Thursday, June 9, 2011
Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age
Arnaud de Villeneuve was born in 1238, and was physician to kings and Popes. He was also an alchemist, and he invented the vin doux naturel style of wine in the 13th Century. The process used is called mutage, in which distilled grape spirit is added to the must to stop fermentation. It is similar although not identical to the process used to make port. This particular wine seems a near relation to a fine medium-sweet sherry.
Arnaud de Villeneuve Rivesaltes Ambré Hors d'Age 1982: This bottle was purchased at the Rivesaltes Cooperative in Roussillon, and transported via backpack. Yes, those were the happy days before TSA and the three-ounce rule. To be called "Hors d'Age" the wine must be aged in wood for at least five years; it is expected to acquire some oxidative character. Appropriate to a wine of its age, the color was on the darker side of golden. This opened with notes of walnut, dried fruit, and just a hint of brown spice. The palate follows with more dark dried fruit, a touch of dried honey, and a nice streak of refreshing acidity and some creamy texture. The finish is long and almost juicy. There is a definite family resemblance to a medium-sweet sherry. Made from a blend of 90% Muscat of Alexandria and 10% grenache blanc. As best I can tell, Les Vignobles du Rivesaltais, the producers, do not distribute their products in the U.S. Of course, all is not lost. Find a bottle of Domaine Lafage “Grain De Vignes” Muscat de Rivesaltes, from the talented Jean-Marc Lafage. It won't have the finesse of a nearly 30-year-old bottle, but it does share the seemingly contradictory juicy dried fruit character, with notes of honey, spice, and pleasing lightness of weight. Lafage's wines are distributed in the U.S. by Polaner Selections.