Some of our most successful offers to date have come from late winery releases via Portugal and Spain. In all circumstances these are red wines. While wineries do age whites for late release, it's just not nearly as prevalent as with reds. Furthermore, drinking 25+yr-old whites can surely be a fascinating and even delicious exercise, but if I'm not at least enticed to finish an entire bottle, it's a hard pass for me.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the white that broke this mold, the 1991 Caves San João Poco do Lobo Arinto Branco for $63 per bottle, and discounted with special mixed 3-pack pricing including the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1996 Tinto (Baga).
In 2013 the Costa family, owners of Caves San João in Portugal, decided to open their cellars up and begin to release wines that have aged on site. Vintages ranged from 1959 to 2000. The dominant white variety in coastal Barraida is Arinto. In its youth Arinto has a sharp acidity that begs to be given time in bottle. Having these wines arrive directly to California this year from Caves San João is a fortune that simply does not exist today in the world of wine. Well, at least not at pricing that dips below $60 for a 28-yr-old white wine at its peak.
1991 was a particularly stellar year for Arinto in Portugal's coastal Barraida zone. Vines were planted in 1950 on a mix of limestone and clay that endows this high acid variety a serious sense of grace. To bring some flesh and texture the white Arinto grapes are partially fermented on their skins. And instead of aging in oak, this is exclusively aged in cement tanks, an important element as to why at 28 years old this white still carries a relatively pale hue and wicked amount of tension.
Using aged Viura of white Rioja is an adequate gauge for the general profile you should expect here. I'm hesitant to dive into the cornucopia of flavors, as this covers such a diverse range from citrus to stone fruit, fresh herbs to white flowers, and finishing with chalky minerality that veers more toward rounded earth tones as it's exposed to air. If this were a red I would heavily advise against decanting for aeration, but as a white I think this really begins to hit its stride after about 30 minutes in the decanter.
While these late winery release reds from Portugal have proved to be big hits with our customers, I'm very excited today to finally offer a white. One that doesn't just check the intrigue box, but also brings a delicious-factor that will pull you to the bottle's very last drop.
With recent additions of Giacomo Conterno's Cascina Francia Barbera d'Alba in stock, I thought today would be a great day to focus on the entire range. There's no producer in Piedmont that demands more attention or reverence than Roberto Conterno. Visiting with him in November 2012 offered a small glimpse into the genius behind the quiet and reserved exterior.
Conterno's immaculate cellar and eye for detail, specifically with cleanliness, is unlike anything I've seen in person. The wines from the Cascina Francia vineyard (Barbera, Barolo, and Barolo Riserva Monfortino) are each benchmarks of the region. While deeply traditional methods in the cellar are applied, the sophistication and suave character of the wines in glass stand apart from his contemporaries.
Vineyard practices have been called modern, in their focus on coaxing maximum ripeness from vines. I find this to be a huge element in why the customarily dark and tannic Nebbiolo of Serralunga's terroir exudes so much charm when poured.
Eloi Dürrbach believed Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon made a compelling duo in a very particular pocket of Provence. Through the decades he's proved this slice in Les Alpilles, The Little Alps, can produce some of the very most celebrated wines in France.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range from Domaine de Trévallon.
Domaine de Trévallon set out from inception in 1973 to tell the story of place despite rigorous opposition. 44 years later Eloi Dürrbach's vision of a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend from his family's estate has won the hearts of collectors across the globe. Burgundy, Rhone, Bordeaux, and Loire have taken the lion’s share of my most significant experiences drinking French reds over the years, but the consistency and heights that Trévallon achieves each vintage is unsurpassed. These are Grand Crulevel wines in all but name, with pricing that’s a welcomed reminder of its humble origins.
Eloi Dürrbach planted these two varieties in the remote village of Saint-Etienne-du-Grès, a limestone goldmine on the north side of Alpilles mountains. Before phylloxera ravaged vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century Cabernet Sauvignon had been widely planted here. The appellation system set rules in the 1930's to establish which varieties could be labeled under particular zones, and Cabernet Sauvignon was given the boot. Dürbach understood his unique terroir offered the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend potential for greatness, so he chose to label his wines as France’s lowly Vin de Pays category.
Driving north into the hills of Provence from Bandol on one sweltering July afternoon I began to wonder just how Cabernet Sauvignon could strive here. As I climbed the Alpilles with the Mediterranean shrinking in my rear-view, the road began to narrow and the incline slowly steepened. Coming down onto the northern side temperatures quickly dropped and I immediately felt ushered into this new land, Baux de Provence. The garrigue shrubbery of the south was quickly replaced by the picturesque roadway (below) leading to Trévallon.
The Trévallon estate covers 17 hectares of almond and olive trees and vines, of which nearly all are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The whole cluster-fermented reds age in large, old foudre, a critical element in giving this wine its tremendous clarity and brightness. While the gravel of Bordeaux is home to the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon, and the granite northern Rhone to the greatest Syrah, Dürbach knows here on limestone the sum of the parts achieves something far greater than each posses on their own.
These are magnificent wines that call to mind the dark graphite and tobacco-inflected wines of Pauillac, the black olive and violet of Côte Rôtie. And a seductive quality that reminds me each time of the treasure trove of older Burgundy that lined Eloi's personal cellar.
To give context to the aging curve of these wines, a bottle of 1988 opened in September was incredibly fresh and continued to develop in the glass. It single-handedly made the case for the elegance and cellar potential that Provence is capable of.
The rare blanc (3 bottles available) is comprised of 50% Marsanne, 24% Roussanne, 10% Chardonnay, 8% Grenache Blanc, 8% Clairette. Each grape variety is aged separately in barrel prior to assemblage and bottling.
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier produces wines that, personally, can be best described asdesert island Pinot Noir. We're talking the short list. There are few producers in the world who summon the interest of collectors and the respect of their neighbors quite like Mugnier. When I moved to Burgundy in January 2012 it was Mugnier I visited first. I don't ever recall meeting a vigneron who so very much matched his or her wines. He was soft spoken, introspective, and authentic in the way you hoped your hero would be if you were lucky enough to meet them one day. This afternoon was pretty close to that.
Today, I'm very happy to offer a small collection from Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier.
The domaine lies in the heart of the village of Chambolle-Musigny, home to the most ethereal wines of Burgundy. Mugnier's gentle approach to winemaking is more synonymous with the village dubbed the Queen of Burgundy than any other producer.In fact, Mugnier only produces one Pinot Noir from outside, the Premier Cru Monopole Clos de la Maréchale in Nuits-Saint-Georges.
The easy way to tell the story is to say Mugnier applies that lifted style of his Chambolle wines to his Maréchale, hailing from a village better known for dark earth and muscular structure. Though this characterization has plenty of validity, it tends to sell short just how profound in its own right this monopole vineyard (one owner) from Nuits-Saints-Georges really is.
Maréchale lies at the southernmost end of N-S-G, coming from the Premeaux commune. For centuries the wines of Premeaux have been described as the most elegant of the larger N-S-G appellation. Within Maréchale there are portions of oolitic limestone and sandy soils that are wildly different from what's found throughout the village. This terroir plays as much a role in the elegance of the wine here as Mugnier's soft touch in the cellar.
* From the 1820's the walled in Clos de la Marechale vineyard appeared on maps, and in 1855 Jules Lavalle's publication classifying vineyards ranked Maréchale as "1ère Cuvée" - Lavalle said at this time the top wines of Premeaux were selling for the same price as Grand Cru Clos Vougeot bottlings.
Clos de la Maréchale always shows a stunning array of red fruits like pomegranate and wild strawberry, a tell-tale mocha note, and always finishes with a sappy, black cherry core. Mugnier de-stems 100%, during fermentation punching down of the cap is very gentle and done relatively infrequently, and new oak usage is minimal. The goal is to never over-extract too much tannin or color.
These wines are always on the more pale end of the spectrum, dominated as much by their notes of roses and violets as they are by fruit profile. This is the essence of perfumed Burgundy. When Pinot Noir was christened the heartbreak grape chances are strong it was Mugnier in the glass.