12 Days of Vinebox: Day 12

5 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Well, we’ve done it:  scaled the top of a 24-day Advent mountain, and without pausing for breath, immediately continued up to the summit of the second 12-day Vinebox mountain perched directly on top of it.  36 straight days of blogging later, here we are, weary and satisfied and very ready not to write about any goddamned thing tomorrow.  And we end the 12 Days of Vinebox with the wine that maybe surprised me the most in the lineup, not because there’s anything particularly weird about it (although in this age of wine weird-offs marked by escalating departures from the norm, maybe strait-laced in-its-lane Left Bank Bordeaux qualifies as odd in a post-hipster-irony sort of way), but because it appears to be a library offering.  This 2011 Chateau Hourbanon Medoc is easily the oldest wine in our set of test tubes, proving that even back-vintage wines can be relocated and settle peacefully in their new skinny Vinebox homes.

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I gently chided Vinebox yesterday for not supplying much information along with their wines, but tonight’s offering solves that problem itself by way of an information-packed, if insanely disorganized, producer website, wherein the current proprietor of Chateau Hourbanon tells you absolutely everything you would want to know about the history and current philosophy of the estate in nine different potential languages.  I find this sheer earnest desire to share and educate highly welcoming.  Thanks to this glorious fount of information, I can advise that Chateau Hourbanon has long been highly regarded — it was classified as a Cru Bourgeois (or its pre-official predecessor) back in the 19th century — but the subsequent 100 years were not as kind to it, and when reformed dentist Remi Delayat purchased it in 1974 it was all but abandoned, its winery buildings in complete disrepair.  Delayat made it his personal mission to rehabilitate the estate, and after his premature death in 1981 his widow Nicole carried on the quest, followed by  their son, current proprietor and website content-master Hugh, who now manages the estate’s 13 hectares of vines.  In the current more formalistic classification of the Cru Bourgeois wineries, Chateau Hourbanon’s name remains on the list.

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Hourbanon prides itself on melding the best of traditional and modern practices:  they hand-harvest and avoid chemical use in the vineyard (a Vinebox constant, it seems, at least for my six wines) just like the good old days, but they use leaf-stripping canopy management techniques to ensure sunlight access to the grapes and avoid green tannins and they studiously control fermentation temperatures to preserve fruit flavours.  The estate vineyards are located almost due west of the Haut-Medoc commune of Left Bank stalwart Saint-Estephe, on the well-draining deep sandy gravel soil that typifies this part of Bordeaux.  Plantings are at far higher than usual density to force each vine to struggle for survival and cast roots deep.  The 2011 vintage was a return to a more standard year in the vineyards of Bordeaux after the back-to-back ideal vintages of 2009 and 2010; I picked this bottle specifically in my Vinebox draft with Ray because this vintage marked the birth of my first child, and I had been warned against the ageworthiness of birth-year Bordeaux given that this year did not reach the heights of its predecessors.  Based on this final glass tube of my inaugural Vinebox voyage, I needn’t have worried.

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This is a classic Left Bank blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  Bottle/vial age has led to some raisining of the plum and currant fruit but has not yet given rise to any of the foresty aristocratic tertiary aromas that make mature Bordeaux so majestic; anise, Pine Sol (which doesn’t count as foresty, sorry), asphalt and shingles round out a fairly muted nose.  The transition blues continue when you taste, as the primary fruit has receded but tertiary glory has not yet replaced it, leaving the wine in some awkward pubescent state, on the way somewhere but not quite there yet.  It’s far from dead, as the proud scratchy tannins and restrained yet still springy acid would attest, but it’s stuck in between at the moment, hoping for reconsideration in a few more years.  Perhaps the concept of birth-year Felix Bordeaux lasting until an 18th birthday in 2029 was not so far-fetched.  Thanks for the run, Vinebox – I hope this isn’t the last we see of you.

87+ points

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