Grapevine Archive for 2010

Thu 10 Apr 2014

A Real Privilege: The Birth of a Wine

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Fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, helped blend the exclusive Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, The Society’s first Rioja to be offered en primeur. Here he describes the process.

I’ve worked for The Wine Society for many more years than I care to remember, but fortunately opportunities regularly arise to remind me why I continue to do so.

207759 (283)Last February, I had the privilege to visit Spain with Pierre Mansour, our Spanish buyer, to taste through a large number of old Riojas, which we subsequently listed in an offer. At the same time we visited the cellars of Contino, a long-term Society supplier, and their charming winemaker, Jésus Madrazo, to blend what has become our first Rioja Reserva to be offered en primeur.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in blending new wines before in Stevenage and, on occasion, helped with the mix for The Society’s Claret out in Bordeaux, but this was special as I was witnessing the birth of, and helping to shape, a wine which I think will give members enormous drinking pleasure over a number of years.

It was a fascinating process and I have to admit to feeling quite daunted as we entered the cellars where we were confronted with numerous bottles all containing wines with different attributes from different vineyards and different grape varieties.

Our job was to come up with a blend which was in keeping with the Contino style and one that Society members would enjoy over the next decade.

After about an hour and half of extreme pipette action, tasting and blending and re-tasting and re-blending, we finally felt that we had found a wine which achieved what we set out to do. It is Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, a blend of tempranillo, graciano, garnacha and mazuelo aged in French and American oak for nearly two years, including fruit from Contino’s most famous ‘Olivo’ vineyard.

It is offered now in bond (until 9pm, Tuesday 29th April), while still ageing in Contino’s cellars, and is due for release in early 2015. We think it will be ready to drink on arrival but will start peaking from 2019 until 2025.

Witnessing, and playing a part in, the birth of something so special was one of the very memorable moments of my career here at The Wine Society. I hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labours.

Categories : En Primeur, Spain
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Tue 18 Sep 2012

The UK’s Best Range of Alsace Wines

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The affection for Alsace at The Wine Society goes back several generations of buyers and it would be nice to think that somehow they realise that all their efforts have paid off, and that for a fifth year in succession the International Wine Challenge has awarded us with the title of Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for Alsace.

This has been a big Alsace year for us as unusually I found myself visiting twice in twelve months. First it was to taste the 2010s intensely and in depth, and then in June, just before the Jubilee, it was to show members of The Wine Society Dining Club around.

It was on this occasion that I met up with this new equine face of Alsace, Nikita, here pulling a plough on the Grand Cru Brand above the village of Turkheim.

So much has changed in Alsace from the days of industrial production to the artisan approach adopted by a growing number of estates. A generation ago, brilliant minds included Leonard Humbrecht, Léon Beyer, Jean Meyer, Bernard Trimbach and of course Johnny Hugel. The best Alsace estates are close family businesses where the generations follow seamlessly, each time bringing something new but always with the same aim of making excellent wines.

And so to the horse, not for show but preferred to a tractor on certain slopes as the use of a horse avoids compacting the earth. Just one of many little details which on its own might have little meaning but taken with lots of other details can help create greatness. Like using biodynamic composts, which more and more growers are using.

Alsace is both a victim and a result of history. It has known greatness, especially during middle ages but also disaster: there is a saying that says that Alsace is good at two things: making war and making wine.

I believe the seemingly endless list of wars, invasions and campaigns is behind us. Now is the time to discover what made Alsace such a jewel that was worth fighting for.

More members are drinking Alsace wines than ever and our list continues to grow with new additions including Albert Boxler from Niedermorschwihr, the Ribeauvillé co-op and Kientzler (also from Ribeauvillé).

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Mon 30 Jul 2012

Dog Point?s Olympian Team

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Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming Ivan and Margaret Sutherland and their son Matthew from New Zealand?s Dog Point.

Ivan Sutherland

As well as wine, Ivan is passionate about rowing, and he has excelled at both: he won a bronze medal in the 1976 Montreal Games and was Rowing Team Manager for New Zealand at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

There are no prizes for guessing why he is in the UK at present. It was especially good of him and his family, therefore, to come to Stevenage and show us the current and future releases from Dog Point?s small but impeccably formed portfolio.

These wines have gained a deserved and enthusiastic worldwide following in a very short space of time, and so I thought these notes would be of interest to Society members.

The Wines:

Sauvignon Blanc, 2011
As a Kiwi sauvignon, the new 2011 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (available now) manages somehow to conform and rebel at once. Everything you could want from Marlborough sauvignon is here: verdant aromas, intense fruit and shimmering acidity, but all in a restrained and subtle style that would be as well-suited to food as it would an aperitif hour. It is so classic as to be atypical, but most importantly, it?s absolutely delicious, and may well be even better with a further six months in bottle if it can be resisted.

Section 94 (sauvignon blanc), 2010
Fermented and matured in old oak barrels using wild yeasts, this highly complex and individual wine could well be New Zealand?s finest sauvignon. We have already sold out of the 2010, so it would perhaps be impolite to expound upon it too much. Members who were lucky enough to get some however are in for a treat, and there is no hurry to enjoy it: Ivan recommends cellaring the wine, and having been fortunate enough to try a bottle of the 2006 vintage recently (which had opened out beautifully and still had years ahead of it), I can only agree.

Chardonnay, 2010
A very popular wine made in tiny quantities, and the new 2010 (available soon) will certainly not disappoint its fans. I had to double check that this sophisticated chardonnay was 14% alcohol. It has power (a small proportion of new oak is used, along with extensive lees contact), but never to the point of obscuring the purity of the fruit, which is delicious.

Pinot Noir, 2010
The lone red in Dog Point?s range was my personal favourite of the wines tasted, and a ringing endorsement of the quality Marlborough is capable of when it comes to this fickle and ethereal grape. The 2010 (available soon) is a friendly intellectual: it has remarkable complexity, with savoury and vegetal characteristics which by themselves might be reminiscent of many a Burgundy. Above all though, it is such a delight to drink, with intense, red-fruit flavours that are succulent and juicy but not at all jammy or overdone. Society buyer Pierre Mansour thought this was Dog Point?s best pinot to date. Members should start getting excited about this wine?s impending arrival.

As well as being a talented sportsman and winemaker, Ivan is a thoroughly nice man whose passion for wine is unpretentious and infectious. Most wineries serve their guests their own wines and little more: not so, I learn, at Dog Point ? not because they aren?t proud of their fantastic range, but because the team loves to drink and enthuse over wines from all over the world.

Dog Point?s wines take on similar characteristics: they are without airs, comfortable in their own skin and show their class in a less ostentatious way than many of their peers. They are informed by winemaking expertise gained from all over the world, but they are classically and proudly Marlborough. It was a privilege to taste them.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : New Zealand
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Thu 14 Jun 2012

Alsatian Reflections

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André Hugel joked, a little laconically, that Alsace was good at two things: making wine and war.

Evidence of war is ever present in Alsace with innumerable castles and war cemeteries to prove it, but mercifully all that belongs to the past. The 30 Years War had brought to an end a golden age for Alsace wines. But today we are surely at the beginning of a new golden age, and members of the Wine Society Dining Club went out for a week?s tasting and dining to find out more.

I am of coursed distinctly biased in all this, strongly believing that Alsace is fully capable of producing exceptional wines. Challenges abound. First the fact that, notwithstanding the fine climate, Alsace is France?s most northern wine region after Champagne. Another complication is that though Alsace enjoys very low annual rainfall, most of it falls during the summer when the grapes are trying to ripen.

There is as well a human element to Alsace?s complications. Growers, remembering the hard times of the past, fall into two schools. There are still those that believe in quantity as the best sort of insurance. Most of Alsace?s grape varieties are quite capable of producing big crops but the results are invariably disappointing. A growing number of producers have gone the other way, becoming perfectionists and optimising the full potential of their vines. Alsace growers were among the first to take up biodynamic farming practices, and with them much reduced yields and bigger, more concentrated wines. Sometimes, too concentrated for their own good and as a result these wines can seem unbalanced. But that is the down side and in reality there is more and more coming out from Alsace that is spectacular.

This year I will have visited twice and am delighted to report that we will be buying wines from Albert Boxler in Niederhaussen; and that means a first listing at The Wine Society for a wine coming from the Grand Cru Sommerberg. We will also introduce wines from André Kientzler, another great house from the historic town of Ribeauvillé.

Back to Dining Club visit. The vintage uppermost in tastings was 2010 which from the start, I believed to be one of Alsace?s greatest vintages. That impression was more than reinforced by a week tasting in Alsace. This was not an easy vintage and the crop was tiny. Everything was late and the perfect Indian summer only really benefited the best exposed sites.

It is in such a vintage that the Grand Cru system suddenly becomes abundantly clear. The aim of the visit was to take in some of the great vineyards, starting with the Kitterlé and Rangen in the south, then via the Hengst, Brand and Eichberg to the Schoenenbourg in Riquewihr. The wines throughout the week were often astonishing with several producers choosing to pull out examples from the 1989 vintage to prove another point: Alsace wines keep very well!

Dining Club members were there to learn as well as profit from a memorable week going from cellar to cellar. At the end and after André Hugel had taken us on an architectural tour of Riquewihr, members were subjected to a blind tasting. Bravo to Ann Edwards who gave in a near perfect answer, winning herself a bottle of 1988 Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles from Hugel.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

The Society?s current offer of the 2010 Alsace vintage is open until this Sunday, 17th June.

Thu 24 May 2012

Hugel: Passing on the Baton

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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.

Joanna Goodman
Societynews Editor

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Wed 16 May 2012

Growing Grey in the Sun

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Spring has sprung in the Roussillon, prompting Katie Jones of Domaine Jones to share her enthusiasm for the season of renewal. Hers is a pocket handkerchief estate making three lovely wines. Her white is outstanding and is made from the Grenache gris, locally prized for its ageing capacity but unknown anywhere else.

‘The more I work with this grape variety the more I like it. It is a little frightening though as the grapes are pink and the juice when the grapes are pressed is bright orange, so I am always amazed by the lovely pale colour of the final wine. Grenache Gris makes some of the best white wines from this area of southern France and is often blended with other local grapes. Mine is not blended but exclusively Grenache Gris.

So why are my Grenache Gris special? They are 80 years old, they are planted on black slate soils and therefore they produce a very limited amount of grapes. The low productivity of my vines gives great depth and concentration to the final wine. It also means that the root structure is so well established that they don?t suffer from summer drought.

It still makes me smile that I almost didn?t buy this vineyard. Monsieur Bourrell who sold it to me forgot to mention that half of the vineyard was planted with Grenache Gris and not the red Grenache noir that I was expecting. As he took the grapes to the local cooperative, it didn?t matter to him that half the grapes were white. When I told him that I wasn?t sure that I still wanted to buy his vineyard he told me it wasn?t a problem – I could just mix it all together and make the traditional sweet dessert wine from Maury!

Not on your nelly, Monsieur Bourrell.’

Here at The Society we still need to wait for the 2011 but a small quantity of the 2010 (ref FC22301) is still available to order. To do so, please call Member Services on 01438 740 222.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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The Languedoc is a big place ? the largest single wine region on earth, according to some. It certainly feels like it, with over a thousand miles clocked up in less than a week.

Mont St Baudile with the vines of Montpeyroux in the foreground

This last trip was centered more on the Hérault Departement from Saint Chinian in the west to the Pic Saint Loup above Montpellier in the east.

I shall take nothing away from the Rhône, which has brilliant wines; but the Languedoc does too, and what was remarkable about this trip was the sheer quality of what was on offer and especially from the 2010 vintage.

The Rhône of course is not that far away and so seems reasonable that vintages should follow. The Languedoc being so large however, this is not always the case. 2008 is a great example: average in the Rhône but actually very good in the Languedoc.

Anyway, this is not about 2008 but rather about 2010: sublime in the Rhône and just as good in the Languedoc.

What makes 2010 special? The answer is that 2010 has everything. The wines are very dark, very fruity ? satisfyingly full bodied yet without any of the aggressive tannins that are often present in good vintages. There is nothing baked or raisiny in these 2010s; the relatively cool but dry summer prevented that and indeed allowed the grapes to preserve acidity. The weather was perfect and allowed growers to wait and pick when they liked. The grapes were fully ripe.

There are several 2010s forthcoming in the July List (Montpeyroux la Pinpanella from La Jase Castel is one of many favourites) but otherwise there will be a very full listing in a Languedoc offer which will be published in the autumn.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Wed 01 Feb 2012

Greywacke Races on to the Scene

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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.

Smoked monkfish carpaccio

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.

Twice baked Crozier Blue soufflé

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.

One of three books published by Kevin

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.

Ewan Murray
Head of Tastings & Events

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Wed 18 Jan 2012

The Ventoux

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The Mont Ventoux, known locally as the ‘geant de Provence’, dominates the landscape for miles around like a Mount Fuji, and it comes with a white summit that sparkles in the sun. The summit is white all year round but rarely thanks to snow: the Ventoux is a huge pile of limestone and at the summit it is quite bare.

The mountain features much in folklore and there are doubtless plenty of poems by Mistral. There are various stories about the name but one thing is certain and that is that it is seriously windy at the top. It stands at 1912m, making it the highest peak for miles around. An observatory was built on the summit and at the same time a road was built over the top. It’s a fun drive and only a wee bit scary near the summit, above the tree line where the rock is bare and white and when the gradient suddenly becomes interesting. The view from the top is fabulous, except on the day I chose to drive up, when low cloud reduced visibility to a few yards. It is of course one of the great cycling challenges and regularly features on the Tour de France.

Vines at Château de Valcombe

The lower slopes are a sea of lavender and where there is shelter from the Mistral other crops are grown. There are fruit orchards and olives, and of course vineyards. The wines used to be called Côtes du Ventoux. Today the name has changed to Ventoux and it is very much a part of Rhône.

The Romans were possibly the first to grow grapes here; they saw the benefit of planting at slightly higher altitude amidst the ever-present cool Alpine breezes. There was a time when co-ops controlled all the production and then quality was not always good and prices always below that of simple Côtes du Rhône.

Things have changed. The climate is warmer and vintages here are more consistent. And the level of winemaking shows more skill and greater confidence.

Suddenly, too, there are a whole load of growers. The Ventoux has become smart. The fashion has brought higher prices (but not for all). A lot of Ventoux is sold to the Negoce – including Jaboulet, who make a very good wine at a very reasonable price. We are now buying from Château de Valcombe, which is excellent and which will feature in the 2010 Rhône opening offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Buyer, Rhône

The Society’s 2010 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon opening offer will be published next week.

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Burgundy CellarOne of the most challenging and interesting privileges of the buying job is to go out to Burgundy and taste a vintage from barrel in October, buy the wines and make an assessment of the vintage. October to December is the time when most buyers go to Burgundy to taste from barrel the wines of the main domaines and négociants of the Côte D’Or.

Last October I was tasting the superb 2010 vintage after a year in cask. A few wines are already bottled, mainly whites, but most are still in barrel or tank awaiting bottling usually January to March 2012. However, it is not without its pitfalls.

In theory, October is generally a good time to taste. Ideally the crucial secondary fermentation, the malolactic (hereafter malo) fermentation, will have taken place in spring.
Before the malo, wines are very difficult to judge, especially red wines, although the worst time is during the process itself where the reds can taste metallic and all sorts of buttery and cheesy aromas can occur in the whites as the malic (the sharper appley acidity) is transformed to the lactic acidity (the milder milk acidity). Then frequently for a couple of months after the malo the wine will not taste well. The aromas and the flesh of the wine seem to disappear leaving a hollow shell.

Temperature is one of the crucial factors required for the malo to take place. The process normally takes place as the temperature reaches 16-19ºC. Given Burgundy’s more continental climate, it is quite cool at vintage time (when the harvest is mid-September and global warming doesn’t mess it all up) and after the wines have finished their alcoholic fermentation they are sent to barrel to rest in the autumnal cool of the cellar and it is not until spring arrives that the temperature rises to the necessary level.

It has now been discovered that the traditional empirical Burgundy view that a six month delay between the two fermentations is beneficial for red wine, helping to soften the astringent nature of the tannins. It had long been held as controversial by the Bordelais. As sulphur blocks the fermentation none is added, and the men in white coats, the oenologues, considered that the wine is potentially at risk from spoilage yeasts and bacteria during this time. In Bordeaux’s warmer Atlantic climate, and because wines are stored above cellars in chais in the Médoc (because the water table is too high to dig cellars) the malo traditionally takes place in tank immediately after the alcoholic fermentation in October. It can be artificially inoculated to speed the process up. The wine is then sulphured and sent to barrel.

However, in the absence of sulphur, alcohol oxidises to acetaldehyde and this is a catalyst in red wines to encourage colour (anthocyanins) and tannins to form complexes that provide a round and velvety mouthfeel. Tannins not bound to colour are hard and spiky. For a number of years it has been the height of fashion in Bordeaux to delay the onset of the malolactic fermentation and for it to happen in barrel.

In very hot years like 2009 there is little malic acid in the grapes, whereas a cooler year like 2010 will have much more. In the cooler years the wine is transformed by this process and many ugly ducklings have become elegant swans. However, there is a Catch Twenty Two here. The higher acid the vintage, and thus the more beneficial to the wine for the malo to occur, the more difficult it is to start the process.

So that seems clear and fine then! The buyer must arrive in October when the wines will be tasting beautifully after a spring malo. If only it were that simple!

In practice the malo takes place when it wants to. Even in the same cellar in October there can be some wines that went through it early, some late, and some have yet to do it. The process is still only partially understood. Some say a new barrel which has less sulphur residue and allows more oxygen ingress helps the process, others say old barrels carry the malolactic bacteria, and help inoculate the process. Once the malo has finished, the maturation process begins and the wine starts to change. One should really consider a wine’s age and maturity not from the date of the harvest but from the date of the malo.

After the malo each cellar may then proceed quite differently. Some cellars rack from barrel to barrel. In this case the individual character of the barrel is preserved. Some cellars rack all the wine into tank and then back into barrel. In this case the barrels have been assembled and should taste similar. Some, like Jean-Marie Fourrier do not rack at all, which means his wines have more carbon dioxide in the wine, which can cut the richness of the wine, but against that the wine has been left to enrich itself on its lees without disturbance. Some add more or less sulphur at this time which can ‘bleach’ the flavours from the wine, which may require 6-8 weeks to recover.

Principally for this reason, I do not pay too much attention to assessments of Burgundy between one and six months after the vintage. In this media age we are all being pestered to give instant opinions but, in my view, it is very dangerous to assess a wine before malo as they can totally change character. A famous agent Russell Hone describes the 1993 red Burgundies as ‘performing a backflip’ after malo. It was very harsh and metallic before malo, softened appreciably after it and is now considered a great vintage.

Thus when one arrives in a cellar and before tasting one of the first questions to ask is when the malo, or malos took place, and were the wines racked afterwards, and in which case were they assembled in tank or racked from barrel to barrel. Now one can begin to assess the wines before you and make allowances if necessary for the blessed malo!

Toby Morrhall
Buyer, Burgundy

The Society’s opening offer of 2010 Burgundy will be available in late February.