Primum Familiae Vini – Part 1

Some of the wines at the Oxford PFV tasting

Some of the wines at the Oxford PFV tasting

A good bottle of wine is an empty one” – Christophe Brunet

Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) – Latin for “The First Families in Wine” – is an exclusive association of the greatest family-owned wineries in the world. Membership is restricted to twelve wineries and is only achieved through personal invitation after the unanimous decision of the other families. There are currently only eleven members after the famous Rhône producer Paul Jaboulet Aîné ceased to qualify as a family-owned business in 2006. Other than the requirement of family ownership, the criteria for selection are simple: be truly at the top of your class in producing wine typical of your region and demonstrate unbridled passion for wine. With names like Mouton-Rothschild, Pol Roger and Vega Sicilia in the PFV stable, it is unsurprising that the association is taking its time in electing a twelfth member!

Earlier this month, we were very privileged to host the Primum Familiae Vini in Oxford to their very first university society tasting. This was undoubtedly one of, if not the, greatest tasting in the long history of the Oxford Wine Circle. The tasting was presented by Christophe Brunet, master sommelier and Ambassador for the PFV – a more charismatic, knowledgeable and charming host you could not imagine. M. Brunet introduced each of the eleven representative wines with some local history of the producers, the grape growing conditions and the winemaking itself, before allowing us to savour the wine and to discuss each wine individually.

Neel Burton & Christophe Brunet

Neel Burton and Christophe Brunet at the Oxford PFV tasting

And the wines themselves – well! It goes without saying that all these wines are from producers truly at the top of their game. All the wines were well-made and very well balanced. I’ll discuss some of their more unique qualities below, and in part 2 of this post.

First up was Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Champagne, vintage 1999. Being a ‘blanc de blancs’ champagne, this wine is made exclusively from the chardonnay grape. 1999 was a fairly small vintage, due to unseasonal hail destroying some of the crop. However, this only serves to make the grapes that survived into wine all the more special. Classic lemon-green in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine had a wonderful fragrant nose – vanilla, cooked apple, butter, hazelnuts and a subtle yeastiness. I’m not usually a fan of the blanc de blancs style, preferring the roundness of the pinot noir grape in the blend, however this wine was superbly balanced on the palate. Crisp acidity, with a clean, round body, and gentle bubbles across the tongue – overall a delectable marshmallow texture. Creamy apples dominated the palate and the finish was long, rich and sang of classic finesse. A truly great champagne.

Moving further south but staying with chardonnay, we next sampled the Beaune, Clos des Mouches, 2008, from Joseph Drouhin. This wine is produced from an 8 hectare, biodynamically managed vineyard and 2008 was an excellent vintage. In appearance: a medium lemon, with a green tinge. The aromas were notably of melted butter, from French oak, along with honey, pink grapefruit and kiwifruit – which I found to be an interesting departure from the classic ‘apple’ notes of white Burgundy. The structure of the wine had crisp acidity, balanced alcohol and a moderate-density, rolling body. Apples came through more on the palate, along with butter and allspice. While many chardonnays are ready to be drunk two to three years on; this wine is seriously young. It showed an opulence, power and concentration ready to go the distance.

For the next two wines, we moved into the reds and into Italy. The Antinori family claims a winemaking history of over 600 years! Now into the 26th generation of winemakers, the wine we tasted was the Tignanello 2007 vintage from the Marchesi Antinori label. The Tignanello vineyard is 47 hectares nestled in the heart of Chianti. Although not qualifying under the stringent rules for a Chianti Classico classification, this is still a serious ‘Tuscan’ wine. The blend is made up of 80% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon and 5% cabernet franc , and the wine spends a year in French oak barrels. In the glass the wine expresses its youth as a very deep ruby colour. The nose was incredibly concentrated and complex. I discerned classic sangiovese plum notes, overlaid with Christmas cake and almond icing; there were vegetal undercurrents too, olives, violets, cacao and roasted coffee. The wine was full-bodied, fairly high in alcohol (14% a.b.v.) but with a crisp acidity to balance. Notable are the tannins: firm and grippy; very present. This is a serious wine with a lot of concentration but still young; it will be even more delicious with another few years in bottle.

At the Primum Familiae Vini tasting

Sassicaia is considered to be the seminal ‘super-Tuscans’. While we didn’t get to sample this famous wine, its producer Tenuta San Guido sent along their second wine to us – Guidalberto, vintage 2004. While still made in Tuscany (although much closer to the coast than Chianti) this wine was very different from the Tignanello. The blend consists of equal parts (45% each) of the ‘international’ varieties cabernet sauvignon and merlot and only 10% of the native sangiovese, and is aged in 12 months in a mix of American and French oak barrels. The wine was a deep ruby in the glass and the nose felt like a classic Italian red ‘with a twist’. Along with the black cherry and vanilla aromas I identify in Tuscan wines, there were also notes of fresh, fruity blackberry, cedar wood, nuts and a lot of tertiary mushroom characteristics. Evidently, all three grapes in the blend are expressing themselves. Sour cherry comes through on the palate; there are also earthy and vegetal flavours. The tannins and fairly soft but grippy, dry and rich. The body is moderate with just-crisp acid and fairly high alcohol. A more ‘fun’ wine than the Tignanello perhaps, and ripe for drinking now.

One of most well-known names in the Rhône brought us back to France – Château de Beaucastel, owned by Perrin et Fils. They sent their eponymous first wine of vintage 2007. We recently had a full tasting of Beaucastel – a vertical stretching back to 1990 – about which I will write presently. As a brief introduction, Beaucastel is a producer in the Southern Rhône, making wines generally dominated by grenache, however, there can be up to thirteen grape varietals in the blend, including syrah, cinsault and mourvèdre. The Château de Beaucastel wine famously has all thirteen. Another intensely deep wine in the glass – ruby with a violet rim. The aromas of this wine were very concentrated: classic grenache notes of strawberry jam, along with spice bread, truffle, some white pepper and a slight gamey note. The southern Rhône being a fairly warm place, this wine was high in alcohol, with moderate acidity, a full body and fine tannins with a cocoa-like texture. Ripe red fruits blossomed across the palate, along with some bitter chocolate and a bricky character. White pepper concluded the long finish. A wine that will go the distance.

This post is continued in part 2.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
This entry was posted in Burgundy, Champagne, Italy, Oxford Wine Events, Rhone, Suggested Wines and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Primum Familiae Vini – Part 1

  1. Neel Burton says:

    James,

    Your blind tasting prowess is being extolled in the Financial Times by no less than Jancis Robinson!

    In particular, she says, ‎’Most excitingly for those of us in the world of wine, he is seriously considering a vinous career. Snap him up, someone!’

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a347ea50-54ee-11e0-96f3-00144feab49a.html#axzz1Hj2NguV6

  2. Pingback: Primum Familiae Vini – Part 2 | The Oxford Wine Blog

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