Grapevine Archive for 2009
Many refer to Bordeaux?s famous sweet white as a ?dessert wine?, but this only represents a fraction of its culinary capabilities. A good bottle of Sauternes is as at home in the pre-prandial sunshine as it is next to a winter pudding. The Bordelais themselves are known to serve it with main courses and cheeses, and often enjoy a well-chilled glass as an aperitif before the food has even arrived.
A recent tasting, prompted by a suggestion from Sebastian Payne MW, showed just how good the combination of Sauternes and strawberries can be. Though often overlooked in favour of sparkling alternatives, the 2009 Exhibition Sauternes (made for us by the Dubourdieus at Château Cantegril) proved its credentials magnificently.
The Sauternes strikes a balance between rich, honeyed flavours (derived in part from noble rot) and refreshing acidity from the grapes themselves. When combined with the juicy sweetness of the strawberries, the results were simply sublime, and all the more so with cream.
Below are some of the comments from Society staff after tasting the combination for themselves:
?It seems to become an even better marriage the more you have. I think what the Sauternes does to the strawberries and cream is give them more definition somehow: they both bring out the flavour of the other.?
?Put an instant smile on my face ? absolutely lovely.?
?The wine didn?t taste sickly at all with the strawberries and cream and also had a creaminess of its own. An unctuous trio!!?
?It?s satisfying and decadent but really brings out the brightness in the wine ? remarkably refreshing. Neither overpowers the other. Wonderfully indulgent, yet still it finishes fresh and makes you want another glass. This will surprise people.?
Certainly something to bear in mind for Wimbledon and beyond.
Last week a very fresh-faced Marc-André Hugel was over in the UK for his first solo appearance presenting his family?s wines at our tastings in London and Leeds. He also visited our offices in Stevenage to talk us through a range of Hugel wines, some of which he has had a hand in.
And if the proof of the pudding is in the ?. well, let?s just say that it looks as though the 13th generation of this great Alsace house will be continuing its good name long into the future.
22-year-old Marc-André (?almost 23?, he pointed out), is Etienne Hugel?s nephew (Etienne?s son, Jean-Frédéric is going to follow in his father?s footsteps and concentrate on sales). Despite his youth, he has been working in the family business since 2005. ?I originally wanted to sell the wine?, he said, ?but I did my first holiday job working in the vineyards in 2005, this and a work placement in California made me realise that I love viticulture and cellarwork.?
Marc-André?s first harvest chez Hugel was the 2009 vintage ? an auspicious start if ever there was one, but also a significant year in the Hugel household as this was when the late, great ?Johnny? Hugel passed away. 2010 was the first vintage Marc-André had a hand in vinifying ? a potentially unpromising year that was saved by a glorious Indian summer, to make for a smaller crop with good maturity underpinned by balancing acidity.
Although Marc-André will eventually become the winemaker at Hugel, he has to serve a pretty long apprenticeship: his uncle Marc is not going to be handing over the reins for many years yet. When we asked Marc-André about his ideas for the future, he was pretty sanguine about the fact that he would be spending the next 10-15 years learning the business and trying out new things. He says that he would like to produce a Crémant d?Alsace one day (his father is from Champagne). He also spoke about biodynamics and his desire to investigate the feasibility of working along these lines. He recognises that he may have a job convincing vineyard workers to change their ways though and prune ?because the moon is in the right place.?
From the 2010 vintage we tasted our own Society?s Vin d?Alsace ? a good introduction to the region?s wines, containing four of the noble grapes, gewurztraminer, riesling, pinot gris and muscat, plus sylvaner and pinot blanc. Completely dry yet tastes round and fruity with a touch of spice, it?s very versatile, making for a good ?house? white.
We also tasted the Tradition label Muscat and Pinot Gris. Marc-André told us that only 2% of the total Alsace vineyard plantings are made up of muscat and it is interesting to see what a different kind of wine it makes here in Alsace compared to its Mediterranean counterparts ? wonderfully aromatic, fresh and floral with a subtle power and touch of spice on the finish, this is a beautifully poised wine with some grapes coming from the grand cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. Marc-André recommends it as an aperitif or partner for asparagus.
The pinot gris was a real revelation, not as aromatic as muscat but with flavours that built on the palate as you tasted it, really quite full, with a long finish. You could imagine it partnering lots of dishes well, particularly Asian cooking.
From 2009, Marc-André?s first vintage in the family firm, we tried the pinot noir. Reds are only made in the best years and 2009 is one of the best for a long time. Marc-André told us that with global warming they are noticing that the reds are getting better and better and more pinot noir is being made (now 8% of total production of Alsace). ?We won?t be making Alsace Syrah though? he reassured us! He also told us how he had quite literally had a hand in making the wine, plunging down the cap of grape skins two or three times a day for a week.
Footage of him doing just that can be found below (NB: the talking is, alas, in French):
There was a lovely purity of fruit to the ripe cherry-like flavour ? a wine for charcuterie, cheese or poultry, Marc-André says.
From Marc-André?s holiday-job vintage, 2005, we tasted Hugel?s Riesling Jubilee. ?It was very hot in the vineyards in 2005,? he told us, ?but although the grapes were very ripe there was also a good minerality.? The Jubilee wines are all from grand cru vineyards and this is from the best plots within the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. The wine has everything you would expect from a great riesling ? full, but dry flavour, floral, turning to kerosene bouquet and long, classy finish. ?Good with shellfish or smoked fish,? we were told.
If you didn?t get to our Alsace tastings, you can still enjoy the wines. The 2010s are showcased in our current offer from Alsace and the others are online and in the List. Take a ?schlück? as apparently they say in Alsace, we learned, and see what you think.
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
Kevin Judd was born in Totton, Hampshire, emigrating to South Australia aged nine (“my parents went, and at that age you just go with the flow”) and then, with his wife Kimberley, on to New Zealand in 1983 where along with David Hohnen he was founding winemaker at LVMH’s iconic Cloudy Bay. He stayed there for 24 years. He says that his one regret is that he didn’t stay for his 25-year gold watch (LVMH also own TAG-Heuer!) but he certainly has no regrets about the path he has followed since.
2009 was the first vintage of Greywacke, so named because most of New Zealand lies upon the eponymous bedrock. The range comprises Sauvignon Blanc, Wild Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. At the end of January 60 members were fortunate enough to try six of these seven wines at Peter Gordon‘s Kopapa Café and Restaurant which had been expertly matched by Peter himself and his head chef Leigh Hartnett. We were delighted that both Kevin and Kimberley were there to talk to members about the wines in detail.
The aperitif of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was a sprightly, fresh, lime and fresh grass sauvignon which demands you have a second glass.
Kopapa’s speciality is tapas-style dishes, and so we had four shared small plates as our starters. The two dishes of goat’s curd panna cotta, beetroot yuzu salsa and black olive tuile, and then smoked monkfish carpaccio, white balsamic, caper & parsley dressing were a marvellous foil to the rounded, ripe, savoury, almost minty character of the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010 (due in February). Rich and yet palate cleansing at the same time, the savoury notes melded with the smoked monkfish as well as the classic sauvignon marriage with goat’s cheese.
The second pair of dishes (pan-fried Scottish scallops, sweet chilli & crème fraîche – Peter’s signature dish – and tempura spicy dhal inari pocket, caramelised coconut, plantain, pickled green papaya) were beautifully matched with Greywacke Riesling 2011 (it’s first showing anywhere in the world – due in June). The wine is fresh, off-dry, open, appealing with lime and mineral notes and should come with a label that says simply ‘Drink Me!’ The 20g/l residual sugar, and the lovely crisp acidity countered the sweetness of the coconut and the chilli spice perfectly.
Next to the cheese course, and a twice baked Crozier Blue soufflé (no mean feat to produce 64 individual soufflés all at the same time!) with Jerusalem artichoke cream and a pomegranate dressing went superbly with the soft green apples and tropical fruit of the Greywacke Pinot Gris 2010, with its 8 g/l of sweetness balancing the light saltiness of the soufflé.
The beautifully cooked main course of lamb cutlet & braised lamb shank with white bean purée, kale and fig jus fitted hand in glove with Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 (due in June). The wine, with its lovely waft of sweet cherries and cream, showed a savoury and mineral depth of huge proportion, and a fresh, almost eternal savoury finish.
To finish, Greywacke Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2009 (we believe these were the last bottles in existence) with its 90 g/l of residual sugar and its trademark lychee and Turkish delight character, and yet a freshness rarely displayed in gewurz found elsewhere, with another signature dish of banana tarte tatin and sea salt caramel ice cream.
As well as arguably being New Zealand’s top winemaker, he is a very talented photographer. He has published three books – details and several images can be found by clicking on this link – and members enjoyed browsing through the books as we ate and drank.
It was a night to remember and to savour. Kevin and Kimberley moved on the next day to Denmark in their four week odyssey of the northern hemisphere, but we look forward to their return to these shores, as well as the very welcome arrival of the new vintages later this year.
Head of Tastings & Events
2010 is in marked contrast to 2009. 2010 was a very late vintage that dragged well into October, just as vintages used to do years ago.
Spring was late and the vegetative cycle was 12 days behind 2009 and 15 days behind 2007. The reason was the winter, which was unusually cold and very long. A temperature of -10.8C was recorded in Orange on January 18th. Frosts were frequent but more unusually still was the amount snow. This is rare for the Rhône, especially the south, but in the winter of 2009/10 it snowed three times and it was cold enough for it settle. There was 40cm around Orange and Avignon and to make it worse there was a howling mistral which must have made the Rhône Valley seem more like the Yukon. There was snow for a week in February paralysing the traffic in Châteauneuf and closing the A7 autoroute.
Tough wintry conditions can be a pain, especially in places like the south of France that are not used to them. But on the other hand snow is also beneficial as it protects the plants from frost, destroys pests and provides the soil with both water and nutrients. The last snows came in March, very late, and then April was fine and sunny, but still cool. May was dull and wet, and flowering came very late, starting at the beginning of June but with wide differences between areas. Changeable weather, sometimes warm, sometimes cold and windy and coinciding with the flowering brought about poor flower set or coulure with the grenache grape suffering most. Areas like Gigondas, which is always a fortnight behind Châteauneuf, had better flowering and so less of a drop in quantity.
There was a little rain on the 16th, which saw mistral, blue skies and rising temperatures, though the nights remained cool. July was dry and hot, sometimes very hot. August continued to be dry and sunny, though temperatures were no more than warm, with cool nights. There was light rain at the beginning of August for some.
There was no drought in 2010 thanks to a combination of the winter snows, the absence of very high temperatures and the cool nights. The size of the crop was very small. All of this helped ensure even and perfect ripeness. There was rain in early September – just enough to give the vines nourishment – and the weather then set fair right to the end.
The quality of the fruit was exceptional. The small crop produced bunches that were light and airy, the berries small, thick-skinned, sweet and with very good acidity.
And the wines?
The wines reflect those growing conditions in the most magical way possible. The colours are as black as I can remember with tannins to match. But the tannins of 2010 are wonderfully polished, sweet with no hint of dryness or bitterness. The wines too are wonderfully aromatic, wild herbs in Cornas, precious violets in Côte-Rôtie.
The southern Rhônes are equally remarkable, perhaps more so as they enjoy a sense of balance that is more often found in the north, with full ripe flavours; but then just as in the syrahs of the north, there is too a sense of freshness and poise. Just like 1961, said Jean Abeille of Château Mont Redon in Châteauneuf. Also remarkable is the alcohol as the degrees are on average a half degree less than 2009 and with a notch more acidity, creating the perfect balance. If the 2010 reds are extraordinary, so too are the whites which taste fresher and lighter than normal and have wonderful fragrance. Good for Condrieu and the aromatic viognier grape.
And to conclude:
2009 and 2010 are two great vintages. 2009 is based on raw power generated by the heat of the sun. 2010 has the perfect balance with exhilarating freshness and fruit, concentration, complexity and infinite length. The debate will go on for many years to come. Happy thought!
Which of these two great vintages will come out on top? This will no doubt be the subject of debate for years to come. They are both very different and will no doubt age differently as well.
2009 was a hot, sunny vintage with high temperatures throughout much of the summer. The northern Rhône was spared the worst effects of the drought and so in general the syrah grapes ripened to perfection. Cornas thrived in the heat and here 2009 is exceptional, possibly one of the great vintages, like ‘91 and maybe even ‘78. Hermitage too was great, and Crozes as well. Results in Côte-Rôtie were more mixed as some vines were still suffering from hail damage from the previous vintage. There were still great results, with Delas producing something quite spectacular.
Some have compared 2009 to 1990 but in Cornas, 2009 is a much greater vintage, and all the wines have a deep tannic structure quite unlike 1990. 2005 comes to mind but 2009 is on a far greater scale with more colour and more fruit. I have just retasted a good many and they are all looking very promising.
The story in the southern Rhône is different and that is because the drought conditions were more severe. The grenache grape simply went into shut-down mode during August. Sugars continued to concentrate but without the grapes actually ripening. Many growers pick when the potential alcohol reaches a certain point, say 14 degrees in the case of grenache. That was not a problem in 2009; grenache had reached that level by the beginning of September but picking then was almost certainly too soon.
I have tasted lots of 2009s from the south and found many that are pale, dry and already washed out. Good producers waited, testing ripeness by eating grapes and crunching pips. Unripe pips are green and taste stalky and bitter. When ripe, they become brown and sweeter tasting. Today many growers don’t even measure for sugars, judging when to harvest by tasting grapes, looking at the pips, the skins and the stalks.
September began with unsettled weather, as is the case in most years, when the Midi is subject to storms at about the time of the autumn equinox. The rains were quite heavy but also beneficial as they had the effect of unlocking the physiological process in the vine and the grapes began to ripen. The rains didn’t last long and soon a mistral set in bringing in dry and sunny conditions to the end of the harvest.
As with the northern Rhônes, there is tannin in the wines here but also a huge amount of ripe fruit. Comparing them to other vintages is not easy as every vintage is different, but there is to me something of 1989 in the style; but more concentrated, as yields were in 2009 were quite low.
Tomorrow attentions will be turned to the markedly different 2010 vintage…
Cornas definitely stands out among the villages of the Northern Rhône. For a start, it’s the sort of place that’s been around for quite some time. The village looks part of the landscape, the grey of its stones extending upwards into the vineyards in miles upon miles of dry stone walls called murets.
Other villages, often built on what used to be the flood plain, are more recent and came with the main road and the railway. In Cornas there is a main stream called the Chaban which collects the waters from countless springs and sends them through the village and into the Rhône itself. Water is a feature here that is every bit as important as the granite-dominated slopes around. The slopes above the village form an amphitheatre rising to over 350m, and facing fully south. It is incredibly sheltered here and, when the sun is out, unbearably hot. It is a small world apart, an isolated Mediterranean paradise where mimosa and evergreen oak can grow.
Cornas is a village of vignerons, with its church at the centre of village life. The village square is the Place de l’Eglise and opposite the church is the diminutive mairie. The principal road is the narrow Grand’ Rue though mercifully through-traffic bypasses the oldest part of the village. Nearly everyone in Cornas is connected in some way to the land and to wine. The village cemetery just off the Grand’ Rue is full of familiar names.
Unlike Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie there is no real power house in Cornas. The growers – and there are many of them – are smallholders, often owning no more than a handful of acres. Many have other jobs; Alain Verset for instance works just down the road in a truck building company while his uncle Noel used to work for the railways. The wine business was a weekend activity.
By and large the big merchants took a backseat here. The Delas family used to own vines in Cornas but foolishly sold them at a time when the wines were hard to sell. For Chapoutier, Cornas was unimportant (though that might change soon), while not a drop of Cornas is sold from Guigal. Jaboulet is the exception and has always been involved in Cornas. Indeed, they have made some spectacular vintages in the past (such as the 1978 which 20 years later could still be bought from The Society).
Cornas remains the least known of the three great red appellations of the northern Rhône. The lack of production is one reason, but Cornas also has a fearsome reputation for dense, tannic wines. These days there is better winemaking and there is a younger generation of growers more open to trends worldwide; people like Thierry Allemand who in 2011 was among the first to pick, and who has made a wine of real elegance.
This is a great time to buy Cornas. Prices are on the rise but remain cheaper than either Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage, and the wines have real personality, with a taste that doesn’t really exist anywhere else. And both the 2009 and 2010 vintages are outstanding.
There is a real buzz in Gigondas, which boasts a number of fabulous estates. The region has also been helped by the arrival of the Brunier brothers from Vieux Télégraphe and the Perrins from Beaucastel.
Indeed it is the Perrin family who have added a substantial draw within Gigondas itself with the revamped restaurant l’Oustalet. Some members may remember a magnificent dinner at Merchant Taylors which featured Beaucastel and their resident chef. Well it is he who is behind l’Oustalet which has suddenly made this pretty village a destination in itself.
But then of course there was always something different in Gigondas, with its dangerously late-ripening vineyards amidst the mountains of the Dentelles de Montmirail. There are fabulous wines in both 2009 and 2010 but my pick has to be about the most traditional of all Gigondas: Domaine du Cayron.
This is the estate of Michel Ferraud and his three daughters, known to some as the three graces. Two of them are pictured (right) along with their ancient steam-powered basket press. The cellars are just off the main street before it gets lost in the village.
It is just before half term. Children are playing ball or catch a hundred yards away. A camper van is parked nearby; a couple, wide of girth and of retirement age are busy, one taking pictures of me while his partner washes underwear in a bucket placed on the road by the driver’s door. I’m of course tasting Gigondas amidst this little theatre of life.
I prefer tasting in the street as the cellars are heavy with the smells of the new vintage. I taste 2009 which we bought last year and spit into a gutter. Wonderful stuff, big and brawny but in need of some bottle age.
Then, I taste 2010 cask by cask. All confusion: “this is tank 3 but used to be foudre number 6 while this is tank 5 but also ex foudre 6.” Fine, I say; foudre 6 is what we want. 2010 is a knockout wine, about as good as Gigondas can be. The camper van has gone and the children have stopped playing, though I can hear the sounds of an English lesson going on instead. Time to move on.
I can remember my first visit to Chave back in 1987. I tasted Hermitage, vineyard by vineyard, finishing always with the mighty Bessards. Saint-Joseph was never more than an afterthought in the line up, tasted if at all between the white and red Hermitage.
How things have changed. Slowly, Gérard and his son Jean-Louis began reclaiming once famous slopes below their ancestral home of Lemps. Then Jean-Louis started to buy wines from friends and neighbours, and eventually grapes as well. The new wine was given the name Offerus and is a textbook Saint-Joseph which the Society has bought in every vintage (the 2004 is still available at the time of writing).
The picture is of a steep part of Saint-Joseph called the Tête de l’Aigle or ‘Eagle’s Head’ after the striking outcrop of granite that stands in the middle of it. This is part of an estate recently acquired by Jean-Louis Chave. This came when Jean-Louis bought the Florentin estate, the heart of which was the historic Clos de l’Arbelestrier (a source of exceptional reds in particular). With it the Chaves have become masters in Saint-Joseph once again, with a clear intention of making great wine.
So back to my visit: now not just Hermitage is tasted vineyard by vineyard, but also Saint-Joseph, which revealed just how complex this patchwork of largely granite slopes can be. The two vintages tasted were 2010 and 2009 though I did have a little look at a somewhat embryonic and promising 2011.
Both ’10 and ’09 were clearly outstanding, though quite different: 2009 is full and sundrenched with an underlying tannic structure of some substance. 2010 is, if anything, blacker and more intense, but more mineral and shot with a life-affirming seam of acidity. Look out for the 2010 Saint Joseph Offerus which we will include in the Opening Offer due out in January.
We then dined together in a perfect little restaurant where the cooking is simple, homespun and delicious. Jean-Louis bought a bottle he happened to stumble over in his cellar. It was a Cornas from Noel Verset and a 1978 to boot. Completely sensational. For anyone with decent vintages of Verset’s wines in their cellar, there is no hurry!
On Monday evening 100 members and their guests were treated to a wonderful tasting of Fonseca and Taylor’s Ports, presented by the MD of The Fladgate Partnership Adrian Bridge, aided and abetted by The Society’s Port buyer Mark Buckenham. Adrian spoke with great enthusiasm and clarity, also fielding the numerous questions, many coming from interesting angles, with aplomb. This 319-year-old company is certainly being expertly steered through the 21st century with Adrian at the helm.
Five wines from each house were tasted, in pairs. As an experiment 140 character tasting notes were tweeted as we tasted (which engendered both positive and negative feedback with some enjoying the interaction and joining in the banter, while others felt bombarded by too many tweets – we’re still learning when it comes to social media).
The 140 (max) character notes, complete with stylistic errors, went as follows. Caveat: These are of course my own personal, spur-of-the-moment, tasting notes.
Taylor ’70 More heat of alcohol, more structure than Fonseca. Still beautifully mellow. Leather, tobacco and soft red apple skins?
(NB, both of the above will be available on our November Fine Wine List, priced at £135 per bottle)
Taylor ’85 savoury in character, edgy, nervy, bitter orange prevalent. Prunes and dates on finish.
Fonseca Guimaraens ’98 Rich violet nose. Smells like teen spirit! Rich chunky smooth black fruit. Pontefract cakes.
Taylor Vargellas ’01 table wine, rather than fortified, nose – light, structured, delicate berries and chammy leather.
Taylor 2000 – upright, edgy, mineral, damson, licorice, structured, delicious, tannins need to soften. Tight (the Port, not me!)
09s have a light gunpowder tea aroma about them. Mineral edge. Fonseca immediately softer on the nose than the Taylor.
Both 2009s rich on palate, Fonseca still showing more velvety texture. Deeper. Spirit hidden by bags of fruit. Taylor has finesse.
It was an excellent evening drinking some glorious Port wine. If anyone else would care to comment below with their own notes and opinions, whether you were present or not, we would be most interested to hear them.
Head of Tastings & Events