In early 1991, growers at CÔTE-RÔTIE started to speak warmly of their 1990 vintage, which was backed up by my early tasting of the wine from cask. It was MARIUS GENTAZ DERVIEUX who commented to me that it reminded him of 1947. The only 1947 I had tried before then was the ALBERT DERVIEUX CÔTE-RÔTIE, ALBERT being the brother of MARIUS’ wife. ALBERT had kept bottles of 1947 to celebrate the birth year of his daughter CHRISTIANE, who is now MADAME ROSTAING, the wife of RENÉ, and the spitting image of her father.
As the proud possessor of the magnificent 1947 VOUVRAY LE HAUT-LIEU made by GASTON HUET, I thought I would call him, and ask for his recollections on the vintage. His story was a powerful one. GASTON had walked and hitch-hiked home from his prison camp in Eastern Europe, and become the Mayor of VOUVRAY in the LOIRE.
“Well,” he told me, “of course I remember 1947. It was the year when it was so hot that I took to sleeping on the lawn of my garden.” I asked him if he realised at the time that a legendary vintage was on his hands. As a completely self-effacing veteran, his answer was that he had been very happy with the harvest, no more than that. But then he added a comment that has stuck with me for the rest of my life.
“You know, MONSIEUR,” he said, “1947 was an important year. It was the first time that we thought that Nature was capable, once more, of giving us des jolies choses. The abundance of the year cheered us up, and we started to realise, for the first time since the War, that life could perhaps come back to normal.”
The symbolism of this vintage, best known for the remarkable CHÂTEAU CHEVAL BLANC from SAINT-ÉMILION, returned to me recently. I was visiting the DOMAINE DE ROSIERS at CÔTE-RÔTIE, a low profile family affair with around eight hectares. I have known ANDRÉ DREVON, then his son LOUIS, and now LOUIS’ nephew MAXIME – three generations.
I was there to taste the recent vintages, 2016 to 2019, and was duly doing that with LOUIS and MAXIME. We exchanged comments while doing so, as is my wont, and at some stage I encountered a wine whose good balance reminded me of 1985. I told them so.
As we neared the end of the recent vintages, a bottle was produced from the cellar, and opened, and offered to me. It was their 1985. This was a delightful surprise; it was tremendous, a bouquet that was full of running, the balance great, exactly as I remembered it, giving an elegant, effortless wine, detail in the tannins, the adjectives “wonderful” and “wicked” scratched in my trusty Rhodia 14 notebook.
Then another bottle appeared, covered in black, furry cellar matter, no label this time; it was placed in a wooden cradle, and MAXIME got to work to clear access to the cork. My heart skipped a beat or two in anticipation.
The cork was largely in good shape, enough for the wine to be clear of it when poured. I was presented with a glass, and off I went into new territories of tasting delight. For it was a 1947, and yet was as bright and vibrant a wine as you could imagine at even a quarter of its age. The colour was unbelievable – ruby, hints of red, absolutely no brick in it. Quite remarkable.
The bouquet was on what is termed a PINOTE trail [ça Pinote], when the SYRAH takes after the PINOT NOIR; this can happen with mature HERMITAGE, the J-L CHAVE being an example, or occasionally with CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE; generally I associate it with a balanced vintage whose summer was not in excess. A recent CHÂTEAUNEUF in that vein, which is notably stylish, has been the 2014 CLOS DES PAPES. The aromas accompanying the PINOT effect were serene, floral, fresh, spiced.
The palate still held sun in its stylish gras richness, and was precise, clear, the finish mineral. There was unbelievable detail on the second half, and it bore the noble silken feel of sève [sap] of old vines. It was a stunner, a total delight.
At the time, the DREVON family lived from what is called MARAÎCHAGE, mixed market gardening, with apricots, cardoons, chard, summer vegetables, and a few vines. 1947 was the wedding year of grandfather ANDRÉ DREVON, which is why several of these oldest bottles in the cellar have existed until this day.
The harvest of its SERINE came from vines on the CÔTE BAUDIN that were planted in the 1910s, the vineyard taken out and re-planted by ANDRÉ in 1982-83. Vinification was with whole bunches, as was the custom of the day, and raising was in old 228-litre oak casks for three years. LOUIS recounted that there had been three casks, two of which were sold to the newly established merchant ETIENNE GUIGAL, who had worked chez VIDAL-FLEURY before setting up his business ETS GUIGAL the year before, in 1946. The third cask was for family consumption. Now I was being allowed to delve into this family secret, this family heirloom.
The bottle of 1947 was the response of LOUIS and MAXIME to hearing the dreadfully sad news of the passing of my wife FIONA, of peritonitis, after a wrong diagnosis, at home. As an act of friendship, it was supreme. As an act of hope for the future, it was untouchable.
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