We are so lucky to live in these times, I really believe that the quality of good wine has never been better than it is now, but that is sometimes easy to forget. Luckily I tried two very different red wines recently that really proved the point, they were rich and supple with great fruit and excellent tannin management. They appeared to be superbly made and to have had love and care lavished upon them and the results were enticing:
David Reynaud is quickly becoming one of the stars of the Northern Rhône. Until 2002 his family sold all the grapes from their Domaine Les Bruyères to the excellent local Tain l‘Hermitage co-op. Now they produce a small range of superb single estate, oak aged Crozes-Hermitage all grown on organic and biodynamic principles.
This wine is not from the estate, but a blend of youngish organic vines on a vineyard that David owns himself and some choice fruit from a similarly enthusiastic neighbour. The wine is unoaked, but was fermented and matured in egg-shaped cement vats. I have been fascinated by these vessels ever since seeing them in Napa, where Spottswoode and Domaine Carneros use them amongst others, and have found it extraordinary that because a tank is egg-shaped then the wines made in it should be smooth, but that does seem to be the case. As long as everything else is done right I suppose it means that nothing gets stuck in a corner and that whatever happens to the wine is uniform. Intriguingly these eggs were first created in the Rhône and were a deliberate attempt to echo Roman amphorae in a modern way.
As far as I can make out these tanks age a wine without oak masking the minerality. Also the fermentation temperature is stable without needing refrigeration. The shape allows total wine rotation so gives maximum lees contact, which helps, complexity and texture. It also allows for good extraction of colour and flavour from the skins during punchdown. The material itself of course helps retain the freshness of the fruit as the cement has no inherent flavour – as long as it is treated properly before it is used. Certainly the wines I have tried that have been made in them have had superb fruit and wonderful texture – I am a fan.
The wine was verging on opaque with an appealingly vibrant crimson to purple colour.
The nose was lifted and floral with ripe sweet blackberry notes, damp earth, liquorice spice and violets.
The palate was medium bodied, fresh, fleshy and delicious. Plums, blackberries, delicate white pepper and liquorice dominate, with a touch of acidity cutting through and keeping it pretty. There was a clean earthy, truffley, granitic minerality shining in the background giving some lovely complexity.
The tannins were wonderfully fine, almost smooth, just giving a hint of structure and bitterness that vies with the gorgeous fruit and leave a lovely trace of chalkiness on the finish.
This is a delicious wine, friendly, juicily fruity and balanced, yet leaning towards opulent – an exceptional wine that shows ample fruit and still has a feeling of terroir. It might age very well, but is so succulent, richly fruity and delicious that I would enjoy it sooner rather than later – 91/100 points.
I have marked it high as it is not only very good, but really delicious and wonderfully drinkable.
I cannot find a US stockist, but Elite Wines of Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland ship the Domaine Les Bruyères wines.
My second enticing red was much more unlikely, and yet much more traditional in many ways. I really do like Portuguese wines and champion them whenever I can, but normally I seek out wines made from Portugal’s fascinating indigenous grape varieties. However the lovely people at Bacalhoa sent me their top red wine to try and I am so very glad they did as this superb Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend from Portugal came as a wonderful surprise.
Actually I should not have been surprised as I have happy memories of selling the same producer’s excellent Quinta da Bacalhôa many, many years ago. That is also a Cabernet-Merlot blend (very good and great value for money), but the Palácio da Bacalhôa is the Grand Vin of the estate and uses the very best selection of fruit.
The estate is centered on a very beautiful fifteenth century Royal palace and nestles on the Sétubal Peninsula to the South of Lisbon. The area is traditionally famous for producing fortified Moscatel de Setúbal (Bacalhôa produce several stunning Moscatels – including this multi awarded winning mature example) and the lovely red wines of the Palmela D.O.C. made from the local Castelão grape.
Rich cassis fruit gave way to ripe plum on the nose backed up by spicy coffee like oak and a fragrant fresh mint note.
The palate was rich and voluptuous with ripe black fruit, a freshening note from the cassis like acidity and some clean, firm structure from the firm tannic shell, which will soften, but actually really suits it right now as it is not harsh, quite smooth actually and, along with the coffee and spice notes from the oak, just holds the fruit in check.
A stunning wine, rich, ripe and concentrated, but wonderfully balanced. Every now and again, when dried fruit characters were to the fore, it came across as very Bordeaux like but when the fresher fruit dominated it was clearly riper, warmer and fruitier, from somewhere with a more generous climate.
I greatly enjoyed this excellent wine, but I would age this a little longer, just to soften out the tightness. If you love Claret, but want a little bit more value for money then some of this might be a great addition to any cellar – 91/100 points.
I cannot find a US stockist, but some information is available here.
So, further proof of just how delicious and enticing well made modern wine can be and how classic styles are constantly evolving and reinventing themselves in line with modern concepts and technical possibilities.
Whatever view you may have of European wine, always remember that nothing is written in stone, things change. If we had a time machine to go back to 1984 – when I joined the UK wine trade – with a bottle of each of these wines and tasted them alongside similar offerings of the time, we would be astounded. Because it has crept up on us we sometimes fail to notice how ripe, smooth, fruity, supple and downright delicious modern wines are. Neither of these showed much astringency or indeed anything that was unattractive in any way, which means that in their youth the rich fruit makes them pleasurable and as they mature the developing complexities will make them rewarding and enjoyable in a different way – although personally I have stopped ageing wines for anything like as long as I used to because modern wine is generally ready to drink so much earlier than the wines of my youth.