Domaine de Ravanes Cabernet Sauvignon 1979
There's nothing like a mature Cabernet-based wine, be it from Bordeaux, California or elsewhere, to partner a platter of roast beef. Making a good roast beef is pretty simple, as there are just three golden rules. Firstly, choose a good joint from a reliable source; I have found that beef from Donald MacPherson (www.wellhungandtender.co.uk), from their herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, purchased direct at my local farmer's market, is more than adequate, if not excellent. For those with no local market, there are some online retailers with good reputations, so all is not lost. Secondly, cook it hot to start with, but not for too long. And lastly, the joint must be left to stand; I leave mine wrapped in foil for a half-hour, and this makes a huge difference to the finished dish.
Making a good red wine also requires great care, but is perhaps a little more complicated, and the path from producer to consumer is not always so direct. Witness this week's wine, which went very well with my roast beef; a Domaine de Ravanes Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1979 vintage. The label states quite clearly that this bottle was initially intended for the American market, being imported into Virginia by Country Vintner, a firm only established in 1980, so this must have been one of their very first orders. Quite how it came back into the UK I am unsure, although business was apparently not entirely straightforward for Kip Thompson, who established this Richmond-based wine importing business, and perhaps some wines were sold on. It matters not, though, as long as the wine is good, although this is a very valid concern; wines shipped across the Atlantic are much more likely to be heat damaged than those that have been resting in my cellar, or any cellar, since their purchase. The only way to tell, though, is to pull the cork.
The cork came out of the bottle with surprising ease. Without really thinking of the two decades and more that this bit of bark has been wedged in the neck of this particular bottle (I did have roast beef on my mind) I attacked it with my usual corkscrew, which sank into the cork as if it were butter. Only when I started to extract was there any real concern as the surface of the cork lifted up in a small pile of crumbs and it looked as though I was going to regret not approaching this bottle with a little more care. But then the whole cork suddenly shifted upwards, and thankfully it came out in one smart piece. The wine smelt remarkable clean, and a small sample poured into a glass really began to open out over the first ten to fifteen minutes, so much so that I decanted the remainder. In the glass, this wine has a very mature hue that belies its twenty seven years, browning at the rim, with a rich mahogany core. It has a rather classic maturing Cabernet nose, which has a firm meaty vein, with notes of spiced tobacco and cigar box, with a slightly earthy edge. Later there are little nuances of mint and even a salty, freshly-landed shellfish note; this is clearly a wine throwing out a complex bouquet as it reaches the end of its life. Nevertheless, it is holding together well on the midpalate, with fully resolved tannins, and balanced acidity, and the appealing spiced, meaty character found on the nose translates into beefy, iron-mineral flavours on the palate, followed by fleeting nuances of bitter cherries, and then dark, chewy liquorice confectionery, and amazingly even a little sweet blackcurrant. It lacks a little backbone, with the tannins completely integrated, but this is to be expected. It slowly fades on the finish, where to be honest it seems a little hollow, right on the end palate. Overall I'm pretty pleased with how this bottle has held together over the years, although I can't deny that it probably would have had rather more to give five or even ten years ago. 16.5/20 (18/9/06)