Grapevine Archive for July, 2014
A few years after starting work at The Wine Society, I was presented with a bottle of brandy by my dad (not a common occurrence, I hasten to add).
Knowing that no one in my family were members of The Society before me, I asked the obvious question: Where on earth did you get this, dad? ‘It came from my father,’ was the answer. ‘I think he once had a job in some wine cellars.’
My grandfather, a Swiss immigrant, set up home in central London. He took various jobs locally and my dad and I developed a theory that one of these was as a cellar man at the nearby premises of The Wine Society in Hills Place (under the London Palladium), just off Oxford Circus.
The Society moved out of London in 1965 and by the time I took a job here in Hertfordshire, my grandfather was long dead, so there was, unfortunately, no opportunity to check our theory. My dad was unable to pinpoint exactly when his father had worked at that wine company.
Roll forward to 2014 and, hunting through The Society’s archives in search of some interesting snippets from committee meeting minute books, I came across an old Wages Ledger. I couldn’t resist flicking through it and within ten minutes, lo and behold, I found an entry from January 1957 for a Cerroti, E (for Emanuele), earning a weekly wage of £7.
What I would give for an evening with my grandfather to uncork his brandy and compare our experiences of working for The Wine Society!
Head of Member Services
I recently took the opportunity to taste back vintages of a fine clutch of favourite Bordeaux châteaux with their winemakers. The excuse was a piece I was writing for Decanter Magazine’s July Bordeaux supplement.
Here are some vintage notes for those lucky enough to own any of these wines.
Sebastian Payne MW
The two Pichons face each other across the D2. Pichon-Lalande’s château on the Gironde side overlooks first growth Latour, though most of its vines are further inland. Its reputation and popularity with Society members is founded on excellent vintages of the eighties after the charismatic May-Eliane de Lencquesaing took over the property in 1978. She sold it to Champagne Roederer in 2006.
1995: 40% merlot gave this charm and softer, gentler mid-palate than some wines of the vintage and 15% cabernet franc, unusually high for Pauillac, has kept it fresh and lively if a touch herbaceous. Quite ready.
1996: Very blackcurrant cabernet-sauvignon bouquet (75%), though less ripe than modern vintages and less rich and more forward than their 1986. Midweight. Drink now.
1998: Fragrant, delicate, cabernet franc elegance (15%) and charm. Use now.
2000: Now showing a touch of green pepper and boxhedge on the nose, though the palate is fine and stylish. Keep 5 to 10 years and hope this mellows. 50% cabernet sauvignon, 34% merlot, 6% cabernet franc, 10% petit verdot.
2001: Seductive, creamy, expressive and lovely to drink now. One of the best Médocs of the year and finer than its opposite neighbour Pichon. Now to 10 years.
2004: Another super success of the year with classy bouquet and style. In its first phase and still improving. Now to 10 years.
2005: Closed and unexpressive now but concentrated. Keep at least 8 to 10 years.
Pichon-Longueville (previously known as Pichon Longueville Baron) is quite a different Pauillac, more muscular and massive. The heart of the vineyard, and since 2000 the only part that is used for the first wine, is recognised as one of the finest terroirs in the commune. Pichon Longueville was bought by AXA Millesime in 1987, who brought much-needed investment to a sadly run-down estate, and who also added more vineyard between 1991 and 1993. Yields in the nineties were much higher than today and it shows in the wines. Since Christian Seely arrived in January 2001 selection has been rigorous and quality has risen in an exciting way.
1995: Fully mature, full traditional Pauillac. You can feel the tannins still but it will not improve further.
1996: More complex than 1995 with sweeter cabernet fruit (70% cabernet sauvignon) and more charm. Now at best.
1998: Old-fashioned style, not fully ripe with noticeable acidity. Use now.
2000: Classic Pauillac with rich ripe fruit. In its ‘first phase’ and still improving.
2001: Fragrant ‘cedar-box’ bouquet. Quite forceful but fresh and very enjoyable now though just outshone by Pichon Lalande. Drink now.
2002: Insider’s tip. Proper Pauillac, dense, rich, restrained but ‘grown up’ and good for 20 years.
2004: Delicious to drink now, though still improving with lovely balance and freshness.
2005: Will be a great wine but now closed. Balance, fruit and freshness and vitality were kept in a big tannic year. Wait until 2020.
We were recently treated to a staff tasting and talk from California’s ‘Wild Boy of Wine’, Jim Clendenen, owner and winemaker at Au Bon Climat in Santa Barbara.
With his flowing locks, fast-pace talking, random asides and funny anecdotes, Jim does still cut something of the ‘Wild Boy’ image, but this all belies his 40 years’ winemaking experience and steadfast commitment to making classic, restrained, ageworthy wines. Jim speaks fluent French, has made wine in Australian and Burgundy, and knows his craft. If you were still in any doubt, just one taste of his wines would dispel this.The Au Bon Climat wines have been described as ‘Burgundian in sensibility but with Californian style’ and it’s the Au Bon Climat chardonnay and pinot noir that have made its name. Why Burgundy? These are the wines that Jim likes to drink himself – wines that won him over as a young student in France; wines with moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity, that can be drunk with food and that are capable of ageing.
Jim was studying for a law degree but a student trip to France introduced him to its wines and culture and he was hooked. He completed his law degree but decided to get into the wine trade rather than continue with law – he didn’t think at first that he could be a winemaker. ‘I turned 21 in Bordeaux, looking around I thought that you had to own a big château in order to make wine, but in Burgundy I saw that even if you just had a couple of rows of vines and a garage to make the wine in you could be successful.’
Returning to France, Jim spent time in Champagne and Burgundy travelling around and talking to winemakers. ‘I spent a lot of time in 1981 with the late Gérard Potel, a brilliant, very technical winemaker. I learned a lot from him.’ He also went to Australia to make wine for Tyrrell’s and McGuigan Wines in the Hunter Valley and ‘Australia’s second only barrel-fermented chardonnay’ in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria. ‘These were great days,’ Jim told us. ‘Everyone had an open attitude and we shared knowledge and experience.’
This kind of openness continues to this day – Jim still spends time in France and speaks to the friends he made on the phone regularly, exchanging ideas and advice. ‘There are lots of Burgundian kids coming to California to learn about winemaking from a different perspective,’ Jim tells us. Climate change is seeing an increasing amount of information and advice flowing back from the West Coast to the Burgundian Côtes. But Jim is quick to point out that they both learn from each other. He tells us that he has worked closely with Dominique Lafon on research into premature oxidation.
It was during one of his visits to Burgundy that Clendenen came up with the idea for one of his pet projects. Waiting at Dijon tasting for a delayed train he bought a copy of the magazine Bourgogne Aujourd’hui and was shocked to read that the famous Corton-Charlemagne vineyard was originally planted with pinot beurot (a clone of pinot gris), pinot blanc and aligoté. The story goes that it was Charlemagne’s young wife Hildegard who insisted on these grapes being planted around 800AD. Interestingly, when the wines of the region were widely acclaimed in the 8th century, it was probably field blends of the above grapes that were behind the wines, not chardonnay, the only permitted variety today. What caught Jim’s eye was the fact that the house of Louis Latour didn’t grub up their vines until 1836, some 70 years or so after the official edict. ‘They clearly thought this blend of grapes, which generally ripen earlier than chardonnay, worked well here; I was intrigued so decided to recreate the wine in California.’
We tried the 2010 ‘Hildegard’ White Table Wine; on the nose there were hints of maple syrup and almonds with deceptively complex texture and palate. You certainly wouldn’t have thought it was made in California.
In fact you would be hard pushed to put any of the Au Bon Climat wines in California – they couldn’t be further in style from the high-octane, full-throttle, sweetly fruited wines that one might associate with the region. So how does Jim get that old-world restraint and finesse into his wines?
Jim’s connection with Burgundy’s top winemakers we have covered. But Clendenen points out that the geography of his chosen region is very important. Au Bon Climat is based in the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, three and a half hours south of San Francisco and a good deal south of the more famous Napa and Sonoma Valleys. ‘Napa is NOT a cool climate,’ Jim thunders. ‘They practice a lot of cool-climate techniques there but the grapes then end up lacking in phenolic maturity.’
In Napa there are two mountain ranges between you and the coast. This means that the climate ends up being quite continental and the summers are really hot. In Santa Barbara there are three parallel valleys running east to west. They filter in the fog and sea mist that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, helping to keep temperatures down, extending the growing season and keeping a freshness in the wines. Clendenen says that he is often the last to pick. Adding acid back into the wines is common practice amongst Californian producers; in fact Jim says that they used to do this too until 2001 when a change to more organic farming methods meant this was no longer necessary.
Towards the end of the eighties the Au Bon Climat wines were scoring high with such influential tasters as Robert Parker and he was also shortlisted as one of the best wineries in the world. But when tastes changed generally (and Parker’s specifically), his same wines were no longer the gout du jour. Jim didn’t change what he was doing to follow fashion but continued to make the wines that he likes to drink. Today, a new generation of Californian winemakers are pursuing the cool-climate style of winemaking – often picking the grapes too early, Jim says, but then he does have considerable experience at this game and a hotline to his mates back in Beaune.
Our opening offer of 2013 white Burgundies, the wines that first turned Jim’s head can be found here
Ten members of Society staff from around the business were there to see The Wine Society awarded
• Wine Club of the Year for the fourth consecutive year
• Specialist Merchant Award for Chile for the eighth time in nine years
• Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace for the seventh consecutive year
In addition, The Society was shortlisted for Direct Merchant of the Year and Specialist Merchant for Portugal.The judges called it ‘a testament to The Society’s extensive range of wines and events, as well as excellent customer service.’
A number of individual Society wines also received awards earlier in the year.
Such recognition is always a pleasure and we would like to thank the IWC. Above all, however, we would like to thank our members for their continued loyalty and support for their Society. We exist purely for members’ benefit and look forward to further enhancing our services in the coming year while continuing to provide the best of the world’s vineyards at the best possible prices.
The rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain. It lashes the north coast too with impressive ferocity. Coming from leafy West Wales, where the greenness of my valley depends on regular stair-rods, I know precipitation. But even I was impressed by the quality of the stuff in Getaria, on Spain’s Cantabrian coast.
You don’t just visit this small, but delicious Atlantic town for the weather, though. Among its delights are a striking, if slightly lopsided gothic church bestriding a twisting alley and, in stark contrast, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, a bold, wavy, trapezoidal glass palace designed by a Cuban architect to honour one of the town’s most famous sons. There are good restaurants too, one with a particularly fine line in freshly landed turbot, and a legendary list of venerable Rioja.
Then there’s the Getaria antxoa or anchovy, a thing of beauty and unbelievable concentration, either salted, and lovingly layered in large tubs to gather deep, saline momentum (salazón) or preserved in vinegar (boquerón). They are the snack of choice with the official purpose of my visit, the uniquely Basque white wine Txakoli (or Chacolí depending on your ethnicity). This is traditionally served from a great height by dashing barmen, the better to aerate the bouquet and deliver explosive but momentary flavour, which you must knock back immediately to get the point. The science is unclear to me, but it’s all part of the ritual, and does distract slightly from the fact that most Txakoli is unsettlingly and screechingly sharp.
A better way to get the point of Txakoli is to taste the real thing. An enormous amount of it is made in this part of northern Spain, where there are currently three separate Txakoli DOs, with more in the pipeline. The motherlode, though, is DO Getaria (Getariako Txakolina to you), closest to the ocean, where the ubiquitous white hondaribbi zuri grape, sometimes supported by the red hondarribi beltza naturally achieve a relatively modest and deliciously fragrant 11% ish alcohol by volume. Plantings further inland, which are blended with other varieties, tend to suffer creeping alcohol syndrome, so Lesson One, easily remembered, is ‘get it from Getaria!’
Even here plantings have increased more than fourfold in a quarter of a century, so Lesson Two is to choose your producer with care. Two solid names to memorise, both of which members may recognise are Txomín, and, more recently, Rezabal. We are delighted that the latter has just been selected by Jane MacQuitty of The Times as one of her Top 100 Wines for Summer.
Rezabal has a commanding view of the Atlantic, grey and choppy today, but dramatic nonetheless. The vines are trained on pergolas, as in Galicia to the west, to allow plenty of space for drying breezes to circulate in the wet, mildew-prone climate, where the roses that provide a vital early-warning system for rot are called chivatos (police informers). Ander Rezabal, a drummer in a previous life, and former vocalist Mireya Osinaga are among the ‘mad people’ reviving the fortunes of Txakoli. Wildly popular in the 18th century, he says, it was all but eradicated by the large-scale industrialisation of northern Spain and the departure of a generation of potential vignerons for more lucrative jobs in factories and quarries.
The classic Rezabal cuvée is 100% hondarribi zuri, fermented only using the yeast naturally occurring on the grapes, and lapping up flavour from its lees while in tank. Irresistibly perfumed, light, mildly effervescent and a world away from the battery acid poured in urban pintxo bars, it hits the spot with pinpoint accuracy. After a display of raised armery in the cellar, to confirm Ander’s Txakolista credentials, normal height was resumed in the tasting-room where the anticipated anchovies awaited, along with chunky portions of battered merluza (hake), served cold but packing more flavour than I’ve encountered in any fish and chippie. Another wondrous match was the heroic Basque cheese Idiazabal, on the time-honoured principle of matching acidities.
Rather than proposing something preserved or fermented for my regular Flavour of the Month column, I’m planning a Basque-inspired summer picnic of good salted anchovies and a decent Pyrenean sheep’s milk cheese which should be easy enough to round up, even outside the catchment of the UK’s specialist Spanish food importers. Finding the right bottle will be easy (see below).
So, those of you who are unable to get away to Getaria this summer – raise your hands!
Janet Wynne Evans
We currently list the 2013 vintage of Txakoli Rezabal at £9.95 a bottle.
Earlier this month I was privileged to attend a special Pol Roger event held in Epernay. The tasting showcased the new release ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (Pol’s prestige cuvée, launched in 1975), from the excellent 2002 vintage, which will be available to Society members in August.
Pol Roger’s top wines age superbly, and to illustrate the point in some style, our generous hosts opened a few old – some may even say ancient – bottles for our group to taste. Our hosts, Christian Pol-Roger and Hubert de Billy, had carefully chosen vintages from years that represented some truly era-defining moments in the history of Champagne (and the world):
1921 Pol Roger
The 1920s were tough times for the Champagne trade: the Russian revolution caused the closure of the lucrative Russian market and the declaration of prohibition in the US closed off this important market for the Champenois (though unofficial records show that 40 million bottles made it to the US during this time nonetheless!). The area under vine was just a third (10,000 hectares) of what it is today.
The exquisite 1921, disgorged in the 1950s and undisturbed since then, was a bright pale lemon gold. Nutty, fresh, with an exotic fruit quality, light mousse, wonderful texture, and just off dry.
1914 Pol Roger
In 1914 second generation Maurice Pol Roger was mayor of Epernay and acted admirably when, on the 4th September, the Germans invaded Epernay, which culminated in the Battle of the Marne and resulted in an Allied victory eight days later (just in time for harvest…).
Although the mousse had all but disappeared, the flavours and structure of the wine literally took my breath away. Salty, sherry-like flavours combined with honey and burnt sugar, flowing beautifully thanks to its fine line of acidity and unctuous, intense palate. Off dry.
1892 Pol Roger
The 1880s and 1890s were boom time for Champagne: it had made its mark and was embedding itself into popular culture. It was the vintages of the 1890s (as well as the 1904 and 1911) that Sir Winston Churchill started buying Pol Roger ‘in quantities’!
1892 was a remarkable vintage in Champagne: spring frosts reduced yield by 25%, concentrating flavours. Our bottle was still very well preserved. Distinctly sweet (consistent with the fashion for higher dosage n the 19th century), delicate and fine. In many ways it reminded me of a fine Loire dessert wine. Liquid gold.
Society Buyer for Champagne
Happy 4th of July everyone!
This week in the buying department we had a comprehensive sparkling wine range review.Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Saint-Laurent, Antech 2011 and Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, Antech) showing wonderful drinkability, with fresh citrus and peach flavours, while the sweet Ancestral really hit the spot mid tasting.
However one of the standout wines for class, complexity and balance was Louis Roederer’s Quartet from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, California.
The wine had a wonderful lemon and brioche nose very reminiscent of Champagne, but with a little more ripeness and generosity to it. The mousse was fine yet firm, and the flavours really developed on the palate, encouraging a second sip. The wine had great length for a sparkling wine, and we all agreed really stood out as a one of the stars of the line-up.
I will be taking a bottle of this home tonight to have with American friends at their 4th of July party, however I hope you might try it over the summer too and have a little toast to our cousins across the pond!