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Château las Collas Rivesaltes 1970

Rivesaltes is one of those appellations that seems, to me at least, to be designed to confuse, simply because it encompasses a myriad of different styles. These include not only red and white (although with age these two tend to regress towards the same style), but different winemaking practices mean that some have an oxidised style akin to Sherry, whereas others are protected from oxidation and perhaps are a little closer to Port in style. And then some can be young, rich and fruit-dominated like a young Crusted Port, whereas others have the pallor and flavour that belies a prolonged period of ageing in wood, like a Tawny Port. No wonder I am confused.

In fairness, however, appellation regulations do allow for some guidance on the label as to style; its just that I don't drink the wines that often, and as I result I sometimes have a little trouble committing these designations to memory. A little revision is called for, perhaps, although maybe we should start with the grapes before moving onto these classifications. The reds are always dominated by Grenache Noir, either a minimum of 50% or 75%, the former for oxidative styles and the latter for the fresher, more modern wines (this is already looking confusing). Although the blend may include Carignan, Cinsaut or Syrah (to a maximum of 10%) the blend is just as likely to include white grapes including Grenache Gris/Blanc, Maccabéo, Tourbat (also known as Malvoisie de Roussillon) or Listan, the latter perhaps better known as Spain's Palomino. The white wines may include Grenache Gris/Blanc, Maccabéo, Tourbat again, but also Muscat à Petits Grains or Muscat d'Alexandrie (the latter also known locally as Muscat Romain), provided the Muscats do not exceed 20%.

Chateau las Collas Rivesaltes 1970The finished wine may be classified as Grenat: a fruit-driven style based on 75% Grenache which sees just one year in wood and three months in bottle before release; I suppose this is my Crusted Port style. Next are Ambre and Tuilé, both oxidative styles, the first white and the second red (so a minimum of 50% Grenache); these are my Sherry lookalikes, I suppose. Each may also be designated Hors d'Age, which indicates that they have spent at least five years in wood before bottling; this is perhaps something of a cross between Tawny Port and Sherry. Lastly, a wine which displays overt oxidative characters, through the use of wood and oxidative handling, may be labelled as Rancio. In addition, watch out for Muscat de Rivesaltes; although a vin doux naturel just like Rivesaltes per se, these wines are 100% Muscat à Petits Grains or Muscat d'Alexandrie, and so they provide yet another distinct variation in the Rivesaltes arena. Nevertheless, although there are several permutations, I am sure you are thinking it doesn't seem that hard; unfortunately, a quick browse through many a merchant's list will soon reveal that numerous bottles simply don't declare themselves in any of the above styles, being labelled simply as Rivesaltes. So it was with this week's wine, the Château de Collas Rivesaltes 1970.

When undeclared, Rivesaltes is most likely - I think - to be a Grenache dominated red wine, fortified and sweet, but more in the Tuilé style, characterised by the flavours of raisins, nuts and caramel rather than fruit, and perhaps with some oxidation. This seems to be the case here. The colour is a warm walnut brown, with orange-amber tones, not a hint of red, and a very slight suggestion of cloudiness which I find a little unusual. Nevertheless there doesn't seem to be any problem on the nose, which is rich and characterful, opening out - over several days in fact - to offer up notes of polished wood, baked earth, walnuts, dry toffee and raisined fruits. The palate is warm, rich, rather firm and characterful, with more of that polished wood alongside a little high-toned volatility which does disappear after a while. There are dried fruit, nuts, raisins and more. Best of all it has a very complete mouthfeel, with a broad and sinewy texture which coats the palate in a rich, harmonious but not overtly sweet fashion. It all ends up in a warm, throaty finish. This wine does take a little time to impress, and I have to confess I found it better on days two and three than day one, and it went especially well with a platter of hard cheese after returning from a Bordeaux 2008 tasting earlier in the week. A good wine. 17/20 (16/3/09)

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