Specialty Club – February 2011

2007 Domaine de la Charbonnière, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Veilles Vignes
As readers of our friend Peter Lewis’ murder mystery Dead in the Dregs can attest, wine writers have obtained an inordinate amount of power in promoting or destroying particular regions, varietals or vintages. In the real world, there is no better example than Robert Parker’s declaration that the 2007 vintage was one of the greatest ever in the history of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the southern Rhône Valley. Suddenly, prices rose and many wines, some very good, some overripe fruit bombs, became available in only tiny quantities.

This is NOT one of those high-priced, overripe wines. Originally criticized by Parker as unstructured and backward, this more traditional Châteauneuf has matured into a beautifully balanced wine, delicate and elegant yet also rich and complex. The estate was founded in 1912 by Eugene Maret, and was originally named “Carboniére,” since the vineyard was originally a site for the burning of charcoal. Eugene’s grandson Michael is the current winemaker. While he has completely modernized the winery, he has also kept to a relatively traditional winemaking regime, generally avoiding fining and filtering. The grapes picked for this old vines cuvee average about 30 years in age, although some of the Grenache comes from the very old vines right next to Vieux Telegraphe’s La Crau property. To adapt to the hot summer of 2007, Michael increased the percentage of heat-adaptive Mourvedre from its usual 15% up to 30% and kept Grenache at 70%. By eliminating the Syrah entirely from the blend, he was able to keep the alcohol down and avoid those overripe flavors that we see in many other 2007 Châteauneufs. While beautiful now, this wine will continue to develop for another seven to ten years. It is $60 and we have just a few bottles left.

2008 Azienda Agricola Bastianich, Vespa Bianco
Four years ago, we put the 2004 vintage of Bastianich’s flagship wine in the Specialty Club, and it was a big hit. Distribution problems have limited its availability in the last few years, and so we were overjoyed to be able to buy it from a new distributor. Joe and Lidia Bastianich have become world famous as restaurateurs, authors, and television personalities (not to mention their many food and wine collaborations with Chef Mario Batali), but they are also well-known in Italy for the wines from their properties in Friuli and Tuscany. The Vespa Bianco, from their Friuli estate, is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and a touch of late harvest Picolit — a white grape from the Friuli region that lends this sumptuous wine an amazing mouth feel. The Sauvignon Blanc provides plenty of minerality and citrus, while the Chardonnay supplies flavors of honey and pear. For food pairings, the Bastianichs recommend it with roasted turkey or duck, shellfish, mushroom based dishes, and cheese-dressed pastas. The Vespa Bianco is $39 and still in pretty decent supply, despite the fame of the Bastianich name. Enjoy it now or over the next seven to ten years.