Thursday, May 22, 2014

Duo of 1995 Bordeaux Blends Château Pape Clément and Elan

Duo of 1995 Bordeaux Blends Château Pape Clément and Elan

For my birthday celebration birthday dinner Ryan and I pulled two special '95's - a Bordeaux and a Bordeaux inspired Napa blend for an interesting comparison tasting with the grilled steak dinner - Château Pape Clément and Elan Atlas Peak Cabernet. We only dented each bottle which were both held over to a follow on barbecue rib dinner.

Château Pape Clément Pessac-Léognan Bordeaux 1995

Pessac-Léognan is one of the top appellations within Graves, and home to its only first growth designated producer from the 1855 Médoc classification – Chateau Haut-Brion. Historic Haut Brion dates back to when then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson visited the chateau in 1787 and bought 125 bottles for his cellar in Virginia.

We know Pessac-Léognan best for Domaine de Chevalier which we also collect. We have enjoyed meeting owner producer and President of the UGC (Union des Grand Crus Bordeaux) Olivier Bernard on several occasions here in Chicago including the recent UGC tour 2014 and UGC Chicago 2103 and his gala wine dinner Everest with joint venture partner Darius Khaledi of Darioush.

Château Pape-Clément underwent upgrading and modernization during teh 1980's and can now be considered the quality equivalent to a Médoc second growth. Characterized by it classic terroir rich earthy Graves bouquet of black fruits, minerals, and "cigar box" tobacco. Château Pape-Clément is drinkable at an earlier age than many red Bordeaux with its relatively high proportion of 30% Merlot, it is usually ready to drink by five years after the vintage. Top vintages should improves for over twenty years.

Château Pape Clément is named for historic illustrious owner, a man of the cloth born in 1264, Bertrand de Goth became Bishop of Comminges, in the Pyrenees Mountains, at the age of 31; he later became Archbishop of Bordeaux in 1299.

He was gifted the property in Pessac, the Vineyard de La Mothe. With his passion for wine, he personally took part equipping, organizing and managing the domain according to modern practices of the era.

In June 1305 he was appointed to succeed Pope Benedict XI, who had passed away prematurely after only eleven months of reign. Bertrand de Goth took the name of Clement V. Supported by Philip IV, he moved the papal court to Avignon in 1309, thus giving the area the name Chateauneuf du Pape. The weight of his responsibilities led him to relinquish the property, giving it to the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Henceforward, the vineyard was to be known under the name of this enlightened pope. 

The connection to Chateauneuf du Pape and the papacy are shown in the Pape Clement bottle and label crossed-keys that adorn Chateauneuf-du-pape (CDP) bottles and labels, and the papal crown on the Pape Clement label (left).

The grateful Church perpetuated Pope Clement's work as each archbishop applied his approach of modernity and technical progress such that the wine estate was a model vineyard. Known for especially early harvests, which remain one of its special characteristics, Château Pape Clément was the first vineyard in France to align vine stock to facilitate labour.

After the revolution at the end of the 18th century, the Archbishop of Bordeaux was dispossessed of the property and the papal vineyard became part of the public domain.

In June 1937,  a violent hailstorm virtually destroyed the entire estate. It was taken over in 1939 by Paul Montagne who bought it and gradually brought it back to its former rank. His descendents, Léo Montagne and Bernard Magrez, continue the tradition to this day.

This was medium bodied, deep ruby/purple colored with a full aromatic floral scent. Classic Bordeaux earthiness accents the complex, elegant black currants and black berry fruits with herb-tinged graphite and smoke on a layer of sweet vanilla on a long leathery tobacco finish. It seems to still be in its prime drinking window not yet showing any diminution of age. We saved half the bottle for a follow on rib dinner when the floral tones gave way to a funky barnyard tone that is cited in reviews of several others.

Upon opening 91 points, after two days, 87 points.

Elan Vineyards Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

Linda and Rick with Patrick and Linda Elliott Smith of Elan
with Phil and AJ
We discovered this label from French inspired producer Patrick and wife Linda Elliott-Smith from the Wine Spectator feature of the 'Undiscoverd Dozen' after their 1995 opening and release of their inaugural 1992 vintage. We tasted this wine during a winery visit during our 1998 Napa Wine Experience (shown left). We still hold a bottle of the '92 in our vertical collection of Elan.

Wine Spectator acclaimed Elan Vineyards as one of the " New names in Cabernet to try before they are too hot!" which helped launch Elan and put them on the map! That article also showcased Robert Craig, Del Dotto, Clark Claudon and several other producers which we started following and continue to collect to this day.

Elan Vineyards' owner and winemaker, Patrick Elliott-Smith, was born in the US to a French mother and an American father. He acquired his appreciate for fine wines at a young age from his grandfather Rene´ who had an extensive wine cellar, with many pre World War II Bordeaux wines.

In 1979, Patrick found his dream parcel high up Atlas Peak Road at approximately 2,100 feet elevation. Patrick perfected his viticulture craft working developing vineyards for wineries such as Hess Collection, Liparita, Dominus, and Beaulieu Vineyards. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon on a French-style trellis, uncommon in California at the time. For the first seven years Patrick sold the fruit to Caymus Vineyards.

Over the years, Patrick planted additional acreage and currently farms eleven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, one acre of Merlot, and half an acre of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Patrick believes that great wines are made in the vineyards.

When he made a small amount of wine in 1991 for family and friends, met rave reviews that he decided to launch the Elan Vineyards label.

There was tremendous irony in the artwork on the Elan label (shown left). We were visiting Patrick and Linda at their Napa crush facility of the time with dear friends Andy (AJ) and Liat whose Vinehill estate and wine cellar have been featured in my wine writings.

As I recall, Liat recognized the artwork on the label from artglass that hung in their home. When inquiring how it ended up on the Elan label, they found the photograph of the artwork was taken at the source, in the artist studio in Brazil. Indeed Liat had acquired the art piece from that studio a couple years earlier.

I worked with Patrick and Linda to set up their first website back in those early days of the internet and received some wine for the effort. I recall purchasing a couple cases over the ensuing years at the Wine Stop in Burlingame near SFO and the price tags on the bottles show I paid $38 at the time.

Unlike my tasting experience last year when this was showing its age with diminution of fruits, this wine showed it is aging gracefully and is drinking very well as it approaches twenty years of age. Dark purple colored, medium to full bodied, it shows full forward complex concentrated black berry and black cherry fruits with tones of spice, a layer of cedar and hints sweet caramel on a silky smooth tannin finish.

RM 91 points.