Grapevine Archive for October, 2012
This is Mendel’s Perdriel vineyard planted in 1928, the source for their wine called Unus. Their vineyard manager Cristian was managing the wintertime tasks of pruning. His dog Peter was a new arrival.
The dog had lived in the city before and was feeling the cold at this 1000m vineyard, so Cristian adapted a pullover for him!
The nets are a protection against hail, which destroys 30% of the vineyards every year.
I am delighted to announce the launch of two exclusive new wines courtesy of The Liberator, Richard Kelley MW’s brilliant, innovative and quirky project geared towards ‘liberating’ choice parcels of great wines from the undeserved fate of being blended into anonymity.
What’s more, the wines are each packaged as an ‘episode’, accompanied by full comic strips designed to match the wines.
Baroque ‘n’ Roll (red) and The Lone Ranger (white) are now available to buy for £8.95 per bottle, having already enjoyed great reviews from wine writers Jancis Robinson and Matthew Jukes.
Visit The Liberator section of our website to enjoy them at home.
Use your creative juices and you could win a hand-bottled magnum of The Liberator ‘Baroque ‘n’ Roll’ red. Just three of them were bottled and each was signed by the winemaker, Carl van der Merwe.
Given the musical nature of ‘Baroque ‘n’ Roll’, we’re asking creative members to contribute their top ‘wine songs’ for the chance to win one of these handsome magnums.
-‘Bandol On The Run’ – Paul McCartney & Wings
-‘Roussanne’ – The Police
-‘Batailley Out Of Hell’ – Meat Loaf
-‘Let’s Talk About Sekt’ – Salt-N-Pepa
-‘Vouray Vous’ – Abba
-‘Cava Chameleon’ – Culture Club
Twitter-using members can also tweet their suggestion to @TheWineSociety using the hashtag #TheLiberator.
The competition is open until Thursday November 1st, 2012. Visit thewinesociety.com for full terms and conditions.
Have fun, and good luck!
Joanna Locke MW
Which of the following would you find most reassuring on a wine label: chjarasginu or rusulinu?
I sense a chorus of ‘neither’, but stay with me because you may soon come across one or the other.
In fact, both are Corsican words for rosé. Etienne Suzzoni proprietor of Clos Culombu, near Calvi, tells me that the first is true-blue authentic, the second less so but at least commercially recognisable. As a proud native speaker of Corsu, his mobile is abuzz with consultations on this subject, as if he wasn’t busy enough bringing in the harvest, and making time for me during one of my regular holiday fixes of feral pig, chestnut cake and wild myrtle ice-cream.
As one speaker of a minority language to another, I understand Etienne’s dilemma, and share his dislike of the confected – the Wenglish, as I’d call it – but I do want the world to embrace Corsican rosé, whatever it’s called. It is, without doubt the island’s finest liquid asset, though the haunting, herb-infused whites and ethereal dessert muscats are delightful, and the reds vastly improved since my first visit three decades ago, when I found quality to be in inverse proportion to the number of obscure gold medals sported on the label.
Raising the red bar is high on Etienne’s agenda as I note from a handsome new red-cedar winery, built two years ago. I expect, and am not disappointed, to see serried ranks of gleaming steel, but I’m intrigued by the glass-walled barrel-cellar and its unmistakable whiff of medium toast and red wine. Watching over it is Saint-Vincent, patron saint of winemakers, plastered in the best sense, and doubly valued, says Etienne, as the least expensive fixture in the room and, since he never sleeps, the hardest-working member of the team!
There’s exciting news in the vines too, where plantings of old, indigenous grapes are bearing promising fruit. I taste, for the first time, a scented white blend wherein the more usual vermentino, or carbessu as it’s called here, is joined by riminese, biancu gentile, razzolu, cudivarta and cualtacciu among others. A juicy red, based on young vines of the island’s two primary reds, nielluciu (aka sangiovese), and sciaccarellu, cut with carcaghjolu, minustrellu, murescone and aleaticu is a delight. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, back to the rosé, no petit vin d’été, but a belting bottle that we list all year round for good reason. Its dry, crisp, herbal character, wonderful fragrance and deep concentration lift fish, fowl, lamb, beef and even game. Tomatoes and garlic are no problem. Splurge on some top-of-the range charcuterie and a soft, herby, sheepy cheese and you could almost feel the sun on that fragrant maquis – just when you most need to.
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager
This is the beach at Lumio and, across the bay, the citadel that guards it and the town of Calvi. Less than hour before, my plane was landing on the runway that serves the town’s little airport. By the evening, I was on first name terms with all the great and the good of the area, mayors, presidents of wine syndicates, even the commanding officer of a Foreign Legion regiment that is based in Calvi. Not to mention his charming wife. Things seem to happen fast on the Isle de Beauté…
What followed was two days of intensive eating and tasting, interspersed with slow, scenic drives. The food is worthy of note because it was exceptionally good, with wonderful seafood, cheeses and, above all, hams and sausages that placed the wines into context perfectly.
And so to the heart of the matter: the wines. As in any walk of life, one tries to avoid preconceptions. Corsican wines enjoy a mixed reputation, rather like the wines of Provence. Production is not large and is easily consumed locally and by the hordes of thirsty tourists. History also plays its part.
Viticulture in Corsica is as old as its civilisation but, for most of that time, on a small scale. Grapevines were just another crop which farmers shared with other fruits, cereals and livestock, and even fishing. Since the war, the biggest change came following Algerian independence, when hundreds of French expats settled in Corsica. Viticulture was greatly increased but often the grapes that were planted were those found in Algeria or other areas of France. It is amazing to see so much chardonnay, chenin and pinot noir, also syrah and carignan.
Luckily when the appellations were created for Corsica, the base for all the wines would be provided by three traditional varieties. For the white, only vermentino could be used, except in the north where an especially fine and delicate vin doux naturel is made from muscat. For the reds and rosé, the varieties are nielluccio, none other than the Tuscan sangiovese, and sciacarello.
Corsica is a complicated place, and not just for its politics! The combination of sea and high mountains means that there are countless nuances of terroirs which growers are only now beginning to appreciate. Most of those I spoke to starting with Etienne Suzzoni at Clos Culombu are all starting to conduct geological surveys of their vineyards.
From studies already conducted, two things emerge. First is the realisation that not all varieties are planted in the right places. Secondly, there are a whole load of grape varieties that were forgotten when the appellation was created but which in many cases were important. My two days on Corsican soil also included wines from these forgotten grapes, and what wonderful wines they proved to be.
I didn’t come back empty-handed and brought back a small selection of wines gathered from between Calvi and Patrimonio in the north of the island which members will be able to savour.
I shall need to go back!
In a recent Grapevine post I mentioned attending an extraordinary tasting of Loire chenin blanc, in the company of Gary Jordan of Jordan Estate in Stellenbosch plus a number of other committed chenin blanc enthusiasts. The tasting, a 30-wine vertical of Coteaux du Layon Moulin Touchais, was organised by fellow Master of Wine Richard Kelley (visit his website if you are a Loire enthusiast) following a recent visit to the property.
These are not the finest or purest expressions of Loire chenin, but Moulin Touchais is unique in giving its wines a minimum of ten years’ bottle age before release. Thus the youngest wine we tasted, the very good 2003 vintage, will only be available from next year. Many of the older vintages, including three from the 1970s are still available for sale. Sadly in most cases, the wines tasted from the 50s and 60s are not, though the oldest wine, the 1953, only sold out this year.
Moulin Touchais wines are also unusual in that they are reasonably, if rather unpredictably, priced, with prices set based on the volume of wine available and how they themselves rate the quality.
I am not sure what collective term would be appropriate for the small group of leading Loire wine writers in attendance. A tributary, perhaps. Sarah Ahmed, Jim Budd and Chris Kissack all wrote comprehensive notes on the tasting and the wines which you will find on their websites (just click on the links from their names). My personal favourites were the 2002, a vintage characterised by high levels of acidity and great purity, which was as fresh as a daisy, 1975 – probably the wine of the tasting – and 1971, with many unexpected highlights in between.
The wines are traditionally vinified, using only natural yeasts, no cold stabilisation and no oak, and are bottled early, normally in April following the harvest. Extreme ripeness and heavy botrytis are avoided, and the residual sugar is normally 80-90 grams per litre, ie not high, and often feeling lower still after long years in bottle. Production volumes vary enormously, according to the quality of the vintage, thus around 200,000 bottles were produced in 1959 (perhaps not showing at its best on this occasion), and none at all in 2008. The wines all clearly expressed the differences between vintages.
It was a rare and fascinating tasting and we are likely to see Moulin Touchais start appearing on UK shelves (virtual or physical) again in the not too distant future. Said ‘shelves’ may or may not include those at The Old Bridge Hotel at Huntingdon, the lovely venue generously provided by owner John Hoskins MW, who admits to being less of a chenin blanc fan himself, but joined us for the tasting nevertheless. After all, a 30-wine vertical does not come along every day!
Joanna Locke MW
As we draw into autumn this side of the world, New Zealand is embracing the promise of warmer weather. Here is an update I just received, along with these wonderful photos, from Paul Brajkovich of Kumeu River. Spring frosts affect vineyard yield (but not final fruit quality):
‘Spring has sprung here and with some spring frost. There was quite a serious frost two weeks ago that did some damage and it looks like we could be in for another vintage like 2010 in terms of quantity. On the morning of the frost there was a photographer here so we got some good shots.’
They certainly did.
After the Jubilee and Olympic fanfare, English fizz is back in the news. This time, however, it concerns the decision by England’s biggest wine estate, Nyetimber, to scrap their 2012 harvest. The very summer in which its wines were served on the royal barge was so wet that the grapes did not ripen well enough.Nyetimber are certainly to be commended for doing the right thing under difficult circumstances, and it must be stressed that their situation does not necessarily echo that in every English vineyard this year: other perspectives on the harvest have been far more positive.
It does however bring one of the many challenges faced by the industry into sharp focus after the PR success of the summer months. Last month, the great and the good of the UK wine trade convened to discuss this and other topics in a fascinating seminar held by the Institute of Masters of Wine at London’s Vinters’ Hall. The discussion began by noting that there is a sense of English sparkling wine being ‘on the cusp’ of greater exposure and appreciation.
A valid assumption, or are we still looking at the situation through Union Jack-tinted glasses?
Stephen Skelton MW knows better than most the difficulty posed by growing grapes in England, having planted in 1977 what is now Chapel Down. He emphasised that no other wine-producing country has a climate directly comparable to England’s, and at this time where Champagne associations come thicker and faster than ever, this plain fact should not be forgotten.
Certainly this fact is all the more pertinent given Nyetimber’s subsequent decision, yet the wider trend of climate change has had its advantages: in the time since Skelton planted Chapel Down, the potential alcohol of English grapes has doubled. The warmer nights are a particular advantage, as they give the vines more time to photosynthesise during the day. It is the variation in yield from year to year, however, that he sees as a problem: how can English producers grow grapes economically when the sword of Damocles appears so sharp?David Cowderoy has been a part of the English wine industry since the 1960s. He focused on the rapid expansion of vineyards and the springing up of new properties as the cause for concern, having seen first hand the rapid shrinking of English wine in the 1990s. This was a hugely significant and exceptionally well-timed event: the collapse of Liebfraumilch ensured producers in England making similar wines either changed their game or stopped altogether.
Between 1993 and 2004, the area under vine in the UK fell by almost 30%. Without this reduction in quantity and subsequent focus on quality, he maintained that English wine would still be considered little more than a novelty by consumers.
The influx of new vines and producers brings enormous challenges. How will producers distinguish themselves from one another, for instance? The majority are small scale and making similar products (Champagne method, Champagne grapes and Champagne prices). Few retailers and distributors will have room for more than one or two such producers on their books, and (he asked us to pardon the pun) a bottleneck could well result.‘The biggest danger to the English sparkling wine industry,’ said Mike Roberts (owner of Ridgeview and currently chairman of English Wine Producers), ‘is the industry itself.’ He maintains, understandably, that there is much that England needs to learn from Champagne: a greater stock of reserve wines is needed, for instance, and crucially, better farming procedures. The continued expansion threatens to undermine sustainability, by which we may also, of course, mean profitability.
This concern was shared by Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, global wine director of mail order company Direct Wines. England has 1,522 hectares under vines at present, and projected figures indicate that the figure will be over 5,200ha by 2025. With such a huge amount of market share in either cheap or bulk-discounted Champagnes, it is difficult to envision how this increase in production will find a solid market under the current circumstances.
One solution could well be to export, cultivating and taking advantage of the cachet England enjoys in many parts of the world as a ‘luxury’/‘heritage’ brand. And marketing represents a chink in the English sparkling wine industry’s armour. Particularly compared to Champagne, where on average 27% of big houses’ budgets are devoted to branding and marketing. Budgets and business plans in England simply do not account for anything similar at present.
We undertook a blind tasting of six sparkling wines at the seminar, ranking them in order of preference. The results were totted up and were as follows (1 being the overall favourite):
1. Roederer Brut Premier, NV (Champagne)
2. Nyetimber ‘The Netherland’, 2009 (England)
=3. Ridgeview Grosvenor, 2007 (England)
=3. Roederer Quartet, NV (California)
5. Cloudy Bay Pelorus, NV (New Zealand)
6. Brut Graham Beck, NV (South Africa)
As this and countless other tastings elsewhere show, while the future is strewn with challenges, the one thing that is not in doubt is the quality of English sparkling wine. Nyetimber, whose wine was actually my favourite in the blind tasting, have based their recent decision on the importance of maintaining this quality and integrity. The future is looking more interesting than ever.
This was a tasting on former Wine Society territory and I could have sworn I saw a ghost or two of members past. Not a bottle of Old Chandos tawny port in sight but instead a fascinating tasting of some 75 wines from Alsace.
This was put on by CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace) and provided a real showcase for the wines. Only pinot gris and pinot noir were shown and the fact that the tasting focused on just two grape varieties was refreshing and helpful
The tasting was in two parts. First current vintages, 2011 back to 2008. Then a small selection of older vintages going back to 1961 which as expected was really very interesting, even magical.
This is a much misunderstood variety and if I’m honest, not my favourite. Yes it is, ostensibly at least, related to pinot grigio though they are unlikely to be from the same plant selections. Closer will be the pinot beurot from Burgundy and closer too in style of wine.
It used to be called Tokay d’Alsace and then Tokay Pinot Gris until Hungary joined the EU and put pressure to have ‘Tokay’ reserved for its own wines. A sad decision in my view but perfectly understandable. There is nothing in common between Alsace Pinot Gris and Hungary’s furmint variety from Tokay. As a by the by, Hungary also produces pinot gris and very good they are too
In Alsace, pinot gris can make wines in any number of styles, from dry and steely to sweet and opulent and of course it can also make wonderfully rich dessert wines. Those rare nectars are sold under the Vendange Tardive or Sélection de Grains Nobles appellation and not on show at this tasting.
This is what I liked
Léon Beyer 2011: Very low residual sugar. Fully dry, clean, full flavoured and utterly gorgeous. We are still on the 2010 but will almost certainly buy this next year.
Muré Clos Saint Landelin 2011: Richer, southern style, more or less dry, crisp and clean. Lovely.
Ribeauvillé Co-op, Collection 2011: Very well made, a touch sweet but finishing dry. Full and long
Albert Mann, Cuvée Albert 2010: Rich, even opulent, but with enough acidity to cut through the sweetness. Has grip and quality.
Kuentz-Bas GC Eichberg 2010: Brillant. Real character, concentration of flavours and very long.
Domaine Weinbach, Ste Catherine 2010: Gorgeous, unctuous. Sweet but finishes dry and not in the least bit heavy or cloying.
Dom Zind-Humbrecht, Rothenberg 2010: Sumptuous.
Dom Pfister, Tradition 2009: Good grip, appley and rich. On the dry side so gastronomically more useful than some others
Dom Ostertag, Zellenberg 2009: Utterly glorious!! My style of pinot gris, bready, yeasty and clean. Fully dry
Dom Gresser Grand Cru Wiebelsberg 2008: Sandstone vineyard makes broad tasting wines which always need a little time. Lots here, complex and rich but with enough grip
Dom Schlumberger GC Kitterlé 2008: Also sandstone but different. An amazing vineyard, very steep, difficult to work but what results. This is still a baby and will need two or three years to come round. Great potential.
Pinot noir is the only red grape planted in Alsace with a long history of making great red wines. After phylloxera, plantings of pinot noir were greatly diminished and then what was left was often turned into rather thin, almost rosé-like wines of little quality. That has now completely changed and this variety is very much back in favour. Some of it is used to make sparkling Cremant d’Alsace but more and more producers are trying to make proper red wine in a style that is very much Alsace and not a Burgundian copy.
The Alsace style is usually pale in colour, rarely oaky, cherry like fruit, slightly bitter, sappy and refreshing.
This is what I liked
Léon Beyer 2011: Cherry-like, round, fruity and delicious
Dom Zink 2011: nothing special but perfectly decent
Muré Clos Saint Landelin “V” 2010: A pinot noir specialist and from the village of Rouffach which has always been famous for its reds. This is gorgeous. Rumour has it that one or two vineyards may soon be granted Grand Cru status for pinot noir. Surely this one should be a candidate.
Dom Pfister, Barriques, 2009: Proper pinot. Real quality here
Now For the Older Wines…
These all came from CIVA’s cellars in Colmar and were anonymous with just the vintage showing on the label. I was told that they all represented the middle range in quality. CIVA uses this stock, which I believe is donated by the producers, for educational purposes, training sommeliers and young winemakers for example.
1998, served from a decanter: in great shape, truffle, and lots of flavour and very long. Loved it.
1992: Mediocre vintage but this was still lovely. Very fresh, dry and long. Beginning to loose its fruit.
1990: Great vintage but this was disappointing. Very mature but with still a lot of sweetness. I’ve tasted better elsewhere.
1985: A favourite vintage for pinot gris. I still remember Hugel reserve personnel! This was wonderful, delicate, a touch salty, sensuous and long. Loved it.
1979: Pretty good vintage and this was very good with still some vigour and interest.
1971: Outstanding vintage but I did not like this at all. Past it. Yet I’ve tasted wonderful ‘71s recently.
1967: Fabulous vintage and this was an outstanding bottle indeed. Truffles and baked apple, full flavoured, very fresh with plenty of middle and length. Hats off!
1961: Great vintage too and again a wonderful bottle from the past. Still has sweetness on the finish.
1999: Volatile. Did not like it.
1998: Didn’t like it either. Drying out.
1990: Great vintage for pinot: iconic, when many growers realised the full potential of pinot in Alsace. Lovely example. Still rich and sweet.
1987: Mediocre vintage. This was honourable but clearly past it.
1979: Good vintage but this was past it.
1976: Very good vintage. This was lovely. Still sweet and fruity. Delicious.
1971: Oh dear. But must have been good at some stage in its life.
The last taste was reserved for a second sip of the ‘67 pinot gris.
This series claims to gather ‘the words of the greatest winegrowers in the hope of passing on a little of their flame (passion or flair might have made a better translation here) and experience to the reader, and perhaps even some of their knowledge and know-how to future generations.’
In it, as well as providing all sorts of insights into what makes Dubourdieu’s wines different, Denis offers the reader some free advice on choosing a Bordeaux wine in a restaurant (and it adapts to some other wine regions too).
Admitting to first looking for his own wines, his policy thereafter, in order to find a bottle that will give pleasure without breaking the bank, is to look for two similarly priced wines of different appellations.
The trick is to choose the wine from the lesser appellation, less well-recognised and sought-after, perhaps, but one that is likely to have been more carefully chosen by the owner or their sommelier. ‘If the owner of the restaurant we are in offered the cheapest Graves, Côtes de Bordeaux, or Barsac, he would not list any of my wines,’ comments Denis, adding: ‘the cheapest wine of the appellation is never any good.’
Reading this reminded me of a conversation years ago with an old friend in the restaurant business, who admitted to taking a far higher margin on Chablis and Fleurie in his frustration at customers who defaulted to the familiar instead of asking his very well-qualified young sommelier for advice. This is not a policy we use when pricing The Society’s List I hasten to add! Please don’t stop drinking Chablis and Fleurie on my account. They can be amongst the most delicious food wines you can buy, and Denis Dubourdieu’s advice applies well to Burgundy too.
Jo Locke MW
The first trip is in the bag. This was the first of three visits to the Rhône Valley. By the time I will have finished in November I will have tasted from a hundred or so producers.So far, so good. Lovely wines in 2011, wines that make one smile because they are so delicious. Very different to both 2010 and 2009, which is a good thing: much more uneven, it is true, but there are plenty of successes. Great Cornas with one of my best tastings ever at Domaine Voge. The southern Rhônes seem to have been especially good along that northern strip which includes Vinsobres, Valreas and the Massif d’Uchaux. For the first time I visited the Tricastin, a Cinderella appellation if ever there was one. On this leg of my trip I shall report later.
From Vinsobres, down to Bandol and Cassis where the vintage was in full swing and looking very good. For Domaine Tempier, incidentally 2011 will be an exceptional vintage.
Rhône 2012s look very promising though only a few whites were actually finished and these were fragrant and fresh in style, and not unlike 2011 which itself was good for whites.
There is still a little way to go and some Châteauneuf growers have barely started to pick. We shall see.
The job of wine buying often goes beyond the mere task of selection. We like spotting talent and working with young growers and winemakers over many years, sometimes helping them by broadening their horizons. I remember once turning up at the salle polyvalente in Vinsobres with a bootful of Australian shiraz and giving a tasting to an audience of Vinsobres growers. It was some occasion; even the Mayor was there with his tricolour sash.
Just before leaving for the Rhône, my colleague Toby Morrhall was playing host to a group of Chilean winemakers from Undurraga. Much of their time at The Society was spent in the tasting room, where they were given a tasting of Rhône wines. Different producers, styles and vintages, and a world away from South America. For me, the tasting was just what I needed on the eve of my departure.
This is what was tasted:
2007: Séguret, Cuvée Tradition, Domaine de Mourchon and Notre Dame des Celettes, Domaine Sainte Anne
Both grenache dominated and both absolutely gorgeous and ready to drink. The Sainte Anne probably has more keeping potential but both really lovely now.
2007 again: Terres d’Argile, Domaine de la Janasse, 2007
This comes from outside the Châteauneuf area but is made in much the same way and from a typically Châteauneuf blend of varieties. Sumptuous but no hurry to drink
2006: St Gervais, Domaine Sainte Anne
Mourvèdre dominated. Spicy and rich. Still very young and in need of another year maybe. But what lovely complexity
1999: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel
Drinking very well now. Surprising density and concentration. Needed decanting.
1998: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Janasse
Blockbuster wine. Very full, very concentrated. Again decanting needed to get the best out of it.
1995: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos des Papes
This was the best of these three Châteauneufs. Perfect, poised with great balance. Probably at its best though it will keep for ages.
And finally, Bandol, Domaine Tempier La Tourtine 1998
Sensational. Nothing else to say. Lucky Chilean growers.