Thursday, 18 February 2010

A lovely 20 year-old Minervois

Domaine La Combe Blanche Minervois 1989
Never let it be said that I prefer my wines young. To be honest, the older they are, the more I tend to enjoy them - just as long as they are still alive and kicking, of course! I bought around 15 bottles of this wine from my winemaker friend Guy Vanlancker, when I paid him a quick visit in La Liviniere last July. He had brought a bottle of it to Nottingham a year or two back, which went down really well at a tasting we presented together. He said he had one or two cases tucked away in his cellar, so I asked him to fish a few bottles out for me. After all, there was nothing to be gained from keeping them too much longer. And I guess that, for this quintessential struggling Languedoc winemaker, the thought of 10 Euros per bottle tucked away in his back pocket was not to be sniffed at.

The wine has a lovely colour - a deep, blood red core, fading to a relatively narrow mahogany rim. There's a fair amount of suspended sediment in there, but that is more because it wasn't stood up for that long before I opened it. The nose takes a little while to develop, but within an hour it really starts to open out. Not that there is too much in the way of primary fruit left, but there is plenty of interest in the secondary and tertiary aromas - forest floor, tobacco, cedarwood, leather and beef gravy. Later though, some attractive dried/crystallised black fruits come to the fore, along with hints of peppermint, dried herbs and a suggestion of citrus peel. The palate also develops over time, beginnining a little dry and austere, but filling out later, to reveal hidden depths of fruit, combined with just the right amount of savoury, herb and spice, and that all-important mouth-watering acidity.

This is not a wine that would necessarily show well in comparison to wines from more elevated appellations, designed specifically to age for 20-plus years, but its supposedly lowly origin shouldn't be forgotten. And on that basis, it is still performing remarkably well, and was a joy to drink without the pressure of competition. It has a slight rusticity that will never go away, but it also has a fair degree of restrained elegance and charm - something that cannot often be said for many of today's silky, modern, alcoholic fruit bombs. It is a wine of real character, which demands contemplation - and it is also a beautiful food wine. And that was a bit of a tough ask, tonight, as it ended up being paired with a (admittedly, fairly mild) chilli con carne(!) It sounds like a terrible match, but the wine performed admirably. Which is a testament to my friend Guy's enduring talent for fashioning beautiful, characterful, terroir-laden and long-lived wines.

Read more about the wines of Domaine La Combe Blanche.

1 comment:

Graham said...

I've occasionally had an older Languedoc that wasn't built to age, and at the current rate of stock consumption likely to have quite a few more......
While interesting, they can end up tasting as if they could come from pretty much anywhere and be made from any of a number of grape varieties. Perhaps this is an exception - no doubt benefiting from being in the grower's cellar for 20 years.