Grapevine Archive for January, 2013
On a windswept January night in London, Chile’s cabernets took on the world in a boldly imagined and thoroughly enjoyable tasting. The event was hosted by Santa Rita Estates, determined as they are to spread the gospel of the country’s premium wines.
‘Premium’ is the operative word: no doubt conscious that Chile is the place more UK consumers look to for a good-value glug rather than a sophisticated splash, the organisers placed four top-end Chilean cabernets in among a 12-wine line-up (all 100% cabernet or cabernet-dominant blends) for us to taste under blind conditions. No prizes for guessing, we were assured: just a chance to see what we thought.
Of course, this didn’t stop the assembled tasters trying to guess the wines, and debate was lively throughout, predictable when considering the clientele. The great and the good of the UK wine trade were out in force, with Steven Spurrier – who, of course, knows a thing or two about these international blind tastings – Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Anthony Rose, Alex Hunt MW and Tom Cannavan all in spirited symposium when it came to relative merits and possible identities.
Ranging between about £10 and over £100 per bottle, this diverse line-up hailed from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages. While some revelled in their youthful charm, others inevitably were a little surlier. I certainly felt this to be true of the first wine, which turned out to be the Te Mata, Coleraine, 2009, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand, c.£40 per bottle; 52% cabernet sauvignon, 43% merlot, 5% cabernet franc). This is a difficult wine to taste young, but it ages magnificently. For its obviously high quality, then, on the night the 2009 struggled to free itself from its formidable wall of tannins sufficiently to wow the tasters. It will be lovely, but it needs time.
On the other hand, the Petaluma Cabernet-Merlot, 2008, Coonawarra (Australia, c.£28 per bottle; 60% cabernet sauvignon, 31% merlot, 9% shiraz) was intense and exuberant – perhaps even a little aggressively so. So too was the Carmen Gold Reserve, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£50 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), whose almost implausibly dark fruit flavours were conspicuous and gratifying; however, I suspect those who prize complexity above curvaceousness may not enjoy this wine as much as others.
Next was Sassicaia, 2009 (Italy, c.£105 per bottle; 85% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc). Noticeably lighter in colour than the first three wines, its cedary, leathery and complex aromas seemed to scream ‘claret’ at first. The palate, however, ended Bordelais suspicions, balancing the weight of this warm vintage with delightful, refreshing acidity and red-fruit flavours, all with mesmerising intensity.
From the same vintage, Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan, 2009 (France, c.£60 per bottle; 66% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 6% petit verdot) needed a few swirls of the glass to compose itself and reveal some very fine fruit from under the (currently rather dominant) oak. This wine had an interesting mixture of flavours, feeling at once polished but rather rugged too. Tasting it blind, it was obviously of very high quality, but I found it hard to love at this young stage. It would be fair to say that the least favourite wine of the night for most was the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch, 2008 (South Africa, c.£10 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), critiqued for being rather ‘hot’ and coffee-like. Then again, this was by far the cheapest candidate and with that in mind, it certainly did not embarrass itself.The second half of the tasting commenced with what turned out to be the Santa Rita Casa Real, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon). Pure and satisfying with lovely lifted fruit, complexity and a finish just on the right side of ‘oaky’, both its overall quality and Chilean qualities were rightly singled out by the tasters. An excellent performance, all the more so when one considers that, along with the 2008 vintage shown later in the tasting, it was the second-least expensive of the wines.
Far less straightforward for the panel was the beautiful, atypical Cullen ‘Diana Madeleine’, 2009, Margaret River (Australia, c.£60 per bottle; 88% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 2% malbec). Markedly subtler than the other wines, this was not a ‘blockbuster’ at all, eschewing oaky brawn in favour of gorgeous, soft red-fruit flavours and invigorating freshness. Most were conspicuously insecure when trying to identify what it might be, but it was deservedly popular and several singled it out as their favourite wine on the table.
Next came perhaps the polar opposite of this style, in the form of the Seña, Aconcagua, 2008 (Chile, c.£75 per bottle; 57% cabernet sauvignon, 20% carmenère, 10% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 5% cabernet franc). Intense, extroverted and sweet, this was crying out for hearty food to anyone who might listen. On the other hand, the quietness and classicism of the Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2008 (France, c.£80 per bottle; 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot) made it quite a difficult wine to pin down, and rather like the Te Mata I felt it was not happy to have been disturbed at this age, with quite a lot of oak yet to integrate with the rest of the (excellent) wine.The 2008 vintage of Santa Rita Casa Real (Chile, £23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon) followed, with a nose I’d describe as ‘Bordeaux on steroids’. With a delicate touch of sweetness to the fruit and some delicious menthol and tobacco notes, this was full-bodied and certainly very serious, but also really rather good fun too (I should note that this is not meant pejoratively: wine is supposed to be fun, after all!). An excellent wine and again, it is worth bearing in mind its price within this line-up.
‘Backward’ is a word that wine tasters bandy about rather a lot when it comes to young wines, but those seeking the apotheosis of this term should try the last of the flight, Ridge Monte Bello, 2009 (USA, c.£90 per bottle; 72% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 6% petit verdot). Actually, don’t: it would be a terrible shame to broach this before it’s ready. Indeed, this wine was so ‘backward’, it was almost as though the stuff wanted to board a plane to California and reattach itself to the vines. Society buyer Pierre Mansour has said in the past that the elegant greatness of Monte Bello can often be missed in teeth-staining blind tastings, and I’m inclined to agree: compared to many of its peers it is a lover, not a fighter. Peppery, full-bodied and rather smudged by oak at the moment, it nonetheless showed plenty of finesse. Its best is undoubtedly a way off and when that time comes, I can only cross as many appendages as possible that I might get the chance to try it.
So, how did Chile do?
In all four of the wines, the fruit was a little sweeter, the tannins were soft and the secondary flavours erred more on the satisfyingly peppery side of things than the challenging rusticity found in some of the other wines. Perhaps one or two were a little too exuberant for their own good. Society buyer Toby Morrhall has rightly noted elsewhere that, save a few isolated exceptions, Chile only reached international standard around 20 years ago. Pitted against regions such as Bordeaux then, the greatness of whose wines has been extolled for centuries, this was an impressive performance.
Particularly, it must be said, for Casa Real. The two vintages of this cabernet were noticeably more restrained than the other two Chilean wines on show, and considering they made up two of only four wines in this tasting priced at under £30, their ability to stimulate the intellect as much as the palate was all the more striking. Indeed, the 2010 vintage was certainly among my personal ‘top 3’, alongside the far more expensive wines from Sassicaia and Cullen.
It is a testament to Toby’s efforts that Casa Real has occupied a place in The Society’s multi-award winning Chilean range for some time now.
To this end, the tasting fulfilled its objectives and proved that Chilean cabernets are capable of being delicious, distinctive and attractive at a very high level; not to be sniffed at, but sniffed, swirled, imbibed and enjoyed.
20 years ago The Wine Society was a pioneer, opening a French collection point for its members on the very day that the EU relaxed its trade barriers.We were the first wine merchant to do so. The night before had seen the launch party, a dinner-dance at the Grand Hôtel in Le Touquet. It was attended by 290 members and their guests, along with members of staff and committee, our new French colleagues, some long-standing suppliers and local dignitaries, including the mayor of Hesdin (whose rather lengthy speech in French is still being talked about).
That we opened such a facility and so promptly was down to the drive and vision of the then managing director, Dr Barry Sutton, who had the revolutionary idea to allow members to have access to their wines at lower French duty rates. Barry sadly passed away last summer, but as a lifelong Europhile and one who enjoyed life, he would have delighted in the success of his project. Certainly, he would have thoroughly enjoyed the celebratory dinner held last weekend to mark the 20th anniversary of its launch, and glasses were raised in his honour.
2012 was a record year for our French operation despite a rather uncertain economic backdrop. Many people have played an important part in the success of Hesdin and now Montreuil over the years and some of those key players were present at Saturday’s celebration. In true pioneering spirit, our members, quite a few of whom had been at the inaugural dinner, had to battle against the elements to get there. But one person who deserves special mention for being instrumental in the success of the business is Véronique Chaumetou.
Véronique, who now runs the French operation on our behalf was there that first morning after the dinner in 1993. Members told me how impressed they were by the highly organised paperwork and Véronique’s friendliness and efficiency. The story goes that Véronique sat at her desk outside the Ryssen Distillery in Hesdin, our collection point in the early days, with the temperature at a perishing -7?C. She was there from 8am, ready to help members with their wine. By 1pm she could not move and had to be picked up, chair and all, and carried inside to thaw out. It took three hours!Over the years, the tastings and events team has played a key role in organising and hosting fun events for members to attend in and around Hesdin and Montreuil. Team Leader Ewan Murray can count no fewer than 80 dinners during his time at the helm. He will soon move to a new role, managing The Society’s public relations full time, and, making one of his last presentations to members, he talked of the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ that they had often displayed when things ‘hadn’t quite gone to plan.’
Who would have thought that the eruption of a volcano in Iceland would have an effect on a Wine Society dinner? When the coach to take diners to Les Trois Tonneaux didn’t turn up, members rallied, ferrying everyone to the event in their own cars. Nobody had thought to inform us that the government had requisitioned all coaches to go to the airports and help repatriate stranded air travellers.
It is hard to avoid talk of Les Misérables at the moment, but the brave members who endured to the bitter end the live outdoor performance of Les Mis during Montreuil’s annual son et lumière under the biggest downpour on record, may have different reasons to remember it!
Janet Wynne Evans, an early trailblazer, remembers one of the first events, held in Hesdin town hall. ‘We had just uncorked the wines and the room was rather warm, so we opened the windows to let in some air. Instead, a bouquet of rancid oil blew in as Chez Christine, the local chip wagon, set up shop in the street below. In all my days of hosting tastings in Hesdin it never seemed to move.’What has always remained constant, reliable and enjoyable is the wine. Representing two such constants at last Saturday’s event were David Ling of Hugel & Fils in Alsace and Nicolas Jaeger, fourth-generation cellarmaster at Alfred Gratien, suppliers of The Society’s Champagne since 1906. David had been at the launch dinner and noted that he had been given the same room at the hotel! Nicolas, too young to have been there 20 years ago, promised members that he was committed to maintaining the quality of our house Champagne and to supplying us with celebratory bottles for many years to come.
So here’s to the next 20 years…
One of the joys of my most recent visit to the Loire was seeing a red squirrel, a deep, rich red brown, scampering across the road. They are smaller than our grey ones and a joy to behold. One of our Loire suppliers has one that does acrobatics in a tree just outside their kitchen window and I always feel disappointed when he does not appear to perform when I am visiting.
The Loire has had its share of disappointments this last year. As already reported on Society Grapevine, the weather threw all it had got at them throughout the 2012 growing season. This time, ironically, they – and the harvest – were saved not by an Indian summer but by rain.
Already low yields (due mostly to mildew and poor flowering) were not ripening, when early poor, wet weather was followed by drought in August and September. Alain Cailbourdin (Pouillys Boisfleury and Les Cris) explained that in Pouilly-sur-Loire the rain came too late for his newly planted vineyard, which had not just suffered but had lost many of its leaves, vital to feed the vine.
The more mature vines, however, fared better and were revived by the rain, and the maturation process could begin once more.
There’s no getting away from it being a challenging year: quantities are down, sometimes by as much as 50%, and we fear many more Loire producers will throw in the towel this year. But many of those hanging on in there have made memorable and excellent wines this year. Prices are likely to go up, but in a region where so many have been static in recent years, and where some exceptionally good wines have been made, any increase is a small price to pay.
Against all nature’s odds, there will be some delicious 2012 Loire wines.
Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for the Loire
Château d’Yquem has made the news recently, declaring loudly that it will not be releasing a 2012 because the quality is not up to scratch. The growing season and harvest was particularly complicated and stressful for the Sauternais, it’s true, and we have not heard anyone claiming the vintage of the century.
However, Yquem’s typically bold statement does rather queer the pitch for anyone who does plan to release! Château Climens’ Bérénice Lurton, who is President of the Union des Grands Crus de Sauternes et Barsac, offers her take on the vintage:
8 days of harvest over a period of 2 weeks (15 to 31st October) gave us a yield of 10hl/ha and moreover, quality that we could never had hoped for. For such a crazy harvest, frankly the outcome is positive. And more than that, it was great to cock a snoot at all those malicious gossipers who declared Climens to be ‘devastated by mildew’. Mother Nature was not so unkind after all!
As for biodynamics, without which we would almost certainly have lost fewer grapes to mildew, it did on the other hand help the vines to stand up to the drought in September and the unwelcome rains towards the end of the season.
The tastings post-fermentation are amazing: apart from 2 or 3 lots that are simpler but honest, the overall result is excellent. To start, the aromatic purity is perfect from beginning to end. And for most of the lots a long finish, complexity, elegance and panache are all there.
(Bérénice’s full harvest report can be found by visiting Climens’ website and clicking on the post entitled ‘Proud of our 2012 vintage!’.)
After a run of good Sauternes vintages, cellars may not be gasping for more. We’ll take a view after we’ve tasted in the spring. At least we know we don’t have to save our centimes for Yquem 2012!
Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for Bordeaux
Edit, 29th January:
Château Rieussec, we now know, is also not releasing a 2012 wine; but our first taste of the Dubourdieus’ Cantegril (The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes) and Doisy Daëne have indeed proved that some delicious Sauternes and Barsac have been made.
The answer is that they contain some wines with a wax (rather than the more common plastic) capsule.
Smart though these capsules undoubtedly look, I have been asked a few times what the best way is to remove these capsules without an unwelcome decorating of the kitchen floor.
I find the best method to be:
1. Wrap the capsule and top part of the neck of the bottle in a glasscloth.
2. Tap the wax top of the capsule lightly but firmly with a slightly heavy object, perhaps the handle of your corkscrew; enough to cause the wax to crack and break up.
3. Carefully remove the glasscloth containing the wax pieces and dispose of them.
4. Insert corkscrew, remove cork and enjoy!
Amid a severe heatwave, fires broke out in Tasmania last Thursday. Fortunately no deaths have been reported but over 100 buildings have been destroyed and many communities affected. More fires have since occurred in New South Wales.
Our thoughts are with all those living and working there who are affected. Upon hearing the news from Tasmania, I contacted Claudio Radenti, winemaker behind The Society’s Exhibition Tasmanian Chardonnay, whose family live on the beautiful Freycinet vineyard on the east coast. Thankfully he and his family are all safe. Here is what he wrote back to us:
Thank you so much for thinking of us. We are all safe and out of harm’s way. Fortunately for us the winds pushed the fire away. It made us all get serious about preparing ourselves for fire fighting though. I had my house gutters all filled with water; generator ready in case of power failure; farm fire truck ready for spot fires; petrol powered fire pump also ready; water tanks full; three fire hose reels at winery ready; few precious things packed and ready in case of evacuation. Had the winds favoured our direction it could have easily escalated into a bad situation.
Danger has eased on the east coast near us now but other parts of Tassie are still burning out of control. Hopefully a decent rain is not far away.
Claudio & Lindy
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the January 2013 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by Which? Magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?When it’s not so much the wolf at the door but a 10-foot snowdrift, a howling gale or more of the elemental stair-rods for which 2012 will be remembered, it’s good to have a full freezer, a well-stocked larder and a wine rack to match. A subscription to Wine Without Fuss effortlessly takes care of the latter, and marshalling the solids isn’t that taxing.
First turn out your glory hole (we all have them) and deal promptly with any item that is perilously close to what I like to call its ‘Think! Window’. You’ll end up with some unorthodox but tasty meals, some of which can be deep-frozen, ready for when you (or the roads) are. The space thus liberated can then be filled with fresh stocks of ready-roasted Mediterranean vegetables in oil, cans of tomatoes and pulses, coconut milk, fresh whole spices (few things are blander than powdered ginger that has lost its mojo), nuts, good-quality dark and white chocolate, dried fruit and any other good things that don’t need refrigeration.
The dish below is the result of just such an exercise. All I had to buy was some fresh coriander and the lamb, which, with better planning, I could have taken from the freezer or done without altogether (see below). Depending on the amount of chilli or harissa added, it’s surprisingly white-wine friendly as are many middle-eastern delights, and any number of our New Year Wines Without Fuss work well. Both Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada and Marqués de Alella in the Buyers’ Everyday Selection have a subtly sweet edge that match the spices well, while the top match among the reds is the obvious one – McWilliam’s Select Series Shiraz-Cabernet. In the Premium Selection, we especially liked de Martino Legado Carmenère for its rich, dark appeal, and surprisingly – or perhaps not, given the concentration Trimbach pack into every bottle – Pinot Blanc stepped successfully into a role more usually given to gewurztraminer. Among the Buyers’ French Classics two matches stood out, both from the Rhône – Delas’ stalwart Crozes Hermitage Les Launes and Vacqueyras Blanc from Clos des Cazaux.
(For a sumptuous meat-free version of this recipe, replace the lamb with bottled flame-roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. You’ll need less oil, and the cooking time can be reduced by half an hour though don’t be tempted to rush it.)
750g boneless leg of lamb, cubed
1 large red onion, peeled and finely sliced
A jar grilled or roasted aubergines in oil, about 250g after thorough draining
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
250ml fruity red wine
A bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks separated and both finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon ras-el-hanout
A small pinch of dried chillis, seeds removed or not, to taste
1–2 cinnamon sticks
2 x 410g cans cooked chickpeas, about 250g after rinsing and draining
A handful of slivered almonds, gently toasted
Rose harissa, to taste (gingerly!)
Heat the oil in the base of a tagine dish or flameproof casserole. Brown the lamb in batches and drain on kitchen paper. Throw in the onions, reduce the heat a little and let them sweat for about 10 minutes. Return the lamb to the pan and add the drained aubergines and the tomatoes, along with the coriander stalks and the spices. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Let it bubble vigorously for a couple of minutes. Cover, lower the heat to a simmer and leave for an hour. Check liquid levels from time to time and add a little more wine and a splash of water if needed.
Next, carefully remove the lid, wearing an oven glove to protect your hands. Add the chickpeas and the coriander leaves. Continue to simmer for half an hour. The meat should be just tender. Finally, taste and season. If you want more heat, add it in a controlled way by serving the harissa alongside, noting that the more you add, the less wine-friendly the dish will be. Stir well, replace the lid and keep warm on a hot tray, or a low oven until you are ready to eat. Before dishing up, sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Serve with a crunchy winter salad.
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager
The Christmas holiday involved a little tidying of a rather neglected wine rack. My hopes were not especially high for not just one but three bottles of the 2010 Society’s Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne: one not to risk on anyone but ourselves, I thought, bearing in mind we’ll be moving on to the 2012 vintage any minute.
How wrong I was. The wine was as fresh as a daisy and delicious. The combination of a perfect screwcap (given a knock they are not infallible), a very good white wine vintage, and the combined experience of champion of the south west Marcel Orford-Williams and a hundred years of the Grassa family at Tariquet of course meant I had little to worry about.
A bottle of Monte Velho Branco from the 2009 vintage, which was hot even by Portuguese standards, had developed secondary, slightly nutty flavours under cork, so was less pristine, but was still an enjoyable bottle.
This is not a recommendation to keep modest white wines longer, just a tip not to consign outwardly elderly bottles to the cooking wines corner until you’ve tried them!
Jo Locke MW