Collector’s Club Wine Notes

In Wine Club Tasting Notes by Alessandro PepeLeave a Comment


There are all types of collections and types of collectors. Many I have seen and many I have known. One who collected stamps, and only had one but every night would look at it and reminisce. Another that collected seashells, he had so many that he left them on the beach. And one who collected only labels of wine, without the bottle, and when he was buying an expensive bottle at an auction, he would empty it anxiously into the sink to take off the label for his collection, and one who collected full bottles of wine, ridiculously expensive but before putting them in the cellar, taking off the label. At his death he had a collection of nearly 35,000 bottles of presumed inestimable value, presumably because they were without a label.

But the collection most fascinating is the one with wines bought to collect and just a moment before they are about to go into the perfectly air-conditioned cellar, opened an drank. I am one of them. My collection of wines is invaluable. I tried to have them appraised by Christie's or Sotheby but when they came to see it, they found an empty cellar, in fact there wasn't even a cellar. They asked me what was the meaning and I responded that the wine was there, just a moment ago, but just when I was about to put it back on it's dedicated shelf, I decided to drink it. Just like this, every single time. Because in the end, I told him, what changes? In any case, sooner or later it will be drunk, right? I just anticipated the times. So here I have in my collection extraordinary expensive bottles. A moving Cheval Blanc '66, an immortal Clos Saint Jacques 1985 from Armand Rousseau, and not to forget a Monfortino 1985. Where are those bottles now? The collection is in my memory. Krug Collection '85 resting on the second shelf on the right of my memories, right at the height of that pub on Via Merculana in Rome at 3 in the morning, the bottle uncorked after a pint of Guinness and served in a plastic glass. Just as that Mission Haut Brion drank on the sidewalk by the Colosseum at 4 in the morning paired with a porchetta sandwich. It's my private collection of oenologic memories, and it has an invaluable price that no one can steal from me.

I waited almost 2 months to write this note because I didn't know how to confront the theme. What type of information to give you and which style. With the caustic elegance of Michael Broadbent or the vulgar opportunism of Robert Parker? With the cultural snobbishness of Jacky Rigeaux or the prospect of Daniele Cernilli? Or maybe with the manic autism of my mentor Maurizio Paparello?

At the end, I decided to tell it my way. Because there is a little piece of my memories and my life in that case of wine I shipped you.


Small Great Champagne

I don't believe in wine, at least not as a stand-alone phenomenon. Wine is an impotent musical instrument if there is no one to play it. It is us that give sound, voice and taste to things. So let's clear it once and for all that if you think about collecting wine, well, the crude and beautiful reality is that you have to accept the fact that sooner or later, you will have to drink this wine and face the cannibal side that this kind of collection brings.

So here's a fact already outlined. The wines I pick are not meant to be left in the cellar for forty years and as modern pagan fetishes, left for children to inherit who are unable to understand their value. In forty years many of us will be dancing on the edges of the Styx river, or drinking ambrosia in the infinite banquet of the skies. So let's clear immediately that virtually all of the six bottles you received can be drunk right away.

Starting with the Champagne that is the most traitorous and mocking of the wines. Champagne plays its game on the borders, definitions, and counterfeits. It is a wine made, artifact precisely. The match today is played on the clash between the big Houses led by that three-headed monster named Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and the little vignerons called to defend the territory, the native and the local flavor. But it is still a fictional clash, a Hegelian dialectic in search of synthesis. The thesis is that Champagne was born as a manufactured and counterfeit wine, born with the concept of cuvée, mixing different vintages, grapes and soils, that are precisely the matrix of modern winemaking.

Give me a decent grape, with a good sugar-acidity ratio and, 'n'importe quoi', I will make you a drink based on unique and repeatable bubbles and yeast. The antithesis of the small vignerons is that Champagne is a countryside, that is, a place, a land made of unique soil and climate and selected and adapted grapes over the centuries, what I call the modern Burgundy-ization of Champagne. And the synthesis? In my private collection I have an extraordinary bottle of Dom Perignon P3 from '69, an immense Krug Clos du Mesnil '86, but also a moving basic wine made by that anarchist genius of George Laval


and a taste in preview of Cuvée du Siècle by Pierre Peters (a wine with bubbles inside with 10 different vintages whose older is 1926). But I'm also trying to clear from my collection's memory a sweet and nauseous Dom Perignon 2004, a Salon 2002 artifact and a depressing Krug 2003 sign of the tragic times we live in. Not to mention those small producers who, with the excuse of the Terroir, ferment their lemonade with chubby bubbles, which have nothing to do with the elegance that Champagne should have.

The synthesis then you find in those small growers who understand the importance of heritage from the Big Houses, they agree that Champagne is a drink of classes and one therefore cannot believe the elegance and but they want to defend the idea of territory, of artisans, of soil, grape and vineyard. There aren't many that occupy this particular shelf in my collection. I will cite the more important: George Laval for basic quality, Marguet for a traditional and pioneering spirit, Fluery for the noblization of the Aube and to close, Ulisse Collin, perhaps my favorite.



Meursault Premier Cru Aux Charmes 2005, Deux Montilles

Everyone speaks about SOMM, a discreet documentary, slightly educational, curious and fairly refined, but somehow remains on the surface of things. Perhaps the whole American intent was to explain how the world's best wine-making course was in the US, or perhaps it's just a human story on a topic that seems to be very sensitive among many - the knowledge of wine. But I would recommend another documentay: Mondovino. Let Hubert De Montille talk about his wines. Alexis and Etiennes are the children in the documentary that just after the filming, saw their sales increase.

I find this bottle to be a small masterpiece of Chardonnay on the borders. Which border? Meursault and Puligny, where the wines from fat, butter and opulence shift to a soft and smelly elegance.

The border also between softness and minerality, that part of the game that today creates so much political debate where we have the republicans who say that wine is all about marketing, reviews, and wood and fruit, and democrats that talk about territory, origins, vineyard and minerality. But will there be a case where I can, in my bottle, not feel the annoying noise of the party's political conflict and enjoy a soft elegance balanced by intriguing territoriality? It is with wines like this one that I become bipartiasan.


To Gaja or not Gaja?

Here in Italy, there is almost no mention of Gaja. He is considered a very skilled marketer. An alchemical scientist sold to the market. He glorifies his brand-marketing and marketing skills, praises his oenological genius, but criticizes his country's betrayal. Beyond the ocean, however, even the most refined drinkers do not have this remorse. They do not care if Gaja respects the tradition, whether there is only Nebbiolo in his wine, of the taste of oak covers over the vine and the magical soil of the Langhe. But in this clash between parties and factions I have learned to be more ecumenical with the years. I did not replace my aesthetic ideal with wine with a sterile agnostic approach or even worse with the banal 'de Gustibus' disputing non-east, but I always try to approach tasting by freeing my body and mind from prejudices to how the ancients followed 'epoche', an unreadable word that more or less means suspension of judgment (interesting that in no modern language there is a translation). So I propose to you Gaja 2009. An apparently well respected vintage in Italy, but considered great in the States (the irony of the fate in America is glorifying the hot and warm vintages and us the warm and balanced ones). In fact, an imbalance of phenolic maturation in 2009 brings many barons and barbarians to be accompanied by copius amounts of fruit and green tannins which are decomposed. But not Gaja, just because this is a producer not following the patterns in this wine, I found a moving balance. Balance between wood and fruit, between softness and tannins, between youth and evolution, between modernity and tradition. Besides, I've always had trouble defining Gaja's wines and understanding when it was the right time to drink. From youth, too boisé to old, too oxidized. This is a Barbaresco to drink now and for the next 5 years to come. You decide when and how.


Why don't we speak anymore about Bordeaux?

Perhaps America is still talking about it, but here in Europe there is only Burgundy and lately the rediscovery of small appellations. It's really cool to say that Beaujolais is preferred to Burgundy, Gattinara to Barolo, Chenin Blanc to Puoilly-Fuissé. And you end up not talking about Bordeaux, the most imitated wine region in the world. I do not want to talk about Bottle Shock and similar stories, I find them vulgar. I do not want to know that there are Cabs in Bolgheri and in Napa Valley, the best of the best Bordeaux wines. I do not even want to tell you that every time I tried to make a comparison, the game was won (on the France side) before it started. To say I do not know what happened in 1976 and in the years to come but when we gambled or seriously tried to reproduce the experiment, the result was always the only one, the overwhelming victory of Bordeaux, especially when it was from decades ago. So I will not even talk to you about the recent experience of a Screaming Eagle 1997 literally humiliated by a 1966 Chateau La Tour. Or that evening at Rimessa we were having a great Sassicaia '85 as my irreverent friend arrived with a a modest bottle of Talbot '55 showing half of the Sassicaia years. I do not want to talk about it, even though I've talked about it, because there is nothing more vulgar than putting the wine on a scale to see who is below or above, to quantify and deem one the best. To know that in Bolgheri as in Australia it becomes a Cabernet that is better than the best of Bordeaux? But what is a race? When we're speaking of an aesthetic experience, why has this beverage called wine, 'become a competition? When did this distortion from scores and winners begin? Maybe Robert Parker? How would you take it if I told you that Michelangelo won in a direct collision with courage (but only in a tie break). What if in the Australian desert they rebuilt a much nicer Colosseum than the original? So let's just miss out on these sterile challenges only with a sense of inferiority manifested (Mondovino's director, my dear friend, confided to me that the Marquis of Incorporation of the Rocchetta looking out of his vineyard said, "Those Vulgarites." He meant: how vulgar our attempt at emulation. Not to mention the real essence of merlot in the Right Bank, no matter what Paul Giamatti might think).

.And so we arrive at the Right Bank, where the importance of developing business strategies over the last 500 years goes hand in hand with the effort to invent terroir. But here the terroir is a property, the brand is soil and the ground is Chateaux. My mentor Paparello will surely explain it to you better than me.

But the best thing about Bordeaux is to discover the unexpected longevity of many of its wines, even less well-known (I still remember the freshness of a surprising Cos D'estournelle 1928) and the rediscovery of posthumous minor anniversaries. So it seems to say that 1947 was not that much at the beginning of the 1950s and certain collection wines of '28, '45 and '47 were rediscovered later. I have just listed very hot vintages, who knows that there is no hope for the future of 2003 and the torrid years that many of us expect of us in the future. 88 is one of those vintages I call timid. It gave wines, at least elegant and territorial in the Right Bank, for what this might mean in Bordeaux. This Lynch Bages is aesthetically pleasing, with slightly green tannins playing on the delicate and distinctive fine line between green and ripe, to drink absolutely now and in the next two years


Riussec 1982

Perhaps the greatest wine I ever drank is a Chateau Clemens 1947. Even today, whenever I open an old Yquem or Riussec I look for that elegance, that balance between sweet and savory, that delicate subtle fungus, that sensual opulence and that residual sugar that embraces you without leaving an oversweetness in the mouth. This Riussec '82 (immense vintage, and for the first time I applaud Robert Parker). You know, this one you just have to pair with foie gras.


This is about a special Burgundy red. I can't say lot about it because each one of you members had a different one. So send me a message with a picture of your bottle and I'll like to discuss about it.


The next shipping is already on his way (for the Deluxe Club), I'll promise I'll be more efficient with the next notes.

Happy Holidays!!


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