Zemis


The Zemis were the divine medium between the Gods and Man.
They whispered through the leaves of the trees,
Rolled and moved the currents of rivers.
Fanned Storms with their wings,
And lightning sprung from their hands.

(L’Atlantida, by Jacint Verdaguer)

It would be nice to know precisely what dream Jean Leon had in mind as he set foot in American What baggage he carried was mostly in his head. There is nothing to suggest he was gifted or qualified except for a short stay in Paris, France and he appears to have squeezed that for all he was worth. He was a penniless, ambitious young man, small in stature but big in style.

As Count Mark McCormick said, when you open a restaurant there are three important things to consider, location, location and location. He might also have mentioned timing, vision and luck.
As Jean Leon left war torn Europe, the new era of transatlantic flight was bringing America, Coke, Camel, Cars and Cinema to the world. England was a cute little country with excellent sports cars, but France remained the land of culture, style and cuisine. Hollywood actors were world famous stars and Sr. Jean Leon was ready to guide them from diners and pizza parlours to La Scala and the finest European cuisine.
Within twenty years, La Scala restaurants were the reference for where to eat as well as where to be seen. Jean had befriended and cultivated the cream of post war movie actors, actresses and future presidents. The best wines of the old world lined his cellars but he had yet to find exactly the wine he wanted and so he commenced another inspired adventure, the search to find his own winery.
The French wineries were twenty years into peace and sales to the insatiable States guaranteed their long term future. No amount of dollars from across the Atlantic would encourage them to sell out. Jean was very well informed about all aspects of wine cultivation and working on the advice of an enologic historian from Davis University, California, he began to put timing and location to work again, this time 50 km south of Barcelona in the Penedès wine region.
Jean Leon had an imaginary blueprint of exactly the wine he wanted, a totally uncompromised product of excellence. He found his wine–maker, Jaume Rovira and together they set out to completely revolutionised Spanish wine making in true frontier fashion, planting classic French varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay and introducing unheard of cultivation and wine-making techniques.
Good wines come from mature vines of 5 years and more, great wines call for at least 25 years. Even the great make mistakes, it takes a real perfectionist to rip out a whole vineyard of Merlot after 15 years. Climate, drainage and orientation were right but not the soil. I’m sure the results weren't bad just not brilliant enough to serve as a component in the perfect wine that Jean Leon had in mind. A wine that would eventually include Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and perhaps a touch of Petit Verdot. Curiously the very next vineyard had the right type of soil. Jaume Rovira wanted to plant Merlot again, Jean Leon wasn’t so sure, Jaume went ahead anyway. 11 years later and the wine of this vineyard is being described as “the best old World Merlot” by Steven Spurrier of Decanter Magazine.
The vineyards of the Jean Leon estate, Palau de Santander, Le Havre and La Scala are all at optimal maturity. Now, the time is ripe for the Dreamers wine which can only be created in a rare “exceptional” harvest for all the varieties. The new millennium produced the first harvest of this quality. The grapes have been so carefully picked and selected that the assembled coupage has produced a mere 2.969 bottles.
Zemis 2000. The glass, rather than act as a recipient is engulfed in an elegant stream of aromas that hit you from arms length. Skip straight to superlatives. The hand of Jaume Rovira is there but the American oak and pepper of the brilliant Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon reserva and longer Gran Reserva is replaced by much subtler notes of lightly toasted oak from the finest French casks. The colour is almost cheerful rose at the edge of the miniscus, a thin band of poppy red that gives way to solid consistent balsamic cover. Elegance predominates from front to back of the mouth. Ridiculously well balanced, exceedingly smooth, round and as long as a Bugatti Royale, it leads to utterly satisfying contemplation that momentarily drives conversation away.
It occurs to me that the Jean Leon story makes an excellent case study for a Management course, Dream management. The story about the Zemis, the right place, the right time and the long run.
Zemis 2000 may be ordered online by visiting www.jeanleon.com price in the region of 90 euros

Terrasola For those mere mortals who like a tipple without monetary ripple there is the Jean Leon Terrasola range of wines. Whereas the Jean Leon “Pago” wines are created only with classic varieties grown on the estate, the Terrasola wines are blends of classic French and native varieties from around DO Catalunya.
Creative imput from Jaume Rovira’s small team of enologists and director Miguel Torres Maczassek, guarantees excellence, pedigree and entertainment, a feature that seems lost on many stonefaced wine producers of Penedès. I tried at least two 2003 whites, the makeup of which we are promised will change every year. So, if you have recently uncorked one and believe you have discovered heaven in a bottle, don’t worry next year heaven will have slightly rearranged flowerbeds and fresh wallpaper.
During our November “Ulls de Fora” wine challenge, our panel of judges from around the world really enjoyed them and voted them accordingly. What I particularly like are the Classic/Catalan blends… Muscat-Parellada-Gewürztraminer, a clear white brew with whisps of hay smoke, fabulous point of acidity and freshness. Sauvignon blanc-Xarel.lo, thick pouring, bright yellow, cream, pear, melon, strong sweat, looong nose, an attack that runs deep on the tongue with confident strong personality. What better way to wean world winies away from their conservative diet of Cabs/ Merlos/Chars and introduce them to the pleasures of ancient and exotic pre-phylloxera varieties of the old old world. Variety is after all..the spice of life.
Jean Leon Terrasola wines are available from around 7/8 euros: www.jeanleon.com 93 899 55 12

Cheers
Paddy Mannion July ’04
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