The recent film Bottle Shock, starring Chris Pine and Alan Rickman, reminded us of the 1976 Paris Tasting, where Napa first reached international acclaim. A little over 30 years ago, no one in Europe knew or cared about Napa wines. But for the last millennium, the wines of the Loire Valley have been known throughout Europe.
Within the valley, the Vouvray appellation has championed the Chenin Blanc grape, producing champagne-style sparkling wine, crisp dry whites, and ageworthy wines of varying sweetness. Occasionally a crop is afflicted with Botrytis cinerea, also known as pourriture noble ("noble rot"), a fungus that perforates the skins, shriveling the grapes and concentrating flavors, acids, and sugars. The greatest dessert wines are made from botrytis-afflicted grapes - Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany, Sauternes in Bordeaux, Tokaji from Hungary. However in Vouvray, Botrytis is rare. Only four vintages in the last century saw a significant natural presence of noble rot: 1945, 1955, 1969, and the birth-year of this wine, 1989.
Older wines are always a gamble. I've had at least as many flawed bottles as intact ones. Even if the wine isn't technically flawed, it is often tired and worn-out. It is a rare wine with enough fruit and structure to last for 20 years, much less improve. They say that for older vintages, "there are no great wines, only great bottles." This was one.
1989 Brisebarre Vouvray Moelleux "Grande Reserve"
Brilliant gold in the glass with a touch of green, this wine had a captivating nose of pear, honey, grape, and apple. Secondary flavors included saffron, candle-wax, flowers, and wet leaves. In the mouth the flavors swirled and blended. Medium bodied, it carried its sweetness effortlessly, with a touch of grapefruit bitterness and crystalline acidity. New, surprising flavors appeared far into the finish. This wine has it all: sweetness, acidity, flavors, finish, intrigue, surprise, and mouthwatering aromatic complexity. Amazingly, all of this is packed into a 12.5% medium bodied moelleux! Superb.
Score: 93 (I've only scored three other wines this high, out of nearly 700 tasting notes).
Temperature: Serve slightly cool (~65F), but not cold.
How much?: ~$35.