Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Abacus, Trilogie, Reserva Especial: Leading non-Vintage still wines

We are all familiar with non-vintage Champagnes but may be less so with high-quality, non-vintage, dry still wines.  In this post I will describe three instances of the latter: Chateau Le Pin's Trilogie, Vega-Sicilia's Reserva Especial, and ZDs Abacus.

Château Le Pin's Trilogie

Variously described as "hedonistic," "exotic," and "more California and Australia than traditional Bordeaux," the Merlot-based wine of Pomerol's Chateau Le Pin is one of the world's most highly desired -- and highly priced -- wines.  The estate sits on a 1.6-hectare plot of granite, clay, and sand that is planted to 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc (the wine is 100% Merlot), old vines that yield 30-35 hectoliters/hectare.  The grapes are hand-harvested and then fermented in stainless steel tanks.  After fermentation the wine is transferred to 100% new oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and 18 months of maturation.  The wine is subjected to egg-white fining prior to bottling.  Annual production ranges between 500 and 700 cases.

In order to maintain its high level of quality, Chateau Le Pin employs an extremely rigorous selection process.  It has been said that the wine excluded in the Le Pin selection process would be the core of the Grand Vin of many a Bordeaux estate.  These extra barrels are the source of Le Pin's Trilogie.  In any given year the estate does not have enough of this unselected wine to make a second label but, over multiple years, unselected barrels can be combined to provide enough volume for a market offering. The most recent Trilogie offering is a blend of the 2007 and 2008 vintages which can be purchased for approximately $125 at retail.

I have not tasted this wine to date.  I bought a 6-pack from Antique Wine Company in the UK but the seal remains unbroken.

Vega-Sicilia's Reserva Especial

Vega-Sicilia is a highly regarded (Lafitte of Spain) estate located in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.  The winery, in operation since 1864, sits on a 1000-hectare property, 250 hectares of which are planted to vine: 80% Tempranillo and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec.  Planting density on the clay-limestone soil is 2200 vines/hectare and yields are 22 hectoliters/hectare, with each vine producing less than 2 kilos of wine.  The estate's Grand Vin is Unico (10 years of aging) with the second wine, Valbueno, being approachable a little earlier (5 years of aging).  If the grapes for Unico are not of the best quality, they are declassified to Valbueno and no Unico is produced in that year.  This has happened previously in 1992, 1993, 1997, and 2001.

The Unico wine is fermented for 15 days in in oak vats and are then transferred to oak storage containers for malolactic fermentation.  The wines remain in these containers for 1 year.  The Unico wine is aged for 7 years during which time it is transferred successively to barrels with less new oak characteristics.  When the desired harmony of wood and wine is attained, the wine is placed into large wooden vats to await bottling.  The wine is bottle-aged for three years. Annual production is approximately 7000 cases.

The Reserva Especial is a blend of three-years' harvests.  One recent offering contained a blend of 1991 Unico (aroma), 1994 Unico (power), and 1995 Unico (quality of finish).  These wines average $380 per bottle at retail.

I am an avid collector of Vega-Sicilia and have previously reported on my tastings of the 1970 and 1994 vintages on this blog.

ZDs Abacus

The ZD estate is located in Napa's Rutherford AVA and is the source of grapes for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines along with grapes from "low-yielding vineyards" In "recognized viticultural areas within Napa."  Grapes for the ZD Cabernet Sauvignon are hand-harvested at full maturity and transported to the winery for destemming and crushing.  The grapes are fermented in open-top stainless steel tanks for between 6 and 14 days, with cap punchdown occurring every 8 hours.  After fermentation the wines are placed in 50 gallon oak barrels for 24 months of aging.  The Reserve blend is aged for 36 months.

Abacus is a solera-type blend of all of the existing vintages of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The first bottling was released in November of 1999 and contained elements of the 1992-1998 vintages.  A total of 200 cases of the first bottling was produced.


The 14th bottling will be released in October 2012 and it will contain contributions of all Reserve vintages between 1992 and 2009.  The 14th bottling is available from the winery at a pre-production price of $500 per bottle.  The average price on wine-searcher.com for earlier bottlings is $380.

I have tasted this wine on many occasions and have never been disappointed.  Click here for one of my tasting experiences.

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