L’Archiviste Rivesaltes 1973

Searching for a bottle to take to a dinner in Bordeaux during the primeurs, on the theme of vintages ending in 3, my hand landed on a number of eligible candidates. But, I asked myself, were any of them really suitable?

The first bottles I pulled out were the 2013 Les Rouliers and 2013 Les Noëls de Montbenault, from Richard Leroy. Nope. While these two wines will undoubtedly set a Chenin-lover’s pulse racing, I thought the choice too personal, and in the context of a dinner likely to feature many old vintages, too young. Then out popped a 1993 Chateau Musar. Nope. Too idiosyncratic, too prone to volatility, too divisive, and liable to be dismissed alongside the likes of Petrus and Palmer.

Then I chanced upon a bottle of 1993 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Première Trie from Domaine Huet, and the straight 1993 Vouvray Moelleux from François Pinon. These seemed more suitable, albeit perhaps a little predictable. “Hey, guess what everybody, Chris brought a Vouvray!” So maybe not.

Then my hand landed on two bottles of the 1973 Rivesaltes L’Archiviste, from Philippe Gayral.

L'Archiviste Rivesaltes 1973

If you don’t know the wines of Philippe Gayral, now is the time to set that right. A modest and academically-minded man who once ran a leading co-operative in Roussillon, during the course of his career Philippe built up an unrivalled network of connections with local domaines, including many in Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes. Although today they are seen as curiosities, these appellations were once extremely popular, selling millions of bottles per year of their vins doux naturels, sweet fortified wines produced by adding spirit to the partly fermented must, thereby creating wines which started out life rich in colour, fruit, unfermented sugar and alcohol. After an élevage lasting a few years, or rather a few decades, in wooden cuve, barrel or demi-john, followed by another few years, or decades again, in bottle, the end result can be gloriously complex and multi-layered.

Through his network of contacts Philippe realised there were many domaines with old vintages of these unloved and unfashionable wines secreted away. Suddenly, he had a new purpose in life; to rescue these old wines, many from vintages in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and bring them before 21st-century drinkers; he sources the wines, bottles them and arranges distribution and marketing. Some domaines feature strongly, including Domaine la Sobilaine and Domaine du Prieuré de Monastir del Camp, the latter based in a priory allegedly established by Charlemagne’s army where they camped, as they returned from fighting in some foreign land. Sometimes, however, the owners of the domaine prefer that the name not be used, in which case Philippe bottles the wine under the L’Archiviste label.

The 1973 Rivesaltes L’Archiviste from Philippe Gayral is from one such unnamed domaine. The wine has rested in oak barrels in the anonymous domaine’s cellars since the fermentation was completed, up until the point of bottling by specialist firm Ma’s Del Vin in 2019, so it has seen out 46 years in barrel, and at least three in bottle. It was sealed with a driven cork, easily removed, and it pours clear into the glass, displaying a vibrant core of amber red with a honeyed gold rim. The nose is gloriously expressive, with threads of caramel, burnt sugar, toasted nuts, dried earth, raisins and orange peel. This complexity also comes across on the palate, which has a gloriously silky presence and yet which carries great texture and weight, all offset by its superb acidity and a sense of freshness and energetic drive. With a fabulous length, and a true sense of harmony, this is a great wine, and a fine alternative to more famous fortified styles. The alcohol on the label is 17.5%. 94/100

This impressive vin doux naturel was the second of my two bottles, and as I hinted above I took the first to that tasting on a theme of ‘3’. To be honest I think it was a little lost among more venerable wines, including 1983 Petrus, 1943 Château Suduiraut and 1923 Château de Rayne-Vigneau among others, but that is perhaps hardly surprising. I will of course write this tasting-dinner up given time; at the moment the notes reside in the now infamous Winedoctor pipeline. (10/7/23)

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