Domaine de Ravanes Le Prime Verd 1995
Domaine de Ravanes should not be an entirely unfamiliar estate to those who have followed my regular Wine of the Week slot; I have previously featured two Ravanes wines, the 1986 Merlot and the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon, both produced back in the days when Marc Benin, who took over the running of domaine from his father, Guy, was bottling his wine by variety. Today he tends to do a little more blending, such as with Diogène, which is a mix of about 70% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot. Nevertheless, some single varietal wines remain, namely the Gravières du Taurou, produced from a parcel of old Merlot vines, and Le Prime Verd, which is a 100% Petit Verdot cuvée produced only in better vintages.
Benin's inspiration is without doubt Bordeaux, and it was he who replanted much of the family vineyard with Bordeaux varieties - including Petit Verdot - when he took over from his father. This particular variety has fallen out of favour in the region with which it is best associated because although the vines have many positive features - notably good rot resistance, and a decent yield of concentrated, spicy, tannin-rich fruit - they do tend to ripen even later than Cabernet Sauvignon. As a consequence the Petit Verdot harvest was extremely vulnerable, the quality depending upon the whim of the September or October weather, and many estates abandoned it in favour of Cabernet. A few, however, do continue with its use, and in favourable vintages it makes a very worthwhile contribution to the wines of Bordeaux.
Even so, in Bordeaux Petit Verdot it is usually only a seasoning, accounting for a tiny percentage of the final blend. For example, in 2007, it accounts for just 1% of the blend for Lafite-Rothschild, and 2% of Carruades de Lafite, the second wine, whereas at Latour all the Petit Verdot has been demoted to the third wine, where it accounts for 7% of the blend. There are few pure Petit Verdot cuvées available, although they are out there; there are plantings of the variety in Jumilla (Spain), Chile, Australia and the USA, and although many use it in Bordeaux-style blends, some follow the practice of Marc Benin and produce a varietal cuvée. And it is Benin's wine, the Domaine de Ravanes Le Prime Verd, in this case in the 1995 vintage, that I am tasting this week.
Unlike the last wine from Domaine de Ravanes that I opened, the 1986 Merlot, there was no problem with the cork here; it slid from the neck without difficulty, revealing a dark, garnet coloured wine beneath, showing some maturity of colour in the decanter, where it rested for an hour or so before drinking. The nose quickly opens up, unfolding to reveal aromas of dark fruits, with a bright and elegant perfume of violets, with perhaps a little meaty note at the edge. During the evening the wine became more aromatic, and as the decanter is gradually drained there are notes of black olives, pretty rose petals and even a little tar. On the palate, though, it shows plenty of full and sweet fruit, quite rounded and complete, and certainly not showing any excessive age. It is very well defined, with a lovely structure of ripe tannins which provide a backbone to the firm style, rather than dominating the wine. Through the midpalate it shows lovely substance, some fresh acids and a nice grip, perhaps slightly bitter towards the finish, but with a lovely, sappy, tannic coating here also. This wine has a beautiful composition, quite pure, but not hugely complex. In terms of development it is still on the way up, and it has fine potential, although it is very approachable now. 17.5+/20 (1/9/08)