Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Multi-vintage blends - article by Ant Rose in Decanter

They've never been regarded as a bad thing in Champagne but multi-vintage blends (MVBs) have rarely been taken seriously in still, unfortified wines. Ant Rose, in an article for Decanter, has attempted to point out that this is not always justified. I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of non-vintage wines are of low quality, the emerging MVB category is trying to do something rather more exciting.

What's the difference between NV and MVB, you may ask? Legally, nothing as far as I can see. They are simply designations conjured up by winemakers and wine critics (and, of course, wine merchants) but, as a rule of thumb, NV wines are probably going to look cheap - thin bottles, dull labels etc - and taste it. MVBs are prestige bottling with price tags to match. If nothing else, that's one way to measure the pretensions of the winemaker.

Xavier Vignon, with whom we have been working for about 15 years, is a pioneer of the style. His 'Debut' cuvee, a long-time favourite (why wouldn't it be? At well under a tenner, the wine inside the bottle blew many prestige wines from top Chateauneuf estates out of the water) was a MVB from a range of grape varieties, some of which ordinary consumers such as you and I have probably never heard of, from both the Rhone and the Languedoc. The three or four expressions of Debut that were produced in the first decade of the millennium were generally sourced from three different vintages. The resulting wine was amazingly complex and one of the longest-lived sub-£10 wines I have encountered. Sadly for us consumers, Xavier has stopped making this for the time being, at least. Instead, he has focused on new cuvees to keep his interest levels up.

A few years ago, we offered 'Sacrilege' which was a 'multi-region blend' of Syrah from Cote Rotie and Grenache from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Because of the inclusion of the latter grapes (which cannot be declassified to anything other than Vin de France), the wine was denied its original Cotes du Rhone 2012 classification and was, instead, bottled as NV. It's developing into something rather special now so the authorities should stop clamping down on innovators and embrace change, perhaps - or, at least, create new premium categories as the Spanish have done with their Vino de Pago wineries and wines.

Other wines have followed but the new star wine in Xavier's portfolio (and the one with the highest price tag) is a MVB of his Anonyme cuvee, itself a multi-estate blend of grapes/wines sourced from several of the top estates in Chateauneuf-du-Pape with which he works as oenologist (estates he works with include Raymond Usseglio and Grand Veneur but he is understandably coy about revealing whose wines are in his bottlings). A couple of years ago he introduced a MVB Anonyme called 'VII IX X' which, it doesn't take a genius to work out (no, Kenny, even I got there!) means it comes from 2007, 2009 and 2010. This has been followed by 'X XII XV'. Both wines are fabulous as Ant Rose attests in his reviews.

The wines are blends of old-vine grapes from La Cru, Les Galets Roules, Les Urgoniens and Les Sables and, as Ant writes, the use of MVB is "aimed at combining signature vintage elements - 'saltiness' in 2007, 'opulence' in 2009 and 'acidity' in 2010) - to achieve a sum-of-the-parts richness and complexity with no loss of terroir focus".

His reviews of the two wines are as follows:

'Fragrant red fruits and classic spice. Lovely complexity, full-bodied with richness, great concentration and texture. Very complete. Still full of youthful vigour but almost ready. Drink 2018-2025. 14.5%'

Xavier Vignon, La Reserve X XII XV, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 94/100
'Rich and concentrated blackberry fruit with a ripe, sweet middle. Full-bodied and opulent red fruits with real vigour and youthful muscle. Needs time to soften. Drink 2019-2030. 15%'

The earlier bottling is available from stock but the more recent one is to be shipped later in the year.

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