1985 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia - a gorgeous nose of strawberry and underbrush immediately grabbed my attention. I had in my glass that magical thing, a wine you want to coddle and sniff for a long while before even sipping it. Such glorious aromatics. At last, though, I struck out to discover if it was going to be an interesting sip, to boot. Zounds. On the palate, it was even better than what its heady scents promised. Such death-defying complexity! Waves of silky, elegant fruit and earthiness, with a sudden twist of sap and bark right in the middle, and then playing out forever, until I was wide-eyed and shaking my head. Wow.
In 1964 the Beatles released Meet the Beatles in the United States, the first Ford Mustang was produced, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater for President and the grapes for the 1964 Gran Reserva Rioja of Faustino I were harvested. They made 219,500 bottles and I drank one last night. I can’t help but be struck by history when I taste older wines. By the way, I just turned nine a month before they picked these grapes, which means I’m becoming part of history too.
To experience these wines is to touch a piece of history as no one makes wines in the same way anymore. Too much science has entered both the winery and vineyard and that’s a good thing. The great thing about an old Rioja Grand Reserva is that they were only produced from the best vintages and from the best wines, which means that you won’t find the faults you often see in older wines from lesser years and pedigrees. A wine like this lets you reach out to winemakers of the past and be touched by the way they thought.
The 64 Faustino Gran Reserva shows not a trace of cassis, raspberries, new oak or alcohol. Part of that is its age, but I’m willing to bet it never showed any of those things. Years in barrels (old) and bottle before release assured there was no baby fat on this wine when it was deemed ready for sale. The winery did the maturing for you.
The most striking thing about such wines are the aromatics. It is almost (almost) anti-climatic to taste them. The other is the finish, which is long and haunting. They are wines that invite you to think. Think about not only the way they taste and smell, but about the people and times in which they were born.
There is no such thing as great young wine. Very good, very enjoyable ones yes, but great ones no. Young wines only have the potential to be great. Drinking young wine all the time deadens the palate making it only sensitive to power and fruit. In today’s hedonistic market driven by immediate pleasures most of the greatest wines are consumed before they actually become great. It’s a terrible waste as today’s wines could be the best ever made and, in addition, never have there been so many wonderful wines designed to be drunk young. More often then not, these “lesser” wines are more pleasurable to drink in their youth than more distinguished and pricy bottles.
For every wine there is a season, connoisseurs should be able to pick the proper season to drink wines made to age. Now we give potentially great, age-worthy (age-necessary) wines points at birth and that defines them forever. It is more important how a Bordeaux or Barolo tastes at two than how it tastes at twelve. That is obviously half-ass backwards. There are wonderful wines for drinking young and grand wines that don’t achieve their regal stature for years. Trying to make those wines ready to drink upon release denies their true potential. It is silly to think that a wine can become instantly profound. Like the people that make them, few wines become become complex as adolescents.
It would be depressing to think you achieved your intellectual peak at thirteen. Why do the same thing to the world’s finest wines.
Recent wines I’ve enjoyed:
- Weiβburgunder, pur mineral, Trocken Franken, Fürst, 2006 - Pur mineral indeed. This is a razor blade of wine with electric acidity and flavors that slap your taste buds awake. Served with fresh Dungeness crab it was an amazing match. It took me three days to finish this bottle and it never changed a bit.
- Riesling, Winninger Uhlen Kabinett, Mosel Saar Ruwer, Freiherr von Heddesdorff, 2005 - Bright and refreshing and a wonderful aperitif. Clean apricot with just a hint of petrol, I enjoyed the first two glasses as an aperitif on two days after work and finished the bottle with some Thai carryout. I think it is better to drink this younger rather than cellaring it as it seems all about the fruit.
- Pinot Noir, Littorai, Sonoma Coast, 2005 - One of the best California pinot noir wines I’ve tasted. Great balance, weight and structure. One of those pinots that deftly blends both bright fruit and funk into a wine of unending interest. The finish lasts longer than you can wait to take another sip.
- Pinot Noir, Walter Hansel, Hansel Family Vineyards, Cahill Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 2005 - An excellent pinot noir that had the unfortunate luck of being served next to the Littorai. However, this is an very good pinot noir that exhibits what could be called the best characteristics of a balanced California style. Rich without being jammy with an lush balance and a lingering finish.
- Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, Michel-Schlumberger, 2005 - Appropriately big, but not over the top. You won’t confuse this syrah with grape concentrate. Meaty and oaky with a firm structure and more than enough fruit to carry the alcohol. I liked this wine quite a bit as it’s so hard to find a California wine that knows how to be big with dignity.
- Nebbiolo Langhe, Serralunga d’Alba, Germano Ettore, 2005 - A real classic angular nebbiolo with tannin to spare. So many nebbiolo wines these days seem to try do disguise themselves as zinfandels these days, it’s wonderful to taste a wine like this that lets the true character of its variety sing its own song. This wine will be much, much better in two or three years, but I drank my three bottles anyway. Note to self: buy more ASAP.
- Rioja Riserva, Muga, 2003 - What’s the deal with Rioja? The overt oaky character that I would hate in most wines just seem to work in Rioja. Muga is one of the premier estates in Rioja and this wine does not disappoint. Fragrant and elegant with a sweet oaky character that slides silkily across the palate with an underlying acidity that lifts and brightens the rich oaky fruit.
- Brandy, Germain Robin, Anno Domini 2000 - I’m a long time fan of the California brandies produced by Germain Robin, but I had not heard of their 2000 Anno Domini when a bartender friend recommended I give it a try. I was stunned at the quality of this brandy, which literally blows all the big commercial Cognac houses out of the water when it comes to quality. The depth and complexity displayed by this spirit cannot be overstated. Except for a few producers, buying Cognac is a waste of money these days when there are spirits like this outstanding brandy.
Recent tastes -
- Champagne, André Clouet, Silver Brut Nature, Grand Cru Bouzy, NV (under $45) - Clouet has rapidly become one of my favorite Champagne producers. Rich, creamy, toasty, complex and intensely dry. This is a wine that would be hard to explain to those used to the more innocuous flavors of industrial Champagne producers. Great bubbly.
- Champagne, Delavenne Père & Fils, Cuvée Rose, Grand Cru Bouzy, NV (under $45) - Lots of flavorful pleasure here, but what impresses me most about fine Champagne are the wonderful textures and the creamy frothiness that coats your palate with complexity and pleasure. Bouzy seems to be the epicenter of complex grower Champagnes. The lovely copper color is a inviting prelude to the bright wild strawberry fruit with a lively frothy texture and a long creamy finish. An excellent wine.
- Semillon, L’Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, 2006 - Big oily, yet dry and bracing. Too bad the alcohol is a bit over the top. Semillon continues to be one of Washington’s most interesting whites. Lobster and crab come quickly to mind when you take your first sip.
- Rioja, Remelluri, 2001 - Just as you would expect there’s plenty of oak here, but it somehow seems to work in Rioja. Very aromatic and spicy with a great balance and an interesting intertwining of sweet oak, tar and ripe bitter cherry fruit. Though thought of as a modern-style Rioja, it seems almost old fashioned compared to today’s fruit bombs. A very nice wine that is more than interesting to drink.
- Barbera d’Alba, Marcarini, Ciabot Camerano, 2005 - This is a wonderful barbera. A beautiful deep ruby with an expansive nose redolent of wild blackberries it is deeply flavored, yet lively and zesty. The combination of power and depth with an almost electric back bone make this an extraordinary pleasure to drink.
- Barbaresco Riserva, Pora, Produttori del Barbaresco, 1999 - I always feel the worship that surrounds the Produttori wines is a little excessive. While dedication to the traditions of the Langhe are to be respected, some traditions are better left behind. The Produttori wines always seem a little hollow compared to other fine traditionalists who have found ways to stay true to the integrity of their vineyards and nebbiolo while bringing to the forefront more fruit character. That’s not to say I did not like this wine, which I did, but these wines are mostly good bargains as compared to being great wines. That being said, this is a very good nebbiolo, although the fruit has already dried out leaving little to balance the substantial remaining tannins. It certainly will be interesting for many years, but will never attain perfect balance.