In 2016, we'll be appearing for the first time at the Naples Winter Wine Festival. Our invitation was a pretty big honor; the event is typically one of the top few grossing charity wine auctions in the country each year, and has raised over $135 million for the Naples Children & Education Foundation since its inception in 2001. They only invite some 45 vintners each year, selected from top wineries around the world.
The highlight, for us, of our participation will be a vintners dinner my parents will be co-hosting at a private home with Francois and Isabelle Perrin and Chef Dustin Valette of Valette in Healdsburg, CA. Each course will be paired with a wine, poured from Magnum, from Beaucastel and a comparable wine from Tablas Creek. We'll show our newest Esprit de Tablas Blanc (paired with a Beaucastel Roussanne Vieilles Vignes) with the first course, and an older Esprit de Beaucastel (paired with a Beaucastel Rouge) with the second. The fourth and final course is dessert, and we'll provide one of our Vin de Paille wines out of our library.
For the third course, Beaucastel is sending their 2001 Hommage a Jacques Perrin. For those of you unfamiliar with the wine, it is their elite cuvee, made only in great years, and 2001 was one of the greatest of Beaucastel's (relatively) recent vintages. The wine should be mind-blowingly good, just entering maturity at age 14. It was for this wine that we needed to find a partner.
We have been making Panoplie, which we model after the Hommage a Jacques Perrin, most vintages since 2000. Like Hommage, it's a cherry-pick through the cellar, typically two-thirds or more Mourvedre, showing off the combination of lushness and structure that Mourvedre can provide in a great vintage. We always add some Grenache, and typically a little Syrah. A few times, we've added Counoise. Looking at our magnum library narrowed our choices some. We didn't bottle magnums before 2002. We were nearly out of magnums of 2004 and 2006. We were providing the 2005 vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel for the previous course, and thought it would be more interesting to show a different vintage. And we didn't think that anything from 2008 or younger would have the age-given depth to stand up to the 2001 Hommage. So, we pulled samples of 2002, 2003 and 2007 to choose between:
Short story: we're sending the 2003 Panoplie to Naples. My notes on each of the three wines are below, with why we preferred the 2003 at the end. I've linked each wine to the page on our Web site with detailed production notes.
- 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A deep nose, showing some age, of old leather, black tea and herbs, not at all fruity. Very classically Mourvedre. The mouth is broad and almost thick in texture, very chewy, with baker's chocolate, red cherry, and cassis. A nice tanginess highlights the fruit on the palate, which isn't evident in the nose. To us, this was incredibly evocative of Mourvedre, powerful, but a bit one-dimensional. This may not be surprising given it contains the highest-ever proportion of Mourvedre for a Panoplie.
- 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): A higher-toned nose, with crunchy red raspberry fruit, deepened by garrigue and rosemary. The mouth is deeply fruity but still vibrant, higher toned and fresher than the 2002, with flavors of milk chocolate, red cherry, and ripe plum. It isn't quite as chewy as the 2002, but more than makes up for it with liveliness. The finish shows more raspberry and herbs, ripe tannins, and confectioner's sugar. Lovely, and interesting too.
- 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is amazing: intensely fruity (blackcurrant and plum) but with earth and leather and aged meat underneath. The mouth is big, still a little thick with fruit, then a little hollow on the mid-palate in this stage of its development, with massive tannins coming out and leaving lingering flavors of wild undergrowth, black currant and a steely minerality that is more impressive than friendly on the finish. We all thought that the wine would likely be stunning the next day, but that opening it (in magnum, no less) for a dinner in two months carried some risk.
So, we felt a little like Goldilocks. The 2002 wine was showing a little on the older side, not quite enough fruit or liveliness for what is likely going to be a blockbuster comparison. (My dad said, "if I were serving this alone at my dinner table, I'd love this, but I worry about it sitting beside the Hommage".) The 2007 was a little too young, too undeveloped and brawny, and we thought it would seem uncivilized beside its six-year-older partner. The 2003 was just right: rich but vibrant, fruity but savory, appealing but thought-provoking too.
A few other concluding thoughts:
- We have consistently underestimated the quality and longevity of the 2003 vintage. When we made it, the wines seemed so appealing, so juicy and effortless, that we thought they wouldn't have the complexity to age. Boy, were we wrong. At each of our vertical tastings, from reds to whites, from Esprit to Cotes, the 2003's have been standouts. If you have one in your cellar, open it up.
- We opened and tasted these wines in the fairly compact time frame of roughly half an hour. We all thought that the 2007 was opening up throughout the tasting, and would likely have been great another 12 hours later. If you're opening one of these younger Panoplies, definitely decant it in advance.
- I'm jealous of my parents, who will get to host the dinner.
At least I got to try these three wines!