Grapevine Archive for 2004

Mon 12 Mar 2012

Kumeu River: Ten Years Back

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Earlier this month I met up with Paul Brajkovich from Kumeu River and he treated me to some older vintages of his Estate Chardonnay. We tasted five wines going back ten years to 2002:

The 2009 Chardonnay, currently listed, is rich and plump with a lovely hint of smoky oak that adds to the structure, poise and complexity of this delicious wine. It will age with ease for five years plus.

The refreshing 2007 is subtle and elegant while the 2005 tantalises with its precision, hint of orange peel and creamy texture. The 2004 is extraordinary: perfumed and peachy with silky texture and beautiful balance, certainly the wine of the tasting. The ten-year-old 2002 is showing attractive mature flavours, discreetly nutty and buttery, still lively and bright.

What was most enlightening was the consistency across all wines: they all showed subtle differences (vintages matter in the rather challenging environment of north Auckland?s rather cloudy, irregular weather), testament to the quality focus of this distinguished chardonnay family.

Pierre Mansour
Buyer for New Zealand

Fri 25 Nov 2011

Two of the very best: an inspirational day

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Two of the world’s great winemakers came to The Wine Society this week. Chief wine buyer Sebastian Payne MW reports on one very special day.

Paul Draper, winemaker at Ridge

Paul Draper, CEO and winemaker at Ridge

Paul Draper came to Stevenage to talk to 60 eager members of Wine Society staff about Ridge, the remarkable Californian winery, high up on the San Andreas fault at Santa Cruz, whose reputation he has established over 40 years.

After Stanford he became a sort of undercover roving ambassador for Jack and Bobby Kennedy in South America. With his fluent Spanish he kept open lines with the USA by listening and talking to leaders of rival parties in several volatile countries. (It would be encouraging to feel the USA had a similar policy today in the Middle East.) At one stage, because of his beard, he was even mistaken for Che Guevara and nearly blown up. He then moved to Chile working for a foundation that was developing various agricultural projects including wine making.

The Ridge story began when he was invited by three brilliant Stanford friends who had bought the vineyard to help them by making the wine. He was convinced because he had seen the potential of old vintages of cabernet and chardonnay made in the 1930s pre-Prohibition.

Ridge’s international reputation was made when its Montebello vineyard wine outshone top Bordeaux wines in Steven Spurrier’s Judgment of Paris tasting in 1973. Paul’s philosophy is that wine is made in the vineyard and should express its origin above all, not to be created to a formula in the cellar. “If you haven’t tasted great wine, how can you make it?” Good bottles were his mentors. The enemy is ‘consensus’ wine-making.

Though his zinfandel-based wines are usually 14º, the level at which the grape becomes fully ripe, he abhors the high alcohol levels so commonly found in Californian wines and Montebello cabernets have similar levels to Bordeaux. The proof is in the wines which have been consistently the most complex and delicious to be made in the USA over the last 40 years.

Candour, integrity and passion
Jean-Philippe Delmas’ story is quite different. He was practically born in a vat of Haut-Brion, where his grandfather made the wine for the family till 1961, when his father Jean-Bernard took over. Jean-Philippe worked for ten years alongside his father until 2004, the first vintage for which he was solely responsible.

The quality of the 2004, set beside such great vintages as 2005, 2000, 1998 and 1990 was a revelation, making one realise that Château Haut-Brion, the most senior of Bordeaux’s first growths, is also possibly the greatest and most complex of all. Jean-Philippe modestly says that his grandfather and father had to contend not only with many cooler vintages but also much leaner resources. The fact that Haut-Brion made no money between 1935 and 1975 shows a long-term commitment from its owner, Clarence Dillon and his family, unusual in a banker! His challenge is that he has no excuse. All of us 240 members and guests privileged to be at Merchant Taylor’s Hall were, I believe, convinced by Jean-Philippe’s candour, integrity, passion and deep understanding of this great vineyard which was reflected in magnificent wine.

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Wed 01 Jun 2011

We’re certain it’s Certan

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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.

Ewan Murray
Head of Tastings & Events

Categories : Bordeaux, Wine Tastings
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Thu 01 Jul 2010

Ribera Del Duero, Coca-Cola & Rafael Nadal

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Rafael NadalThe picture quality may be poor, but here is No. 1 tennis player Rafael Nadal enjoying a glass of the excellent Bóhorquez, Ribera del Duero, at Cambio de Tercio Restaurant in London.

Drinking it alonside a bottle of coke bemused me somewhat, reminding me of a Japanese customer who regularly purchased Château Margaux 1982 (at London merchant Berry Bros when I worked there) because his wife loved adding coke to every glassful! At least Rafael has the decency to use a separate glass.

Categories : Miscellaneous, Spain
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Tue 29 Jun 2010

A Real Départemental Mix-Up

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In the Loire valleyUnquestionably a date in your diary must be Monday July 12th in London and the following evening in Manchester when we will be showing wines from the Loire and Beaujolais. A perfect summer treat that will include wines from the amazing 2009 vintage.

Central to the tasting will be wines from Domaine Sérol in the little-known yet outstanding Côte Roannaise. Why central? I hear you ask. It is simply because this Cinderella appellation actually produces excellent reds made from the gamay grape, in other words the same grape as in Beaujolais. Not only that, but the terroir is much the same with the same decomposed grey granite that one finds in Brouilly. Côte Roannaise is a small appellation with only about 20 growers. It is an isolated spot which allows growers to farm with minimal intervention and in some difficult vintages like 2004, Domaine Sérol’s wines are better than practically anything in Beaujolais.

So, where is the Côte Roannaise? Now that is an excellent question and the answer brings to light a perfect administrative conundrum that was created by the French Revolution.

The vines are set on granite slopes a few miles out from the centre of Roanne, a town once noted for textiles and armaments, especially tanks. The town’s existence is due to the Loire River as it is from here that this mighty river was historically navigable. The town’s importance was later confirmed by the coming of the railway, the station café eventually becoming one of the greatest restaurants in France. Today Troisgros is one of the better Michelin rated three star restaurants and which works extremely well. The Troisgros brothers have always been keen to promote local produce, including of course wine. A very special link was forged with the Sérol family and indeed Troisgros and Robert Sérol not only became very close friends but also business partners. They own one small vineyard together which they farm organically. Most of the wine is sold to the restaurant but we’ve secured a few cases which we will show in London and Manchester.

In wine terms, Côte Roannaise belongs to the Loire even though it has precious little in common with the rest of the Loire. Sancerre, the nearest major Loire appellation is nearly three hours drive away and Nantes with its ocean of Muscadet, over an hour away by plane. Beaujeu on the other hand, historic capital of Beaujolais is just under an hour away by car on the other side of the mountain.

Now for the Departemental bit
Roanne is in the Loire Département (number 42, for those of you who like me follow French number plates), 50 miles away from Saint Etienne, the county town and 50 miles away from Lyon, the regional capital. Indeed Roanne on the Loire is part of the region called Rhône-Alpes, which in wine terms includes most of Beaujolais and all of the Rhône up to Vinsobres. The absurdity of France’s administrative divisions is felt even more acutely in the Loire Département itself which reaches out to the Rhône and includes a part of both Saint-Joseph and Condrieu. This delightful quirk has not been lost on the Sérol family who are keen to play on their proximity to the Rhône and to Condrieu and have planted a vineyard of viognier. 2009 is the first vintage and we will show it next month at the Loire and Beaujolais tastings in London and Manchester. Do come and taste.

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Fri 18 Jun 2010

Italian Road Trip

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Sebastian Payne and I spent a busy couple of days last week in Tuscany – we have an upcoming Italian offer and we had one day in Chianti Classico and one in Montalcino which both use predominately the sangiovese grape to make their wines.

Before enjoying the rustic charm of Tuscany though, we had to get there, managing to get through our Ryanair flight without buying their duty free, scratchcards, telephone cards and even the smokeless cigarettes they were announcing every few minutes on the admittedly smooth flight over.

We based ourselves at Felsina in Castelnuovo Berardegna in the South of the Chianti Classico region where they gave us a great welcome. It’s a mixed used estate with 70 hectares of olive trees and about the same of vines, primarily sangiovese. The rest of the estate is given over to a few cereals and forest. Our first tasting of the day was actually 4 single-varietal olive oils (see photo below) – Giuseppe is re-introducing single varietal oils, with the trees harvested at different times per variety just like grapes.

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

Felsina Single-Varietal Olive Oils

The estate was put together from 11 small-holdings, or subsistence farmers, and Felsina respect this heritage by making a wine from the original 11 vineyard parcels, one per small-holding. They started working with 100% sangiovese in 1983 before it was actually allowed within the Chianti Classico appellation.

After tasting the wines and olive oils at Felsina we visited Fontodi in the Concha d’Oro (golden shell) at Panzano. Our host, Giovanni Manetti, had to leave us to our own devices for a while he dealt with a surprise visit from the organic regulation inspectors – “funny how they come as soon as it is sunny” he says, reflecting on the recent rainy spell! Giovanni had no problem with the inspectors as he’s been running organic for some years and has persuaded most of his neighbouring growers to do the same. Fontodi are in the middle of major works as they build a new barrel store, and we did discuss with them whether there was a market in the UK for their old barrels as flowerpots for our members.

One food tip from rural Tuscany – beware the Bistecca a la Florentina in the Trattoria del Berardegna in the village unless you are really carnivorous. Over an inch thick, only lightly seared and brought by the kilo! Giovanni’s Chianti Classico was a perfect match though.

The next morning I took this picture near Felsina – it could be part of a bigger estate but it looked to me like a smallholding with a few vines and olive trees. One bottle of wine per vine would give a year’s supply for the guy living in the building at the bottom I think – a simple life but a good one?

Felsina Smallholding

Felsina Smallholding

Then on to Montalcino to visit prospective new producers, finishing the day at Laura Brunelli’s (she supplies our ‘Gianni Brunelli Brunello de Montalcino‘). The wines, including the Riserva 2004 and the younger Vino Rosso, were great, and the view from her terrace was to die for. She invited us to stay longer with typical Tuscan warmth but my family – and the World Cup – proved stronger…..but before that ….Ryanair and the smokeless cigarettes!

Categories : Italy
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Fri 07 May 2010

150 years of Tahbilk – a family affair

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Established in 1860,  Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes (Goulburn Valley) region of central Victoria (120kms north of Melbourne). This year the Purbrick family, owners since 1927, celebrate 150 years of the winery’s existence, as well as 50 years of supplying The Society.

This premium, cooler-climate vineyard comprises 200 hectares of vines majoring on Rhône varieties such as marsanne, viognier and shiraz. Their marsanne plantings are the largest single holding of this variety in the world, and their marsanne and shiraz are amongst the oldest plantings anywhere.

4th generation winemaker Alister Purbrick visited The Society this week to talk to and taste with Society staff.  The fragrant, stainless steel fermented Tahbilk Viognier 2009 was a refreshing, dried apricot flavoured revelation; the comparison of the 2008 and 2002 Tahbilk Marsanne was fascinating – buying a case of the 2008 now, putting it into Members’ Reserves for 10 years and then enjoying it would be a very worthwhile thing to do. The smooth, spicy and brambly Tahbilk Shiraz 2004 caressed the palate and the mint-and-cassis driven Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 was a real delight. For details of Tahbilk wines offered by The Society, click here.

Alister (on the right) and his daughter Hayley, pictured here with the Chairman (Alister’s father John) are at RIBA, London, on Monday 10th May with 11 of their compatriots as The Society presents Australia’s First Families of Wine to 300 members.

As regionality becomes more in vogue with drinkers of Australian wines, what is your preferred Aussie wine growing area?

Categories : Australia, Miscellaneous
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