Grapevine Archive for 2007
Little did I know how spoiled we would be when I jumped at the chance to attend a tasting of Graves wines in London just before Christmas tutored by The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin.
Neal chose two fine vintages as the focus for this tasting: 2007 whites and 1998 reds, cleverly bringing in themes as varied as vintage variability across Bordeaux’s different communes (1998 was excellent in the Graves, not as good in reputation-determining Médoc) and wine styles (2007 much less good for reds than for dry & sweet whites), the cellaring potential of Bordeaux’s great dry whites, premature oxidation, consultants Dubourdieu vs. Rolland, and many more.
If you are a real enthusiast, attend a Neal Martin tasting some time if you can.
The Graves is an historic region though its properties were classified a century after the Médoc. Perhaps the unromantic name of the appellation, ‘Graves’, has not helped in English-speaking markets, and the more premium Pessac-Léognan, introduced later, is something of a tongue-twister.
Yet quality has come on in leaps and bounds even at more modest levels and it does include some of Bordeaux’s greatest estates, not least Château Haut-Brion whose still vigorous 1998 served as the climax of a fine tasting. Eric Perrin, joint owner of Château Carbonnieux and head of the appellation for the last three years commented on Haut-Brion ‘can we talk about perfection?’.
Other highlights for me were Château Bouscaut Blanc 2007 (a rich yet fresh classic), Domaine de Chevalier rouge 1998 (proving it is not just the superlative whites from this vineyard which rank among the very best of Bordeaux), and my personal favourite on the day Château Haut-Bailly 1998: a very lovely wine, complex & very fine, more cerebral than generous, yet beautifully textured and still with life ahead.
Jo Locke MW
How many wines cost £10 or less but can age for 10+ years?
A few well-known styles spring to mind (German riesling, some but by no means all Beaujolais..), but a ubiquitously happy hunting ground is seldom assured.
Indeed, for some wine lovers, part of the fun in drinking mature wine comes in the form of the happy accident: unearthing a forgotten-about bottle and finding it to be unexpectedly symphonic, as opposed to Sarson’s. Society buyer Jo Locke MW has written in this blog about her experiences of this on more than one occasion.
Then there is Tahbilk Marsanne, that weird yet distinctly wonderful Australian white with which many Society members will be au fait, whose remarkable track record means that it requires no such wine-rack roulette.
Unlike many ageworthy wines that enter ‘dumb’ stages of unremarkable dormancy, I have yet to encounter a vintage of Tahbilk Marsanne that hasn’t been a joy to taste at any time of its life; but the chameleonic brilliance of an aged bottle is undoubtedly something special.
Last week, spurred by an unexpected sighting of sunshine over the south-east of England, a rummage in search for a nice white yielded a dusty bottle of the 2007 vintage. Its contents were anything but dusty, shimmering with lime and life with some subtle, nutty complexity and a gorgeous richness underpinning the fresh-fruit flavours.
A good time was had by all and I was reminded of Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW rightly describing Tahbilk Marsanne as ‘one of wine’s great gifts to the world’.
Although crisp, accessible and delicious, it is nonetheless a difficult wine to describe. For one, because it challenges many preconceptions surrounding the term ‘new world’. The marsanne vines here date back to 1927, making them older than any known in the grape’s traditional home, the Rhône Valley.
Its ‘old world’ attributes turned British heads as far back as 1953: served at a luncheon for the Commonwealth Heads of State in the House of Commons, it was described as ‘drier than Empire whites usually are….and could stand up to many Continental wines for flavour and genuineness.’ An antiquated but accurate summary, and however radically Australian wine has changed in the intervening years, today’s Tahbilk Marsannes are not dramatically different from the style that was served back then.
Whilst ‘new world’ is of course a useful term up to a point when discussing Australian wine, estates like Tahbilk, with a history stretching back to the 1860s, warn us that we take the phrase on board too literally, and with its accompanying baggage, at our peril. If only all warnings could be as pleasurable.
But what if you can’t be bothered to keep a bottle of wine for 5-10 years, or, like an elderly gentleman at a recent tasting claimed, ‘don’t even buy green bananas let alone wine to lay down’?
Help is at hand. Unsurprisingly, another fan of the wine is The Society’s buyer for Australia, Pierre Mansour, who has been keeping some back stock in our cellars. The current Australia regional selection, which closes on Sunday, includes a six-bottle mini-vertical case of Tahbilk Marsanne for £59, featuring two bottles each of the 2007, 2006 and 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.
Buyer for New Zealand
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
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.
And 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.
I was coming back from Bordeaux last Friday and was in the rather small departure lounge given over to easyJet and other ‘charter’ airlines. I couldn’t help noticing a group of around 20 guys wearing berets of different sizes. My first thought – an English stag party on their way home, as do French people really wear berets? Then on the ‘plane, I found myself next to one of the beret-wearers and asked what the story was. He said that they were indeed French, though maybe making more of an effort to appear so as they come over to England. They were a village rugby team from Sadirac which is between Bordeaux and St-Emilion and they were coming over for a match – and a bit of beer and wine drinking. I was surprised when my new friend Regis said they were playing in Wetherby as I live in Harrogate only 9 miles away. He was also surprised when I said I’d been staying at Chateau Pey La Tour for the last couple of days (we stock their Reserve) as he owns a 50 hectare vineyard right next door, and is looking for potential partners in the UK – that’s one for Joanna Locke, though there are around 9000 producers in Bordeaux and we can’t select them all.
Anyway, I went along and watched the rugby match on Saturday afternoon which the local boys won in a tough contest and I learnt a few new French words which are not in all the dictionaries. The only shadow on the afternoon was that much of the wine which the French party had sent on in advance had been damaged en-route so I think they were onto the local brew – Black Sheep bitter.
So if you see a new supplier (Chateau Lalande Labatut) on our list in the future, it’ll all be down to a beret and a rugby game.
… or should that be ‘giorni di insalata‘?
Having just returned from a delightfully lazy few days in the Wye Valley, eating outside for most of the time, I simply must share my four top Italian tipples for the current season.
Fizz: Prosecco Treviso Frizzante from La Riva dei Frati. Don’t let the name change, or the screw cap distract you. Recent DOC machinations have meant a different nomenclature, but this is the same Prosecco we have always listed – fresh, dry, bubbly, a superb palate cleanser or party starter straight from the fridge with enough flavour to go with any light nibbles you may wish to crunch while basking in the sunshine.
White: Orvieto Classico Secco 2009 from the Barberani boys Nicolo and Bernardo. Based on the local grechetto grape, this Umbrian wine oozes class. It is unpretentious, with a whiff of citrus and fresh hay, while on the palate it is weighty enough to match roast chicken. Its lightness of touch means that, as long as there is not too much vinegar in the salad dressing (a wine killer if ever there was one), it is the perfect white for a summer meal.
Pink: Cerasuolo Vigna Corvino Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2009 from our old friend Rocco Pasetti at Contesa. Tomatoes are usually the curse of any wine, as they are so difficult to match. Hey presto! This is the solution.
Red: Barbera d’Alba Poderi Colla, 2007. Tino and Federica Colla make this beautifully fragrant, wonderfully fruity, superbly complex wine which is just the ticket for any meat your care to lob on to the barbie!
Of course, you may beg to differ. What are your summer favourites?
Andrew Neather looks at Lebanese wines and says that:
In a Rhône style, the syrah based LE381 Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2007 is highly enjoyable, full of sweet, baked fruit underpinned with firm tannins.
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.
We’ve just shipped Vanya Cullen’s 2007 cabernet sauvignon (to sell in 2010). We were so impressed with the quality of this Margaret River vintage, I asked her to write a sentence with her impressions. She is a winemaker not a marketer so believe every word:
“The 2007 vintage of Diana Madeline is one of the best we have made. It is one of my favourites because it expresses the warmth of the vintage and health of the vines, through a drinkability and friendly “drink me” quality not normally associated with Cabernet dominant wines. Beautiful ripe fruit and tannins, a succulent juicy wine with great ageing potential.”