Grapevine Archive for 1999
Earlier this month 90 members and guests were treated to a wonderful meal at Smith’s of Smithfield, the great eatery just across the road from London’s meat market, owned by chef John Torode. It was a fitting Aussie-owned backdrop for a dinner that highlighted wines from two of Western Australia’s finest winemakers – Vanya Cullen from Cullen Wines in Margaret River and John Durham from Plantagenet Wines in Great Southern.
The weather was kind and as the evening wore on a aperitif-friendly south-facing blue-sky panorama from the terrace with St Paul’s Cathedral as the centre piece gently dimmed into a full-moonlit night.
Vanya was delighted with the full moon, as it became her visual aid when talking about the biodynamic way that her vines are grown and wines made. The Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Semillon (soon to come into stock) matched beautifully with the scallops expertly prepared by the SoS team, the Mangan Malbec Petit Verdot Merlot 2009 would knock spots off many a similarly-priced Claret and the Diana Madeleine 2002 (we have the 2008 currently available) was simply sublime.
John’s vibrant Riesling 2009 got proceedings off to a crisp start, and his Omrah Shiraz 2008 made an interesting gutsy comparison with the aforementioned Mangan Red with our aged fillet steak. The 1999 Shiraz again contrasted robustly with the finesse of the DM, both accompanying the excellent cheeses (Yarg, aged Montgomery and Caerphilly), and his cheeky sweet Ringbark Riesling 2009 matched wonderfully with the pear and lemon dessert.
The wines are very different in style, as are the winemakers, and we got the full picture from both on this moonlit night. The venue doesn’t give itself over to being a quiet and venerable eating place – sociability is definitely the watchword, and perhaps a full moon made members even more gregarious and loquacious than usual … or was it the wine? Either way, a good time was had, the food and service were of a very high standard and the beautiful wines spoke for themselves. We shall return there some time soon.
Head of Tastings & Events
Last night’s tasting with Alexandre Thienpont featured 10 vintages of Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol, where Alexandre has been making the wine since 1985, following on from his father and grandfather. Alexandre is softly spoken and a man of few words, but his passion shines out in what he does say, and his wines certainly speak for themselves.
The property is planted with 65% merlot, 30% cabernet franc and 5% cabernet sauvignon (which compares to the plantings in 1985 of 50% merlot, 25% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon and 5% malbec). The merlot provides the broad base, the cabernet franc the structure and the cabernet sauvignon adds ageability. Would that it were that simple – Alexandre has 23 distinct parcels of vines on the property, and it is the way in which these parcels are blended each year according to their character that gives the château its unique identity. While many châteaux have their own hallmark vintage after vintage, Vieux Certan’s hallmark is it’s variety – each year it can be very different, and that’s what gives it its charm, its intrigue and, ultimately, its collectability.
All wines were double decanted 2 hours before tasting. These wines are not available from The Society, having been sold en primeur. Approximate current UK market prices (per bottle) are, however, included at the bottom of each tasting note, purely for information.
Tasting notes belong to me and my palate – others will, I am sure, have different notes, but this is what I made of these splendid wines.
2007 – An early-drinking wine from a merlot year. Alexandre reckons it should be drunk now to 2016. Chewy ripe tannins, a good level of acidity supporting a loosely packed bundle of warm cherry and plum flavours. A finish of wood and spice and good length. (£60)
2006 – A big hit of fragrant red fruit on the nose, and a palate of concentrated plum enveloped by a very well defined structure. Alexandre says this is quintessential Vieux Château Certan. The same assemblage as the 2007, i.e. 80% merlot and 20% cabernet franc, but the franc is more dominant than the proportions suggest. NB – 2006 was a year when the rains came mid-harvest. Many picked during the rain to get it all in before it rotted; they therefore picked unripe fruit. Alexandre waited until the rain stopped and the sun came out once more. When he picked, he lost 20% (equivalent to 1,000 cases) of his crop to rot, but the ripe healthy grapes came through the sorting table and gave this wonderful wine that won’t be properly ready to drink until 2015, but will last for years beyond that. (£110)
2004 – in the ludicrously hot 2003 they only made 20% of their normal output, and so were raring to go with 2004. The nose is very fresh, and on the palate the dusty tannins and cassis fruit of the franc creates a beautiful structure from where we can just spot the warming dark merlot fruits peering out coyly. Chewy and earthy, yet refreshing, finish overlaid with red fruit make it very appealing. This was a dry year where the cabernet franc ripened to perfection, and the resulting wine will keep even longer than the 2006. (£80)
2002 – Another merlot year, and has far less complexity than the ’04 and ’06 – ‘mono-dimensional like the 2007′, as Alexandre puts it, but nonetheless round, attractive, charming, delicious and ready to drink right now. (£75)
2001 – Cabernet sauvignon found its way into this blend to lend some more structure to this merlot-favouring vintage. A beautiful broad red fruit palate, wonderfully open and expansive, pleads: “Drink me now!” (£100)
2000 – Transport me to my desert island this very minute!! All three varieties hit the spot, making a wonderfully complete and balanced wine. A savoury edge to a rich red fruit nose gives way to a rich, red fruit palate, concentrated to the full with a thick layer of silky smooth ripe tannin all dancing on a swirling sea of acidity – sorry to wax so lyrical, but this is a great wine that will be in its prime in a decade or so, and hang around for a good deal of time after. (£150)
1999 – A cool year with a mild summer. Merlot to the fore, with 85%, then 5% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. A chewy little number with rounded, sweet plums and raspberries. Ready to drink today, but with the support of tannin and acidity to carry it along very nicely for another 6 to 8 years. (£85)
1998 – Same blend as the ’99, but a warmer, drier year. Lovely all round structure with liquorice and darker fruits to the fore. It was really interesting to taste the ’99 and ’98 side by side – identical blend and yet the nature of the vintage is what makes them so different. (£120)
1996 – Lovely date, fig and plum on the nose lead into an abundance of richness and ripeness of the same fruits on the palate – truly, truly delicious. (£75)
1993 – very different to any of the preceding wines. The cabernet franc comes through really strongly – that dusty cassis reminded me of very good Loire reds, but then the ripe yet delicate Victoria plum comes sailing through on a lightning streak of acidity. A really refreshing drink. (£65)
We look forward to the wines of 2009 and 2010 – both are 85% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 10% cabernet sauvignon. For those who have long memories, Alexandre says that the 2009 will be like the 1948 which, until now is the best wine they believe they have ever made), while the 2010 will be more akin to 1945 or 1950. Looking at the longevity of the wines that we tasted with him, it will be quite a while before we can put those wines to that test.
After the tasting members’ positive and excited comments came thick and fast. In a world where so many competition-winning wines seem to be big in terms of texture, flavour and alcohol, these wines truly found favour with Society members. Esteemed wine writer Margaret Rand attended the tasting, and commented: “… the wines were so restrained and so complex. They ought to be force-fed to Napa growers, really!”
Alexandre himself was delighted with the way the wines showed themselves. A compliment to the team at Merchant Taylors’ Hall who looked after the wines, but actually without realising it he was complimenting himself. A wonderful estate with a wonderful winemaker at the helm. Of that we can be Certan.
Head of Tastings & Events
A wonderful array of Pol Roger, Bollinger and Louis Roederer Champagnes and Society members were on display at Merchant Taylors’ Hall on Monday 19th April, despite Eyjafjallajökul’s best attempts to scupper the event.
Logistically the day was challenging, to say the least. Some members were stranded in various places around the globe and so couldn’t attend. Our speakers were also affected. Stephen Leroux, Export Director of Bollinger was unable to take his flight or arrange a last minute train journey. Patrice Noyelle (pictured), Managing Director of Pol Roger took the train from Malaga all the way to Epernay on Sunday, arriving home at 3am on Monday, then struggling to find a seat on the Eurostar – he finally arrived at the tasting for the last 15 minutes! Fortunately Louis Roederer’s Mark Bingley MW is based in London, and together with Elizabeth Ferguson from Mentzendorff and James Simpson MW from Pol Roger UK, presented their Champagnes with expertise and aplomb. They were very ably assisted by The Society’s Champagne buyer Marcel Orford Williams.
Next came a trio of great interest – the tight, bone dry and ‘crying out for food’ Pol Roger Pure, the delightfully fruit-filled Bollinger Rosé and the beautifully integrated Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Demi-Sec.
The vintages were of great interest. Louis Roederer’s precocious 2003 was the youngest on show, along with Pol Roger 2000 and Bollinger Grande Année 2000, each showing off their house style to the full.
The pièces de résistance from each house gave a grand finale to this unique event: Louis Roederer Cristal 2002 is oh-so-young and with a fantastic long life ahead of it; Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1999 (not yet available from The Society – 1998 can be found here) is everything a cuvée de prestige should be – body, rich flavour, great acidity; Bollinger RD 1997, with its elegance and lift was a fitting way to end.
Were you at the tasting? What was your favourite on the night? What is your personal favourite Champagne? Let us know.
Maybe we’ll see you soon at another of the 100+ Tastings & Events that The Society organises every year.
… different! And ‘different’ is the word winemaker Gaston Hochar used to sum up the wines of Chateau Musar. The Society is proud to have been one of the UK’s very first importers of this wine, and last night, in celebration of four decades of cooperation Gaston, third-generation winemaker of this unique wine, presented 10 wines in his inimitable, softly-spoken and spellbinding manner to 150 members and guests, accompanied by The Society’s buyer for Lebanon Pierre Mansour.
The wines were, in order of tasting:
Reds: Hochar Père et Fils 2002, Chateau Musar 2002, Chateau Musar 2000, Chateau Musar 1999, Chateau Musar 1995, Chateau Musar 1993, Chateau Musar 1981, Chateau Musar 1969
Whites: Chateau Musar 2001, Chateau Musar 1989.
These wines are produced in as natural a way as possible, fermented using the yeasts on the grape skins in concrete vats, raised in oak and vat and bottle for 7 years before release on to the market.
They have what could be regarded as a cult following – not only are the wines different from any other, but each vintage is very different from another. A ‘show of hands’ vote at the tasting showed that every vintage had its fans. Last night the 1993 probably just edged it as the wine of the night, but next time, who knows. Like the wines, we can guarantee that the result will be ‘different’, but no less enjoyable!