I Put A Red Wine in the Fridge by Mistake but Like the Result

For reasons that we had better not go into, I made an unfortunate mistake with a bottle of red Côtes du Rhône and put in the fridge to cool down for dinner (I had thought it was a white). Although my first reaction when I opened the bottle and it turned out to be red was that I had spoiled it for dinner, this turned out to be an interesting experience.

I had a glass to start off at fridge temperature while the rest of the bottle warmed up (in a container of warm water given the emergency conditions). Actually it didn’t show too badly – difficult to get the aromatics, of course, but the palate was quite smooth, evidently powerful, and seemed quite refined for Côtes du Rhône. It gave the impression it might have quite a good proportion of Syrah.

Once it came up to room temperature, it was a different story. Blackberry fruits on the nose showed a touch of asperity, and the palate was overwhelmingly powerful. With 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 20% Mourvèdre, coming from 40-year-old vines, fruits were intense, although not jammy. Too dense to see structure directly, but must be there underneath. High alcohol, at 15%, contributed to a mix of sweetness and bitterness on the finish. All traces of refinement disappeared and the wine showed the brutality of power. This was the 2011 vintage, so some of its strength is due to youth, but with 15% alcohol I find it hard to see how it’s going to calm down.

I actually enjoyed the wine more straight out of the fridge. Alcohol was evidently high but not oppressive, and the palate gave a much calmer, more refined impression: although it was harder to see fruit flavors, they weren’t tainted by sweetness and bitterness on the finish. So if you are going to drink a 15% red Côtes du Rhône, it may not be a bad idea to cool it down a bit first.

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The Peak of Mourvèdre: Domaine Tempier’s Bandols. Unyielding when young, when do they come around?

I’ve tasted young vintages of Domaine Tempier’s Bandols, and visited the domain for a comparison of recent cuvées, but these wines are so stern and sturdy when young that they are hard to assess, and you feel you may be missing the point. So I seized the opportunity to go to a vertical tasting in New York extending back to the early eighties (organized by Acker with a dinner at Boulud Sud).

The appellation wine from 2012 is impenetrable to the point at which it’s hard to get a good sense of future direction, but the single vineyard La Tourtine shows fragrant, elegant aromatics, albeit monotonic at this stage, but in a straight lineage back to 1989, 1986, and 1983. It’s a fantastic impression of the purity of Mourvèdre fruits (it’s 80% Mourvèdre), but although it softens and broadens out with time, it isn’t until it’s reached thirty years old, at least for me, that the aromatics calm down enough for it to be a really good accompaniment to food.

La Migoua, which has 50% Mourvèdre, shows broader flavors in all vintages. A direct vertical from 1989 to 1985 shows less vintage variation than you would see with, say, Bordeaux or Burgundy, but the 1988 stands out for its breadth, compared to the slightly tighter impression of 1989, the less intense 1987 and slightly flatter 1986, until you get to the 1985, the most complete wine of the tasting.

In every vintage where there was a direct comparison, La Tourtine seemed to me to be the finer wine, but La Migoua, with its broader flavor spectrum, was a better match with food. It is however probably no coincidence that my preferred vintage for both wines is the oldest tasted, 1985 for Migoua and 1983 for Tourtine.

There was only one vintage of the cuvée with the most (95%) Mourvèdre, the 2005 Cabassou (which comes from a specially protected spot in the Tourtine vineyard), which however developed more complexity in the glass than shown by any of the younger vintages of Migoua or Tourtine.

Mourvèdre has high tannins, but these have been well tamed in all the cuvées, and the issue in aging is not so much resolution of bitterness as the need to develop flavor variety. None of these wines showed the gamey character that can be associated with Mourvèdre, a sign perhaps of the ripeness of the grapes. Development comes slowly, beginning after about ten years for Migoua and nearer to twenty for Tourtine. The first signs of savory character do not show for almost thirty years, 1985 for Migoua, 1983 for Tourtine (but the Tourtine did not seem anywhere near realizing its full potential).

Will complexity develop in the next decade or will the wines begin to decline? Since these single vineyard wines were first produced in 1969, I’m beginning to wonder whether in fact there is a long enough history yet to be able to assess their development.