on ripeness, and this old school mentality tied to lower alcohol winemaking has put this 1985 in the perfect spot today. The limited nature of these wines shouldn't be glossed over either, as Frei Joao is the only commercial winery in Portugal offering library releases from their caves going back this far.
In its prime, an aged bottle poured around a table creates a collective excitement unlike anything else in the world of wine. I've never come across a better opportunity to see that convenient truth more so than today.