Jean Pierre Amoreau’s family has been farming grapes naturally on the same Bordeaux estate since 1610. As far back as 1868, Barthelemy, Jean Pierre’s great-great grandfather questioned the need to use sulphur dioxide as an antioxidant and instead, founded the aging on lees method which is still used today to add richness and texture to the wine. In 1924, the Chateau stopped using any chemicals and watched their vines continue to thrive. In the mid-sixties, Chateau le Puy became one of the first Bordeaux estates to produce organic wines and in 1990 implemented biodynamic farming methods, something that has been adopted by many California producers.
After more than 400 years of winemaking, the passion is still evident in 80-year-old Jean Pierre, his wife Francois and son Pascual, as we met at Quince in San Francisco last week to taste 90 years of the best Chateau le Puy Emilien vintages and pair some current releases with a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Michael Tusk.
After surveying the eighteen available vintages dating back to 1926, we began with the current release, the Chateau le Puy Emilien 2016 which expressed earth, red fruit and mushroom on both the nose and palate. It had the structure of a much older wine. “You will find that my younger wines taste old and my older vintages still taste young and vibrant,” said Jean Pierre, preparing us as we progressed through past decades of his flagship wine that consists dominantly of merlot with some cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and a hint of carmenere. Since no new oak is used at Chateau le Puy, the Emilien is aged in used barrels and centenary foudres for 24 months.
Jean Pierre enjoys a nice bouquet and the earth and spice aromas of the Emilien 1989 were off the charts. The roundness and complex flavor profile was highlighted with balanced red fruit on the finish.
As we ventured into the older vintages, Jean Pierre offered more sage advice, “Wine is like marriage. If it is not good from the beginning, it will never be good.” While the Emilien 1961 had qualities of baked red fruit aromas and flavors, I found a subtle floral quality throughout.
Three other vintages of the Emilien caught my fancy: the 1955, 1944 and 1926. The 1955 had a light garnet, almost caramel-like color, smokey aromas and flavors with some lingering hints of orange.
Due to WWII, the 1944 vintage was produced by Paule, Jean Pierre’s mother and is a superb wine with bright fruit on the palate. The 1926 vintage was very special because, well, it’s a 1926.
With a steely mineralogy on the nose, there were savory elements that were as integrated and balanced as one might imagine.
Lunch began with Tsar Nicoulai Cavier serve with smoked eel, brioche, brown butter hollandaise paired with a Marie-Cecile 2015, simply the finest pure semillon wine that I have ever tasted with incredible aromas of pear and complex, lush flavors that honor the palate.
The Chateau’s Barthelemy, described as an emotional wine, is produced from a single field-blended plot called “Les Rocs,” planted with 85 percent merlot and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon Six vintages of the Barthelemy, ranging from 2001 to 2014, were paired with diverse dishes from Charcoal Grilled Maine Lobster, Duclair Duck Lasagna with fois gras sauce to something defined as Lamb in Diverse Preparation with freshly dug potato and black truffle. Pinching myself to determine if this extraordinary Monday afternoon was real, I enjoyed vibrant aromas, balanced flavors and a rich mouthfeel that supported and enhanced the exquisite cuisine.
For dessert, a chocolate soufflé, served in a small copper sauce pan, was paired with a Retour des Iles 2012, another Chateau le Puy wine with a fascinating story. From each vintage, the family selects a few barrels to be boarded on a brigantine ship named “Tres Hombres,” and sets them out to sea for eight to ten months. Apparently, the salty winds and swells of the ocean water provide a unique aging process.
In describing the Retour, Jean-Michel Brouard from Terre de Vins said, “A unique experience which reveals very round wines with almost exotic aromas, and a symbol. That of an estate in the same family since 1610, and at the forefront of modernity.” His quote aptly describes the family and the thought and energy that they give to each vintage.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.