There is a new patch of winemakers scattered around the globe revitalizing old vineyards and turning what we knew about varietals and regional character upside down with their experimental, natural, or biodynamic infused techniques. They are creating both welcome excitement and dubious distraction thanks to savvy importers and their global distribution channels.
It’s understandably easy to be consumed by this tsunami of bleeding edge, fringe wine discovery and turn a cheek to the venerable. Back in the mid-eighties, when I was first smitten by fine wine, cellar aged top vintage Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Cabernet, and Port were the alluring “cool” treats wine enthusiasts bantered about inside their haughty vinous social circles. Now names like Donkey & Goat and Arianna Occhipinti, regions like Bierzo and Santorini, and experimental aging vessels like amphora instead of wood and steel dominate the chatter. Most likely, you won’t find too much ’82 Bordeaux, ’89 Chateauneuf du Pape, ’74 California Cabernet, ’85 Burgundy, nor ’63 Port in the cellars of budding modern day winos.
Prohibitive price escalation for top wines in great vintages dampened hopes for drinking age worthy wine from historic wine regions and has changed the cultural fabric of US wine enthusiasm
But there is hope and a path to incorporating the intense rewards of nursing wine to maturity in a damp dark cellar without breaking the bank. If you read the label closely, you’ll notice Domaine Marcoux, from France’s southern Rhone Valley village of Chateauneuf du Pape, has been making wine since the 1300’s. Really, there’s town records when the village was just referred to as Chateauneuf, before Pope Clement V and succeeding Popes in the 1300’s hung their zucchettos in Avignon and lent the the papal reference to Chateauneuf. In my brain, which is at its best processing simple thoughts, 700 years of experience with active vineyard production probably has something good to offer.
Around 1998 I picked up some ***** 1995 Domain Marcoux, not their premium Vieilles Vignes bottling, just the Chateauneuf du Pape comprised of 80% Grenache and the rest Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault. I paid $15 on sale off an $18 regular price. I opened one bottle and laid the rest away until this week when I thought it was time to revisit the wine. Frankly speaking, the wine is perfect. 100 points, 98 points, 95 points….who knows. But the wine is now perfect. It smacks of regality, classicism, and greatness. Amidst an onslaught of new great wines I have been trying over the last six months, it sits as the finest wine I have tasted this year. It is living proof that there is no need to buy several hundred dollar Cote Rotie, Bordeaux, or anything of the sort in order to experience the ultimate reward when venerability combines with patience. The wine is now in complete balance, purity in black cherry fruit, secondary aromatics dancing with the fresh berry, outstanding acidity that kept the wine exhilarating, and tamed tannins that were overwhelming in the late nineties. I could have drank a magnum by myself, I never wanted the experience to end. This beautiful wine has more life ahead, maybe 5-20 years, who knows, but right now it is drinking perfect.
To further demonstrate the lesson, you can find 1995 Domaine Marcoux on the market today for between $160 and $235. Honestly, it is worth the money, but why pay it? Today’s wine culture has more than 80% of acquired wine consumed within 48 hours after purchase. There are wines on the market today for $15-$25 that come from the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Languedoc, etc. that have the history to prove they will age like champs. I wonder how much of our national culture that increasingly smacks of impatience is getting in the way of thinking forward 20 years when it comes to wine enthusiasm, investing small money today for magical moments later in life? Laying wines like Domaine Marcoux down is a personal fixation, not a crusade, so let’s move on.
But if it was a crusade, then I would make this one more point. If you want to drink perfect $200 valued wine with bagels and cream cheese on Sundays at 11am like my friend Rich Auffrey and I did, then you will want to adopt my fixation.