Old Wines in New Bottles

Rivesaltes’ aged fortified wines sport ‘spirited’ packaging

Rivesaltes wants to look like after-dinner competitors Cognac and Scotch.

Old wines in new bottles? It’s really not a bad idea.

Rivesaltes is an exotic-tasting aged wine from the Roussillon region in the south of France, part of a class called vins doux naturels, although there isn’t anything “natural” in adding neutral brandy to a partially fermented wine to keep it fruity and sweet but with a higher level of alcohol. Rivesaltes may be aged in casks, much like a sherry, and is generally sold according to its age or its vintage, often with reference to color.

For years, Rivesaltes has been packaged in traditional wine bottles and treated as a dessert wine.  Increasingly, however, its fine, complex flavors have led drinkers to serve it after dinner. It is treated less like a wine and more like a spirit, such as Cognac and Armagnac or even a single-malt Scotch

This fact has caused some firms to market Rivesaltes in bottles that resemble the decanter-like containers of spirits. One such company is Terrassous, which recently began marketing its wine in the United States. Terrassous director Hervé Lasserre recently led a tasting of Rivesaltes labeled 6-year-old, 12-year-old, and 18-year-old, as well as Rivesaltes from 1992, 1981, and 1974 vintages.

“Every time we find a little space, we fill new barrels with wine,” Lasserre said as he took me on a tour of his cellar that overflowed to above-ground storage. “And each barrel tastes different.”

Rivesaltes is made primarily from four grape varieties: grenache noir, grenache gris, grenache blanc, and maccabeo in the Catalan area of France near Perpignan that borders Spain. These wines are known for their good acidity and fairly lean structure for sweet wines, and their flavors can vary greatly — they may include citrus peel, exotic spices, boxwood, nuts, honey, dried fruits, and fragrant herbs.

These flavors and aromas are best enjoyed, of course, in a brandy snifter.  

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