Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A delicious 30-year-old rosé

Christophe Defrance holds the '82 Rosé des Riceys
Last week in France, I had perhaps the most delicious and interesting wine I've had this year: a 1982 Jacques Defrance Rosé des Riceys.

You don't expect most rosés to be good after three years, much less 30. But Rosés des Riceys are unique, a connoisseur wine that economically doesn't make sense to produce.

The Riceys region is tiny, just over 3 square miles. It's in the southernmost part of the Champagne region, less than 5 miles from the Chablis border.

It's interesting how the perception of "cool climate" changes at the border. In Chablis, the coldest part of Burgundy, we always hear how the chilly weather leads to fresh, lean, minerally wines.

Just north of the border, where it's actually colder, it's Pinot Noir country: 95% of the plantings in Ricey are Pinot Noir, and they can be some of the ripest grapes in Champagne.

The main reason Rosé des Riceys is so hard to get is that growers can easily make the same grapes into Champagne, which sells for a higher price.

The street outside Champagne Defrance. Riceys looks more like a town in Burgundy than in Champagne
Christophe Defrance says he makes about 5000 bottles of Rosé des Riceys and 95,000 bottles of Champagne in a good year, and sells 30% of the rosé at the winery. He says he just started exporting it to the US through an Indian guy living in Zurich. So don't count on seeing it at Trader Joe's.

It's already old when it's released. Defrance's current vintage is the '05; he expects to release the '06 later this year. Christophe thinks the '06 won't be long-lived because it's lower in acid than most; he says it's best to drink it by 2017. Yep.

When a vintage is great, though, Rosé des Riceys can last as long as almost any red wine. We tasted a 1975 that was still very good. Christophe said the 1964 and 1947 are drinking great, and while his own oldest wines are from 1911, he has enjoyed them all the way back to 1896.

What's the secret? Well, obviously the grapes may be ripe for Champagne, but for the rest of the world, their pH is admirably low. Christophe credits the winemaking method: Whole clusters are fermented quickly, in 2-6 days. And of course there's terroir: who knows how long it took Riceys vintners to sort this out? The wine is a local specialty that they barely share with the rest of the world.

From 6 to 37 years old (and who knows how much longer), the wines share a fiery orangish-red color. They're darker than many rosés in France, but not baby reds like you see in the US.
I might be dead when I open this

Relatively young wines, say 1997 and later, share a kind of apricot compote character, with some funky greenness that reminded me of, I'll say it, marijuana. The texture starts off good and just gets better as it ages. It's recognizably Pinot Noir, with depth and richness, but seemingly no weight at all.

The 1982 had entered a more advanced stage, where it smells like quince pie with dried flowers. I can't do the flavors justice, though. It's so complex and interesting and the texture is so marvelous: sticky in the top of the mouth, compote-like on the bottom, and fresh enough to make you crave another sip. Imagine mixing a layer of ash into an aged jam, for the granularity and maturity. The only thing I could remotely compare it to was 30-year old López de Heredia whites from Rioja. When I said that, Christophe made me write it down, as he seemed to be contemplating a visit to Spain to check those out.

The 1975 was lighter in color and body and while still delicious, you can tell that it's time to drink it. I brought home a bottle of the 2005 (13.5 euros at the winery), and this teaches me that I really better not wait past 2042 to open it.

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Christopher said...

13.5 Euros!? That was a surprise!

So when will I be able to get this in the US?

W. Blake Gray said...

Christophe told me last week he just shipped two cases here on special order. I don't know what that cost.

Martin D said...

I've had the 2000 LdH Gran Riserva Rosado and I thought it was fantastic, and one od a kind. Clearly thats not the case! This sounds amazing!