Monday, 27 February 2012

Back from France

Hi - remember me? I'm back from our little jaunt to France, and I will tell you all about it in some upcoming posts, including driving through a snowstorm on the Massif Central, getting lost (and thoroughly worked-up about it) in central Montpellier, discovering some cracking new growers at Vinisud, visits to a couple of really interesting growers in southern Burgundy and how to avoid the hell that is Dijon. There's plenty to tell, and I should be in a rich vein of posting over the next week or two, so keep 'em peeled.

Meanwhile, after the Languedoc-Roussillon-Provence-Burgundy drink-fest, I thought I'd test a couple of special purchases, soon to appear on the website;

Cono Sur Chardonnay 2009 San Antonio Valley, Chile
If you like your Chardonnay oaky, then you'll love this. There are plenty of rich, smoky, oaky aromas, even a touch of struck match (which I always find strangely attractive) and plenty of fruit, in the way of citrus, peach and kiwi fruit. The palate is quite rich, again with plenty of oak (chips or staves perhaps?) which - for me at least - dominates just a touch too much, although it becomes more integrated after plenty of air, to reveal some attractive soft citrus and tropical fruit flavours. It won't be to everyone's taste, but it is a well-made wine, and is a good alternative to Aussie Chardonnays such as Lindemans Bin 65. £6.95 (coming soon). 13.5% abv.

Porta dos Cavaleiros 2006 Dao, Portugal
Portugal continues to deliver some really interesting (and great value) red wines, and this is a great example. A blend of indigenous varieties Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Aragones and Jaen. An initial whiff of savoury, meaty brett blows off, to reveal a vibrantly fruity and surprisingly complex wine, with some interesting woody/cedary notes and bags of crushed black pepper and spice-infused red and black fruit flavours. Some might say it is a touch earthy and rustic, but therein lies its charm - and the combination of fruit, spice, gentle tannins and juicy acidity make for a deliciously drrinkable and food-friendly wine. It went beautifully with a selection of English sausages, pasta and a tomato, garlic and herb sauce. Lovely wine, and a bargain at £6.50 (again, coming soon). 12.5% abv.

I'll tell you all about our trip to France over the next few posts.....

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Who says Languedoc wines don't age - two crackers from 1998

3 posts in 3 days! They are coming thick and fast now, as I am trying to get all of my notes up-to-date (or at least the ones I feel are worthy of publishing) before going off to Vinisud next weekend. Regular followers will know that Vinisud is a massive bi-annual trade fair in Montpellier - so massive, in fact, that it takes over the whole of the Parc des Expositions, with around 1,700 growers from all around the Mediterranean rim (i.e. not just French) showing their wines over a 3-day period. So although I won't have much time (or much in the way of a reliable/cheap Internet connection) to post blog entries whilst I am there, I should have plenty to write about when I get back. Meanwhile, here are my notes on 2 rather lovely Languedoc reds from the 1998 vintage.

Domaine des Creisses Les Brunes 1998 Vin de Pays d'Oc
I'm not sure I have ever even tasted a wine from this grower before, let alone drank a bottle. This is from one of a handful of lots purchased by my friend Bernard Caille, on his trip to the most recent Straker Chadwick auction. A quick look on wine-searcher reveals that current vintages go for at least £22 a bottle in France (no UK merchants listed) so this was a real snip at less than a tenner a bottle. On further investigation, I discovered that it is made from 60-80% Cabernet Sauvignon (dependent on the vintage), with the remainder being Syrah and a bit of Mourvedre. My first impression was that this is a big bruiser of a wine. The colour doesn't show a lot of age, being a dark carmine/blood red at the core, with a smallish rim showing a slight raspberry tinge. The nose is strikingly savoury and meaty, with notes of ripe bramble, earth, iodine and smoky oak. The palate is immensely concentrated, though it is remarkably supple, with flavours of sweet bramble and cassis, again quite savoury, and wrapped in a cloak of charred oak. There's a suggestion of tangy orange peel - and indeed some nice orangey acidity - and firm but surprisingly fine tannins. The finish is long and luscious, essentially dry, but leaving a strong impression of fruit. I suspect that this wine would have been rather challenging to drink in its youth, as evidenced by its performance in a rather famous taste-off in 2004, where it certainly appeared to split the jury(!) But at nearly 14 years of age, it gives the impression of a wine that is really beginning to blossom. On reflection, I like it a lot, but I think in another 10 years' time it could have evolved into something really quite brilliant.

Domaine de Ravanes Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Vin de Pays des Coteaux de Murviel
There are two Murviels in Languedoc - Murviel Les Montpellier in the Saint Georges d'Orques appellation to the west of Montpellier, where Domaine de La Marfée make brilliant wines, and Murviel Les Béziers, set in rolling countryside about 10 kilometres north of Béziers, which is where this wine comes from. Unlike Les Brunes, this is a much more evolved colour, veering towards mahogany, but it does show a similarity (perhaps a trait of the vintage) in that it is really quite savoury/meaty, but again possesses masses of fruit. Not, as I expected, blackcurrant fruit, but more in the way of bramble and plum, with notes of cedar/cigar box and damp earth. In fact, it almost seems more Merlot in character than Cabernet, though if you search hard enough, it is possible to detect just a hint of char-grilled red capsicum. Along the way, you will also discover notes of violet, old leather, mixed spice and garrigue herbs - it is complex and compelling stuff. Although the palate is quite rich, it shows lovely balance, with myriad cherry, bramble and secondary flavours, again a bit of earthiness and spice, ample tannin and surprisingly juicy acidity. A touch of warming alcohol on the finish does nothing to detract from what really is a delicious and very moreish wine. Again, it is good to drink now, but is still a good 3 to 5 years away from its peak.

I have to say that 1998 hasn't always been my favourite Languedoc vintage, making for some big, rich, chunky wines that have sometimes seemed a little overripe and lacking in real acidity. But - on this showing, at least - they appear to be evolving in a much more elegant way than the 98's from the southern Rhone, which seem to be turning to soup. And on this showing, these Languedoc wines are going to get better and better - and I am glad I have a few more bottles of each to tuck away for the future.

As an aside, I have a feeling that both of these wines will have originated from La Vigneronne or Grand Cru Wines, through which Liz Berry MW and her husband Mike introduced so many brilliant Languedoc and Provence growers to the unsuspecting UK public. Other growers championed by the Berrys include La Marfée, Montcalmes, La Courtade, Baruel, Alain Chabanon, Terre Inconnue, Trévallon and Clos Marie (though I think I can lay claim - as a punter, at least - to having "discovered" Clos Marie before they did). That is a pretty impressive line-up, by anyone's standards, and I think Liz and Mike deserve great credit for at least trying to establish these wonderful wines into the mainstream of UK wine-buying. The fact that most of them remain relatively unknown in this country is a real shame, but I'm sure they will get there in the end - and I will continue to do my best to ensure that happens. It's just a case of unfinished business.......

Friday, 10 February 2012

Burgundy - comparing the 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages

Here are my notes from a rather interesting and enjoyable tasting of wines from a trio of Burgundy vintages - 2004, 2005 and 2006 - presented by Nottingham Wine Circle member Nicola Kidd. Most (if not all) of the wines were sourced from The Wine Society and the prices shown are the prices Nicola paid on release. Somehow, I doubt that you'd be able to get them at such reasonable prices now, even for current vintages!


1.  Crémant de Bourgogne Louis Boillot -NV (£9)
A blend of Pinot and Chardonnay. Apple and orange aromas and flavours. Some noticeable residual sugar places this somewhere between sec and demi-sec, but the richness is countered by cracking acidity. Lovely fizz.

2.  2006 Maconnais Domaine Saint Denis Hubert LaFerriere (£10.50)
A deep-ish colour and an unusual nose, slightly reductive, with hints of orange peel and flowers. I wasn't alone in thinking this was more akin to an Alsace Pinot Blanc or Gris than a Burgundy. It is quite rich and fat, with quite a lot of oak influence and a touch of alcoholic warmth (14.5% abv!). Despite the relatively low acidity, I quite like it, in a new world sort of way.

3.  2006 Bourgogne Chardonnay Coche Bizouard (£10.50)
A fresh, floral, fruity/lemony nose, hinting at good acidity and minerality. The palate also shows some freshness, but is marred by a somewhat woody, bitter, almost tannic finish. OK, but no more.

4.  2006 Beaune Maison Champy (£12.50)
Flowers (notably orange blossom and honeysuckle) on the nose. It could almost pass as a classy Viognier, but that is probably as much down to the barrel fermentation as the fruit. The palate has some nice lemon and lime flavours, quite rich, but with good acidity. It is perhaps a touch formulaic, but a nice drop.

5.  2005 St Aubin Premier Cru Murgers Dents de Chien, Henri Proudhon (£15.50)
This is a huge step up in quality - instantly complex and classy on the nose, with orange blossom and mineral aromas, a touch of struck match and some toasted oak. This really is "proper" Burgundy, with fruit, minerality, elegance and complexity in droves. Long and very lovely.


6.  2006 Gevrey-Chambertin Domaine Maume (£19)
An abundance of cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit. Quite floral, too, with soft spice nuances and careful oak. Nicely balanced, although the tannin and acidity is (currently) buried beneath the voluptuous red fruit. Nice hint of spice, too. This strikes me as the ideal introduction to red Burgundy for those who might otherwise be fixated on new world Pinot. Not hugely complex, but rather delicious anyway.

7.  2006 Vosne-Romanée Domaine Jean Grivot (£19)
This one smells not so much grapey as "winey", with plenty of secondary aromas, damp earth and older oak. It is classy and understated and very "old school", though it packs plenty of fruit into the palate, albeit with a slightly raw tannic edge. A rather masculine and foursquare wine, which I suspect will evolve over the next 5 to 10 years into something rather lovely.

8.  2006 Nuits St Georges Domaine Jean Chauvenet (£19)
A deep, dark, extracted nose, very earthy and with the fruit somewhat hidden. The palate is deep and earthy too, and very tannic - in fact I have rarely experienced such tannins in a Burgundy before. Perhaps another 10 to 15 years of age will see it soften, but I'm not convinced it has enough fruit to last the course. Whatever, it certainly isn't elegant!

9.  2005 Gevrey-Chambertin Domaine Maume (£20)
This is more like it - instantly appealing and classy. Very old world, with cherry fruit, spice, tobacco and sous-bois aromas. The palate is deliciously sweet and sour and considerably complex, with bags of fruit and notes of sweet spices and cloves emerging with air. It is beautifully poised and lovely to drink already, but certainly has enough structure (and fruit) to evolve beautifully over the next 10 to 15 years. A Village wine of undoubted 1er Cru quality. Superb.

10.  2005 Bourgogne Rouge Domaine Jean Grivot (£10)
After the Lord Mayor's Show, this one. A decent wine, but pales somewhat in comparison to the Gevrey (which, to be fair, it probably should). In fact, this is actually a very good basic Burgundy by anyone's standards, and with plenty of good quality fruit. Given the year and the grower, it could well provide some excellent drinking in another 5 or so years.

11. 2005 Vosne Romanee Domaine Jean Grivot (£24)
This is complex stuff, with cherry and sous-bois aromas. The palate is firm but ripe, with good tannins and excellent acidity. It opens-up nicely with air, developing orange peel and perfumed/floral aromas. There is plenty of fruit, which is currently masked by that tannic/acid structure. It sounds like I am damning it with faint praise, but this is possibly the most structured/complete wine so far - it just needs a few years to really show its class, and could be quite special in another 10.

12.  2005 Nuits St Georges Domaine Jean Chauvenet (£20)
Tannic! Good fruit though, but for me this is another rather extracted and tannic wine that - for the moment at least - lacks elegance. That said, it is head and shoulders above the 2006 (wine no.8 above) - I guess that's a clear indication of the respective vintage qualities. Ultimately, this may well turn out to be quite a decent wine, but I wouldn't touch it for another 10 years.

13.  2004 Gevrey-Chambertin Domaine Maume (£17)
The nose on this one is so expressive and alluring, and would surely convert anyone to Burgundy. Complex on the nose, with sour cherry fruit and mineral aromas. The palate has decent grip with just the right amount of tannin and a lovely combination of juicy red fruit flavours - cherry, cranberry and raspberry - and ample acidity. A rather good wine, which still has a few years left before it peaks.

14.  2004 Vosne-Romanée Domaine Jean Grivot (£19.60)
A meaty, savoury nose, quite earthy, with a nice hint of tobacco. Unfortunately, the palate doesn't live up to the promise of the nose. It seems a touch lean and green, as if the tannins are out-living (or perhaps smothering) the fruit. It has neither the charm of the 2005 (no.11) nor the restrained power of the 2006 (no.7).

15.  2004 Nuits St Georges Domaine Jean Chauvenet (£17)
Another deep wine - this grower obviously goes for a lot of extraction. The nose is woody and earthy, with a pleasant florality. The palate is less interesting, with a touch of greenness and harshness that can't just be down to the tannins. Again, this is a wine that demands food - and preferably a good few years of ageing, though I wouldn't expect a sensual experience after the long wait!

16.  2004 Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru Narbontons Camus-Bruchon et Fils (£15)
A tarry, slightly reductive, earthy Pinot nose. The lightest and most elegant of the four 2004's, nicely balanced, with plenty of sour cherry fruit and none of the harsh, green notes found in the others. A good wine.

  • The whites were an enjoyable (rather than educational) element of the tasting, with only the St Aubin really standing out. On the plus side, there were no signs of premature oxidation (the curse of modern white Burgundy).
  • The reds, on the other hand, were quite revealing. Although the sample range was relatively small, it provided quite a stark contrast between the vintages, with 2005 unsurprisingly the clear winner, with wines that are good to drink now, but with more than enough fruit and structure to age gracefully for many years - a true classic vintage for red Burgundy.
  • The 2006's weren't bad, either, though they have less charm than the 2005's and clearly need quite a lot of time to really come around.
  • The 2004's were way behind in 3rd place, with most of them showing a harshness that (in my limited experience) wasn't there when the vintage was first released. Perhaps this is the "ladybird effect" coming into play (if you are curious, Google is your friend).
  • Domaine Maume is clearly a grower worth following. The 2005 Gevrey is certainly of 1er Cru quality. The 2006 is very different, but still lovely, whilst even the 2004 is a pretty good effort.
  • I'm yet to be convinced by Nuits St Georges - despite its long-standing reputation, the wines of this appellation (not just these, but ones I have tasted in the past) always seem rather tough and lacking in charm.
  • Overall, I love Burgundy. ;-)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A wonderful aged Languedoc Syrah, an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum, and a delicious white from Southern Burgundy

Here are 3 wines worthy of note, consumed over the last week. I've been meaning to write them up for a couple of days now, but as always, other things seem to get in the way.....

Chateau La Dournie Elise 2000 Saint-Chinian
80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Part of the wine is aged for 10 months in new oak barrels, whilst the remainder is aged in vat. This has all of the hallmarks of absolutely top-notch Saint-Chinian. It offers complex aromas which range from floral to savoury/herby/meaty to mineral and all points in-between. There's a strong hint of black olives, a whiff of smokey bacon and even a suggestion of lilies and violets. There's something very Northern Rhone about it, and indeed when I put this bottle around at a Nottingham Wine Circle blind tasting last week (and even given my propensity to offer wines from Languedoc) nobody guessed Languedoc - in fact, most were convinced it was a Cote Rotie or a particlarly elegant Cornas. It has a wonderful core of raspberry and blackcurrant fruit - at almost 12 years old, still absolutely fresh and vibrant - along with a rather fabulous array of secondary aromas and flavours, a subtle herbiness and an intense core of stoney minerality. I've often opined that Saint-Chinian is capable of producing some of the most distinctive wines in the whole of Languedoc, especially when grown on schistous "soil" (which La Dournie is). And this is a simply exquisite wine, which (despite the Grenache element!) bears comparison to many more exalted Northern Rhone wines.

Domaine d'Estoublon Blanc 2007 Vin de Pays des Alpilles
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne. This wine (and I don't just mean this particular bottle or vintage) is the epitome of an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum! I recently published a tasting note for the 2008, in which the wine seemed tired and oxidative to begin with, before blossoming into something much better over the next few days. This 2007, on the other hand, was much cleaner and fresher when I first opened it - which, as I write, was around a week ago. But despite that freshness, it just seemed to lack the excitement and complexity I was expecting, so I bunged the half-consumed bottle in the fridge and forgot about it. Until a couple of nights ago, that is, when I poured myself a glass and was struck by how much it had changed and evolved - for the better, thankfully. It now has wonderful aromas of spring flowers and honeysuckle, peaches and orange marmalade, garrigue herbs and exotic spices. The texture is slightly oily, rich and mouth-filling, with flavours of quince, apricot and bitter orange peel, again quite spicy/licoricey and full of southern warmth. The acidity isn't high, but it is adequate, and there is plenty of minerality and an almost tannic grip to it that keeps everything nicely together. I'm just amazed by the chameleon-like qualities of this cuvée (both the 2007 and 2008) but it only serves to strengthen my view that it is a wine that will go through various phases before really blossoming into something quite different (though hopefully very pleasing and quirky) in a few years' time. 13.7% abv. £22.99.

Domaine Laborbe-Juillot Les Saint-Jacques 2006 Rully
For some reason, TLD isn't a big fan of the Estoublon white(!) so to placate her, I opened this wine (we were having some home-made chicken liver parfait and salad, so a white wine was called for). It comes from the relatively humble Caves de Buxy co-operative in southern Burgundy, so has no great pretensions to complexity or seriousness. But it does everything I want a young, inexpensive white Burgundy to do - plenty of Chardonnay typicity, minerality by the bucketload, a decent structure and gorgeous acidity. It is ripe, but not fat, with delicious lemon meringue, peach and ripe bramley apple flavours, mouth-watering acidity and a distinct mineral streak. It is a really lovely, refreshing and very food-friendly wine, which can be had from the cellar door for not very much money (if I remember correctly, about 7 or 8 Euros).

Next up, some fine Burgundies.........

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Computers - a cautionary tale

It's been a funny old week. Well, not at all funny, actually, though things did improve (slowly) as the week went on. Monday began normally, as I switched on the desktop computer in the dining room - i.e. the nerve centre of the Leon Stolarski Fine Wines operation - and checked my emails, as usual. I nipped into the kitchen to make a cuppa, only to come back just a couple of minutes later to see the one thing that every computer user fears the most - the dreaded blue screen of death (known to many as "BSOD"). It was far from the first BSOD I had ever experienced - as a computer user for more years than I care to mention, I've had a fair few such instances, especially in recent years, when it has been in constant use for large chunks of virtually every day.

At best, a situation such as this can be a pain in the backside, requiring a visit to my PC guru to clean up the hard drive and get rid of the errors - and praying that most (or hopefully all) of my precious data remains intact. But at worst, it can mean a completely new hard drive. Always assuming that one has taken the precaution of backing-up regularly, it can take hours (or even days) to restore a computer back to how it was before the crash. And on the previous occasion that happened, I had sufficient back-up to ensure that I was at least able to restore just about everything, save for a few weeks' worth of bookkeeping information, and even then, I was able to recreate the missing bits from the resulting paperwork.

So when my PC guru told me on this occasion that my hard drive was dead/unbootable, and that all the data on it was lost, I knew I was in for a right load of hassle. But things got a whole lot worse when I checked my laptop and my USB memory stick to discover that, at some time in the recent past, I had somehow wiped all of my vital data from both of them. It's a long story, which I won't bore you with, but it left me feeling sick to the bottom of my stomach. What back-up I did still have on the laptop only went up to January 2008, so I was faced with the prospect of losing 4 whole years' worth of sales and bookkeeping information, not to mention half of my mailing list and most of my vital documents. Plus of course, 10 years' worth of precious digital photos and 30-odd gigabytes of stored music. To say that I was heartbroken is an understatement - in fact, the prospect of rebuilding my whole business virtually from scratch was just too much to bear. As you can imagine, I didn't get much sleep on Monday night, and was up early on Tuesday, surfing the Internet for answers.

I discovered that there are companies out there that can (in many - though by no means all - circumstances) retrieve data from essentially dead hard drives, though none of them are cheap. But considering I have devoted much of the last 8 years of my life to building my business, I started asking myself how much I would be prepared to pay to get that data back. And the answer was "a lot" - how much, I don't know, but if it took a four-figure sum, then so be it. I managed to locate a company in Nottingham that said they might be able to help, though in certain circumstances even they might have to send the drive away, to be dismantled in a special laboratory. After an anxious wait overnight, I got a call on Wednesday morning to tell me that they had managed to retrieve my bookkeeping and website information and most of my documents, but none of the photos or music. To say I was greatly relieved is an understatement, and although I still ended up losing a lot of holiday snaps, at least I still have a business. I did actually manage to find a handful of CD's which contained the photos from some of our more memorable family holidays, plus a fair chunk of the music I had dowloaded over the years.

All-in-all, I consider myself extremely lucky that I have - by and large - managed to salvage just about all of the important data I need to run my business, plus a whole lot of other stuff, and my thanks go to Computer Support (Nottingham) Limited - PC Doctor, without whom I would now be pretty much be up Sh*t Creek without a paddle!

Of course, I've had plenty to do since then (reinstalling software and making sure everything still works properly is always a pain) but this whole episode has taught me a very important lesson about backing-up (preferably in 2 or 3 different ways) and about how to run a business in a more proficient and professional way. And it will never happen again, Sir - I promise!