We bought the rest
2014 DOMAINE des BERNARDINS – Beaumes de Venise, Rhone Valley, France
Come Hell or high water, I’ll be showing this place to a dozen or so Wine Steward friends next May. Just down the road from Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the village of Beaumes de Venise is historically better known for its dessert wines made from Muscat. Kermit Lynch was the first to show us a red version based on Grenache, but this ancient-looking bottling from Bernardins wins on the merits of complexity and intrigue. Here is a Southern Rhone blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% Grenache Blanc behaving – to my nose and palate - as if it might otherwise be from the NORTHERN Rhone. Even the darker hue suggests so.
Explanation: The southern Rhone villages including Beaumes de Venise are known for Grenache-based wines which more often express the “redness,” not the purple-ness, of the fruit idea. Kirsch, raspberries, and cherries are common descriptors for these. This Bernardins follows the local grape recipe, but behaves otherwise; appearing darker with a purple-brown balsamic cast, smelling darker with incense and olive tapenade, tasting darker with compelling licorice, cured meats, black cherries, and smoke. These descriptors are more often attributed to Northern Rhone wines. The reds from up there use but one red (purple!) grape – Syrah – and the less-sunny situation along with prevalently granite soils express a cool-weather version of the varietal that’s hard to duplicate. Now, Northern Rhone reds (and perhaps this imitator) aren’t automatically everyone’s cup of tea. We call such challenges “arrival wines,” which must be tried a few times in different environments before the “Hey, I get it!” light comes on – if it ever will. To those who are young in this learning curve, we sympathize but we don’t apologize; we’re doing our job here. The more inquiring wine mind will at least have its healthy sense of wonder indulged, with the most imaginative of you asking, “What should I eat with this?” Truly, this is a food wine, and whether or not my Northern Rhone allusion works for you, grilled lamb certainly will – as will a Burgundy-style glass.
Another Village, Another Wine
2015 BLACK SLATE ‘Vi de la Vila’ – Priorat, Catalunya, Spain (usually)
Many of the same folks who will accompany me in May to France’s Rhone region will add a few extra days to their itineraries so they can also see THIS remarkable place. We are a 1.5 hour’s drive south of, and a little inland from, Barcelona – and a whole world away from that cosmopolitan city based on a hotter / colder continental climate and a formidable farming situation. One is hard-pressed to locate a tractor in Priorat; such a convenience is of little use in this land of virtually no level ground. The local soil is less dirt and more mineral – an infertile slate so often remarked upon (and probably just as frequently cursed) it has its own name: Llicorella.
Historically, Priorat was a land left to but peasants, where a meager living might be scratched out of the steep, unyielding terrain. While grapevines have survived here for centuries the international renown for Priorat’s wines is but a few decades old. The local wine industry required the scrutiny of outsiders for its crop to be better respected. The nerve-instilling slate has always been there, the grapevines have always yielded a tiny but intense crop, but until recently quality winemaking was the missing link to Priorat’s new success. Importers such as Eric Solomon have had a huge positive impact on this scene, and ultra-wines (with ultra-prices) all of a sudden became the norm.
. . . Yet Priorat has thankfully experienced one more wine revolution: The emergence of a more affordable product. Ten years ago there was no such thing as $20 Priorat, but the everyday wine drinker can now savor the place on his or her own financial terms. Here, from aforementioned Eric Solomon, is one of a series of Priorat reds providing great value while still accurately representing the various neighborhoods of this unique wine realm. The village of Gratallops is thought by some to be the heart of Priorat. Certainly, the place is wonderfully smelled, tasted, and – most importantly – FELT in this bottling. Yes, the texture of this Grenache / Carignan / Syrah blend is the Priorat Difference, borne by a vital fourth ingredient, the Llicorella slate!
Indulge this flavorful yet nervy red with a boldly-flavoured meal. Grilled meats should do the trick!
90 points from both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and International Wine Review, by the way!