Grapevine Archive for August, 2016
This busman’s holiday (on a bike…) all started on a tactically late lunch break last year to catch the end of the Tour De France climb up Alpe d’Huez.
French rider Thibaut Pinot had taken the stage win, and the crowds, which had swollen to just allow the bikes to pass, were full of a party atmosphere.
I looked at my colleague and fellow cyclist Freddy Bulmer, and said, ‘we’ve got to go.’ And that was that.
This year, the big climb was Mont Ventoux, so with the thought of a pretty long drive through some of the most famous wine-producing areas of the world, it was somewhat impossible for a couple of oenophiles not to stop off on the way down.
The break in the journey up came in Epernay, Champagne, and who better to visit than one of our oldest suppliers, Alfred Gratien?
After a quick cycle through the vineyards and a walk down the Avenue de Champagne, we had the opportunity to sample the forthcoming 2004 Vintage Brut with Gratien’s head winemaker Nicolas Jaeger. It really is something special!
Society members are regular visitors to the Gratien cellars, and Nicolas is extremely proud of the winery. He was especially keen to show us the innovative stacking system for the barrels: The Society’s Champagne is fermented in old Burgundian barrels to give the wine depth, and these can now be easily moved, drained and racked via a roller system, instead of backbreaking lifting.
Next up was Champagne Boizel, where we met with Florent Roques-Boizel. The cellars are cut out of the limestone, and there is plenty of evidence of riddling the bottles by hand still going on to this day. The soil above is very porous, and after a downpour of rain the puddles can get quite deep!
It was an absolute pleasure to taste back through some of the range currently in bottle. The Boizel non-vintage is a personal favourite of mine – a hidden gem in our List – and the back vintages are developing beautifully. The real treat was looking into the vintage room, where bottles date back to 1893, but unlike some other houses these bottles were stacked up against the walls, as if ready for drinking, as opposed to being hidden away as museum pieces.
Driving through the Rhône, and back up through Burgundy on the way home, is quite an experience in itself, with the steep valleys home to some of the world’s finest examples of syrah down through Rhône. Although we did not have time to stop off, the signs for Jaboulet and Chapoutier stood out from the hillside, enticing a future trip and earning a cross on the map for reference as we drove past.
Arriving in Bedoin, at the foot of Ventoux, the sun was out, the spectators had plenty of local wine inside of them, and two days of cycling had arrived. Along with a few thousand others, Freddy and I ground our way up the mountain on the first day. Even more were camped up in the prime spots for the following day, to watch the professionals pass through, and were in high spirits cheering each amateur as they passed by, pushing themselves to the limit.
We both made it, completely wind-battered and with jelly legs, but proud of the achievement. Nothing could have prepared us for it, but watching the tour riders shoot up a lightning speed the following day left us with a new found respect, both for them and the crowds which had amassed up the entire climb.
A trip to Burgundy’s Château de Beauregard was the icing on the cake. Welcomed by Bertrand, the export manager, as Frédéric Burrier was on his yearly trip walking through the Alps with friends, we were blown away by the location. A beautiful refreshing breeze cooled the sun-drenched vineyard positioned in the middle of Pouilly and Fuissé, and just out of eye shot of the Beaujolais vineyards.
A tour of the cellars, and tasting of the 2015 vintage (available en primeur now) and others confirmed that not only are Beauregard’s wines beautiful in bottle, this quality is also showing through into the future, both in barrel and in the pristine vineyards. The Saint-Véran La Roche 2015 is beautifully ripe and rich, but also balanced with grip and freshness. A real treat to look out for is the Grand Beauregard, which is an assemblage of the best barrels, parcels and crus, blended when Frédéric has tasted every one of them. Possibly the best wine I’ve ever tasted from the region.
All in all, it was a trip I’m sure neither of us will forget in a hurry, and we’d like to extend our thanks to all the producers who welcomed us, and were so generous with their time. There’s no better experience than visiting a producer or the sport you love, and to see the dedication to their passion.
All I can say is Allez Allez, Va Va Froome, and we’ll be back next year!
While one part of my job is to get out and about among the great and the good of the wine trade and press (and do a little bit of tasting on the way!), another is monitoring the press and social media for what is being said about The Society and our wines.
‘The Society in the Press’ section of our website is updated at least weekly, and is a great place to go to discover the word on the street about what’s currently hot in our range.
Putting together a summertime Top Ten of wines mentioned in the press is hard, because we have so many mentions as a result of our quarterly press tastings and periodical samplings to the journalists, so perhaps I’ve erred on the side of some of my personal favourites. You could therefore view this as ten Staff Choices in a row for summer, backed up by some of the very best palates in the land.
The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine 2013: “Sourced from Ridgeview, one of England’s best-known and most reliable producers of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, this fine vintage blend of mainly chardonnay with dollops of pinot noir and pinot meunier shows fresh aromatic complexity and the vivacious apple and hedgerow fruit mousse whose tangy, crisp and refreshing dry bite is one of the hallmarks of good English fizz.” The Wine Gang, 2nd August 2016
Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015: “‘Must-try’ white – made by LGI, a company set up by Alain Grignon in 1999 to source wines made by co-ops between Roussillon and Gascogne. Its goal is to deliver inexpensive wines for export and this must be the best-value wine in the UK. The sauvignon blanc is sourced from Gascony, the viognier from Languedoc. Refreshing gooseberry, citrus and apricot fruit with great texture. The perfect summer party wine.” Christelle Guibert, Decanter, September 2016
Altano, Douro Branco 2015: “I can’t imagine there are too many other wines at this price that can boast the same quality. This is the only white made by the Symington Family Estate … High altitude helps reveal the freshness in the grapes here and that’s very evident in this wine. Lemon zesty and aromatic, there is also plenty of ripeness in the palate with a slight hint of an almond nuttiness.” Andy Cronshaw, Manchester Evening News, 13th August 2016
Matetic Corralillo San Antonio Gewürztraminer 2015: “Alsatian gewurz tends to be quite rich and oily, but in coastal Chile it’s lighter, fresher and dry. With ginger, pear and peach, zippy acidity and oodles of perfume, it’s a winner with spicy food.” Tim Atkin MW, Jamie Magazine, 1st August 2016
Jurançon Sec ‘Chant des Vignes’, Domaine Cauhapé 2014: Jurançon is known predominantly for its sweet whites, but the local grapes (gros and petit manseng) can also produce dry whites with a citrusy edginess … Fresh and aromatic, as soon as you’ve poured a glass the fruit races off the starting line and its zingy with citrus, grapefruit, spice and a hint of white pepper on the finish. Sam Wylie-Harris, The Press Association, 23rd July 2016
Hatzidakis Santorini 2015: A lemon nestling in a bed of oregano! Dazzlingly the perfect pairing for a Greek salad. Olly Smith, Event Magazine (Mail on Sunday), 24th July 2016
Scala Dei Pla des Àngels Garnacha Rosado 2015: This incredible wine … comes from a legendary Spanish estate famed for making massive reds. The delicate, haunting, rose petal perfume of this rosé is remarkable and this sensual aroma is backed up with a firm, long, masterful palate. It’s worth every penny! Matthew Jukes, matthewjukes.com & Daily Mail, 13th August 2016
Cirò Rosso Gaglioppo, Santa Venere 2014: You don’t often come across wines whose price seems genuinely incredibly low but this is one of them … Another stonkingly good value offering from this small denomination on the sole of Italy … distinctive rose-scented nose as well as massively friendly, fruity palate … Masses of character and charm. Very good value. Jancis Robinson MW, jancisrobinson.com, 12th August 2016
The Society’s Exhibition Mendoza Malbec 2014: Penetrating, cool black fruit, black pepper and bitter chocolate, with softening tannins. Concentrated, sensitively oaked and even better in a couple of years. Joanna Simon, joannasimon.com, 27th July 2016
Fitou, Domaine Jones 2013: Katie Jones has had to deal with quite a bit in her wine-making career, but this doesn’t stop her making an impeccable drop … A classic blend of carignan, grenache and syrah, resulting in an inky dark colour in the glass. The spicy bouquet of the darkest fruits has touches of blackberries and tarter blackcurrants. In the mouth the fruit is held in line with the structured tannins and a smidge of spicy wood tones. The warming black pepper heat continues through to the long earthy finish. An opulent style of Fitou from Katie’s vineyard in the village of Tuchan. Neil Cammies, Western Mail, 6th August 2016
Cheers! Here’s to the rest of summer and – who knows – perhaps an Indian one too.
…Relative newcomer, anyway, the first bottlings from this model ‘Stellenbosch’ (Somerset West) estate being sold from 2005. The elegant surroundings (already busy with Saturday morning visitors enjoying wine tasting and coffee around a roaring fire) made a delightful setting for a tasting of wines from across their range.
• Current and new vintages of Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé (the 2015 is available for £8.95 in my South African Buyer’s Shortlist offer), a wine that is ideally suited to these southerly-facing, windswept vineyards with stunning views out over False Bay (somewhat lost in fog on our visit!).
Our host was talented young winemaker Nadia Barnard (pictured below with my colleague Steve Farrow) who has responsibility for the impressive cellar and works closely with the vineyard team.
We missed visiting the homemade compost and (frankly foul-smelling when I was treated to it on my last visit) biodynamic preparations which are par for the course in this environmentally respectful & friendly ‘biosphere’ of the Cape Winelands!
Nadia may have a very big job for one so young but she has a super-well-equipped, high-tech cellar with plenty of fashionable tools of the trade.
Her pride and joy is this new gentle giant of a press. Several tanks had to be removed to get it in, and Nadia confessed it took some getting used to (high tech does not mean physical hard graft is avoided altogether!) but the results are speaking for themselves.
Look out for Waterkloof, and Boutinot’s other wines here and in the Cape. If you do go, treat yourself to a meal at the restaurant (last experienced last year, and not only good, fresh & imaginative food but good wine matching advice too) and try the fruits of their latest venture: an on-site cheesery!
Jo Locke MW
One of the real gems of Umbria is Barbarani’s delicious sweet white wine, Calcaia. It is a hard wine to sell, as it falls into its own category in a way, however whenever it is shown at a tasting, it gets a very warm welcome indeed.
Calcaia Orvieto is made with thanks to botrytis cineria aka noble rot, which is brought on by the vineyards’ proximity to Lake Corbara. The fog which develops through the night envelops the vines until the cool morning winds clears it away so the vines can enjoy the sun. This process brings on noble rot, which dries out the grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars and the flavour.
As sweet wine goes and in comparison to Sauternes, the Calcaia is a beautifully light and elegant style. Alcohol tends to come in around 10-10.5% and the wine is beautifully crisp, fresh, pure and bright – no wonder it is so often a hit with our members when it is tasted.
In order to really get the best idea of how this wine will age, we recently opened a few back-vintages, which Italy buyer Sebastian Payne MW had very handily tucked away over the past few years.
Sebastian explained how this wine is painstakingly produced, with individual berries being picked, over sometimes five or six harvests in order to account for the different grapes achieving the same level of noble rot at different times. The varieties used are grechetto and trebbiano procanico, two grapes widely planted in Umbria, although grechetto actually has Greek origins and it tends to be these two grapes which feature in most vintages of this wine, albeit with a few tweaks from one year’s blend to the next.
The first vintage of this wine was made in 1986 and although we didn’t have the opportunity to taste that far back on this occasion, we did have a bottle of 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages, along with the 2013 and the soon-to-be-released 2014.
2014: Bright, pure beeswax on the nose with a mouthwatering touch of honey and apricot. Light on the palate, very fresh and clean with perfectly poised acidity. Youthful and fine.
2013: Slightly deeper fruit aromas on the nose with a little more botrytis evident. Fresh acidity remains and a nice weight on the palate. Complex, layered and delicious.
2007: Golden in colour. Unctuous palate with more of the beeswax notes and barley sugar. Some of the acidity has now rounded out but is still very well balanced with stunningly vivid caramelised orange-peel notes and a slight hint of burning incense.
2006: A more herbal nose, again with quite a pronounced botrytised character. The acidity is still there but this wine is much more full and viscous. Showing signs of age but wearing it well.
2005: Orange peel and candied fruit but with an intriguing savoury note which adds to the complexity. Lost a touch of the freshness but the charm is still there.
I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it tastes in a few years… if I can manage to keep my hands off it before then…
Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.
As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.
One of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.
From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.
If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.
Tastings & Events Team
£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Raise a glass to the memory of Denis Dubourdieu, who died on 26th July.
Many members of The Wine Society will know him as the owner of Château Reynon in Premières Côtes, Clos Floridene in Graves, Château Cantegril (the excellent source over several vintages of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes), and, with his father, of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac.
The Society has been regularly following his wines for over 30 years, because they have been consistently excellent examples of red, dry and sweet white Bordeaux at prices most can afford.
He first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, but a tasting we organised in London recently of ten vintages of Château Reynon Rouge for Jancis Robinson showed the keeping quality and class of his red wines too, with his 2005 and 2010 more delicious than many classed growths.
Not so many may have known of Denis’ immense importance in raising the standards of Bordeaux wines in general and that his influence extended far beyond his home patch. He was a highly valued consultant at châteaux as varied as Haut-Bailly, Batailley, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Giscours, Cheval Blanc and Yquem, and many others in Bordeaux.
He consulted also in Burgundy, the Rhône, the Loire, Languedoc, Italy, Spain, Greece and in Asia.
He believed passionately that a wine should express the terroir it came from, quoting Émile Peynaud: ‘A cru wine is a taste one can recognise.’ He said that a terroir is not only the soil, climate and grape varieties of a place, but the capacity of all these to give a wine a delectable and specific taste recognisable by the customer who cannot find the exact equivalent elsewhere.
Denis, the son of Jean-Pierre Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, was born into wine and married Florence, the daughter of a vigneron owner of Reynon, which they made their home. Together they created, almost from scratch, Clos Floridene, a property whose vines planted on limestone have produced wines that often outperform and outlive many Pessac-Léognan crus classés.
As Professor, since 1988, at the Oenology faculty of Bordeaux University and, since 2009, director general of the Science of Vines and Wine at the university, he gave countless young vignerons and winemakers the benefits of his scientific knowledge and practical experience.
For me, as wine buyer, visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure, because I could not only assess his own wines, but learn from his honest, informed view of the recent vintage all over Bordeaux; both its strengths and its weaknesses.
Denis proved that, if you worked hard in the vineyard, it was always possible to make good wine. He brought an extraordinary attention to detail, needed to make good Sauternes, to the making of red and dry white too, often making several consecutive pickings to catch grapes at their optimum.
Florence, his wife, and his trained oenologist sons Fabrice and Jean-Jacques will continue, I am sure, to make excellent wine at the properties they own, but this remarkable, modest man will be very much missed, while his legacy lives on.
Sebastian Payne MW