At my local wine shop, The Fine Wine Source, I encountered a wonderful treat on one of my visits. You may have noticed that I stop there frequently, but I am used to the concept of customer service, an idea that seems to be antiquated and quaint to the new consumers. As I grew up in retailing, where one tried on a garment to see if it fits, at The Fine Wine Source I have a chance to taste some wines on occasion. The owner asked me, if I would like to try a seventy-year-old wine and I didn’t pause at all, to answer him in the affirmative.
Rivesaltes is an appellation for the historic sweet wines of eastern Roussillon, part of the Languedoc-Roussillon that is becoming much more popular, in the deep south of France. The sweet “vin doux naturel” wines produced in this area have been famous and reported on since at least the 14th Century. The technique used to make them is one of several employed for sweet wines. Unlike botrytized wines or ice wines, “vin doux naturel” wines are made by mutage, a process of stopping the must fermenting while there is still a high level of natural sweetness. With their high levels of residual sugar and alcohol these wines are sweet and a bit syrupy, which is an easy way to describe it. Rivesaltes wines are often confused with Muscat de Rivesaltes wines, which are similar in style and come from the same area, except that it is made from Muscat grapes, while Rivesaltes is made from Grenache of all three forms, that is Noir, Blanc and Gris. There are a couple of different designations for this wine, depending on its age.
We were tasting Domaine la Sobilane Rivesaltes 1951. The Forties and the Fifties were considered the Golden Age for Rivesaltes. Domaine la Sobilane are known for oxidizing their Grenache Noir for three years in demijohns and demi-muids, which are glass bottles also called bonbonnes. While the wine is in these sealed bottles, they are may be left outside in the elements and exposed to sun, rain, temperature swings and extreme weather, which allows the wine to maderise. Then the wine matures in barrels for a minimum of four years. It reminds one of a Tawny Port, but the Grenache delvers a different twist to the experience. This wine was just a delight with layers of flavors. For its age, I was amazed at how crisp and balanced the wine was, a little bit of honey, notes of almonds or marzipan (an old addiction of mine, but only for quality marzipan made by the old confectioners) and a finish that had a very long count. A beautiful wine that really needs to be at the tail end of an exquisite dinner, and with only people that can really appreciate a sublime wine to finish off the night.