Sunday, 29 January 2012

A couple of delightful weekend reds

Domaine La Combe Blanche Minervois 1989
Yes, you read the vintage correctly! This bottle is part of a case that I bought from winemaker Guy Vanlancker for the princely sum of 120 Euros (which works out at around £9 a bottle) and has provided pleasurable drinking over the last year or two. Granted, at over 22 years of age, it is hardly in it's first flush of youth, but for what is essentially Guy's "basic" Minervois, it has lasted remarkably well. As far as I can recall, it is an un-oaked blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. It offers some really quite complex aromas of forest fruits, damp earth and a subtle savouriness, with notes of garrigue herbs, soft spices and old leather. And it certainly isn't difficult to spot the Syrah in the blend, as there are definite hints of violets and lilies. The palate is initially quite reticent and earthy, with delicate flavours of cherry and redcurrant, subtle herby and spicy nuances and a hint of licorice. It even seems to fade quite quickly in the glass for a while, but once the bottle has been open for an hour or two, the aromas and flavours really begin to blossom - which, to be honest, is the opposite of what I expected. There's still a touch of sweet bramble lurking in there, allied to sour red fruits, with wonderful acidity and even a touch of tannic grip. As I type, it is almost 8 hours since I opened the bottle and the final glass is definitely the best. It really is quite delicious, with a sweet and sour finish that lingers for a good while. I sill have 2 or 3 bottles left, and on this showing, they should provide some lovely drinking over the next year or two. Who says Languedoc wines don't age? 12.5% abv.

Domaine Michel Gros Bourgogne Haut Cotes de Nuits 2005
This, on the other hand, is a relatively youthful wine, which has taken a full 24 hours to really show it's class. When I opened it last night, it was a touch closed and primary, but it has now opened-up into a  fine example of it's kind. Wines from the Haut Cotes (being just one step up from basic Bourgogne Pinot Noir)are often considered to be relatively light and inconsequential, when compared to the Village and 1er cru wines, but when they are made by a good grower in a good (or in this case potentially great) vintage, they can provide wonderful drinking. And this one has all the attributes one could possibly expect from "lower end" Burgundy. The nose is essence of Pinot Noir - bright cherry and raspberry fruit aromas, forest floor, soft spice, leather, orange peel. There's a touch of oak influence too, but it seems totally in keeping with the fruit and adds complexity. The so-called experts will tell you that it is impossible to gauge acidity (or sweetness) from the nose, but when you stick your nose in the glass, you just know it is going to be there. And so it goes - a gloriously balanced wine, with ripe red fruit flavours, married to just the right amount of wood and grape tannin and truly mouth-watering acidity. Being from the higher slopes (somewhat relative, as there are no really big hills in Burgundy) it is essentially fairly light-bodied, yet with sufficient concentration and complexity to satisfy any Burgundy lover. Incidentally, I once read a comment on a wine forum, by a rather stuffy person fitting that description, along the lines that Burgundy has less to do with the grape than the terroir. The suggestion being that Burgundy would make great red wines, whatever grape variety was planted. Which, frankly, is just about as anally-retentive and pretentious a comment as I've ever heard about wine. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the sort of wine that could persuade lovers of new-world Pinot (or indeed Pinot from anywhere else) that Burgundy really is the best place in the world to grow Pinot Noir. It's just a shame about the prices - although this one was a relative bargain at £16 a bottle (and you can still buy it, in the Lay & Wheeler Sale). 13.0% abv.

Coincidentaly, my next post will feature my notes from a rather excellent recent tasting of white and red Burgundy wines from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Is it me, or is it the wine?

Whenever I open one of "my" wines - i.e. the ones I actually sell, I always want to love them. And, in the main, that is usually the case. Once in a while though, I open a bottle which for some or other reason struggles to hit the spot. It may be because I'm just having an off-day, perhaps the wrong wine/food pairing, or because it is a root day (or some such clash with the mysterious biodynamic calendar!) - or perhaps there is just something not quite right about the bottle. Here's one that's been vexing me and testing my olfactory and gustatory senses over the past few evenings.......

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2008 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, aged in oak for 11 months. I still can't quite make up my mind about this bottle. On the first night, it seemed to lack the freshness and vitality I expect in what is still essentially a relatively young white wine. Those of you that are familiar with this wine (the third vintage in a row that I have listed) will know that it always has a rich, ripe, quince and apricot quality to it, along with a lightly oxidative style which can certainly split the jury. But this bottle initially seemed a little too oxidative, perhaps even a bit "warm", though certainly falling short of sherried or tired. But I'm not sure I was enjoying it, even though I opened it especially to go with a simple dish of pasta, herbs, garlic, olive oil, peppers, chilli and mushrooms. By Friday evening (day 2) it had opened-up considerably and was even beginning to show a little freshness and charm. By Saturday, it was even better, with the fruit still intact and the herby, spicy and floral/honeysuckle nuances that I expect from this wine adding complexity. By tonight (day 4) it is just about singing. Was it just me and my particular mood at the time, or do I simply need to admit that I will occasionally encounter a slightly iffy (rather than overtly faulty) bottle - even if it is one of "my" wines? And if a customer had bought this bottle, would they have given it as much of a chance as I did to clean its act up? Somehow, I doubt it - which would be a shame, but I could hardly blame them. But it was worth the wait, even if it wasn't quite what I had expected. Anyway, despite my experience with this particular bottle, I can still heartily recommend that you give this wine a go. So if you want to try one, you can buy it for £22.99 - which is less than half the price of a white Trévallon. ;-)

Domaine de Montcalmes 2004 Coteaux du Languedoc
60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre, aged for 2 years in a mix of 1 and 2 year-old barrels. This, on the other hand, came across as a really delicious wine from the moment I opened the bottle - an excellent example of right place, right time, right wine. If I had tasted this blind, I might well have suggested it was a rather excellent Northern Rhone Syrah, such is it's delightful perfume of red and black fruits, mineral/schiste and flowers/lilies. But then I am usually inclined to jump in with what my instincts first tell me, rather than thinking to myself "hang on a minute - what else could it be?" An initial whiff of what I thought might be brett soon subsided to reveal a hint of savoury meatiness - not just smoked bacon (a la Hermitage or Cornas) but also rare roast beef, a la Bandol, which would suggest a touch of Mourvedre. Then there is a whiff of crystallised raspberry, which manifests as a hint of sweetness and richness to the palate, courtesy of the Grenache. A herbiness, redolent of basil, oregano and spearmint, and even a hint of fresh tobacco, add further interest to what is an utterly compelling and complex wine. It also has that crucial ingredient that I crave in any wine (whether red, white or whatever) - it is refreshing, with a lovely touch of seville orange on the nose, which comes through in the delightfully citrussy acidity on the palate. There's a touch of tannin - not too much - but the balance is spot-on. So there you have it - a complete wine that I find hard to fault. And although it is wonderfully complex already, I can see it improving further for a good few years yet. Who knows, in another 10 years' time, it could be an absolute classic and the sort of wine that will one day make the world sit up and notice that the Languedoc deserves a place in the list of the world's great wine regions. I'm just glad I have another 4 or 5 bottles! (Price around £18-£20 - though currently not from me).

As a footnote, it is worth looking at a couple of previous posts on Domaine de Montcalmes (a 2004 and a 2005). And here are several posts on Chateau d'Estoublon wines - including a 2008 white. Which only goes to show (as the old adage says) that  "there are no great wines, just great bottles".

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

A serious (and seriously age-worthy) Cahors

Here's a wine I have had on my list for a month or two, but have only just got around to tasting - young Cahors can be challenging, so I wanted to ensure I was in the right frame of mind before confronting it (and had a nice lump of medium-rare steak to pair it with)!

100% Malbec, aged for 20 months in oak barrels. This is not quite black, but it isn't far off - the colour is deep, dark, opaque purple with barely even a visible rim! On day one, it is pretty difficult to taste, such is the sheer taughtness of its structure, although there is clearly a very serious wine lurking beneath. On day 2, it begins to open-up and show real class, displaying intense aromas of bramble, blackcurrant, black cherry and plum, with background notes of damp earth, polished leather, cedar and charred oak. And whilst the tannins are still very grippy and tight, the fruit is much more expressive - ripe, extracted and spicy, though certainly not overtly rich or sweet, with plenty of balancing acidity. Previous vintages of this wine have come across as rather modern and - though possibly still built to last - made to be approachable at a relatively young age. This one, however, makes no attempt to please the moderinists and probably needs at least 5 more years (and possibly 10+) to even begin to show its true potential. But with that much structure - and that much fruit - this is a wine which will eventually blossom into something rather special - and blow many loftier (and far more expensive) so-called "classed growth" Clarets out of the water. 14.0% abv. £24.95.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Moulin à Vent - a distinctive terroir?

These notes are from last week's themed tasting at the Nottingham Wine Circle, hosted by my good friend and Beaujolais aficionado Peter Bamford. The title is Peter's, not mine, and whilst a definitive answer to the question may be hard to pin down, the line-up included a fair few wines showing real finesse and complexity.

I've got a luverly bunch of Beaujolais - Peter Bamford (right)

1.  Yvon Métras 2010
A pale-ish colour, like a light Pinot. The nose displays noticable volatile acidity, in almost Musar-like proportions. But it also offers plenty of sweet raspberry and redcurrant fruit aromas, along with a hint of tangy rhubarb, which almost puts me in mind of a Joseph Swan Pinot. The palate is quite earthy, but again really fruity, with flavours of cherries, redcurrants, some spicy/peppery notes and a welcome touch of stalky tannin, making for a wine of real charm and some complexity. I took the bottle home with me and the last half-glass, tasted 24 hours later, was still lovely - and that VA had almost disappeared. A lovely wine.

2.  Domaine des Terres Dorées Jean-Paul Brun 2009
By contrast, this has a very deep colour and a quite tarry/extracted nose. There is plenty going on, though, with aromas of dark cherry, rhubarb and custard, cedar and forest floor - serious Beaujolais, with a good deal of complexity. The palate seems very young and perhaps a little disjointed at present, with stalky tannins and sharp acidity, but plenty of dark fruit flavours and real minerality and structure, suggesting a wine to keep for a few years. Excellent wine, with a very promising future. I believe this wine can be had for around £12, which makes it a fabulous bargain in my book.

3.  Domaine Gay-Coperet Vieilles Vignes 2009
Another sweet red fruit nose - ripe strawberries and cherries. This is perhaps rounder and more together than the Terre Dorées, but lacks the structure and sheer vivacity of that wine. That's not to write it off completely, but this one is merely a decent quaffer in comparison.

4.  Thibault Liger-Belair La Roche 2009
Another deep-coloured wine, with a gloriously complex nose of sous-bois, herbs, spices, dark fruits with red fruit nuances, beetroot, a touch of tar and well-judged oak. It is amost Italian in style, insofar as it has bags of beautifully ripe sweet and sour cherry fruit and excellent underlying acidity. For me, this has real potential - it is utterly delicious right now, but I can see it ageing and evolving for a good few years yet.

5.  Chateau des Jacques Clos de Rochegres Louis Jadot 2009
Deeply coloured again, with a tarry nose hiding what is obviously some big, dark, extracted fruit. The palate is rather un-Beaujolais-like in its richness, intensity and sheer extraction. Some suggested Rhone, though it puts me more in mind of a SuperTuscan blend. That said, it has bags of fruit and excellent structure, and could potentially be excellent in another 5 to 10 years. One to age.

6.  Jean-Paul Dubost 2008
This is the third bottle I have tasted of this wine and each time it has been lovely. It is light in colour and actually slightly cloudy, with a quirky mix of aromas ranging from cranberry and redcurrant at the fruity end to Marmite and Cheddars at the savoury end. The palate is remarkably fresh, with delightful acidity, a mix of fresh and crystallised red fruit flavours and soft, unobtrusive tannins. It really is quite delicious. The problem is, I fear it needs drinking fairly quickly, because of an almost beer-like quality which - whilst making it thoroughly enjoyable to drink now - betrays its "natural" (i.e. non-interventionist and non-sulphur) origins. That said, I could be wrong (it has been known!), for the remainder of the bottle, finished the following evening, was still enjoyable - and the mere fact that it had not yet turned to vinegar indicated that it is perhaps stable enough to last another year or two. But if you have some, you could do worse than drink it now, for it is a lovely wine and I can't see it getting any better.

7.  Domaine du Moulin d'Eole Selection par Union des Viticulteurs 2007
This reeks of fennel and Calvados - not a good sign in my book, at least for a Beaujolais. It tastes of alcohol, too, with harsh, stalky tannins and overextracted fruit. It is one-dimensional, with a harsh/hot finish. I'm not sure whether it is a faulty bottle or just the result of bad winemaking - either way, it isn't a pleasant drink.

8.  Clos du Tremblay Paul Janin et Fils 2006
An unusual nose - yeast/bread, meat and Marmite, with a touch of coal fire thrown in for good measure. Earthy stuff, an really quite complex. The palate is big and with not a little structure, but perhaps seems a bit too rich and extracted (and perhaps even jammy) for my liking. It currently lacks elegance and acidity, which may (or may not) emerge in time.

9.  Chateau de Beauregard Clos des Perelles 2005
Goodness me this is a class act! Classy oak, too, but don't let that put you off, for this is a wine of real complexity, with fabulous red fruit and exotic spice aromas and flavours, with savoury notes and earthy minerality. Admittedly, the oak needs a little time to integrate, but the almost Pinot-esque fruit is so bright and delicious, it is a joy to drink now. There are a good few Burgundy nuts in this tasting group and a few of them were gurning and gritting their teeth when I dared to suggest that this stood comparison to a top Village or even 1er Cru from the Cote de Nuits, but I would challenge anyone to pick it out, if placed as a ringer in a Burgundy tasting. An absolutely top-notch Moulin à Vent, which whilst wonderful now, also has a glorious future ahead of it.

10.  Domaine Gay-Coperet Vieilles Vignes 2005
This is quite a decent drink, but is all a bit "after the Lord Mayor's Show". Decent structure, with good acidity and grip, but suffers in comparison to what went before it.

11.  Chateau des Jacques, “La Roche”, Louis Jadot 2003
Aromas of raspberry compote, tar and smoke, with a hint of typical 2003 overripeness, which comes across as Pepsi. That said, it does have some charm and is actually rather good for a 2003 - rich, opulent, perhaps even a touch jammy, but with what I suspect is a rather good structure, which may well emerge properly after another 5 to 10 years in bottle. If you have some, I suggest you tuck it away for a few years. A promising wine.

12.  Chateau des Jacques, “Clos de Rochegres”, Louis Jadot 2002
I was expecting good things from this wine, since 2002 was a pretty decent vintage in Burgundy and Beaujolais, but it was a real let-down. The aromas and flavours were dominated by mushroom, forest floor, damp earth, pickled cabbage and eau de vie - and not much in the way of freshness or fruit. For some reason, it put me in mind of a badly-made SuperTuscan wine from a hot year. Either it is simply past its best or (more likely) just a bad bottle.

13.  Chateau des Jacques, “La Roche”, Louis Jadot 2000
Ah, now this is more like it! Really lovely, with almost Pinot-esque fruit and secondary aromas of sous-bois and polished wood. And there's plenty of life left in it too, with deliciously fresh raspberry, cherry and strawberry flavours and touch of spice and earthiness. Another utterly delicious wine, and I would again challenge anyone to pick this out as an interloper in a blind tasting of fine red Burgundies.

14.  Union des Viticulteurs 1999
This smells a touch tarry and vegetal (in a red cabbage sort of way) but the palate is delightful - still juicy and mouth-watering, with some discernible strawberry fruit, cracking acidity and loads of tertiary aromas and flavours. It is amazing how a 12 year-old Beaujolais can be stylistically similar to a 20 year-old Burgundy. Lovely stuff........ Oh dear, that is the third time in one tasting that I have compared a Moulin à Vent to a Burgundy - I can almost hear the purists' teeth gnashing as I type!

15.  L. Charvet 1972
This was an "extra", kindly brought by David Selby (whose fabulous cellar - and generosity in sharing some of its contents - I have mentioned many times before). I won't bore you with any more Burg comparisons (and let's face it, there's always a fair chance that some older wines from Beaujolais and Burgundy in general could contain a fair dollop of southern Rhone grapes!) but this was simply wonderful and so alive. Not so much fresh, of course, but delightfully complex, even quite rich, and full of fruit, albeit 40 year-old fruit. I was just so taken by its sheer lovliness - and at this rate, it would probably still be lovely in another 10 or 20 years. A remarkable bottle, sadly now empty, but proudly sitting amongst my other "hall of fame" bottles on the welsh dresser behind me.

So what of the title of this post - is Moulin à Vent a distinctive terroir? Well, to be honest, it is hard to say, although it certainly seems rather distinct from most (if not all) of the other Beaujolais crus. Of course, if you are enough of a wine geek to be reading this blog, you will be aware that all red Beaujolais is made from Gamay, not Pinot Noir. But there is no denying that the really good ones have a Pinot-like quality and character. In the younger ones, this may be accentuated by the oak regime, but in the older ones, where the influence of the oak is minimal and therefore the "winemaking" is less of an issue, the similarity can be even more marked. In some ways, it is quite unfair to compare Moulin à Vent to wines from a completely different grape variety, and from another (more highly-esteemed) region. But one thing I can say for sure is that - on this showing - Moulin à Vent is undoubtedly the best terroir in Beaujolais and the source of some mightily impressive wines. And I will certainly be seeking a few to tuck away for the future.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A busy time since Christmas, and saying goodbye to a couple of friends

All of a sudden I find we are well into the New Year and it is a full 2 weeks since I last posted on this Blog. But perhaps I should resign myself to the fact that the combined responsibilities of being a wine merchant (thankfully a very busy one at this time of year) and family man/domestic god do not always allow much time for other stuff. And although I guess there may be potential "commercial" benefits in writing a wine blog (it helps me connect with customers, potential customers and like-minded all-round wine enthusiasts in a more human way than a purely retail website can ever hope to do) it has always felt more like a labour of love for me. And it is of course gratifying when so many people tell me I write well and provide the sort of content that they find interesting and/or thought-provoking. But there are times when something has to give, and around Christmas and New Year, it is blogging!

I'm heartened by the fact that, since I gave up the day job at the end of October, my sales stats are around 15% up on the same period in the previous year - hence the extra workload. So whatever I have done differently (and I'm really not sure what) it has worked. Indeed, if I could keep up that sort of growth for the rest of this year, in what is still a very difficult economic climate, I would be a very happy bunny! So my thanks go to all of those that have supported me and bought my wines over the past few months and indeed over the past year - I am truly grateful. :-)

I haven't been spending all of my time working, of course, but neither has it been all play. Since Christmas, I have attended the funerals of two friends, both of whom I got to know as a direct result of my interest in wine.

Firstly, Ian Ball, a "forumite" and regular attendee at various Nottingham wine events over the past few years. Ian was diagnosed with leukaemia a couple of years ago and fought it long and hard, even managing to attend the occasional wine evening when he felt well enough, in-between various forms of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. And despite what he was going through, he always had a ready smile and a kind word - and most importantly of all, a positive outlook. Sadly, Ian died on 12 December, after almost 6 weeks in intensive care, as a result of pneumonia and immunosuppression following a bone marrow transplant. Ian clearly touched a lot of people's lives, judging by the attendance at his memorial service on 28 December. I knew he loved walking and cycling (and of course wine) but I had been unaware of his charity work and the fact that he once rode around the world on a motorcycle! To be taken at the age of 47 is far too early, but Ian clearly lived life to the full whilst he could. I should also mention his wife Ruth, who we also know well from our wine get-togethers, and has my utmost admiration for the strength and determination she showed, during what must have been a very trying and emotional couple of years. Hopefully, we will continue to enjoy the pleasure of Ruth's company for many years to come.

And then on Christmas Eve, long-standing Nottingham Wine Circle member John Houghton died at the age of 78. John was diagnosed with cancer just 2 or 3 months ago, since when I hadn't seen him, although I did speak with him on the phone just a few days before he died, when he called me with a view to helping him sell some of his wines. He knew he didn't have long to live, so was busy cataloging his wines, with a view to raising some extra money and easing the burden for Sylvia, his wife of 54 years. I would have been honoured to do such a favour for him, but sadly I never did get the follow-up email or call. John was a very popular member of the Wine Circle, with a tremendous palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of all things wine, but especially Italian wine. Many years ago, he even planted a small vineyard in his home village in south Nottinghamshire, purely for the pleasure of growing his own grapes and making a little wine for home consumption - again, something I never knew until after he died. But I did know he was very partial to good Jurancon, and he knew exactly who to come to for it! ;-)  Since I became a member of Nottingham Wine Circle around 6 years ago, I have had the privilege of sharing good wines on an almost weekly basis with John Houghton. I liked him a lot, and I shall miss him dearly.

Having not posted for a couple of weeks, I have a bit of a backlog of notes from various tastings, plus a few other thoughts that may be worth sharing. I hope to have the time to publish these over the next few days and weeks. Meanwhile, I wish you all a rather belated Happy New Year and the best of everything for 2012.