2016 Bordeaux – Multiple 100pt Chateau Pavie – Wine of the Vintage?

                                Chateau Pavie – Perfection in 2016 – Profound in Every Sense

My final full day of tasting 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week culminated just at it should have, two hours at Chateau Pavie.

Approaching the Pavie hills – their historic coteaux rising steeply behind the white-washed stone Chateau – the sky a deep blue, not a cloud to be witnessed, a sense of something very special came over me.

I’d heard from other professionals during the week that the subtle changes at Pavie had returned the most profound wine; not just that Pavie had ever bottled, but quite possibly of the 2016 vintage. As I made my way up the majestic, “Gone with the Wind” staircase to the open air tasting room, you could have heard a pin drop.

Though many were in attendance, there was a reverence in that space that day.

This was my 8th version of Pavie. This was the first time I have ever been so moved.

To say the Pavie terroir spoke through the wine is the understatement of the vintage. There has never been such a profound Pavie.

Wine of the vintage? Certainly better than a few of the Premier Crus.

Unquestionably among the top 3 of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage.

2016 Bordeaux – Thoughts On A Selectively Superb Vintage

                  One Of The Top Three Wines Of The Vintage For 2016 Bordeaux

 

Having recently returned from 8 grueling days in Bordeaux, tasting the 2016 Bordeaux during en primeur week – most days beginning at 7am, ending after even the pigeons had gone to sleep, usually close to 11pm – I can personally attest that the name of the game this year is “selectivity.”

Two thousand sixteen is NOT an across the board, knock it out the park home-run vintage.

Peaks and valleys – extreme highs, pitiful lows – exist practically everywhere when discussing 2016 Bordeaux.

The top producers – Premier Cru estates – performed very well, generally speaking. Pavie outdid themselves.

But as I made my way through some of the finest wines, tasting approximately 400 samples at various locations to include top negociants, the finest Chateaux, multiple UGC events (some visibly under-attended), certain aspects of the 2016 Bordeaux vintage became clear.

This was a vintage that challenged winemakers; many spoke of their fears – a repeat of 2013, troubles with mildew, uncontrolled yields – while others rightfully proclaimed they had made their finest wines ever.

I’ve tasted in Bordeaux for many years, and I concur with the assessment shared by Justine Tesseron at Pontet Canet when asked which vintage 2016 most closely resembles.

She looked me dead in the eye and said,

“2016; there’s never been anything else to compare.”

2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc – A “Visceral Thrill”

 

One of the first lessons we connoisseurs of the really good stuff figure out is “the French keep the good stuff for themselves.”

So it is with Champagne Ruinart, named in honor of the Benedictine Monk, Dom Ruinart – the bulk of their production is still sold mostly in France. Precisely why I attempt to squirrel away a few precious bottles of the 2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc whenever possible.

Established in 1729 with the inimitable declaration,

“In the name of God and the Saint Virgin shall this book be commenced”

Ruinart was the First Champagne House the world had ever known. The firm survived and even flourished through the upheavals of the Revolution, the Empire and the Restoration, celebrating successes in America, making an indelible impression on President Jackson in 1827.

This is a Blanc de Blanc truly without comparison in the ranks of the Grande Marques; produced entirely in steel, full malo, a significant holding on the Montagne de Reims. Time in bottle broadens this vinous treasure, today the 2004 is far superior when compared to my notes from last year.

Galloni – perhaps this nation’s greatest taster of Champagne – fawned over it,

“…viscerally thrilling…exceptionally beautiful…”ruinart-ii

2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” Pinot Noir – Phenomenal Old-Vine Beauty

 

Where The Rippon Magic Happens

 

I first began drinking these phenomenal Pinots with the early 2000s, earning the chance to work directly with the estate a couple years ago with a small release of their 2010s and sensational 2003s. My adoration is well known to friends, family and colleagues alike, with the Wine Advocate on record as well, referring to Nick’s wines as “Pinot Noirs that rekindled memories of those glorious Burgundy 2005’s”. You’ll be as thrilled as I am to hear that Nick’s most well-priced treasure – the 2012 Rippon “Rippon Mature Vines” – has finally landed in the States – ready for your immediate, hedonistic enjoyment!

The site which would eventually become known as Rippon was first planted to 25 various varietals during the 1970s by its founder, Rolfe Mills. Rolfe had spent time in the Douro Valley during the 1940s and the site of schist, rich in foliated mica and quartzite, on his land in Central Otago sparked a great curiosity. Rolfe began experimenting with his soils, isolating a parcel on the western board of Roy’s Bay, Lake Wanaka.

This ancient parcel is Rippon’s north-facing escarpment, and it forms the meeting point of terminal moraines and coarse gravels, all based in schist, where Central Otago’s earliest vines were planted. Rippon’s Mature Vines cuvee is issued from all of the fully developed Pinot vines growing in this expansive parcel. This is where it all began for Rippon, and the fruit of the vine from this parcel bears witness to the perfectionist style Nick (and his father Rolfe before him) is renowned for.

2012 “Rippon Mature Vines”

For those new to these pages, I’d like to take the time to remind folks how vital Nick’s training has been to the continuity of these world class Pinot Noirs. Not only are these the oldest plantings in the region, but they are tended by a man who spent his formative years working the soil and terroirs of Burgundy; he knew how vital his understanding of such things would be. To that end, Nick tenured with de Villaine (Domaine de la Romanée Conti) , and spent time with Jean-Jacques Confuron, Lucien Jacob, Alain Meunier, Nicolas Potel and Domaine de la Vougeraie as well. His are truly the wines of a master craftsman.

 

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Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie 2009 – Stefano Cesari’s Best Ever

Aerial View of Brigaldara

Aerial View of Brigaldara

“The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage… an object of real beauty.” Wine Advocate (ML)

With those words – and the highest score for any 2009 Amarone published up to that point – Wine Advocate used issued #217 to place Brigaldara on a pedestal reserved for the singular names in Amarone and the Veneto. For Stefano Cesari, it would be a proper recognition of a life’s work.

Perfectly situated on an incline above the Marano Valley (one of the four valleys which comprise the Valpolicella Classico zone) to the north of Verona and just outside San Floriano, Bigaldara’s 125 acre estate includes vineyards within the most important communes of the DOC. In particular, their “Case Vecie” vineyard – in the commune of Grezzana – is one of their most important holdings.

The estate bottled wines from Brigaldara began to gain recognition in the 1980s and Stefano Cesari recognized the importance of augmenting the family’s “Case Vecie” holding with additional parcels at higher elevations. Through rental agreements, the family began planting additional parcels to the “Case Vecie” vineyard in the early 1990s. The fruit from this new plot – 1,500 feet in elevation – has added phenomenal depth to the Amarone Case Vecie bottling.

For 2009, Brigaldara bottled their single greatest version of this intense, full bodied, ultra-complex yet elegant, velvety and flat out sexy wine to date. Gambero Rosso: Tre Bicchieri; Bibenda Wine Guide: 5 GRAPPOLI; and of course, our beloved Wine Advocate: 95 points!

2009 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie

The impressive 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie is a protagonist of the vintage thanks to the immense clarity and purity of fruit that is put on proud display. One step beyond those pretty fruit tones are more evolved and elaborate tones of leather, tar, resin, licorice and grilled herb. The wine is aged for four years in both barrique and botte grande and the oak has positively impacted the smooth, luscious texture of the mouthfeel. This is an object of real beauty.

95 points – Wine Advocate (ML)

For Amarone lovers and purists, this is a must-have …

Domaine du Clos des Fees – Hervé Bizeul’s Ethereal Cuvee le Clos des Fees

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

View from one of many old vine sites sourced by Hervé Bizeul

Among my most lasting memories of the Roussillon (France’s deep south-west at the border with Spain) was a visit to the region in the early 1990s. My host – pedal to the metal in his classic Citroen – zigzagged us up a seemingly abandoned, steeply angled road as we headed to the summit of a vineyard-capped mountain off the coast, near Port-Vendres.

Suddenly, he slammed on his brakes, summoning me to exit the car. Not quite to the summit, he said we’d made about 2,000 feet elevation, bringing my attention to the crumbling limestone slopes adjacent.

Dangling from the crumbling rock were the roots of vines from several meters above. The scree-covered slopes, eroded from years of wind-swept conditions were now exposing the roots of numerous vines. Yet these ancient roots had somehow remained burrowed into the mountain, their eventual source of nourishment seemingly dozens of meters below. Over the decades – battling every scourge from Mother Nature – these roots of time survived; life support for the ancient bush vines of multiple varieties covering the mountain above us.

These are the types of ancient vines and soils which comprise one fraction of the many complex parts that come together, resulting in some of the greatest wines now being made in the Roussillon. I’ve made this trip many additional times, searching for greatness.

I’m here to say that I’ve found it; and it resides at Domaine du Clos des Fees. Hervé Bizeul works with the most important terroirs on earth, every one of them available to him in the Roussillon. Tasting the fruits of his labor will utterly impress even the most seasoned tasters.

This is the kind of wine you want – it deserves discovery – and you’re going to be talking about it for years.

2012 Domaine du Clos des Fees Cotes du Roussillon Villages le Clos des Fees

My favorite of the lineup, the 2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Le Clos des Fées is a sensational effort that’s most likely the wine of the vintage. Made from 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 20% Carignan and the rest Mourvèdre that was aged 16 months in roughly 60% new French oak, it’s a classic, structured, age-worthy Roussillon that exhibits lots of blackberry and cassis fruit, smoked herbs, licorice and scorched earth. Full-bodied and concentrated, yet light on its feel, with a firm, focused finish, give it 2-3 years and enjoy bottles through 2027. There are few wines from the Roussillon I’d rather have in my cellar.

97 points – Wine Advocate (JD)

Hunt this one down; tell me what you think…

Emidio Pepe, Godfather of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

There’s Montepulciano, and then there’s Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano. Much the same as there’s Valpolicella, and then there’s Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli. I know there are many out there familiar with this sentiment; Emidio Pepe’s 2007 tops wine-searcher for popularity among all Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s for the vintage. Price? Makes absolutely no difference.

It all began for this incredibly famous family in 1899. That was the year of discovery for the “original” Emidio, grandfather to current generation Emidio. In the far northeastern reaches of Abruzzo – very near the border with Marche, within 50km of the Adriatic Sea – Emidio Pepe discovered that the Torano hills offered the perfect terroir and microclimate for Abruzzo varietals. It would seem that no other place on earth would prove as perfect for the production of such ethereal Montepulciano.

For several generations – from grandfather Emidio on down – the Pepe family farmed their famous hills, producing the most sought after grapes in the zone. Content to sell their production, estate bottling would not enter the Pepe family business until the 1960s. Enter the “new” Emidio Pepe, grandson of the “original”.

Beginning with a single hectare of land in 1964, Emidio Pepe began completely replanting, rebuilding a family legacy dating to the 19th century. Steadfastly he honored strictly traditional methods; new wood never entered his cellars, cement vats his exclusive choice – even as the locals and press of the time derided his methods. As his estate expanded – now at a healthy 15 hectares – Emidio slowly, but surely became the envy of the zone. International press lauded him; vintages from the 1970s ‘till current releases have flirted with perfect scores.

Celebrating his 50th year of independent production – his wife, daughters and granddaughter all now working at his side – Emidio Pepe has secured a legacy for the wines from his estate near Torano Nuovo. He tells of his first adventure to Manhattan, attempting to sell his Montepulciano while speaking no English. He beams, recalling that in 1970 his first placement was at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s beloved eatery. Today, his 2007 marks another incredible high mark for the man from Abruzzo.

2007 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  

Nearly impenetrable inky ruby color. Deep, brooding aromas of black cherry, violet, tar, shoe polish and botanical herbs. Sweet/sour flavors of black cherry, blueberry juicy, minerals and ink are complicated by a dusting of botanical herbs. This multilayered knockout of a wine finishes very bright and long, with repeating floral lift. Very clean and precise, and devoid of any funky animal aromas or flavors, it’s one of the best red wines from Pepe in years and a testament to the potential greatness of the Montepulciano grape.

96 points – Vinous (ID)

Precious few bottles make their way to retail of this great family’s heavenly Montepulciano. I’ve found mine, I hope your search is as successful…