From £19.95, $24.54
This is one of those magic, high-tension dry whites from the hills of the Languedoc-Roussillon, not totally unlike my beloved Le Soula Blanc whose debut 2001 vintage was a wine of the week back in 2003.
The grapes used are quite different. Whereas Le Soula is made of a cocktail of grape varieties, this is a varietal version of a grape variety I have been increasingly impressed by in recent years (see In praise of Grenache Gris published in 2016). Boulevard Napoléon wines are made by Benjamin Darnault, one of Naked Wines' most popular winemakers, in a winery in the village of La Livinière in the hills of the Minervois in the Languedoc. Conceived by Trevor Gulliver, business partner of Fergus Henderson of St John restaurant in London, the winery takes its name from the wonderfully ambitious name of the village backstreet where it is located. Gulliver has a house nearby.
The vines that supply the fruit for this wine, of which only a few hundred cases a year are made, are 70 or 80 years old, some of the oldest in the region, and grow in a clay-limestone vineyard known as Le Pal in Minervois-La Livinière very close to Gérard Bertrand's Clos de l'Ora. It's planted with both Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir, the Noir being picked two weeks later than the Gris. This wine doesn't qualify as AOC Minervois because it is made from a single variety and, amazingly, Grenache Gris (unlike Grenache Blanc) is not one of the many grapes allowed in white Minervois. So it is sold as a Vin de Pays de l'Hérault.
The grapes are – of course – hand picked in late September, whole-bunch pressed and the first press juice is fermented in one- and two-year-old barrels. The wine is aged on the lees afterwards for a year à la Bourgogne and is bottled a year after the harvest after a light filtration but no fining. Geeks may like to know that it tends to have a residual sugar of around 3 g/l, total acidity of about 6 g/l (expressed as tartaric acid) and a pH of well over 3. There is no malolactic conversion, not least because malic acid levels are so low. Oh, and the alcoholic strength is usually 14.5% but it's not at all heavy. Serve it as you would a white burgundy.
The acidity may look low but this is a full-bodied dry white that doesn't seem remotely flabby but has massive citrus and stone tension and drive, all of it over a satisfyingly creamy texture. In my experience there is no hurry at all to drink it. I've tasted all vintages from 2011, which I have tasted every year from 2014, revising my drinking dates forward each time. When I last tasted the 2011 in August 2016, I thought it should last until this year.
I found the 2012 a bit fat and the 2014 very slightly lighter than some (compared with the intensity of other vintages) but the 2013 and 2015 (just released) are stunning, and should enjoy a long life.
The wine seems reasonably well distributed in both the UK and US with the lovely 2013 vintage the best distributed. Very little 2014 was produced and the 2015 can be bought from St John's own wine retail business.
When Nick and I went to Nicholas Hytner's brand new London theatre The Bridge a couple of months ago, I was thrilled to find this wine available at the bar – admittedly only by the bottle, but luckily we ran into a friend who justified ordering such a large quantity to enjoy with our St John pre-theatre snack.
I hope you enjoy this unique wine style as much as I do. And I am assured that these online retailers carry it in the UK:
and these in France: