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FICOFI vertical tasting: Paul Jaboulet Aine, M Chapoutier & Chateau de Beaucastel

June 2, 2015

I was all set to attend a mouth-watering programme of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra coupled with Holst’s The Planets by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra on 8 May 2015 when the invitation came from the great Dr SS Ngoi to attend a FICOFI tasting of Rhone verticals by Jaboulet, Chapoutier and Ch Beaucastel that same evening. What should one do in such a dilemma? The answer was clear. Make no mistake, the SSO is really excellent but I’ve never had the chance to attend an official event by FICOFI, an organisation I’ve heard so much of. Founded by M. Philippe Capdouze, FICOFI is one of the most exclusive wine clubs in existence. Limited only to those who can afford its princely membership fee, FICOFI manages a wine portfolio for each member (which has to be regularly maintained…get the drift?) and organises exclusive visits, lunches, dinners and tastings at the very top estates in France, principally in Bordeaux and Burgundy. FICOFI Rhone tastingAs I know membership will forever remain beyond my reach, I had no hesitation ditching the concert (sorry SSO!), showing up instead at the Mandarin Oriental just across the road at 7.00 PM. I was among the earliest to arrive and the sight of seemingly endless number of bottles being aerated in neat rows made me glad that I hadn’t driven that evening. The supporting staff of FICOFI was out in full force, M. Capdouze duly appeared, and it was good as well to see Robin Soh manning the Jaboulet vertical. It took quite a while to dawn on me that the emphasis is entirely about tasting. Food was entirely secondary, consisting of a simple but well-anointed Asian buffet of fried rice and succulent beef and lamb chops that matched the wines perfectly. I headed straight for the Jaboulet vertical, hosted by the estate’s prestige account manager M. Jean-Luc Chapel, so aptly named, for he actually resides just a stone’s throw away from the famous chapelle at the summit of Hermitage, followed by the wines of M Chapoutier as I sat down for dinner before rounding off the evening with the heavier wines of Ch de Beaucastel. So, here goes the long list…

2011 Paul Jaboulet Aine Chevalier de Sterimberg Hermitage Blanc. Poured from a double magnum, this uncommon white from Hermitage, a blend of roussanne and marsanne grapes, was highly perfumed with the sweet fragrance of tropical fruits, recalling jackfruit and mangoes, well matched with complex citrus on the palate. Most refreshing and vibrant.

2012 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Very earthy, sporting a demeanour of dark roses, briar and bramble with traces of spice, well-balanced but short in spite of its weight and intensity.

2009 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Beautiful deep ruby with a wide expanse of rose floral, raspberries and red fruits, lighter in texture and weight, beginning to shut down, finishing with minty overtones. Most feminine.

2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Rather earthy with a sharper note of charcoal, dominated by redcurrants on the palate to match its darker hue, generous and full-bodied with some early complexity coming through.

2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Medicinal and herbal overtones dominate on the nose with an abundance of dark fruits on the palate, laced by leafy characters, tinged with a distinct alcoholic trace. A wine of extremes, perhaps reflective of the heat wave across the country that year.

2001 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Medium-full, dominated by dark currants and ripe berries, plummy in character, well-proportioned and poised, still very much on the ascendency, yet to develop secondary nuances.

1995 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. This iconic wine is slow to evolve and it is only from here, 20 years post vintage, and beyond that the classic ripe tangerine character of mature Old World syrah becomes obvious, the 1995 displaying a tinge of enamel as well, placid and smooth though somewhat lean on the palate.

1991 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Powerful earthy aromas coupled with notes of sweet incense, red cherries amidst overtones of orange peel, displaying great depth and complexity of fruit, fully evolved and quietly intense. A complete wine. A glorious example of the best of Hermitage at its absolute peak and will continue to hold for many more years.

1991 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. Belonging to this estate since 1834, this wine is made from vines aged 20-40 years (at that time of harvest in 1991) from the appellation of Crozes-Hermitage, a huge area that surrounds the tiny plot of Hermitage itself. Just like the flagship La Chapelle, this “village” version (it helps if you think of it in the Burgundy way) of 1991 is also pretty glorious, displaying a heady blend of red plums and sweet incense marked by open textures and lush intensity, a stunning tribute to the outstanding vintage and superb craftsmanship of Paul Jaboulet Aine. No wonder many consider the Domaine de Thalabert of this producer to be way ahead of all the other wines of Crozes-Hermitage.

1990 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage. This 1990 top-of-the-pick of Crozes-Hermitage offers a fantastic bouquet of earth, smoke and old leather, incredibly fresh even after all these years, the usual hallmark characters of orange peel and tangerine further enhanced by toffee and snuff. Exuberant, complex and exciting, finishing with great length. Wonderful! Is it better than the 1991? I’d say the 1990 is at its absolute peak, while the 1991 still has the legs to move higher.

1989 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Glowing ruby, deeper and weightier than the 1988, ripe, offering great purity of fruit with plenty of fat in the mid-body underscored by further notes of dark currants that still excites the palate. Utterly seamless. Another superb example of La Chapelle at its peak.

1988 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Powerful earthy aromas, almost pungent, fully evolved, its distilled essence a seamless core of kumquat and bright citrus. Likely to hold further but why wait?

Hermitage at its most sublime1983 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. Just when I thought things cannot get any better, the 1983 turned out to be a stunning surprise, exuding pure characters of red fruits and cherries of glorious intensity and complexity, the wine still displaying great acidity, structure and length that belies its 32 years. Fantastic!

1982 Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle. I suppose this is how some of the preceding wines at their peak would mellow into – a beautiful hallowed glow leaping out of the glass with notes of glazed honey, caramel and dried plums, placid and relaxed with a quiet intensity. Beautiful.

After Paul Jaboulet Aine, I moved to its closest rival in Hermitage, featuring the stable of reds from Michel Chapoutier are offered in identical vintages of 2012 and 2006, but first starting with its white…

2012 M Chapoutier Ermitage De l’Oree Blanc. Made from marsanne grape derived from old vines aged 60-70 years, this Cote-Rotie white is excellent with forward notes of dense citrus and morning dew, exuding an oily texture with plenty of fat in the mid-body. From an excellent vintage, this wine has the potential for eventual greatness.

2010 M Chapoutier Ermitage De l’Oree Blanc. Pretty outstanding as well as a vintage, the 2010 is copious in notes of coconut flesh and sea salt caramel, minerally and slightly ferrous in its finish, imparting a stern demeanour on the palate.  Potentially very complex.

2005 M Chapoutier Ermitage De l’Oree Blanc. From an excellent vintage as well, this wine seems to be going through a transitional stage, fairly resinous along with notes of bitter lemon and some ferrous quality, again stern in character. Awkward at this stage. Best to allow it time to develop further.

2012 M Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. Fruit forward and dense with fresh enamel from the oak, complete with a smoky trace. Awkward on the palate, lacking in definition. Not particularly distinguished at this stage.

2006 M Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon. Dominated by notes of forest floor with ripe wild berries, savoury with a touch of game, developing some complexity but lean and dry at the finish.

2012 M Chapoutier Ermitage l’Ermite. Expectedly still primal at this stage, displaying great pungency on the nose with dominant notes of forest floor, earth, dark currants along with a vegetal trace.

2006 M Chapoutier Ermitage l’Ermite. Compared with Le Pavillon of the same vintage, the l’Ermite is still quite unevolved, forward in character with a significant degree of unresolved vanilla, firm and minerally on the palate.

2012 M Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal. A big wine with arresting earthy pungency and an abundance of ripe dark berries and red currants, rich and intense, excellent in definition with a suggestion of heated stones, wonderfully proportioned in spite of its hedonistic quality. Will turn out to be a great wine if you can wait.

20150508_193223[1]2006 M Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal. Deeply flavoured with a forward balance, saturated with dark and red fruits, slow to evolve with splashes of vanilla still readily discernible, its sophisticated tannins imparting great structure and a succulent puckered mouthfeel. Great stuff, easily rivalling the 2012.

2001 M Chapoutier Ermitage Le Meal. What was supposed to be a more mature Le Meal is still a tightly coiled proposition, the sweet ripe fruit creating a dense, spicy and almost hedonistic complex that is still far from peaking.

And, finally, to end the evening before I got properly hammered, I managed to taste the following from this bastion of the southern Rhone, its vintages laid out in odd-numbered years, reminding me of the great Beethoven symphonies…

2009 Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. From an outstanding vintage, this wine has yet to evolve, dense and forward with notes of forest floor, ripe wild berries and ripe dark plums tapering towards a spicy finish.

2007 Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is seamless but one dimensional at this stage, offering an expanse of ripe wild berries with a vegetal trace.

2005 Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Powerful medicinal and herbal aromas that also dominate on the palate with a firm grip, extending all the way beyond the finish.

2003 Ch de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This hot vintage has produced a racy wine with notes of earth, forest floor, black fruits and ripe wild berries, seamless and balanced, fairly exciting but yet to unravel fully.

The tasting line-up ended with a Miraval Provence sticky but, by then, my palate was too worn to appreciate any further. A big thank you to Dr S S Ngoi and to FICOFI for the impeccable organisation.

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