Jean León – wine & stardust

Even if you have never heard of him, Jean León is one of those people who enjoyed an infectiously interesting life. He was a Spaniard, from Cantabria, but by way of Barcelona, then France and stowing away on a ship to the United States he lived the American dream and created a legend.

Frankly he was also one of those people who seemed to either have good luck or knew how to make it. He survived with a series of menial jobs before joining the US Army to serve in the Korean War, and it was this service that entitled him to US nationality.

After finishing his stint in the army León got a job as a waiter at Hollywood’s trendy Villa Capri restaurant that was part owned by Frank Sinatra and Joe di Maggio. He must have been an affable and outgoing soul who made friends easily, as he developed a close friendship with James Dean and together they agreed to create a new luxury restaurant in Beverley Hills – La Scala. Dean died before it opened, but León went ahead and the new restaurant quickly became the Hollywood place for celebrity diners.

Jean León later created a boutique winery in Spain’s Penedès region and was the first to use Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay vines there in the early 1960s. This bodega is now part of the Torres group as León and Miguel Torres were such great friends and admirers of each others work that when Jean León became ill in the 1990s Torres bought the winery. His daughter Gigi meanwhile took over the restaurant and runs it to this day.

The view from the Jean León winery

It is a terrific winery and I was very taken with some of the wines I tasted there while attending the Miguel Torres Wine Course, it is that rarity in Spain, a true estate – or pago and the attention to detail shows. They produce some very good Chardonnays indeed, both the top end barrel fermented Jean León Viña Gigi (vineyard named for his daughter) Chardonnay and the fresher Jean León Petit Chardonnay were excellent quality. Continue reading

Red wines for summer – I rethink Beaujolais

In the heat my thoughts hardly ever turn to red wine, I normally seek refreshment in the summer.

What happens when you want something a little more, well red, on a summer’s day? Well a rosé can work, or there are some lighter reds, some Pinot Noir, Valpolicella perhaps, or something from the Loire?

The absolute classic of its kind though is something that I, for one, hardly ever think of drinking – Beaujolais. For quite some time now I have wondered if perhaps I do Beaujolais an injustice and should have another look at this wine that fashion has left behind. Continue reading

Louis Jadot – a tasting of their 2008 vintage

A

Recently I attended a wonderful tasting of fine Louis Jadot Burgundy wines from the 2008 vintage. They were young and need to develop a little, although some were drinking surprisingly well already – but it is so unusual to try such a wide range of famous wines from a single producer and  a single year that I think it is well worth telling you about the experience.

Like the preceding 2007 vintage, 2008 was a difficult year with a wet spring and quite a cold, wet summer making ripeness pretty tricky to achieve. In the end it came down to care in the vineyard and very rigorous selection of the grapes used.

Jacques Lardière

Continue reading