Tue 15 Apr 2008
….. that came from a local wholesale distributor, I found a couple of bottles from the Abbey Saint-Hilaire in Limoux, a producer unknown to me.
You never know what you’re going to get when a friend in the wholesale wine business calls and says, “Hey, I have two or three boxes of wine for you.” Of course most of it will be recent releases, because the wholesalers want to get their new wines some attention. Wholesalers always, however, have cases or two or half a case of older releases, wines maybe one or two years past the current vintage or just stuff that they couldn’t sell; this friend likes to tuck a few bottles like these in with the other wines. Sometimes the result is a treasure that I otherwise would never have encountered, like the August Kesseler Riesling Kabinett 2004 mentioned in the previous post.
These examples from Abbey Saint-Hilaire turned out to be not only interesting but intriguing and quite good.
Limoux, in the foothills of the Pyrennes, is the western-most wine appellation in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region of southwest France. The small area is known mainly for sparkling wines, the production of which goes all the way back to 1531 at the Abbey Saint-Hilaire. Known as Blanquette de Limoux, these sparkling wines are made primarily from the local mauzac grape, with the contemporary addition of chardonnay and chenin blanc. In 1993, a revision of the appellation rules was permitted to allow the production of still white wine, of which the dominant grape is chardonnay, though 15 percent of the blend must be mauzac; a small amount of chenin blanc is also allowed. In 2005, red blends once labeled Vins de Pays de la Haute Vallee de l’Aude were elevated to the Limoux appellation; the wines must contain 50 percent merlot and at least 30 percent of a blend of carignan, cot (malbec), syrah and grenache.
The impressive abbey was founded early in the Seventh Century; the first recorded mention is in 825. Saint Hilaire — his feast-day is celebrated by stand-up comics — was the first bishop of Carcassonne, the romantic castle-town that lies about 18 miles to the north of Limoux.
The Abbey Sainte-Hilaire Chardonnay 2005 is identifiably chardonnay, but the presence of the mauzac and chenin blanc grapes lends exotic touches. The color is pale straw-gold with green highlights. The bouquet is clean and fresh, with notes of spiced apple, pear and roasted lemon. The wine is crisp but slightly plush, slightly powdery in texture; scintillating acid and a limestone element that’s like the essence of mineral transparency add up to lovely weight and balance. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of spiced peaches, dried herbs and flowers, with, on the finish, a hint of grapefruit bitterness. At its peak now, the wine should drink beautifully through the end of 2008 or into the first months of 2009. I rate it Excellent, but I’ll hold off on mentioning the price.
The Abbey Saint-Hilaire Red Table Wine 2004 is a blend of 50 percent merlot, 20 percent each syrah and malbec and 10 percent cabernet sauvignon; hmmm, that combination doesn’t quite conform to the regulation but whatever. This is a really charming and individual wine, bursting with notes of black cherries, plums, blackberries and mulberries, all steeped in a melange of cinnamon, cloves and dark cocoa powder; a bit of candied rhubarb comes in at the top, over cranberry tart. The wine is quite dry, intense and concentrated yet generous, rather yielding after a few minutes. The finish gathers elements of chewy tannins for a show of power. Drink through 2010. I rate the wine Very Good+
We were tasting these wines in the kitchen as I made the pizza for Saturday Pizza and Movie Night — we watched a very very very depressing French movie called Personal Property, starring Isabelle Huppert at her most wan and sad and dissatisfied — and I said to LL, “You know, these wines are terrific, but they just have the feeling to me of being expensive.” I mean, they have a certain amount of class and character, and they come in heavy bottles with gold stamping instead of paper labels. They look significant.
The truth? Prices on the Internet are $11 to $15. Go for it.