May 30, 2010

1998 Prieuré St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc

I've mentioned on Twitter how I've opened a few bottles from the cellar this weekend that were over the hill. One I'd bought years ago, a half bottle of '96 Chateau d'Epire Savennieres, so long ago it came from the original Berkeley Bowl before the move from the (in fact) converted bowling alley to its now decade-plus conventional home. Others included Winebid purchases that will go unmentioned. Let's just say that I've had some amazing successes buying at online auction. These weren't those.

However, I'm confident in my passive wine cellar. Here's the 1998 Prieuré St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc, gorgeous after nearly a decade in my unheated, uncooled Portland basement. This wine has a story for me however.

Bebian was the wine I mentioned so innocently online about a decade ago, while I worked for the importer. We'd discounted the $30 price to $10 in the shop with the 1997 vintage. We were up front that the quality wasn't as good as usual. That's the nature of vintage wine. It's not always the same in profile or quality. Surely a $10 price suggested as much. Yet I was unwise enough to mention that price cut on the internets, bringing down the wrath of the owner who said they didn't want the price published. Ah, the days before the internet was understood. This was public information, but not that public. I was kind of pissed off then, and confused. Now I understand, but the whole thing still seems futile. It wasn't like the internet wasn't around in 2000. Word got out about things, even then. But I digress.

Prieuré St. Jean de Bebian Coteaux du Languedoc is a southern France property planted to the thirteen varieties of Chateauneuf du Pape, the grenache, syrah and mourvedre most of us know along with so many other varieites for red and white wine. The grenache cuttings apparently come from Rayas, the syrah from Chave, the mourvedre from Tempier in Bandol, recent syrah plantings from Beaucastel. This is a serious property, for sure.

I was introduced to the property by my friend Paul P. who brought an older bottling to a dinner in San Francisco many years ago. That wine, vintage forgotten, seemed red fruited and Chateauneuf-like. Since then, my experiences with the producer have been about darker fruits and a profile as if Chateauneuf were from the northern Rhone. More focused, pure and defined than that behemoth southern Rhone wine often is.

This 1998 follows that pattern. I wouldn't guess this to be either southern Rhone (typically grenache-based) or northern Rhone (typically syrah). Rather, it's southern France, the Languedoc or Midi. Just highly nuanced and unusual for this region that still produces mostly common wines along with the occasional glossy, too big for its britches beverage. No, this is deep, dark, rich but restrained, focused and intense like few Languedoc reds ever are. It's clean too. No need for rogue yeast to provide earthy qualities here. And the iodine, near to the sea quality of the Languedoc isn't overdone, where you think you're drinking olive brine with the smoke of burning rosemary branches.

This '08 Bebian is all about an aromatic balance of ripe fruit, warm stones, olives, brushy herbs like rosemary and sage, and sea air. Upon first opening, there was a distinct ash note that I find in many Oregon pinot noirs. People sometimes refer to "Oregon garrigue" when noting local wines, and that must be what they're finding. Here we're talking about the real thing, southern French herb and soil scents that provide such a nice savory quality to the sweet ripeness of the wine. In the mouth, this wine is still finely tannic though more approachable than it was younger. I like way the drying tannin balances the sweet fruit of the wine, especially with grilled lamb at dinner where the meat brought out the wine's fruitiness.

As a whole, this is beautiful wine. Aging wonderfully. Full of promise with a few more years of cellar time, as the tannins continue to soften and the sweetness of age emerges. This is why we cellar wine, no matter the occasional disappointments. And let's just say, this isn't the 1997. This is really, really good.


Marshall Manning said...

The 1995 is still a bit on the young side, but drinking well.

And the "Just highly nuanced and unusual for this region that still produces mostly common wines.." comment applies to most wine regions in general. There's a lot more exciting stuff coming out of the Languedoc than Oregon or WA, for sure.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

I think that '95 represented the last of the old era, or maybe it was just before then. You're right though, most places produce common wines. I make special mention of the Languedoc because of its long time reputation for plonk, changed by an emerging reputation for luxury cuvees beyond even the pricing of Bebian. Most of the plonk is still plonk. Most of the luxury priced stuff if glossy crap. Yet there remains a small amount of good and perhaps great stuff. This bottle was somewhere in there. It's true that our local stuff is similarly inconsistent, as far as the highest quality goes. We're different, though, in that we never had a low end reputation to overcome. Instead, the question seems to be are we really looking to produce the best, or are we looking to do pretty good and make a buck too? The latter is hard enough. The former is certainly the goal.