Grapevine Archive for 2006

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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Just back from an early harvest visit to the Pays Nantais where I was struck by the many contradictions in this rather sleepy vinous corner of France. 2007 and 2008 were both short harvests, with damaging frost the culprit, which meant growers put prices up last year despite the economic climate and the negative impact on pricing of the euro/sterling exchange rate. The market for Muscadet fell through the floor and nowhere more so than in the UK, where we are spoiled for choice and, despite the rebuilding of the last few years, Muscadet is not the must have wine it once was. It was only producers of high quality wines with a loyal following who were able to maintain their customer base or find new customers to fill the gap. Many others were forced to sell up or, worse still, give up vines they had probably farmed for generations. More will go this year.

Muscadet LadybirdAnd yet there is much to be positive about, with a fine 2009 vintage in the cellar and a promising 2010 harvest in train, with temperatures cool enough to maintain freshness and enough sunshine to further ripen those grapes that still need to.

I was moved by the positive attitude of one young grower who was already showing the signs of fatigue resulting from working 5am to 10pm days, brought on because the fruit on his recently expanded handful of properties was all ripening at once. Then by another who recounted how many more small growers he believes will throw in the towel this year but only after delivering their well-tended crop, such is the pride of the vigneron. 2010 will not be remembered as an easy year, which 2009 was by comparison, but the early season was favourable enough to allow growers to use fewer vineyard treatments – and happily so, as many would not have been able to afford a more challenging growing season this year.

The complexion of this region has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, tragically so for some, but, for the most part for the good. There has been considerable consolidation among the bigger, corporate producers, but in recent years a resurgence of small, quality-oriented négociants too, with both love and respect for this lately unfashionable region. Maison Bougrier is one such, recently investing in the area by taking over a former co-operative cellar otherwise doomed for closure. Successful family producers have grown their vineyard holdings for the economies of scale and the more stable life this brings, not least to maximise the value of each of their machine harvesters, which I am told are now responsible for picking 95% of the region’s grapes. Vineyard quality has been under major review and much will be declassified, though admittedly with a generous final deadline of 2025. Plans for the new Cru appellation are well under way, and this should simply need the rubber stamp of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) by the time the proposal reaches them. I even ate in an excellent new restaurant, Auberge La Gaillotière in the heart of the vineyards in the commune of Château-Thébaud.

Perhaps most importantly the quality of the wines has never been better. When I was studying for my MW exam in the 1980s Muscadet was easier to spot for its dull, bitter, mean character than for any regional or varietal typicity. Last week I smelled and tasted deliciously sweet juice from this year’s harvest and enjoyed a mouthwatering range of Muscadets, mostly the excellent 2009s, but also a number of older wines including a remarkable 1996 magnum of Chéreau-Carré’s 100-year-old vine cuvée from the Château de Chasseloir (one of the remaining few to be picked by hand, incidentally, as is their Château de L’Oiselinière).

Muscadet should be mouthwatering. When it’s good it makes for one of the most appetising glasses you can find. The good news is that the 2009s are very, very good; fresh and racy enough to satisfy committed enthusiasts, and ripe enough to please the new recruits that Muscadet deserves and needs.

Categories : France
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Tue 03 Aug 2010

Chilean Old Vine Excellence

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De Martino have searched the length and breadth of Chile looking for old vineyards. Wine produced from grapes of old vines has a wonderful “old vine” texture, an unforced, natural, concentration while retaining a silky palate. Those who try to compensate for young vines in the vineyard by over-extracting in the cellar never achieve the same results.

The Maule region was the first to planted because it has sufficient rainfall to support vines without irrigation. Recently, wineries have discovered superb vineyards planted in the 1950’s with dry-farmed carignan. The El León 2006 wine is a lovely example of the fresh, fine-flavoured, wine that can be produced from these old vines.

Chilean carignan is a little fleshier and fuller than the firmer and leaner style usually found in France. It has lovely grip and structure, and is ideal for a hunk of protein – especially the fattier cuts such as belly pork or shoulder of lamb.

Words can only tell you so much, so De Martino have produced a one minute video “vignette” showing the El León vineyard in Maule:

Categories : Chile
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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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Scotland on Sunday
Brian Elliott says:

Well-made Bordeaux offers a velvet texture and an extended range of flavours that include cinnamon, mint, cigars, brambles, cherry, chocolate and blackcurrant – often in combination. Its complexity and intensity has few rivals. But experiencing this need not cost a king’s ransom (ironically, a term believed to originate from the time France’s King John was held prisoner in Bordeaux).

All those thoughts came to mind at last month’s Wine Society Bordeaux event. The event was attended by a host of A-list Bordeaux producers who are defying a lack of confidence among growers in some parts of the world. Beneath the Gallic charm, there was a strong sense that here were leaders, not followers, and the bottles ranged from the superb – but eye-wateringly expensive – Château Palmer to the wine from Château Beaumont. The perfume, balance and ripeness of the prestigious CM11461 Château Beychevelle 2006 illustrate how good claret can taste. But reflecting this château’s worldwide popularity (and confirming concerns about cost), it does carry a £33 price tag.

CM12891 The Society’s Exhibition Haut-Medoc 2006, Château Beaumont, Haut Medoc. Very approachable claret with supple and well-balanced fruity finesse. £11.95, at The Wine Society.

The Guardian
Victoria Moore writes:

Membership of The Wine Society may cost £40, but for the wines it has on offer that’s something of a bargain.

“Can’t speak,” I texted my brother. “I’m about to be picked up by ­someone from The Wine Society.”

“That’s an alcoholic line if ever I heard one,” he texted back.

Fair point. The WS’s 90,000 active members don’t just like to drink, though. They like to drink well, as a rummage through the warehouse at its Stevenage HQ demonstrates. There are several un-surprises: a slew of The Society’s own labels, including its CE3291 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, made by Viña Leyda, and AR1301 Argentine Malbec, made by Susana Balbo – nothing but the best for the WS. There are loads of boxes of Alfred Gratien champagne (reassuring that some are still able to count this as an essential); crates of d’Arry’s Original shiraz-grenache, which sells at £10 a bottle and “flies out”, says the WS’s Ewan Murray. But what’s this? SH421 The Society’s ­Exhibition Viejo Oloroso Dulce (£10.95; 20% abv)? Surely he’s not telling me an aged sweet sherry is fast-moving? “It was at Christmas,” he says, blinking with satisfaction.

Here are the Wine Society basics. It was founded in 1874 to introduce “its members to the best of the world’s vineyards at a fair price”. Being owned by the members, it still aims to sell the best it can for the lowest price, rather than to buy whatever it can at the lowest price to sell for as much as it can get. Anyone can join. Lifetime membership costs £40 and your share can be ­bequeathed to a friend or relative on your death.

So what’s good? Quite a lot, as it happens, starting with the rich, ­raisiny, aforementioned oloroso, which was superb with a slice of ­Lincolnshire Poacher. AU12411 Plantagenet Riesling 2008 (£10.95; 11.5% abv), from Australia, is so rousing it ought to be prescribed as medicine for ­anyone who struggles to get up in the morning. Dry, succulent, striated with the taste of lime cordial and mandarin, and, with its ferocious acidity, beautifully mouthwatering, more realistically this makes a fine pre-dinner drink. The new vintage of CE5291 De Martino Legado Limari Valley Chardonnay 2008 (£7.50; 14% abv) is looking every bit as elegant as the last – you can almost see the crayfish swimming towards it, ready to go on a plate with some mayo. SP3501 The ­Society’s ­Rioja Crianza 2006 (£7.50; 13% abv), made by Bodegas Palacio, is a ­triumph of savour, fruit brightness and structure: with gentle ageing in American oak, it’s an easy drink for paella or pork chops. And last, IT12981 Poderi Colla Barbera d’Alba 2007 (£8.50; 14% abv) is very stylish and adult for the price, as smart as an Armani suit, with a light fragrance of petals and a twist of sour cherries.