Traveling around France and Spain with good friend and importer Enrique Ibenez last month I certainly had my share of excellent meals and great wines. But again and again Enrique, who can be a bit like a dog with a bone when he sets his mind to something, (right Fifi and Tin Tin?), kept talking about an unbelievable old Tarragona Chartreuse he had somewhere along the line. He fell in love with the stuff, and had an opportunity to buy a bottle a few years ago but passed because of the price. He has regretted it since and is now on a mission to find it. While we found a pretty good version along the way (VEP, aged longer in cask) and drank it with one of the wineries we were visiting, it was nothing like the Old Tarragona according to Enrique. So it was pretty much inevitable that when I saw both the '69 green and '71 yellow on the list of a great little wine bar/restaurant I stumbled across last week in Bordeaux, I had to try one in spite of the 48 Euro by the glass price. Why not? It's probably the only thing with a prayer of clearing my sorely abused palate of the 200+ young Bordeaux wines I had tasted in the last two days.
So I went for the 1969 Green, being the more intense of the two. The bottle came out (see the photo above) and was pretty nondescript, the classic Cartreuse label with a numbered bottle, and the only indication that it was something special was a certificate of authenticity attached with a rubber band - pretty loose labeling! I was poured a small glass and braced myself. Immediately an incredible strong wall of aromatics came from the little glass: lime blossom, Bergamot, bitter herbs, flowers, alpine spring, cola?, spice, anise and more. And booze, plenty of it. If you get through the bouquet without burning out your retro-nasal cavity, brace yourself for the taste. On the palate it is a seriously invasive full bore, albeit precise, attack. Prickly, intense, hot, spice, anise, and a wall of bitter herbs and flowers again, and oh yeah, did I mention the alcohol? A whopping 54 degrees, or 108 proof. So it comes in hard and fast, but then.....if you survive the hit..... it lingers and unfolds and all of the aromas and nuances cleverly hidden and woven into all that liqour engulf you, warm you - right to your soul - for a long, long time. Which is a good thing if you like what you are tasting, and a real problem if Chartreuse is not for you. Enrique was right - it's ethereal, unique, and nearly a religious experience, but definitely not for everyone. To learn more about this crazy beverage click here: Chartreuse Info. Coming soon: Bordeaux 2009 Preview.
Down to Earth Wine is about what I love in the wine biz: small growers making honest wines that are the expression of the vineyards, grapes and people where they are made. It is about learning about why wines taste the way they do and delving beyond the numerical scores that have become a shorthand for knowledge. It's looking at wine from the ground up.
To me, the most amazing thing about wine is its ability capture and express the conditions of the time and place where they were grown. I find that in my 30 years involved with wine that the best wines are often the result of a philosophy of winemaking that believes that these natural influences should be the main story, creating wines with transparency, elegance, balance and finesse that allows the nature in the wine to shine though.
To help navigate the posts, they are categorized by type, and now include Vignettes: thoughts and musings on regions, travels, dinners and experiences; Cellar Defenders: favorite value wines; Vins de garde: Wine for the cellar; and Vins Vert, great organic, Biodynamic and naturally made wines.
Taste, travel, experiment, enjoy!