Looking for a cellar-worthy wine for $40? They’re not impossible to find, if you’re willing to give up "label prestige."
This is the second part of what will be an ongoing series here in my blog, as I taste verticals of wines that have the ability to age 10 years or more—while gaining added complexity and nuance—all without breaking the bank. In my initial post of the series, I showed that sometimes these wines are made by top producers, but from areas outside the limelight, the Château de Beaucastel’s Côtes du Rhône Coudoulet de Beaucastel bottling, for example.
Here, we’ll take a look at a wine from a glamour appellation, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but from a domaine that may not be as sought-after as some of the appellation’s best-known producers: Clos des Brusquières.
Clos des Brusquières is owned and run by Claude Courtil, who was thrust into the role of vigneron as a 17-year-old when his father died unexpectedly in 1969. Luckily, Courtil's cousin (Henri Bonneau) helped him get through that first vintage, and he’s been producing solid, ageworthy Châteauneuf-du-Pape ever since. The domaine now totals 10 hectares of vines, located solely in the northwest corner of the appellation, based on three lieux-dits: primarily Les Tresquoys, which features the famous rolled stones of the appellation (or galets), along with the clay and sand soils in the Les Brusquières and Les Pradel parcels.
Vinification and élevage is traditionally done. The wine is fermented in cement vats with both manual punching down and pumping over during a long, 21-day fermentation before being transported to used oak for its aging. Since moving into a new cellar in time for the 1985 vintage, Courtil has been joined by his two sons, David and Jérôme, and has slightly tweaked the winemaking process. Prior to 1990, the wine was primarily composed of Grenache with a healthy 10 percent of Clairette, a white variety known for its bright acidity, and smaller amounts of the peppery Cinsault and floral Syrah. Starting in ’90 though, Courtil shifted to a more typical varietal blend of three-quarters Grenache along with 10 percent each of Mourvèdre and Syrah and the rest the remaining permitted varieties. (There are 13 grape varieties allowed, in any amounts, in a blend of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.) The shift is noticeable as the older vintages showed almost piquant acidity, with a lively, tangy edge despite their very mature dried fruit, date and incense profiles. The more recent vintages, however, show darker, fleshier cores of fruit with more emphasis on muscular tannins (thanks to the Mourvèdre component).
Owner Claude Courtil has been managing Clos des Brusquières since 1969, when he was 17.
In addition, 1996 was the first vintage that Courtil began to partially destem his fruit. The three youngest vintages in the vertical I tasted, the '99, '98 and '96, showed a fresher, purer, rounder profile as opposed to the pleasantly rustic, slightly herbal edge of some of the older vintages. (The full tasting notes can be found below.)
All of the wines showed well, but the sweet spot for me was the 1990 vintage, which I found to be at peak, yet with the depth and richness of fruit to hold for a few more years. You'll notice that production has increased over the years as Courtil has steadily bottled more of his own production, though he still sells some fruit to négociants.
You'll notice a hiccup with the 1980; there was a one-time label change as Courtil thought that the use of the word "clos" on the label was not allowed by French wine law as his parcels were not enclosed by a wall (the true definition of the term). Paul Avril of Clos des Papes helped convince him he would be OK with the traditional name, and he soon reverted back.
If you're looking to start a vertical now, the current vintage of Clos des Brusquières in the marketplace is the 2007, which earned a 92-point rating when I reviewed it officially. The suggested frontline retail price is $40, and you can probably find it for a little less if you shop around. For a wine with that much character and solid cellar potential, it's a superb value.
As is always the case with these verticals, the wines were supplied directly from the domaine to ensure perfect provenance. The wines were tasted in my New York office, non-blind, without anyone from the winery present. Current prices for these wines were not available.
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Lovely saddle leather and mulled spice aromas lead the way, with a supple palate of dark cherry, red licorice and sweet earth notes. Nice subtle sanguine and cedar hints chime in on the back end. Drink now through 2013. 1,665 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
Nicely mature, this is open and inviting, with alluring black tea, incense, dried cherry and currant fruit notes laced with hints of saucisson sec and truffle. Well-embedded acidity keeps the finish going. Drink now through 2011. 1,665 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
A hard-edged vintage, this has mellowed nicely, with cedar, red currant and sweet earth notes still forming a solid core, backed by hints of coffee and truffle on the smoke-tinged finish. A touch firm in the end, but a very solid showing. Drink now through 2012. 1,250 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
Dark and inviting, with gorgeous truffle, cocoa powder and warm espresso aromas leading the way for dark mulled currant, fig paste and licorice root notes. Cuts a broad, fleshy swath on the finish, with a nice sanguine note lending a mouthwatering hint. Shows the power of the vintage. Drink now through 2014. 1,415 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
Shows a riper, more forward profile than the pure, balanced 1990, with more raw guts, showing dark, juicy fig paste, hoisin sauce and mulled blackberry notes backed by coffee and truffle hints. Picks up a slightly woodsy note on the finish. Drink now through 2012. 830 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
At peak, with a delightfully ripe, fleshy, yet supple and mature feel to the prune, plum, dried cherry, currant and cedar notes, all weaving through the roasted vanilla bean- and sanguine-filled finish. Almost soft in feel now on the finish, but still has enough drive to keep it all balanced. Very tasty. Drink now. 830 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
Very perfumy, very mature, with coffee, black tea, licorice root and mushroom notes backed by tobacco, iron, prune and saddle leather notes that all weave together nicely through the lightly firm, woodsy finish. Drink now. 580 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
A gorgeous nose of charred mesquite and warm cherry confiture is backed by a still-racy palate filled with dried currant, date, tobacco and iron that course along, with a lightly drying edge now starting to move in on the lengthy finish. Drink now. 330 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
For old-wine lovers, this is fully mature, with date, green tea and dried currant notes laced with hints of cedar and brick dust. Still tangy on the finish, with dashes of pepper and tobacco lingering. Drink now. 250 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
At the extreme edge of maturity, but still holding together, with hints of dried blood orange, tea, date and cedar that linger through the lacy finish. Still there, but you gotta like 'em old. Drink now. 165 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
A touch darker and slightly more rustic than the 1970, with slightly edgy pepper, mushroom and aged balsamic notes. Hints of clove and dried orange peel lend a lightly firm feel to the finish. An old-school wine that has stood the test of time. Drink now. 165 cases made. Non-blind Clos des Brusquières vertical (2010).—J.M.
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