I bought half a dozen bottles of this biodynamic wine 2 or 3 years back, when they were on offer for around £8 a bottle at Asda. I loved it then, and it is still very enjoyable now, though I can’t help but feel my tastes have moved on since then. It is certainly not a style I would choose to drink too often, these days, but it did seem to hit the spot on this occasion. The nose is quite bretty and a bit monolithic to begin with, although it does eventually open out to reveal subtle notes of bramble, cedar, undergrowth and eau de vie. The palate is rich, dense and bramble-packed, but with some savoury elements too, notably herbs, meat, leather and dark chocolate. In fact, there is an awful lot going on here, though the softening tannins and a decent amount of acidity just manage to keep the richness in check. I’m not sure what it is trying to be, though. Claret with attitude? Almost, although large doses of Mourvedre and Syrah give it extra dimensions. Perhaps a better description might be California meets Barossa meets Languedoc meets Bordeaux. In other words, an enjoyable wine, with a bit of an identity crisis!
Domaine de Montcalmes 2004 - Coteaux du Languedoc
This is a really delicious Syrah-dominated wine, with myriad fruit aromas including raspberry, bramble and cranberry, along with notes of tobacco, herbs, spice and schiste. It isn’t overly cheap, at around £15 a bottle, but is very elegant and classy, with soft tannins, cracking acidity and complex primary and secondary fruit flavours, augmented by touches of herby garrigue and warm-climate savouriness. It is a bit of a cliché, I know, but this wine is almost Burgundian in style, but with more than a nod towards the northern Rhone, too. Complex stuff, and well worth checking out if you can find it.
Joao Pato Vinho de Mesa 1990 – Bairrada region, Portugal
This is a wine composed of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 75% of the quaintly-named Baga. And what a lovely Baga it is! A lovely pale/medium mahogany core, fading to an even paler orange rim, with some fine sediment floating about - which never bothers me. Squished plum and cherry aromas, cedar, butter cream, crushed pepper and herbs, with some old (but clean) wood and a hint of tar. Hardly "primary fruit", but all in all a quite delightful nose, worthy of contemplation. And for a 16 year old wine - from what I assume is a quite lowly denomination – it never fails to offer enjoyment. The palate is beautifully mellow, with plenty of aged red and black fruit flavours - still with a beautiful sweet core - with soft tannins, a lovely, fresh, acidic backbone and spicy finish. I bought my first lot of this wine 3 years ago, from a well-known auction house, since when it has cropped up with great regularity at nearly every subsequent auction. In fact, it has pretty much become my “house” wine. By my estimation, some merchant or other has drip-fed at least 100 cases of this wine through various auction houses, and the supply doesn’t seem to have dried up yet! And at the going rate of around £5 a bottle, it really is a serious bargain. In fact, if I had paid that price on release (15 years ago?) I would not have been disappointed at how it turned out. And it certainly has a good few years of life left in it. Which is just as well, because I still have a case or two left – and will buy more, given the chance. A remarkable wine for the money. Yum!
J.M. Alquier Reserve Les Bastides d’Alquier 1997 - Faugeres
This is another wine I picked up at auction, around a year ago, for £7.50 a bottle – which is about half the price that the current vintage retails for! It has a deep, dark ruby/blood red core, which belies its age, with only a tiny, slightly bricking rim to give it away. The nose offers up great wafts of woodsmoke, bramble and plums, with all sorts of other things going on - notably violets and lilies, sichuan peppercorn, a lick of brett and a good dose of schiste minerality. Oh so complex and still a relative baby, with lovely weight of bramble and redcurrant fruit and a touch of bitter chocolate. With slightly rustic tannins, lovely acidity and gently warming alcohol (14.0%) this is a wine that manages to be both mouth-puckering and mouth-watering at the same time. Although possessing some nice Grenache notes, this really is all about the Syrah - sort of Cornas-meets-Languedoc. It is a complex and compelling wine, and with such depth of fruit, it will certainly go for another 5+ years before peaking. But it is so lovely, I will find it hard to resist drinking my remaining bottles before then.
Chateau Musar 1996 – Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
I wasn’t sure what I should open to accompany roast pork last weekend. OK, so roast pork can be matched with so many wines (of all colours) but I have just brought home from my store a few boxes of mixed wines, since my choices for “drinking” wines were starting to get a bit limited. However, a thread on the wine-pages forum about 2001 Chateau Musar pretty much made my mind up for me. I am a big fan of Musar, so a rather lukewarm note about the (very young) 2001 current release got me thinking about the so-called lesser vintages of this wine, especially as a few other Musar fans were adding their two penn’orth to the debate. All I can say is that “Musar heads” really should know better than to judge or dismiss an 8 year-old vintage, so early on in its development. I have heard/read this sort of snap judgement so many times that it has become a bit of a bugbear of mine. Suffice to say that I have already tried the 2001 (and have a few more bottles tucked away) and would say that it should be kept for at least another 3-5 years before making a more reasoned assessment.
For example, the 1996 vintage has often been dismissed as weak. Nevertheless, I bought a case at auction 2 or 3 years ago and have been enjoying the occasional bottle ever since. I have around half a dozen left, and it seems to get better with every one I open. So, prompted by the forum discussion, I opened another one. Now admittedly, 1996 is a fairly "light" vintage by Musar standards, but it also happens to be one of the cleanest and most elegant vintages I have ever tasted. In fact, if I were tasting this bottle blind, I might even mistake it for a very (very) good 1er Cru Burgundy - it is that good.
I am very much looking forward to enjoying my remaining bottles of 1996 Musar over the next 5 to 10 years, whilst occasionally dipping into the remainder of my stash of the brilliant and classic (i.e. much faultier!) 1991. The 2001 might be a little bit sleepy, at the moment, but its time will undoubtedly come. Patience is the watchword!