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.
Touring with the team at Bodegas Raul Perez was the ultimate masterclass on Bierzo terroir. I had never before witnessed such a diverse range of soils and grape varieties under one person's hands. Finishing the day at both of Raul's cellars and tasting each of the parcels we visited was an unbelievable experience. Walking away I was left in total awe of his execution from a vision he had many years ago to work with only the oldest vineyards and immediately shift to the most fastidious organic viticulture.
The arrival of the Raul Perez wines into the US have garnered a lot of attention. Although offers in the past past have been wildly popular, things have changed a bit for the new release of both his whites and reds from Bierzo.
The California allocation sold out in less than a few hours, and today I'm happy to provide the full range that has now arrived to us directly from Perez's U.S. importer's New York warehouse. Wines are all ready to ship now. With the Wine Advocate's Luis Gutiérrez fanning the flame on the first release of these new wines, the quantities are again very limited.
Today, I'm happy to offer the game-changing wines of Bierzo's Raul Perez, covering old vine Mencia, Bastardo, Alicante Bouchet, Godello, and Albarińo. Perez's natural focus endow his wines with an authenticity that's impossible to miss. As much as he follows the historic path of his ancestors (no herbicides, pesticides, or additives of any kind in the cellar), he's made waves with his 100% whole cluster fermentations and extra long macerations on skins. Raul completely redefines what Mencia is capable of in Bierzo. And, for his whites, he now owns the mineral-driven category within Spain, showing depth and the nuance I've come to expect from elite Chablis and Côte de Beaune Chardonnay.Tempering the impact of the heat and sun has always been the area of largest concern in the more continental Spanish zones. Working with high elevation vineyards and old vines is not enough to ensure grace, subtlety, and lift are the overriding characteristics when the wine is finally poured. It's the attentive, thoughtful approach to viticulture and minimal intervention in the cellar that Perez has come to trust as the root of success. In doing so, he's become recognized only recently as a master of his craft.In 2014 Raul Perez was named best winemaker in the world from the German publication, Der Feinschmecke. And in 2015 the same honor was bestowed by France's Bettane & Desseauve. And just last week Decanter magazine asked, "is this the world's best winemaker?" Ultreia Saint Jacques is sourced from 5 hectares Mencia vines planted between 1900-1940 on clay soils. Supplemented by small portions of Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouchet). Macerations go as far as 2-5 months. Aged in older wood ranging in sizes: 225L, 500L, foudre, and cement.
Ultreia Tinto is sourced from 3 hectares of mainly Mencia planted in two villages, one on clay and the other on slate. Supplemented by small portions of Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouchet). Doña Blanco, and Palomino. Aging in neutral 228-liter barrels.Ultreia Godello is sourced from vines throughout Raul's village of Valtuille de Abajo, planted on clay and alluvial stones. Fermented and aged in neutral foudre.Ultreia La Claudrina comes from a 0.3 hecatre parcel of Godello planted on sandy soils in Valtuille de Abajo. Fermented in one 1,500L foudre and aged for 1-2 years under flor, which develops starting in the spring after harvest.
Atalier comes from two parcels of own-rooted, pre-phylloxera Albariño vines in the Cambados area of the Salnés valley, located in the southern portion on the northwest tip of Spain. Blocked malo and aged in large neutral foudre. Encinas is an exciting joint venture between Raul Perez and Crozes-Hermitage's Antoine Graillot. Because Mencia amd Syrah share similar qualities, the plan here was to incorporate Antoine's cement fermentation protocol working with the Bierzo terroir. Interestingly, Mencia was a little more reductive than Syrah on first go around, and so in this 2nd vintage the decision was made to move the wine to large neutral wood after initial fermentation and aging in cement.La Vitoriana comes from a 1.8 hectare vineyard of the same name, planted with Mencia in 1890 on a mix of sand (upper slope) and clay (bottom slope). Supplemented by small portions of Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouchet) and Doña Blanca and Palomino. Whole cluster fermented in large oak vats, followed by a 60-90 day maceration, then one year of aging in neutral 225 and 500L barrels.
El Rapolao comes from a 1.5ha plot of Mencia with small amounts of Bastardo (Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouchet) planted on clay at 550m elevation. Whole cluster fermented and aged for one year in neutral 500l barrels. La del Vivo comes from 1.5 hectares - a mix Godello and Doña Blanca from two vineyards, La Poulosa (1940, clay) and Las Villegas (1925, sand). 80% of grapes are pressed and fermented in 500 and 700-L neutral barrels. The remaining 20% of grapes ferment on their skins in clay amphorae and remains untouched for one year. The two parts are then blended together and bottled. Ultreia de Valtuille is sourced from 1.7 hectares of vines planted in the late 1800's. Sitting at nearly 600 meters above sea level on sandy soils these old vines produce what comes across as Raul's most delicate and deeply layered wine. Incredible concentration is met with finesse and a cool-fruit quality that sandy soils are often associated with.Maceration can go as long as 90 days on skins, and aging also is in neutral French barrels. Here the blend is almost identical to the above, but tiny amounts of Godello has replaced Palomino.
Alain Graillot is to Crozes Hermitage as the Peyraud's are to Bandol: Benchmark and definitive representations of their appellations. Alain's journey to starting his domaine in 1985 began, of all places, in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. And, as one might imagine with Alain's Syrahs, there will be stems.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage and 2016 Crozes Hermitage La Guiraude.
Additionally, featured below is a very special joint project between Antoine Graillot and Raul Perez, the 2017 Encinas Bierzo Tinto for just $30 per bottle.
Prior to founding his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted two key traits. He wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. Certainly elegance is part of this equation too, and as temperatures have warmed in the last 34 years, Graillot continues to be a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines that are steeped in an unwavering traditionalist approach.
Alain's two sons both produce Syrah under their own labels, but the eponymous domaine is still unwavering in their use of 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in older wood - divided between barrique and foudre.
La Guirade is not a single vineyard, but rather a selection of the best barrels, as Alain tastes through these personally each vintage.
Crozes Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value when it comes to the best producers working in the most esteemed parcels. But, even as Graillot's wines nail the value element, they stand out from the pack, as he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône valley.