I realize that I have already written about these topics here, but a recent tasting of a single wine from the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation and from my cellar brought them back to mind with force. They are, after all, constant issues in the matter of wine. The bottle that triggered this article is one of Château de Parenchère, cuvée Raphael, from the 2001 vintage. This vintage is no longer commercially available but the 2015 edition can be found for around 13 euros a bottle. In total contast to this, one could mention the rather extreme and, to me, utterly ridiculous case of that wine, also from the Bordeaux region and called Liber Pater, whose owner has managed to sell a few bottles of the first vintages of his wine at the already absurd price of 3,500 euros a bottle! (all prices qouted apply to France). I admit to not having tasted this, but no wine can possibly be worth such a sum anyway, unless of course you have more money than common sense. The owner of this estate, whose weird practices raise more than a few eyebrows and who apparently looks down on all other producers in his region, is now even more proud as he has put his 2015 on the market at the price of 30,000 euros a bottle. Yes, those are 4 zeros! How can an ambition like this, namely to sell your wine for more money than anyone else, interest anyone apart possibly from the Guiness Book of Records?
Now back to the real world. I had a full case of this Château de Parenchère, cuvée Raphael 2001 that had been sitting in my cellar for maybe 15 years and the other day I decided to open the wooden box and bin the bottles. My colleague and stepson, Sébastien Durand-Viel, who works with me, took one and served it blind at a family dinner the other day. I was totally useless at guessing anything except its probable age (I said 15 to 20 years), since I then started fumbling around between Italy, southern Rhône/Provence or even Australia. It is in fact a 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and from the eastern entremity of the Bordeaux region, on the left bank of the Dordogne. But my incapacity at blind tasting is not the point here.
The chateau, in the Entre-deux-Mers region
The wine was simply fabulous! Tannins smoothed out and well entwined with sumptuous but not overpowering fruit showing the refinement of time and strong hints of soft spices and tobacco. The fruit had thus evolved into the tertiary stage, polished but never heavy. The whole wine was richly aromatic, with great length, perfect balance and lots of character. It was a real treat and I would have guessed that it was from a bottle that could easily be worth well over 50 euros. I have written and spoken before about the remarkable value-for-money provided by the best wines from the ill-considered appellations Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérior. Here was one more example and one that also proved another key point: the remarkable ageing capacity of the best of these wines. This cuvée from Parenchère has figured in past editions of my annual selections from the appellation, but I never imagined that it could age so gracefully and indeed bloom into the substance of glowing beauty that I tasted that evening. We are talking about 18 years for a wine whose retail price is not far above ten euros, and I am not streching a point when I say that the wine was perfect and in no way over-the-top. On opening the wooden case, I noticed a small slip of ocre paper lying there that explained things about the wine in a text signed by Jean Gaziniol, the then owner of this estate. At the end of this text, there was a paragraph entitled AGEING POTENTIEL in which he stated that this wine would be at its best in 2010 and would start to decline from 2015. We are in 2019 and the wine has not yet started to decline, I can assure you!
Another bottle of this particular wine from my cellar
Perhaps a word about this vintage is appropriate here. I have always considered 2001 to be a very good vintage in Bordeaux, and regularly better that the highly rated (perhaps often for symbolic reasons) 2000. It also seemed particularly suitable for ageing, with both freshness and quite a taught tannic structure. This is indeed validated by this wine, and I have others in my cellar from the same vintage which bear out these qualities.
I know by experience that wine ages well in my cellar, and this is of course an essential factor to consider when looking at keeping wine. This is one of the reasons why I always find it hard to advise people about the cellaring capacity of a particular wine, since this will largely depend on the conditions of storage. My cellar is dark (no light bulbs), with high natural humidity (around 70%) from being under-ground with a stone wall that breathes on one side It is a little too warm in the summer and I need to improve on the insulation on two sides of the wall that I built inside a formar stable to create the cellar. The thermometer rises gradually to 20°C, from a winter low of around 12°C. But this fluctuation is very gradual between winter and summer and does not seem to have an adverse effect on the wines.
Another consideration is of course one’s taste. If you like your tannins to be thick and with plenty of impact, and your fruit flavours very much on the fresh fruit side, then there is not a lot of point in ageing your wines for many years. One can see indeed how many people’s palates have become so used to drinking young wines that they have trouble adjusting to the greater complexity and different flavour patterns of older vintages. But I strongly feel that what makes wine so interesting is its capacity to evolve in time, creating huge diversity in its aromatic and flavour profiles. As this particular example shows also, it is the quality of the fruit and the wine-making that shows through in the long term, and much less the particular geographic origin of even the grape varieties of the wine. This is what so often make older wines much harder to identify than their younger versions in a blind tasting, or am I just finding an excuse for my poor performance in this case?
Whatever the reasons for all of this, one cannot deny the extraordinary value-for-money that this wine represents. 13 euros (in fact less at the time of purchase), for a wine that gives such great pleasure after 18 years, is truly remarkable and puts into perspective so many counter-exemples. I mentioned one such example at the beginning of this article. For most of us, wine is about pleasure, discovering and sharing, and definitely not about how much money a bottle costs. If there are a few super-rich snobs in the world who think otherwise, let them get on with it: there are plenty of excellent wines at very reasoanble prices from so many parts of the world out there to give the rest of us what we are looking for. And try forgetting some bottles in your cellar for ten or twenty years just to see what happens. You need a decent cellar, of course, and you should also be prepared to accept good and also less good surprises. This was a very good one indeed: thank you Parenchère!