Rare Finds: Philipponnat & Palacios

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One of my greatest pleasures from working in the wine business is that I learn something new every day. Sometimes, I expand my knowledge from meeting a wine maker in person or tasting a new wine varietal. Other times, I learn about new wine discoveries from casual conversations with other wine enthusiasts.

Recently, my curiosity was piqued after reading a newsletter about two wine producers making great wines. I was so excited by what I learned, that I wanted to pass this information along to you. I hope that after you read this article, you'll share my enthusiasm and want to try a bottle yourself.

Philipponnat: "Insiders' Champagne"

As most of you can appreciate, there’s something really special about a chilled glass of champagne on a special occasion. We are all familiar with Krug, Dom Perignon, and Roederer Cristal; however, the House of Philipponnat has been something of a well-kept secret among Champagne insiders.

Philipponnat's Tête de Cuvée, Clos des Goisses, has always been a testament to excellence. So much so that Richard Juhlin, the self-proclaimed top Champagne taster in the world, rated the 1996 vintage an impressive 96 points: "Ancient Bollinger barrels on the nose with hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Clean and vibratingly fresh. So young and so structured, at the same time soft but with good acidity. Majestic length and great drive. A huge Goisses!"

Juhlin isn't the only one singing Clos des Goisses' virtues. The Rare Wine Company recently wrote that, “the key to Clos des Goisses' magic is the site's chalky soil and southern exposure on the Marne River—as well as the Clos' shape: a vertiginous slope capped by a plateau...This accounts for the wine's amazing consistency. Yet, the vineyard's small size translates into tiny production: just a few hundred cases in most vintages. Thus, Clos des Goisses starts out rare and becomes far rarer as times goes on.”

Philipponnat also produces a fantastic value with their NV Brut Reserve Rosé, which received a 91-point rating from Wine Spectator. “A delicious rosé. Intense dried berry and cherry aromas and flavors with accents of dried flowers and mineral melding nicely with the rich texture and solid structure. Appealing. Good lingering finish too.”

Bierzo Crus of Alvaro Palacios

I first heard of winemaker Alvaro Palacios back in 1998, when he was producing his famous 1994 L’Ermita and Finca Dofi from the Priorat region in Spain. It always fascinated me to hear a success story of someone who dared to go places no one had dreamed of before.

Palacios makes blockbuster wines because he believes in his skill as a winemaker and his vision in knowing which regions will yield premier wines. Today, Palacios is arguably one of Spain’s best winemakers, and he continues to search out new viticultural areas in his quest to produce the perfect wine.

Palacios’ most recent successes are the 2003 vintages from the Bierzo region, northwest of Valdeorras, Spain. The 2003 Corullon, an entry-level blend, is currently rated 93 points by Robert Parker, who wrote, "This unfined, unfiltered offering, from steep vineyards composed primarily of schist, is 100% Mencia, a varietal indigenous to Bierzo. The brilliant 2003 Corullon may be the finest wine of the appellation. Its dense purple color is accompanied by lovely aromas of precise blueberries, cassis, crushed rocks, and acacia flowers. Fuller-bodied and richer, with more structure and tannin, this classic Spanish red will benefit from another 1-2 years of bottle age; it should drink well for a decade."

Although the following 2003 Grand Cru wines have not yet been rated, they have received positive remarks from The Rare Wine Company, which I've quoted below. I expect that they will earn high marks from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and others, as well.

2003 San Martin (NYR) “Its 60-90-year-old vines in chalky soil producing a wine of great richness, opulence and minerality. Intensely seductive, this wine offers ripe blackberry, mineral, and gamy notes, with firm integrated tanins.”

2003 Moncerbal (NYR) “With its Chambolle-like aromatics, and its intense minerality, Moncerbal reminds us of great Pinot Noir. In 2003, the site's century-old vines, grown in slate soil, produced a wine of remarkable density and deep black cherry fruit, but with a riveting Burgundian finesse. 150 cases made.”

2003 Las Lamas (NYR) “As in its previous vintages, Las Lamas is electric in its richness, power and length. It is also deeply complex, owing to the dense clay and slate in the soil. A wine of huge concentration and long-term aging potential. First growth quality. 140 cases made.”

2003 Fontelas (NYR) “Fontelas is the best section of San Martin – it’s 60-90-year-old vines in chalky soil producing a wine of great richness, opulence and minerality. Intensely aromatic, Fontelas’ sensual texture and mouth-filling flavors are very compelling.”

2003 La Faraona (NYR) “A monument to Alvaro Palacios’ vision, showing profound depth allied to a fabulously long, sensuous palate. Like all truly great wines, La Faraona has a quality that both sets it apart and must be experienced to be understood. Already one of the transcendent wines of Spain.”

Conclusion: Get 'Em While You Can

While picking up a bottle or two of Philipponnat is a no-brainer, I know that it takes a bit more willingness to experiment when selecting unrated wines such as Palacios' Bierzo Crus. I could just suggest that you trust me—when have ever I steered you wrong?— but I'd also encourage you to do some more reading. Don't wait too long, though, as these rare wines are tough to come by. If you can get a bottle, I'm confident that you won't be disappointed.

This article was written by Sam Chen, Echelonwines, with thanks to wine critics Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and The Rare Wine Company for their respective insights.

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