Le Bec Sucre, No. 4
The Short Description:
A blend of Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and a fraction of portuguese varietals, Le Bec Sucrè, No. 4 has all the hallmarks of a great Port. Aromas of ripe cherries, rose petals and licorice soar above an undercurrent of delicious vanilla nuances, a signature of barrel-aged port. The palate explodes with vanilla flavors along with warm blackberry jam and a bit of candied orange peel. Impeccable balance, sophisticated mouthfeel, ripe tannins, and flavors that not only make you keep coming back for more but also leave you thinking about the wine long after the last sip is gone. Less than 20 cases remaining of these 500mL bottles.
The Full Story:
Artiste’s forth foray into the realm of dessert wines brings us Le Bec Sucrè, No. 4, a California port that’s sure to please those who love this world renowned style of fortified wine. And for any of those who haven’t yet converted, this one very well might change your mind.
The story behind Port wine is a fascinating one, as it was born out of necessity but now exists purely because it tastes . . . well, fantastic. In the late 17th century, strained ties between Britain and France led to increased trade tariffs that made wines from France, then Britain’s main supplier, increasingly expensive for British wine drinkers. With no relief in sight and the option of living without wine simply not one worth considering, British wine merchants began looking elsewhere for their nectar of the gods.
Inevitably, their quest led them to Portugal, but the increase in distance also meant an increase in the risk that the wine would spoil before it ever made it to Britain’s shores. In order to help these wines make the voyage, the merchants began adding pure grape spirits, a.k.a. brandy, which acted as a preservative by raising the wines’ alcohol level (hence the term “fortified wines”).
Though in the beginning they only added small amounts, a particularly great vintage in the early 1800s produced extremely ripe grapes with high levels of sugar, thus the resulting fortified wines were also sweeter than normal that year. Once these wines made it to Britain, merchants couldn’t keep them on the shelves, and violà, a star was born. Shippers realized that by adding the brandy to the wine while it was only midway through the fermentation process, they could kill the yeasts, stop fermentation in its tracks, and thereby re-create this sweeter-style wine year after year. Using this technique, winemakers today continue to create deliciously complex wines with all of the sophistication of a fine table wine coupled with the irresistibly sweet opulence of a dessert wine.
Port has the wonderful ability to repeatedly burst on the palate with delicious fruit and spice flavors, and the halted fermentation means the natural residual sugar in the wine is left to accentuate those flavors and make them even more pronounced (and hard to forget).
Port can be made with cheap grapes and still be quite drinkable, but when its crafted with Bion Rice’s eye on quality and small-lot, hands-on winemaking, you end up with a jewel like this.A blend of ports from both 2005 and 2006, Le Bec Sucrè has the softer, more delicate nuances of an older Port while also showing off a youthful bright spark that modern Port drinkers love.
Aromas of ripe cherries, rose petals and licorice soar above an undercurrent of delicious vanilla nuances, a signature of barrel-aged Tempranillo (a grape which, by the way, makes up a significant percentage of almost all Port wine from Portugal, where they call it Tinta Roriz). A little leather and clove from the Syrah bring even more complexity to the nose, while on the palate the wine simply explodes with those wonderful vanilla flavors along with warm blackberry jam and a bit of candied orange peel.
Le Bec Sucrè has all the hallmarks of a great Port, which are no different than the hallmarks of a great table wine --- impeccable balance, sophisticated mouthfeel, ripe tannins, and flavors that not only make you keep coming back for more but also leave you thinking about the wine long after the last sip is gone.
This beauty also has everything it needs to stand the test of time. The sugar, higher alcohol level, and well-balanced acid will give the wine’s other elements the perfect stage to slowly evolve for those who are patient. It’s wonderful right now too, though, so picking up extra bottles now will afford the opportunity to watch it transform over the years.
An old (but continuing) British tradition is for parents to buy a huge lot of vintage Port the year their child is born and then cellar it for them until they are old enough to drink (and yes, many Ports really can age that long, in fact many decades longer). What better gift than that for Artiste’s little wine club members-to-be?
As far as food goes, Port is all about indulgence, and it can function as an aperitif or dessert wine, it doesn’t matter. In northern Portugal they pretty much drink it whenever they feel like it, so by all means imbibe when the mood strikes. If you’re leaning towards dessert, try it with any chocolate dish, especially dark chocolate like the unimpeded beauty of a flourless chocolate cake.
When you’re leaning in the aperitif direction, or if your palate craves cheese for dessert rather than chocolate, pungent, salty cheeses play beautifully against the fruity sweetness of a Port like Le Bec Sucrè. For blue cheese fans out there, this wine may become your new best friend. Few, if any wines can stand up to blue cheeses, but Port is the exception; it doesn’t just stand up to it, it shines in its company. They are remarkably delicious together, and indeed the blue cheese/port combination is one of the classic pairings in the food and wine world.
Hopefully just the first of many more Artiste ports to come, Le Bec Sucrè is wonderfully opulent, a true nod to the hedonists among us.
- Bion Rice, Winemaker