Monday, February 20, 2006

Jean Leon: A True Hollywood Story

The second vineyard visited during my jaunt through the Penedès was Jean Leon. Unlike Parés Baltà, the Jean Leon Winery was born in the 20th-century (1963 to be exact) and became a pioneer in changing the face of wine produced in the Penedès.

The Jean Leon story is one that was made in Hollywood. Travelling as a stowaway in a merchant vessel, young Ceferino Carrión (Jean Leon) made his way to New York City and later to Los Angeles in the 1940s. He found work as a waiter at Villa Capri, a typical haunt for young Hollywood stars. It was here that he met the likes of Judy Garland, Grace Kelly and most importantly, James Dean, who would later enter into a partnership with Jean Leon to open one of Hollywood's most luxurious restaurants, La Scala, in 1956.

La Scala was a Beverly Hills landmark, frequented by actors, famous directors and influential politicians. With all this fame, one thing was still lacking for Jean Leon: finding the "perfect wine" to suit his taste to be served at the tables of his dearest friends. This led him to embark on a journey around the world to find the best land suitable for growing grapes and making wine. The journey returned him to his native Spain, to the heart of Catalonia, where he purchased 150 acres and set up a winery using not the native grapes of the region, but noble French varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnday).

The visitor center at Jean Leon presents a very informative video of his life and accomplishments and has on display numerous pieces of Hollywood memorabilia from the days of La Scala. Today, the winery is part of the Miguel Torres empire and continues to produce highly regarded wines.

Here are highlights from the tasting:

2003 Chardonnay-pale gold with greenish tinge, notes of vanilla, butterscotch and green apple, round and full on the palate, with a lingering finish.

2003 Merlot
-notes of spice and oak aging, plum, and raspberry. Full on the palate with jammy fruits and spice, moderate tannins. Seems a bit over oaked.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva-beautiful notes of cassis, spice and dark fruit. Good structure with a velvety mouthfeel and soft tannins. Seems a bit over oaked.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva
-harmonious notes of wet earth, wood, and dried fruits. Smooth and silky on the palate with soft tannins. So good, I brought a bottle home.

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