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's 1990 Tinto from the Baga grape is the diamond that has landed just now. It comes direct from the estate's cave where it has rested for 27 years in the dark, dank cellars below the clay soils of Bairrada. At $44 per bottle, and down to $41.50 on 6-packs, this is the aged, old world red that delivers history in the bottle at a can't miss price!
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 1990 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 1990 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.
1990 Frei Joao Bairrada Tinto
$44 per bottle.
Special E-mail 6-Pack Price: $249 ($41.50 per bottle)
Last June's visit in Burgundy gave the opportunity to taste with some of the most storied domaines, getting intimate with the 2014's in bottle and the 2015's in barrel. What I had not expected was to be introduced to a brand new vigneron. But, one afternoon in Morey Saint Denis after sharing some 1993 Clos de la Roche at Chez Dujac I made my way across the street to the new home (and domaine) of Yann Charlopin-Tissier.
Tissier's background is one surrounded by legendary figures. His father, Philippe, was a student of Henri Jayer as he started his own domaine in 1978. Yann worked closely with his father starting in 2004, and then with another mentor, Jean-Marie Fourrier, before launching his own domaine.
In April we offered the impressive 2014 whites from Yann, and today we turn to his 2015 Vosne Romanée. Of all Yann's reds from this concentrated and full-throttle vintage, the Vosne Romanée was the WOW wine at Sunday's full lineup tasting. Not surprisingly, the velvety tannins and exotic spices that this village is so revered for were in full focus. The source is 50-year-old vines from the lieu-dit vineyard "Les Ormes", situated down slope from Grand Crus, Richebourg and Romanée Saint Vivant.
This is arguably the most expensive neighborhood on earth, with adjacent vineyards producing wines that fetch thousands of dollars per bottle. The pedigree of the terroir demands a skilled and thoughtful vigneron to coax out the most. Yann is the first to tell you that great wine is made in the vineyard, and likely that'll be where you'll find him from dawn to sunset. (His boots and courtyard littered with mud identifies this fact long before he does). His style, like that of Fourrier, is all about suave, satin-like mouthfeel, deeply rich fruit, and a relentless finish thanks to these older vines and the dramatic lower yields.
There's been a lot of clamor on the 2015 reds in Burgundy. Tasting out of barrel, and now bottle, it's clear the concentration behind these wines is unlike anything we've seen in some time. I will not follow the course of some, exclaiming this as far superior to classic vintages like 2013 and 2014 that offer brilliant transparency for terroir.However, I will say that these 2015's have a immediacy and flamboyant deliciousness that is undeniable, with structure to go the long haul.
I returned to this bottle over and over again on Sunday, and with air it became nearly impossible to put down. Vosne Romanée from this terroir and class is not easy to come by, and certainly not at this price point in 2015.
2015 Charlopin-Tissier Vosne Romanée
$79 per bott
It may become a little belabored, pointing out how many exciting new projects are coming out of Spain. But, when something's worth immediate attention there's no point in sidestepping giving serious praise where it's due. In the case of Raul Perez we're talking about the single most exciting young white wines I've ever encountered from Spain. Although these two Godello and Albariño-based wines have earned him the title of best winemaker in the world by French and German publications, these are new to me and to much of the United States.
Perez has made a big impact onto the scene here in a very short period of time. His natural focus within his home region of Bierzo and nearby parcels in Rias Baixas endow his wines with an authenticity that's impossible to miss. Raul completely redefines what a mineral-driven Spanish white is capable of, showing depth and the nuance I've come to expect from elite Chablis and Côte de Beaune Chardonnay.
There are two projects under Raul's belt and today we take close look at a top white from each.
La Vizcaina de Vinos is based on the hillside crus around Raul's hometown of Vatuille de Abajo in Bierzo. "La Del Vivo" comes from Godello and Doña Blanca vines planted in 1925 and 1940 at 500 meters elevation. This sandy and clay soil brings cool-fruited and saline notes that counter the orchard fruit and faint citrus profile brilliantly. The overall balance is impeccable. Blinded, this wine takes you to top Chablis domaines in one sip.
The winemaking approach is fascinating. 80% of the grapes are pressed and fermented in large neutral French oak barrels. But, 20% of the grapes ferment on their skins in clay amphorae for one year, completely untouched. These two parts are blended prior to bottling without undergoing any fining or filtering.
Bodegas Y Vinedos Raul Perez is also based in Bierzo, but the most elusive of all his wines is from nearby Rias Baixas where the Albariño grape is king. "Sketch" comes from a minuscule .5 hectare parcel planted in 1965 on granite soil. Vines are incredibly tightly spaced, leading to competition and endowing wild concentration in the wine. The sea influence in Rias Baixas is a huge component for Albariño here. Temperatures are moderated allowing for a long, slow growing season and grapes are harvested as late as possible. Sketch is aged in 14-year old, 750-liter French barrels.
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.
Finding Spanish whites that harness all of the inherent richness of the sun-soaked terrain is no tall task, but revealing them in a frame where harmony and balance steal the show is something entirely unique.
2014 La Vizcaina de Vinos Bierzo Blanco "La Del Vivo"
$36 per bottle.
2015 Raul Perez "Sketch" Rias Baixas Albariño
$84 per bottle.
Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée, known simply as "The Sisters", are at the helm of one of Vosne Romanée's most storied estates. Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg has proven to be the benchmark for so many esteemed vineyards. Visiting with Marie-Christine in 2016 before harvest was a long-awaited opportunity to get more familiar with a favorite domaine.
In Burgundy, much reliance is obviously paid on the delineation and then ranking of the vineyards. But, Mugneret-Gibourg is case in point for the argument to be made for producer over site, as so many of their wines transcend their particular appellations.
Their Clos Vougeot and Ruchottes-Chambertin parcels are situated in the sweet-spot of both Grand Crus, showcasing a depth and grandeur that stand out even from other elite domaines. Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots is, without question, the greatest example of the elegance the village is capable of in the right hands. And their, now discontinued, Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru is sourced exclusively from younger vines in Grand Cru Ruchottes Chambertin, and is one of the great secrets in all of the Côte d'Or.
Stylistically, the wines most stand out for their silken texture, sweet fruit, and exotic spices. All grapes are de-stemmed before seeing a 5-day cold soak prior to fermentation in concrete tanks. On average, wines see one punchdown and two pumpovers per day. The Ruchottes Chambertin and Clos Vougeot remain in concrete for 3 days after fermentation has concluded to pick up more tannin, color, and flavor.
The Premier Crus see around 35% new oak (spread between four different coopers). Echezeaux sees 60% new oak, while Ruchottes Chambertin and Clos Vougeot see 80% new oak. Interestingly, the tasting will conclude with either of the latter depending on vintage.
Today, I'm happy to offer a wide range of vintages from Mugneret-Gibourg. The finale being the Clos Vougeot and Ruchottes Chambertin from the classic 1993 vintage. Both wines were purchased on release by a private client of the domaine in original wooden boxes. They have been quietly resting in their Dijon cellar until arriving to California this spring.
2014 Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes Chambertin
$483 per bottle.
2013 Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes Chambertin
$476 per bottle.
2013 Mugneret-Gibourg Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes 1.5L
$554 per bottle.
2010 Mugneret-Gibourg Clos Vougeot
$489 per bottle.
2009 Mugneret-Gibourg Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru
$197 per bottle.
2009 Mugneret Gibourg Vosne Romanee
$149 per bottle.
2008 Mugneret-Gibourg Vosne Romanée
$149 per bottle.
2008 Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots
$124 per bottle.
2008 Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots
$124 per bottle.
2008 Mugneret-Gibourg Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru
$189 per bottle.
2006 Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits Saints Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots
$152 per bottle.
2003 Mugneret-Gibourg Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes
$199 per bottle.
2002 Mugneret Gibourg Clos Vougeot
$499 per bottle.
2001 Mugneret-Gibourg Vosne Romanee
$139 per bottle.
2000 Mugneret-Gibourg Clos Vougeot
$399 per bottle.
1996 Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes Chambertin
$599 per bottle.
1995 Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots
$157 per bottle.
1995 Mugneret-Gibourg Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes
$319 per bottle.
1993 Mugneret-Gibourg Clos Vougeot
$799 per bottle.
1993 Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes Chambertin
$859 per bottle.
Cru Beaujolais in many ways has been a cornerstone of our selection from the start. While Foillard, Métras, Lapierre, and Dutraive represent the foundation for the greatest value reds in France, the younger generation is now clearly making its mark. No producer has garnered the same praise (and limited allocations) anywhere close to that of Yann Bertrand. Yann may be separated from the aforementioned because of age, but when you line up his wines it's crystal clear these are masterful interpretations of terroir.
Yann grew up in Fleurie, but after studying commerce in school and traveling through the Alps he never expected to circle back to become its generation's brightest talent. He found himself working in a wine shop, and surrounded by passionate people the flames of curiosity were stoked. He moved to spent time working under perhaps the most revered names of the region, Yvon Métras and Jean Foillard. Like them, Yann knew that organic farming and traditional methods in the cellar would be his path forward.
Yann's family had purchased vineyards in 1992 slowly converting them to organic. And in 2013 Yann took a more active role leading the domaine. He began applying what he had soaked up from these apprenticeships. Similarly, Yann's style is one of elegance, silken texture, and is laser-focused on expressing each unique terroir in the Famille Bertrand stable.
Phénix is a brand new bottling from Yann coming from Fleurie's most prized sites: Poncié, La Madone, and Les Déduits. The higher altitude parcels are comprised of sandy granite, while lower slopes are sandy clay with pink granite. These finer soils contribute to Fleurie's reputation as the Queen of Beaujolais, but ultimately its the magic touch of Bertrand that renders Gamay at its most suave and seductive.
2016 in Beaujolais saw yields greatly reduced, but the little that was made has shown to be exceptional. The vintage is build on brightness of fruit, clarity, and great concentration thanks to these minuscule yields. Yann's wines never last long on the shelf and 2016 should prove to be even more challenging to keep in stock. I got out ahead of this one securing 750ml and magnum bottles immediately. Phénix arrives today and it is not to be missed!
2016 Yann Bertrand Fleurie Phénix
$33 per bottle.
2016 Yann Bertrand Fleurie Phénix 1.5L
$69 per bottle.