Saturday, 29 January 2011

Australian Open tennis, a bizarre round of golf, plus another lovely Alsace wine

As an ardent watcher of many different sports, the Australian Open tennis always comes as a welcome relief from the winter lull in the sporting calendar (football apart, of course). And as a fan of the delectable Kim Clijsters (and what red-blooded male wouldn't be?) I spent a happy couple of hours this morning, watching her women's final victory over Li Na. I must say, it was so refreshing to watch a match of such high-quality tennis, between two athletes who play the game at a fast pace, with a high level of skill and intensity - and with nary an audible grunt or scream in the whole match. Of course, it was great to see Clijsters win, especially as her time in the game is limited by the fact that she may retire pretty soon, because she wants to spend more time seeing her kids grow up. But it was also nice to see the emergence onto the really big stage of another potential star of the future in Li Na. I like to think I'm a pretty good judge of sporting talent (I remember watching the 2003 Wimbledon Men's final - Roger Federer's first major win - and confidently pronouncing to TLD that he would become the greatest tennis player ever). And Li Na appears to be the real deal - not yet in the same league as the greats of the women's game, but I think she will go on to win a good few herself. Meanwhile, kudos to Kim! ;-)

Then it was off to the golf club, for the weekly winter team competition. 18 holes later, I had carded ‎a triple bogey, 3 double bogeys, 8 bogeys, 4 birdies, an eagle (a hole-in-one on the par-3 4th) and just 1 solitary par - which all added up to what must be the most bizarre round of golf I've ever played in my life! Some pretty woeful play was interspersed with a handful of decent drives, a few glorious short and mid-iron approach shots and a pretty hot putter. At 2 shots worse than my current 9 handicap, it was a pretty memorable "bad" round! All I want now is a victory tomorrow for Andy Murray, and a win for the Mighty Reds (a.k.a Nottingham Forest) over West Ham United in the FA Cup, and it will have been a nice weekend. :-)

Oh, and here's a note on another very fine Alsace wine, which I opened last night.........

Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer 2007 Alsace
I must admit that I'm difficult to please when it comes to Gewurztraminer. I love the smell of it, with those classic (and rather unmistakeable) aromas of turkish delight/rosewater and lychee, but so many of them fail to deliver the balance between fruit and acidity that I crave in a white wine, whilst those floral and tropical fruit flavours can often be almost painful to taste. But this one ticks all of the boxes. Like the Pinot Gris 2008 from the same grower, which I wrote about last night, this one has quite a deep colour (this time more of a yellow-gold) which hints at richness. Thankfully though, that richness is nicely restrained, both on the nose and the palate. All of the aromas I expect are present and correct, with the floral and exotic fruit perfume augmented by subtle notes of coriander, oregano and an intriguing (and not unpleasant) hint of emulsion paint. And whilst the palate delivers the expected hit of intense lychee and rosewater flavours, along with an unexpected element of freshly-grated root ginger, it also possesses (glory be!) a delicious and very refreshing backbone of lemon-tinged acidity. Result - a Gewurztraminer with real balance and elegance. So much so, in fact, that I can certainly see me enjoying a bottle or two more of this, for the sake of sheer pleasure, rather than just writing about it for the blog/website. Granted, it doesn't quite offer the same level of hedonism that the Pinot Gris did. That one was pretty damn special - but this is a lovely wine in it's own right. Another cracking buy at £16.75.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A stunning Alsace Pinot Gris, truly worthy of a blog post all of it's own

The first thing you notice about this wine is it's colour - quite a deep orange/gold, suggesting a high level of ripeness. The texture in the glass is also a good indicator - swirl it around and it takes a while for the tears to even form, never mind roll down the sides. The nose also promises much ripeness, with an intensity of mineral-rich fruit such as I have rarely (if ever) encountered in a supposedly "basic" Alsace cuvée. The aromas of flowers, toffee apple, peach, apricot and orange that emanate from the glass really do heighten the senses. A whiff of wet slate and backgound notes of cinnamon and spice, not to mention what I perceive as more than a hint of honeyed botrytis, merely add to what really is a complex nose. And the palate doesn't disappoint, offering a depth of flavour and richness reminiscent of a vendange tardive wine - or even a selection grains nobles (SGN) - yet at the same time so wonderfully fresh and vibrant. The spiced citrus, tree fruit and mineral flavours are matched blow-for-blow by a toffee and marmalade-like intensity, all of which lingers for an age on the palate. There's a certain amount of residual sugar, for sure, but any impression of sweetness is far outweighed by the sheer intensity of flavour and joyous balance that this wine possesses. And if it were too sweet, TLD would hate it, because she actively dislikes sweet wines - and the fact that she absolutely loved it tells me that we have something rather special here.

I'm well aware that Rolly Gassmann have a reputation for producing wines with a certain amount of residual sugar, which often take a good few years to come into balance. But this one is supremely balanced already, and the sheer pleasure of drinking it has me in complete and utter rapture. I shudder to think how much better this wine will become, with a few more years in bottle, because although it is painfully young, it really is so delicious. The last vintage of this wine that I listed (2002 - don't ask me why or how we have suddenly arrived at the 2008, because I don't know) was lovely, but this one is absolutely in a different league. So much so, in fact, that I genuinely wonder whether they might have mistakenly stuck the wrong labels on a much more prestious bottling! Unlikely, I know, but I'm certainly keeping the remainder of this particular case for myself, to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years or more. Perhaps it is a case of my expectations for this wine being so far exceeded, but the effect of this wine is almost narcotic - which is a shame, because I've just finished the last half of the bottle (having broached it last night, to accompany a simple dish of pasta with garlic, parsley, olive oil and some grated cheese). An utterly glorious, stunning wine. Buy it - at £17.50, it is a real bargain.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A lovely 2009 Cru Beaujolais

Domaine Metrat & Fils La Roilette 2009 Fleurie
2009 was widely hailed as one of the great Beaujolais vintages, with a perfect growing season yielding wines of considerable fruit density and a good deal of richness, over and above the norm. And of the (admittedly few) 2009's I have tasted thus far, most have indeed been lovely, albeit in a fairly atypical way, because that richness - together with the correspondingly lower levels of acidity than normal - has made for wines rather more reminiscent of good Cotes du Rhone than "typical" Beaujolais. But here's one that really does tick all of the boxes, in terms of Beaujolais typicity, whilst still displaying the inherent generosity of the vintage. Although it is a somewhat deeper colour than the expected ruby red - in fact, more of a transluscent purple colour - the nose still offers a riot of summer fruits, in the way of wild strawberries, raspberries and red cherries, augmented by some enticing background notes of older wood and forest floor. The flavours are correspondingly fruity and ripe, but with real elegance and subtlety, which suggests to me that this winemaker really has got the measure of the vintage. For those ripe, fruity flavours are balanced beautifully by a hint of tannin and just the right level of juicy, mouth-watering acidity, making for a wine of considerable character, a good deal of complexity and a whole load of sweet-and-sour loveliness. Yum! In fact, double yum!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Young Chenin Blanc and Riesling - it doesn't get much better than this.

Continuing my current preference (will it ever end?!) for white wines, here are a couple more absolute crackers, from two of my very favourite white grapes (and probably both in many people's top 3 finest white varieties)..........

100% Chenin Blanc, certified biodynamic. A lovely, limpid, almost shimmering straw/gold colour - just lovely to look at! And lovely to smell, too. Along with Riesling (the one grape variety I occasionally mistake it for - and vice-versa) good Chenin Blanc almost invariably possesses a "mineral" quality. Minerality has various guises - steely, flinty, slatey, stoney, occasionally just plain earthy. All are descriptors that non-wine-geeks may find a bit hard to fathom - and I myself find difficult to quantify - but any aficianado of these two noble varieties will surely know what I am on about. And this particular Chenin Blanc possesses most of them, to some degree, along with some enticing apple and citrus notes and a whiff of honey. And the richness suggested by the nose certainly comes through on the palate, with an abundance of tree fruit flavours, married to intense minerality and a spine-tingling level of lemony acidity. In fact, a more focused and pure expression of its kind would be hard to imagine. Such attributes are a virtual guarantee of immense ageing potential and this wine certainly has the stuffing to evolve for a good 10 to 20 years - and yet, it is so good to drink now. Granted, it was a bit tight when I uncorked it 24 hours ago, but it has certainly opened-out since then, and if I can keep my mitts off it for another day or two, I am sure it will get even better. Then again, I don't think I can resist, because it is absolutely gorgeous! 

Dr F Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2009
Here's a wine with many similar attributes to the one above, the only differences being the grape variety (this is 100% Riesling) and the level of residual sugar, Spatlese being harvested at a certain degree of overripeness. And that residual sugar is accompanied by a considerable level of fruit intensity. Lime zest, mandarin orange and sweet apple flavours abound, with a strong hint of wet slate, and a fleeting whiff of fresh root ginger and oregano. The entry on the palate provides a veritable fruit cocktail of flavours - from peach and apricot at the sweet/luscious end of the spectrum, to apples, oranges and limes at the tangy end. It always amazes me how one single grape variety can produce a wine with such glorious fruit complexity - in fact, I know of no other that can match it. But this wine isn't just about the fruit - it also exhibits a strong backbone of clean, laser-like acidity and minerality, which combines effortlessly with the fruit flavours, in a wine of quite stunning purity and a level of enjoyment that transports me effortlessly to a warm summer day, even on a dreary Sunday evening in the middle of winter. My only worry is that this wine is so delicious to drink now, my own personal stash may well be consumed well before its peak - which I would say will be in around 8 to 10 years. If you like the sound of it, then you'll be able to buy some at around £15 a bottle, when it arrives in stock in about a month's time.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A couple of lovely young Viognier wines - one dry, one sweet

Continuing my recent theme of white wines, here's a couple of lovely 100% Viognier wines we've enjoyed over the past few days, one dry, one sweet - and both lovely!

Domaine Gayda Viognier 2009 IGP Pays d'Oc
100% Viognier, aged on its lees for 6 months before bottling. As with the Chemin de Moscou red I reviewed recently, this wine is a blend of grapes sourced from two distinct Languedoc and Roussillon terroirs - in this case, from limestone soil in Haut Minervois and schitous slopes in the Fenouilledes, so yet another example of new-world thinking, combined with old-world terroir. The colour is a bright, limpid straw/gold, with just a hint of green. On opening, there is a faint whiff of banana, which very quickly dissipates - perhaps just a touch of reduction, as is often the case with screwcapped wines. Once that is out of the way, we are left with a rather attractive combination of peaches and apricot, orange blossom and other floral notes.

At this juncture, I am distracted - nay, overcome - by a strong and rather off-putting odour of cheap Lynx deodorant, wafting down into my dining room from upstairs, accompanied by the incessent din of American Indie/Punk/Thrash/Screaming blaring out of Alex's hi-fi system. Hardly conducive to peaceful contemplation and vinous navel-gazing. Shame I can't close the door, but there are (as usual) too many wine boxes in the way! Never mind - with a bit of luck, he'll be off out with his mates, any minute now.....

Anyway, back to the wine. It's a really smooth, rather attractive expression of Viognier, with soft apricot and peach flavours countered by just the right amount of zesty citrus fruit and even a hint of stony minerality. The 6 months this wine has spent sitting on its fine, yeasty lees seems to have polished away any rough edges and tempered the tendency to pithinesss that can occasionally afflict wines made from this variety. There's a faint whiff of garrigue herbs on the nose, which also manifests on the palate, but just enough to add a little complexity and interest to a wine that definitely majors on fruit. In fact, this is another wine from Domaine Gayda which calls on new world practices and techniques, whilst very definitely speaking loud and proud of it's Languedoc (and Roussillon) origins. A really nice wine, which just happens to provide an excellent match for this evening's Thai chicken curry, and excellent value at £8.99 from Cambridge Wines.

Les Vignes de l'Arque Saveur d'Automne 2009 IGP Pays d'Oc Doux
This is the last of my sample bottles from a grower whose wines used to feature very prominently on the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines list - and will do so again, very soon. Also made from 100% Viognier, grown in a vinous backwater of the Gard, west of the ancient town of Uzes, and aged in oak for around 9 months. Clear, pale straw colour, with orange glints. A delightfully intense nose, with complex aromas including apricot, orange, fresh grapes, honey and root ginger, with the perfume heightened even more by a strong floral/rose element, akin to turkish delight. The barrel ageing has imbued the wine with a subtle note of oak vanillin. The flavours are moelleux, rather than full-on sweet, with the inherent richness countered by really good acidity and a touch of grape tannin. There is a core of rich, ripe, densely concentrated fruit and a touch of spicy, alcoholic warmth, whilst the finish offers a final flourish of tropical fruit and candied citrus. The oak is beautifully judged and integrates seamlessly with the fruit, making for a wine of considerable complexity. In fact, a little goes a long way, but fortunately this wine is perfectly capable of sitting in the fridge for a good many days after opening, during which it just gets better and better. Another lovely Languedoc sticky.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Carignan - the ugly duckling of the wine world?

Who says Carignan isn't capable of making great wine? Well, lots of people, as it happens, including some of the wine world's most prominent and influential writers and journalists. In the 3rd edition of The Oxford Companion To Wine (published as recently as 2006), Jancis Robinson MW describes Carignan as a "late-ripening black grape variety which could fairly be called the bane of the European wine industry, although old bushvines, as is their wont, are demonstrably capable of producing particularly concentrated wine." Frankly, the last part of that sentence serves as little more than an afterthought, and simply adds insult to injury. To be fair (and I'm struggling here) she does add later, "the produce of old vines on very poor soils such as at Domaine d'Auphilac in Montpeyroux and Ch de Lastours in Corbieres is exceptional - even if some would argue better in a blend than as a 100 per cent varietal." If you try very hard, you might spot in that statement the merest hint of damning with faint praise.

To be even more fair (and believe me, I'm still finding it difficult) I have heard rumours that Jancis has since made the occasional conciliatory remark about this or that Carignan-based wine. But because my knowledge of such remarks is at best second-hand or anecdotal, I can do no more than dismiss them as heresay.

So are the capabilities of Carignan limited entirely to adding the occasional bit of interest to wines made predominantly from other grapes varieties? I don't think so - and my friend and fellow Nottingham Wine Circle member Andy Leslie and I this week presented a line-up of wines which we hoped would give our own nay-sayers (and they are a hard bunch to please, believe me) plenty of food for thought. The line-up comprised wines from France, Sardinia and California, with vintages ranging from 2008, back to 1997. Most were 100% Carignan, though the first two were blends. Prices of the wines with links are my website prices. Other prices are either what Andy or I paid at auction, or wine-seacher prices, where currently available.

1. Mas de Lavail Ballade 2007 Vin de Pays Cotes Catalanes (£8.63)
50% Carignan and 50% Grenache, from vines in excess of 50 years old. I have to admit that many of those present didn't think much of this wine (I did say they are a hard lot to please!) but they are of little faith, for it has potential that is hidden to all but the most ardent and patient Languedoc wine fans. On the night, it was dominated by its inherent tarriness (some said rubber) but there is so much fruit in there that it cannot fail to emerge. And as I type (a full 4 days later) I am enjoying the remnants of the bottle immensely, with the tar almost gone, to be replaced by mixed red and black fruit aromas, oranges and a hint of damp earth. There's a touch of savouriness to the palate, but again plenty of sweet fruit and a good acid/tannin structure. If you want to drink it now, decant it at least a day in advance. Otherwise, give it 3 to 5 years (or even more) and watch it grow in stature and (dare I say it) become more and more like a really good Cotes du Rhone Villages.

2. Mas Foulaquier Gran’ Tonillieres 2006 Pic Saint-Loup (£18.89)
Again, a 50/50 blend of Carignan and Grenache, from old vines, grown in the far north of the Pic Sain-Loup appellation. Aged for 24 months (half in concrete vats, half in barrels and demi-muids of between 3 and 10 years old). Biodynamic, and with just 10 mg/l of SO2 added at bottling. I was too busy talking and presenting to make much of a note on this bottle, but it showed very nicely, as did my previous bottle;  "Intense and amazingly pure blackcurrant and bramble aromas mingle with garrigue herbs, clove and cedarwood, along with some quite meaty/savoury notes and an interesting hint of iodine (always a good descriptor in my book, by the way). The palate is packed with red and black fruits, herbs, allspice and dark chocolate, with firm but fine tannins and ample acidity."

3. Domaine Monplezy Emocion 2005 Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thongue (£18.00)
100% old-vine Carignan, aged in barrel for 12 months. Fresh and perfectly balanced in the mouth, with concentrated black fruit and chocolate flavours. Good acidity and fine tannins. Both fruity and savoury, with plenty of weight, and a good structure for ageing. As I sell this wine, I have tracked its progress over the last couple of years and, having finally lost its first flush of youth, it appears to be going into a bit of a closed/dumb phase. But it certainly has both the fruit and the structure to evolve beautifully over the next 5 to 10 years. Perhaps it is time to squirrel-away a few of my remaining bottles for myself!

4. Domaine de La Marfée Les Vignes qu’on Abat 2007 Vin de Pays de l’Hérault (£24.50)
100% old-vine Carignan, aged for 2 years in barrel. Biodynamic. The name "Les Vignes qu'on Abat" translates roughly as "the vines they are pulling up" - a commentary on the sad fact that so many precious old Carignan vineyards have been consigned to the bonfire. Although my own experience of winemaker Thierry Hasard's wines covers only the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2007 vintages, I have a feeling that this wine will never go into a closed phase, such is its sheer vibrancy and level of unctious fruit. Again, I didn't write a note on the night, simply because the bottle we tasted conformed almost exactly to the note on my website, which reads "Raspberries and blackcurrants leap from the glass, with myriad other aromas, including strawberries and cream, garrigue herbs and even a hint of elderflower. Although aged in oak for 2 years (mostly older oak, with just a small percentage of new barrels used each year) there is just the merest suggestion of pencil shavings, with no obvious oak aromas - the sign of very skilful winemaking. The palate is medium-rich, with flavours of blackcurrant and cranberry, tar and spice, hints of garrigue and an almost schiste-like minerality and remarkably ripe, velvety tannins. A touch of sweet fruit returns on the finish, which is spicy and long." Tasting it again did, however, remind me of how remarkably lovely this wine is to drink now. That said, it has a long and brilliant future ahead of it, and will surely age and evolve for at least another 5 to 10 years. All of which does nothing to alter my opinion that Thierry Hasard is firmly established in the Premier League of Languedoc winemakers - and an absolute master of the Carignan variety.

5. Santadi Terre Brune Carignano del Sulcis Superiore 2005, Sardinia (Approximately £35.00 - but Andy got it for nothing, from his brother-in-law, who runs a restaurant!)
90% Carignano, with 10% Bobaleddu. Intense aromas of bramble - and pickled bramble, at that - with notes of blackcurrant leaf and menthol, and a healthy dollop of volatile acidity. Complex red and black fruit flavours. There is a backbone of lemony acidity, which may or may not be natural, but it gives a delightful freshness to what is essentially a big, quite modern red wine - albeit identifiably Italian (well, Sardinian). Bags of fruit, bags of character, and really quite lovely - though you wouldn't necessarily identify it as Carignan.

6. Agricola Punica Barrua 2002, Sardinia (Current vintage is around £29, but this vintage was £22 when Andy bought it, several years ago)
85% Carignano, with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. Perhaps it was the addition of the Cabernet and Merlot, but this one, although still undoubtedly a very nice wine, was just a little bit more "international" in style - although even then, it didn't entirely betray its Sardinian roots. Soft, smooth, tobacco-infused fruit aromas and flavours, but with plenty of meaty/grippy tannic structure. There's quite a lot of oak influence, too - and tasting the remnants of the bottle 4 days later, the impression of oak has grown, with the grape tannins being overtaken by some rather harsh and raw oak tannin. Then again, that may just mean that this wine will take a few more years to really get into its stride.

7. Porter Creek Old Vine Carignane 2008, Mendocino County, California (Around £15 retail in USA)
I can only assume that this is 100% Carignane, as even the grower's website doesn't mention any other grape variety. The nose initially offers an intriguing mix of elerberry, elderflower and apple aromas - and then there's a big hit of raspberries, like summer pudding in a glass. The palate is still quite tannic and a touch tarry, and not overtly fruity, so I think it needs to be aged for a few years. That said, it seems really nicely put together. Later on (in this case, a few hous later) it really begins to open-up, with some fresh, vibrant strawberry and bramble fruit emerging, with a hint of oak vanillin, juicy acidity and softening tannins. Almost (but not quite) like a strapping young Beaujolais. Nice.

8. Joseph Swan Cotes du Rosa 2008, Russian River Valley, California (£20.38)
100% Carignan. What can I say about this wine that I haven't said before? Here's my full tasting note, added to my website just before Christmas; "The nose offers beguiling scents of strawberries, raspberries, plum skins, citrus/orange, a hint of savoury/leather and exotic spices. In fact, those spices, married to what I assume is some old(ish) oak barrel maturation, are strongly suggestive of incense and polished wood. The palate isn't too shabby, either - a delicious mouthful of fresh red and black fruits, incense (yes, I swear you can actually taste it, too), supple, savoury tannins and a simply mouth-watering core of juicy, orangey/appley acidity. With a relatively modest 13.6% abv, this is no glass-staining Cali/Rhône monster - it is supremely balanced, elegant and thoroughly charming. And although it is eminently drinkable now, it also has the capacity to age beautifully for a decade or more - I can say this with confidence, because I have tasted one or two older vintages that were quite memorable. This wonderful wine only serves to strengthen my opinion that anyone who says that Carignan can't make charming, elegant, age-worthy, world class wine needs their head examining!" Enough said!

9. Bonny Doon Ancient Vines Carignane 2004, Santa Cruz, California (£10 retail, locally)
A touch of eau de vie on the nose, but just enough to make it really interesting. There's plenty of varietal character in this wine, with some nice lifted notes and even a touch of that elderflower. The palate is meaty, tarry and full of bramble fruit, full-bodied, with a good deal of concentration, again nicely lifted, with supple (if slightly rustic) tannins and juicy acidity. For £10, this represents cracking good value for money.

10. Terre Inconnue Les Bruyeres 1999 Vin de Table de France (Approximately £12 at auction)
100% Carignan, from vines in excess of 100 years old. I wrote a very enthusiastic blog entry on this wine in 2009, and had specifically saved a bottle for just such a tasting as this. And this bottle was just as good, if not even better - and certainly had the group purring as one in their appreciation. A lovely light carmine/blood red colour. The nose is like smelling an old wardrobe (a favourite descriptor of mine), with additional notes of mint/menthol, oldish oak and a whole box full of mixed fruits, albeit at a fairly tertiary stage. Oh, and a very alluring touch of volatile acidity, which puts one in mind of Musar, but in a somewhat "cleaner" (i.e. less quirky) way. Although this clearly has plenty of age, it still seems so vibrant and full of fruit and life. I'm not sure it will get any better, but neither is it likely to fall off its perch anytime soon. Shame, as this was the last of my 2 bottles! A lovely, lovely wine.

11. Domaine de La Marfée Les Vignes qu’On Abat 1999 Coteux du Languedoc (Approximately £16 at auction)
100% old-vine Carignan. I opened and decanted a bottle of this a few hours before the tasting and wasn't sure if it was quite right. Nevertheless, I took it along and passed it around, to see what others thought. The general consensus was that it was corked (and indeed it was, if only "slightly"). Thankfully, my suspicions led me to take a back-up bottle along, which I opened and passed around the table. Although I am always sad to encounter a corked bottle (especially one which promised much) the second bottle served only to show the immense gulf between a "slightly" corked bottle and a perfect one. And the second bottle really was perfect - a full 8 years older than wine number 4, but still with more than a little of that trademark elderflower and mint perfume, together with an abundance of plum, damson and bramble fruit - a truly glorious nose. The palate is beautifully focused and in balance, with dense fruit concentration, softening tannins and fine acidity. An utterly more-ish wine, which is beginning to approach its peak (though it isn't quite there yet) and will undoubtedly hold for another 5 years or more. Brilliant wine!

12. Joseph Swan Cotes du Rosa 1997, Russian River Valley, California (Approximately £12 at auction)
100% Carignan. Boy, is this different! The Swan label says 14.6% abv, but the UK importer's label says 16% - work that one out! The nose is unbelievably rich and perfumed, with dense bramble, plum and rich fruitcake aromas. A touch of VA balances the almost Port-like, tarry aromas, making for a wine that fills the senses. And it does the same thing to the palate - rich and dense, almost akin to a fortified wine, but without the excess alcohol. In fact, for a dry wine, this wears its 16% remarkably well. I bet it was a bit of a monster when it was young, but it has evolved into a delicious, almost elegant wine, with intensely sweet fruit, balanced perfectly by lemony, almost volatile acidity and resolved tannins - big, but very beautiful. A real curio, and if you are lucky enough to have some in your celler, I'd say drink it with a juicy steak, or just enjoy it on its own, by a warm fire. A fine way to finish a most interesting and educational tasting.

So what are the conclusions? Well, there's no doubt that the best Carignan wines are made from old (and preferably very old) vines, and take a good while in bottle to really show their potential.

Vinous treasures - 100-plus year-old vines, owned by Terre Inconnue in Languedoc

Frankly, it is a crying shame that so many great old Carignan vineyards around the world (though especially in southern France) have been ripped up over the last 10 to 20 years. I'll wager that there are a good many vignerons who are quietly remorseful about the fact that they took what must have seemed good money at the time, in order to rid the planet of such an "undesirable" grape variety. For a list of just some of those that resisted the temptation to do so, have a look at the Carignan Renaissance website, created and maintained by John and Nicole Bojanowski, owners of Clos du Gravillas, who make some cracking wines (from Carignan and other varieties). The list is far from exhaustive (where are Joseph Swan and Domaine de La Marfée?!) but it provides a good starting point.

Furthermore, I am greatly admiring of anyone who is brave enough to plant new vineyards with Carignan. But if they don't, where are the great old-vine wines going to come from in the future? For it is a sad fact of life that old vines are like people - they are going to die eventually - and wines like the ones above may eventually become as rare as hen's teeth. For now, though, I can only urge you to seek these wines out and treasure them. And once you have aged them to perfection (for most of them do indeed take 10 years or more to show their best) enjoy them in all their glory - and damn the critics!

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with another quote from Jancis Robinson MW;

"But perhaps this is to miss the point of Carignan. Perhaps it is meant to be a cussed brute, like the rocks that litter the Languedoc landscape? If so, let others wallow in it."

Friday, 14 January 2011

An unexpected treat for Friday night - a magnificent Languedoc red

Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou 2006 Vin de Pays d'Oc
Deep, semi-opaque purple colour, fading to a bright, deep ruby rim. The nose on this wine offers a veritable array of heady - not to mention, considerably complex - aromas, with dark bramble fruit and something vaguely citrus leading the way,  accompanied by notes of meat, leather, sandalwood and allspice. There's also an undeniable touch of brett, but at a level which shouldn't offend the purists, and which is nicely offset by a perceptible whiff of lifted acidity and just the right level of oak. The palate is squeaky-clean and again dominated by brambly fruit, though it certainly doesn't come across as too "sweet" - in fact, there's a sour cherry element which gives the palate plenty of lift, and everything is held together beautifully by a combination of grippy but fine tannin and simply mouth-watering acidity. The finish is gently warming, but very fine and very, very long.

Unusually, for a fine "estate" Languedoc wine, the fruit is actually sourced from various corners of Languedoc and Roussillon, from La Liviniere to the Fenouilledes (if you want to know more, you can read the technical data here on the Gayda website). The mix is 68% Syrah, 24% Grenache and 8% Cinsault, with the various constituents being aged in oak barrels ranging from new to 3 vintages old, for a total of 21 months. It sounds a long time, but the effect is masterly in it's execution. And whilst it is already fiendishly drinkable, all of my instincts tell me that this wine will evolve beautifully for at least another 5 years, and should still be holding on nicely by 2020. At around £20, it certainly isn't cheap, but as the estate's flagship wine, it really does tick all of the boxes - in fact, a Languedoc classic in the making.

One final thought........ With it's collection of fruits from across the region, the lavish oak treatment, the thick, heavy bottle (my only slight gripe) and the minimalist labelling, it would be tempting to pre-judge this wine as being "modern" or "international". But I only ever judge a wine by what is in the glass - and this one absolutely screams Languedoc, from start to finish. It absolutely could not be from anywhere else. So if this is the face of "modern" Languedoc, then please give me more! Another lovely wine sent to me by my friend Stewart Travers at Cambridge Wine Merchants - although there is a fair chance that I myself will stock this wine, in due course.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Quenching my thirst for white wines - a trio from Languedoc, plus a Portugese that goes up to eleven!

Sometime over the next couple of days - once I've had time to organise my notes into something resembling cohesive - I'll tell you about a truly fascinating tasting of Carignan-based (and in most cases, 100% Carignan) wines from France, Sardinia and California. Meanwhile, I'll give you the low-down on some more delicious whites that have passed my lips in the last few days, beginning with a trio from Domaine Sainte Rose.

Domaine Sainte Rose Le Coquille d'Oc White 2009 IGP Cotes de Thongue
This is an estate that many of my customers will know very well, since I used to stock a few of their wines - and would certainly consider doing so in the future. Whilst I didn't care for the estate's entry-level red, its white partner was a different matter altogether. The nose is a riot of citrus and stone fruits, along with a distinct grapiness, courtesy of a proportion of Muscat in the blend, and some nice floral and herbaceous aromas. Although a somewhat unusual mix of grape varieties (Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat) it works really well - and does in fact display many of the characteristics of its constituent parts. And although not complex, neither is it a simple quaffer, with juicy summer fruit and zesty citrus flavours accompanied by some intriguing savoury, spicy and herby nuances, and even a touch of salinity. A really well-made wine, which puts most other generic Languedoc blends in the shade.

Domaine Sainte Rose Le Sirocco Chardonnay 2009 IGP Cotes de Thongue
Aromas of peach, citrus and ripe Granny Smith apple, with a touch of leesy richness. The palate too is quite rich and ripe, but stops short of being tropical or new world in style. Indeed, it also possesses a florality and herbaceousness redolent of Sauvignon, with citrus and apple flavours complemented by grassy, herby, minerally and leesy nuances. Actually, as I type, I am noticing some of the same phrases and descriptors as the above wine, which is perhaps an indicator of both the terroir and the house style (i.e. good winemaking). And as a matter of fact, the inherent richness in this wine is nicely offset by some mouth-watering acidity, in a wine which remains focused, all the way to a long, dry finish.

Domaine Sainte Rose Barrel Selection Roussanne 2009 IGP Cotes de Thongue
This has some quite complex fruit and floral aromas, suggesting orange, apricot, peach and honeysuckle, with subtle notes of garrigue herbs, minerals and nicely-judged oak. The palate is quite rich and mouth-filling, with those lovely soft citrus and stone fruit and floral elements combining nicely with some quite distinct herby, spicy notes. Again, there's a nice background of toasty oak vanillin, but it works in harmony with, rather than against the fruit. And the result is a rich, warming, spicy, yet really rather elegant and complex wine, with impressive length. And although lovely to drink now, it should evolve nicely for a year or two at least - and maybe up to 5 (or more).

Esporão Branco Reserva 2009 Alentejo, Portugal
This is a wine sent to me as part of a generous (and particularly interesting) mixed dozen, by Stewart Travers at Cambridge Wine Merchants. Although my experience of Portugese white wines has until recently been fairly limited, I've tasted enough to know that there are some great vinous treasures (including countless obscure, indiginous grape varieties) to be had from this country - and this is a particularly fine example. A little research tells me that it is made from a blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. No - I've never heard of any of them either! Although it has clearly seen some oak barrel ageing, the effect is entirely beneficial and harmonious. The nose is a glorious combination of flowers and fruit - honeysuckle and orange blossom, peach, apricot and soft citrus - whilst the palate is a lesson in how to combine richness, restrained power and elegance. At 14.5%, this is no shrinking violet, and there is undoubtedly a warmth to it, in a sort of southern Rhone way. But if only more southern Rhone whites had this level of freshness and vitality to go with that warmth. There's a touch of grape tannin in there (and of course some wood tannin) but there is nary a hint of pithiness or bitterness, whilst the rich, almost sweet fruit is balanced by a healthy level of acidity. It is a heady wine, and the volume definitely "goes up to eleven", but it really is deliciously drinkable. Lovely stuff!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A handful of delicious white wines to start the New Year

I've been a bit lazy on the blogging front recently, although a mixture of illness (getting better now) and pressure of work meant that my time was at a premium, over the Christmas and New Year period. Anyway, a belated Happy New Year to all who read this blog - thanks for your continued support, and I hope you stick with me in 2001.

Although a confirmed carnivore - and therefore a confirmed red wine drinker - I've been going through one of those phases (I'm sure it happens to most of us from time to time) where I seem to be deriving more pleasure out of white wines than red. I'm sure it'll pass, as most phases do, but for now, I'm enjoying it. Here are my notes on some of the whites that have impressed me most.

Firstly, a couple of brilliant Rieslings from an estate I visited whilst on holiday in Germany, last September. I hope to import these (and other) wines, in the very near future, and I'll tell you more about this fabulous grower in another post......

Dr F Weins-Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2009 Mosel Saar Ruwer
From the famed "great wall" of classic, south-west-facing vineyards situated on the Mittel Mosel, between Berkastel and Zeltingen. Pale straw colour, with orange and green glints. Delicate aromas of mandarin orange and flowers, with subtle mineral and herbaceous notes adding an attractive prickle. The palate is similarly delicate and light, yet imbued with myriad flavours of citrus, tree fruits, subtle spice and orange zest - fresh fruit, minerality and laser-like acidity all working in complete harmony. The finish is elegant, mouth-watering and long. A beautiful wine, which is so lovely to drink now, it is almost too much to resist. Then again, it will age and evolve very nicely for a good 5 years or more.

Dr F Weins-Prum Graacher Domprobst Kabinett 2009 Mosel Saar Ruwer
Another wine from the above-mentioned great wall. Aromas of lemon, lime and mandarin orange greet the nose, with plenty of floral, herbacous and mineral notes adding further interest and complexity. The palate is definitely a notch or two further up on the ripeness scale than the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, suggesting something nearer to Spatlese level. That said, it is still amazingly light on its feet, with elegance to die for. The flavours are beautifully concentrated, with lime oil, orange peel and peach, with an almost honeyed richness, all of which are countered by intense, lemony acidity and slatey minerality. This really is a glorious wine, combining raciness and complexity in equal measure. Like most 2009's from the Mosel, it is simply wonderful now, but this one also has a long evolution ahead of it. Fantastic wine!

Next up, a lovely white wine from South Africa, selected and imported by Richard Kelley MW of Richards Walford - a.k.a Rick, the intrepid Cape Crusader(!) whose stated aim is to seek out and bring to us some of South Africa's "great vinous treasures, resigned to anonymity; forgotten, abandoned or just simply undiscovered." I think he's onto a winner with this one.  Again, I hope to add this wine to my list in the very near future, priced at around £12.99........

This wine is predominantly Chenin Blanc, with Viognier, Chardonnay and Clairette also in the mix. It is both fermented and aged in barrel, spending 12 months on its lees. The colour is gold/straw, with orange glints. The nose is crammed full of citrus, stone fruit, roasted nut and herbaceous aromas, with more than a touch of minerality and a fine cloak of toasty/buttery oak. In fact this is so enticing and complex, you could be forgiven for thinking it is a rather classy white Burgundy. Then again, the palate offers a warmth and richness that suggests warmer climes - perhaps the wilds of Provence, or the hills of Roussillon, with their long growing seasons and mineral-rich soils. There are some lovely flavours, with notes of spiced apple and orange zest, complemented by subtle oak and leesy flavours, and again a strong mineral streak. The rich, slightly oily texture is beautifully countered by a core of lemony acidity, whilst the finish is warming, long and generous. I have to admit that, although I'd heard that the Cape was capable of producing some really stunning Chenin-based white wines, I'd never been particularly struck by anything - until now. This really is a superb wine, which manages to be rich and generous, and at the same time truly elegant and exciting. An absolute revelation! (Edit - now available at Leon Stolarski Fine Wines - price £12.95).

Finally, three extremely noteworthy wines from the latest "bottle blind" tasting at the Nottingham WIne Circle. Actually, some of the reds were pretty decent, too, but these whites were the ones which impressed me most. Interestingly, the first one also has a Richard Kelley connection, since it was also included in an amazing "90 years of Domaine Huet" tasting he put on for the Wine Circle a few years back.....

Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vin de Glace 1980 Vouvray
Initially stinky and cheesy (though in a nice, vinous way), with rotting apples and custard and a whole load of minerality. Although lovely to begin with, it just gets more lovely with time in the glass, revealing hitherto hidden notes of citrus fruit, truffles, quinces and wet wool. The palate is incredibly focused, with deliciously tart lemon, lime and apple flavours, accompanied by what I can only describe as a simply spine-tingling level of acidity and minerality, and great length on the finish. What is more, having now tasted this wine twice in the space of a few years, I can say with some conviction that it is still developing and is yet to reach its peak. A stunning wine, and a very early contender for my white wine of 2011! As a footnote, I notice that (though only 1,000 bottles were produced) this wine is still commercially available. I may just get some - watch this space.

Domaine Potinet-Ampeau Meursault 1er Cru 1971
Amazing colour (almost orange, rather than the usual Meursault yellow) with lovely aromas of lemons, oranges, gunpowder, undergrowth and wonderful old Chardonnay complexity. The flavours are very definitely secondary, with nutty, cheesy, truffley, earthy nuances, with a delicious core of minerality and acidity. 39 years old? No problem! Another really lovely wine, brought along as a treat by Wine Circle member Mike Lane, since he was unable to attend the pre-Christmas "best bottle" tasting. Thanks, Mike!

Domaine Mestre-Michelot Puligny-Montrachet 2004
A quick sniff tells me we are in the same ball park as the Meursault (well, just a few miles away, actually). Butter and smoke on the nose, with background notes of root ginger, treacle tart and lemony/appley Chardonnay fruit. Quite oaky at the moment, but beautifully done, and very sensuous, with a wonderful level of fruit and budding complexity. A relative baby, but a very pretty one! I have no idea of the true value/cost of this wine, but Wine Circle member Kevin Scott picked it up on one of his regular trips to the Straker Chadwick auction house in Wales, for the bargain price of around £10 per bottle. Amazing!