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Wines That Pass The Test Of Time

Big, juicy, fruity taste. Photo from Roberto Viernes

Making things that last. That can be a difficult idea to grasp for many of us in our modern day of immediate gratification.

Ninety-five percent of wine is consumed within 24 hours of its purchase. Think about it. How many things do we make nowadays that actually last 10 years or more? I can’t think of many. But for John Kolasa, that is exactly the vision that he has when it comes to the management of two of Bordeaux’s great estates and the making of their wines.

“Quality is first” is Kolasa’s philosophy. He is the general manager of Chateau Rauzan-Segla, a Second Growth Grand Cru Classe in the area of Margaux, Bordeaux, as well as Chateau Canon, a 1er Grand Cru Classe located in Saint Emilion. And although the two estates have completely different “terroirs” and produce significantly different wines with different grape blends, the philosophy is the same.

The owners of the chateaux know this philosophy well as they also own the Chanel empire. They purchased Rauzan-Segla in 1986 and brought Kolasa aboard immediately. Canon was welcomed to the fold in 1993. Kolasa previously worked at Chateau Latour, a First Growth in Pauillac, and is a proud, self-made man with no diplomas or winemaking degrees, just some of the best hands-on experience anyone could ask for.

When he arrived at Rauzan-Segla, his first task was to “create a ‘soul’ for the wine.” I pressed him on this statement and asked him how he proposed to do this. He intimated that when he and the owners went to visit other chateaux such as Chateaux Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Leoville-Barton after purchasing their estates, they were greeted by tastings of aged wines from Chateaux Rauzan-Segla and Canon from years as far back as the ’20s. This gave Kolasa the idea of the expression and character each estate has. He was looking for the common thread of terroir that speaks through each of the vintages that one defining essence that carries the fingerprint and perhaps the soul of each of the estates.

Moreover, he says that “we must respect the unique identity of each estate and its terroir.” They do this by respecting the vineyard. He sees his responsibility as taking care of it until he can hand it down to the next generation. To this end they have completely natural practices, approaching but not completely organic as he reserves the right to treat the vineyard in case of some catastrophe. In the winery, “We must respect the raw materials.” The equipment in the cellars has been updated with the latest in sorting table technology available, and Canon is 100 percent gravity flow.

Kolasa is a practical man and self-assured in saying, “We make wine for ourselves … they have to go with food.” There is no recipe for every year; the amount of wood used changes according to the vintage. “I want wines not to stay numb, but to speak.”

And speak they do. During our tasting of four different vintages of each of their Grand Vins, the character of each of the estates was evident. Canon being Merlotdominated (75 percent) with the balance Cabernet Franc was much more blue and red fruit-dominated with more floral and herbal scents. It is definitely more elegant; softer yet beautifully delineated. The 2008 is merely an infant with the 2006 being surprisingly open and ready to drink. The 2005 vintage is the star of the tasting in this flight and will live easily for another 15 years or more. But my favorite to drink today was the 2002; an unheralded vintage but one with plenty of beauty in it and harmony that some may find light. I find it caressing.

Rauzan-Segla is much more masculine, not only because of the chunk of Cabernet Sauvignon (59 percent) but because of the enveloping structure, tannin and earthiness it exudes. It is not shy with thickness: black fruit essences with coffee grounds and bitter chocolate flavors. The vintage characters mirror those of Canon for the most part with the 2005 being a real top-notch wine one that will certainly live for more than 20 years. I could not deny my enthusiasm for this wine, especially since the prices for them are much lower than wines of equal and even lesser quality.

2011 marked the 350th anniversary for Chateau Rauzan-Segla, and I would add that with John Kolasa at the helm crafting these wines, they will certainly last the test of time.

Recommendations: 2010 Oliver Savary Chablis ($20) This wine is sheer pleasure to drink. Vivacious minerals blended with citrus fruit and flowers. It zings when you want it to and is excellent with shellfish and sharp cheeses. 2008 Leviathan ($60) It tastes like it sounds: BIG! Hugely juicy fruit, blueberry in nature with gobs of glycerin and out-of-this-world texture. It makes your palate sit up and take notice. By the way, it’s made by Andy Erickson (of Screaming Eagle et al.) and Annie Favia (of Favia-Erickson). Can you say dream team?

Roberto Viernes is a Honolulu master sommelier.