Grapevine Archive for May, 2011
Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is the world’s southernmost wine region. This mountainous inland area is at the very limit of cool-climate grape growing and certainly isn’t for faint-hearted winemakers. Getting grapes to ripen this far south is a constant battle and, unlike the rest of New Zealand, the climate here is continental rather than maritime with a high risk of devastating frosts in the critical early autumn ripening period.
So what grape do they choose to grow here? Surely something hardy and reliable? No. They grow pinot noir, one of the world’s most recalcitrant grapes.
Why such apparent foolhardiness?
Because – when they get it right – the breathtaking voluptuousness of texture and the exquisite intensity of fruit of Otago’s best pinots makes all the effort worthwhile.
The Society has long been a champion of regional diversity in New Zealand, and we decided to celebrate this by bottling three different versions of Kiwi pinot to highlight the differences, and quality, of the wines from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough under our Exhibition label.
The Society’s buyers work hard to ensure that the wines in this range are always flagship examples of the regions and styles that they represent. For the Marlborough wine we went to local experts Villa Maria, and to Craggy Range for the Martinborough.
Craggy Range’s winemaker, Master of Wine Steve Smith, also buys in grapes from other regions and told Society buyer Pierre Mansour about a special plot of vines in Otago. It is these grapes that make The Society’s Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir.
We were delighted to see that the 2009 vintage of this wine won the top prize, a gold medal, at this year’s International Wine Challenge.
A fitting reward for all that effort.
These were the headline results from two days of judging Antipodean rieslings at Decanter Magazine last week (I was part of a panel of six judges who had worked through over 130+ rieslings). We all agreed that Australia’s wines were compelling- dry, pure, beautifully poised, intensely flavoured and pristine…… the very best showing quite outstanding minerality and class.
No fewer than 8 of the Australian entries received the top accolade, a Decanter Award, many of them from the Clare and Eden Valleys. There were a handful of Kiwis which I thought showed brilliantly too, the best being made in a drier Alsace style. But with the bar set so high, New Zealand struggled and failed to get the scores to qualify for even one Award – too many of her wines were confected, resting their quality on sugar rather than fruit. So, as far as generalisations go, it would seem today that Australia has it over New Zealand when it comes to classy Riesling. The results are published in August.
Australia & New Zealand buyer
I returned yesterday from a visit to Bordeaux with Jo Locke MW. While all the hype about 2010 continues, and prices continue to drip, drip, drip slowly out of Bordeaux (click here for details of timings of our 2010 en primeur offers), in Blaye, Bourg, Castillon and Entre-Deux-Mers, concern is for the current happenings in the vineyards rather than the markets.
It has not rained in these parts since February, and growers’ attitudes range from fretting over the lack of water right through to ‘que sera sera’. Those who have older vines with deeper root systems are less worried, as they will likely be reaching right down to the nappe phréatique (water table) but for those who have more recent plantings, these drought conditions are causing some frowns. Driving past the vines bore this out – the older the vines, the healthier looking the leaves. Some of the younger vines’ leaves were visibly wilting. There was one man in particular, however – Thierry Lurton of Château de Camarsac – who was particularly pleased with the wall-to-wall sunshine because of the way he powers his chai (see right)!
Flowering, which last year happened at the end of the first week in June, happened before mid-May! It hasn’t been that early since 1976. Pictured left is a young bunch of cabernet sauvignon at Château de la Dauphine. Hard to believe that we’re not even at the end of May. If things continue at the same pace, harvest is anticipated for 3rd September. It is early days yet, though – watch this space for further news as and when we get it.
Head of Tastings & Events
Critics of the Languedoc, and there are a few, often suggest that there is no real notion of terroir. Worse, the wines are little more than simple, with no capacity for ageing. The same people will very likely be the same ones who will condemn the carignan grape and who still actively encourage growers to remove it.
This is Sylvain Fadat standing outside his cellar in Montpeyroux and about to dig out a bottle a bottle of 1998. He had no need to prove the point; indeed I had told him of a wonderful bottle of 1999 which I had drunk a day or two before. But we got talking about Montpeyroux and its future, and this 1998 was a way of illustrating a point.
It was also breakfast and this was a lovely way to start the day. This was a real treat, a wine of infinite complexity and grace – and still youthful.
As for the future of Montpeyroux, it is likely that it will given Cru status by 2014.
Fresh from his first trip to Australia, Waldin was upbeat about how organic and biodynamic viticulture could be just what Australia needs right now. Australia hasn’t had it easy in the last couple of years with problems of overproduction, challenging vintage conditions and the rising cost of exports.
A greener approach to farming, argues Waldin, could be the way forward for Australian wine. ‘Organic and biodynamics naturally reduce yields increasing quality and giving better flavours in the wine. Producing wines with a better expression of regionality has to be the aim of the Australian wine industry.’
Interestingly, for a nation that otherwise is very aware of environmental issues, Australia has been slow to adopt organic and biodynamic viticulture. Leaders of biodynamism in Oz have, according to Monty, been doctrinal rather than inspirational.
Ironically though, young winemakers are now bringing back knowledge of biodynamics from Europe having seen it in action at many illustrious, blue-chip estates. ‘Australians are great pragmatists,’ says Monty, ‘Once they see that something works, they’ll be convinced that this is the right way to go.’
And what about the wines? We were shown 11 wines, including wines from established Wine Society suppliers Cullen and McHenry-Hohnen in Margaret River and Wirra Wirra in the McLaren Vale – suppliers of our own-label chardonnay. All had an inherent freshness about them, ‘wines to buoy you up not pull you down’, in Monty’s words.
2011 has been yet another challenging year for many in Australia with more rain at vintage time than anyone can remember in south east Australia. There have been issues with rot and mildew. Growers have found that organic grapes have fared better with thicker skins and greater resilience to rot. Paradoxically, a year which might have sounded the death knell to organics could actually be its springboard.
Every family has its own stories, and at The Society we love working with winemakers who have a story to tell. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that earlier this week 26 family-run wine companies came together under one roof at our traditional mid-May London tasting (which takes advantage of the fact that the wine world comes to London this week for the trade-focused London International Wine Fair at ExCeL).
54 wines using 35 grape varieties from 17 countries were on show, with 300 members privileged to taste the wines while meeting and talking to the growers. The list is like a Who’s Who of the wine world:
Susana Balbo, Willi Bründlmayer, Sebastian De Martino, Mike & Simon Roberts, Basaline Despagne, Fabio Montrasi, Jean-Paul Tollot, Jean and Christine Gardiés, Denis Jamain, Florence Quiot, Annegret Reh-Gartner, Éva Keresztury, Giuseppe Malazzini, Silvia Allegrini, Gaston Hochar, Matt Sutherland, Luis Lourenço, Paul Symington, Johann Krige , Cristina Amézola, Marcelino Piquero, Jim Clendenen and Eric Lemelson plus representatives from three other families (McHenry Hohnen, Schlumberger, Alfred Gratien).
The white table that attracted most members was von Kesselstatt’s, where Annegret’s Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett 2008 and Josephshöfer Riesling Spätlese, 2005 were very popular; the main red interest was split between Gaston’s Chateau Musar 2004, Giuseppe’s Brindisi RossoVigna Flaminio 2007 and Silvia’s Valpollicella 2010.
For Fabio, Jean & Christine, Eva, Luis, Cristina and Eric it was their very first time at a Society tasting, and they were blown away by both the positive reception they and their wines received, and members’ thirst for knowledge. A perfect evening for those who know nothing, and for connoisseurs – the growers were delighted to tell anyone and everyone about their wines.
The next pre-London Wine Fair rendez-vous is on 21st May 2012. In the meantime, if any of you were there, tell us what you thought of the event. For events closer to your front door, keep an eye on our Tastings & Events programme.
Head of Tastings & Events
There’s really not much to this blogging lark – anyone can do it!
Something worth saying? Er …
This is what separates the best from the rest, and with this in mind we invited several of the best-known wine bloggers to Stevenage to get a feel for the community that is The Wine Society.
One of the UK’s most active and respected wine bloggers (and general social media geek and all-round good guy) Rob McIntosh, aka @thirstforwine, brought along cameraman @bennycrime and filmed the visit. Take a look at the resulting video – a short, concise and chirpy peek behind the scenes.
We are currently putting together a tasty selection of 2010 Clarets at affordable prices that will provide drinkers with plenty to enjoy over the next 20 years. This, our first Bordeaux 2010 Opening Offer, will be mailed and available online in early June.
Our selection of classed–growths will take longer to finalise. We had the first sign of silliness today when Château Beychevelle announced a 22% increase in its price, even though the wine is no better than last year. This is largely because the Chinese market knows the brand and likes the dragon and boat label.
But for drinkers this is a bad buy and we have refused it.
Prices of the more famous, highly priced Clarets are slowly being released. We will judge each wine on its merit and finalise a second offer as soon as we can.
Helping suppliers pour wines at Wine Society tastings is not only good fun but it’s a great way to hear about their wines first-hand and to learn from the often searching questions put to them by members.
As those of you who have attended grower tastings will know, there are some real characters among our producers, many of whom tell a great story as well as make a good wine or two.Pierre Bories of Château Ollieux Romanis who makes our Society Corbières, is just such a character. He regaled members and staff alike with stories about his wines and his property at tastings earlier this year. We have recently added Pierre’s delicious 2010 Corbières Rosé to the List, so I thought I would share the story of how, each year, Pierre and his friends ‘crash test’ the new vintage.
First of all Pierre was keen to impress upon me the importance of the colour of his rosé. Tilting the glass against the white table cloth he commanded me to ‘take a look at the colour…it’s not at all orange, it’s blue!’ I confess I couldn’t honestly say that I would call the colour blue, but it was indeed a beautifully delicate colour; the palest of pellucid pinks; more purply than peachy pink, so I think I know what he means. ‘This is vital’, Pierre went on, ‘it shows that there is no oxidation. Once oxidation occurs you start to lose fruit. You must avoid this at all costs’
Then Pierre went on to tell me about his rosé crash test. ‘Every year, usually in April at the beginning of the first warm days, we invite five families to our house for a day of eating and drinking, with the odd game to keep the children amused. The day starts around 11am with some aperitifs and nibbles, then we have a picnic lunch and a barbecue in the evening. Throughout the day we drink nothing but our new Corbières rosé. Our friends and their children all bring mattresses and crash on the floor. We usually get through several cases of rosé and the next morning we all get up and go about our usual business without feeling jaded or having sore heads. This is the test of how pure the wine is. Some of my friends are keen cyclists and have even been known to go off and compete the next day…and no, they didn’t crash!’
Perhaps I misunderstood and Pierre meant crache not crash, but somehow I don’t think so. It’s good to hear tales from growers who clearly enjoy drinking their own wines and whose zest for life is so infectious. Let’s celebrate with a glass of blue-tinged rosé and drink to headache-free mornings after!
2010 is shaping up to be one of the top three vintages of an exceptional Bordeaux decade. As with all great years, it has a personality of its own. In some ways it lies between the seductive charm of 2009 and the intense, vibrant fruit and length of 2005. The extremely dry growing season and poor flowering, which reduced yields and intensified ripeness, tannin and flavour, also allowed the grapes to retain essential fruit acidity which gives wine its life. The best wines have the remarkable complexity for which Bordeaux is famous.
An exciting result is that there are some outstanding wines at even modest price levels because the concentration of flavour helped growers all over Bordeaux. The key, as ever, is good balance.
Joanna Locke and I choose our wines as seriously as Society members expect and are spending another fully-charged week tasting and comparing at Châteaux and with merchants around Bordeaux, to fine tune our selection. First prices of some wines have emerged and we will be buying the best of these in large quantities but many class growths will take their time. We plan, therefore, to make a broad first offer in early to mid June to enable you to make a balanced selection. The most expensive wines which are likely to be released late will form a second offer when all the prices are out. This second offer, including the more famous, higher-priced Clarets and Sauternes will be delayed until late June early July. We still expect prices to be high and supply to be limited but, thanks to The Society’s long relationship with the region’s suppliers, we are in a strong position to source as many of these wonderful wines as we possibly can.
I should add that the Wine Society selection will be based on our own independent judgments, not on anyone else’s scores. I have experience of visiting and selecting Bordeaux every years since 1981 and have seen young wines develop and mature over the years, and knowing members’ reaction to them. However skilled a taster may be, giving scores out of 100 or 20 to young unfinished wine is rather haphazard and limiting. We prefer just to choose very good wine and describe the different styles of each.