Can there be a more visceral wine experience than tasting some of the world’s greatest wine estates and all the while their principals just seem to only talk about history and family? Makes me think about parents, grandparents and children. About accomplishments, passing torches and smelling roses. Or something like that.
Perhaps it was the news of Etienne Hugel’s passing that was the impetus for me to relive this day, where giants gathered and mere mortals did their best to take in the magnitude of such a coterie of distinction. That afternoon gifted me and others their five minutes with Mr. Hugel, the epitome of Alsatian, a tireless ambassador for the Hugel brand, Alsace wines and the Primum Familiae Vini congregation of producers. Or maybe it was just the right time, a crossroads one year later where the confluence of circumstance and thought conjoined to let the notes come out.
The PFV estate principals arrived in Toronto for an April 23rd, 2015 Press Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel organized by wine ambassador Christophe Brunet. On hand were Hubert De Billy, Etienne Hugel, Laurent Drouhin, Egon Müller, Miguel Torres, Priscilla Incise della Rocchetta, Thomas Perrin, Allegra Antinori, Julien Beaumarchais de Rothschild, Pablo Alvarez and Rupert Symington. Each arrived to represent eleven of the world’s leading families that at the time of the tasting, made up the association: Marchesi Antinori, Château Mouton Rothschild, Joseph Drouhin, Egon Müller Scharzhof, Hugel & Fils, Champagne Pol Roger, Famille Perrin, Symington Family Estates, Tenuta San Guido, Miguel Torres and Vega Sicilia. Each family owns vineyard estates, is one of its country’s most prestigious producers, and enjoys an international reputation for its wines. Each year in turn, a member of the association is elected President. The 2014/2015 President was Alessia Antinori, while in 2015/2016 she was succeeded by Miguel Torres.
Primum Familiae Vini supports charitable causes, hosting gala dinners to raise funds for a local charity by auctioning a PFV Collection Case. The beneficiaries have primarily been focused on helping disadvantaged children, the handicapped and specialist hospitals including. Some of these beneficiaries have been Childhood Brazil, Brasil, San Patrignano Charity, Italy, Grapes for Humanity, USA, Somdetya Charity Fund, Thailand, Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF), Singapore, The Public Welfare of Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo and the The Toronto Foundation for Student Success. In total, over $325K has been raised.
As you well know it’s all about the wine and the tasting note for Godello. The art of composing snapshots of wines tasted is a cathartic experience and the only way to bring about closure. It is a necessary process, cannot and will not be abandoned. The scores attached can stay put or go away. Neither relevant nor essential, scores are merely road signs on the exegetical path through wine. Once you pass them by their use is no longer needed.
My notes for the wines tasted are long and prosaic, even longer than most that I write, which says something about the profundity of such a tasting. That it took me the better part of a year to finalize my thoughts is not surprising. Until now I found no way to serve proper justice to these wines.
The Jubilee’s style mirrors a reflection, of name, its maker and in the ripples it will gently spread as it progresses through time. Riesling that will eventuate to luxe, calme et volupté, like coming home after 50 years, resolved of sin, “in this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” Hugel’s Jubilee is sourced from family-owned vines on the steep slopes of the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg above the village of Riquewihr. Terroir of great variegation; Keuper, marl, dolomite and gypsum, quaternary siliceous gravel, Vosges sandstone, Muschelkalk and periphery Lias marl limestones. The vintage is special, with no allowance for yields to climb and rife with sought after Riesling attributes. That of tannic intent, coursing coarseness of mineral condensation and repossessing acidity wrapped up in an enigma. Going forward it will gently give back but also remain rigid, slightly hidden, at times dormant, until such time when paraffin and honey take over. One of the finer Riesling cuvées of Alsace. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted April 2015 @ @ @ @ @
From one of the great Champagne vintages of the last 20 years, the 2002 ode to the British Bulldog is full of French vigor and supernatant rationalism. In 2015 its hue is golden gingered and the fine mousse causes sensory skips in the heart’s beats. These bubbles pay attention and tease the most sensitive olfactory nerve endings. The brioche baking and crumbs toasting are still just mere twinkles in the aromatic eye. The year 1996 is on many tasters’ minds and this wine has no qualms telling a direct lineage tale. Can there be more proof than what is spoken in the structure of this young wine? The bitters are forged from compression, without weight and void of oppression. A pleasure to taste, this Champagne is a deactivated refugee from an ancient European dominion. It’s hard to imagine it ever being anything but elegant and cool. Drink 2016-2027. Tasted April 2015 @ @ @
Drouhin’s Les Clos is Chablis incarnate. It delivers the importance of form and structure, with the incantatory power of storytelling to foresee the eventuality of its Moirai. It possesses the staying power to reveal the truth and reward with the fullness of gratification. Imagine pears, some dried and some fresh, pulverized and turned into gold stone. That is Les Clos. Barrels used are one to four years old and since 2004 there is no stirring of the lees. This determination arranges to opt for longevity of structure over immediacy in elegance. The enclosure is lacy organza, the interior filled with ripe fruit. Time (60 minutes) induces a mine of mineral wealth emergence, of shifting plates and rising outcrops from the quarry underfoot. Patience is required to bring all the moving parts in line. Drink 2017-2027. Tasted April 2015 @ @ @ @ @
It must first be said that after 90 minutes in the glass the orange blossoms open in the early morning to release their spring fragrance into the room. In a conference room at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Now I don’t really know if the Scharzhofberg vineyard was actually planted by the Romans or if it was occupied by eighth century Trier St Marien ad Martyres monks. If following the French Revolution it was in the possession of the Duchy of Luxembourg I couldn’t say. I can equivocate, with irrefutable conviction that tasting Egon Müller’s 1994 twenty one years after its release confirms the vineyard’s reputation for housing irreverent Riesling. The arcade fire of remarkable hue, life-affirming aromatic energy and sky-lift brilliance is palpable. At 20 plus years the ideology, eventuality and passionate progression of purely distilled Mosel fruit is realized. Currently suspended in jet-trail animation, the sugars over gas of this Kabinett are quantitatively resilient. The relationship has seen a symbiotic feeding for longevity. Riesling of stoicism, classic prevalence and perfect balance. The specific Scharzhofberg tang has been revised to elevate a new order derivative recorded in every pure note. “There’s a weight that’s pressing down, late at night you can hear the sound.” Time held will move forward ever so slowly. Keep the car running. Drink 2015-2034. Tasted April 2015 #EgonMuller @
The Torres Mas La Plana explains to the world why Penedès is one of the most important Cabernet Sauvignon outposts on the planet. In deference to its moniker, flat is not the operative word. With such lifted exuberance, richness and depth of fruit, it must be dared said that Bordeaux wisdom speaks from its Spanish roots. If Mas La Plana can always be good, this vintage is great. The layering of wood over Penedès soil gives it spice and subterranean pungency; cinnamon, clove, truffle and morel. This wine is now an internationally-styled giant, an expatriate made French wine with Spanish flair. Layered, structured and so much special fruit. All about the fruit. Drink 2016-2023. Tasted April 2015 @ @
Expectations are high for 2005 and the opening notes of warmth, amenity and avail confirm the dream. Soon thereafter the Beaucastel plays hard to get, walks away and closes down. At this 10 year juncture its evolution is only matched by its elegance, especially considering the initial arterial ardor in mimic of the vintage. Resurfacing to conjure up character in aromatics, mint, eucalyptus, garrigue, coal and tar evince this pure Châteauneuf Du Pape. A wine of global receptiveness, the 2005 rendition tames the conception. There is very little about its personality that is parochial but rather it represents what it means to be a star, everywhere, omnipresent, for everyone. After 60 minutes it actually closes down again. This will be one of the longest lived Beaucastels. Drink 2017-2045. Tasted April 2015 @ @ @ @
Tasting the 2007 Solaia feels like looking directly skyward into the high noon sun with a semi-peeled orange in one hand, juices dripping, zest split and fragrant. Flowers bloom all around, cypress trees stand as sentries, sentient and giving off a savoury musk. The rosemary joins in, as do the lavender and the fennochio, because there is a breeze. Then there is only the pitchy darkness, the iron and the animale. This Solaia exudes sunshine, creme caramel and maturity. As per the style, especially in warmer vintages, Solaia always speaks of early evolved character though you know it will last for a very long time. This I have come to know, expect and believe. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted April 2015 @ @
Now increasingly accessible, the ripe and ferric Sassicaia ’09 continues to roar but the gamy musk of the wild beast is on the subside. The tannins have begun to relent and yet no holes, empty spaces or time-outs are to be found. With 60 minutes of air time the fruit speaks of plum hyperbole and dried flowers fill the air. Ten more years lay comfortably ahead. Drink 2015-2025. Last tasted April 2015 #TenutaSanGuido @
From my earlier note of November 2012:
The raven brunette is anything but sappy or syrupy yet is impossibly viscous. Hints at ripe berries growing in the crags of maritime gravel and the most expected hits of sanguine, animal musk. A huge wine in the making, the adolescent hunter Sassicaia off-roads up a steep incline to go tell it on the mountain of tannin. Disappears into parts unknown and will only reappear as a mature adult. Look to 2025 and it may say “the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey.”
Where to begin? That Cabernet Sauvignon can so facilely lay down the law, with deputy Merlot and deputized Cabernet Franc in support, that it can syncopate and elucidate the infinite, of soil information into warmth and depth, that is does so in such a wondrous way, well, that is the crux. Mouton of incredulous form, of a liqueur that is wholly unique, even to Bordeaux. An intoxicant and yes, funky, a distilled terroir, compressed, eschewing the fractional and essaying to integration. Reduced, layered and yet bereft of cheese, cloy or cake. Healthy as a community of organisms can be, wealthy in its archetypal discretion and drawn of an architectural line to ritualize structure. Precise, innate, insistent and balanced. The cleanest, purest and ripest fruit from 10 years ago had always and continues to cut an exegetical rug on one of the greatest dance floors of wine. An age exemplary Mouton in requiem of Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone’s label design. After 60 minutes it neither closes nor shrinks away. Open for business. Drink 2015-2045. Tasted April 2015 #moutonrothschild
In a room full of Primum Familiae Vini no iconic red stands out with more singular parlous deference than the 2004 Unico. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez and seeing his immediate reaction speaks volumes about its place in time and how it is showing. Alvarez does not smile so much as he simply acknowledges the work put in. Unico is correct and it is priceless. Is Alvarez making a comparison in his mind? Is he thinking 1970 or perhaps 1994? It does not matter because this blend of Tempranillo (87 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (13) obviates derivative characteristics and so exhibits a kind of synoptic insatiability. Its persona is simply me, myself and I. The liqueur is not Bordeaux or IGT. The aromatics are exotic to the nth degree. The succulence and sucking inward grape tension is old and wise but the wine has 30-40 years of undetected evolution ahead. There is no need for a longevity prayer, just let it be. My ears hear “mais qu’est-ce que c’est bon!” perhaps from Alvarez, or maybe it came from Laurent Drouin to my left. The youthful Unico is like Les Enfantastiques, it has the “no se que” and we can call it terroir, from place, soil, climat and culture. Something that advances this early and yet has gone nowhere should be impossible. The precocious wisdom is beyond years, has reached a point at 10 that is palpable and yet so far from what it may become. It should be left alone for five more to find out. Drink 2020-2055. Tasted April 2015 @ @
Graham’s Vintage Port 1977, Douro, Portugal (706663, $109.00, WineAlign)
The year 1977 was a huge one for the Douro and this Peter Symington vintage interpretation echoes the overemotionalism. The pitchy rim seems to be writhing, the aromatics roiling and my first thought is one of a houseguest that wishes he could escape an over vivid host. Vegetative freshness calms the savage beast; bouquet garni, garrigue and savoury herbiage from high yielding fruit. If cherries were roses and vice versa, they too would deter and distract. This VP has presence and distinction. It changes tempo, wades in the waters of age and treads with minimum effort. The toasted nut component is subtle, more than many and certainly in comparison to the modern era of Graham’s and others. The dry florals whiff as if the petals never dropped or ever will. The perfume drives upwards, to the ethereal. Nice little piece of Vintage Port history. Drink 2015-2022. Tasted April 2015 @ @
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel