Friday, 12 October 2012

A couple of "early" weekend wines

I get the impression (at least from reading wine message boards) that in most households, weekends are the times when the better bottles are opened. In my house, that isn't necessarily the case, since I have so much stuff lying around the house and in my wine store that I/we tend to be dictated more by circumstance. And last night was one of those occasions. I went to my store earlier in the day, to put a couple of orders together, and to root though a couple of piles of boxes that contain some of my own stuff, in preparation for a "young and old" tatsting I am due to present at the Wine Circle next week. And in doing so I (a) found a bottle of white with a low fill level (in other words, a leaky bottle) and (b) a few vintages of one of my favouite reds that I hadn't visited in a while. Not that last night was a special occasion, but just one of those evenings when TLD and I were together in the kitchen, she cooking a spag-bol and I making some bread. And here are a couple of lovely bottles I decided to open, to celebrate such a "non-occasion"...............

Fresh bread, quince and a variety of citrus and tree fruits, cloves, cinnamon, herbs of the garrigue and a whole bucketful of wet stone/slate mineral aromas. It really is delightfully fresh and alive, albeit in a (deliberately) oxidative style - think old-school white Rioja, with a bit of added richness and body, not just on the nose, but the palate, too. It really is wonderfully expressive, with lots of secondary fruit flavours (soft citrus, quince, apricot and raisin), herbs and spices, a touch of wood/grape tannin and marvellous balancing acidity - grippy, but generous and very, very long. Despite the low fill level, a bottle in tip-top condition, and still with a good few years of potential development left in it - but at the top of its game right now. Yummy! You can buy this wine from our online shop for the measly sum of just £12.95.

Chateau Musar 2001 Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
It is ages since I opened a bottle of Musar, not least because my stash (currently a few bottles each from 3 or 4 different vintages) is buried under piles of other stuff in my storage unit. But it is a wine I have always loved, ever since I drank my first bottle (a 1978, if memory serves) so opening one always feels like a treat. But I'm not sure what to make of this bottle - or maybe even this particular vintage. The hue is the classic Musar brick red, though slightly deeper and less translucent than usual (and maybe even a touch on the muddy/dull side), as is the nose, which shows hints of the beetrooty, sweet raspberry vinegary volatile acidity and plenty of bramble and blackcurrant fruit. But it just seems to lack the sort of vitality and verve and sheer hedonistic perfume I expect from Musar. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something is missing. The palate too is lacking in the excitement stakes, for whilst there is plenty of fresh red and black fruits, and again a touch of polished wood and VA, it somehow doesn't have a "wow" factor. Not that it is a bad or faulty wine - just that, for the moment at least, it isn't doing it for me, either with last night's spag-bol, or on its own this evening (spicy fishcakes, chips and salad would be a step too far for such a red wine). Nevertheless, as a long-standing Musar-head, I am confident that this wine has yet to show its true colours. Some vintages show well on release (at around 7 or 8 years of age) whilst others take 15 years or more to blossom. I'm hoping that this is one of the latter, and I shall tuck my remaining bottles away for another 5 years or more.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A bevy of brilliant 2009's from Domaine de La Marfée

I am always excited by the prospect of adding new wines to the LSFineWines list and last week was a rather good one, since I took delivery of a range of new wines made by the supremely talented Marc Benin of Domaine de Ravanès. I posted about our visit to Ravanès back in June, and we now have all of the wines I wrote about in stock.

And on the same pallet, we took delivery of the latest releases (all from the 2009 vintage) from the equally talented Thierry Hasard at Domaine de La Marfée. Regular followers of this blog will know how highly I regard Thierry and his wines, although when we tasted the 2009's at Vinisud in February, I wondered if they were going to quite live up to the quality of previous vintages. But because they had only just been bottled, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt (and I do recall it was at the end of a long day's tasting, when my palate was probably jaded). And I'm so glad I did, because a further 8 months in bottle have seen them blossom into truly wonderful wines. Here are my notes on 4 of the 5 wines we now have in stock;

70% Roussanne, 30% Chardonnay, barrel-fermented and aged for 1 year. The nose is really expressive, with aromas of lime, apricot, spring flowers and all manner of herbs, with subtle notes of curry spices and woodsmoke. Only part of the blend is aged in oak barrels, the remainder being aged in inert concrete "eggs", so the oak influence is very subtle, allowing all of those fruit, floral and savoury notes to shine through, not to mention a pronounced mineral/stone/flint quality that gives this wine such wonderful lift. It actually smells zingy, and this shows on the palate, which really is full of mineral and fruit-laden character, with flavours of stone fruits, soft citrus, herbs and spices. The texture possesses a gently oily feel, which is perfectly countered by immense mineral depth and fabulously zingy acidty - a wine with real grip, yet delicate at the same time. This has all of the attributes of a fine white Burgundy or Northern Rhone - with lashings of Languedoc terroir thrown in for good measure. 13.0% abv. This is in my opinion one of Languedoc's finest white wines - and consequently an absolute bargain at £15.50.

50% Syrah, 40% Mourvedre and 10% Grenache, aged 2 years in barrel. A mélange of black and red fruit aromas, notably blackcurrants and cherries steeped in eau de vie, infused with garrigue herbs, with enticing (old) woody aromas, with background notes of tobacco, cocoa and allspice. Not to mention, of course, the hallmark of pretty much every Marfée wine - aromatic blackcurrant leaf and elderflower. For a wine at this (by no means expensive) price point, it really does show remarkable complexity and allure. And the promise of all those glorious aromas shows through in the mouth, with intense blackcurrant and cherry flavours, grippy but fine-grained tannins and a healthy lick of acidity. The herby and spicy notes, combined with the lush fruit flavours and just a hint of bitter dark chocolate give this wine a sweet and sour quality - savoury, fruity and spicy all at the same time. It certainly gains weight with a few hours of air, but never loses focus, with fruit, acidity and tannin in equal measure. Lovely wine, which is approachable now, but thas the stuffing to age for 5 or even 10 years. 13.6% abv. At £13.50, this is another cracking bargain.

85% Mourvedre and 15% Syrah, aged 2 years in barrel. Yet again, we have that wonderful trademark Marfée nose of blackcurrant leaf and fruit pastille, with hints of elderflower, polished wood, tobacco, spice, mint and a definite savoury/meaty element - not too much, mind, for the emphasis is definitely on the fruit. The palate again shows typical freshness, with citrussy acidity, grippy but fine tannins and tangy, sweet-and-sour flavours, courtesy of some intense plummy and brambly red and black fruit, again with a savoury/spicy/meaty/herby quality. The finish is very long, with those mouth-watering red/black fruits lingering for an age. This is mightily good to drink already, but will cellar well for a decade or more. 13.8% abv. £17.99.

100% Carignan, aged 2 years in barrel. This is dense, intense, smoky and ethereal - and at just 3 years of age, yet to really show its true colours. The nose is simply crammed full of raspberry, bramble and blackcurrant aromas, with all sorts of other things going on, such as red meat, polished wood, incense, aromatic herbs, curry spices, new leather, damp earth, truffles, orange peel and cream. And despite ageing in oak for 2 years (mostly older oak, with just a small percentage of new barrels used each year) there really are no obvious oak aromas - everything just melds together beautifully into a whole of immensely heady complexity - every sniff reveals something new. The palate is medium-rich, but delightfully tangy and refreshing, with flavours of bramble, blackcurrant, cranberry, tar and spice, hints of garrigue and stoney minerality. Ample tannins are matched by ample acidity, and carry the fruit all the way to a persistent finish. Another fantastic Carignan, from one of Languedoc's very finest exponents of the variety, and a surefire winner over the next 10 to 15 years. 14.0% abv. £24.95.