Grapevine Archive for September, 2010

Thu 30 Sep 2010

Raise a Glass to Neudorf

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30 years is a long time for New Zealand’s wine scene (the first quality vineyards as we know them today were planted in the 1970s) so we were delighted to hear that the new 2010 vintage marks a special milestone for Neudorf.

Judy and Tim Finn1981 was Tim & Judy Finn’s first vintage and in just 30 years their wines have developed a reputation as some of the New World’s most sophisticated, in particular their pure chardonnays and pinots.

The Society has consistently followed this small, family outfit, so I’m sure members will join me in congratulating them on this special milestone.

Categories : New Zealand
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Tue 28 Sep 2010

The Spice is Right

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Château de Berrye’s Saumur Blanc 2002
Looking for a mature white that can cope brilliantly with a mild-to-medium chicken curry? Look no further than Château de Berrye’s Saumur Blanc 2002. Labelled as “sec” and coded 2 on the current List, it delivers enough residual sweetness to massage those tastebuds after an onslaught of ginger, cardamom, cumin and garlic. But there again the best food matches are often happy accidents, as was the case here when a chilled bottle was grabbed from the fridge for an impromptu feast. As with all good chenin, it has excellent acidity, so add as much thick yoghurt, butter, cream, or ghee as you like. Also, as with all good chenin, it ages beautifully. This is now eight years old, and brings new and positive meaning to the phrase “no spring chicken …”.

Categories : Loire
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Mon 27 Sep 2010

2010 chez Alfred Gratien

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The 2010 vintage is in full swing in Champagne. Last Friday, the team at Alfred Gratien where having breakfast when I got there to taste some of the first grape musts. Breakfast was at 9.00, a welcome break for the staff who had begun their day at 7.00 or earlier, and France being France, it was all washed down with a glass of non-vintage!

Gratien Breakfast

As for 2010, so far so good. Though mid-August rains were not making it easy. The two musts showed here, were both from the family Jaeger vineyards. The lighter chardonnay was from Le Mesnil on the Côte de Blancs and the deeper coloured meunier from Reuil from the Marne Valley. Both samples were being analysed for specific gravity and acidity. Both tasted very well too and are now in barrel, fermenting into wine which in three years time will be Champagne.

Gratien Musts 2010

Categories : Champagne
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Fri 24 Sep 2010

A street name called…

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In this case Rue Winston Churchill.

Rue Winston ChurchillStreet names are highly political things especially in France. Where is there a town that does not have an Ave Jean Jaurès or a rue Pasteur?

Names change to allow for new heroes: Mitterand or of course De Gaulle. I was in Epernay last week to look at the vintage chez Gratien and was just passing by Pol Roger on Rue Henri Lelarge. Not for long though as this is about to be renamed Rue Winston Churchill. Coincidence? Watch this space for more on the Rue Winston Churchill

Categories : Champagne, Miscellaneous
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Just back from an early harvest visit to the Pays Nantais where I was struck by the many contradictions in this rather sleepy vinous corner of France. 2007 and 2008 were both short harvests, with damaging frost the culprit, which meant growers put prices up last year despite the economic climate and the negative impact on pricing of the euro/sterling exchange rate. The market for Muscadet fell through the floor and nowhere more so than in the UK, where we are spoiled for choice and, despite the rebuilding of the last few years, Muscadet is not the must have wine it once was. It was only producers of high quality wines with a loyal following who were able to maintain their customer base or find new customers to fill the gap. Many others were forced to sell up or, worse still, give up vines they had probably farmed for generations. More will go this year.

Muscadet LadybirdAnd yet there is much to be positive about, with a fine 2009 vintage in the cellar and a promising 2010 harvest in train, with temperatures cool enough to maintain freshness and enough sunshine to further ripen those grapes that still need to.

I was moved by the positive attitude of one young grower who was already showing the signs of fatigue resulting from working 5am to 10pm days, brought on because the fruit on his recently expanded handful of properties was all ripening at once. Then by another who recounted how many more small growers he believes will throw in the towel this year but only after delivering their well-tended crop, such is the pride of the vigneron. 2010 will not be remembered as an easy year, which 2009 was by comparison, but the early season was favourable enough to allow growers to use fewer vineyard treatments – and happily so, as many would not have been able to afford a more challenging growing season this year.

The complexion of this region has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, tragically so for some, but, for the most part for the good. There has been considerable consolidation among the bigger, corporate producers, but in recent years a resurgence of small, quality-oriented négociants too, with both love and respect for this lately unfashionable region. Maison Bougrier is one such, recently investing in the area by taking over a former co-operative cellar otherwise doomed for closure. Successful family producers have grown their vineyard holdings for the economies of scale and the more stable life this brings, not least to maximise the value of each of their machine harvesters, which I am told are now responsible for picking 95% of the region’s grapes. Vineyard quality has been under major review and much will be declassified, though admittedly with a generous final deadline of 2025. Plans for the new Cru appellation are well under way, and this should simply need the rubber stamp of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) by the time the proposal reaches them. I even ate in an excellent new restaurant, Auberge La Gaillotière in the heart of the vineyards in the commune of Château-Thébaud.

Perhaps most importantly the quality of the wines has never been better. When I was studying for my MW exam in the 1980s Muscadet was easier to spot for its dull, bitter, mean character than for any regional or varietal typicity. Last week I smelled and tasted deliciously sweet juice from this year’s harvest and enjoyed a mouthwatering range of Muscadets, mostly the excellent 2009s, but also a number of older wines including a remarkable 1996 magnum of Chéreau-Carré’s 100-year-old vine cuvée from the Château de Chasseloir (one of the remaining few to be picked by hand, incidentally, as is their Château de L’Oiselinière).

Muscadet should be mouthwatering. When it’s good it makes for one of the most appetising glasses you can find. The good news is that the 2009s are very, very good; fresh and racy enough to satisfy committed enthusiasts, and ripe enough to please the new recruits that Muscadet deserves and needs.

Categories : France
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Fri 17 Sep 2010

Bordeaux – berets and rugby

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I was coming back from Bordeaux last Friday and was in the rather small departure lounge given over to easyJet and other ‘charter’ airlines.  I couldn’t help noticing a group of around 20 guys wearing berets of different sizes. My first thought – an English stag party on their way home, as do French people really wear berets? Then on the ‘plane, I found myself next to one of the beret-wearers and asked what the story was. He said that they were indeed French, though maybe making more of an effort to appear so as they come over to England. They were a village rugby team from Sadirac which is between Bordeaux and St-Emilion and they were coming over for a match – and a bit of beer and wine drinking.  I was surprised when my new friend Regis said they were playing in Wetherby as I live in Harrogate only 9 miles away. He was also surprised when I said I’d been staying at Chateau Pey La Tour for the last couple of days (we stock their Reserve) as he owns a 50 hectare vineyard right next door, and is looking for potential partners in the UK – that’s one for Joanna Locke, though there are around 9000 producers in Bordeaux and we can’t select them all.

Anyway, I went along and watched the rugby match on Saturday afternoon which the local boys won in a tough contest and I learnt a few new French words which are not in all the dictionaries. The only shadow on the afternoon was that much of the wine which the French party had sent on in advance had been damaged en-route so I think they were onto the local brew – Black Sheep bitter.

So if you see a new supplier (Chateau Lalande Labatut) on our list in the future, it’ll all be down to a beret and a rugby game.

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Fri 10 Sep 2010

News from Jaboulet

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With a new wind in their sales, Jaboulet have prepared themselves with a shiny new cellar which they have built outside the main offices in Tain. The 2010 vintage has just started with some whites from the south and from Jaboulet’s most recently purchased vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Jaboulet Cuverie

Jaboulet Cuverie

Categories : Rhône
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Wed 08 Sep 2010

Get It On – Bang A Gong!

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Or rather, three gongs! We were delighted to have received the triple accolade at last night’s 2010 International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner:

  • Direct Merchant of the Year
  • Alsace Specialist Merchant of the Year
  • Chile Specialist Merchant of the Year

In presenting the awards, co-Chairmen Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe said:

“The Wine Society has done an all round fantastic job this year. Their online direct services are worthy of this award alone, offering great value and innovative sales techniques that continue to lead the way. We have to take our hats off to them for their reputation for looking after their suppliers. Consistency is their middle name.”

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Mon 06 Sep 2010

Moon Theories in Wine

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Nowadays a tasting doesn’t go by without mention of lunar cycles, moon phases, constellations and so on. There appears to be a growing belief amongst some in the trade that the rhythm of the moon and its effect on gravity influences the taste of wine. The basis of this is the Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar which categorises days as fruit, flower, leaf or root days, and is used successfully by Biodynamic growers around the world. Apparently, wine tastes better on fruit and flower days.

Biodynamic Phases

(Incidentally, there is no precise scientific explanation as to why biodynamics produces such good wine; my theory is that growers who farm biodynamically, such as Huet and Zind-Humbrecht, are so committed to their vineyards that this extra discipline, care and attention translates into riper, healthier and higher quality fruit).

But back to wine tasting and drinking. Surely it is merely pseudo-science to claim the moon can influence the taste of wine? Of course the same wine can be more or less expressive on different occasions but I would argue that atmospheric pressure and ambient temperature, as determined by weather patterns, might have a greater effect on people and fluid, or just what you ate the night before (curry?).

Members wishing to test the theory might note that the following September days are fruit & flower days (the best time to drink wine)- 8th (6pm-10pm), 12th to 17th inclusive, 20th (pm) to 22nd (am), 26th, 27th (am) and 30th (pm). Do let us know how you get on.

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