Grapevine Archive for October, 2011
There is a real buzz in Gigondas, which boasts a number of fabulous estates. The region has also been helped by the arrival of the Brunier brothers from Vieux Télégraphe and the Perrins from Beaucastel.
Indeed it is the Perrin family who have added a substantial draw within Gigondas itself with the revamped restaurant l’Oustalet. Some members may remember a magnificent dinner at Merchant Taylors which featured Beaucastel and their resident chef. Well it is he who is behind l’Oustalet which has suddenly made this pretty village a destination in itself.
But then of course there was always something different in Gigondas, with its dangerously late-ripening vineyards amidst the mountains of the Dentelles de Montmirail. There are fabulous wines in both 2009 and 2010 but my pick has to be about the most traditional of all Gigondas: Domaine du Cayron.
This is the estate of Michel Ferraud and his three daughters, known to some as the three graces. Two of them are pictured (right) along with their ancient steam-powered basket press. The cellars are just off the main street before it gets lost in the village.
It is just before half term. Children are playing ball or catch a hundred yards away. A camper van is parked nearby; a couple, wide of girth and of retirement age are busy, one taking pictures of me while his partner washes underwear in a bucket placed on the road by the driver’s door. I’m of course tasting Gigondas amidst this little theatre of life.
I prefer tasting in the street as the cellars are heavy with the smells of the new vintage. I taste 2009 which we bought last year and spit into a gutter. Wonderful stuff, big and brawny but in need of some bottle age.
Then, I taste 2010 cask by cask. All confusion: “this is tank 3 but used to be foudre number 6 while this is tank 5 but also ex foudre 6.” Fine, I say; foudre 6 is what we want. 2010 is a knockout wine, about as good as Gigondas can be. The camper van has gone and the children have stopped playing, though I can hear the sounds of an English lesson going on instead. Time to move on.
My visit to Chave was somewhat upset by the news that one of the great faces in the Rhône story had died. This was Pierre Gonon and his funeral on the Friday was very well attended.
I went to see his sons, Pierre and Jean, the following day. They insisted on seeing me, showing a 2010 of extraordinary finesse. In honour of his father maybe, I tasted a red from the over-ripe 2003 vintage which was quite wonderful and still tasting so young.
Why Saint Joseph?
Saint Joseph is a new appellation dating back to 1956. The name itself comes from the best known vineyard, Lieu dit Saint Joseph, which occupies a steep granite slope to the south of Tournon. Before the Appellation the wines were sold as Côtes du Rhône with the name of the village (Tournon, Mauves or Saint Jean being the best known). Some of these wines were prized with prices that sometimes exceeded those of Cornas for instance. The Saint Joseph Appellation was extended to cover vineyards to the north and therein 20 more miles of granite slopes, all the way to the border with Condrieu.
But the heart of Saint Joseph remains in the south around Tournon and Mauves. The best wines all come from very steep slopes which means everything must be done by hand. For the time being the wines are less revered than Hermitage or Côte Rôtie but that is good news, as they remain great value for money.
I can remember my first visit to Chave back in 1987. I tasted Hermitage, vineyard by vineyard, finishing always with the mighty Bessards. Saint-Joseph was never more than an afterthought in the line up, tasted if at all between the white and red Hermitage.
How things have changed. Slowly, Gérard and his son Jean-Louis began reclaiming once famous slopes below their ancestral home of Lemps. Then Jean-Louis started to buy wines from friends and neighbours, and eventually grapes as well. The new wine was given the name Offerus and is a textbook Saint-Joseph which the Society has bought in every vintage (the 2004 is still available at the time of writing).
The picture is of a steep part of Saint-Joseph called the Tête de l’Aigle or ‘Eagle’s Head’ after the striking outcrop of granite that stands in the middle of it. This is part of an estate recently acquired by Jean-Louis Chave. This came when Jean-Louis bought the Florentin estate, the heart of which was the historic Clos de l’Arbelestrier (a source of exceptional reds in particular). With it the Chaves have become masters in Saint-Joseph once again, with a clear intention of making great wine.
So back to my visit: now not just Hermitage is tasted vineyard by vineyard, but also Saint-Joseph, which revealed just how complex this patchwork of largely granite slopes can be. The two vintages tasted were 2010 and 2009 though I did have a little look at a somewhat embryonic and promising 2011.
Both ’10 and ’09 were clearly outstanding, though quite different: 2009 is full and sundrenched with an underlying tannic structure of some substance. 2010 is, if anything, blacker and more intense, but more mineral and shot with a life-affirming seam of acidity. Look out for the 2010 Saint Joseph Offerus which we will include in the Opening Offer due out in January.
We then dined together in a perfect little restaurant where the cooking is simple, homespun and delicious. Jean-Louis bought a bottle he happened to stumble over in his cellar. It was a Cornas from Noel Verset and a 1978 to boot. Completely sensational. For anyone with decent vintages of Verset’s wines in their cellar, there is no hurry!
This delicious Aussie fortified wine stopped me in my tracks at the winery last year and I bought it immediately. It’s made in the style of a Tawny Port using grenache, shiraz and verdelho before being aged in barrels placed next to the winery’s hot tin roof. It will appeal to fans of Port, Madeira and sweet wine, and critics such as Jancis Robinson and Fiona Beckett have already reviewed the wine favourably.
However there has also been some conjecture about the rather quirky label, which depicts Bleasdale’s own ‘Wise One’, Richard Potts, better known as Uncle Dick. We asked Bleasdale to give us a little more information.
Uncle Dick was the youngest of Bleasdale founder Frank Potts’ eight sons. He left school at the age of 12 and claimed never to have worked a full day in his life, funding his various (rather eccentric, it would appear) pastimes with his inheritance. He died in 1956.
His purported prowess is detailed in the autobiographical song ‘Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do)’. Feel free to sing along should you wish, and do try The Wise One. I think it’s the perfect Christmas drink, and for £10.50 for a full 75cl bottle, you get a lot of wine for your money.
This is the story of old Dick Potts,
The wise one if you may,
He left school at the age of 12
and he never worked a day.
He’d open his umbrella to the wind,
to propel his bike along.
In his very deep baritone voice
he’d sing his favorite drinkin’ song.
Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do).
While those around him sweltered,
In the relentless summer heat,
He’d pour cold water in his knee high boots
and walk proudly down the street.
He spent his life at the winery
that he inherited from his pop,
To keep the old Dick warm in the winter
he’d put his mattress on the boiler top.
Oh, Drinkin’ (Don’t mind if I do).
David Hohnen of McHenry Hohnen recently visited our offices in Stevenage to talk to us about the wines produced from their small family vineyards in Margaret River.
Hohnen, one of the pioneers of this region, who came here in the early seventies to plant vineyards for Cape Mentelle, revealed the mysterious reason for a change in style of wine from the 1995 vintage, particularly for the reds.
He explained that one of the big threats to grape growers in this region is the highly destructive tiny Silvereye bird (Zosterops lateralis) which can wreak havoc on a whole crop within hours. The birds usually feed on tree blossom; ‘but if the blossom fails, we’re in trouble’, says David. Though the birds are small they live in large flocks. They wait for when the grapes are perfectly ripe and then descend in their masses. Their high-pitched call attracts birds from far and wide and before you know it you have no more grapes. The birds’ tiny beaks are not designed for grape munching so they make lots of tiny puncture marks in the skins allowing rot and disease to sweep through the vineyard.
Winemakers in Australia are used to having to net their vineyards against birds, but the tiny Silvereye was able to make its way through the standard-sized netting. Luckily an Australian winemaker on business in China had a chance ‘eureka moment’ when watching local fisherman at work and thought the finer nets they used could be adapted for protecting vines.
The idea worked perfectly and since 1995 these have been used extensively in the vineyards of Margaret River much to the frustration of the local avian population. ‘It did have a noticeable effect on the quality of our wines’ David said, ‘it’s vital to harvest at the right time when the grapes are properly ripe, especially for the reds. Before 1995 we often had to harvest early or risk losing the whole crop.’Now that the threat from the Silvereye is lessened, grapes can be safely left on the vine into autumn when the proper ripening takes place. David explained that it isn’t just a question of sweetness in the grapes, it’s essential that lignification has started in the vine. The roots sense the on-set of autumn and start to draw energy back into the vine from the fruit and vegetation. The leaves change colour, bark hardens and so do the seeds…‘they become crunchy, with no hint of bitterness. This is the sign of properly mature tannins which means that the wines don’t need tannic structure supplemented by oak barrels.’
If you’d like a taste of perfect ripeness the McHenry Hohnen Rocky Road Zinfandel from the 2009 vintage gives just that. David has had a long connection with zinfandel since his student days at Fresno, California. He and brother-in-law Murray McHenry are among the first to plant the grape in Margaret River. The result is extraordinary, lovely sweet-sour flavours of black cherry and chocolate with a lovely freshness about it too and super length.
I am sitting comfortably at my desk in South Africa reflecting on what has been a superb, but all too brief trip to the UK. The weather was magnificent and has done nothing to allay my confusion about the Brits’ continual fascination with griping about the weather. It never seems to rain when the South Africans come to town! Perhaps we are just hot-wired and pre-programmed to avoid poor weather.
As usual, The Society put on a meticulously planned and flawlessly stage-managed effort, first in London and then in beautiful Nottingham. There are few wine tasting events in the world that I can always predict, with monotonous accuracy, are going to be highly successful. It never ceases to amaze me how punctual members are; the way in which up to 250 members roll in through the door as it opens is incredible. There are also few tasting events around the world that bring such a large number of highly engaged and deeply interested people into contact with a small group of focused professional winemakers. It is really a match made in heaven and this recipe played itself out again last week. Kudos must go to The Society’s Tastings & Events Co-ordinator Emma Howat for her organisation and the way in which she made the South African winemakers feel at home. But ultimately it is a team effort and Society staff are never short of a smile or a kind word.
Warwick has been supplying The Wine Society since 1994 (I think) – a considerable track record for any South African producer. It was my mother Norma Ratcliffe, Warwick’s very own ‘First Lady’ who first developed the relationship with the Society. It really has been a fabled relationship and there is much debate about how many vintages of Warwick Trilogy have been purchased, aged and opened by members determined to purchase this wine year after year. It is a little warm and fuzzy at the tastings as so many of the members have a story associated with our wines. The Ratcliffe family at Warwick is excited now to be rolling out the new Warwick ‘The First Lady’ Cabernet Sauvignon to Society members – may the fabled love affair continue. This is what wine is all about and it is great that history, passion and professionalism swirl so comfortably and effortlessly together.
Thank you to everyone that made the recent South Africa tour possible. It was an honour to attend and a pleasure to be involved. See you in 2012.
Every year the inimitable Oz Clarke takes time out from his hectic schedule of projects, media appearances, wine region trips and tastings to work his way personally through thousands of wines sent to him by UK wine merchants. As ever, we are delighted to have several Society wines mentioned in the 2012 edition of Oz Clarke’s 250 Best Wines. Here are eight of our wines that found their way on to his palate and into his heart.
2010 Bordeaux Blanc, Château Bel Air Perponcher (Vignobles Despagne), Bordeaux, France, 12.5% abv The Wine Society, £8.50. At this price level, Bordeaux makes better whites than reds. In fact, it makes much better whites, especially in the hands of an expert like M. Despagne. This has a come-hither green apple and greengage flavour, just streaked with passionfruit and grapefruit, but the texture remains gentle while the flavours are unashamedly green.
2010 Garnacha, Calatayud, Cruz de Piedra (Bodega Virgen de la Sierra co-op), Aragón, Spain, 14% abv The Wine Society, £5.50 If anyone asks where to find the juiciest, chunkiest, most rip-roaring red wine mouthful in Europe, I tell them to look out for Garnacha from eastern Spain. This is a gorgeous drink, bubbling with red cherry and bright raspberry and strawberry fruit, scratched affectionately with wild herbs, rubbed solicitously with smooth, warm, hillside stones. Top glugging stuff.
2009 Shiraz-Viognier, Douglas Green, Western Cape, South Africa, 14% abv The Wine Society, £5.50 (NB we’re now on the 2010) I’m continually puzzled as to why we don’t see more examples of ripe, enjoyable, affordable reds from South Africa, so well done the Wine Society for sourcing this one, with its ripe blackberry and black plum fruit, its dab of exotic peach flesh, its trail of smoke and intriguing suggestion of orange scent.
2009 Tempranillo, Sabina, Navarra, Spain, 13% abv Booths, £5.25, The Wine Society, £4.95 (NB We’re now on the 2010) Navarra makes wines that stretch from the positively light and delicate to big brawny beasts. This is definitely towards the brawny end of the spectrum, but enjoyably so. It is a bit baked, but is balanced with attractive jammy dark fruit and a richness like Gale’s honey dribbled on to buttered toast. Bring on the casserole.
NV The Society’s Champagne Brut, Private Cuvée, Alfred Gratien, France, 12.5% abv The Wine Society, £26 I’m often asked who my favourite Champagne producer is, and if I had to average out the last 20 years, I might well put the small but perfectly formed house of Alfred Gratien at the top. They don’t make much, but they’ve had a long-standing agreement to make a special blend for the Wine Society, and year by year it delivers triumphantly. This is still young – you can age Alfred Gratien non-vintage for 5–10 years – but it has loads of class and character. The wine positively foams and has a warm, full flavour of baked Bramley apples wrapped in a richness of flaky butter croissants, crème fraîche and nut syrup. That may sound sweet, but it isn’t, and it’s all tied tightly together by the acidity of Bramley skins and twisted lemon zest.
Amontillado Maribel, Sánchez Romate, Spain, 19% abv?The Wine Society, £7.95 The quality of their Sherries alone would be an excellent reason to join the Wine Society. They regularly ship tiny amounts of thrilling old Sherries virtually drawn by hand from the barrels by their buying team. Last Christmas I tasted two simply stunning 40-year-old Sherries they had discovered – they only bottled 240 half bottles: such wine had never been sold before, it will never be sold again, but they’ll find something else just as good. This brilliant Amontillado is their regular stuff. It’s as classic an example as you’ll find anywhere – and it’s less than £8 a bottle. A gorgeous ‘childhood memories’ smell of buttered brazil caramels, the scent of old leather, dried-out figs and prunes, the ground dust of hazelnut shells and a strange, brilliant, bitter-edged syrupiness that has had all the sweetness sucked out of it by a Dyson Airblade.
The Society’s Fino, Sánchez Romate, Spain, 15% abv The Wine Society, £5.95 An excellent example of the Wine Society’s sherry – and simply outstanding value for money. Fino sherry is bone dry, but a little fuller than manzanilla, a little fatter, even, but it still has that marvellous tangy dryness which makes it such a good appetizer, that almost slightly sour green apple peel acidity and the strange soft-sourness of yeasty bread dough – rather like a malty mixed grain bread in the making. There’s also a taste of roasted almonds – and roasted almonds would be the perfect accompaniment.
On Monday evening 100 members and their guests were treated to a wonderful tasting of Fonseca and Taylor’s Ports, presented by the MD of The Fladgate Partnership Adrian Bridge, aided and abetted by The Society’s Port buyer Mark Buckenham. Adrian spoke with great enthusiasm and clarity, also fielding the numerous questions, many coming from interesting angles, with aplomb. This 319-year-old company is certainly being expertly steered through the 21st century with Adrian at the helm.
Five wines from each house were tasted, in pairs. As an experiment 140 character tasting notes were tweeted as we tasted (which engendered both positive and negative feedback with some enjoying the interaction and joining in the banter, while others felt bombarded by too many tweets – we’re still learning when it comes to social media).
The 140 (max) character notes, complete with stylistic errors, went as follows. Caveat: These are of course my own personal, spur-of-the-moment, tasting notes.
Taylor ’70 More heat of alcohol, more structure than Fonseca. Still beautifully mellow. Leather, tobacco and soft red apple skins?
(NB, both of the above will be available on our November Fine Wine List, priced at £135 per bottle)
Taylor ’85 savoury in character, edgy, nervy, bitter orange prevalent. Prunes and dates on finish.
Fonseca Guimaraens ’98 Rich violet nose. Smells like teen spirit! Rich chunky smooth black fruit. Pontefract cakes.
Taylor Vargellas ’01 table wine, rather than fortified, nose – light, structured, delicate berries and chammy leather.
Taylor 2000 – upright, edgy, mineral, damson, licorice, structured, delicious, tannins need to soften. Tight (the Port, not me!)
09s have a light gunpowder tea aroma about them. Mineral edge. Fonseca immediately softer on the nose than the Taylor.
Both 2009s rich on palate, Fonseca still showing more velvety texture. Deeper. Spirit hidden by bags of fruit. Taylor has finesse.
It was an excellent evening drinking some glorious Port wine. If anyone else would care to comment below with their own notes and opinions, whether you were present or not, we would be most interested to hear them.
Head of Tastings & Events
In the wake of last December’s snow, our bi-annual review of delivery carriers took a sharper focus than usual as we set ourselves the additional challenge of beefing up our contingency arrangements. We have talked to all ten national parcel networks and several regionals. As a result, we will be adding a fourth carrier (enhancing our ability to switch volume between networks when things go wrong) and changing the way we exchange information with our three existing providers.
As part of this we have been able to improve our 5-10 day delivery promise for wine delivered by carriers to four working days (with plans to reduce to three soon).
Members can also choose a ‘name-the-day’ service from carriers, which costs £3 for weekdays or £10 for weekends. A new evening/weekend service for deliveries inside the M25 is also available.
These services, as well as our next day delivery service, are now charged per order, rather than per case. You can visit the Delivery Options section of our website for more information.
Whilst the above concerns mainly deliveries via carriers (YODEL, Fedex etc) following our commercial reviews with them, most of our members continue to select to have their deliveries from the local Wine Society van, and we are planning improvements to this service too.
Head of Operations
This is the year for Pol Roger, and Sebastian Payne and I were lucky enough to be invited to share some of the fun and a very fine celebration dinner.
The occasion was to mark 21 years of Pol Roger UK ltd which acts as Pol’s representative here in the UK
There were many lovely wines from the Pol Roger portfolio, including youthful 1990s from Josmeyer and Drouhin and a quite sensational blanc de blancs 2000 from Pol Roger itself. There was good food including venison which went well with the Drouhin Burgundy but well too with Pol Roger’s Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 1999, proof if ever there was that Champagne is an excellent food wine.
There were two highlights in Pol Roger’s year worth mentioning. Their brut reserve non vintage was chosen for the Royal Wedding. No mean achievement in itself. And just before Pol Roger hosted a memorable trip for four Wine Society members and their other halves which I had the pleasure to lead.
And, I almost forgot, Pol Roger have had their street renamed after Churchill.
This has been Pol’s year without a doubt, and that before the much anticipated release of the 2002 vintage. More of which later.