The Torres owned Jean Leon wine range are a peculiar brand to spark an interest in wines for an Italian wine blogger yet so it was, four years ago, that I visited my very first vineyard as part of a "team building" trip for the travel company I worked for. Readers of this blog will know that I have spent two of the last three years in Italy, working in the wine and travel trade but before this I spent a year in Barcelona solely in Travel having not yet stirred any interest in my heart for wine.
So by happy coincidence a trip to the Jean Leon vineyards was organised by our industrious office manager who loved the wines of the Penedes region (and also the cheap Cava awash in Barcelona) and we all set forth in our mini van quite unprepared for the scale of the vineyards or the size of the personality of Señor Jean Leon.
The wine game, in itself, is a pretty glitzy and glamourous business and all of us bloggers light up any room we enter but Jean Leon takes wine glamour to a whole new level. Born in northern Spain, in the port of Santander in 1928, Jean Leon's story is like the pheonix from the flames (quite literally as his family home burned to the ground in 1941) as his childhood set backs toughened the young Ceferino Carrion (you can't really be called Jean Leon and live a life so cool, that's not fair) and led him to try his luck in Paris, New York and Hollywood.
With no immigration papers in New York he took manual work but soon found himself in trouble with authorities and crossed the USA to Hollywood *jazz hands*. To become a legal immigrant Leon enrolled in the US Army during the Koreon War. After the war Leon found work in the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, owned by Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra. Making friends with the screen legends who frequented Ol' Blue Eyes establishment came easy to Leon and, due to his friendship with James Dean, he eventually opened the La Scala restaurant in Beverley Hills *jazz hands*. This restaurant was immediately popular with the Hollywood film stars and sports stars alike.
Jean Leon threw his passions wholeheartedly into his restaurant and chose the wine list himself but could never find, as he would say "that perfect wine" or "el vino perfecto" depending on his audience I suppose. So, Jean Leon began the quest to find a perfect piece of land upon which to start his own winery. Leon travelled to France and Italy and eventually landed in Catalonia, Spain and in the Penedes wine region just outside of Barcelona and bought his 150 hectare estate in the hills.
We arrived at the Jean Leon estate and were quite unprepared for this incredible story and after our group asked the usual cringe-worthy questions (which seemed quite reasonable at the time) "Can you get white wine from red grapes", "You only get 1 litre of juice from all those grapes, hurumpf, I wouldn't bother, why do you bother?" we went on to try his wines and were taught how to taste and giggled along at how ridiculous the whole swirling, sniffing and slurping was.
We all came away with wine though and for me at least, I remember being remarkably impressed at the effort that goes into producing vino, and the different levels on which it can be appreciated and all these different grapes! Amazing!
Since this mini adventure I've retried a few of the Jean Leon wines and both the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay can be good value but not always terroir expressif*. Though I do find many of his wines to be way over-oaked for my personal tastes these wines have a big following all over the world.
Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Riserva 2002 - PASS - €20
The wine sits a deep ruby red verging on purple and is initially very good and happily expressive on the nose, too much wood hides the fruit though there are some good blackberry notes and touches of graphite too. The palate is dense and woody, tannic and a bit bitter perhaps needs a lot more time, not sure where they are going with this or what it is trying to be. Not badly made just not a great taste to it. 81 Points
Jean Leon Terrasola Syrah 2005 - BUY -€10
Jean Leon Terrasola Syrah 2005 - BUY -€10
A mid ruby red the nose is punchy and fragrant with lots of interesting notes, still a little too much wood here. The bouquet is blueberries, caramel and redcurrants however it is on the palate that this wine pleases with great fruit following through to a good length on the end. Rarely do you get this kind of balance and solid fruit on a €10 bottle of wine. 87 Points
Where can I buy this Wine?
The Jean Leon range of Pago and Terrasola wines are quite readily available. Cabrini Wines in the US, KWM in the UK and FinestWine in Europe.
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First vineyard you ever visited? Most stupid wine question you ever asked? Or anything about Jean Leon wines or wines from Penedes.
* Terroir expressif is my phrase. I just invented it today. No, you may not use it.
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